A Couple of Thoughts in Advance of Change

I do not usually make predictions about elections. This is not a prediction. But I want to make a couple of observations ahead of Tuesday, if for no other reason than to see how things play out against my own assessments.

We have seen record early voting. As of this morning something like 82 million ballots have already been cast. How they will be counted is at issue, particularly in four states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.  Be that as it may, it is the numbers that interest me here.

Traditionally, it appears Republicans benefit from low turn-out. In 2016 we had 53% turnout. A lot of people stayed home. Whatever the reason—assumptions of a foregone conclusion, no interest in either candidate, confusion, what have you—that handed the election the Trump, who lost the general election. His received the stalwart vote, the 55 to 60 million who always vote Republican no matter what. If that holds true this time, that’s what he will be stuck with. Which means…

I think it is important to recognize that in this election, all bets are off.  We do not know how this is going to come out. We have droves of new voters—the young mainly, many of whom have been watching the last four years and perhaps realizing that their lack of participation will not serve this time. We seem to have no real third-party option this time to siphon off votes (in either direction).  So it will be a slugfest between the two main parties.

But something to bear in mind.  This time around, for the president’s supporters, it is not about him. It is about them. They aren’t voting for him because he’s so great, they’re voting for him to back up their choice—which is based on many things, not least of which is fear. Given a hypothetical, say an ardent opponent of Trump is facing off with an ardent supporter. For the former, the issue is the president. For the latter, the issue is who they are. The supporter isn’t voting for Trump because they love him, they’re voting for him because they despise you (the opponent, the critic).  Every time you make an argument about how poor a president he is, you aren’t convincing the supporter to change votes, you’re validating their dislike of what you stand for.

Which is—

Well, it is, unfortunately, a matter of identity. You have to get into the mindset of someone who thinks anything but Trump and what he represents is somehow anti-American. And that can be anything from taxes to social equity to racism to militarism to protectionism to education to abortion.

I’ve been saying for a while now that as long as this is a fair election, Biden wins. Of course, Trump has been making the same claim for himself. We have evidence of Republican voter suppression.  Amy Coney Barrett was put on the Supreme Court in case the vote is too close and it ends up challenged.

But once again, the really vital races are all down-ticket. Without a change in Congress, it won’t much matter who is in the White House.

I do not trust polls. Polls only show what those who answer polls feel, and that’s both a self-selected group and a group selected by the questions asked. Plus, polls have had an unfortunate tendency to amplify apathy.

So either this one ends up too close to call and ends up in the courts, in which case we may be in trouble.  Or this will be a blow-out, in which case…

Well, depending on who the blow-out benefits, next year will be very different.

We did a stupid thing in 2016. It could be argued that just based on the probabilities, this was inevitable. How we emerge from the lesson will say everything about who we are.

Vote.

Reason and Intelligence

This will be brief.

The other day during a particularly fine conversation with a coworker, the subject of “true believers” came up, specifically with regards to Amy Coney Barrett. It is often said people of a certain religiously-inclined mindset, on certain topics, are, well, not that bright. “How can they not see?”

I realized then—or at least finally codified—the basic problem with this.  It conflates intelligence with religious belief and not in a flattering way. Any cursory glance at history will show this to be erroneous. One cannot look at people like Aquinas or Augustine or even Erasmus or Calvin and make an argument that these were not intelligent, indeed brilliant, people.  In conversation with our contemporaries, we find the whole spectrum.  Yes, some folks aren’t very bright, but then others are quite bright, even near the brilliant end of the scale. The question confronting those of us who are puzzled at their adherence to ideas and creeds and conclusions which to us seem obviously dubious, even absurd, has of late been couched in the wrong terms. It’s not intelligence, not even learning.

The factor I conclude that separates one from the other—say, the credulous from the critical (and I’ll stipulate that even that formulation is freighted with certain biases that make it inaccurate)—is a question of certainty.

The one barrier I have come up against time and again in discussions with people who hold opinions of debatable integrity is Certainty.

They are certain. Absolutely so. They have staked out a patch of intellectual or ideological ground and named it inviolable because here, they claim, is absolute truth, absolute reliability, absolute morality. In the face of that certainty, there is no purchase. Unless and until one can move them to entertain the possibility that they are in error, the argument is pointless.*

Certainty.

So here’s my thesis. It has nothing to do with intelligence. Arguing that people (and here we can insert a wide, wide range of belief and opinion, much of which is not even religious, but has the appearance of religious conviction) who hold certain beliefs do so because they are “not that smart” creates a secondary problem, because now you have made a fundamental error in judgment. We are not dealing with intelligence.

We are dealing with a question of Reason.

And by reason, I mean the ability to apply critical analysis.

We have to ask about an ability to reason. And one’s ability to do so is contingent upon many things, but I think it viable to contend that one loses that ability in direct proportion to a failure to suppress certainty.

The unreasonable is a hallmark of a failure to suppress, even for just the space of the dialogue, certainty.

I find myself automatically mistrusting someone who has no doubts. Doubt is necessary to the useful application of reason. Doubt even as a tool of modeling.

I think it might be useful to shift our perceptions in this. Attacking intelligence only entrenches. Fostering a positive capacity to intentionally doubt is conducive to reason.

Something to consider.

 

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* I will also stipulate that they may still retain their opinion and that is fine, but they will have engaged in a process whereby reason has a chance to allow other viewpoints, other conclusions, and perhaps create a more productive ground of mutual respect and consideration.

Some Thoughts and A Photograph or Two

I’ve been on vacation this week. I intended to use the time to do a lot of cleaning up. It’s not like there are many places to go lately. And I have a basement in dire need of cleaning.

Well, I did some cleaning—more than I probably expected to—and took care of a couple of necessary chores and generally slept more than I usually do. I wish I had gotten more done, but I’m not beating myself up about it.

Oh, here’s a picture:

Something nice, pleasant. I’m not sure all of this post will be, so I’m offering “refreshment” along the way.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. I listened to some of the Barrett hearings and I heard pretty much what I expected to hear. She ducked questions adroitly, presented a façade of judicial competence (knowing all the right terms, etc), and did nothing to outrage the “wrong” people, namely the Republicans who are going to rubber-stamp her appointment. For better or worse, she’s it.

But it occurred to me that Congress really ought to stop asking technical questions. It’s unlikely a nominee will get this far and be unable to spar over legalistic questions. I think a more fundamental set of questions ought to be asked.  Do you believe the Earth is round? How old is the universe? Do you believe miracles are more efficacious than science? Is climate change real? Do you believe there are innately inferior groups of human beings? Do you believe there is evidence supporting evolution?  I would like to hear answers to those kinds of questions. We aren’t going to get the kind of answers on which to base a valid judgment on someone’s suitability to be appointed in the legal realm. One reason is, we test assumptions all the time in courts, that what a trial is. So asking someone how they’ll rule on this or that is kind of ridiculous.

But seeing how someone responds to questions about the world and reality, now, that would be more telling.  It’s possible a Flat-Earther might make a perfectly fine jurist, but the odds are that someone who is that disconnected from the real world has some serious disconnects that would render their judgments…well, a bit questionable, simply because they do not on a very fundamental level share a common perception and understanding of the world in which we live.

Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t accept anthropogenic climate change. Either because of political biases or because she doesn’t pay attention to what’s happening on the planet or she believes it doesn’t matter because the Rapture is coming soon so why waste time understanding something that will disappear with everything else in short order. I’m being a bit facetious, but only a bit.

My point is, I would prefer to know how these nominees see the world. A big question would be Do you believe men and women are equal as human beings or do you believe they have distinct rôles that require them to be treated differently? Never mind what the law says, what do you believe?

Another picture:

 

Over 20 million people have cast ballots already. It would gratify me greatly if this proved to be a record turnout. I am still convinced that turnout is essential.

We’re going to go to the polls on November 3rd. I feel it is important. I want to see what there is to see. I doubt we’ll have any armed partisans at our polling place, but you never know. I’m seeing this nonsense in Idaho and elsewhere, with these dystopically-inclined post adolescent conspiracy addicts threatening vigilantism should things not go the way they want. It is my belief—just a belief, mind you, but not based on nothing—that less will come of all that bluster than promised or feared. I don’t think much of people who isolate in the hills, come to town expecting Thunderdome, posing in Starbucks like a bad movie promotion, and rejecting anything that might take their Moment away, liked facts and ethics and community well-being. They have been imbibing a brew of Fifties-era SF movies, Mad Max, Bircher pseudo-science, and Talk Radio Newspeak for too long. They do not, I feel, understand the world, but they’ve figured out how to make that ignorance a virtue. They thrive on disappointment and I suspect they will continue to so thrive.

Something more pleasant again:

 

On a personal note, I intend—I always intend—to get a bit more disciplined about certain things. The writing, for one. I’ve done little enough in the last few months. This past week, I did almost none. Yesterday I went back to work on a novella I’ve been teasing at, and today, obviously, I’m doing this.

But I also need to get on the self-promotion schtick for my photographs. They’ve been available for purchase for almost two years now and I’ve sold—nothing. I don’t know if it’s because they just aren’t very good or because no one thinks I’m serious about this. I plan to buy a new scanner sometime in the next few months and start transferring my old negatives into digital files. I have five decades of images to go through and it would not be a pleasant thought to see them all just go in the rubbish when I die.

No, that’s not an issue. Not at present, anyway. I’ve been dealing more and more with my parents on that topic, but I am fine. Again—I Am Fine. I went to the gym this morning and even impressed myself.

But, as they say, I have less life ahead of me than behind. I would like to see some of my visual work out there, adorning walls, and so forth. Yes, you will have to buy it. But I need to find some avenues for getting it in front of people.

Which brings me to a statement of being. I am fine. Physically, mentally. Emotionally? Hey, we all have things we need to work on, and the world right now isn’t exactly a cuddly place (but then when is it ever?), but I have some optimism. I intend to be here for a while. I have things to do.

So, I ask you all, whoever you may be, to share with me a few moments of possibility. That things will get better. As long as we don’t give up. I know, that sounds a bit cliché and a touch Pollyanna-ish, but it also happens to be true. Years ago I learned in the fiction business that those who guaranteed will fail are those who give up and go away. Chance may be fickle, but you can’t benefit from it if you aren’t there. It’s not much, but sometimes it’s all you need.

It’s the follow-through that really matters, and for that you really have Be There.

Anyway, enough babbling. One last pleasant image to go out on. Be well.

One More…

So it’s October 12th.  Always, for me, my birthday. Columbus Day? I wholeheartedly approve removing that as cause for celebration.  People migrate, invade, infiltrate, spread. Why make a big deal out of something so common it happened before we figured out how to write? I never thought we needed to make heroes out of those people. We’re here now, time to make heroes out of people who make things better.

In any case, I am now, to my dismay and bemusement, 66.  I mean, seriously? I’m eligible for social security.

So, a picture:

 

Look at that. Does that look 66 to you? (Don’t answer that.)

In the past, I’ve indulged myself with state-of-the-me posts—here’s where I am, where I’ve been, what I plan—but today, I’m doing some major housecleaning, puttering, and trying to figure out where and how to go. All in all, I have no complaints. I take vitamins, an antacid, and that’s about it. I’m still exercising, still working, and still trying to be creative.

About that. The one thing I can say is, I lack the enthusiasm I enjoyed a few years ago. I no longer chomp at the bit to get cracking on new projects. I’m getting a bit worn down.

I’m not happy about that. I have things I still want to do. Some of them will have to wait till we deal with the current health crisis.  And the current political one.

It is actually difficult to write science fiction lately. Not because, as one might think, the times are more skiffy than what I might make up, but because it has gotten harder to muster the optimism required. Maybe if I wrote horror, it would be different. But I never liked horror. Just look around at the state of the world and you might understand why. The vicarious thrill of experiencing this kind of dread, fear, and uncertainty eludes me.

But personally, inside the walls of my head, my home, my gestalt? I’m fine. And that gives me pause, believe me.

I’m just a bit tired.

But, hey. October 12th, 2020.  I am sixty-six years old. I’ll still be tomorrow. And so on, till I’m not, but even then, I will going forward always be at least 66.

If anyone cares to do something to make it better, well, find one of my books and read me. Or go my photography gallery (links available on this site) and pick out something you might like on your wall. Such things are sustaining. And it makes me feel like I’ve done a thing or two worth your time.

Meanwhile, I have a future to work on.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Dangerous Games

One of the difficulties of living in an open society is the unspoken requirement to be tolerant of stupidity. Giving others respect for opinions and beliefs that run counter to civility, reason, or the consideration of shared rights can nurture the false impression that such beliefs and opinions are valid and acceptable, not only to hold but to act upon.  While certainly one can entertain any idea, to go beyond contemplation and moving toward instantiating certain notions as if they were somehow justified across community lines is a different thing altogether.

The people involved in the kidnapping plot of Governor Whitmer of Michigan have too long accepted that their notions of legitimate action, based on opinions and beliefs which have gone unchallenged for them for long enough to constitute a functional break with reality, are exemplars of the downside of tolerance. Because it has become unacceptable for too long to simply call certain ideas out for the nonsense they are—because one is “entitled” to one’s opinion—we have seen grow pockets of cultish beliefs incommensurable with the very open society that says we should tolerate the widest possible range of opinion, hypotheses, personal choice, and credos.

This is the paradox at the heart of what we wish to see as our endeavor. This country. This planet.

But right there, the paradox emerges. Do we want to see the same things?

Broadly speaking, these little gatherings of white pseudo-militia groups embrace a Libertarian æsthetic. Not so much the philosophy. They may have a member or two who know a bit more about their stated philosophy and preferred political stance, but I suspect for the most part these folks have matriculated from the Hollywood school of American Myth. Combined with what appears to be a constrained ability to interact with people who are not just like them, they have mixed a cocktail of old westerns, McCarthy-era Red Baiting, and hate-filled commentary from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones to come up with something which “feels” like True American Virtue.

This has always been around, though. What is different now is that we have an administration which, for a variety of reasons, seems to be encouraging them. What began as cheerleading during the campaign to garner votes from the pool of chronically disaffected heirs of an American Dream that was never real or available to them the way they had become convinced it was is now a dangerous game of electoral chicken. Combined with his continual and too-often arbitrary interference with institutions and systems that until now worked well enough to afford us the space and luxury of indulging fancies and arguing over the furnishings as if they were the real substance of our republic, we have a situation now where too many people believe they have leave to act on their niche paranoias and dreams of a new revolution. It has now risen to the level of significant threat and it is time to recognized that, fun as this may all be for those who dislike liberal democracy and the actualities of genuine tolerance and inclusion, we live in a period balanced on a knife-edge and for no other reason than the refusal to recognize hate when it stands before us.

I have listened to the spinmasters of his campaign try to cast all this in a different light and the one consistent aspect of all their rhetoric is a persistent refusal to address what he has said and what has happened.  That for a huge portion of this country little or none of this has touched them directly, the fact is what happens on the surface and why can be used to make or break law, custom, and the connections that keep us whole. How many people in any organization does it take to wreck things? Very few.  Actual Nazis in Germany in the 1930s numbered in the minority, vastly dwarfed by the majority who were not, and yet that group, that slice, came to speak for and represent the whole of Germany and take it into a darkness we here believe couldn’t take us.  We see the Proud Boys and their like and we hear what the president says and while we may feel some comfort that “most of us” do not approve or would accept that in our communities, the reality is we are witnessing an erosion of our civic virtue and our national well-being.

He speaks nonsense. His followers seem to believe it. It would be an indictment on our past and legacy if somehow the majority of us who realize this cannot meet it as it should be met and he is re-elected. Our institutions and principles will not have failed us—we will have failed them.

We have to attend not to what we might lose but to what we are losing. We have to reclaim the authentic dream,  We have to become ourselves and remembering that while tolerating the freedom to think what we want, we are not obligated to accord stupidity, ignorance, and lies equal time at the podium.

This is not a game.