distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views

Trump Card

Just a couple of thoughts.  We’ve been hearing for months, here and there, how Donald Trump might be a trojan horse placed by the Democrats to discredit the Republican Party.  That, presumably, a deal was done between The Donald and Hillary to run the most absurd campaign and make her look like the only viable choice.  Not a bad idea for a potboiler political thriller.  And the closer to the election we get, some variation of that idea is making more sense.

However.  Despite what pessimists might say, the American electoral landscape is not really that controllable.  And any such actual plan would long since have been discovered and revealed.  You can’t keep something like that secret for this long.  Someone will know and will tell.  Just because that’s how things roll here.

But it’s not at all unlikely that some kind of a deal was done inside the GOP involving Trump.

Given the roster of candidates taking the field last year, what is perfectly plausible is that Trump was invited—maybe not even formally—to throw his hat in the ring.  Be a Republican candidate. It would have been easy to tickle his vanity and get him to do it.


Because he’s a known berserker.  We all know The Donald.  He could stand up there and say things none of the others could and make them look like rational choices by comparison.  Good cop bad cop.  When you look at the row of right wing crazy that was running—people dedicated to deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy,  bigger military build-up, gutting healthcare reform, reinforcing corporate personhood, using immigrants as strawman threats against labor, natavism, anti-civil rights, security state wonks, anti-science pro-fundamentalist christian, nothing but a bucket of bad news for working class people—they needed, or thought they would benefit from, having someone who could draw attention away from all that by standing up there and being all the things Trump has been all along.  The others would look civil, thoughtful, responsible.  We would overlook their basic anti-egalitarianism and anti-intellectualism and, in some cases, their anti-humanitarianism, choose one of them, and clear the field for a fistfight they thought they could win with Hillary.  Or Bernie.

It went pear shaped very quickly.  They lost control of their candidate.

And the problem was they couldn’t really contradict him without making themselves vulnerable by their records, because Trump has not said a thing policy-wise that they had not all said, only in “nicer” terms.  He didn’t contradict one policy plank.  All he did was strip away the shiny so we could see the ugly underneath.

And they lost control.  Is this possible?

It’s happened before.  Back in the late Seventies the GOP courted the fundamentalist christian community, which till then had been traditionally apolitical.  They went in, backed a guy named Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority, invited them into the tent to participate, made them promises about returning the country to a christian moral code (as defined by them, of course). It was a very cynical move because they clearly never intended to follow through on those promises.  All they wanted was a kind of religious fifth column that would stir up the conservative base and get out the votes.  It took longer, but they lost control of them.  By the Nineties they had morphed into neocons and eventually gave birth to the Tea Party.  That traditionally apolitical group got a taste for power politics and took matters into their own hands and look at the mess we have now.  The Republican Party lost control.

And a lot of sane, responsible, decent Republicans lost elections or just left the field, unwilling to mix it up with the fanatics.

The GOP grew this faction from a bean and it has now lurched into the field flailing against anything that is not consistent with—

Well, that’s part of the problem.  The Party apparatus itself knows that if it comes right out and says what the goals really are they could lose and lose bigtime.  By actions if not words it has been clear for a long time they want an oligarchy.  They don’t trust the average American, who may be too concerned with taking care of his or her family and might vote for things which will remove power from the privileged classes.  You can argue if you want, but just follow the money—and the jobs—and the voting records of those who have enabled the decimation of the middle class and the empowerment of the corporate elite.

But now the Party apparatus has a bigger problem—the frightened mob they have nurtured since 1976 has turned into a mindless mass of terror-driven reactionaries, poorly educated, selfish, and aggressively anti-progressive.  And they have lost control of that mob.

Which voted for the guy who was never supposed to get the nomination.

Now the rest of us have a problem.  Trump is not only uncontrollable by the GOP, his supporters are beginning to sound like those fifth columnists the religious right was supposed to be. Except they aren’t talking about voting conscience—as far as I can tell, they don’t have one—but about taking up arms if Hillary wins.

And some of the GOP stalwarts are doubling down.  McCain declaring that the Republicans will block all supreme court nominees made by Clinton is nothing but an attempt to appease that mob who seem to want no government rather than one they can’t understand.

They’re all complaining now that this isn’t what they intended, that they can’t support Trump, they never meant for this—

I’m reminded of the film Judgment At Nuremberg, in which Spencer Tracy plays a justice on the war crimes court, hearing the case of a German jurist, played by Burt Lancaster.  At the end, Lancaster tells Tracy “We never meant for it to go so far.” To which Tracy responds, “Sir, it went that far the first time you sentenced an innocent man.”  Or something to that effect.  One could say to those now-chagrined and embarrassed GOP apparatchits claiming they never intended this:  “It went this far the first time you placed party over country.”

We have a few weeks till the election. I don’t think there’s much else to say.  We have a choice between progress and destruction.  I believe that, no hyperbole intended.  The destruction has been coming for a long time.  Presidential election aside, we must expunge that mob of deplorables from the halls of power.  Maybe Hillary had to apologize for that, but she was right.  They are the worst aspects of our nature and—I’ll say it—too stupid to know how stupid they are.  But that’s not their fault.  They’ve been succored on the milk of ignorance by a cynical party machine that is now about to choke on its own poisons.

Vote.  Vote congressional seats.  Right now they’re as if not more important than who ends up in the oval office.

October 17, 2016

Consensus Delusion

Reading and listening to the jeremiads of impending doom and catastrophe electing Hillary Clinton will bring, it becomes clear that a significant part of her opposition is flat out delusional.  It’s not just her, it’s this whole “lib’ral agenda” thing, wrapped up with the gay agenda and the persecution of christians and on and on.  Some people obviously believe she descends into a secret temple every night to eat the livers of virgin meerkats and praise Cthulhu while demoniacally laughing in anticipation of the power about to come into her hands by which she can trample on our freedoms with the abandon of a Godzilla.

How many times does the senate have to haul her into hearings on Benghazi and end up finding nothing—NOTHING—that she did which was illegal or even immoral before people begin to realize that she didn’t murder four Americans for reasons which no one has made very clear anyway.  And how many times do these same people have to be reminded that the problem there was a viciously slashed budget for embassy security, done by the very people in congress who are trying to tag her with the blame before they start to realize they’re being snowed?

Apparently always one more time than this one.

Same with the emails. Not that Hillary’s handling of them is without problems, but how many times do her detractors have to be told that the last three Secretarys of State did the same thing before they realize this is a common practice and hardly grounds for the kinds of accusations of treason being made?

Apparently always one more time than this one.

It beggars reason.  Why this level of denial?  Why this depth of entrenched delusion?

We have a model for it. Has to do with repeated insistence on a parallel reality.  We watched it happen to children, en masse,  during the McMartin PreSchool debacle.

Recall that this was a national item in the news for months.  It began in 1983 with false accusations by a mentally disturbed woman claiming the preschool was involved in the sexual abuse of children.  The detectives initially investigating thought it was absurd, but a very aggressive prosecutor with career ambitions got hold of it and rode it through seven years and the most expensive criminal trial in American history to that date.  It ended with all charges dropped, lives ruined, and the psychés of the children involved scarred.  It was part of a hysteria and the allegations made kept getting stranger and weirder, beggaring imagination,about networks of tunnels, secret airfields, black masses.  Lovecraft would have proudly claimed it as a masterpiece of fiction.

Yet people believed it.  Especially, after seven years of being told again and again that these things had happened to them, the children, who were a lamentable spectacle in the courtroom the day it ended and they were betrayed again.  First they had been made to embrace the charges, even though none of them initially validated any of it, and now, after seven years of living in a delusional bubble, many if not all had come to actually believe these things had happened—and the court told them none of it had.

It didn’t matter that to any rational person on the outside looking at all this it was clearly nonsense.  To those inside that bubble, this had become reality.  What is amazing is the ability of the human imagination to come to the defense of such delusions when they have become so personal that one’s very identity depends on them.  The capacity to invent seemingly plausible explanations to counter fact and logic is remarkable.  And frightening.

We see something like this in the byzantine conspiracy fears of the hardcore Hillary Haters.  Not the ones cynically manipulating that hate in order to gain power, but the ones willingly handing over that power because they truly believe she is evil and has a trail of bodies in her wake and that she was somehow, though the details get murky here, plans to sell us all down the River Iss.  (When I ask what it is they think she’s going to do, usually the response is either “You’ll see” or “Go ahead and vote for her if you love her so much!” In other words, they have no idea what it is they fear.)  They’ve been living in that bubble for so long that the larger reality has small chance of breaking through.

There is a whole roster of related delusions that go along with this.  That Obama was not born in the United States, that both he and Hillary will send out secret police to confiscate guns and overturn the Second Amendment (a president can’t do that), that 911 was an inside job, that death panels are part of the Affordable Care Act, that—

It goes on.  This makes the people still clinging to the grassy knoll in Dallas seem reasonable.

The screeling insanity of the allegations sets up a false dialogue in which those of us who simply prefer her to her opponent for reason short of embracing her as the next Lincoln can’t profitably discuss the issues.  For us it comes down to competence and policy positions which do not lend themselves to soundbyte “debate” tactics which depend on superlatives.  Do I believe Hillary Clinton is the best choice for president?  Given the present circumstances, yes.  But it’s conditional.  Do I think she’s the best possible choice?  No.  But that choice is not on the field.  I don’t even know who it would be.  Bernie Sanders might have been a better choice, but he’s not on the ballot.

Which points to another delusional bubble on the opposite side, which is that the election was stolen from him.  He’s not claiming that and insists on his supporters supporting Hillary.  Because he understands how politics works in this country.  There will always be another chance to do better or just differently in four years.  Do not tear everything apart because the party didn’t hire the right DJ.

Since the end of the Cold War, what we have needed—badly—is a manager who will step us back from the brink of world war and start returning us to the kind of republic and economy best suited to caretaking the country.  Instead, both parties have found themselves lashed to the masthead of demanding war leaders.  We are constantly preparing for war.  Like a traumatized child who can no longer trust that other realities might be possible, after World War II we have been unable to trust in our own principles.  That and the fact that war is very, very profitable for certain people, and money drives elections.  Bill Clinton was close.  All other things aside, he was a capable manager.  I believe George H.W. Bush was of a similar cut.  But even they were unable to withstand the pressures of constant war preparation.

The problems of the world are based on resource allocation.  This is a tractable problem, given the political will.  But not if everyone insists that they can’t be solved.  They can be.  But it requires that we change certain other basic practices and admit that some of the ways we’ve been doing things no longer (if they ever did) work.

But that’s a conversation that can only happen when there are no bubbles separating us into different realities. Delusion is the biggest barrier between people, which in this case is the reason we can’t see each other.

Either that or it’s Toxoplasma gondii.

My own bubble—yes, we all have one, to greater or lesser degrees, with lighter or denser membranes—suggests that the constant undermining of education since the Sixties has had a net effect on lowering people’s resistance to nonsense.  That given the fact that education has been roped to the requirements of the job market almost since its beginnings, this is no surprise.  We claim we want educated people but I believe what industry wants is, rather, well-trained people, which is not the same thing.  The assault on unions, the undoing of economic rules that once allowed for a robust middle class, and the apparently successful propaganda campaign by the Right to convince people to vote against their own best interests for nigh unto 40 years goes hand in hand with lowered standards in education and a neglect of what once we called the Liberal Arts.  But I don’t believe you need an organized conspiracy to do this.  Just inattention and the situational shrug of shoulders that allows something to become normal that once was not.

For instance, look at the terms.  Liberal and Conservative.  They don’t seem to mean what they once did.  In the long view of history, neither Barrack Obama nor Hillary Clinton would be considered liberals.  Centrists at best.  But those bubbles have enabled a shift in viewpoint that has pushed us to the right so much that a full-blown liberal is no longer recognizable as such.  It’s been said that in a more traditional (or sane) world, Hillary would be the Republican candidate and Sanders would have been the Democratic.

But that view bounces off the bubbles.

We have, in my opinion, a traumatized country full of children who have been told for decades that they’ve been abused and they can no longer recognize the reality outside that conviction.  Some have, but they aren’t the ones defining the inside of the bubble.

Anyone have a pin?

October 15, 2016

New Look

Maybe I should have waited till January, but then again maybe I’ll change the theme again then. But I was starting to get bored with the old one and decided that–because I’m older now, but why that should matter I don’t know–it was time for a new look.  This one has sliding images on the header.  I grabbed a couple at random but I’ll likely change those at some point.

This has been a fascinating year. My boss asked me–because I’m older–if I’d ever witnessed an election cycle this bizarre.


Contentious, yes. Clownish, surreal, weird–no. It’s been suggested that you’d have to go back to Lincoln’s election to find one even close to this in unpredictably oddball strangeness, and that’s a good contender, what with the near-demise of the Democratic Party as it split into three smaller parties, the Know Nothings, variations of fence-sitters, nativist groups, and the odd prediction of the apocalypse. Note that the Democratic Party of that time would have been the functional equivalent–even the philosophical equivalent–of the current Republican Party.

1968 was the first presidential year in which I had any kind of political awareness, and that was a bad one.  We had Wallace running a third party ticket based on the assertion that there was no real difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties (it would end up being a race between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, after an assassination and a steamroll over McGovern), but he himself was a nativist bigot who would most closely resemble the governor of Maine these days.

Nixon won on the promise of ending the Vietnam War (he didn’t, at least not fast enough for most of the country) and to “bring us together again”–which he also didn’t because he turned out to be a paranoid misanthrope.  I wonder how many people who had voted for him wished they’d gone with Humphrey, even though he had some baggage as well.  In 1972, Nixon was challenged by Edmund Muskie, who was a decent man who might have turned the country around, but the RNC ran a smear campaign highlighting his wife’s problems with depression.  As I say, Muskie was a decent man and withdrew rather than put his family through what he correctly perceived as a new level of nastiness.  You can probably trace it from there how our campaigns have become obsessed with the personal and have lost all sense of decency and decorum.  Carter may well have been our last decent president from the old school of national politics.

It is possible, though I do not expect it, that we may be able to alter the way we conduct politics.  It has reached a new low this time with a candidate who embodies all the worst aspects of the vulgar side of the American character.  People support him because they are getting off on being able to be rude, sexist, racist, and basically what they mistakenly see as open and honest.  Trump has elevated the idea that trash sitcoms are the highest form of national philosophy.  He’s a one-man roadshow based on Three and a Half Men and Sh*t My Dad Says.

And we have come to see what happens when people decide they have “won” the field and go home.  I’ll leave everyone to sort out who I’m talking about.  I’ll add that clearly the mean-spirited, compulsively frightened element of the Far Right were the ones who did NOT go home and today we see the results of their taking the field.  The Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, Alex Jones, Breitbart, Limbaugh…

I’ve unfriended a few people on Facebook over this.  First time since I’ve been on it I have preemptively done so, because I just get so weary of the mindless toxicity that shows up on my feed from them.  One in particular galled me by completely failing to make a distinction between fiction and personal opinion.  Maybe all of them, but one in particular decided that since J. K. Rowling had written about ugly things she had no standing to condemn the ugliness in real life.

I suppose one of the things that has bothered me more than maybe it should is the upsurge of people who don’t seem to understand the meaning of personal choice when it comes to sex.  I didn’t expect Rush Limbaugh to understand it and it didn’t surprise me when he came out condemning Consent.  But so many other people who ought to know better…

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve known people who seemed to think that if a woman decided to have a sex life on her own terms it meant she should be willing to fuck anyone who comes along, indiscriminately.  I thought there were fewer of them and I’ve been dismayed at how many women seem to think that way.  But it makes one thing abundantly clear, that no matter what else you might think about Hillary’s relationship with Bill, there was no way she could have divorced him and have the remotest chance of becoming president.  Because people are that petty.

Now, it may well be a divorced man might have just as much trouble, but I doubt it.

Anyway, we have a bit over three weeks till the election.  I’ll make one prediction: the fallout from all this weirdness is going to cling to our political landscape for months if not years.

And since Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize, it seems appropriate to end this post with…

The changes they are a-coimin’.

Why We Need To Teach Civics

Listening to the debates, not between the candidates but among the potential voters, it becomes clear that for many the workings of our government are a thing of deep mystery and frustratingly obscure. Donald hammered on Hillary repeatedly that in 30 plus years in office she had an opportunity to “do something” about certain issues and she did nothing.

She was a senator and then she was secretary of state.

Neither position affords anyone the power to just “do something” about any damn thing they want.

While morality may not be relative, politics is entirely so.  The problem is this:  you have a hundred people in a room who have been given a problem to solve.  There’s perhaps a right way to solve it, there are certainly wrong ways, and then there’s what each individual wants.

How do you simply “do something” in that situation?

Let’s compound it. Each of those hundred people is working with another set of probable conflicts. There is what he or she believes ought to be done, then there is what the people they represent want done, and then there is what she or he feels can be done.  Each one brings this bag of writhing conflict to the room and the task is to work with the other ninety-nine, each of whom has the same set of problems, to find a solution to the problem.

This is the fundamental nature of representative democracy.

In a word, it is impossible.  It is the human equivalent of asking the centipede how it manages to walk.

And yet.

Add to this the frustration of the constituency, each individual and group of individuals has a different set of desires.  They harangue their representatives to “do something” and get angry when nothing or, worse, the “wrong” thing gets done. Now yet another concern is heaped on top of all the others for the people in that room—keeping their job.

It’s amazing anything happens at all.

And despite what they may tell you, this happens in business, too.  All those moving parts have to be coordinated and, often—because they’re attached to people—assuaged.  So no, a Ross Perrot, a Mitt Romney, or a Donald Trump cannot magically step into this with their “business experience” and suddenly end the deadlocks and solve the problems.  Their “experience” ought to tell them this.  For one, they can’t actually fire the people they have to work with in congress.

If Trump’s accusations that Hillary “did nothing” when she had the chance have any resonance with voters it is because, I suspect, too many voters don’t understand the nature of the country in which we live.  Hillary tried to explain that she worked on several of those things, but if she can’t get people—many of whom in the last several years have publicly committed themselves to blocking any proposal that comes out of either the Obama White House or the Democratic side of the aisle—to go along with her proposals, just what do people think she could do?

That she has accomplished what she has is a minor miracle.

I received civics in grade school. We had to sit through it.  It was boring.  It used to be what was called social studies, which later seemed to morph into some kind of social psychology joined to history tracks instead of a study of how government is organized.  Probably it is taught in some schools still, but it seems not to be as a matter of course.

It’s why so many people are afraid a sitting president can take guns away from people or remove the Second Amendment.  A president can’t do that.  Just can’t.

But worse, it’s why so many people seem to not understand why their personal prejudice can’t be made law.

Frustration can be a driving force for a solution, though.  It seems that public frustration with the intractability we’ve endured in our politics is reaching a zenith and we may be about to witness an historic turn-over.

Ever since Reagan named government as the biggest problem we have there has been a tumor growing in the belly of our civil systems.  He was flat wrong.  Perhaps he was speaking in metaphor—he was an actor, after all, psychodrama depends on metaphor—but if so he delivered it with a straight face that appealed to the impatience everyone feels from time to time at the squabble in that room. With the benefit of the doubt, I believe he would be appalled at the consequences of his rhetoric.  We built the strongest nation in history through government, for good or ill, so just how much of a problem was it?  Depends on where you stand when you ask that question.

Because politics is relative.  Compromise is essential.

But I suspect a lot of people don’t actually know what compromise is.  You can’t tear down the bridge and then blame the other guy for not crossing the divide.

It might be useful to remember that the work in question is never “done” but is an ongoing, daily struggle.  Out of it we find a way.  But you can’t circumvent the process just because you think you’re right.  If you are, that will become evident over time.

We might want to remember that.  Civics.  The earlier the better.

October 08, 2016

What Grabs You

So The Donald was caught on tape saying something egregious about what he wants to do with women.  This has caused much ire among those in his party of choice.  Not most of the other egregious things he has said, alleged, alluded to, implied, or otherwise allowed to exit from his mouth.  We have witnessed basically a year-long example of escalating reaction not to the content of his pronouncements but to the manner of their expression.

Paul Ryan has weighed in with an egregious bit of condescension of his own which adds to the evidence that he is a “classic” conservative who seems not to Get It.

As bookends showcasing the problem they could not be more apt.

The basic privilege the self-appointed “ruling class” has always tried to keep to itself is just this—that they are allowed, by virtue of their own money and power, to treat those not in the club any way they choose.  The whole idea of equality and respect is anathema to one of the main reasons they act and think as they do.  Trump is spilling the secrets of the inner sanctum by speaking the way he does.  He is being supported by people who have long chafed under the requirements to matriculate from the high school locker room.

So why is what Ryan said just more of the same?

Mr. Ryan said:  “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”

Now, on its face you might see nothing wrong with that statement.  But remember, this is coming from a man who has consistently opposed women’s right to self-determination where it conflicted with his conception of morality.  (To be clear, he never actually said “rape is just another vector of conception.”  But he made it clear that he has a moral and ethical framework which would demote women’s ability to determine life choices to secondary status in the case of unwanted pregnancy)

This suggests that he sees women as having a role to fill.  A role which under certain circumstances supersedes their position as individuals.

Women are to be championed and revered…

Why?  Because they can’t champion themselves? And how do you revere something without putting it in a special category? Reverence is akin to a religious appreciation.  We can revere life but it becomes trickier to revere an individual without bringing to bear expectations that merit such reverence.  The first—life—is a concept not a person.  It’s easy to revere ideas, beliefs, works of art.  These are not people, they are categories of object.  People are revered only when they are removed from the daily grime of actual living. Saints are never made so until they are dead and for good reason.  A person cannot—nor should—fulfill the expectations of such status.  And it is not a status one seeks but one that is imposed.

Women are not objects of reverence.  He contradicts himself in the next phrase, “not objectified.”

This is the problem at the center of this whole issue, which is difficult to parse for some folks.

And the reason that what Ryan is saying is not much better than what Trump says.  Only different.

Trump is saying out loud what has been implicit in a certain mindset among self-styled “conservatives” for a long time.  They want their privilege.  They want things made available to them and denied to the general public, because these things constitute the trappings of power.

Not all of them pushing this program.  Some, I suspect, are just neurotic and insecure.  Trump is neither.  Ryan is just shallow.  But the arrogance of a Trump has found a home in the shallow waters of what has become conservative philosophy.

Other Republicans, in response to Trump’s comments, have opted for the word respect, but given the repeated, consistent assault on women’s health care options, the concerted opposition to equal rights legislation, the open misogyny toward female politicians, and the general inability to understand the driving essence of the women’s movement for, well, forever, these pronouncements carry little weight outside the fact that they fear for their privilege because a loudmouth is talking out of school.  They want to impose a style of respect on women that will push the real issues back into the box wherein they’ve been residing all along.  These same people have had many gracious and pleasant and approving things to say about the late Phyllis Schlafly and given her quite unvarnished statements about what she thinks women (of a certain class, of course) ought to do rather than try to live lives of personal fulfillment, I take their repudiation of Trump for what it is—an attempt to put the lid back on that box.  From time to time many of them have said things about women that demonstrate a vast disconnect—lack of understanding and lack of empathy and a total disregard for women as people.

They like women to be objects of reverence.  Why can’t they just climb back up on that pedestal where they “belong” and smile?

I don’t want to beat up too much on them, because I also believe that they believe they’re speaking from conscience.  I just wish they had taken the trouble to examine that conscience a few decades ago, before they laid the groundwork for someone like Trump, who has yet to say one thing that has not been part of the conservative playbook since Goldwater displaced liberal Republicans and started us on this road in 1964.  They only say these things in well-turned, polite, and convoluted ways so the average person won’t understand that they basically want to turn this country into a “gentlemen’s club” where they can get what they want without having to respect those who are expected to provide them their services.


September 28, 2016

Crossing Eyes and Dotting Teas

In my previous post I talked about the use—misuse—of a term: Snowflake. It was brought to my attention that I myself may be misusing it or at least misunderstanding it.

It derives from Fight Club, as a negative.  “You are not special snowflakes…you are not unique…”  More or less.  Tyler Durden exhorting the new members of a club no one is supposed to speak about.  Which kind of automatically makes them special.  Exclusive club, deeply hidden, secret, and very radical.  How much more special can you get short of joining the Masons or being recruited by the NSA?

The term then entered the language by way of gaming, applied to people claiming unique privileges—usually unearned—in the course of some rule-heavy role-playing extravaganza.  It went from there to an appellation attached to Millennials of a certain mindset who had absorbed the pseudo-Montessori-esque lessons of specialness and uniqueness and then took it to the next level as sinecure that they, being unique and special, can do no wrong and are allowed to exercise a degree of privilege and intolerance based on that assumed status.

Like all such terms, obviously, it has been handed on, re-purposed, reapplied, contorted, enlarged, expanded, and now, today, it is being used to label anyone even glancingly allied to that other wonderful term that has come to be applied as a derogation, the Social Justice Warrior.

That’s the problem with labels.  They start out one way, they inevitably become something else, and then history gets retroactively rewritten to incorporate the new meanings.

Democrats belong to the party of Jim Crow.

Republicans freed the slaves.

As if those claims describe what they are intended to today.

What I have witnessed and heard is the appropriation of the label Snowflake by people who are unfriendly to messages and arguments about social justice, equality, political correctness, diversity, and related issues so they can apply it where needed to shut down debate.  Classifying someone as a Snowflake (or a Social Justice Warrior) is little more than an attempt to categorize what they have to say as a specific kind of rhetoric which we are not obliged to listen to or credit because it only describes the presumed delicate, unique, and supposedly privileged character of the speaker.  We don’t have to listen to them because, well, it’s just the way they are.

And somehow these delicate souls manage to harass the virtuous manly men (male or female) who have right on their side to the point of silence.

I haven’t, if you’ll forgive the mixed usage here, seen the silence.  On either side, frankly.  What I have seen is a big fat fence raised between the deponents made up of labels.

Now, labels can be useful.  I like to know which aisle contains the pet food as opposed to the household drygoods as opposed to the liquor.  I like to know which building houses what services and addresses are very handy.  I even like knowing what kind of music I’m likely to find on what station and it is helpful to know where in the bookstore I can find History as opposed to Humor.

But when it comes to people, labels are useless impediments to dialogue and intercourse.  And just because those people over there insist on using labels does NOT justify labeling by anyone else.  Because it is the nature of such things—language—that usage is hijacked, meanings change, and context shifts.

Back in the Sixties, there was an event in San Fransisco.  There was a funeral for Hippy.  The label, the tag, the identity.  Because the people at the core of the counter culture saw what was happening—that what they were, how they dressed, talked, acted, was about to be appropriated as fashion.  They knew that all they intended, all they meant for themselves, all they held important was about to be changed by the normal misuse of the American dialogue.  So they declared Hippy dead and they held a funeral.  There was, after that, no authentic hippy.

It didn’t stop the entire country from assuming it knew what a Hippy was and that they were all around.

In the Fifties the label Communist was horribly misapplied.  A wide net of philosophical and political opinions caught people up and labeled them and lives were ruined.  Because it’s easy to think in labels.  Action follows thought.

I don’t care for labels like that.  Especially when deployed in such a way as to shut down meaningful dialogue.

What I am seeing is the use of a term that once described something quite different being applied by people who think they have the right to determine what is meaningful by excluding what they think is without merit.

Does this go both ways?  Of course.  Labels have universal utility.  They are shorthand.  The problem with them is they make it easy to not think.

Just in case anyone thought I meant something else.

On Snowflakes and Labels

I’ve heard it a lot recently. Snowflakes. “Those snowflakes.”

It’s an insult.  It means, apparently, thin-skinned, easily offended, a lightweight, someone prone to knee-jerk reactions to certain things which the ones applying the label don’t see the problem with. “We mustn’t offend the snowflakes!”

What topics?  It has something to do with political correctness, which is another one of those labels which has lost valence through overuse and misapplication.

What is political correctness?

Well, others may have their definitions, but mine is to speak truly about a subject rather than resort to cliché.  To find out the reality before talking through one’s hat, using whatever popular cultural handles that may be lying around.

You can pretty much pick the topic and find disagreement over things ranging from stereotyping to cultural appropriation.  There’s the popular opinion, then there’s the fabrication, and then there’s the reality.  P.C. ought to mean we go for the reality, which requires a certain amount of work and a bit of sensitivity, which seems in short supply.  And if you have no sensitivity, why would you bother to do the work?

Of course, if you don’t do the work, where will you ever get any sensitivity.

So we have a new label, a category—actually a steel-reinforced closet—into which and by which we can dispense with the need to deal with the issues raised by the behavior being tagged as that of a Snowflake.  Once so labeled we can simply use that term to dismiss whatever might be upsetting them.

It’s hard then to know if what is upsetting them has any legitimacy because the conversation has now stopped.

Here’s a thought: those applying this new label seem to believe that these are delicate people who get flustered at the mere mention of opinions with which they disagree. What if that’s not it?  What if it’s more likely the final loss of tolerance for dealing with attitudes, opinions, and treatment with which they have been subjected to for years and they’ve finally reached the point of saying “You know what, if you can’t see through your own bullshit, I don’t have to either help you or put up with it anymore.”

What if a good number, maybe the majority, of people being labeled Snowflakes are actually of such a toughness that it took years and decades of being misheard, misunderstood, categorized, dismissed, and otherwise bullied before they finally just had enough and decided to slam the door in your face?

I’ve been bullied.  The one thing that becomes clear, finally, is that being bullied has no rational cause.  Nothing you can say or do will change the fact that the bully just wants to hurt you.  It’s not rational.  They will bully you because you don’t fit some cool profile or they sense that you’re vulnerable or—more relevant to this situation—that you, just by being, represent a threat to their self-image.  You can’t negotiate, you can’t “be reasonable,” and you sure as hell can’t educate them out of their desire, their urge really to put you in a box and keep you there.

You abuse someone long enough they will snap back.  Right now, voices are being heard that have needed to be heard and certain people, who thought as long as the room was quiet everything was fine, are trying to shut them down.  This is nothing new, this has been the reality for a long, long time.  Now we have some acting out.  Now we have some payback.  Now the “nice, quiet, well-behaved so-n-so who was never a problem before” is standing up saying enough, and so a new label is required?

What you are seeing as hypersensitivity is really just the final loss of patience.  If the conversation had been engaged honestly long ago you wouldn’t be facing a challenge to authority like this.  And claiming you’re the ones under siege is one more example of the myopia of too-long hegemony.

Every time now I see or hear that label being used I think “Have you looked in a mirror lately?  If anyone’s being hypersensitive…”  But no, that’s wrong.  It’s not hypersensitivity.  It’s insensitivity.

Now, go to your room.  Write a thousand times “I will not be an insensitive jerk and pretend it’s a defense of conservative principles.”

You just don’t like the message and you think creating and using a new label will fix the problem.  Like that ever worked before.

Stumpf and the Body On The Pavement

Watching Elizabeth Warren disassemble Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is a gotcha moment, one wherein we assume the bad guy has been handed his still steaming intestines by the champion and justice will soon be served.  Much as I hate to admit this, I doubt it.

I doubt it because…look at him. He’s looking at her with an almost-blank expression, but there is enough there to tell.  To tell that he just doesn’t Get It.  He’s listening to her, he’s answering her questions with well-advised Policy Speak, doing his best to evade a direct answer until she pins him to the wall, and even then there seems to be a kind of “okay, sure, but so what?” attitude practically shining from him.

The problem which Warren, which the Justice Department, which the SEC, which we cannot address and which underlies all of this is that Not Getting It.

There is a hole in the psyché where some form of non-tribal empathy should be.  It’s not there. People like Stumpf follow guidelines and if the guidelines say what they do serves their tribe, it’s by definition ethical.  Whatever that is.

In his case, ethical is whatever benefits his selected tribe and keeps him from being ill-treated at their hands.

He’s looking at Warren as if she’s speaking some archaic form of English no one has spoken in a century or two.  He understands the words but the cultural content is foreign, alien.  Not there for him.  Why, he must be thinking, should I give a damn about a bunch of people who own no stock in Wells Fargo who got badly treated by the people I put in place to treat them badly?  And what’s that mean, anyway?  It’s not like it’s their money!  And besides (so he might tell himself, late at night, when everyone else is asleep) if everything works out they won’t know the difference and my tribe will be richer.  I will have Done Good.

But it didn’t work out, so, hell, now I have to sit here and listen to this tight-ass social justice warrior lecture me about something called ethics.

What is this nonsense about jail time?  How dare she compare what I do with a teller who might pilfer from the till!  Of course that person should go to jail, that’s theft!  I’m not a thief!

Why isn’t he a thief?

Because he’s following the guidelines.  And, just as an added bit of justification, if that teller steals twenties from the till, who else is that benefiting?  No one!  But what he has done has increased profits for the company and therefore put more money in the pockets of the shareholders.  What he has done has benefited people!  His people.  According to the guidelines they have given him.

What guidelines?

Make us more money.  We don’t care how.  How is your job, that’s why we hired you.  If we didn’t like the job you were doing, we would fire you.

He kept trying to talk about the Board, you note.  Warren wouldn’t let him.  If, in his view, what he had done was wrong, the Board would have fired him.  Therefore, he did nothing wrong.

So what’s this senator all up in a huff about?  Doesn’t she understand that the number one rule in this country is to make money?  And that when you make money for other people that’s the only justification you need?  It’s not like we’re robbing banks.  No, we’re putting money in the bank.  It’s the opposite of robbery.

Isn’t it?

I agree with Senator Warren, this will not stop until people at his level face serious jail time.  There are people outside his tribe that he took advantage of who cannot afford to lose ten dollars let alone the fiscal date rape they experienced.  He hurt people he not only doesn’t know but doesn’t regard as important.  Only their money, in aggregate, matters.

There are, no doubt, if by virtue of probability alone, CEOs who regularly say no to plans like this because it will do harm.  We almost never hear about them.  Scandal drives media ratings much more effectively than what we used to call “soft news” or, worse, “puff pieces.”  Feel good news is pleasant but doesn’t attract the same kind of attention.  We need to find these people, these moral CEOs, and have them teach classes on saying no for moral reasons.  It would maybe be worthwhile having them at such hearings to offer a counterexample on camera.

But the truth is, for Stumpf and others of his ilk, the problem goes much, much deeper.  This is for him the driving heuristic of his life.  Do for his tribe.  And his tribe is comprised of people just like him.  Moneyed, “educated,” connected.  They doubtless give to charities.  They do this as substitute for actually giving a damn about people they don’t know.

It is not a problem isolated to them.

Over this past weekend we had another police incident, this time in Tulsa.  A man is dead whose only “crime” was being where he was.  The dashcam videos, even the video from other sources, all confirms that this man was shot to death for no reason.

Oh.  Wait.  He was black.

Interestingly, of all the officers on the scene, all of them went for their tasers—except one, and she was the one who fired the fatal shot.

Why am I linking this to the CEO of Wells Fargo?  Because in my opinion, they share the same problem.  They don’t recognize anybody not part of their tribe.

Because what the officer later said about the situation is contradicted by the videos. And I believe she actually doesn’t know how what she did was wrong.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains how we “think” most of the time  by heuristics.  There is a folder in our brain containing files of behaviors based on experience, on received wisdom, on made-up shit that got us through something before.  It is easier to pull a file from that folder and paste it over a new situation than to think through something from first principles every time.

So what was the file the officer pulled out of that folder?  Maybe something like:  Large black male, threat, must put him down.

Yes, I’m guessing.  Just as I’m guessing about Mr., Stumpf’s thinking in regard to pillaging the personal funds through fraudulent deals of people he has already placed in a file labeled “Customers: cattle: no further regard required.”

It’s a problem of categorization on both ends.

News flash to both ends: we aren’t categories.  We’re people.  Start getting it.

September 08, 2016


I was eleven when Star Trek premiered. I’d seen the previews all summer, I was salivating in anticipation. Just from those minute or so clips it looked just so cool!

We watched the first episode—Man Trap—and disaster struck.

See, I was a somewhat “sensitive” child. I hate horror. I was prone at an earlier age to nightmares.  I recall a couple of times waking up screaming. Of course, I’d been like four or five. It had been years. But my mother was adamant about keeping me away from anything that would curse my nights and ruin their sleep. She was skeptical that this—this—Star Trek Thing—wasn’t just another monster show.  I remember trying to persuade her that, no, it’s about spaceships and other planets. No monsters.

Well.  What was the thing in Man Trap other than a classic scary monster?

I missed half the first season because of that shaggy critter.

We lived downstairs from my grandparents and I took to sneaking up there to watch it.  They had an ancient ANCIENT television, in a pale maple cabinet and a very low-res gun painting the picture on an old tube, so the picture was anything but sharp.

Even so, there was something about it that just took hold.

It is difficult sometimes to explain what Star Trek meant to someone like me that year. It was amazing. It was miraculous.  It was where we wanted to go.

Somehow, Roddenberry and his writers had constructed a thing that had life beyond the edge of the television tube.  We knew the Federation had length, breadth, and depth.  It had substance.  It was a place.  Not like anything else on tv at the time that could even begin to call itself science fiction, this was a universe and we knew it would welcome us in if we could just–just—kind of—maybe—slip in there, past the electrons, and sort of step through.

Of course, it did what written SF had been doing for a long time.  The difference was the medium.  I never knew anyone else growing up who was remotely interested in reading the books and magazines I did. Everyone watched television and more than a few watched Star Trek.

It embedded and evoked an idea of the world and life that extended beyond the ordinary in a way that far exceeded its primitive SFX and pasteboard sets and often mediocre scripting.  It wasn’t the individual episodes that mattered, it was the proposed future portrayed.

We didn’t have any of that stuff. Today we have a lot of it.

I saw the entire first run eventually, all in brilliant black-n-white.  We didn’t have a color tv till the latter part of the Seventies.

It didn’t matter.  I could close my eyes and see all the colors.

My dad, who had a problem with obsession, didn’t like my growing dedication to the show.  “Split your head open with an axe and a bunch of starships would fly out of it,” he would say, as if that were a bad thing.

Well, it wasn’t school work.

But today I’m a published science fiction writer, and I didn’t learn how to do that in school.

More, though, in some way the optimism and vision of Star Trek became part of my general make-up.  I think I’m a better human being because of it.

It was just so fucking wonderful.

Happy Anniversary.

September 06, 2016

The Iconography of the Myopic

I debated whether or not to say anything about Phyllis Schlalfy’s passing. I have never held her in high regard and certainly anyone who has paid the slightest attention to my writings over the past three decades should know where I stand on the issues on which she and I disagreed. Violently disagreed at times.

But as her death follows upon the heels of the canonization of Mother Theresa, I find a certain symmetry which prompts comment.

These two women shared one attribute in common that has come to define them for the ages: an obdurate dedication to a special kind of ignorance. They have become icons for people who prefer their views of how the world should be and see them as in some ways martyrs to the cause of defending beliefs that require the most tortured of logics to maintain as viable.

Both apparently took as models their own examples as standards and arguments against those they opposed. Schlafly never (she claimed) understood the feminist argument about the oppression of the patriarchy and Bojaxhiu never understood the utility of situational beneficence.  Consequently both could proceed with programmatic movements that blocked progress and flew in the face of realities neither could accept as valid.

Schlafly was instrumental in blocking the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Her rhetoric before and after was stridently right wing, as if the very notion of women wanting opportunities as human beings was somehow a threat to civilization.  She herself apparently never suffered resistance to anything she wanted to do.  She essentially told women less privileged than herself to be satisfied with their stations in life and give up ambitions of being more than wives and mothers, even as she lived a life that was anything but an acceptance of such limitations.  Her inability—or refusal—to come to terms with the fact that human beings deserve to be treated by each other as individuals cost her, but she has never once publicly acknowledged that she might be wrong.

Bojaxhiu set up shop in one of the poorest areas in the world to, ostensibly, minister to those poor.  Normally we hear that and believe some form of relief of suffering is involved, but apparently not.  She elevated the suffering of the dying to some form of divine gift, gave them aspirin, and prayed while they died in misery. It wasn’t lack of money, either. Her order has received many millions—which she used to open convents and wage a campaign in opposition to the one thing that might make a difference in those poor districts she held in such high esteem: birth control.  Of all the things she might have chosen to name as the most significant enemy of our times, providing women, especially poor women, the means to control their fertility, reduce family size so what resources they had might go further and do more, is a perverse choice. Catholic, yes, but it’s not like other Catholics haven’t seen reality for what it is and did something—anything—that might constructively alleviate suffering.  From the evidence, all she did was put a noble gloss on it and exacerbate it.

It could be argued that both were “of their times” and therefore exception should be made before too harshly assessing their legacies, but I don’t accept that.  In Schlafly’s case, she was educated, moved among the best minds when she wanted to, had more than ample opportunity to understand what she was doing.  It didn’t matter.  She had picked a side and stuck with it, reality be damned.  In Bojaxhiu’s case, the daily exposure to those she supposedly ministered to should have served to snap her out of whatever quasi-Freudian obsession she had with sex and start acting like a human being.  (Unless you wish to argue that she was indeed “out of her time” and would have been right at home in the Middle Ages as a flagellant.) She was not stupid, she was the head of an international organization.  She put on the sackcloth of the humble village girl with simple values, but she was anything but.

That the Church has canonized her is no surprise.  In Dante’s Paradiso we meet many saints and upon reading about them and their character we begin to wonder why these people are where they are.  Dante makes the case—among others—that the price of admission to this paradise is a lifetime of obsessive devotion to a view of divine truth that is essentially selfless.  In other words, in the consequences of their lives, the Paradisiacs are not much different than the Infernals, other than they are selfless rather than selfish.  Both share a conviction that their view of the world is right, but for very different reasons.

Of course, Dante’s Paradise is not really a place anyone rational would care to spend eternity.

That Schlafly has devoted followers is also no surprise.  One of the curious similarities between her and the so-called “New Woman” of the post-liberation era is the image of someone who does it all.  Wife, mother, lawyer, political organizer, mover, shaker. Whatever roadblocks might have been thrown in her way, she went around, over, or through them.  If she could do it, by gum, so can anyone, and we don’t need no damn ERA to do it!

Except for the privilege. No, she wasn’t born to money. But she got the advantages of a college education at a time women weren’t going to college much.  She also married money.  Draw your own conclusions, but without that her later ability to do all the things she chose to do would have been absurdly more difficult.  However, she has the background to appeal to the self-made, the education to talk constitutional law with the best, and the security to assert herself in ways women traditionally do not. However you want to spin it, she was privileged.

Both women offered ideologies that overlooked or flatly denied certain inconvenient realities.  But they had their lives, their callings, their successes.  What is this reality that makes any kind of claim on the conscience of the visionary that either was obliged to respect?

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