Anthropological Motivation For Not Fighting About Politics


For context, look up popular American news articles for March 12th, 2016.

Raja Yoga (the Hindu philosophy of using physical movement to achieve a higher spiritual state–called simply “yoga” by most westerners) seems to have arisen out of a collection of movements and postures practiced as part of human life. From bowing to a king, to taking a wide stance in preparation for delivering a sword blow, to stretching in the morning and evening to alleviate muscle and joint pain, to picking up a baby–this is a system of kinetic learning intended to explain and teach the human condition and how to function within it.

Humans are loving. Humans are powerful. Humans fight for survival, spend their days gathering resources; humans follow leaders; humans battle for control over the followers and means of acquisition. (Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably seeing you as their follower…) This method of teaching translates literally to “royal yoga”. As profound as it once was, it fails to teach apt governance or understanding in the absence of the cultural understanding that could only be truly had in the more revered and wealthy circles of the ancient world.

What would such a system look like, if it were created out of the successful strategies of governing and being governed within our own society? Are there any motions that we can still use to universally increase our usefulness and success as a part of the human meta-organism? Today, we crave a method that works for almost everyone, and mourn the absence of any such thing that can make us happy. There is currently no “one size fits most” method for anyone born after 1980, or, perhaps, before.

In politics and religion, alike, we are bereft of truly effective guidance. We celebrate the death of “storge” love while complaining about lack of agreement in public matters. (This is a contradiction.) We seek ancient wisdom that hardly translates to how to make a real living, today. We are amply taught, in school, church, home, and in casual society everything but what is known to be truly, universally effective–because nobody knows of any universally “human” means of survival that has, itself, survived the test of time.

In the last decade, much of the world has awoken to this predicament, and we are fighting each other because nobody can figure out how to make things work, again. The information age arose out from Pandora’s box, and our greatest minds have yet to tame it in a way that lets everyone live happily, who is willing to keep trying.

Or maybe that is the nature of the human condition: as the Buddhists say, “suffering exists”, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with that.

It is a part of human nature to fight. We committed genocide against every human species that came before us, until only Homo sapiens remained. (A chilling thought, but true, according to archeologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists.) A new way of living will one day emerge out of the ashes of analog society and the minds of those who, like Homo erectus, failed to adapt (despite having a larger brain). In the mean time, let’s limit our battles to the ones that actually matter.

If an idiot or a fool gets elected president, let them show us how not to do things.

Some arguments can only be won by letting your opponent win, and then realize, on his own, that he should have been wiling to compromise (A.K.A. “adapt”). We decided in the late 40s that killing all the stupid people is wrong, so if such people end up running things, and we don’t crash and burn because of it, we will have proven that the antiquated morals of centuries past–survival of the fittest, when you boil it down enough–are truly not as good as the softer ones we revere, today.

And if letting stupid people self-actualize turns out to be a problem, we can always decide that Hitler had the right of things and commit genocide until all the stupid people are extinct, and we evolve into a species that’s better than Homo sapiens. (Personally, I don’t advocate this method.)

Seriously, folks, don’t get into physical fights over political beliefs unless you think we should silence, cage, and eventually extinct all the imbuciles–including, possibly, you.

Trump and Sanders fans, I’m looking at you.

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A Centrist’s Analysis of the 2016 Presidential Election


A.K.A. “You heard it here, first!”

This started off as a Facebook post, about a week ago.  Many of the people who replied to the original post are of a liberal persuasion, and some took umbrage to my assertion that Sanders isn’t as intelligent as some of the other candidates.  The second half of this essay is a response to those objections.  As with all my posts, I take no offense at being disagreed with, but do request that any disagreements be presented respectfully and intelligently.

The Analysis

As a self-described centrist, I’ve watched the most recent Republican and Democratic presidential primary debates. I’ve noticed some striking differences that have influenced my opinion substantially, at this juncture.

1) Right or wrong in her policies, Hillary Clinton is the most intelligent person in the running.

2) Sanders is the only one who seems to care about or understand the major concerns of the millennial generation. He is, however, extremely vague (compared to Clinton) about how to fund any of the changes he wants.

3) The Republican candidates disagree with each other a lot less, but they don’t go into as much detail about their positions, or how they intend to accomplish their goals.

4) The Democratic debate facilitators ask much harder questions. Their candidates often dodge the question, but have stayed on topic better than in past elections. Republican debate facilitators ask much easier questions, and their candidates don’t dodge them as often.

5) The Democratic candidates put more focus on how they intend to do things, and are more specific about what they intend to do. The Republican candidates focus more on who they’re angry at.

6) Governor O’Malley makes much more concise, salient remarks, and asks harder, more intelligent questions than the facilitators or other candidates. He seems to lack the assertiveness to lead effectively at the presidential level, but he adds much to the election by way of keeping the other candidates honest.

7) Sanders and Trump are more childish than the other candidates, in their mannerisms and speech patterns. Trump is extremely so, to the point that I wonder if he suffers from a neoteny-related disorder.

8) Bush made more sense than any other Republican candidate, and seems to have some understanding that issues that have yet to be solved are unsolved because they’re complex and are trade-off centric. Clinton has a much better apparent understanding of this than any of the other candidates, including Bush, although Bush may be catering his responses to the less detail-oriented format of the Republican debates.

9) Sanders and O’Malley seem to be the least corrupt, in terms of taking money from special interests.

10) Sanders and Clinton get almost all the attention, and are rude to O’Malley when he tries to speak.

11) Trump really is an idiot. He has basically no understanding of politics, diplomacy, foreign affairs, economics, the economics of immigration, etc.  (Research early 20th century immigration and it’s effects, if you don’t believe me.)

12) Sanders is also pretty stupid, but he has a handful of ideas that could basically save my generation if he implements them with sufficient foresight (which he may or may not possess). If elected, he would screw a lot of stuff up, but maybe fix the things that most need fixing. He also doesn’t understand foreign relations, many aspects of economics, diplomacy, etc. In other words, a vote for him is a vote for sacrificing a lot of things that (mostly) work in favor of fixing a few things that are severely broken–if he’s clever enough to pull it off, which is worth questioning.

13) Clinton would hold down the fort with stunningly apt alacrity, but not seriously work on our country’s most severe domestic problems. She would make small, incremental improvements, and do a darned good job of that…slowly. Under her rulership, we should expect small, consistent improvements across the board (barring unforeseen circumstances). She has foresight, leadership ability, and genius-level I.Q. She’s one of the greatest diplomats alive. What she lacks is out-of-the-box thinking on some pressing issues.

14) I’m sad to admit that, in spite of my centrism, I can’t see any of the Republican candidates’ proposed solutions as being very sapient or realistic. Sorry, guys: you’re going to lose, this year.

15) Clinton listens intently to each of her opponents and nods appreciatively, apparently to herself, when they say something particularly intelligent. I expect that, like Obama, she’ll ask some of her former opponents to join her cabinet. Sanders is an ideologue who is too busy concentrating on making his next point to listen very well. (Referring to active listening, not hearing loss.) He may or may not have the wisdom to hire his former competitors.

16) Sanders has an annoying demeanor. Those I was watching the debate with (stalwart democrats) kept turning him down because he was a “loud mouth” and a “hot head”, which mostly speaks to his presentation, rather than his ideas. If people can’t stand listening to you, it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are.

In conclusion, either Sanders or Clinton will most likely be our next president. I like what Sanders is trying to do, but his demeanor is unpalatable, and he lacks the intellect to do a good job, on most fronts. He has admirable compassion, but precious little logistical sense, and would end up a lot like Jimmy Carter, in the eyes of history, were he to win. Clinton will probably be our next president, and will almost certainly do a very solid job of it, taking into account the quirks specific to her party (fixation on gun control, LGBT/race/female issues–all of which are sometimes sensible, and often not), and a penchant for small, safe changes, rather than large, riskier ones (some of the latter we seem to need). To put it simply, we are probably in safe hands, this time around, and the big changes will probably have to wait.

 

“But I like Bernie Sanders, and I think he’s smart!”

“He’s been working for decades to do what he claims to want, so shouldn’t we give him more credit?”

I don’t doubt that Sanders is sincere, or that he’s been working toward his goals for a very long time. He is, indeed, very committed. My concerns about his intellect come from a variety of things about him, most of them small and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t also noticed it. Here are a few that seem relatively easy to communicate.

1) He stays “on message” a lot more than the other candidates. When asked about gun control, he talked about Wall Street. When asked about digital security and Constitutional concerns, he talked about Wall street, and then, eventually, about terrorists. When asked about racial inequality, he talked about Wall Street. Yes, the financial sector (which is larger than just Wall Street in New York City!) needs to be sat on for the way they have screwed up our economy and some other stuff. Yes, they’re crazy rich, while their employees are just getting poorer. They’re on my “sh*t-list”. They are not, however, the cause of every evil in the world, and changing how we interact with them isn’t going to solve most of our problems. That’s lazy thinking. He’s been on the job for long enough to know better…but he apparently doesn’t.

2) His vocabulary is limited.

3) He’s reactionary in the same way as people I know who have a fanatically-held set of beliefs, but who lack the wherewithal to justify those beliefs saliently to others. He gets upset, raises his voice, interrupts incessantly, gesticulates to get attention, etc. This is another sign of a weak mind.

4) His facial expressions are very limited. This one is a bit harder to explain, but I’ll try. For illustration, watch Trump speak and count how many distinct expressions he has. That’s an approximate number that can be used to extrapolate his range of emotions. People who have only, in the extreme example, “happy” and “sad” make you think of what group of people?  According to psychologists, what is the average IQ of people with that kind of disorder? (Down Syndrome sufferers are one example.  They have an average I.Q. of 80, whereas “normal” is ~100.) A person without nuanced feelings is probably incapable of understanding partial victories, mitigated defeats, trade-offs, moral gray area, etc.; if they did understand these things, they would have a decidedly more developed range of emotions, which would result in more unique facial expressions. Trump regularly displays fake sadness, sullenness, child-like delight, and anger–and not much else. Now, watch the same length of video and count Sanders’ unique expressions. There aren’t many more. Now, take a look at either of the Clintons (who have approximate IQs of 138 and 140, respectively). Do they look sideways in amusement? Do they smirk, wink, look ponderous, etc? You bet they do. They have also been shown to understand things like partial victories, mitigated defeats, trade-offs, moral gray area, etc. I know this might not make a lot of sense unless you’ve already noticed it, but here’s hoping…

5) He doesn’t seem to know when he has made his point, and people have stopped listening intently.

6) When he was asked whether he was raising taxes on the middle class to pay for universal health care, he prevaricated for over 2 minutes, apparently without realizing that everyone with half a brain cell would see that he was doing so. If you boil it down enough, his answer was, “Yes, I’m raising taxes on the middle class, but the savings from medical costs will be bigger.” For many, including me, this is probably true. However, anyone with a little life experience knows that some people get sick and/or go to the doctor more than others, so for the latter group, the math doesn’t add up. (I go to the doctor more than most people.)  Having worked on this problem for several decades, he should know better than to make such a brash assumption, but either he doesn’t know better, or is lying. It’s been previously agreed (by most in the conversation, so far) that he’s genuine; therefore, he’s stupid.

7) As obtuse as Congress is, if he were even a little bit good at explaining his ideas in a way that made other people who knew about the subject matter agree with him, he would have gotten the Democratic Party leadership on-board with his plan, after all this time.  Overwhelmingly, his colleagues seem to think of him as being unrealistic.  Often, when he seems to have “stumped” his opponent with a response, the expression on the opponent’s face isn’t one of concession or sullen disappointment about being bested in an argument, but of bafflement that he would even say such a thing.  How do you deliver a snappy retort to a statement that’s factually incorrect on a dozen different levels?  If you think back to a time when someone made such an argument to you, that debate dynamic will become painfully clear.  As previously mentioned, he consistently dodged Clinton’s questions about his previous voting record, and likewise refused to explain in any detail how he intended to mitigate the negative side-effects of his proposed changes.  Many of the bills he authored are only a couple of pages long, and make no effort to state, in practice, how they are to be accomplished, if made law.  Valid questions include: How do you enforce it?  What are the specific rules that businesses, individuals, and government agencies must follow, in day-to-day life?  Are those people actually able to follow those rules without it putting them out of business or turning everyone into a criminal–technically or judicially, depending on enforcement?  A 2-page bill can’t address these concerns, and Sanders repeatedly presents such bills, trying to make them into laws.  They are consistently voted down by his peers.  (Yes, he has managed to pass a handful of laws in the 25 years since he first got elected to Congress, which means that he occasionally writes a law that his colleagues don’t think is asinine.)  To my understanding, his biggest accomplishments as a member of Congress center around adding a little “heart” to bills that others have written–which makes him a decent Congressman, but doesn’t qualify him for the duty of vetoing poorly-written laws.

I could go on, but this should provide a little justification for my assertions about his intellect. Again, I think he has a few really good ideas; but I doubt that he has much understanding of what the side-effects of those ideas will be.  Therefore, I’ll reassert that a vote for Sanders is a vote for sacrificing a lot of things that (mostly) work, in favor of fixing a few things that are badly broken.  This comes down to the priorities of an individual voter; but be warned: some of the things he wants to change will make essential goods like food, fuel, clothing, and building supplies more expensive.  Will his other ideas counteract this by making you richer?  Will you be made richer in a way that doesn’t prevent industrialists from making those goods at a reasonable price?  Maybe, if he’s smart enough.  Do you care to roll the dice?  Vote according to your mind, heart, and conscience.

Millennial


I’m of the generation that started off in one world and then crossed into the next during my formative years.

While those before me barely understood how to use a typewriter, I spent much of my childhood building computers and typing at a rate that would put most secretaries to shame.

My generation was the first to start off talking on a phone with a 6-foot long spiral cord, and then carry around high-powered computers in our pockets as we entered adulthood.


As soon as we entered kindergarten or first grade–since, back then, kindergarten wasn’t required–our teachers did a little bit of math on their abacuses and realized that when we graduated high school, it would be the year 2000.  I know you think I’m kidding about the abacuses, but when I started school, that’s actually what we did math on.

Graduating high school in that seminal year somehow carried a lot of weight.

It wasn’t just a number; it meant that humanity was getting a sort of “new start”, in the minds of a lot of people.  Therefore, it was generally instilled in us from an early age that it was up to us and those born at a similar time to change the world drastically and, essentially, fix all the epic screw-ups of our parents, grandparents, and every previous generation.

The funny thing is, while we were starting to learn the world and contemplate how we might change it when we finally got all grown up, it actually did change into something that nobody before our generation could have fully expected or adapted to.

Just about every piece of academic information suddenly became free.  Yes, I know that if you want to really drill into a topic, you still have to take a free online course from an actual university; but essentially, it became the new big thing that, if you didn’t know something, you could type it into Yahoo, Excite, Altavista, and later, Google, and then…you knew it.

This was really cool, and our parents, teachers, and, once we got all grown up, our bosses thought that this was the best thing ever…until they actually got a taste of what it was like to be around someone who knew more than they did.

Not long into my adult-ness I got hired on as a Computer Assisted Drafter at a door company.  This wasn’t because I’d ever done drafting of any kind before, and certainly not because I knew a thing about wood-working, beyond a few projects in elementary school; but the boss had realized that the digital age–whatever that meant–had arrived, and all the famous ink-and-paper magazines said that it was going to make her rich if she embraced it.  Therefore, she eagerly hired the first freshly minted grown-up who knew a particularly great amount about computers to do all the computer-thingies that she and her other employees didn’t really understand.

My first task was to start learning the drafting program, and my second task was to remove the plethora of viruses and other malware from all the computers on the network so that the program would actually run.  That was cool, and dollar signs began to flash before my boss’s eyes.

My next task was to actually start drafting.  This was easy enough: plug in the numbers, draw the lines, and print it out on a really big piece of paper so the guys in the shop could build it.  Except that the head of the woodworking department, who was over me, didn’t trust anything that wasn’t written in graphite.  Therefore, my final task before I could be happily away in my new career was to learn how to teach a person born in the ignorant world of pencils and paper that computers could do things better.  We were running Windows Millennium Edition, so this wasn’t an easy task.  Ultimately, though, despite all the difficulties this entailed, the company failed for the most venerable and inane of reasons: the boss liked to play fast and loose with the books, and apparently “going digital” didn’t make that any more legal.

From this, it quickly became apparent that simply knowing how to do one’s job wasn’t enough to be successful at making money.  One first had to figure out how to deal with the obtuseness of human nature.

Funny thing: in all of our classes on learning “the theory of how to do everything”, not one class was taught on how to actually get along in society.  Stuff like “how to talk to your boss without making him mad” and “what a checkbook is for, and how to make the numbers be nice to you” just weren’t considered important.  Thusly, Millennials, for all our unique insights into what technology does and doesn’t change, and despite being the foremost experts in turning an ignorant world into a knowledgeable one, it’s become a famous fact that, as a group, we simply can’t hold down jobs to save our lives.  People are just too stupid to know when they’re being stupid, and being as how (according to everyone more than 10 years older than us) we were supposed to teach the world how to drastically change for the better, we’ve largely done what any brilliantly unwise person would do and tried to actually teach people how to stop being stupid.

Wikipedia has the following to say about the Millennial generation:

Millennials [were predicted to] become more like the “civic-minded” G.I. Generation with a strong sense of community both local and global…[Some attribute] Millennials with the traits of confidence and tolerance, but also a sense of entitlement and narcissism…Millennials in adulthood are detached from institutions and networked with friends…Millennials are somewhat more upbeat than older adults about America’s future, with 49% of Millennials saying the country’s best years are ahead though they’re the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment…Some employers are concerned that Millennials have too great expectations from the workplace.  Some studies predict that Millennials will switch jobs frequently, holding many more jobs than Gen Xers due to their great expectations…[Some describe] Millennials’ approach to social change as “pragmatic idealism,” a deep desire to make the world a better place combined with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside and outside existing institutions.

That last part is a real pain in the butt.  As children and young adults, we were stuck playing the game of, “Yes, teacher/parent/employer, you are older and therefore much wiser than I am.  Sure, I’ll teach you how to open your word processor…again.”  Being the lowest person on the social totem pole because of your age, and having the best insights about how to actually get stuff done in this strange new world is a really fast path toward unemployment, unless you learn to (A) forget that you know what you’re doing, and become satisfied with doing everything the stupid way–at least until your so-called superiors retire, die, or stop telling you how to do things–or (B) try to be your own boss…just like every other unemployed person.  So, “changing the world”, apparently, must first start from a position of not doing anything to change the world, or being jobless.

About that.  Changing the world, I mean.  Sitting on the fence between the world of mostly-unwilling ignorance and the world of willful ignorance means that pretty much every modern “social change” movement not created and run by Millennials looks a lot like a pipe dream created by those who grew up with a search engine good enough to avoid ever having to look at anything they don’t want to.  While the older generation could, in most cases, rightfully claim to be doing the best they knew how, based on the information they were given, the generation after us sounds a little tinny when they say that “something is a basic human right” because they read it on SaveTheWorldWithCuteCatPictures.com.  How do these people who started life with the best access to information that the world has ever seen still not realize that the kinds of supposedly radical changes they’re totally bent on bringing about have either failed or caused total economic, social, political, and governmental meltdowns every time they succeeded?

Sure, it must be a good idea to let Russia keep pushing west, through Ukraine, in spite of the treaty they signed at the end of the Cold War.  Maybe if we shake our fingers at them hard enough, they’ll march back to their own territory like Germany did in 1939.

The truly galling thing about this, though, isn’t the naivety of post-Millennial 20-somethings, but how the previous generation seems to have decided that if something shows up on the Internet when they type “social justice in Crimea” into Google, it must be absolute truth.  Did they totally forget about voting for education reforms that involved teaching HTML code to high school kids who showed any particular aptitude in computing?  It would take me under an hour to create a not-too-shabby-looking web page saying that cheeseburgers cause cancer because cows are naturally-occurring GMOs.  But I won’t bother to do that, because it’s already been done, and a lot of people already believe that cheeseburgers cause cancer because…”GMOs!!!!”…to a sufficient degree that they’re willing to start a protest in front of Burger King.  They might even bring their very-skinny-but-still-cute-enough-to-post-pictures-on-Pinterest vegan cats with them.

To put all this another way, Millennials who really absorbed and believed what they were taught in school tend not to start “blooming” until they’re in their thirties, if ever.

Wikipedia also notes that some sociologists refer to us as the “Peter Pan Generation”, and as horrible as it might seem to be called that, I can’t help but agree with this assessment.  How does a person learn how life works before the dawn of the Information Age, then learn how to be the fore-runners of that age, then learn how to avoid pissing people off by being too good at it, and then finally learn how to have a career (read: wait for the older generations to die or retire) without taking a long time doing it?  If we’re lucky, we’ll have started our careers by age 35, and not hate ourselves for the dead end careers we picked back before all the careers that were profitable and fun switched with all the careers that didn’t used to be.  Some of us are bloody lucky to land a “career” at a fast food restaurant by virtue of having a bachelor’s degree.  And our parents’ generation is all up in arms because we complain about having $50,000 of student debt and want the minimum wage to be raised.

Well, except for those Millennials who, against everyone’s wishes, didn’t attend or finish college.

Sure, there are a lot of people my age who managed to buy degrees that will eventually pay themselves off.  However, most of the people I know who were born around 1982 did what all the adults told them to and ended up with little more than very expensive pieces of paper and a few years wasted in college housing.

One the upside, additional time spent learning things means that, to an even greater degree, those who spent at least a little time studying the “cutting edge” in such institutions know more about this “brave, new world” than people who didn’t attend college, at all.  On the down side, we’re once again stuck trying to convince people older than us that we do, in fact, know some better ways in which to do things, that are different from how they’ve always been done, without getting into trouble for saying so.

It’s worth noting, however, that there is a very sizeable contingent of Millennials who have figured out how to “live the American Dream.”  Overwhelmingly, these are the people who were uninterested in, or just too stupid to understand all that new-fangled computer stuff, back in high school.  Sorry, but those Millennials who were good at these things know exactly who and what I’m talking about.  They did as their parents and grandparents did, before them, and got jobs doing stuff that wasn’t, in any way, going to change the world.  Some examples include accounting, vehicle repair, construction work, bartending, marketing, and anything involving keeping your head down in a bureaucracy.  Perhaps the rest of us realized too late that anything that has generated tax revenue consistently for a few thousand years will, by extension of a famous proverb, result in job security–even if it’s the sort of thing that only a trained monkey could totally avoid feeling suicidal about.  Surprisingly, most people who actually got into computers when Forbes was predicting that people who got into computers would get rich, currently do computer repair or technical support for close to minimum wage.  After all, how much are people really willing to spend to keep a computer running when they can get a cheap-and-crappy new one for around $300?

I’ve never met a business owner who wasn’t willing to save a penny, now at the cost of a dollar, later.  Computers are like that, and contrary to what one might expect, business owners are willing to pay more than most to keep theirs running.  That should put things nicely into perspective.

This has been a rather long rant, and what I really mean to say by all of it is that people of other generations gripe way too much about people of my generation not “hitting the ground running”, “grabbing life with both hands”, “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”, and all that jazz.  The fact is, we did all that, and it turned out that both the ground and life were covered in grease.  A lot of us fell flat on our faces with suddenly-ending careers, nervous breakdowns and other mental health catastrophes, stock market crashes, unrealistic expectations instilled in us from an early age, and so on.  That we’re at all willing to try–yet again–to get back on our feet in spite of how painful and discouraging our early adulthood was, is a sign of just how great this generation really is.

And we are going to change the world, damn it.

The World’s Wrongs Aren’t As Wrong As You Think They Are


<rant>

I just saw something about “things we didn’t know were made with sweat shop labor”.  It’s sardonically funny because it’s utterly obvious to anyone who knows how humanity has worked for all of our history.  Realistically, the only way to have everything we want without doing this kind of labor, ourselves, and without having other people do it, is to have robots do it all–which would mean mass unemployment, especially for those who are already poor.  (No, “fair trade” with foreign entities isn’t feasible in most cases, because it’s ultimately impossible to enforce where those collecting your money spend it–whether on their workers or on themselves.  Or, we could enforce it, but that would require sending soldiers into a sovereign nation and killing people who resist.  Embargoes against countries who refuse to participate in fair trade tend to result in economic collapse and death by crime, warfare, and poverty for people in those countries.)  The short explanation of why things are done this way is because, like everything else our society does, it’s the method we’ve found that “works” with minimal problems.  It’s not necessarily good, but it’s better than everything else we’ve tried, so far; therefore, any truly helpful suggestion for change is going to have to involve a more complete solution than, “let’s just pay more for stuff, and shame those who don’t or can’t do that!”

These items include:
-Food (Cheap labor is required to grow it plentifully.  In almost all countries, farmers are the poorest of the poor.  Here, farmers aren’t poor, but farm workers still are–which is an improvement from the global norm, if we’re being honest about it.)
-Clothing (Textile workers have pretty much always had it rough.  Working with fibers can mess up your body if you do it enough.  A lot of people I know struggle to buy clothes at the current price.  Multiply that price that by 500-1000%, and a lot more folks will start freezing to death in the winter.)
-Drugs of all kinds (Which come from crops…therefore use cheap farm labor.)
-Plastic objects of all kinds (If we want them to be plentiful, and therefore affordable, that requires cheap labor, and a huge supply of petroleum.)

This article sucks:
http://app.greenamerica.org/world-of-hurt/

Yes this is messed-up…but I don’t think anyone reading this has ever gone a day in their lives without benefiting from these abuses.  In fact, the computer or mobile device you’re using right now–regardless of brand–was made using these practices, unless you paid about 10x what every other comparable model costs.  (I know this because I’ve been building computers since I was a little kid and have a pretty good idea of where the parts come from, and what they would cost if we made them using better practices.  All the local computer stores pay minimum wage to build computers, and would pay less if they could get away with it.  The reason you can get a computer or smart phone for under $1,000 is because the parts were made in sweat shops and assembled by underpaid techies.)  Worse, the people who like to share such statistics about “sweat shop labor” are usually the same people who support organic farming, which pits food shortages against human rights abuses and outright lies (for marketing to sensitive shoppers), when you get right down to how it works.

The local political party/advocacy group/guilt factory where I live, the Chico Peace and Justice Center, is all about making people feel bad about <insert verb here>, while providing only the most superficial and infeasible alternatives.  I’m sorry, but I wish that people would pay more attention to figuring out why people do what they do, under the assumption that nobody is “born evil”, rather than going around condemning people for doing whatever they can to deal with life as well as they can manage.  All the injustices in the world exist because they help meet somebody’s needs, or have done so in the past (and no better solution has become readily available); therefore, any meaningful solution requires us to put ourselves in the “perpetrator’s” shoes and figure out why they need to do what they do in order to be OK with life.  Yes, this includes actual villains like S. Hussein and A. Hitler, even though what they did was obviously unacceptable.  They both had very human reasons, though, and if you really dig around in their history, you’ll see that they were just trying to meet their personal needs, and sometimes those of the people around them.  Did they both deserve what they got, in the end?  Yeah, I think so.  Would you have acted in a similar fashion, given the same upbringing and life experiences?  That’s a harder question to answer, and I hope that one would hesitate to do so blithely.  I think that if our local (or not-so-local) activists were to seriously consider why these unfair practices exist, they would have a lot less anger, and not feel as much like they need to look down their noses at us “plebeians”, for one silly reason or another, no matter how <insert political leaning here> either person or party might be.

</rant>

Why Does It Matter Whether Homosexuality Is A Choice?


I think that the reason people think that choice in gender preference matters is the same reason why people who ask that question are, so far as I’ve seen, utterly unwilling to follow that question to the uncomfortable places to which it might lead. This applies equally to both sides of the LGBTQ debate. The logic goes something like this:

The anti-LGBTQ advocate will typically look at the evidence in this way:
“It’s entirely, or substantially a choice. Therefore, people who engage in homosexual activity are culpable, and legitimate targets of (social) prosecution.” In rarer cases, such an advocate will see homosexual people as a “mistake”, wherein their desires are NOT a choice, but they need to “behave themselves”, anyway, and seek medical help to correct the problem.

The pro-LGBTQ advocate will typically look at the evidence in one of two ways, (seemingly) entirely dependent on the situation at-hand:
1) It’s not a choice. Therefore, nobody can be blamed for it, and people who feel same-gender attraction should have every right as people who are born heterosexual.
2) It is a choice. Therefore, people can’t put those who feel same-gender attraction into a “box” as being only a certain way.

Personally, I think that all of these positions have at least a little merit.

The anti-LGBTQ advocate makes good points in claiming that people are responsible for their own decisions (and not those of other people). This is no different from heterosexual responsibility, when you get right down to it. They also make a good point that, similarly, everybody needs to behave in a socially-responsible fashion. Parading unprotected sex in front of an elementary school is probably not a responsible thing to do–regardless of who’s doing it.

The pro-LGBTQ advocate makes a good point in stating that if it isn’t a choice, then discrimination and (social) prosecution is utterly inappropriate. Likewise, if it IS a choice, people who sometimes feel attracted to one gender, and sometimes to the other shouldn’t have to be confined to a particular “way of being”, just because others have trouble wrapping their minds around this. (Bisexual men and women I know are also targets of poor treatment from gay and lesbian people who want them to “figure it out”, which seems equally silly.)

The thing is, regardless of which position is correct, BOTH sides of the debate are going to lose. Here’s my logic:

If there’s a physiological element, then anti-LGBTQ activists are screwed, because it means that they can no longer advocate for laws and policies that have different rules for LGBTQ people–since that would be discrimination. On the other hand, if it IS a choice, they’re stuck proving that same-gender attraction is hurting those who consent to such relations. Rape is already illegal, and clearly, this is a hard case to make with regard to consenting adults.

On the other side, pro-LGBTQ activists are screwed because the physiological element means that medical treatment is theoretically possible. This has the politically-inconvenient effect of proving that a person who is currently homosexual could be turned heterosexual, with the right treatment (hormones, gene therapy, surgery, etc.). If that’s what the person in question really wants, then this gets into “choice” territory: if the pro-LGBTQ activists get to decide that people can’t make this choice for themselves, then their anti-LGBTQ opponents can make the same choice about homosexuality.

So, let’s look at some of the evidence: is there a physiological difference between straight people, bisexual people, and homosexual people? Scientific inquiry has resoundingly said, “yes”. One factor is the shape and development of the amydgala–the part of the brain most responsible for interpersonal interaction and letting the two hemispheres of the brain talk to each other. The amygdalas of gay men more closely resemble those of straight women. The amygdalas of gay women more closely resemble those of straight men. Bisexual people are somewhere in-between. There are also hormonal differences, and one has to wonder how any of this is possible without at least a small genetic component. (I’m sure information about the latter could be found with a Google search–but probably predominantly on politically-biased websites. Scientific journals are, unfortunately, commonly hidden behind paywalls.)

So, why does it matter whether homosexuality is a choice? Because talking about it–SUPERFICIALLY–acts as an emotional “trigger”, and therefore as a political “dog whistle”. And that’s why LGBTQ-related gender politics aren’t worth paying all that much attention to, just yet.

(For those who are wondering, the current “correct” acronym for the aforestated gender rights movement is “LGBTQQIP2SAA” or LGBTQ+, for short.)

Government is Broken Because People are Broken–So How Do We Fix It?


This is a reply to a discussion on Facebook.  For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to copy/paste the post that started the discussion, then my reply, below.  The discussion “ran the gamut” through partisan politics, the need to regulate businesses, the problems with regulating business, corruption in government, etc.  My response, below, is after many, MANY other comments, but I hope you’ll get the “jist” of the discussion from what I’m putting in this blog post.  I encourage people to continue the discussion in the comments section!

Original Post (Erin W.)
May 14th, 2013
if there ever were a week to start leaning libertarian, this would be it….. 🙂 i invite people on both sides of the isles to consider the possibility that BOTH sides are corrupt. this is not so we can become more cynical, it’s so we can learn to hold our OWN favorite politicans just as accountable as we hold the ones we didn’t vote for.nothing really changes unless republicans start caring more about corruption in their OWN party than in the other, and democrats start caring more about corruption in their OWN party than in the other. democrats will never eradicate corruption in the republican party and republicans will never eradicate corruption in the republican party. change only comes when we start with ourselves. that is what it means to be the change.

to republicans i plead- look into the crimes you see happening now. now look back at previous administrations and recognize with humility the SAME THINGS HAPPENING. to democrats i plead- look into the crimes you saw happening in previous administrations. now look at the current administration and recognize with humility the SAME THINGS HAPPENING.

few of us want to believe it. we are much more comfortable with the soothing idea that our side is wonderful and the other side is corrupt. we rationalize and justify with great effort to avoid challenging our easy way of looking at things. our desire to be right is often so much more powerful than our desire to see what’s really going on.

we cannot begin to heal our nation until we can recognize this.

i don’t know how to help in this process. i wish i knew. i suppose i can start with me. i can do my best to be the change.

My Response

The fact is, neither conservatives, liberals, business, nor government merit more trust than the others.  They’re all just “people.”  What happens when you give a person authority over another person?  Most people will immediately begin to exercise it unrighteously.  I’ve worked for enough small businesses to see that one doesn’t have to be more than a low-level assistant manager at a “po-dunk” shack-of-a-business to start exercising unrighteous dominion over everyone whose current position is lesser than one’s own.

So, the real question is, how do we manage the human tendency to behave thus?

Clearly elections don’t work; we just end up with “leaders” who are good at playing to the public sensibilities.  This is a “macrocosm” of high school student government fiascos–and basically the same sorts of people get elected.  The only main difference is how sophisticated their deceptions are, and how many people they’ve duped into helping them do it.  Sure, they don’t promise “free Cheetos for everyone,” but they do dangle silly, unreasonable incentives that their given parties are favoring at the moment.  “Immediately deport all illegal immigrants!”  “Cut all emissions in half by 2020!”  What the claims are really doesn’t matter; they’re designed to get votes and place those running in positions of power and comfort.  Think your party/candidate is different?  You probably just haven’t really dug into the implications of its/his/her promises, yet.  (Note: you may need a doctorate degree in a particular field to do so meaningfully.)  So, let’s look at other ways of dealing with this problem of humans needing leadership, but nearly every human being someone who should NOT lead other humans.

I’d almost further the idea of a simple “lottery” to elect people to office.  This would weed out those actively seeking power (since those people are almost always the ones who SHOULD NOT have power), and ensure an even demographic of rich/poor/black/white/Ivy Leage/community college, etc.–and thus ensure fair representation in the same way that random sampling ensures representative/valid statistical outcomes.  Sadly, not everyone is actually decent at leadership or smart–or especially WISE–enough to get things done sensibly.  (Note: education does not equal competence!  Most of our greatest, most renowned thinkers dropped out of school and got any degrees they had “meritoriously,” after having done something worthwhile that they weren’t formally educated in.)  So, from this, we’d end up with, essentially, a farm run by the farm animals.  This might sound egalitarian and all that, but in reality, most people just aren’t cut out for the kinds of responsibilities that are required of those who lead a nation (or even a small city, or even a Best Buy).  I wrote an essay on the topic of why not all people should be taught to be “leaders”, in case you’re interested: “What it Means to Be Yourself—and Why You Should Buck Current Trends in Education”.

So, if elections guarantee that we get power-hungry, corrupt, and usually feckless leaders, and random sampling guarantees that MOST of our leaders will be feckless, unqualified (i.e. lacking the necessary skills and talents), and spineless (since they’re inexperienced at commanding people)–and still corrupt, in the end; then what is a good system of government?

Let’s look at a benevolent dictatorship!  Monarchy is basically the same thing as a benevolent dictatorship, but is couched in more pretense of “propriety.”  Despite our cultural preferences, this is much more sane than any other option–so long as the dictator is extremely benevolent, extremely wise, extremely ethical, and extremely intelligent.  Some such people exist and history has record of them!  Sadly, their successors are almost always the opposite.  For a Biblical example, look at Solomon versus his son, Rehoboam.  The latter was so feckless, entitled, greedy, power-hungry, and unwise that he raised taxes to the point of dividing the kingdom of Israel into two pieces (which later shattered into countless more pieces)–and they’ve been at war (under various names) ever since.  For a contemporary example (a little less stark, but good enough for my purposes), look at Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, who freed Brazil’s under class, only to be succeeded by a long chain of military despots who reversed all the good he’d done (and then some).  (See my poem, “The Cowardly Artist,” for a reference to him and his successors.)

Oligarchy doesn’t work because it has all the same flaws as Representative Democracy–albeit trending toward more competency and less “deadlock” among legislators–but has even more tendency toward corruption than our current form of government, by way of having more obvious, more vulnerable, “points of attack” for would-be bribers to exploit, and less accountability, since there are fewer people of equal position to “check and balance” them.

Pure direct democracy is much like the “circus” of random selection, but adds a huge layer of complexity to getting anything done, and would basically guarantee our destruction the first time we get attacked by another nation (militarily), by way of not having a clear, fast, and efficient power structure.  Also, who’s going to tally the votes?  There’s your “quota of corruption!”  I tend to like a lot of things about adding elements of direct democracy to other forms of government, but doing it as a pure, direct democracy is fatal.

So, how would you handle this?

Should we place our trust in those who “know better” and trust that they actually do, and won’t take advantage of us?  How would you ensure it’s so?

Should we trust the under-qualified masses to somehow figure it out?  How do we mitigate the risks?

Do we combine several forms of government, much as the Founding Fathers did–only different?  How do we avoid their mistakes without creating even more serious ones?

Should the people really be allowed to run things?  If so, what do we do when the people make bad choices?  Do we let them do it, anyway, hoping that the mistakes aren’t fatal, and that we’ll all eventually learn from them?  If we don’t allow it, then we don’t really have democracy, now, do we?(!)  How do we ensure that we do learn from them in a timely fashion, rather than simply passing around (often-pointless) blame and fear, as we do now?  Are we, as a society, anywhere near mature enough for this level of responsibility?  If not, who is, and how do we find them?

Personally, I currently favor somehow putting reasonable, minimal, safeties in place, but letting the public make all the mistakes they want until we finally “grow up” and stop being rash, easy to bribe (with “cookies” from our leaders, as above), overly-emotional (i.e. avoiding near-solutions because of the problems their flaws created–rather than seeking to perfect them), etc.  Honestly, though, this solution also scares me because I don’t believe we’re ready for it–and that the only way to become ready for it is to simply do it.  This will almost certainly result in a dysfunctional society for a decade or more (or just a few years if we’re really quick on the uptake), and people are likely to die of starvation, in riots, and in plenty other “creative” ways.  It will leave scars–but will we let them cripple us or teach us?  I just don’t know how people would react…

Please share your thoughts, below.

 

Update 6-25-13: Erin W. pointed out a parallel to the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which I find quite apt.  For those not familiar with it, here’s a link:

Do you think this closely related or a stretch?

Where the “Occupiers” Have Gone (Hint: Everywhere)


This is a re-posting of a newsletter I received.  Please visit october2011.org for more such news.  Most of this isn’t getting reported by mainstream media–even though much of Europe has seen battle in its streets.  Educate yourselves, because the normal media outlets won’t do it for you.

Because a sustainable future depends on the people willing to see the truth for what it is, and for those to stand up in unison in order to make a difference.

— Jake Edward Keli’i Eakin

Stop the Machine! Create a new World! October2011.org
October 2011

Time for outrage!
“Ninety-three years old. The last leg of my journey. The end is in sight. I am lucky to be able to seize the time I have left to reflect on my lifelong commitment to politics: the Resistance and the program designed sixty-six years ago by the National Council of the Resistance.” 

These are the opening lines from “A Time for Outrage!”

(“Indignez-vous!”) a 35 page book written by Stephane Hessel in 2010 which sold 3 million copies in 30 languages and inspired protests like “Occupy” in the United States and The Indignados in Spain. Hassel died this week at the age of 95.

Each week we see reasons for outrage and, thankfully, more and more people are joining the culture of resistance.

Tuesday, the judge in the Bradley Manning case turned more than 1,000 days in prison, one-third of it in tortuous conditions in Kuwait and Quantico, into 90 days.  The judge allowed excuses for the delays based on the complexity of the case and the secret documents involved so that it fell just under the 120 statutory limit for a speedy trial. Judge Denise Lind does not publish her opinions, (also outrageous) but read for two hours in court, making it almost impossible to analyze the basis of her making 1,000 = 90.

People are outraged at the treatment of Manning and in more than 70 cities, people protested.

The Keystone Pipeline (KXL) continues to be built as the Earth approaches the tipping point on climate change.  Experts have said that tapping into the Alberta Tar Sands could be “game over” for the climate.(Next week we publish an article in TruthOut about how fracking may be an even bigger problem for climate change than the tar sands.)

People are outraged and doing the direct action necessary to stop the KXL. We hope this movie about the Tar Sands Blockade inspires you to join them.

One year ago, teenager Trayvon Martin was murdered after buying skittles in a convenience store. He was tracked by vigilante George Zimmerman and killed. The police did not charge Zimmerman until there was mass protest.

People are outraged and held vigils to mark the anniversary.

Students at Florida Atlantic University occupied the office of the president of their university after it was announced their football stadium would be named after a private prison corporation. President Mary Jo Saunders hid in her office for an hour, then came out and met the students. Following an hour long consensus process, she agreed to a town hall meeting on the issue this Friday.

Students were outraged at the glorification of prison privatization and were heard.

Occupy Austin settled a criminal prosecution that exposed undercover operatives who not only spied on occupy but also instigated felony actions by occupiers.  The occupiers got time served and the Austin police were exposed – three undercover police were named; the lawyer says there were more.

Occupiers were outraged, they fought back and won.

Jeremy Hammond is being held in prison for leaking 5 million StratFor intelligence documents to Wikileaks. He was entrapped by a government informant, and at 28 years of age, he faces life in prison.  Hammond is outraged at the treatment of Aaron Swartz who committed suicide and wrote an open letter about Swartz while Hammond sat in solitary confinement.

People are outraged at the treatment of Hammond and  Aaron Swartz.

Frankly, there are too many outrages to go through. Here’s a quick list of additional recent actions against outrages. These are a handful among many. One Hundred Million Strike Against Austerity and High Prices in IndiaProtest at DOJ Against Drones and Secret Memo Justifying ThemZapatistas Struggle for Survival on Planet Earth;  Tar Sands Blockade and Appalachia Resist Shut Down a Frack Waste Facility in Ohio;   Bulgarian Government Resigns As Austerity Leads Nationwide Protests;   US Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Stay on NDAA Injunction;   Greece Hit by General Strike Against AusterityWe end where we began, with the wisdom of Stephane Hessel:

“It’s time to take over! It’s time to get angry! . . . Let us not be defeated by the tyranny of the world financial markets that threaten peace and democracy everywhere. I wish all of you to find your reason for indignation. This is a precious thing.”

Share this newsletter and make courage in the face of outrage contagious!

In peace and solidarity,
Kevin, Margaret and October2011/OccupyWashingtonDC

Finally, I’ll end with a quote: “Battle is the natural outcome of peoples’ sovereignty being threatened.  Sometimes, it takes a while, but this outcome is always inevitable.”  –Dane Mutters