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.

50

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.

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?

Radical Futures and Conservative Sensitivities

At the world science fiction convention just past, MidAmeriCon II, an event occurred which may well displace much more deserving matters, but which was significant enough to spark dialogue over a subject that has been at the center of debate within the science fiction field for several years now.  A debate which regrettably led to the attempt to “game” the Hugo Awards by a disaffected element determined to deny the validity of current trends in new writings.

I refer, of course, to the Sad Puppies and their subsequent impressment by the Rabid Puppy movement, which was more or less the sole creation of one person who took advantage of the situation to push slates onto the Hugo ballots and otherwise poison the pool of discourse with a degree of venom that has adversely affected those among the Sad Puppies who argued these issues in good faith and on the merits of the fiction produced. Actions have been taken to see that slates are no longer likely and the entire consequence of this year’s Hugo Awards seems to have been nothing less than a massive repudiation by fandom in general of the whole argument that science fiction is being “ruined” by certain kinds of fiction at the expense of “truer”, somehow purer SF of a more traditional variety.

However that aspect of all this may eventually sort itself out remains to be seen. Debates over story content, style, approach, the æsthetics of the genre will continue and all to the good of what continues to be a vibrant, vital art form.

For now, though, I want to talk about the event mentioned above. There was a panel called, I believe, The State of Short Fiction.  By second-hand accounts it turned into a row due to the upfront introductory speech by its moderator, Dave Truesdale, who took the opportunity to make a statement consistent with Sad Puppy sentiments and to derogate what he called Snowflakes whose sensibilities seem so delicate that they had to attack or censor what I presume he considers more robust, “traditional” SF.  He proferred a string of pearls “to clutch” should “the vapors” threaten them when confronted with arguments that their preferred form of fiction might not be good for the field.

Not finished with this opening salvo, the other panelists, who included among the best editors in the field today, interrupted and tried to pull the panel back to the topic. You can listen to the whole thing online.  I will not link to because there is some question over whether Mr. Truesdale had permission to record and post it. If you wish to go look for it, feel free.

The panel never did get onto its topic, but it did become very interesting.

However, one result was that Mr. Truesdale was expelled from the convention.  On the surface, this appears to be an overreaction.  If part of the intent was to punish him for an inappropriate message, it has backfired.  Even if that was not the intent, it has resulted in this panel receiving substantially more attention than some might wish.

Whatever one’s feelings about that, what I wish to discuss here concerns the points Mr. Truesdale was trying to make regarding SF and this whole subject of “ruining” SF.

This is not the first time by a long shot that this has enveloped the SF community.  At the very first worldcon there was such dispute among the fans that one faction called the police to bar the other from even getting into the hotel, all over the direction science fiction would take.  SF readers are passionate.  Passions have overwhelmed intellect more than a few times.

There are several aspects of Mr. Truesdale’s assertions that require examination. I’ll deal first with his claims that SF is being “ruined.”

The question is, How? Right now, especially in short fiction, the outlets are so many and so varied, discerning any kind of “trend” is virtually impossible, a point made by Gordon Van Gelder (F & SF) during the panel. At one time, as he explained, you could discern a direction because the field was dominated by three or four major magazines and a handful of original anthologies. What saw print in these outlets contoured the public perception of what constituted science fiction (and fantasy). Now? While those magazines still exist, there are many more and online publishing has expanded the pool of story outlets so much that the field is in continual froth.  Any look at the table of contents of the several Best of the Year annuals shows very little overlap, and yet each one can legitimately claim to showcase the best in the field for a given year. Reading those annuals…

Here is where personal taste enters into it to a large degree. But only to a degree.  I have been reading science fiction since I was ten years old. That’s fifty one years. I no longer read as widely in short fiction as I once did, and in some years I have read nothing in less than novel length. But when I have come back to short fiction, I have generally been pleased to see improvement over what went before.  Improvement in craft, in concept, in execution. The stories have widened their scope, become more inclusive in terms of subject matter and sentiment, characterization has deepened, and overall there has been a marked maturation.

When I became well enough acquainted with the field to follow it as a literary movement, I became aware of the insecurities manifest in the relationship of SF with the wider reading public. What became known as the SF Ghetto was at one time a very real thing. What we call mainstream tended to regard the genres as a whole and SF specifically as the redheaded stepchild of “real” literature. That began to change after the New Wave ructions of the mid to late Sixties and the eventual absorption of those experiments in the body of SF writing throughout the Seventies, until by the end of the Eighties it was becoming evident that SF could not be so relegated to the sidelines by the mainstream. The result is that today, mainstream has taken SF into itself and writers who otherwise would never be considered SF writers are writing solid science fiction and selling it to mainstream audiences.  The “culture war” to gain validation and legitimacy for our field has been won.

That seems to underly the disaffection of the group within SF that goes by the Sad Puppy label. The stories now being written, published, and lauded as science fiction at its best seem no longer to express their preferred idioms or æsthetic concerns. Even as several of them appear to do quite well in terms of sales and fan support, the quest of winning awards for their preferred work is becoming less and less achievable. Even as some of their novels sell well enough that they might make their living on them, no one is nominating them in sufficient numbers to secure a spot on the final ballot of the premier awards.

Instead, according to them, the awards are going to works which seem to have little to do with science fiction or express viewpoints at odds with their politics, their cultural assumptions, and their personal values.

Exactly what are those politics, assumptions, and values?

Mr. Truesdale, during an exchange at the panel, asked what I consider the telliong question: “Where is all the conservative SF?”

In all seriousness, I don’t know what that means.

Science fiction, by its nature, is radical. It takes apart the given world and replaces it with something else. That is as basic as change can get.  That is anything but conservative. And that is what it has always been.  It may well be that writers have used conservative viewpoints for their characters, but even then there is a presumption that the world is no longer the same.

And if a writer uses a form to push a set of political principles, it usually turns out to be bad fiction.  Propaganda.

Science fiction has always been about how the world will be different. That is as not conservative as one can get.

Science fiction is progressive.  Now, sometimes the progress fails, the experiment collapses, things go wrong. Post-apocalyptic SF is all about that and one might see a lot of it in a certain way “conservative” insofar as the specific requirements of survival become essential to the plot.  But the goal is to rebuild and make it better, but almost never the same—since The Same would emulate the world that failed.

But back to that question.

If you write a story that is true to the characters in the story—and good fiction is about its characters and their situation—then how do you make it one thing or the other without auctorially interceding and making it something it may not organically be about?

I do not, however, believe that is what was meant by that question.  Context is vital and given the context not only of the SF community but of the world at large, I can only read that question as meaning “Where are the stories about how great our past visions of the future are?”

Past visions of the future.

A great deal of the fiction being published by those who are self-proclaimed Sad Puppies tends to be of the military SF variety.  Not all, but a lot. A few examples contain overt missionary elements.

Briefly, the so-called Golden Age, while in no way monolithic, is best remembered by its planetary romance, its space opera, its colonial æsthetics.  We were going to stars to settle new worlds, conquer aliens if need be, and, at least under the overt programmatic editorialism of John W. Campbell Jr., prove our superiority over any and all.

I doubt anyone would argue that colonialism was not a major aspect of that era. Imperialism informed a lot of it.  In many instances, it seems t have been an unexamined given.

Quite a bit of newer fiction is in fact about the consequences of such questions. Counter-colonialism, post-imperialist examinations of costs and calamities, and a study of the underlying psychologies and assumptions appertaining to much of what we recognize as Golden Age SF.  (To be fair, a lot of that SF also questioned these things, but somehow that was okay, perhaps because the “right” people were writing those stories. More on that later.)

I wrote about how my reading tastes have evolved here, so I won’t rehash.  What I will say here is that the complaints about a lack of “ol’ time rockets-n-rayguns” SF seems disingenuous at best.  I’ve been reading the new Expanse series by James S.A. Corey and given that these books are now the basis of a tv series and seem to sell quite well, the popularity of this kind of SF seems not at all diminished.  (Unless for some arcane reason these books don’t fill the bill, in which case further explication is needed from those complaining.)  Indeed, given the broad parameters of the complaints, the novel that prompted particular ire a couple of years back, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, seems also to fit within the stated parameters of the fiction claimed lacking in the field.  The only complaint about that book, which sparked considerable anger in certain quarters, that was in any way specific was that it was poorly-written.  I disagree.  It did its job very well.  But again, that’s personal taste.

(I will claim to have some experience both as a reader and a writer with good and bad prose and feel I have the requisite standards, at least for myself, to determine which is which and often why.  There’s nothing second-rate or poorly-written about Leckie’s work.  I suggested in a review what the real problem was and given the nature of further criticisms of the field, especially the tactic Mr. Truesdale used to launch his attack, I will stand by it.)

The clutched pearls and charges of “vapors”, whether he intended it this way or not, are symbols directly targeting women.  “Vapors” is an old-fashioned affliction suffered, presumably, by women and the effeminate.  Like it or not, there is no other way to read it.  Clutching pearls added another layer to that.  The problem, therefore, must, per this diatribe, be women or the feminization of the genre.  There was a general not long ago who complained about feminization of the military because medals were given to soldiers who saved lives rather than “broke things like they were supposed to.”  Given that the chief targets in the last few years of the Sad Puppies and their supporters seem to be largely if not entirely women—specific novels and stories held up as examples of “what’s wrong with the field” have all been written by women—it is fair to conclude that Mr. Truesdale rode that tide onto the beach.  It is fitting therefore that it was a woman who initially took him to task (Sheila Williams, editor of Asimovs SF).

Two things about this from a cultural standpoint.  Dominant members of a culture get frantic when the numbers of what had previously been minority or exception representations rise to levels where they can no longer be passed off as Special Cases. The visibility of women and minorities in SF has been going up for decades.  It may be that a critical threshold has been reached and passed and they must now be regarded as normative examples of work being done.  Hence the spleen vented by those claiming privileges for “traditional” writing.

The other thing is a bit trickier.  It may well be that the future is no longer safe for those same traditionalists. Not even 20 years ago one could assume that the futures being written about would not manifest in our lifetimes.  Certainly 40, 50, or 70 years ago one could very safely write about all manner of social change and economic and cultural novelties and still assume that the world outside one’s door would never get anywhere near any of it.  I recall an essay by Harlan Ellison wherein he had an encounter with John W. Campbell’s wife concerning Jimi Hendrix and a similar point was made.  The Future was not something she was ready to embrace, especially not one exemplified by the new music and the social changes it represented.

But that safe distance is gone.  Except for starships and actual nonhumans (and maybe time travel) we are living in the future imagined by those writers and it is evident that tomorrow will be another future sitting right on our doorstep.  In many ways, it isn’t fiction anymore.

And now the fiction calls into question safe assumptions about the hegemony of those past futures imagined but perhaps, by many, not desired.

Personally, I find all this angst over the direction of science fiction a dubious exercise in attempted grandstanding.  The works speak for themselves and the accolades garnered are symptomatic of public tastes, except in those instances of collegial recognition, like the Nebula.  Charges that cabals bar people or works from competition fall apart on the basis of who is doing the selecting.

But partly this is a consequence of the dissolution of boundaries currently going on by virtue of the fact that, to put it crudely, science fiction won. Emily St. John Mandel, Eric Cline, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Helen Phillips, Ben Winters, and on and on are all writing recognizable science fiction and doing a masterful job of it.  They are not “in the club” as it were and therefore not “of the chosen.”  That old complaint about the ghetto is now not so much a complaint of being kept in but an attempt to keep Them out.  The ghetto walls have fallen and SF writers are not solely the bearers if cool futures.  Others are writing in what once was a small pool where the comradeship of the besieged provided the basis of a shared experience.

But back to that singular question, “where is all the conservative science fiction?”  Where has it ever been?

The problem is that today, in the current climate, the kinds of works that emerge as examples of conservative SF seem to be—I stress, seem to be—military SF.  Is that the only hallmark we go by anymore?  The insistence that war will not only happen but that our heroes must necessarily be those not only skilled at it but quickly willing to step forward to engage it is a questionable basis for dominating what has become a radically diverse field of literature.  It bears some similarity to arguments about what may or may not be “real” rock’n’roll, which as time went on becme an increasingly impossible argument to win.

Damon Knight once said “science fiction is what I point at when I say the words.”  Going back and looking at the best of the field, that has always been true.

So what are the issues?

In my opinion, nothing that has anything to do with the stories being written and published other than by extension.  Unfortunate as it may be, the criticisms being leveled seem to come back to who is writing them and what they are writing about that contradicts a preferred cultural narrative. (When I hear criticism of a novel that for all intents and purposes is exactly the kind of work being argued for that it is bad SF because it is supposedly a social justice novel, when it is not, and the only things that separate it from the preferred model is a pronoun shift and sexual ambiguities, I cannot but conclude that the criticism is entirely a reaction to a perceived threat to a present-day norm which is not even being called into question within the novel.  Transference, anyone?)  And not even that so much as what stories are winning awards, which is an especially small aspect of the larger project.

At the end of the day, the “snowflakes” would appear to be those who are reacting  to stories that criticize the Golden Age cultural assumptions, not the writers of those stories, nor, in my experience, those rewarding said stories.  These stories are talking about matters at hand in new ways and leveling criticisms at issues. Their detractors seem more concerned with who is writing them. I do recall a tradition in SF of writing stories in response.  I wonder what happened to that?

Of course, that presupposes a good story.

 

 

 

 

A Couple Of Observations About The Culture

I’ve been working my way through Mario Vargas Llosa’s intriguing little book Notes On The Death Of Culture, which intends to be a general critique on the state of high culture and the impact its enervation has had on the world at large.  Reading that and watching the election campaigns is a strange thing.

One of Llosa’s main themes here is that we have demoted “high” culture through a process of democratization of self-brutalization via social media and a mistaken acceptance of the idea that everyone’s opinion carries equal weight.  That we no longer value wisdom, quality, or know how to appreciate it as distinct from middle or lowbrow culture, so-called “popular” culture.

There’s something to this, certainly, but I hesitate to call it a death.  A tumultuous sorting maybe. Because side by side, cheek by jowl, as it were, with undeniable banality, dross, and effluence that passes for æsthetic content—no, that’s not quite fair, is it? Garbage has an æsthetic quality, even if it can only be apprehended as a negative—that presents itself as of equal value and merit to works of genuine worth, we do see works of superior quality, intent, and impact. In fact, work being done now in all the arts offers examples equal to if not better than any masterpiece of the past.  Even television, that vast wasteland, offers amazing work. If one looks for it one may find music, painting, photography, sculpture, literature both fictive and nonfiction, drama both on stage and recorded, that compares with the finest humanity has ever offered.

And with it, audiences.  You might question their level of appreciation, but that has two aspects which negate the attempt.  Firstly, how do you gauge “appreciation?” How can anyone determine the extent of comprehension, of response, of, finally, “takeaway” experienced by another human being?  You can’t really, certainly not in any way that might be revealed in a poll or a survey.  Certainly not as some prognostic assessment about the Culture.  Secondly, those creating these works have not come from another planet.  They emerge from among us.  We, in some way, “produce” them.  They are us, they are not alien, so if in fact what they do cannot be understood or appreciated or even recognized, how then do they appear? The fact is, they have an audience.  And not, judging by the availability and public knowledge of the work, small, dying audiences.

Which means we are, irritatingly, forced to take on faith that the culture, whatever we might mean by that, is not dying.  Transforming, sure, as culture always does.  Isolation is harder to achieve, if in fact it is even desirable.  We live in each others’ living rooms.  At best, Llosa’s fears—which may be too strong a word—may have more to do with nostalgia than actual diagnosis.

But then there is this huge, gawping thing in our midst, this political circus, and it might be reasonable to wonder how much we may have lost in terms of “culture” that something like Trump can aspire as successfully as he has to the presidency.  It is perhaps a handicap for many that the answers may be culture-based and insulting to a large group of people.  But I think, for myself at least, that there is nothing wrong with affirming that some things are better than others and that all aspects of culture are not equal.  When you see placards with gross misspellings and bad diction in service to poor logic and spiteful ignorance, it offends and perhaps causes one to hold back rather than indulge in the obvious assessments.  But like the doofus who shows up at a formal-attire wedding in plaid shorts and tennis shoes with an emblazoned t-shirt and a product-placement ball cap, the initial conclusion may not be wrong.

Suggestions have been made that the GOP might intervene and force Trump to step down or even do something with the rules to make him ineligible.  Hiding the blemish won’t cure it.  Trump’s success, if not he himself, is an expression of a popular sentiment, an æsthetic, if you will, that has embraced the thing Llosa is, in part, talking about.  He has brought them together, the subliterates, the banal, the velvet-paintings-of-Elvis crowd, those whose most trenchant popular icon should be Archie Bunker.

And they voted for him.  Should the GOP try to remove Trump, understandable as the impulse may be, it will be a repudiation of the very people they have relied on and nurtured and groomed for over three decades.  They have been largely unseen all this time because they have been salted throughout the larger culture, an aberration perhaps.  But Trump has caused them to step forward as a group.  We, the rest of us, can see them now.  They’ve been there all along, but we have rarely encountered them in numbers so large we could not pretend they weren’t just fringe kooks, loonies, or family embarrassments.

Forgive my crudeness, but I’m  engaging this problem the way they do.  Name-calling, pigeon-holing,  because it makes the unknown manageable.  It is a practice we rightly abhor but is the obverse of recognizing a form of self-selection and commitment to a set of protocols.  If it makes us uncomfortable to be confronted with a reality that has grown up in our midst, then perhaps we share some of the responsibility.  We have as a culture been driven more by the shiny, the thalamic and hippocampic  reactiveness that draws us to the bright thing at the expense, sometimes, of the good thing.

But then, what do you do with someone who has decided that truth and beauty are the same as a red dot sale at WalMart?

It’s perhaps one reason WalMart has been so successful.

Trump, finally, has caused nothing.  He is playing to an audience.  What he says is less important than the fact that there are people who like it.  When he is long gone from the political stage, they will remain.

It’s a cultural problem.

On History and Loyalty

My mother said something to me once that has informed much of my political thinking in the years since.  Back when Ollie North was being held up as some kind of hero.  “No one wants to tell the truth more than I do” North who worked diligently on Reagan’s behalf to deceive Congress and deliver weapons into the hands of people who used them on schools and clinics.  It baffled me that people could find his actions not only defensible but somehow heroic and honorable.  When I opined that in my opinion he should be court-martialed and shot for treason, they looked at me as if I’d just stepped out of flying saucer and didn’t understand.  “He violated his oath as an officer.”  He made an oath to defend the Constitution.  What he did broke that oath.

A lot of people didn’t understand me.  I certainly didn’t understand them.  And then my mother pointed out, very simply, “Most people can’t be loyal to an idea, they can only be loyal to a person.  Even very smart people.”

Meaning, Ollie was loyal to Reagan and anything else didn’t matter nearly as much. He didn’t have the capacity to see beyond that, to the importance of abstracts—or law.

I’m looking at the Bernie or Bust folks and wondering if some version of that isn’t at work.  They have invested in a man and a movement.  Interestingly, though the man has moved on—like an intelligent, well-informed human being who understands there is more at stake than his success or failure—many of his followers can’t.  It would seem on the face of it that they have been captured by the inverse of my mother’s dictum and have pledged their loyalty to an idea rather than a person, but I don’t think so.

Because Sanders is still championing an idea, one they seem not to get.  That the system must be allowed to work and that right now letting it do so in order to achieve the kind of results that will keep the country from further fragment and possibly see its dissolution it is time to act pragmatically and reasonably.  That the problems we face today are from the system not working and for a very simple reason—people don’t vote.  Sometimes they can’t and that needs to be addressed, but often they just won’t, for any number of reasons.  (I remind people all the time that the Tea Party gained control of Congress based only on around 21 to 23% of the eligible voting public, because the people who might have kept them out stayed home.)  That his revolution is one to make the system work as it should—not destroy it in order to erect a new one.  And with that in mind,  in another four years, you’ll all get another shot.  Or eight.  That’s the way it works.  Bernie’s idea is not that the system has failed but that it has been ignored and poorly used—and we let it happen. But endangering that system right now by abetting the election of a walking clusterfuck could do far more harm, possibly permanent damage that might see that opportunity to bring this to the stage again die.

The other side of the coin is the sheer hatred of Hillary Clinton.  So it would seem that the obstinate, short-term loyalty being shown is still about a person.

A person who is being abstracted out of reality and turned into a symbol while the walking talking breathing man is in the process of being relegated to the bin of Also Ran and treated like an aging uncle who has apparently lost touch with what’s important.

You want the revolution to work, go home and start electing city council members, state senators, mayors.  Start with county commissioners, sheriffs, D.A.s, circuit attorneys, and local judges.  We have become addicted to the notion that for something like this to work it must be top down, even as we’ve been complaining that top down (trickledown) policies are anti-democratic and elitist.  Bernie started something.  It can be brought to fruition through the hard, unglamorous work of electing local representatives and building it from the ground up.

But not if you break the system by facilitating the election of Judge Dredd.

In the meantime, pay attention.  History has just been made.  I know, I know, you don’t trust Hillary.  Has it occurred to you that much of your distrust is a result of lies fed you by the very people you are presumably trying to work against by championing Bernie’s revolution?

That aside, frankly, you don’t have to trust Hillary.  She will be, as all presidents are, an employee.  A public employee.  And you have the power to regulate her job performance through your representative in Congress—if you get out there and elect the ones you wanted.  She will still have to work with Congress, you know, and when the system works as it can—and as it should—she can only do what she is allowed to do by virtue of that system.

In the meantime, an Idea has been made real.  A woman is a viable candidate for president.  This is a symbolic moment and in all honesty Hillary was going to be that candidate because to date she’s the only one who has been able to marshal the necessary forces to make it real.  The next one will be easier, but there has to be a first, and Jill Stein was never going to be her.

You’ve got four or eight years to build the foundation for the next candidate, but that won’t happen if you go home in a petulant snit and piss and moan about how you were betrayed and then cast a protest vote that gets Sauron elected. Classic cutting your head off to spite your neck.

So I ask you, what is it you think Hillary might do that would be so bad it would justify the stupidity of assisting Trump into office?

A rhetorical question.  It is just possible she’s not the terror you’ve been led to believe she is.

All the rest is politics.

An Open Letter To Eric Greitens

Dear Mr. Greitens,

This morning, at the gym, I got on the treadmill, switched on the tv monitor, plugged in my headphones, just in time to catch one your campaign ads.  It prompted me to write, to ask a couple of questions.  Clarification seems in order.

Several years ago you founded the Mission Continues as a community activist agency and I was very impressed. I thought, this guy has a lot going, and when rumors began to circulate that you might run for governor, I thought here’s a Republican I could vote for.  I know there are Republicans worth my vote, they just seem overwhelmed by those who aren’t. You, I thought at the time, were an exception.

Then I saw your ad.

Not the first one, the one you pulled, on the shooting range.  An ill-conceived mistake, taken away.  Not a message appropriate to the people served by Mission Continues.  No, not that one.  The one in which you are looking at the camera, dark background, and earnestly telling us your positions.

I was very disappointed.

You preface your claim to be “Pro-life, pro-gun” but declaring your belief that Obama is the  worst president ever.  Or at least in your lifetime.  Granted that you’re only 42, which means your first opportunity to vote for a president would have been Bill Clinton, so as an active participant you don’t have much to choose from—three presidents.  But as someone aspiring to office I would expect you to have a better grasp of history than such a statement shows.

Worst president ever?  By what metric?

I hear that from people who hate Obama.  I look at them and while I can understand the emotionalism I cannot understand on what basis they make that claim.  Granted, most of them are not running for office.  They have not seen much of the world.  They do not have the experiences you have.  Most of them do not have a degree from Oxford nor have had your first-class education from Parkway to UMSL.  History is a foreign language to most Americans, but I expect people who aspire to high office to know better.

I have yet to hear one thing that merits such an assessment about Obama.

Now, there are many things you might have said which would not have sparked my reaction.  Had you said you think he is a middling or even mediocre president, I might quibble, but fair enough.  It’s a complex office, context matters, and mileage varies.  I might disagree (I do) but I can respect an assessment like that.  It indicates a degree of thought went into it.  However, a blanket “worst ever” is nothing but political bombast irrespective of reality.

It is not what I expected from you.

So I repeat: by what metric?  Because based on the metrics Republicans usually use to claim success for their own, Obama is a raging success.

Therein lies the problem.  If I thought Republicans were critical of the situation that boasts an unemployment rate that disregards those chronically unemployed who simply have fallen off the roles, then I might listen.  If I thought Republicans were critical of trade deals that injured American job prospects even though the stock market shows the economy booming, I might listen.  We could go on, but you see my point.  The fact is, Republicans—at least those in office—are not critical of those things and if under the same circumstances one of them were in the White House with these numbers, they would be hailing that president as the second coming of Lincoln.  So it has nothing to do with what Obama has done.  By their own metrics, he should be lauded.

But he’s the wrong man for that, isn’t he?  For a number of reasons.

That kind of cheap denigration should be beneath you.

I repeat, by what metric?  Explain to me what he has done that has been so terrible that you would take the opportunity to craft an ad for your campaign that leads with that cheap shot?

And then I have to ask, compared to who?

Because if we’re going to dig into the box of history, we can come up with several far worse, including but not limited to Obama’s predecessor.

Memories are short.  Politicians rely on that.  People forget.

But let me move on.  Your next claim.  “Pro-life, Pro-gun.”  Do you have any idea how that sounds to reasonable people?  It is oxymoronic, a logical inconsistency.  You are pro-life in support of the personal means to take life.

I know that’s not what you meant, not exactly.  You’re playing to an audience.  People who don’t like abortion and think someone is about to take their guns away, which they need to protect themselves from people hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  Because in spite of what we see on television and on Facebook and hear from the pulpits of jingoistic opportunists, crime is on a downturn in this country.  Things have gotten better over the last few decades.  So feeding the myth that everyone needs their firearm because the crazed bad guys are coming through their doors any minute is just irresponsible nonsense.  This is the politics of fear and completely inconsistent with the Greitens of Mission Continues.

As for the pro-life part, that is pure emotionalism wrapped up in a bundle of distracting falsehood.  You want to cut back abortions, then you do something to provide women with the means to manage their own fertility.  Birth control, sex education, and empowerment.  We have the proof that these are things that work.  It is not guesswork, not wishful thinking.  Make birth control available, provide for comprehensive sex education at an early age, stop shaming people for their private lives, unwanted pregnancy goes down.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is the exact opposite of policies that work.

This is not opinion.  We have seen it work.  More, we have seen the abysmal, tragic failure of so-called Abstinence Only education.

Nothing in your c.v. to date would have suggested to me that taking a principled stand based on fact and reality would bother you.  Was I wrong?

As to the gun stuff.  Please.  Reasonable measures to keep weapons from easy access to people who clearly should not have them would not, in any sane world, constitute an infringement on anyone’s rights.

But a lot of people are having their rights infringed by the thoughtless support of public policies that see birth control as somehow worse than murder or suicide.

So what happened?  Did someone talk to you and explain that if you wanted to be governor you would have to toe the party line?  Did someone point out that if you took reasonable stands on these things, the party would not back you?  Did someone show you how all this requires money and those who have it don’t like politicians who think for themselves?  Was there such a conversation?

Because I am very disappointed.  The GOP has been pushing the same set of policies now since Reagan inaugurated the age of fear-based religious-driven right-wing powermongering and we have seen, repeatedly, how they do not work.  Every time the GOP gets its hands on enough power and authority, the average person suffers.  Wages go down because of the anti-union assaults.  Teen pregnancy goes up because money dries up for education and clinics.  Jobs vanish because deals are brokered with WalMarts and their ilk.  Tax revenues disappear and infrastructure decays.

Oh, sure, these things happen under Democrats, too.  But we just see them as bad at their jobs and eventually vote them out.  Republicans seem to have embraced this stuff as if it had been handed down on tablets from the mountain.

Even as strategy, this makes no sense.  You are appealing to a shrinking demographic.  A frightened, shrinking demographic that responds to the charge that our president is the worst ever based on nothing but confirmation bias.

It’s a cheap strategy.  I would have thought you above that kind of thing.

I guess not.

Yours truly,

 

The Campaign

Hillary Kaine.

Trump Pence.

Part of me—a large part—sees this as a no-brainer.  Who, with any claim to sense or logic, would vote for Donald Trump?

But voting is as much, often more, emotional than rational, so one cannot depend on that for preferred outcomes. A lot of people are emotionally committed to Trump. Their reasons are, from what I have seen and heard, based on nothing tangible about Trump.  It is all about their own discontent with things-as-they-are.

The problem is—for all of us—that such assessments are based on what we see.  And a lot of what we see is scary.  It is extremely difficult to take comfort from logical conclusions based on impersonal data when we are deluged with images of pain, death, and imminent catastrophe.  Humans are visually-oriented.  We panic.  If someone with presumed credibility and/or authority goes “Boo!” there is a small, slippery, worm-like core of our inner Id that vibrates in terror and drives our emotional responses.

Trump has been saying “Boo!” very well and he is aided by the news cycle that thrives on ratings bumps from mass shootings, political insanity, scandal, and predictions of collapse from around the world.  Saying to yourself, “Now, calm down, this is not a true picture,” is very difficult in the face of events like the Dallas shootings, predictions of lost jobs, the Munich massacre, the continuing struggle in the Middle East.

Even though what we see is based on reality, the conclusions to be drawn are difficult with the lack of detail and the conflicting arguments over what these things mean.

“Why don’t our leaders do something!

It does little to mollify that worm to be told “They are, they are, you just don’t see everything that’s going on.”

And of course sometimes they aren’t, at least not what we think they should be doing.

Because it is all those unseen machinations which you know are going on that serve to undermine your faith.  Because we have been told for decades now that those “back room” goings-on are to our detriment.  Powerful people doing things out of sight of the public for their own ends.  Nothing good can come of it.

Well, I am prey to the same misgivings.  I won’t lie.  When it seems so obvious what The Problem is, the demand to know why nothing seems to be happening to solve it is perfectly reasonable.  Patience frays.  And you know—you know—deals are being done of which you would not approve.  And clearly not all those deals work the way the people who made them intended.  That only stands to reason.

So you have to ask, “What were they thinking?”

NAFTA is held up as one of the great deals that backfired.  What were they thinking?

Well, I don’t think many of them did it with the intent to undermine the American labor force and cost us jobs.  Some did, the CEOs and business industry moguls who stood to profit, I’m sure they were looking at the way their expenditures would evolve in that new environment, but even among them I doubt it was with the kind of cynicism one might find in a Darth Vader.  They, like most of us, are as susceptible to myth as you or I.  They probably “believed” what losses occurred in one sector would be made up for in another.  The great American job creation machinery would fill the gap.  As well, the immigration problem drove some of that, and we all know that the major driving force in most of that immigration had to do with the lopsided economies of Mexico and the United States.  All those people were coming here because at home they could not find work and what work they could find did not pay enough.  NAFTA might have brought the economy of Mexico up to as viable level to provide jobs at home and thus curtail the flow of illegal immigration.

I don’t think anyone expected the drug war to reach the heights it did.

But even without that, the machine logic of cost-benefit analysis ultimately swept away any “higher purpose” behind NAFTA and it became what it is, a horrible construct that has gutted a lot of American industry.  To my mind, the crime was not that it failed but that in the face of that failure it wasn’t scrapped.

That almost never happens, though.  Does it?  We put these huge and complex things into place and, oh my, they don’t work the way we thought they would.  But do we ever go back and say, “Enough, shut it down, this won’t work.”  Rarely.  Very rarely.  Because of their complexity, because of the ancillary deals made to put them in place to begin with, because of the evolving dependencies they create, they become Rube-Goldberg structures impossible to undo without bringing destruction down upon even more people.  So they have to be modified, amended, something over here has to change before we change this thing over there, otherwise…

Otherwise chaos.

Whether we like it or not—and for the most part we don’t—this is how the world works.  It is all a huge, complicated Rube-Goldberg Thing that works inefficiently but is kept in place because otherwise chaos follows.

Trump is telling people he can tear it all down and we can start over—without killing anyone.

Or at least without killing anyone here.  On some days he talks blithely about bombing the shit out of people who are not here.

Either way, he is telling people that huge, vast machine can be removed and things will get better.

It is flat out untrue.

Those mechanisms have evolved over time to do one basic thing—prevent chaos.

Granted, chaos happens anyway.  Here and there, now and then, in relatively small pockets and doses.  Because the mechanism changes—on its own or by intent—and that is one of the consequences.

Ronald Reagan gutted our national healthcare system which provided succor to the mentally ill.  The consequence of that single act was to shut down facilities that had been caring for those suffering a variety of mental illnesses.  They ended up on the street.  We have the homeless problem today as a direct result.  People died.  He broke a system and probably, naively, expected the slack to be taken up by private institutions, and instead people died.  Did he intend that?  Certainly not.  But he believed in certain myths and falsehoods and acted without regard to realities.  He thought he was doing something correct, if not necessarily  good.

So when Trump promises to undo, repeal, destroy, etc in order to make the impatient and the poorly-informed and the uncomfortable vote for him, he is lying about it being a good thing.  People will die.  Chaos will follow.

He’s lying willfully, because he understands “deals.”  He knows about unintended consequences and he knows the pernicious tenacity of such constructs.  He knows very well that if he does half of what he’s promised you and I will be in a world of hurt.*

Which brings me to Hillary.

I’ve been listening for years as people on the Right—and even in her own party—have vilified her.  No doubt, some of the complaints have bases in fact.  She is a technocrat.  She understands those Rube-Goldberg systems of which I spoke.  And for better or worse, she seems to understand that they must be managed.  Destroying them leads down rabbit holes from which escape may be problematic at best.  So she has spent her career engaged in the unglamorous, often unexamined job of maintaining systems which many regard as horrible.  Here and there, from time to time, change can be worked on them, but never quickly, never in sweeping gestures, and rarely in terms that are easily explicable to those determined to not understand.

This is one of the reasons we see president-elects, almost always, change at least the priorities of their promised policies upon taking office.  The difference between desire and the achievable, between the ideal and the possible.  Sometimes that difference is not so great that the perceived “abandonment” of principle is very obvious.  Sometimes it is.  But it is, I believe, the responsible acceptance of the realities that creates the discontent for a president who seems to back off from campaign promises.  You cannot just displace or destroy what you don’t like—unless you’re willing to see people die.  Change has to come slowly.

It is the logic of our interconnectedness.

I believe Hillary Clinton understands this.  Probably better than most.  During the primary season, comparisons showed consistently that she and Sanders were mere degrees apart in terms of policy.  Bernie was, in his own way, promising what Trump is promising—tear it all down and put up something that “works.”  Hillary is more cautious.

I’m not going to rehearse her presumed “crimes” here.  As I’ve said before, anyone who has moved in the circles she has for as long as she has will have made deals and done things that can easily be construed as criminal, depending on how they’re spun.  The fact remains that the Republicans have spent millions and millions to find something that would put her out of the running if not in jail and have flat out failed.  Hillary’s reputation as untrustworthy is perfectly understandable, because we go to that simplistic metric at all levels—the guy arrested and jailed, despite the Constitution, is always presumed guilty, otherwise why would he have been arrested and accused?  Whether we like it or not, that’s just where we go.  Hillary has been accused and accused and accused and found not guilty so many times that now, even if she did do something wrong, likely the accusation would have no greater force than all the false ones.  But it has backfired by proving her to be one of the more honest candidates.  Of course, those who already don’t like her won’t ever believe that.

No matter.

Her choice of vice presidential running mate has caused further consternation among those who want to see sweeping reform.  The desire was for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  Two thoughts on that.  One, I have almost never seen a presidential ticket—at least, not a successful one—with two firebrands on the same ballot.  A president doesn’t need a co-president, and frankly I would like to see a return to the days before Cheney in terms of the personality of VPs.  Elizabeth Warren or Sanders both would be constant critics and because of their reputations and status it would be impossible for them not be in the limelight.  Someone like Kaine is a smart choice.

But the other thing about both of them is their power in the Senate.  I want them both there.  We need a congressional overhaul and you don’t make positive change by sidelining your best people.  I would have been disappointed had Hillary picked either of them.  It would not have bode well for the Senate in the long run and would have gained Hillary only short term benefit.  As I said, she understands how these systems work and this was a clear demonstration of that savvy.

To all the Bernie fans who claim they won’t vote for her.  Don’t shoot the rest of us in the foot.  Bernie needs to be in the Senate where he can be both effective critic and strong ally for a president who will be inclined to work with him.  Refusal to support Hillary this time around is petulance on par with Trump’s die-hard acolytes.  Think long term.  The system needs change, but you don’t do that by wrecking it first.  I know you don’t like Hillary, but so what?  It may well be that she’s your best hope of getting some of what you want—and what we need—done.  Saddle her with the same GOP congress, minus either Warren or Sanders, and that likelihood goes down.  View Sanders and Warren as the anchors of a new congress, we could see some good stuff happen.

My two bits, adjusted for inflation.

_____________________________________________________________________

*The Gold Standard for the idea that sweeping change can happen is FDR.  And yes, he did a LOT.  But consider—the system was already cracked and dysfunctional and nearly broken, globally, when he did that.  And then WWII happened.  The situation provided the opportunity by itself scrapping huge parts of that apparatus.  His job was less changing the mechanism as it was creating new machinery to do the job no longer being done.  We do not have that situation now and we had better hoe we don’t see such a situation.  2008 was bad but things still functioned.  As bad as it was it was still not historically on par with the Great Depression.

Unqualified

The clown car rolled into the station, the occupants decamped, and the frollicks began in earnest.  Lots of shouting, foot-stamping, and low-grade denunciations from the podium of this or that.

Trump is almost universally seen by all but the most ardent supporters as unqualified for the office of the president.  We keep hearing that, squeezed in between all the other verbiage being spewed about him. That in fact the only reason for some to vote for Hillary is because Trump is so thoroughly unqualified.

And yet, it would seem that most people who support him have a “Yeah? So?” reaction.

Consider:  that very accusation, leveled by people despised by Trump supporters, makes him all the more appealing.  For many, the very fact that he is unqualified to fill an office which they have believed filled primarily by ideologues of the “wrong” stripe for decades is a bonus.  His very unsuitability in comparison to all others is the whole point.  So hammering on the “unqualified to be president” charge is counterproductive.  You’re only reinforcing what they already know—and approve.

What Trump has successfully managed is to project as counternarrative an image of the ideal outsider. Not only is he outside the mainstream of political circles but he is outside the traditional bounds of informed citizen.  The people to which this appeals most strongly are those who no longer believe in any kind of constructive dialogue.  In their bones, they seem to believe that because they either don’t understand the system or the language of cooperative discourse, they are always shut out of any major public dialogue.  They’re tired of the ongoing discussions because, for them, nothing ever goes their way.

This is not Trump’s doing but he has tapped into it very well.  He knows his audience.  Tell them you’ll put up a gigantic wall to keep foreigners out, any attempt at examining the merits of that proposal will be met with impatience and derision. “We don’t care about your ethics or even your cost-benefit analyses, we like the idea of a wall, so stop telling me it won’t work or shouldn’t work or—more to the point—that I have no right to feel that way!”

Trump won the GOP nomination very simply, by appealing to those who are fed up trying to understand “processes” or “paradigms” or “dynamics” or the intricacies of a system they feel—often correctly—is bent on screwing them, by telling them that he will be their John Wayne and clean up the town.  Which usually means gunplay and some form of segregation.

Yes, it does come directly from the implicit “Make America White Again” which is the essential motor in his campaign car.

The reason this never works and only succeeds in making a lot of other people extremely angry is that it is a fantasy.

And Trump knows how to play this. His wife’s speech at the convention, clearly cribbed from Michele Obama, is a seriously twisted example of cultural appropriation that compares well with anything George Orwell might have come up with.  An anti-immigrant candidate’s Eastern European wife steals a speech from an educated native born black woman and represents it as a model of what the GOP should strive for.  This is done without the least hint of irony and the floor erupted with glee at the profundities they heard.  Which they had heard before and, as with just about everything else attached to Obama, rejected.  Rejected without any consideration as to content only with regard to who was saying it.

Of course, if Trump’s presumed policies actually went into effect, his wife might have trouble staying here.  He’d have to give her a special pardon.

But his base doesn’t care.  Melania will be fine, she can stay, because what they want more than anything is the power to say who fits and who doesn’t.

Hence the comparisons to Nazism.  The Green Card will become the new Yellow Star.  What’s in your wallet?

Shifting to the other side, the lukewarm support for Hillary is in some ways based on the exact same set of criteria.  Qualifications.  She may well be the most qualified candidate for president we have ever seen.  On paper, I cannot think of any presidential candidate ever who brings more preparedness to the office.

And that very thing is making a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Because America has developed, over many decades, a culture that exudes contempt for professionalism, especially in politics and especially in someone who is the wrong kind of person.

The reason Melania Trump’s plagiarism (and let me stress, I don’t for a second believe Melania did that, her speech was written for her, but someone knew exactly what they were doing) will pass through the Trump base without stirring a leaf of indignation is because Michele Obama should never have been able to make it in the first place.  She’s the “wrong” kind of person to be smart and powerful.

So, in similar fashion, is Hillary Clinton.

Now, if she were a man…

How can I suggest that?  Because the kind of subterfuge, oligarchism, and political insider creds for which she is being criticized is shared by just about any career politician who has moved for any length of time at those levels of power.  Dig deep enough, you can find exactly the kinds of shenanigans of which Hillary is suspected, but in the main none of it ever gets before a Senate committee, because in the main all of them are men and the overwhelming majority are white.  It only becomes actionable when the status quo is threatened, and here the threat is to the gender bias that should have gone away in the Seventies.

At it’s simplest, the choice is this: we have a candidate who will effectively execute the office of president and run the country; and we have a candidate who will run the country into the ground.  The funny thing is, both of them are in equal measure cheered and reviled over the exact same question of qualifications.  One is amply qualified, the other is profoundly unqualified.

As for the direction of the country, I suggest that the important elections this year are not for the presidency.  If Hillary wins—and I suspect she will—she will be overseeing a political landscape that will either be in chaos or will be in the early stages of serious reform.  Her job will be to keep it together in either case.  Because it will be in congress that the real changes need to be made.  If we send the same congress back, Hillary will simply be there to be blamed for the same stagnant nonsense Obama has been putting up with.  If, however, we see record voter turnout and a massive overhaul in the Senate and the House, then a great deal of repair work will start, and that will be messy in a different way.  I’d still rather see Hillary there that Trump.

One thing, though, that has to change—our indifference to education and our suspicion of ability.

Oh, one other thing—we need to vote.

Embracing Stupid

I’m hearing from some folks about Brexit and by and large what I’m hearing says this is a calamity.  The idiots “broke the U.K.”

There were plenty of people explaining what would likely happen if they did this, but hey, what do experts know?

Well, quite a lot, actually, but that fact alone makes them unpalatable to the voters who actually cast a Leave vote.  We see precisely that kind of—what would we call it?—“learning fatigue” here.  Who do you think supports Trump?  People who know little or all the most useless things when it comes to politics and economics and quite adamantly do not want to know, because knowing would contradict the fantasy world in which they stand forth at weekend keggers loudly proclaiming positions that might hold some value in a Game of Thrones episode, but since the folks they’re holding forth to know just as little or less, no one challenges them and they feel justified in clinging to their ignorance.

This is the same crowd whose collective eyes glaze over when you start talking about the mechanisms of trade deals, the dynamics of boom-and-bust cycles, or the pathology of bigotry.  People who can’t seem to think outside of very broad categories (i.e. Radical Islamists are Muslims therefore all Muslims want to kill us) and feel empowered whenever someone gets up on a podium and tells them they’re right to be terrified of boogeymen.

So a lot of people, and by the demographics a majority of older British voters, decided that leaving the EU is the same as getting rid of the immigration problem (and somehow they’ll be safer, even though they ought to know better because of past history, namely the IRA, but they at least were white) and that all their money, which will now disappear at an even greater rate because of the catch-up homegrown institutions will have to do to replace EU systems (either that or just let people die, which may happen anyway), will magically reappear in their private bank accounts, and anyway they didn’t understand a lot about what was going in Greece much less down in the Levant and they’d rather not know, as if removing themselves from a source of information somehow eliminates the problem.

Look, knowing things is hard.  Not only is it a bit of work to find out in the first place, but it can be difficult to know what to do with what you’ve learned, and often enough knowledge has the consequence of making you feel responsible.

And that, I think, is where much of the problem is.  People are past exhausted being told to give a damn.  And the less they know, the easier it is to be confident in dismissing problems that don’t seem to have anything to do with them.

But of course, problems always have something to do with you.  Maybe not directly or even tomorrow, but somewhat and eventually, and left ignored will grow.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

I’ll let that sit out there for a while.  More later.  But think about it.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.