Politics

The struggle is real.

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A talented and esteemed lecturer in early childhood education has resigned from teaching at Yale because an email she wrote suggesting a little flexibility about Halloween costumes resulted in an inferno of moral indignation and demands for her (and her husband) to be fired by the college. (Demands by the students of course).

Here is the intolerable message:

“This year, we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween,” she wrote. While noting that she did not wish to “trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community,” Christakis went on to question the imposition of “standards and motives” on others as well as the feasibility of agreeing on how to avoid offense. “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” she asked. “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”

Even -asking- the profoundly politically correct to consider being a little more relaxed results in a take no prisoners purge of the impure. Left wing. Read your history. You do this. Stop.

The Reign of Terror | The Great Purge | The Cultural Revolution | The Killing Fields

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This isn’t a tortured metaphor, I promise. Many things HAVE changed about America over the years but underneath there is a Kevlar skeleton which controls the ways things can change and grow. Part of it is deeply corrupt.

Here is my proposal: 

The people fighting against admitting and correcting climate change (and against developing alternative energy) are like the slave holders who started the civil war.

This might sound like someone yelling “NAZI!!” every time they hear something they don’t like, but trust me, it isn’t.

Southern slave holders were too blinkered to see that technology was rapidly advancing and that holding slaves would soon be made obsolete. They imagined that their lifestyle would carry on exactly in its God ordained fashion forever, with them perched atop of a pile of lesser beings: those being poor whites and enslaved blacks.

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There’s some disagreement about how long modern humans have existed but the figure of 200,000 years is frequently cited. The lifestyle of the stone age was wandering groups of associated families usually between 25 to 50 people. Pretty much anyone you knew, you knew for a lifetime (yours or theirs). The stone age ended as the neolithic revolution in farming transformed the lifestyle of people into the sort of population dense settlements that have basically carried on to this day.

The Population Reference Bureau estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived – since the beginning. Scientists suggest that out of that huge number, only about 12% of those people lived in the stone age. 12% doesn’t sound like a very significant number to influence the sort of people we are today. Until you realize that every person since then is a descendent of that 12%. And even more importantly that that 12% of all people was us during 96% of our time on Earth. Our roots are deep, deep in the stone age. 

So our inner cave clan easily breaks through the surface of our modernism. 192,000 years of comforting small groups of closely related people with a distrust of strangers is not something you shake off like a daydream. When we utterly detest racists and xenophobes we are behaving toward ourselves as we might to our dog humping legs at a party or chewing shoes. We shout “NO!” and we drag them off, “stupid dog” we mutter. The dog’s behavior has been momentarily suppressed but not altered in the slightest. And certainly not for the next generation of dogs.  Continue reading

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I think there’s an odd problem waiting for the right wing media who keep desperately trying to officially classify the San Bernardino shootings as Islamic terrorism (because it’s about blaming Obama for terrorism on American soil, get it? So much for not politicizing).

The main killer, the guy, seems to be using Islam as the rationale but really he’s perfectly in the mold of the seething, isolated grudge holder who we’ve seen so often. He’s an unusual new hybrid for Americans: He’s killing because he’s a fucked up jerk, but he’s hitching his wagon to a larger cause, Islam. Of the two issues here I would say it’s more like he did it because he was a fucked up angry jerk. Since he would identify this act as Islamic terrorism though, who am I (or the news media) to argue with him? His stockpiling of weapons and the readiness of his wife to join him in suicide/mass murder indicates a long period of drifting toward this moment.

But if THIS is terrorism then so is the more common garden variety carried out more typically in this country by angry right wing men who have hitched their wagon to anti-abortion or anti government causes. The personality type for these events is a mostly a forgone conclusion. If we can’t register guns maybe we can register bitter, grudge holding bastards. Of course it would just become one more thing on their list of reasons they plan to kill some folks.

I am 100% in favor of calling Islamic terrorism what it is. There are people who balk at the phrase, instantly complaining that it indicts all Muslims. * Of course it doesn’t represent all of Islam…It represents the terrorist side of Islam. In its own way it’s as ridiculous as arguing with the phrase “Islamic charities” because not all Muslims are charitable! This is simply using words meaningfully, to describe what something in particular is.

I would like to extend this logic though. When we have an act of right wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. When we have an act of left wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. We haven’t had an ongoing issue of left wing terrorism in this country since the sixties but we do have a chronic right wing terror problem. And for some reason it’s virtually taboo to state this fact. That reason of course is that the American news media are made of entirely of jelly and kissing up to power. To protect their commercial revenue and increasingly meaningless “access” they keep within the lines approved of by those they report on.

Truth in naming is notable for its absence in most public conversations. But I would adore hearing Bill O’Reilly say “Another act of right-wing terrorism” (I got your “no spin” right here, pal). Potentially some acts should even be called Christian terrorism if the rationale put forward by the perpetrators has some Christian theological justification.

But somehow I don’t think the right wing media is going to start calling it that.

— Update: It’s come out that in their online courtship the two killers shared an interest in martyrdom and prepared for an attack far in advance.

 


*(Honestly, the left is SO concerned with being nice and not offending anyone that they virtually become BFFs with the some of the most regressive, hidebound, anti-woman, anti-gay theology on the planet. But that is another topic.)

 

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Some humans can live as wild and solitary as tigers. Humans can live as isolated families miles from their neighbors. They can live in tribes, villages, clan groups, small towns, cities and mega-cities. Humans are not infinitely adaptable but they are capable of many different modes of existence. It’s well known that these different life styles operate under different rules. Neighborliness and charity for example, are different things when surrounded by ten, ten thousand or ten million people.  

If you live in a town of two hundred people and you see a person broken down beside the road, well first of all, you know them! If you don’t know them directly, they most likely know someone you know. But even if not, it’s likely that they will be approached and given aid. So there is this appearance of a warm generosity. On the downside of course is the famous way that small town folks know each other’s business TOO much…there’s the sense that you can’t reinvent yourself, you can’t break free of everyone’s conclusions about you. Rather like the whole town had become a kind of extended family, uncomfortably defining you. 

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When a business is hungry and growing, it reaches out to people, trying to offer what they want and success reflects how well they’ve done this. This is the free market and it’s lovely! But when that same business reaches a certain level of wealth, it uses it to buy influence in government and artificially create a safer environment for itself with fewer regulations and more challenges for competitors. It has merged ever so slightly with the government and become a little bit removed from its relationship with the consumer. It still honors the general idea of selling a desired product but it is starting to cool to the idea that happy customers are the most important thing. All you have to do repeat a few cycles of this process and the company grows more successful and more remote from any connection to their consumers.
 

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I think there is a continuum of cruelty. But cruelty may be the wrong word; if I stick to the letter C I might pick coldness or convenience. It’s about whether other people are real or not. Dehumanizing begins in a perception and then reveals itself in actions. I’m starting in the coldest spot I can find and working toward “room temperature” because of the perspective it offers.

Murder is scorn for the very existence of another. It may be for hate or profit or amusement but the exchange is based on a “good for me” foundation that takes EVERYTHING from the other for our profit. Raymond Chandler said that murder was “infinite cruelty” because you aren’t just taking everything a person has, you are taking everything they ever would have had. Whether it’s a robber in an alley or a spouse killing because divorce is too hard, it comes to the other being an inconvenience. This has to be because the other person is already seen as “something in the way”. 

 Slavery is scorn for the life and aspirations of another. It is based on a “good for me” foundation that takes everything from the other while harnessing their energy and abilities for our profit: Essentially it is a form of parasitism. Slavery is “murder lite”. If murder is “infinite cruelty” then slavery must be only a certain number of steps removed. They are visible on the same spectrum of coldness. You have taken what they had and what they would have had, but left them alive to see the sky and think their thoughts. 

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Within months there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in Biology that I find very exciting.  First, they’ve discovered a second code language in DNA. Top level language controls which proteins are made and the second language which was hidden WITHIN the first one controls turning genes on and off. Amazing. Huge implications. And besides that, this extraordinary study below indicates a genetic version of updates to the knowledge base caused by the life experiences of the animal. This is like experiential Lamarckism. 
 
If this study holds up it’s huge.
  1. Mice were trained to be afraid of the smell of cherry blossoms (I don’t even want to know HOW).
  2. These mice later had litters which had never been exposed to cherry blossom and when they were, they were afraid of it.
  3. These second generation mice later had litters and their children…were afraid of the same smell.

This is obviously not direct alteration of the genetic code, it’s a methylation change called epigenetics. What it amounts to though is a much more powerful means of shaping evolution than sheer randomness, but one that doesn’t rely on some variety of intelligent design.

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It occurs to me that the most basic refutation of Ayn Rand is what would happen if all people everywhere were passionate “objectivists” (her incredibly self congratulatory name for her “system”). It would be a planet of arrogant lizards hissing at each other.

Rand’s philosophy requires  a world pre-populated with the rich and poor already in place so she can align herself with the one and spit on the other. Her own lifestyle, the one she oddly evangelized, requires losers to step on and revile. Besides communists and such though, these losers include everyone who shows some societal concerns and compassion. It includes mother love, family love, friendship and any impulse toward generosity. Ayn Rand produced only one consumable that anyone would pay for: That product is a greasy lotion to be rubbed upon the rich which leaves them with a golden glow of complete comfort and satisfaction with the status quo. It has a secondary property of encouraging some people who aren’t rich to assert their complete justification in behaving as assholes any time they feel like it. As a totally selfish asshole, Rand realized that a product niche existed and she could fill it very lucratively. The delicious malicious truth is that in her purest, most “objective” thinking she is utterly dependent upon other people after all, the boring, needy, prosaic people she despised. Her “philosophy/literature” is the artistic portrait of a furious toddler foot stamping or a mean teenage sister with no friends who calls everyone “loser”.


 

And as an addendum to the “hissing lizards” idea: Thomas Paine on the subject of “You didn’t build that all by yourself”– “Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally. Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.” -Agrarian Justice Part Three

 


One of my favorite philosophers, Robert Anton Wilson on meeting Ayn Rand: “The first new dogmatism I embraced after rejecting the Marxist BS (belief system) was Ayn Rand’s philosophy (not yet called Objectivism in those days.) The Fountainhead had exactly the appeal for me that it has retained, decade after decade, with alienated adolescents of all ages. (The average youthful reader of Thus Spake Zarathustra decides he is the Superman, and the average youthful Randroid decides she is an Alienated Super Genius.) Like most Randroids, I went around for a few years mindlessly parroting all the the Rand dogma and imagining I was an ‘individualist.’ “Some years later, after becoming a published writer, I actually was invited to meet Ayn Rand once. (I was ‘summoned to the Presence,’ as Arlen said.) I confessed my doubts about certain Rand dogmas and was Cast Out Into the Darkness forever to wail and gnash my teeth in the Realm of Thud. It was weird. I thought the Trots and Catholic priests were dogmatic, but Ayn Rand made both groups look like models of tolerance by comparison. “I thought she was a clinical paranoid. It was nearly 30 years later that I found out Rand was merely on Speed all the time, which creates an effect so much like paranoia that even trained clinicians cannot always tell the difference, and some even claim there is no difference.”

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