Tuesday, May 7, 2019

On the Cultural Roots of the Abortion Debate

We have been wrangling with restrictions upon abortion as a contraceptive procedure throughout my life, with many lawmakers now hoping to overturn the landmark Rowe v. Wade decision of 1973, thanks to a conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, and the chance of it becoming a super majority in the next few years. Georgia and Alabama's new draconian measures have been in the news, with Alabama's getting the most attention, because it vows to jail insubordinate abortion providers with up to 99 years in prison. Abortion is currently pretty restricted in most states. Indeed, of the many state legislatures which have agonized about the plight of fetuses, few, it seems, have shown the same solicitude when it comes to the needs of young children, their family life, or even their education. Alabama, for example, hasn't shown much concern for public health for years. Even prenatal and postnatal checkups for young mothers aren't on lawmakers' radar in most states, which might prevent miscarriages, or reduce infant or maternal mortality. Only the first months of viability keeps them up in the night. After that, ladies and gents, you're on your own, unless corporations, churches and charities want to step in.

The conservative ethos is, We won't worry about your family's welfare, because that is a private matter, unless you are receiving public assistance, or violating our laws. If you receive assistance, you are a parasite, unless you are a big corporation promising jobs. If you violate laws, we will lock you up and throw your family to the wolves. Unless, of course, you are a big corporation who may have just made a little mistake because of anti-business laws passed by our liberal colleagues, like violating labor, environmental or campaign finance laws. No big deal. 

Well, let's take a broader view of our culture. What messages are given to females from girlhood? Don't have sex until marriage, but don't be too prissy, or guys will think you're gay or frigid. If you do have extramarital sex, just don't get pregnant. Perhaps you got pregnant because you got intoxicated, forgot pills, and he didn't want to use a condom. After all, how else will a male get sexual satisfaction, unless a potential partner has clouded judgment? How else will one's shyness be overcome, except with drugs and booze at bars and parties? Billions of dollars are spent on reinforcing this unsubtle meme, rightly or wrongly. It keeps the legal drug and alcohol interests in the black, after all, and employs people, after all.

If you get pregnant, don't expect the father (if known) to stick around. It's cool to have a baby, since celebrity role models celebrate it. You can do it all by yourself, like other wealthy woman have. On the other hand, poor single moms are blamed for society's ills, because they either are on public assistance, or their kids are neglected, according to persistent memes. Single motherhood will also adversely affect your sex life, especially if you can't get your girlish figure back. And what if you can't get reliable babysitters (like your parents or grandparents) to watch your progeny while you get some much needed me-time? How many workplaces are openly hostile to the needs of working mothers, like having a breastfeeding break, or staying home with sick kids? We haven't even gotten to kids with medical or special needs. 

Oh, and let's back up. You, the mother-to-be, are told your child may be born with birth defects. You may be told that there are physical risks to being pregnant or giving birth, very much a reality in the past, still something of an issue today, especially in developing countries. You may have health issues yourself. And we aren't talking about women who already have families, maybe even spouses, who may have issues with unplanned pregnancies. In spite of all these potential challenges, most women give birth. Some use contraception. Some get abortions. Society stigmatizes this last group. It's always the woman's responsibility to maintain the social order. If not, mostly male lawmakers will see to it that abortion providers are barred from the practice, morning after pills are unavailable, and offenders are punished with jail or everlasting contempt.

My solution? One option is to pay women to have babies and give them up for adoption, if they aren't up to assuming this superhuman task, because of some of the reasons I have mentioned. Pay them, even if the guy decides to actually take responsibility as their father, and the mother wants to retain custody. At least give them some inducement not to create another dysfunctional, single parent family. Offer free life skills counseling for all prospective parents. We should also make it cheaper, and less burdensome to adopt, and address issues when the biological parents choose to be part of their kids' lives. With all of the divorce going on, it can't be that much different at whose house the children split their time. Are kids any more likely to be kidnapped by biological, or non-custodial, parents? It seems like its becoming a moot point, with so many spouses not staying together anymore.

It would be far cheaper to do these than to continue to waste public funds fighting heavy-handed legislative measures in court, even if they make legislators look good to their conservative, church-going constituents, and allow them to parade around like cocksure roosters. Again, as I have said, this steadfast defense of alleged principle flies in the face of routine cuts, or freezing of increases, to funds to other government programs which would benefit the young. 

Another option is to fund voluntary sterilization of both sexes. No eggs and sperm? No problem. Involuntary sterilization we associate, of course, with the bad old eugenics era and fascism. It didn't work out so well in India in the 1970s, when Indira Gandhi tried to impose it, either. This runs afoul of some religious sensibilities, certainly. Yet, since so many rankle at exploding populations, especially among ethnic minorities, it may offer a solution to a society always allergic to criminal activities of the bored youth it refuses, or cannot, care for. It would be far easier, however, to make birth control options more widely available, such as self-administered abortifacients. After all, we use pills, shots and elixirs for everything else, don't we.

Option 3? Buy, or subsidize the purchase of, sexbots for the kind of irresponsible and predatory males prone to impregnate females. Develop sexbots which are sophisticated enough to give such people a challenge, so they won't get kicks from stalking and assaulting real women. It might at least take some sex offenders out of circulation. Less public intoxication and abandonment issues, too. 

What is more, we shouldn't stigmatize women who simply prefer the company of other women, or want to raise children on their own. Make sperm donations available, and cheap. The ideal is for both parents to be there, in the home, co-parenting. One would want the couple to at least be of two genders, according to cultural history. That this hasn't been the case, especially with both parents staying married and healthy enough to raise their biological children to adulthood, is well-known. Deviation from the ideal may be greater today, perhaps, with marriage being less fashionable, same-sex, transgender and infertility issues being more prominent.

Anyway, I'm sure the paternal state will continue to police women's wombs, hound men away from households getting assistance, lock up fathers for non-violent offenses, and do all the meddlesome things which libertarians find absurd, just to make sure no one looks soft on crime. Sometime, though, sane people will have to decide that our sexual culture is so severely messed-up, that encouraging unsafe, back alley, abortions, poor reporting of such procedures, and unwanted children--in other words, a return to the good old days of, say, Dickensian England--is hardly a panacea. Giving people freedom, and then taking it away, is hardly conducive to the legitimation of governance. Carrots like bribing unwed parents to marry and/or stay together, encouraging adoption, providing free counseling, care throughout the natal cycle, less-restricted access to other forms of birth control, will help. 

More appreciation of the matronly figure, and motherhood, in public and at work, will work some wonders. Anything promoting fatherly attachment, male duty to support spouses/partners and families, shared visitation, should be a bipartisan issue. Parenthood, in general, should be pervasive in public discourse; not how great it is to be unattached, and orgasmic. Sex-positivity, partner bonding, and better education about family structure and reproduction, I think, are all crucial to a healthy society. Hooking up and stoner sex are not part of a healthy society; anymore than pornography, prostitution and glory holes are. Sexbots and sex toys are necessary evils because, frankly, some people need something extra that is non-violent, and non-reproductive. Otherwise, they will continue to perpetrate their deviant fantasies with the innocent. We don't need to hopelessly wring our hands about sexual harassment, battery and STDs. Science can come to the rescue, if we let it. Family values, though in a broader and more enlightened sense, may yet prevail if the subject is reclaimed from the dark confines of our creaky culture wars and championed again by social progressives. Otherwise, the fundamentalists will triumph. Then, heaven help us all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Where People Get Donald Trump, and Contrarians, Wrong

I am not a fan of Donald John Trump. I would never vote for him. The other day, however, I had to question my own prejudices when dealing with the effusive praise for him by a coworker. Why do I feel such a visceral reaction towards him, and other leaders whom I deem antithetical to my own values? I believe, in the case of POTUS, that one should start with recognizing some of what attracts others to him.
  • He strives to keep his campaign promises, unlike other presidents.
  • He is a consummate master of modern media, understanding implicitly how to deliver his message to the masses, especially in ways that make for good television entertainment.
  • He is very good at out-maneuvering his opponents.
  • He is probably enjoying his presidency more than his predecessors, since he doesn't feel responsible for how the world works, and doesn't lose sleep over what fires need to be put out.
  • He has addressed some legitimate issues, such as ailing infrastructure, trade imbalances, and the high costs of garrisoning the world.
  • He is adept at keeping his name in the news every day, and showcasing the defensiveness and passive aggression of his enemies.
To understand the Trump phenomenon more fully, I would remind us that stories are always more entertaining than fact-checking. We don't go to sports events in order to hear from sideline judges, referees and umpires. Jury trials are decided by persuasiveness, not the mere trundling out of evidence and invoking of legal codes. People buy on the basis of passion; their shopping experience is more important than the attributes of the good or service they are purchasing. Logic is brought in to justify decision-making, but is not necessarily the chief catalyst. In the case of Trump supporters, he is the showman who knows how to deliver what they want to hear and see. His detractors, on the other hand, come across as party poopers, as the coolers who show up at casinos when one is on a hot streak. They are the prissy nitpickers, the sore losers, the ones the schoolyard bullies made fools of when it was time for them to counterattack. Unlike disciplinarian teachers and other superiors, they lack the charisma and legitimacy to make much headway against the star of the show. They are like the censors and watchdogs who seem to have little purpose other than to spoil a good evening. They seem outraged less out of moral affront than out of envy, because he commands so much attention, and won't yield the stage. He serves as a convenient foil for others seeking to promote a conservative agenda, who obtain less scrutiny because of his notoriety. It is not just one person leading the charge. Changing who presides will not greatly upset the agenda of a deeply-entrenched establishment. It will not eliminate racial hatred, xenophobia and bigotry in general. No one should be lulled by such a specious argument. The ills of society will never be cured by mere elections.

Trump may remind us of the class clowns we knew growing up. In the Washington Post book Trump Revealed from 2016, some remember him being just that. Some want the teacher to get on with the lesson and put the miscreant in his or her place. Others like the break in the action, or welcome some levity in the midst of a dreary lesson. Others take the side of their peer against the instructor and his or her perceived tyranny. For a conservative icon, Trump (and the media culture of the Right) come across as bad boys and girls willing to prod and pummel the uptight liberal establishment, at risk of official opprobrium. This card has been played for many years, even when conservatives have dominated the Presidency, Congress and, increasingly, the judiciary. It is not a simple matter of hypocrisy or deception. This is the narrative the Right promotes, because victimizers like to see themselves as victims, and the loyal base likes to see themselves as fellow sufferers. Wealthy people and corporations striving to avoid estate taxes are seen as peers of the middle and lower classes, since the less fortunate would be rich, too, if they just tried harder. That they also promote policies damaging to the well-being of the general public (like weakened labor, environmental and safety regulations) seems beside the point. Liberals are the nagging sourpusses, the holdouts that the rest cannot abide, who stand in the way of economic prosperity. The confidence in him is so strong among his supporters, they might greet imminent annihilation with a smile on their faces, since he could provide a deux ex machina at any moment. Cognitive dissonance is that strong. Facts will not win them over. On the other hand, as the recent altercation involving Covington Catholic High School students in Washington, D.C. shows, first impressions are not necessarily definitive.

When speaking with someone whose politics are on the opposite side of the fence, one should keep the following principles in mind:
  1. No one's perception is perfect, and sufficient, in and of itself.
  2. If one values friendship with another, one shouldn't insist upon being right, or evangelizing another.
  3. The other person has unique gifts, which should be validated and shared, for that person's own well-being and for one's own. Political or other differences are too slight to merit the exclusion of another's other qualities.
  4. The degree to which the super rich, and corporations, control our society and buy our political representatives, is a concern for all of us, conservative and liberal. Societal divisions blunt united efforts to address the disparities among us, and the dwindling of governmental services. If we want better schools, roads, public safety, and access to medical care, we need a united voice.
  5. What is truth, and reality, as some say, is simply an illusion most of us agree upon.
  6. To change society, one has to work with political rivals, since there are not enough progressives out there to sway the public. One needs votes of all sorts of people to get anything done.
  7. Many people profit from sowing dissension. Anger stoking is big business these days, as Charles Duhigg pointed out in a recent Atlantic article. We shouldn't let ourselves get played. A good friend, or family member, is too precious to lose over a paltry political, or ideological, argument. People are entitled to their opinions. The key is to not be baited, or be so ironclad about one's Weltanschauung, that one cannot learn from another. Last year, comedienne Sarah Silverman didn't let herself get unhinged over a rude tweet from a troll. Instead, she got to know him better and was actually able to get him some help. Village Square, a national non-profit, is promoting a return to civil discourse and civic engagement.
  8. No political party, no leader, is immune to abusing power if there is nothing to check their authority and influence. Compromise is crucial to governance. Human polity is simply too imperfect in its implementation to function correctly without it. Tyranny results without restraints.
It takes a lot of practice to de-escalate. It is not easy to reach out to someone with whom one doesn't normally associate. However, as living, breathing members of communities, we are all in this together. We can't afford to let demagogues of any ilk push our buttons and profit from our disunity. Do not presume you, or I, or anyone else has all the answers. Do assume that you, or I, or someone else, can always learn from another. That includes non-citizens, the elderly, and little children. We can learn a lot from the non-human creatures who share our habitat, too. There is only one planet found to be a suitable home for us, notwithstanding centuries of speculative fiction to the contrary. Let's not destroy ourselves over differences of opinion. Our fate depends upon it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

If I Were Dictator (A Fantasy Campaign)

If I Were Dictator...

  1. News Interview

Host: Good evening, I’m Trevor Larue.  Tonight on Progressive Fox Hunt, we have as our guest Rick Salubrious, who is running for the office of The One Mighty and Strong.  He is the nominee of the Fit Utopian Nationalists (FUN) Party.  Tell us more about your party, Mr. Salubrious?

Rick: Thank you, Trevor.  Our philosophy is that a fit citizenry deserves fit leaders.

Host: So, Mr. Salubrious, what does your party want to do about public health?

Rick: Health
We will have International Health Insurance.  You can go to the best doctor, MD or naturopath, anywhere in the world for the best price.  

Everyone will have a chip implanted to monitor overall health.  You can have diagnostics performed for both body and motor vehicle at any garage.  

All drugs and herbal supplements will be legalized and covered by insurance.  Big Pharma will have to lower prices in order to compete.

To eliminate racial differences and promote hybrid vigor, everyone will donate their sperm and eggs to a National Fertility Clearinghouse.  Genetically fit couples will then receive implants of genetically fit zygotes.  No one will know the race, or sex, of the fetus beforehand.  Every birth will be a surprise.  

If there are still unwanted children, my EBaby National Auction Service will take care of that.

Schizophrenics will be given Bluetooth ear sets to wear, so they won’t be stigmatized.

No more fat people.  All generators will be human-powered, using treadmills, ellipticals, stationery bikes, etc..  No sweat, no juice.  The smart grid that smarts.

To protect ourselves from global warming, a giant, self-healing  membrane will be constructed around the earth, filtering out the bad stuff and keeping the good stuff in, like moisture.  We will call our planet Terrarium Firma.

Host: What about immigration?

Rick: Immigration

Under the Even Fairer Boundaries Initiative, anyone living in the Western Hemisphere, from Baffin Island to Tierra del Fuego, is declared a US citizen, since the US will be annexing  the land anyway.  We’ll call ourselves the Transamerican Commonwealth.

Host: Foreign aid?

Rick: Foreign Aid

No more something for nothing.  If they can’t pay us back, then we will claim prime real estate, which will be used as either nature preserves or homelands for stateless ethnic groups and tribes, complete with their own casinos.

And while we’re at it, let’s take unwanted dogs, cats, horses and other pets out of the shelters and put them on people’s plates where they belong.

Host: Defense?

Rick: Defense
Every able-bodied person will be drafted for national service,.  Think how many millions will then be in shape, engaged in public works and humanitarian projects.

Nuclear warheads will be converted into reactors for unmanned exploratory drones sent into deep space, forming an interstellar communications relay.  Can you imagine all the E.T.’s gawking at all of those UFOs sent from earth?  We’ll settle this Area 51 mystery stuff once and for all.

Host: Crime?

Rick: Criminal Justice

By decriminalizing drugs, there will be less need for jails and prisons.  For incorrigible fraudsters and gangsters, they will be extraordinarily renditioned to trouble spots like Waziristan and Somalia, where they can try fighting their way back out.

Host: What about special legislation?

Rick: Lawmaking and Governance

No more gridlock.  The 535 members of House and Senate will engage in sports tournaments to see whose legislation advances.  Cage Fighters for Congress!  CSPAN ratings will go through the roof!
The bidding process for government contracts will be transparent.  Now, contractors will have to compete for best entertainer in a Survivor-like reality series.  Survival of the funniest!

People will no longer be prosecuted for public indecency. Instead, we will arrest for aesthetic offenses, if they don’t look good naked.

There will be no censorship unless critics, on their own, can come up with a more entertaining replacement.

All marriages will come with renewable warranties.  Younger men will be required to marry older women, so there are fewer widows, and better mutual orgasms.

Host: International relations?

Rick: Diplomacy

International disputes will be resolved by gladiator competitions between leaders of the respective countries.  For competing religious fundamentalists, they will be only allowed to compete against other fundamentalists to see whose God is better.  If you want your side to win, elect somebody who’s buff.  No more sending young men and women in harm’s way to save a potentate’s fat backside.
Host: How about our schools?

Rick: Education

Schools will emphasize vocational skills.  Kids will learn via interactive, networked gaming.  Lots of time for recess.  For those who prefer the arts and humanities, practical skills will be emphasized, like how to look hot while performing a concerto, or modern pole dancing.

Student athletes, artists, researchers, and scientists will all have something in common: they’ll all get paid for their work.

Host: What about affordable housing and the homeless problem?

Rick: Housing

Abandoned dwellings will be given rent-free to low-income and homeless individuals.  They only will only be required to maintain the property, brew biofuels, and grow fruits, vegetables, grain, and mood-enhancing crops, in order to be self-sustaining.

Host: What about our energy needs?  Our infrastructure?  How are you going to put people back to work?

Rick: Transportation, Energy and Jobs

We will have state-of-the-art express trains competing with the airlines.  Whoever gets there first, the loser pays the fare.  We’ll move freight and passengers lickety split.

We will revolutionize agriculture.  Empty lots will become community gardens.  Everyone will be allowed to raise fruits, vegetables, herbs and hallucinogens on their property, rented or owned.  In addition, everyone will be allowed to make his own ethanol and biodiesel from manure, garbage and yard waste.  Think of all those engines running on methane or moonshine!  This will stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit.

Public lands will be leased for mineral extraction and other commercial uses under the following conditions:  
  1. The lands must be ugly to look at.  
  2. The developers provide their own water.  
  3. They leave the lands looking prettier afterward.

All sewers and landfills will be providing us fuel and fertilizer for our agricultural needs.

Host: Looks like we’re out of time.  Any final words?

Rick: Vote for Rick for DIC-tator!

2. Campaign advertisement

Good morning.  I’m Rick Salubrious.  That’s SALUBRIOUS, not lugubrious or dubious, as some of my opponents allege.  I’m the  Fit Utopian Nationalist, or FUN, Party nominee for the One Mighty and Strong.  I’m a biogeneticist by occupation, and grew up on a family farm.  We’re going to address our biggest national problem.  It’s not what you think it is.  I call it the Four F’s: Factory Farm Fed Fatties.  Our solution is giving the opposition fits.


First, we need to fix families.  We’ll let everyone who wants to marry, but not everyone will be allowed to have kids.  All marriages will come with renewable warranties. To ensure healthy offspring, eggs and sperm will be contributed to a National Fertility Clearinghouse.  The best genes from all over the world will be mixed and matched to produce babies who are athletic, ambitious, attentive, allergy-free, lean and long.  They’ll be resistant to cold, heat and humidity, and of one, composite race.  Parent’s will have to qualify for these IVT designer babies.  Those having them the old-fashioned way will have to take care of them properly, or they’ll be auctioned off on EBaby.  No more unwanted, abused kids.  And to make sure there are happily married couples, each marriage will come with a renewable warranty.  This is our No Zygote Left Behind Campaign.


To make sure kids are properly educated, they’ll all be placed on communal farms where they can learn hard work and practical skills like animal husbandry, crop management, maintaining machinery, veterinary science, energy-efficient housing, alternative energy, composting and mulching.  In addition, they’ll learn first aid, wilderness survival, hunting, fishing, and navigating by the stars.  Only those with physical limitations will be so-called knowledge workers.  We’ll have the best broadband available for everyone who wants it, but they’ll be able to handle themselves without it, too. Our Brain Drain will be turned into a Grain Gain.  


How are we going to keep people healthy?  Everyone will have a diagnostic chip implanted.  You can find out the maintenance schedule for you and your vehicle at any garage.  Everyone will have International Health Insurance.  You can go to the best doctors anywhere in the world for the best price.  And your drugs will be cheap, too.  No more illegal drugs.  No more herbal remedies that aren’t covered.  If what gets you high also heals you, no questions asked.

What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.


How are we going to get people working again?  Let’s ask ourselves: What have Americans always been good at?  Farming and fighting.  What was our greatest historic achievement?  Building the Transcontinental Railroad.  We’ve been deindustrializing for 40 years now, so Why not go back to our glory days?  The first step is to impose a universal selective service, so everyone can get in shape, learn how to defend themselves, and persuade the rest of the world to open up their agricultural markets. Instant full employment!  Second, all  unused and abandoned properties will be turned into organic community farms, where people can raise their own livestock, vegetables, fruits, grain, hallucinogens and biofuels.  We’ll take out those useless lawns and flower gardens and grow something we can eat.  To conserve water, farms will employ drip systems and recycle graywater.  We’ll all learn to use waterless, biodigesting latrines which my engineers will render sweet-smelling and bug free.  Lastly, our crops will be shipped on state of the art bullet trains, running on biodiesel, solar, wind and natural gas.  You’ll soon be able to go anywhere you want in  the continental US by express train.  If they don’t get you there before cars, buses and planes do, your fare is free.  Our boots will no longer be on the ground; they’ll be magnetically levitated.


There’ll be no more homeless.  All these abandoned and foreclosed houses around the country will provide shelter for the needy.  The new tenants will only have to maintain the property and turn useless lawns and yards into food and fuel-yielding fields. We’ll call them E-victory Gardens.  There will be no more euthanizing of stray pets, either.  I’ll make sure they’re taken out of those shelters and put on people’s dinner plates, where they belong.


We’re gonna pardon everyone jailed for minor drug offenses, so we can jump start our medicinal herbs industry.  Those who remain a menace to society, like murderers, rapists and predatory lenders, will have to make a decision. We won’t provide free room and board anymore.  If you can’t work for your keep, you will be harvested for organs, used for medical research, or sent to a foreign prison, where they will know how to deal with your kind .  If folks want foreign aid, they’ve got to discipline some troublemakers for us.  We call it the Hoods for Goods Exchange.


So, what about defense?  First off, I want to get rid of those pesky nukes worldwide.  We’ll take all of these warheads and radioactive waste and use them to power remote sensing missiles, which will be launched into deep space.  Why?  So the huge worldwide UFO community will know once and for all where those E.T.’s are and what they’re up to.  And they’ll happily pay for the whole program.  We call it the Nukes for Kooks Alliance.


Next, we’re going to solve our immigration problems.  For starters, everyone living from Baffin Bay to Tierra del Fuego, from Brazil to the Bering Sea becomes an automatic citizen of the Transamerica Commonwealth.  We’ll secure our borders by extending them.  I call this the Even Fairer Boundaries Initiative.

I’m going to handle international disputes and even make them entertaining.  If countries disagree, their leaders will personally settle their differences via a single-elimination, ultimate fighting tournament.  No more wusses will be elected heads of state.  Similarly, I propose that we require our own lawmakers to do the same.  No more gridlock.  Just headlocks.  C-SPAN ratings will go through the roof.  Everyone will want to know how their cage fighting congressman is doing.  Pay per View Politics!

No more free military assistance to other countries.  If they want US protection, they’ve gotta pay for it.  We’ll have the finest mercenary army in the world.  If they ain’t got the do-re-mi, we’ll just confiscate some prime real estate, which we’ll use for relocating stateless peoples, complete with their own casinos, so they can be self-sufficient.  I will call this Ethnic Friendsing.

Last of all, I’m going to keep our enemies well-fed by exporting all of that factory farm fodder and processed junk food overseas.  Let our foes get cholesterol, strokes, hypertension and diabetes instead.  Let them OD on antibiotics, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, hormone-fed livestock and high fructose corn syrup.  They’ll be too lethargic to want to fight us anymore.  It will be a food fight that actually gets us peace.


Lastly, what about our so-called energy crisis?  We have the largest resource in the world.  It’s called body fat.  We have fat to burn.  Every home will convert to human-powered generators.  If you aren’t cranking, pedaling, lifting, pulling, climbing, or treading, you get no juice.  I call it the Sweat Equity Grid.


There you have it.  A fitness plan which will give us a fit constituency and fit leaders.  Vote for FUN!  Vote Rick for DIC-tator!

Political Ideology and Fundamentalism

While reading E. J. Dionne Jr.'s Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond (2016), I realized something crucial to our public discussion of holding onto the cherished values of the past amid the onslaught of modernity. Some years ago, I had read Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (2009), which chronicled the careers of people like Julius Evola, Frithjof Schuon and René Guénon, who blended Sufism, Hinduism and other eastern beliefs with their own take on the perennial philosophy, a syncretistic concept dating back to Neoplatism, that all religions are essentially one. Sedgwick maintains a blog on this topic. The Perennial Philosophy is also associated with all sorts of New Age views of faith, which glosses over rather ruthlessly the inherent differences, as Stephen Prothero has pointed out in God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter (2010). People don't like to be lumped together, and don't like outsiders misrepresenting their beliefs to others. I got a taste of this when a former Kuwaiti room mate told me he saw no difference between Judaism and Mormonism. I told him that Jews might have something to say about that, let alone Latter-Day Saints.

We still read Evola, Guénon, Schuon and other traditionalists because of their elaborate synthesis of mystical ideas and critique of Western industrial society. We still read philosophers who  like Martin Heidegger and Oswald Spengler for their similar analysis of why modern man is in an existential crisis and his civilization is in decline. Whether it be spiritual or natural alienation, the true or higher self is endangered. What these authors also had in common, however, was their sympathy with Fascism. was really an attempt to fuse politics with mysticism, to wed the technology of the modern world with the efforts to revive a lost imperial state. Modern force of arms would be needed to achieve the conversion of a decadent world back to some more bucolic state.

The same Kuwaiti roommate shared his avowed sympathy for the Islamic State radicals, before their more egregious atrocities came to light. At the time, I saw this as a visceral reaction to the despotism and corruption associated with many Near Eastern governments, towards which the Arab Spring was a reaction. Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia had their revolts, and Turkey had a close brush with a coup. His sentiments were echoed in Morgan Spurlock's prescient documentary Where In the World is Osama Bin Laden from 2008, where widespread dissatisfaction was detected among the young people he was allowed to interview (under restrictive circumstances). I don't believe my roommate was necessarily condoning IS's tactics. I believe he was so sick of political repression and inertia in his own country he was willing to tie his fortune to a lesser-known entity which, at least, is achieving results.

A similar dissatisfaction, I believe, is at the heart of the Donald Trump phenomenon. Many Americans are so fed up with the political establishment, who seems to systematically ignore them, that they are willing to support an avowed "doer", no matter how catastrophic his pledges may seem. They want to shake things up, like my Kuwaiti roommate, and the devil take the consequences. They see him as anti-establishment, since the Republican Party and mainstream press have been his loudest critics, up until he secured his nomination. Even Fox News seemed to oppose his campaign until recently. Why middle class voters feel kinship with a brash billionaire comes down to the accepted notion that only a billionaire has the means to stand apart from special interests, as was the case with Ross Perot. The Bernie Sanders phenomenon, which drew upon wider populist support than Trump, demonstrates some of the same dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton, whom many perceive as just another establishment politician. In spite of Trump's gaffes, the Democratic party cannot see this election as a sure thing. Fear of Trump may not translate into votes for Clinton, especially if voters decide to vote for someone else, or just stay home out of disillusionment.

I am not suggesting from all this that the Tea Party and IS are the same, or that they are part of a Neo-Fascist movement. What they, and the Traditionalists, and religious fundamentalists have in common is a desire to recreate an idyllic past which never existed in the first place. It traces its origins among young academics who never lived in such a society. The Muslim Brotherhood, highly influential upon modern Islamic fundamentalism, traces its roots to Sayyid Qutb, who was appalled by the free-wheeling ways of American college students when he visited there 1948-1950, when he was in his early 40s. Younger, educated people have been at the forefront of other fundamentalist movements in Judaism and Christianity. Fundamentalism and traditionalism, in effect, are actually post-modern movements, and are not the continuation of unbroken traditions. While they attract many who are poor and less-educated, their instigators were part of the elite of society.

Historians have pointed out that many allegedly ancient practices are of more modern invention. Wicca and Freemasonry, while claiming ancient roots, are twentieth-century and eighteenth century creations, respectively. We like to appeal to tradition for our beliefs, but our traditions are not always that old. In some respects, we aren't much different from others who dress up in costumes and try to re-enact famous battles or who want to evoke lost customs and ages, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism. Or, we reimagine the past, as those who embrace the Steampunk lifestyle. A. J. Jacobs has pointed out in his The Year of Living Biblically (2008) the difficulties of turning back the clock and embracing obscurely described customs which aren't fully understood by seasoned scholars, let alone devotees. Would we really want to go back to nature, as portrayed in so many reality shows, without modern conveniences, or medical care, or electricity, or plumbing? For most, the answer is a resounding "No". If anything, rigorous fundamentalism entails a more burdensome lifestyle and more complication than living in the world today.

So, will the Tea Party movement really steer us back to the 1950s? Or the old pre-taxation days of America? Do we want a return to Jim Crow, to closeted homosexuality, back alley abortions, to the Cold War paranoia, and the exclusion of certain ethnic groups from the naturalization process? Will we see a return of high-paying, unskilled industrial jobs? Will our educational infrastructural deficiencies be surmounted by school uniforms and prayer? Will we have more state mental hospitals? Will we see a return to large-scale highway and dam construction, as implemented during the Eisenhower Administration? Will we see less divorce and more traditional marriage? Will people forswear narcotics in favor of alcohol, tobacco, and sedatives? Will we see a revival of fraternal associations? If we imposed an Eisenhower-era taxation system, upper income people would be paying a much larger share than they do today. If people didn't live so long, perhaps the social safety net system would work again. Then we would have to sanction assisted suicide. Will we see a higher birth rate? Not if medical costs continue to spiral for obstetrical care.

I am not suggesting that life is so great today, with fragmenting households and social circles. Life also wasn't that great in the past, either, without the advances in public health and information sources we have today. Neighborhoods, homes weren't necessarily safe back then, either. There was "juvenile delinquency" then, as opposed to "gangs" today. There were slums then, as there are slums, now. Emerging nations, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, have seen tremendous advances in quality of life and industrial capacity in the last 60 years. American cities have greater ethnic diversity today, though foreign-born citizens were a higher percentage of the population 150 years ago. There are neglected or forgotten customs, crafts, and practices worthy of revival and rediscovery. Our political upheaval today, so reminiscent of the left-oriented unrest of the sixties, with rudeness on the other end of the spectrum, can be seen as healthy if it helps to at least "shake things up". I am not in favor of complacency, of the gap between rich and poor continuing to widen, of an ever-burgeoning prison population and an aging, sickening population which society can't afford to accommodate, or of a young population which we have forgotten how to educate at reasonable cost.

So, there is much to be angry about. I think people need to talk about what can be done to improve society, rather than retreat to their own focus groups and tribes of faith, their gated communities and modern iron curtains of blissful ignorance. We will never be able to fortify ourselves enough in a world where too much is easily known, as quickly as thought, by the global community, for good and ill. Sure, let us preserve dignity, honor, loyalty to shared ideals. But let us not embrace revolution, and hatred, and persecution, just for the hell of it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

One more thing or two: Library 2.0 Activity #29

I'd like to know more about location-based services using Google Maps have become very important to a lot of people (for example, tracking your delivery packages in real time, finding businesses in a certain area, or plotting where your ancestors and friends lived or traveled on a map). I'd also like to know more about online privacy and security services. People are always complaining about viruses, malware, adware, cookies, spyware, worms, phishing, etc., which impede their computer's performance. If they post content online, they need to know how it can be protected. I also wonder about doing more outreach to gamers. So many come only because our PCs will give them access to online games. We don't carry this media in our collections, except for published guides and educational software. How do we reach this audience? How about online vendors which offer music and movie downloads? I would also like to know about search engine optimization, improving website visibility, as well as measuring traffic. We need to know how to increase visibility for online services, especially the expensive databases we pay for, as well as our physical collections.

Summary: Library 2.0 Activity #28

I enjoyed the stretching and exploration this program encourages. The activities, for the most part, weren't difficult and, in almost every case, introduced me to resources which I hadn't tried before. I will admit I have a certain amount of anxiety about learning new technologies. Although I grew up in Silicone Valley, I will admit a certain amount of Luddite sympathy. But I'm committed to helping people with their informational needs, and I want people to use their local libraries. So, I will learn what I need to know to keep my workplace relevant. I like to read about new inventions, but tend to shy away from instruction manuals. I'm glad I finally started blogging and playing with the digital camera my spouse got for me over a year ago. I'm finally making the transition from film. I'm starting to benefit from using RSS feeds instead of aimless surfing. I want to be more creative in my choices of information resources and even add some content. I want to make more use of social networking. I've been used to bookmarking and sharing sites via email. Deli.cio.us, Technorati and Library Thing are much more useful for this purpose. I would like to make more use of online office software, too, since I'm tired of the roadblocks created by Microsoft's usage rights. Above all, I've been encouraged to do more exploration of what's out there. Plus, I can finally communicate with my stepdaughters and other family, since almost all of them have MySpace pages. Now, if I could just get my texting to work...

Netlibrary: Library 2.0 Activity #27

I use Netlibrary and Overdrive (via the County Library website). I find Overdrive easier to download and copy to an MP3 player than Netlibrary, which has to work through Windows Media Player and seems to incur Digital Rights Management warnings whenever I perform the operation incorrectly. It has always felt more awkward to me. They also download as one long file. Overdrive breaks the files up into 1-2 hour segments. On the other hand, I don't have to wait to download a book from Netlibrary. Overdrive seems to license only one copy at a time, which seems absurd for a digital download portal. The collections don't seem to overlap. I haven't tried downloading to my mobile phone yet; ebooks would be probably easier to read on that, with a larger screen, than with my MP3. I do like the audiobooks, in any case. Although the initial downloads to my PC have a time limit, the copies synced to my MP3 seem to stay indefinitely. While I always wish more of my favorites were available from the two sites, I can usually find something worthwhile. And both vendors are getting surprisingly new titles. While not all books lend themselves to audio formats, I'm able to do much more reading this way, since I do a lot of listening while walking and doing data entry at my other job. It's much more convenient then schlepping large containers of cassettes and CDs around with you, which may or may not be damaged, and which can easily go missing. More patrons need to be aware of this service. It would, of course, be very nice if these and other services worked with Ipods. I hate the way DRM obstructs the sharing of information, discourages patronage, and ultimately stifles potential commerce.