Saturday, January 08, 2011

If this is not terrorism, the word has lost it's meaning.

Let's just come out and say it:

The "War On Terror is not." Because if it actually were, social conservatives, talibancials and right-wing freakout artists who gin up this sort of violence would be IN Gitmo, worksopping the question as to whether or not waterboarding is, in fact, torture.

So, "Terrorism" is in fact anything that threatens the continued dominance of the talibancial, theocratic right wing and their desire to run everyinting for the benefit of the war and oil lobby.

By the way, I have nothing against waging war or drilling for oil. I just want responsible and competant people doing both. And of course, the War On Terror means that if you queation the competaince, intelligence or motives of either group.. welcome to the No Fly List, you International Terrorist Conspiritor, you.

Friday, January 07, 2011

A crappy metaphor, indeed.

In some ways, this is a belated New Year's resolution, and it's also a new decade's resolution.

I'm not going to be bothering to comment on blatant idiocies. I'm going to trust that you are smart enough to see blatant idiocy when you see it. But you should not assume that there's a "side" or an "ideology" that is somehow immune to such shrill, self-righteous public stupidity. The "Left" is just as capable of fucking up as is the "Right," and as often as not, for the very best of intentions.

As human beings, we tend to make assumptions about reality that are more abut what we want to believe than what actually is. Reality is complicated and messy; we'd prefer it to be simplified. People are complex and multifaceted, we'd prefer that the vast majority could be summed up and dismissed in one paragraph or less - and not for reasons that even speak terribly ill of us as humans.

We just don't have the time or the ability to give much of a damn about people outside of our immediate lives. As a matter of pure self defense and as a necessary step towards maintaining sanity, we latch upon the superficial as a way of limiting the things we must care about.

If you are sane and decent and ethical, that's probably about as much as anyone has a right to ask of you.

We rely on social mechanisms to tell us about things we really do feel the need to care about and if need be, do something about those things, if enough people agree on what is to be done. That is to say, we rely on journalism and government to inform us about matters that concern us and government to deal with things we collectively decide to be collective responsibilities - like, say, our various national defenses, our various approaches to heath care, food safety, fire protection and the education of the next generation.

I think that people capable of thinking for themselves have abandoned mainstream journalism in favor of social media and I'm coming to expect that watching what passes for government govern is making people wonder if there might possibly be an app for that as well.

The nasty truism that people get the government (and journalism) they deserve still has bite; those who used to write for an informed audience have gotten tired of putting up with the shrill plaints of those unwilling to deal with unpalatable realities, or have been fired by a management that prefers a consistent message to awkward facts.

So it's becoming difficult to find an informed opinion on an internet filled with opinion and little else.

I'm as unwilling to waste my time giving a "fair hearing" to a doctrinaire Marxist as I am to the equally irrelevant opinions of Conservative Christians who expect me to give their creationist contrivances and moralistic assertions the respect they think they believe they merit. Feeling the need to argue with stupid people is even more of a vice than being stupid; you have to realize it's pointless, so it's merely another way of being an asshole in public and feeling good about yourself in the morning.

Take the so called "new athiests." Many of the new athiests can be really offensive assholes. Which is not to say that they are wrong about their perceptions of Christian culture. Or Islamic culture. I do happen to think that both cultures would offend and appall Christ and Mohamed, and their snide critiques are often wickedly entertaining.

Nonetheless, I can observe the same things without being an offensive jerk, comparing God to an "invisible pink unicorn" or the tooth fairy, and I also know that stealing Linus's security does not ever improve Linus. If you dismiss religion as a "crutch" - well, possibly it is. But what does that say about you when you try to kick someone's crutches out from under them?

Ironcially; many of the complaints made by atheists against the behavior of offensive Christians are things that Christ Himself complained of. So perhaps this isn't about who is right, but rather about who is pissing into the harder wind. I believe I shall abstain.

Athiests - and by this, I mean "social athiests," because all I'm commenting on is herd behavior, are no different than anyone else. They want the people that annoy them to go away. Well, sadly, they won't. Now athiests may legitimately say they are asserting the right to stay and be themselves. To that extent, I applaud them, along with evangelicals, Wiccans, flat-taxers, small-government idiologues, creationists and anti-masturbation activists.  Please, live by your beliefs and put your ideas in the marketplace.

Just don't confuse that right with the right to demand that I believe what you have to say or respect your world view as being just as good as my own, nor complain to me when the results of living your beliefs aren't exactly as was advertised in the brochure.

That's a bridge too far, and that's always how those who crave simplicity manage to complicate matters.

I dislike, for instance, the cultures that exist in the so called "Red States," the very authoritarian, structured, culture-bound, moralistic and conventional cultures, which of course exist everywhere. But they exist for a reason. That reason is that a LOT of people feel much more comforatable there than they would here. Such people are part of the fabric of humanity, it seems, and they will always confuse their own needs with some greater social or moral imperative. But then, so do you, and from time to time... it may happen that I do as well.

I reluctantly admit that my own reaction is as much about my own tribalism and essential nature as theirs. So I live where I'm not bothered by them, I don't go to places they frequent and don't seek to disturb their lives - unless, of course, they ask me very nicely and compensate me for my trouble. 

But poltical culture has descended to arguing who has the right to impose what set of inconveniences and insults upon whom, rather than coming to some useful agreement on what needs to be done to get everyone through the winter, I'm done with political writing. Because that's the only point to the exercise.

Every morning I read the news, and yet I don't write about it. It's stupid and tiresome and frankly, even the very best commentary is mired in a partisan world view enslaved to such short-term news and economic cycles that it has no real value to a person wanting to live a thoughtful and useful life.

I'm committed to telling the truth, and understanding and communicating realty as best as I can, with the perceptions and the experiences I have. Every once in a while, I must therefore revisit my own working assumptions, test my own ideas against reality and see if what I'm doing is actually working. I'm in the midst of that process right now, and I'm still unsure as to whether I will continue blogging, and if so, about what.

But there are a few things I am sure of.

I'm not in the least "objective" in the mythical and unapproachable sense that classically "liberal" journalists strive for, nor am I willing to pretend that my bias is "common sense" or a "fair and balanced" view. And I'm afraid that is incompatible with finding a true home in any particular ideological, political or doctrinal camp. I'm not condemning here. Advocacy journalism, which is what MSNBC does badly, Fox does even worse and Mother Jones does fairly well is perfectly fine, as long as it is not confused with objective reporting.

Remember, in neither form is it permissible to actually lie. Not because lying is, like, wrong and stuff. No. It's because once I know a source is willing to lie to me - I stop listening. I certainly don't pay money to have my intelligence insulted. The purpose of the one is to persuade me using verifiable facts. The other is to provide facts in detail and context and let me make up my own mind about what it means and what I should do about it. I don't expect perfection - but increasingly, I'm finding I'm less informed about the world by partaking in the news than I was before I sought to relieve my ignorance.

Objective journalists aren't (they try nobly and fail regrettably) while advocacy journalists strive for a cause and a vision, in the hope and belief that they are correct... and the better grades of them will admit that is not nearly as often true as they would prefer. In BOTH cases, they have to be reliably more useful to me as a consumer of information than smacking myself in the face with a board. And I have no real social need to be "well informed" in the ways that would make me popular at cocktail parties.

At heart, I'm a lighthouse keeper. I value solitude and need a very small social circle indeed. It's nice to know that I've swayed a person this way or that - but I don't need to add them to my circle of followers, nor is it important to me that a person who is my friend agree with me in every respect.

That is more than just upbringing and experience - that's my nature, which in many ways predetermined the range of experiences I'd seek out and the effects any parenting could possibly have. It's neither a disability nor a blessing - it's merely what I am. It influences what I can do, and what things I should concentrate on.

This is true for you as well, no doubt in completely different ways. The only way I differ is that the way I am is a bit uncommon, so there are no conventional excuses for my reflexive behaviors. There is no church of St. Bob, The Autistic. I don't get to pretend there are really good reasons for choosing to behave and react as I do. I think, in a strange way, I'm rather lucky in that respect.

None of us acorns fall far from the tree of our essential being, regardless of how normal we may appear to others. How we choose to go about expressing our behavior, and whether we love or loathe ourselves for being what we cannot help but be in some way DOES matter. What matters even more is what harm to others do we do along the way and if the good we do outweighs the bad.

I take a ruthlessly practical view of harm. Actual harm to real people in concrete, measurable ways is more significant than theoretical harms, like, say, "maintaining our way of life", "protecting our family values", "defending the faith against those who would defame it" or "making the world safe for democracy."

Harming someone right now in the name of staving off a supposed future "harm" of that nature is simply wrong. That is about the most simple truth that I know, and really the only important one.

The priest that tells you that their god demands a life to permit the crops to grow should be the very LAST sacrifice to that god. Find another god, or do without. Any god worth following should be a better person than you are. That's a standard that applies to church and elected officials, I might add.

For there is no great movement, no unified religion, nor any great singular social vision that can work save by treating large numbers of people as no more than grit in their perfect gears. The "Left" and the "Right" have taken turns proving this, and if those lessons are cited selectively, it should be observed that the people who lead such movements tend to end up with much fatter bank accounts than they could otherwise aspire to, so they tend to rely on the insights that are favorable to them.

So let me council a gentle skepticism toward those offering simple answers to complicated questions, like Hard Money or One World Government.

You may note that nations and cultures rise and fall - but humanity chugs along. The Bible, The Koran, the Prose Eddas, the very oldest and most treasured writings - there is not one of them that you will not recognize yourself in. You will boo the villian, you will cheer for the hero; you will be moved as people who first heard the story were moved. People, in other words, are people and human nature wins, every single time, despite all efforts to stamp it out and make us into perfect angels or demons.

All civilization, all political and social organizations, every stupid committee, every tea party, every single government in every nation has but one essential task; to permit as many people as possible to live and work together in close enough proximity, as unbothered as possible so that they may act in various ways to the diffuse and collective benefit of all. That's it.

A capable government is very much like an invisible stage hand - it makes sure that the things that are needed appear as if by magic; it does not crave more power than it needs to do what the time and circumstances require and - most essentially - while it realizes that a little mythology and wishful thinking is important - believing it is extraordinarily dangerous.

Liberals pretend that everyone is, or would be, very altruistic - and if they are not, it's due to bad company while being brought up by toothless alcoholics in trailer parks.

That's as mindless a prejudice as those against liberals, wingers will say, are inherently immoral, hopelessly addicted to pot-smoking and fornication and of course, are all jobless lusers, of no possible consequence or importance.

Hm. Well, if the intelligentsia of both sides are presumably living in the basements of their parents, and the only significant distinction is a choice between Bud and Budweiser... why listen to either? You see, my friends; if that is who you see your most important opponent to be - well, that's exactly the significance of what YOU stand for.

Sadly, the political leadership of the US and, increasingly, the world, is convinced that it needs only appeal to THAT sort of person. It presumes that nobody is any better than that, nor smarter than that - and governments that act that way attract talent of that quality. Such talent isn't very talented, nor do they well serve the needs of the majority.

When people have the ability to ignore such buffoons, they do, and when they must interact with them, mostly they will get the better of them. If they must work around them, they will find it easy, if they must corrupt them to get things done, they will, and it won't be all that expensive. Of course, nobody will have a decent or useful government, but you don't miss what you have never known.

Anyway, I'm simply not the sort to take this to the next step - which should be fairly obvious, along the lines of taking matches away from small children and saying that lawn darts are no more toys than are javelins and blowpipes.But I'll tell you what it is.

Do you know the most significant legacy of every single notable government? Ever?

Waste management! A govenrment is about managing all the crap that accumalates when enough people gather together for a civilization to occur. The LITERAL crap comes first. It's no more romantic and no less essential than that.

Latrines. Roads. The regulation of the marketplace and the policing of highways so that people will come and trade. Thankless, largely routine, not much fun and certainly at all heroic on a good day, so we do tend to glitz it up a bit with thrones and parades and Hail to the Chief.

But at the end of the day, the stuff that matters is the stuff that doesn't happen, not the stuff that historians and the media feast upon.

Today, there were no pandemic plagues.

Today, we did not have an atomic war.

Today, the San-Fransisco Bay Bridge did not collapse.

Today, although many fires started, most of them were put out, and it's unlikely that a city anywhere burned to the ground.

Today, in most places in the world, Cholera is something you simply don't have to think about. Or measles or smallpox, or polio. To the extent that this is true, it is true due to the recognition that eliminating these diseases is an inherent good and a collective benefit. It was, in other words, an act of good government.

Today, in at least most of the western world, you can buy food and medicine that you you can be nearly sure contains what it should and is not immediately poisonous; moreover, if you are minded to be more careful than that, you can inform your decisions with libraries and the Internet.

All of these important collective needs are met by that indispensable thing - government. Some do it better than others. But if you have serious concerns about your local government's capability, it's wisdom and foresight - perhaps you should stop and realize that no enterprise, public or private can possibly be any better than the people who are doing the work.

See that pile of crap? It won't shovel itself.


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