Trump Was Predictable; How, and Why

Having written that extremists taking over both sides was inevitable, here’s when and how

This is a rant that’s been planned since the start of this blog – though, you know what?  Having written about Slug Control, maybe this should be called a ‘blug’ – Since I started this blug, but wanted first to find the article that spelled it out so clearly, so it could be referred to.  That’s been given up, though, as a lost cause.  The article existed, but I don’t know enough about how to do research of this sort to find it.  It was an op-ed by one of the big names of the 1970’s that appeared in a Sunday edition of the Grey Lady, and you would think that would be easy for even the clunkiest to find; but apparently my clunkitude knows no bounds.  Hell, it was only two posts ago I was all giddy at figuring out how to include a link!

Nevertheless, as one of John Cleese’s Monty Python characters said, ‘adapt, adopt and improve’.

To begin with, a barbershop my dad took me to at around age five or so, in the middle ’50s, in a middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West.  I was struck by the barber telling me that guys should get their hair cut every three weeks, and then the world, he said, would be a better place.  That was when I first realized that people adopt a philosophy that is primarily informed by their own self-interest.  And no, I’m not saying that I would have put it that way at the age of five.  I’m sure I said nothing more brilliant than:

“Gee!”

Still, it stuck with me, and I thought about it a lot growing up, not that I have – old, yes, but not up; and I kept hearing different versions of the same self-informed wisdom from Really Old People (you know, old people, like teenagers and even older!) constantly – that a person’s thinking starts and ends with what makes their own life better, or, as I would have put it as a kid:

“Boy, adults sure are dumb.”  Not sure I didn’t go so far as to add, “… as dirt!”

(It was a different time: The Lone Ranger and Davey Crockett didn’t swear, so we didn’t, either.  Not saying a better time, just different; my first swear word came out of my mouth at age 19.  It was “Hell.”  It was, interestingly (or not), in the Green Room of the Fir Acres Theater at Lewis and Clark College, and Markie Post, of ‘Night Court’ fame, was but one of the hearers who were shocked, not at the word, certainly, but that I said it.  We were playing a card game called Sargeant Major, and . . .  But I digress.)

Then a few years after that, a deeper aspect of the same thing became apparent: Our brains work in ways very different than it seems to us they do.  Much of our intelligence is aimed at inventing justifications for the things we want to do – it’s pretty clear that this, and little else, separates us from the other apes – and which I dubbed, some time around the age of eight or nine, the ‘Yellow Light Syndrome’.  It’s the way people tended to think, a kind of automatic self-excuse-making habit that applies in so much that people do, noticed as a passenger in my parents’ car, back in the uninformed Neolithic, when kids could sit in the front seat of an automobile.

The driver gets close to an intersection when the light turns yellow, and steps on the gas rather than the brake; and, when I give them the fish-eye (I never did have much patience with adults, who I thought of as hopelessly silly, which is at least one of the reasons why, even after more than six decades, I still refuse to become one) they said, more to themselves than to me, “I was too far into the intersection to stop.”

No, you weren’t, you clunk; you just didn’t want to stop.  When I started to drive, this same process happened in me the first time I came to a suddenly-yellow light; but I wanted to be a good driver, so I absolutely refused to go along with this dangerous foolishness, and learned to react by braking, and so never once have run a red light.  Still, it meant a lot to me that I could feel, could sense when this excuse-making process started up within my own brain in any situation, and tried to become instantly distrustful of it.  That started a lifetime process of questioning any impulse, in myself or others, that seemed to be compelled by emotion.

So that’s by way of pointing up my own prejudices.  Other observations that have contributed: The moment in the Kennedy administration at a meeting of church members held to express opinions about the growing conflict in Southeast Asia, with Old People standing up and ranting about ‘godless Comm’nism!’, when I first realized that communism, a clearly failed system, was never going to find support within the United States, but fascism could easily be adopted as a result of mindless fear; the moment when, with bowed head, I first heard the Presbyterian pastor of our lovely Mid-Century Modern church slip into our prayers to a merciful God that He bless and aid our brave soldiers in Killing Commies for Christ; the description in civics classes from the fifth grade on of our system as ‘a voluntary society’; Republicans telling the lie that the War on Poverty was a failure, despite all the studies and statistics that showed the opposite, because they had to lie about its unquestionable success; and, of course, the entire Nixon administration.

That’s the end of the intro – what Walt Kelley’s Howland Owl would have termed ‘the poor parlors.’  For some reason, the pretty skunk lady Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah, though French, never corrected him.  Say la vee, Pogo.

It was after the Nixon nightmare ended, in the administration of the first of what now has become a tradition of Republican Presidents not winning election, and a man who was actually much more athletic and graceful than Chevy Chase portrayed him as – by the by, did you know Chevy’s actual first name was Cornelius?  No, I didn’t, either – it was during the administration of Gerald Ford that a Sunday editorial appeared in the New York Times stating the staggering idea that, at least in terms of policy, the long competition between Liberal and Conservative concepts of governance was over, with Liberalism winning hands down; that though the debate would go on in words, the political struggle continue, yet at least as a theory of how actually to govern, Conservatism was DOA, and all government structures from now on would be quietly Liberal in construction.  It was tightly reasoned and very persuasive; the Great Society, as proposed and passed by LBJ and as perfected in its application by Richard Nixon – as mentally deformed as he was, and as inept at war-making, he was, it will surprise you to learn, a very capable administrator who made the Great Society work – had made great strides at reducing poverty, and at advancing equality and opportunity, and so had laid the groundwork for moving bravely into the future, sweeping all opposition before it on a tide of magnificent success and increasing wealth.  There would still be political parties, still Right and Left, but for the most part, Conservative and Liberal would be labels rather than descriptions; behind the scenes, Liberal policy, which had worked so well, would continue to work for the foreseeable future.

It was all so clear, so unarguable, so persuasive.  And I could see instantly that, though correct as far as it went, it was so frighteningly inadequate.

I was staggered.  It was a moment I still recall, sitting in our simple, knock-together dining room with the paper spread before me, reading this opinion piece as it was carried in our Oregonian.  I could see the future unfolding so clearly, as if the clouds had rolled away revealing in frightening detail the gradually appearing expanse of a horrifying vista.

First, I saw that, to the degree the debate really was over, it meant that good people on both sides would leave politics.  With little more than the details of surrender to be worked out, decent, hard-working, dedicated people who dominated in both parties at that time, the giants of legislative and administrative brilliance, would slowly leave Politics for other fields; after all, brilliant minds want to do brilliant work, and if the job was done, why hang around?  This would leave a vacuum for lesser minds to fill, opening both parties to extremists of Right and Left, and clearing governance of all pretense to respect for my beloved Voluntary Society and the Jeffersonian ideal of liberty.  And so it rapidly evolved, with haters and racists coming to dominate the Right and prim, humorless control freaks the Left, which further drove talent and wisdom from both parties.

I could foresee that the Republican Party would rapidly become enslaved to reactionaries – and, as I argue in a moment, inevitably to fascists.  They would first work to weaken public education and the liberal national news media – because a well-educated, well-informed populace tends toward liberalism, and thus would be a threat to their control.  An urge to control the population would become an inevitable goal of the Republican party; nature abhors a vacuum, and if good men and women of fine character and honest, sincere personality left for other fields now that The War Was Over, the power that Republicans – and, from different impulses, Democrats – still held would now be used for other, more self-informed goals.

And it was clear what those goals would be: Service to the Rich, advancing the power of the Powerful.  That very day in the mid-Seventies when, with horror, I read that opinion piece, was the first time – but far from the last – I saw what would increasingly become the clear purpose of the Republican Party, and many Democrats as well:

Comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

The Democrats too would suffer a slow but steady exodus of talented, dedicated Liberals who desired only to make ours a better Republic based on the free marketplace of ideas, to be replaced with others who wanted only to feather their own nests and strive for power without purpose, and those of such limited vision and so filled with hubris that they really imagined themselves singularly blessed by such wisdom that they could tell the rest of us what to do, in humorless, remorseless detail, sneering at and shaming any so foolish as to imagine themselves fit to decide for themselves the right and the good.  Those talented few who actually wanted to help people would avoid politics and instead just go out and do it, and they did, starting many very successful non-governmental organizations, leaving those who want power only as an end in itself; and without any larger reason behind them, those Democrats still attracted to politics would be purchasable by that same wealth that would purchase the Right.  The barber’s dedication to a philosophy that every man’s hair should be regularly cut would become the politician’s belief that the rich should support their political career for the greater good, no matter their party or political persuasion.

Please note this point: The barber of my childhood really did believe in haircuts; the politician really does believe in what he’s doing, no matter how conveniently self-informed his actions or his dedication to fund-raising from the rich, no matter how transparently useful to those rich his legislation might be.  Self-excusing behavior is part of the very essence of what it means to be human; it was a necessary development of the Mind arising from the Brain, the cause of the rapid evolution of bigger brains that occurred between 800,000 and 200,000 years ago – and all this magnificence you see around you, the powerful culture we’ve developed, our technological brilliance, is but a side-effect of that self-excusing mechanism so vital to that brain growth, central to how ‘mind’ self-arose from the increasing chaos of ‘brain’.  You do this.  I do this.  How then do we criticize this tendency in others or ourselves?  How do we move forward when everyone is so blind to their own emotion-centered thoughts that justify instantly even the most inhuman, brutal, vicious acts?  How can we keep from repeating the horrors of the past, of man’s inhumanity to man?

Jefferson showed us the way: that my rights end at the tip of your nose.  But even he did not rule that way as President.  How then for any of us?  Yet that is our only hope – and a fascist dictatorship of the Right, or a progressive one of the Left, is the inevitable result of abandoning Jefferson’s pledge to grant each other the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff’.  (It’s not my fault his ‘s’s looked like ‘f’s.)

That’s the frightening future I saw so clearly unfolding, now some forty-plus years ago.  And so it has turned out to be.  We are awash in Governance by Command, whether the hob-nailed, steel-jacketed, spike-encrusted Bible held high by the goose-stepping Right, all the better to club us into Holy Obedience, or the shaming, limiting, fettering, three-foot-high speed-bump- and ‘guardrail around the guardrail around the guardrail’-installing Left, both the belt-to-the-butt Daddy Government Rightists and the opposition-shaming Mommy State Left, both doing everything they can to display their usefulness to the One Percent – oh, but their One Percent, their own side’s approved-of and party-financing wealthy – with the rest of us running first to one side and then to the other for relief from the dictation of the opposite parent.

And as for Fascism: First, understand that fascism isn’t a swear-word, but a too-common organizing principal, not a dirty word but a descriptive political term.  Think of it that way, or else become part of what makes it so easy to establish.  Think of traditional monarchy, with the King as leader of government, of party, and of religion, controlling the entire society and granting monopolies that determine commercial success; and then add that the King anoints himself.  That’s fascism – a monarchy without nobility.  It’s important to honestly understand the word as description, because it is, in complexity terms, a random attractor; the fall-back organizing principal of humanity, the vortex self-government may always stray too close to and fall in, the monster always waiting for any civilization that clings like the cowards we tend to be to the Strongman whenever bravery simply costs us too much to display, or is thought rude.

And then understand the impulse to fascism, which is simplicity itself; the thought, including your thought, that if everyone would just shut up and do what I say – or what you say, or Trump says, or God says, or anybody – then we would be safe.  That first impulse that, if indulged, will lead to fascism if unresisted is nothing more than thinking ‘what we need to do about this is, we all must . . .” followed by any words, Hitler’s words, Trump’s words, Jesus’ words, Mohammed’s words, your words, my words.  It really is as simple, as common, and as dangerous as that.  There’s a problem; and ‘we all must’ get behind the solution.  The danger is never that there is a problem – there are always problems.  The danger is never that there is a solution – there are always solutions.

The danger comes in that simple belief – the ‘we all must’.

If I could impart to you any one message, it would be this: Complexity and variety gives life; only The Grave is uniform, only Death is normative, the only thing ‘we all must’ do.  And, yes, even that message, when imposed on others, is deadly.  None of this is easy, but that’s life.

In late grade school and through high school, I was so horrified by my parents’ generation’s World War, with our nation’s noble though late-to-the-dance fight against Hitler and the unspeakable, unendurable revelation of the Holocaust – my mom admitted to me, with shame, that, yes, they knew, that Americans paying attention knew about the camps from the beginning – that I was determined to read all I could about how this thing could have happened, and in one of the most advanced, in many ways one of the most progressive, of all nations.  It’s not the simple, self-glorifying story that Hollywood likes to tell and Americans prefer to believe, of a people gone mad at the Siren call of a hypnotic character, that it could all be blamed on Hitler.  It is, in fact, a natural progression that all political systems are subject to whenever any people becomes too weary, too frightened or too lazy to maintain respect for the rights of their neighbors, even their ‘right to be wrong’ as long as they are only wrong for themselves.

It starts in rural areas, and Religion is important right from the beginning; Religion and Fear.  And a mouthpiece – right away, you have to have a mouthpiece; in early-20th-century Germany, to buy small, local newspapers, the advanced technology of Hitler’s time.  You need to start right off telling lies, and in small rural markets, it’s pretty easy to buy yourself some liars, and plenty of poorly-informed braggarts and bigots.  It doesn’t matter to them what you are selling, as long as there is the opportunity for thugs to enjoy strutting and threatening, and for grievance.

In rural areas, it’s easy to find, and inflate, this sense of often-justified grievance, against the City, against the better educated, against the banker and the lawyer, and the foreigner, the ‘other’.  It’s easy to lie to such people, inflating real grievances – life in the country, on the farm, far from the easy ways of urbanites, is often enough a hard life, where a high interest rate is as frequently crop-destroying as bad weather or locust plague, and that makes it fertile ground to plant imagined complaints.  Always there must be a grain of truth to the complaint, but it need only be a tiny one, no more than a mustard seed.

And what is the mustard seed of our time?  The goodness and decency of the Progressive, which grinds all things exceeding small.  The good and just hearts, refusing to accept that hunger and want should be allowed in the planet’s wealthiest nation, just as they shouldn’t – and then the natural next step, the ‘we all must’.  That simple, decent, good-hearted step is all it takes to push a liberal respect for the Public Good into ‘Hey, I know what you should do!’ do-goodery that does one thing more than any:

Irritate.

Add governance and you get – yes, often, successful answers to real problems.  But for good or ill, it irritates.  It irritates, then pisses off, then infuriates, and more often doesn’t work, a result which the furious drive to do good blinds the really committed Romper Room DoBee to.  And that, in turn, propels conservatism, a respectable approach to governance (even if not one I could ever take) into first reactionary and then fascistic response.  There you are, far away from the world these eggheads live in, hardly a pot to piss in, ‘they’re telling us what kinda pot to piss in?’  It irritates. ‘Why would I feel any identity with this association of scolds you call a culture?’  Thus arise feelings of detachment from the mainstream that provides the fuel for evil people to use, and inflated grievance thus becomes an extractive industry.

Then there is the vital importance to such a movement of the Scandal – but it must be understood that invented scandal is far more important than any real one can possibly be.  In some real story, some complaint with a basis in fact, the story belongs to whoever wants to tell it, to expose it, easier for the well-connected, well-research Big City media to tell than the small, home-town sheet.  The important lesson for the Murdochs of this world: You can’t use a scandal you don’t control.

Invented scandal can be bent, shaped, controlled, exposed just as you want, to the end that best serves your goals, and most importantly can be blamed on anyone you want – best, of course, on those who can least defend themselves.  (Cowardice is as vital a part of far-right political movements as sneering condescension is to the Left, then as now; never pick on anyone who can fight back, never risk yourself being hurt.)  And there’s a tremendous benefit to the building of a wholly-owned media empire, which is so important to any fascist movement, a flack-filled, insincere propaganda arm without which this disease cannot be spread; if a scandal is real, serious journalism will investigate it, but when scandal is invented, the mainstream won’t even notice it – and then your propaganda machine can claim conspiracy, accuse serious journalists of being in service to all those who the growing mass of aggrieved distrust, greatly strengthening the propagandists’ claim to being the only trustable source of news.  Thus does the fake news become the only news the aggrieved ‘true Germans’ (or true Americans) believe or are ever exposed to.  Whether the Nazi press of those ugly times or Fox News today, the same vital message: Listen only to us, hear only us, everyone else lies.

This was, after all, the most powerful tool the Nazi (or the more recent Republican) propaganda machine had.  Yes, there was the power of the Big Lie, made up, then as now, of many smaller lies, repeated over and over, never admitting they are lies no matter how much the ‘lame-stream’ media proves them to be lies, simply repeating them any time you are confronted with the truth.  And yes, the projection; if you are planning on rigging an election, as Nazis did (and Diebold’s modern voting machines do), then the first step, before the rigging, is to accuse the other side of, horrors, rigging! so that when true accounts of Nazi-stuffed ballots (or Republican votes being consistently four or five percent higher in electronic balloting) arise, the press can cling to their favorite, convenient, comforting meme that ‘everyone does it.’

So, yes, the Big Lie and aggressive projection; but the most important, most effective lie is the wholly-owned scandal.  Nazi propaganda accused every opposing politician of scandal after scandal after scandal, repeating each one endlessly, blocking out any refutation, rolling over anyone trying to truth-test them – and completely bewildering serious journalists, who often didn’t hear of these ‘scandals’ until the gullible were up in arms about them.  Thus the effectiveness of the trap – to the already suckered, it’s more proof that only the fascist news sources can be believed, that the fix is in, that the conspiracy of the existing power structure would never allow the ‘scandal’ to be ‘honestly’ examined.  After all, how do serious people investigate a thing that never happened?

Such ‘scandals’ thus don’t have to make any sense at all.  Better if they don’t.  That’s how the popular, widely-supported and elected President Paul von Hindenburg was forced to appoint Hitler as Chancellor; ridiculous scandal after ridiculous scandal was accused of von Hindenburg, until even the big city papers started to call his a ‘scandal-plagued administration’ though each ‘scandal’ was clearly a lie, and then, as is inevitable – for all have sinned, and have feet of clay – one scandal has just enough truth in it to be believed by the many, fatigued and bewildered by the endless accusations.  Thus of the Clintons, as slick as any modern politician must be to appeal to our lazy, ill-informed populus but not more or less honest than we ever allow a politician to be.  As Winston Churchill so presciently said, ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.’  That’s the practical use of the wholly invented scandal told to those anxious to believe it.

Bill Clinton, who deserved well enough his moniker of ‘slick Willie’, was put to this wholly-made-up scandal-mongery when he had been President less than two weeks.  He made a trip to Los Angeles, and while there, he held up LAX for hours – on a Friday, at five o’clock! – while he was getting a haircut from a celebrity hairdresser.  If you were alive at the time and remember those days, you are familiar with this, only the first of many Clinton Presidential scandals, proof of his detachment from the concerns of the common folk, showing his corrupt nature.

Only a few problems with this; even as this story was being repeated on all the news shows and reported on by every newspaper, reporters started noticing, and writing about, oddities in where the story started, and in what travelers actually experienced.  The very first alerts to this ‘scandal’ came out of the California Republican Party offices, three hours before it was supposed to have happened; reporters who were already at LAX, as well as every traveler interviewed, said there were no such delays; Air Force One was parked well off any runway, in a secure area out of anyone’s way, nor was it itself delayed – it was actually waiting, as planned, to pick up a sick child who needed to get to a hospital in the East (which melodramatic touch is actually commonplace, as it was, until Trump, a common practice as old as Presidential air travel); the haircut was also planned as a way to save time, and was being contributed gratis.

But did any of these facts get reported on?  Well, yes – if you read the entire first-day article and the next-day reporting that showed this well-researched ‘scandal’ to be entirely phony.  But in Hitler’s day and ours, the popular press is a money-making venture, and boring old Truth is never as cash-generating as exciting lies. Big-name journalists want to keep being invited to all the wild parties, want to keep their celebrity, and only a few fail to value their reputations for even-handedness more than they value Truth, and thus must cling to any evidence they can find, or invent, that ‘both sides do’ whatever sins are displayed.  Hitler and his backers knew this, as did the Republicans of President Clinton’s time, as does Rupert Murdoch, as have Hillary Clinton’s many silly-scandal-inventors; it really doesn’t matter how absurd the made-up scandal is.  Just repeat and repeat and repeat, and depend on the laziness of reporters, the greed of the owners of media and the gullibility of humanity.

Thus also with Hillary.  A foundation that has done astounding work worldwide to ease the way for charities to become effective, to cut through bureaucratic inertia, to help millions on every continent, became ‘scandal’.  A terrible situation in Libya, caused more than anything by Republican refusal to pay to increase security, a situation a Secretary of State had nothing to do with, became ‘scandal’.  A desire, out of the exhaustion and defensiveness to repeated false accusation, to secure email from assault became ‘scandal’.  Scandal after scandal, all of them invented, all of them absurd, all of them successful; you know that Hillary is corrupt.  You know this, don’t you?  Screw reality – you just know she’s corrupt.  Why wait for Truth to put its pants on?

Works every time.  Worked for Hitler.  Worked for Billo, and Rush, and Rupert.  Works for Trump.  Works.  Every.  Time.

Does that mean that Democracy is doomed?  If the garbage that Rupert et al has been using for decades to destroy America for the sake of enriching themselves, put to no purpose beyond saving the Very Wealthy from paying back into our culture a reasonable fraction of the vast wealth our culture has provided them with, has worked, and always works, then what hope do we have?  Is this always the way Democracy dies?  After all, it died in its birthplace, ancient Greece.  Is this always the way a Republic dies?  After all, it died in its birthplace, ancient Rome.

Yes, it is.  This is the way self-government always dies.

That’s why our Fondling Fathers gave us this tinkered-together, clattering, messy hybrid, a Democratic Republic, with each part checked and balanced by another.  For example, we think of the Supreme Court as being the final arbiter, but it isn’t; if the Supremes decide something is true that sticks enough in the American craw, even they can be overruled by a Constitutional amendment, though such a thing is very difficult – on purpose.  And then the Supremes get to say what that new amendment means, while the President decides what it does, and on and on.  Every part is checked by another.

But that doesn’t make it proof against fascism.  If one Party decides its own rule is more important than the Nation, and can fool enough fools into foolishness, then such a Party can rule all parts; and if We the People stop caring, and don’t stop them, then there is no hope.  If one Party, through the time-tested sales techniques of the Big Lie, the Invented Scandal, the Propaganda Machine and the Frightened Public, takes over control of the Administration, the Judiciary and both houses of the Legislature, then the Constitution and its highly theoretical limits on the reach of governance become useless paper, fit only for the rich and powerful to wipe their asses on.

That’s fascism.  Not a dirty word.  Not the unacceptable term, never to be uttered in Polite Society.  A system of political organization where one Party controls every part of the State, where there are no boundaries between State, the approved Religion, the Judiciary, and those commercial and wealth interests approved of by and financing that Party, where allegiance is not to the country but to the Great Leader.  It always starts the same way, when the population of the republic becomes so frightened that they willingly give up their rights for the illusion of security; and if the thing they fear is invented or inflated and the security thus imaginary, it elevates and strengthens the very worst of that people, and those least qualified to lead so much as a funeral procession become Pallbearers in Chief.

That there are such people is a given; there will always be vultures.  The trick is not to give them a body to feed upon.  The Jeffersonian idea, which even he was not faithful to, was that a limited State would leave each of us free to decide for ourselves what happiness was and how to pursue it, as long as our pursuit did not limit the rights of anyone else to define and to pursue.  This turns out to be harder than it might seem – telling others what their happiness should be, and how they should pursue it, is just too tempting, and our brains just too good at excusing us for the telling.  We know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And finally we KNOW we’re right.

And the most dangerous, this: When we’re right about being right.  That’s when we stop listening to the whimpers, the pleas, the cries of the people we’re crushing with our rightness.  That’s fascism.

 

The lungs of all social mammals contain within them a family of bacteria, just a few of the many symbiotic life forms that we depend upon for our existence.  Only this family isn’t there to help us live.  It’s there to help us die.

It’s something that came about because sometimes evolution happens on the level of the herd at the cost of the individual, and because lungs are, by their nature, dangerous.  We take the outside environment into ourselves, in and out, in and out, several times a minute.  We have many protections against the infectious life forms, toxins and other pollutants in that air; but when those protections fail, those lungs can, again, by their very nature, become a threat to those of our species we socialize with, who are, after all, likely to be our own family, our own genetic inheritance, breathing in the air we breathe out.  Therefore it can become an evolutionary benefit, even to our own gene pool, if we as an individual are removed, should we become a threat; and coughing up dangerous bacteria and toxins that have blossomed within our lungs makes us a threat to our own genes being successful through others.

Of course, that’s where predators come in, and why every species needs its predators to keep the species strong by removing the sick and the weak.  But if predation fails in one particular herd to take out one particular vector of disease, the whole herd can fail.  Evolution is remorseless; predation isn’t perfect, and without some fail-safe, having lungs can be just too dangerous.

That’s where this family of bacteria comes in.  The vast majority of lung-equipped individuals will live out their whole lives, and their progeny theirs, and these symbiotic life forms we carry will continue on as usual, reproducing at a very slow rate, never a danger.  But if our lungs become too damaged for too long, these bacteria start to reproduce rapidly and produce toxins so dangerous that we die.  Quickly.  It’s evolution remorselessly acting on the level of the group at the cost of the individual.

And that’s what fascism is to the body politic of all democracies, all republics, and our Republican Democracy.  When the checks don’t check, when the balances get out of balance, fascism is always there, a background, low-level infection that starts reproducing rapidly as indifference and fear and stupidity sicken us, weaken us so much that we die so that Freedom doesn’t.  I’ve said this before in this blug –

We need Freedom. Freedom doesn’t need us.

Another, better Republic will arise from the ashes, to make their own mistakes, to have their own prejudices, to steep in their own fears.

Freedom, then slavery, then freedom, then slavery, an endless cycle that continues on until either we develop a cultural solution to this automatic impulse to self-justification or until our technology becomes so powerful that, in falling, we end the species.  And then the planet will see if the cockroach can evolve a better intelligence.  Ecce homo.

 

 


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It’s Spring, for Human Beans and Slug-Americans

How to repel both Slugs and Neighbors at the same time

I’ve lived almost my entire life in Portland, where, from time to time, it rains a little.  Until I moved to the Oregon coast, I imagined that I knew from rain.  The last few years have been quite an education.  The trick – Tom McCall would be upset at me for telling you this, but he’s dead, so – is that, at least in the Beautiful, Bountiful Willamette Valley, it rains often but not much.  This place I’m in now is beautiful, but here, it Rains.  Like it means it.  Like it has some overarching point it’s trying to make, dammit, and you’re gonna lissen!

Portland rain doesn’t usually mean anything by it, doesn’t want you to get upset at it.  You can spend hours in it, and ten minutes after you come in, you’re dry again.  What Presbyterianism is to Christianity, Portland rain is to precipitation; it doesn’t keep you from doing what you want.

Not here.  Portland rain is something you feel but can’t see.  Coast rain is in your face – often literally, horizontal rain that pelts you, tries to drown you, that you sometimes have to back into.  Apostolic rain,  evangelical rain; best experienced from a distance, when you don’t have to open the door.

I haven’t had a chance to garden here, so I don’t know if this Slug Advice is of any use to anyone here, but since I believe in both Not Telling Others What to Do and Being Inconsistent –

Let me tell you what to do about slugs.

Slugs have two traits that you wouldn’t imagine they would, or could, have: They are territorial, and they are trainable.  You simply would never guess that something with such a rudimentary nervous system could possibly be either of those things, especially the second, but it’s true.  You can use this to advantage.

It’s also true for many of us that we really don’t want to get too close to our neighbors; we don’t want to have to deal with what they are evangelical about.  And for those of you for whom this is true, and at the same time, want to garden without always having to hear about your neighbor Bob’s latest operation where he just knows that the doctor left a sponge in because there’s been this pain, this soft squishy feeling under his scar, would you like to see?  Just push down right here and you’ll feel, and when he goes to the bathroom . . .

For you, this is perfect.  How to repel both slugs and Bob.

Early in the season, when slugs (and Bob) first show up, get a jar – I use cupped hands, but I have a high tolerance for yuck – pick them up and put them in the jar (the slugs, not Bob, probably; use your own judgment) and shake the jar, screaming into it from time to time.  Then, after a minute or so – let’s say, after you hear the screen door at Bob’s house slam and his phone dial a number with three digits – put the slug down in the place closest to where you got the slug that has something in it you don’t mind the slug eating.

The traumatized slug will, amazingly, remember the shock (not sure why the screaming is important, but it works much better with than without, and you can pretend you are screaming all the things you would shout at Bob if you weren’t such a nice person) and will avoid the place where the trauma happened.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well if your garden doesn’t have a place close by that you don’t mind the slugs being; slugs gotta eat too, so their need to earn a living will overcome their fear, if something as seemingly advanced as ‘fear’ can be applied to the slimy little bastards.

It also has the advantage over Slug Slaughter that you keep the trained slugs in their home range.  When you kill the offending buggers, other slugs simply move in, and then you have to kill them too.  This applies to all varmints that we kill rather than train; if you kill the wolves that are eating your lambs, other wolves move in, and you end up wicking in all the wolves for miles around, and never run out of wolves to kill until they’re all dead, whereupon the deer overpopulate, diseases run rampant, and your sheep die from what the sick deer have.  Better to train the devils you know.

I’ve used this method with stunning success.  For a few years, I had the most productive strawberry patch you could imagine, yielding buckets of big, delicious berries with almost no slug damage at all.  And it was amazingly easy; as soon as slugs started showing up, I’d spend a few minutes searching in the morning and evening, finding slugs and scaring neighbors.  I’d keep up the search for a week or so, but after only a day or two, there were very few (slugs or neighbors) to find; then, for the rest of the season, just a few minutes searching a week were necessary.  During picking season, I’d almost never find a slug, or evidence of berry munching.

Granted, this doesn’t apply to every gardener.  If you don’t have something else for the slime-masters to eat, you’ll find it doesn’t work.  Also, some professions are denied this system; ministers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, psychiatrists, bankers, insurance salesmen – any field, in fact, where your image is important.  Not sure about the insurance salesman, though; his neighbors probably already avoid him.

Or if you like Bob, and want to see his scar.  In which case, I’ll give the next slug I see your address.  Or are growing strawberries to show off, and don’t really like them.

Or you really, really like slugs.

But for normal human beans, go for it.  Scream at your slugs; it’s good for the garden and the heart.  Not the reputation, true, but the heart.  This may, admittedly, be a thing that works best in Portland, where being thought weird is a good thing and a recommendation; but give it a shot.  It might work for you – and even if it doesn’t, it’ll give Bob something to talk about other than that damned scar.

And if you’re Bob – hey, get a clue, dude.

How to Get Environmental Science Wrong

A Longread article proves little more than how bad us non-scientists are at Science

I’m still pretty new at this WordPress stuff; at this point I ought to include a link to an article that attracted my attention when I signed on today.  The tagline to it, under the heading ‘Longreads’, was entitled “In 1975, Newsweek Predicted a New Ice Age, We’re Still Living with the Consequences.”  I apologize for not knowing how to do the doubtless simple act of including a link to it.

(Ooo!  I just figured it out!  Wow!  Rampant delusions of adequacy flood my puny brain!  Here it is:  https://longreads.com/2017/04/13/in-1975-newsweek-predicted-a-new-ice-age-were-still-living-with-the-consequences/   I’m so proud.  Party like it’s 1999!)

The article, allow me to suggest, shows more than anything else how very much harder than one might imagine it is to get a grasp on reality; the Real World, if any, is dominated by a complexity that constantly fools us.  The article referred to is about how, some forty years ago, some environmental scientists ‘mistook’ some incoming data to suggest that we were heading into a new ‘little ice age’, how later evidence showed they were wrong, and how the climate deniers used this mistake to further cast doubt on global warming, helping to set back needed actions to solve this ever-increasing threat.

Fortunately – fortunately?  Really? – almost all of this gets the science wrong.

First, some basic concepts.

When scientists hear ‘global warming’, they picture the increasing energizing of the planet’s atmosphere by the overproduction of carbon in the atmosphere – they hear ‘global energizing.’  It’s a much better way of thinking about what is unarguably going on on our good Earth.  It confuses many when we keep having severely cold winter weather; if our planet is warming, how can we continue to have such extreme blizzards here in the Northern Hemisphere?  Answer; as the atmosphere gets more energetic, the polar jet stream that normally (remembering that ‘normal’ is itself a fairly useless concept over time) keeps cold air over the Arctic begins to wobble.  Thus the ever-more-common ‘polar vortex’, when a lobe of the polar jet stream extends far south of its usual course – bringing very cold air to temperate zones and allowing warm air to flood the pole.  Thus the snowball the Longread article alludes to having been brought into Congress proved the exact opposite of what it was intended to show.

Also – The popular idea that the Ice Age ended some ten thousand years ago is not reflected in scientific nomenclature.  We are still in an Ice Age, and have been for some two-and-a-half million years; the warm period we are now in is, in scientific thought, an ‘interglacial’ period – that is, a time when the norm of extensive glacial growth and low sea levels is reversed.

Also – Another relatively popular idea, that we live in our star’s Goldilocks Zone, is partly true, but inadequate.  Yes, our planet is a distance from Sol that is neither too hot, like Mercury and Venus, nor too cold, like Mars.  But – and this part is very important – we live at the far outside edge of that zone, and slowly are moving out of it.  For this reason, we are gradually having longer ice ages with briefer and less frequent interglacial periods.

Please don’t think simply about this.  Our planet’s path around the Sun varies slightly every year; we might generally be farther away, or closer, and yet for one or a few orbits be the opposite.  Thus ‘little ice ages’ during interglacials, or brief warm spells during periods of extensive glacial advance, and these can be years, decades or even centuries long.  But these are no longer surprises, because they can be predicted.  We know, with limited confidence, when the interglacial – the warm period – we are now in will gradually end.  It will slowly end in –

Minus 250 years.

That’s right.  This is known.  It is an amazing fact of our amazing life on our amazing blue gem of a planet: At about the same time as the Industrial Revolution was beginning to pump an excess of carbon into the atmosphere, between two- and three-hundred years ago, we were moving, on average, a bit farther from the Sun, which caused – or should have – a return to the frigid norm.  For stupid, selfish, poorly-informed reasons, out of ignorance and greed, we were, quite accidentally, doing just the right wrong things to halt, and then reverse, a period that should have been marked by the growth of the polar ice sheets, the lengthening of winters, the slow fall of sea levels and has instead been marked by the opposite.  So the researchers who, in 1975, predicted a coming return to a colder environment were not wrong – or shouldn’t have been.

Being human, you will want to think simply about this; being human, with the tendency of brains to see as determinative and linear, black-or-white, things that actually are complex, non-linear, random – chaotic.  This isn’t a weakness or a fault; since it seems to be a universal tendency, there is doubtless some hidden, non-linear reason this must be so.  Still, I am certainly aware that many readers (again with the jokes, like I have ‘many’ readers) will choose to see this as more evidence that Global Warming Is A Hoax.  As I will comment at the end of my diatribe, I’m okay with that.

Yet I am bound to say that this expectation of simplicity is weak-minded.  The fact that stupidity and cupidity saved us from the Freezer Compartment of Life is neither a ‘good’ nor a ‘bad’ thing.  It is a thing; like all of reality, it exists in its own space, quite independent of what we want to believe about it. Not to be too Hamletish about it, but ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’  For now, let’s not worry too much that the guys the Danish Prince said that to didn’t make it alive to the end of the play.  After all, neither did Hamlet.

Yet it is, this non-spiritualist must admit, one of those staggering coincidences that make one doubt whether anything is truly coincidental.  So very strange.  It’s like a voice rang out at the end of what is colloquially considered ‘the last ice age’ telling this single, intelligent (or at least intelligent-lite) species that we had only ten thousand years to develop our civilization before the Ice returned to crush it – and we crushed Nature instead, in absolutely the nick of time!  And not by our intelligence, but by mindless bumbling and greed!  You couldn’t write so unbelievable a storyline, even in hyper-gullible Hollywood!  A starter’s gun fires ten millenia ago and we cross the finish line just in time almost to the year!

Those researchers who, according to the Longreads article I’m picking on, ‘got it wrong’ should have been right!  In a planet like ours that hadn’t so badly fouled its atmosphere, so wildly interfered with its carbon cycle, winters would, on average, be longer; ice caps would extend farther south; and though it’s impossible to predict how far these effects would have gone – it’s the problem of knowing the unknowable, knowing when the tipping point is going to be reached where a slow trend would suddenly gather speed and flip us into the next period of runaway glaciation – our civilizations’ fate would be sealed.  Should have been sealed.  From Stone Age Man to Globe Changing Species in a relatively few years.

In other words – we screwed it up just right.  Amazing.  Another Thornton Wilder moment – surviving by the skin of our teeth.

What does all this mean for our future, assuming we have one?  Clearly, we overshot; and even given that, there are problems that using the overproduction of atmospheric carbon to prevent the returning ice would lead to in any event.  Even had we found just the right balance of carbonizing the air, there would still be very dangerous threats, such as the acidification of rain and oceans, wild gyrations of weather patterns, threats to other species and the like.  What it does show, though, is that our tendency to depend on centralized control mechanisms is foolish and unwarranted.

Complexity theory suggests at least one vital, powerful idea.  Solutions to big problems must – must – exist on the level of granularity upon which those problems are created.  Though governments do affect challenges like global atmospheric energizing, and have a role to play, the level of granularity upon which atmospheric energizing happens is the individual human and his choices and actions.  Your actions.  Your choices.  The decisions you make in the environment you live in, multiplied by seven billion other actors and their actions, choices and decisions.

And just as in any other highly complex system, you don’t need any universal rules and regulations, any absolute demands applied to all.  It isn’t necessary, or possible, that all parts of the system adopt solutions.  You need a tipping point – enough better choices, enough wiser decisions.  Not ‘We Must All.’  More ‘I will.’

The danger is that centralized, command-and-control, “We all gotta just shut up and (fill in the blank)” thinking is too often simply the way in which the good-hearted are fooled into thinking that something has been done to address a problem by the passing of legislation, the compelling of behavior.  It’s just too hard to do these hard things ourselves, make those hard choices, those sacrifices of our own comfort and ease if we imagine that we have succeeded in demanding, commanding, limiting the choices others make.  We marched; we wrote our Congresspimples; we passed the laws, made the programs, spent the taxes.  Now we can go back to our lives, turn up the heat, drive our massive SUVs to Starbucks.

That way lies madness, death, destruction.

And what is preventing this madness?  What is keeping us from the delusion of thinking we’ve solved anything by commanding not our own behaviors but those of others?

The doubters.  The idiots.  The deniers.  The poorly informed, the greedy, the foolish.  The extractive industries, and those that support them.  The moron who brings a global-warming-proving snowball into Congress and imagines himself to have been clever.  The moron who thinks it’s all a Chinese plot.  Those who so muddy the legislative process that we can’t pass those useless laws we want to pretend solve anything so that we can keep in our driveway the four-wheel-drive off-roader that never has, and never will, go off road.  Because of the idiots who doubt the problem, the wise must change themselves – not because they are wise, but because they are scared.

It’s all so friggin’ weird.

You are John Galt

Ayn Rand’s failure to achieve objectivity doomed her philosophy, and infests both Republicans and Libertarians with lunacy

For readers whose lives have been blessed by a complete absence of awareness of Ayn Rand’s writings – for Lack of God’s sake, don’t read them! – a brief ‘splanation is in order.  (Thus a running joke I keep telling; that I can be brief about anything.)  Ayn Rand was a Russian-born American writer of repellent romance novels in which she indulged in entirely emotional political observations disguised as ‘objectivity’ that brought the action to a halt while we are expected to stand in awe of her brilliance.  She believed, over her long, tedious life and with consuming passion, in the inalienable right of every man, woman and child on the planet to be completely free to completely agree with every single thought Ayn Rand ever had.  And that pretty much sums up her philosophy; all the rest is merely her personal history warped into small-minded political theory.

She grew up under the domination of an emotionally distant and autocratic father (boy, there’s a rare thing upon our Earth) who she loved with her whole mind and soul.  This love shaped her thinking in ways she entirely failed to understand or appreciate.  Her philosophy of selfishness became a worship of the rich and powerful over every other consideration.

She was a stunningly bad writer.  I was attracted to Libertarian philosophy as a teen, based on things I’d read, and so came to her novels with an already-forming appreciation for the importance of liberty, and of the ‘voluntary society’ as I’d heard described in Civics classes since the fifth grade.  After high school, when I had become friends with several students at an upscale Liberal Arts college near the lower-middle-class neighborhood we lived in, I read ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to understand her ideas at the same time my friends were encountering – well, to be more honest, forced to read – her novels in their Literature classes.

We all had pretty much the same reaction to her thick, foggy, unreal characters with their bizarre motivations and twisted sexuality – never two people making love, always a man taking a woman by force with the woman resisting until she became Overwhelmed by His Masculinity and willingly Gave In to His Domination.  What decent human being would want to be either part of this ugly kind of – well, you can’t really call it ‘love’, can you?  Fine for those warped souls who are into Dominance and Submission, but not much there for human beings.

We all thought this was yucky and not believable at all, so much so that it became a running joke with us.  “I love you, Pamela!  You are my heart, my soul.  You consume my mind.  You are everything to me!  And so I must leave you, and become your mortal enemy!  I must spend my life destroying everything you stand for, until you lie before me, bereft of all that you have achieved!  Because I love you!”  “I hate you, Theodore!  I despise you and everything you stand for.  Therefore I will marry you, and make our lives together an endless chain of worthless accomplishment until we grow to be empty shells of once-human wreckage, until your love for me turns to hate!”  I promise you, if you read her muck – please don’t – you’ll see this mocking is accurate.

I had a lot of trouble finishing Fountainhead – I’m not sure I ever did – because of this very unattractive vision of inhuman human relationships, but more than that, because I had no sympathy for the central character’s motivations.  I had known since an early age that I wanted to be an artist, and had already formed ideas that I have kept all these long years since; that nobody’s concepts had any importance at all except mine in what I should make, what it should ‘mean’, how I would work or what vision I should create – up until I was done, until I had presented it to the world, at which point I had had my chance to speak, and had to shut up.  My artwork would be about me and only about me; but once I’d finished, it had to stand on its own, and then only other people’s ideas mattered.  If one person thought it was wonderful, then it was wonderful; if another thought it was garbage, then it was garbage.  I’d had my chance to speak; if I’d failed to say what was in my mind and heart, so much for me.  Art is a deeply personal experience, belonging entirely to the person having it, and at that point, to hell with the artist.

That might seem, to anyone who has encountered this thick, ugly book, to be pretty much what the architect at the center of the hopeless BDSM apologia that is ‘The Fountainhead’ believes.  Here’s the thing:  He’s an architect!  He imagined that the tall apartment tower he’d designed was his and his alone, and when the people who paid for it to be built had the gall to add balconies to his design, he had the right to burn it down.

This repelled me.  If he wanted, like me, to be the only one whose ideas mattered, he would have been, like me, a sculptor, an individual working alone; or a writer, or painter.  But there simply are some artistic fields that are – that must be, by their very nature – collaborative.  Even writers and composers have publishers, editors, musicians, conductors, people who make contributions to the end result, people who the artist cannot create without depending upon.  The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who some say was the inspiration for Rand’s Howard Roark, was the kind of arrogant goober that she admired, and he created buildings whose designs will stand forever as monuments to inspired creativity, to the brilliance of his mind – but his buildings won’t, because he didn’t listen to his contractors and builders, and so his roofs leak, his beams sag, his foundations crack and shift.  Richard Wagner was also this kind of dismissive, selfish composer, and wrote some of the greatest music ever heard – but he over-estimated its worth, especially in his endless, moronic Ring cycle, where half an hour of greatness is stretched into nine hours of butt-numbing tedium.

So I was repelled just where I ought to have sympathized.  So much for The Fountainhead; mindless dribble.  So much worse was ‘Atlas Shrugged’.  In it, a man named – well, crap, folks, if you’ve read the thing, you know what happens, and if you haven’t, there’s only one thing I can say, one word of advice –

Don’t.

It’s Ayn Rand at her power-worshiping, dominance-dependent, father-adoring worst.  Hopeless.  But in a strange way, not really her fault.

Rand simply couldn’t understand the basis for her own ideas, for two regrettable but inevitable reasons.  First, she was so lost in her own endless worship of her father, and for any emotionally distant, dominating, abusive male figure, that she was unable to see how deeply it affected her philosophy.  Can you say that you truly understand how your own philosophy has been shaped by emotional need?  I’ve tried; I’ve been aware since childhood that my own deep rejection of authority, as much as I might justify it with logic and reasonable argument, is a reflection of an emotional reaction to anyone who tries to tell me what to do, say, or believe.  There’s no way around it – so admit it, right up front, don’t lie or deny, either to the audience or to yourself.  I try – but if you conclude that the philosophy herein described is merely an outgrowth of that resistance, can I argue?

Ayn Rand didn’t even get that far.  Her father, who must have been a repellent sumbitch, shows up in all her characters; her heroes are like him, her villains his opposite.  As much as she wished to state her philosophy in her works, her message was hopelessly clouded by these sods she couldn’t help but write about.  Thus did they creep into her ideas of the Ideal Community, where men – in her mind, always men – of great wealth and power, Titans of Industry all, should dominate, and where the rest of us should willingly submit to them.  Thus her ideas of ‘liberty’ – that each one of us should be free to find, and kowtow to, our own Dominant Father of wealth, our own John Galt.

Even among her own followers of ‘libertarian’ thinkers, called, snarkily, ‘The Collective’, she maintained this mad exclusivity of the right to think, bizarre in a philosophy that is supposed to be about the importance of the individual.  Members could belong as long as they kept agreeing, as long as they always parroted every word, every thought Rand uttered; challenge her on any idea, even slightly, take a position that was one degree away from hers, and you were out on your ass.  She never could see this was true, never could account for her own sick emotionally-distant-hero-worship and its effect on her thinking.  She was trapped, and so made a hollow, unsuccessful advocate of anything that could remotely be called ‘liberty’.

Even sadder, even more important to understanding Rand’s complete failure to create any useful philosophy out of her rejection of what she called ‘collectivist thinking’ (a rejection I share) and the second of the two important reasons she couldn’t understand her own concepts of libertarianism, was simply that she was born too soon – just a bit too soon.  If she’d been at all open to developments in science that were taking place in the 1950’s, by which time she knew everything she was ever going to know and had completely closed herself off to further introspection, she might have seen the growth of a field of mathematics that explains what she was trying to find in her search for an ideal of society that might have been worth fighting for.

She grew up in a time of determinism, a time when science was the investigation of how this clockwork universe ticked.  Science assumed that there was a way that all things worked, nested simple machines under all of nature, linear mechanisms hidden from our view, and that once these linear processes were understood in detail, we could control all things and perfect our world.  This was Science as she was taught to understand it.  I’ve always found Firesign Theatre’s statement of this inevitably flawed concept the most compelling, in Fudd’s First Law – ‘If you push something hard enough, it will fall over.’  Thus the trap she could not avoid; she truly thought that, if only everyone would learn the joy she felt at giving in to the strong male, society could be perfected, a simple mechanistic world greased by wealth, an orgy of selfishness – with self-interest assumed to mean a slavish worship of the kind of unfeeling masculinity that made her knees weak.

Thus the Atlas who, in her fevered imagination, held up the world; the Captain of Industry who she imagined was responsible for creating the ever-increasing wealth and power of America and the West.  She simply didn’t know enough about those Captains and their weaknesses, accepting as she did the propaganda that surrounded them: Henry Ford displayed his wisdom about industrial processes while hiding his abusive dismissal of the rights of the human beings who made his wealth, and whose inventiveness at every level added greatly to it; the inventive genius of Thomas Edison, who hid so well the actual inventors who really made his breakthroughs that few were aware that it wasn’t really him who ‘learned 88 things that didn’t work’ when trying to find the right filament for ‘his’ light bulb; the cruelty and ruthlessness behind the monopolists who made vast fortunes in railway, steel and oil – these users of other’s creativity, who made great wealth from the blood of others and left them crushed and impoverished, she imagined to be themselves the creative force of human accomplishment – the determiners of her deterministic world.

If she had been more open to new ideas, she might have learned and grown in her thinking – but she never did.  It’s the application to politics, to cultures, of this new understanding of how rare and how common is randomness, how the smallest things shape the largest systems – the science of complexity – that I try, and doubtless fail, to apply in what I call ‘organic politics’, and in my Three Laws of Advanced Civilizations (You can’t tell people what to do; you can’t tell people what to do, even if you are right; you can’t tell people what to do, especially if you are right.)  The linear science of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the deterministic processes she was taught were the basis for all things, whose precise understanding must lead to human greatness, fooled her into thinking too simplistically about the nature of cultures, and the motivations upon which people act within them, the vital complexity of human experience.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ portrayed just such a deterministic world as she grew up in, in which the source of human creativity was imagined to be a small number of powerful men – again, in her world, it was always men – who the rest of us unworthies depended upon for all things, and who we, in our petty delusions of importance, oppressed with our imagined equality; and just as a clock depends on its mainspring, if only we had the insight to yield to and be controlled by these Great Men, ours would be a better world.  In her thick novel, saturated with sickening domination sexuality, a man named John Galt conspires to remove from society all these ‘mainsprings’ upon whom Rand, in her own confused deterministic thinking and bondage-fantasy imaginings, pictures as being vital to the workings of our world.  By taking away these all-important men, Rand’s Galt would prove their necessity, which would – well, I don’t know, result in all of us worshiping them as she does?

I’m not sure where she was going, because I threw the book down at the end of John Galts’s endless rant, a swamp of foggy thinking in an opaque mess of a speech at a party of VIP’s that Galt visited, theoretically to explain why more of these movers and shakers should follow him into exile, but actually to give Rand an opportunity to lecture the rest of us peons on our failure to get all moist at beholding these Gods, as she did.

It was a tangle of weak argument and improbability.  These titans of industry were supposed to be standing around this big room at a party of vast wealth and privilege, dumbstruck by the magnificence of this speech, overawed by the stunning philosophy displayed.  I’ve known some of these powerful; there’s not one chance in hell they’d have let this clod rant on for more than about a minute and a half.  Movers and Shakers aren’t interested in what you or I or the Lord Gawd Awmighty might think or say about anything.  As I read through this clotted glob of speech, I couldn’t for an instant suspend my disbelief; I kept thinking that about now, one of the Rich and Mighty would clock the twerp.  A friend, as an exercise for a sophomore speech class at this college I hung out at, gave a dramatic reading of the speech; it took more than an hour, and not the most impassioned intonation could make what was being said clear.  Oh, yeah, sure; the Powerful Elite is going to stand for that.

As my own writings constantly betray, if you can’t say something succinctly and clearly, if you can’t express your ideas understandably, and have to keep backing up and running at it again and again, it is because you yourself don’t really understand what you are saying.  It’s not that all ideas must be simple ones to be good – far from it; but if you have to keep hacking at them again and again, adding more and more words instead of clarity, then you should give it up as a loss and rethink your message.  We lecture ourselves inside our own brains about what we wish others would understand, and are too willing an audience, too easily persuaded by our own arguments; but if you can’t make a sensible presentation of your ideas in writing, it’s because you’ve too easily skipped over some vital bit of logic, just as she did.  I got to the end of his great speech, this distillation of Randian Objectivism, and threw the book across the room, never to pick it up again – not out of rejection of her argument, but because I was aware that I’d just encountered her most important exposition of her reasoning and yet hadn’t an idea in hell what it was.

The true creators of our world are the poor, the used up, the weird, the desperate.  The rich who control all things are seldom of any creative importance; invariably they are users of other people’s creative genius – though I would at the same time insist that the using is itself an ability of great value.

Consider Microsoft’s Bill Gates; his entire fortune was based on his theft of the operating system known as CP/M (after all these years, I had to look up where that name came from; it stood for ‘Control Program/Monitor.’)  My first programming in personal computers, on the brilliant Eagle II business desktop that I learned to build batch files and a few machine-language programs on, ran on CP/M, and for many years – and wouldn’t I give a lung to still have these! – I had both CP/M and a very early, pre-commercial-release copy of MS-DOS on the old 8-inch floppies, which were very floppy indeed, and knew how to look at their hidden machine language code that both showed the same ‘boilerplate’ that gave credit to the designers of CP/M.

Thus the Gates fortune was based, unarguably, on the stolen work of others; and from there, by practices that John D. Rockefeller would have recognized and admired, he bought out, stole or forced into submission or bankruptcy the efforts of thousands of creative people, holding back rather than moving forward the progress of computing by many years by imposing on us a broken, weak operating system.  It is for these very reasons, as the unavoidable result of just these piratical activities by a man who hardly deserves his reputation, that Windows is today such a mess, so leaky of privacy, so open to viruses.  From the influence of his manipulistic nature, the Internet developed practices so abusive that the user has become the used, the product to be consumed rather than the consumer of the product.

And yet, might it not have to be so?  Since this story is repeated over and over in the development of our advancing technology, might it not have to be that the ability to create is a different skill set than the ability to generate wealth out of that creativity?  Might it be that those two abilities – creativity and business acumen – might be, at least in most individuals, mutually exclusive?  I think about whether I could get up every day and go to work knowing that the jobs of thousands of people, the interests of thousands of stockholders, the continued existence of a world-wide corporation depended on my ability to make the right decisions.  No, I couldn’t; could you?  Doing so depends, I think, on a focus of mind and a domination of personality that cannot exist in a brain that allows itself to wander about and see strange, often illogical connections – and that’s the essence of creativity, to ‘believe six impossible things before breakfast.’

And so our politics is haunted by Rand’s flawed reasoning, the unreal wanderings of a sexually deviant mind (not that I have anything against deviancy, mind) who didn’t know enough about complexity to guide her own thinking about political systems.  We are plagued by her legacy and the warped thinking it has led to, of the wealth-worshiping Republican Party, of the Speaker of the House who cannot see beyond his sycophantic obedience to obscene wealth to even imagine that the poor, the sick, the unfortunate might have any contribution to make that could possibly compare to that of the Kochs, the Rex Tillersons, the Rupert Murdochs of this world.  To his small mind, all these huddled masses with their plebeian yearnings are clogging up the system, and he’s here to scrape them off, to get them out of the way of the John Galts of this world.

The Republican Party may or may not be able to get rid of the ACA, to defund Planned Parenthood, to end government welfare, NPR, regulation of the stock market, to overwhelm resistance to oil pipelines, to allow corporations – ‘people’ in their minds – to foul the air and water, enslave workers, remove any trace of power from the lower classes – and they might actually not give a damn if they do; but certainly, they will reduce the taxes of the rich.  That, they can be depended upon to do.  Your Republican Party; comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

So who is John Galt?  What is the creative force we so desperately depend upon to keep us from drowning in a sea of the waste-product of our technologically advanced, extractive-industry-dependent culture?  It isn’t the rich and powerful; being rich is almost never the result of creativity but rather of knowing how to use the creativity of others to advantage.

No, the rich are not, are never, the force that moves us forward, never Atlas holding up the world; they can shrug all they want, and only their own privilege will suffer, nothing else.  You are John Galt.  So is everyone who solves problems, works to improve lives, educates themselves or others, volunteers, gives, contributes to a food bank, drops their coins in the little box that sits next to the machine that gives change.  Every act of decency, every bit of creativity applied to any thing you do, whether done selfishly or selflessly, each thing done to make your life or someone else’s better, easier, healthier –

That’s how John Galt acts in this world.   You are Atlas, and if you shrug, the world falls.

In ways Ayn Rand could never imagine, every small act of creativity in this non-linear world we live in – these are the things that make our world work, in ways far beyond anything that can be done by the wealthy elite that Ayn Rand, and today’s make-believe Conservatives, could ever imagine.  Be John Galt.  We all depend on it.

 

 


The Myth of White Culture

‘Other People’s Babies’ make us stronger; Steve King makes us weaker

It saddens me to discover that one of my favorite quotes is almost undoubtedly false – or ‘apocryphal’ as eddykated pipples like to say about lies when they like the lie or the liar.  Mahatma Gandhi should have said, but didn’t, when getting off a boat to visit England in the 1930’s and being asked what he thought of Western Civilization, that he thought it might be a good idea.

Challenging the popular misconceptions around our American culture sounds like an early ’90’s Saturday Night Live Mike Myers skit – ‘Coffee Talk (“Coaffee Toauk”) with Linda Richman’, when he/she’d become ‘a little verklempt’ and instruct the audience to talk amongst themselves; “I’ll give you a subject: Western Civilization is neither Western nor a Civilization.  Discuss!”

Because, of those two words, neither is true.  Western civilization isn’t all that ‘western’, and ‘civilized’ is an argument with little evidence to support it.

Civilization, to the degree it has ever been in evidence in Europe and, applying guilt by association, the European infestation of the New World, began as the cultures developed in and around the mountain passes of the Himalayas spread into India, the Middle East, around the Mediterranean Sea and northward; and as I have argued elsewhere, that culture that seeded it was itself a development of all the cultures that existed at the beginning of the most recent interglacial period, around ten thousand years ago.  The mongrel culture we know as the Aryans made, of all the cultures those extremely varied individuals came from, a melange of solutions to the dangerous environment they found themselves in as they took advantage of the trade flowing though it, the connections from the developing civilizations in Asia, Africa and Europe; and having made this powerful, practical culture, flowed out into India and the Mediterranean not as a conquering nation but as a powerful idea – the force of useful variety – giving a tremendous boost to the evolving cultures they encountered.

Thus from the very beginning, from the foundation of the Classical worlds of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, ours has been an inheritance with its roots deep in the most ancient cultures of Asia and Africa, influenced even by the earliest American native populations.  At the very earliest moment, it was already a World, more than a Western, culture.

We choose, of course, to ignore the pre-Classical contribution, and so start with the Greek and Roman contributions.  Even here, we err; the advancements those classical European cultures made depended to a very great extent on the cultures they had conquered, including those in Africa and Asia.

This brings us forward to the Renaissance, which would not have happened at all if not for that knowledge available to it from the Islamic cultures that had safeguarded the knowledge those Classical cultures had discovered, and considerably added to it, after the Germanic hordes had destroyed Rome and brought about the Dark Ages in Europe. Especially helpful to European cultural progress was the Moorish culture in Spain, before intolerant Christianity destroyed it.  What we call ‘Arabic numerals’ are called that because they came to us from the Islamic world, though in fact they originated in India; and it took us pasty-fleshed a long time to understand the importance of ‘0’, which lack of understanding shows up in Gregory’s calender in the moronic absence of the year 0 which should have separated BC from AD, and the reason the first year of this century was 2001, not 2000.

Where would Western science have been without the decimal system?  Without algebra – “al Jabr”, Arabic for ‘the re-attachment of separated parts’?  The Arab world first proved that the planet was a sphere, and for centuries, the only place you could study geometry, mathematics, or any science, was in the Middle East.

Most of the racist Ohio Congressman Steve King’s racist fans would not include the Jewish world as part of ‘Western Civilization’.  Little do they know – well, anything, but particularly that this marvelous technological world we’ve made could not have happened without the powerful, transformative contributions of both Hebrew culture and Jewish individuals.  Because of the idiocy of Christianity, expressed through the Middle Ages money-making center known as the Vatican, free enterprise could never have evolved without Jewish lenders; the Pope, in order to protect Church power and wealth, decided that any interest added to loans constituted usury, and was thus not permitted.  Talmudic scholars knew this was wrong, and so Hebrew wealth became the only source of the capital that nascent Capitalism needed.  The Renaissance and the later Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without the development of what would become modern banking, but that development depended on lending, on the ability to use wealth as a resource in creating new industries; without interest, why would anyone lend money?  Throughout the blossoming that was European cultural renewal, the Jewish world was the source of funding that made their persecutors rich.

And on and on.  Gutenberg was only able to print his Bibles because of the Chinese invention of reusable block printing elements.  Glass was first produced in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, as were iron implements; air-dried clay brick appears to have been an ancient Chinese invention, and kiln-baked (vitrified) brick in the Indus Valley; Sumeria (now part of Iraq), as well as India and China, first started making the copper alloy bronze; steel from Anatolia, now Turkey; paper from China; alphabetic writing, and the collecting together of such writing into scrolls and, later, books, from Egypt; astronomy from Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China and South America, as well as Greece; libraries from Sumeria and Egypt, with the greatest library of the ancient world, in Alexandria, destroyed by the Romans; it’s hard to find a single pivotal invention or idea of our ‘Western’ culture that wasn’t either discovered or helped in its development by the rest of the planet.

And how could it be otherwise?  Because humans really like sex, every culture on the planet, including ‘ours’, was constantly added to by peoples from other places.  This is hard to believe for uneducated Americans – that we’ve always had Other People’s Babies added to our mix.  So many of the markers we use to make distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ depend on visible cues that are entirely undependable and meaningless.  For example, it seems that symmetry of features is in every culture a marker of beauty, and its absence seen as ugly; this then would seem to have more to do with us as animals than as sentient beings.

Homo Sapiens is clearly a black-skinned species with local variations.  All human beings are brown; since our brains are so powerfully focused on detecting small differences, the shades that Humanity come in seem hugely varied to us, but from the blackest to the whitest to the reddest to the yellowest of us – if you simply put all those colors on a chart of samples, as if selecting paint for your bathroom, you’d easily see they are just different hues of brown.

Skin color, as well as every other physical characteristic, is strongly influenced by ideas of beauty, which in turn are determined by signals of health.  Light-colored skin is dangerous near the Equator because the direct rays of sunlight leads to cancers and other diseases of too-irradiated skin; but as cultures move north, dark skins lead to health problems brought about by too little Vitamin D, which is produced on the skin by sweat and sunlight.

Consider what modern science has discovered about one of the ‘proofs’ of evolution that Victorian England discovered.  A species of light-colored moths that gather on the trunks of trees ‘evolved’ into dark brown moths as the Industrial Revolution turned the bark from light tan to dark as they were covered with soot; it wasn’t until something like fifty years ago that genetic studies discovered that that change was not evolutionary at all.  The genetic makeup of those moths didn’t change – the species had always had light-colored and dark-colored individuals, but the increasing carbon in the air had changed the ratio of light-to-dark as birds increasingly found the light, rather than the dark, moths on their perches.

Let’s try a mind experiment.  Let’s take the darkest Africans we can find and put them on an island in the far North, and the lily-whitest Europeans and put them on a similar island on the Equator.  How many generations would it take for those populations to adjust to their new realities?  In truth, not that many; the signs of ill-health among the dark-skinned in the North or the light-skinned on the Equator would be so immediate and so powerful that our perfectly natural tendency to see health as equating beauty would punish those showing skin problems in every generation by reducing the number of breedings they would produce.  And yet these populations would not change genetically, beyond the normal ‘drift’ of any species of anything.

That explains some of those differences we think mean so much, and don’t – but that’s only a gross effect.  More subtle are the ways cultures develop their own distinct concepts of beauty.  The other thing we could say about our two islands is that, at least assuming we were isolating them, each would, for reasons both vital and insignificant, develop their own ideas of beauty.

Was Helen truly so beautiful, or did her particular facial features become themselves a definition of the desirable which started a selection process where those features became part of the Greek definition of beauty?  Was there something that happened early in the Chinese culture that made that particular color of tan, and the almond-shaped eye, a desideratum?  These sometimes-logical, often-random markers of what one or another culture thinks of as beautiful, or ugly, can rapidly have a determinative effect as power and beauty, or powerlessness and ugliness, come together.  It may be that one culture’s constricted or limited environment shows up as a need to define beauty as having diminutive stature.  It might just as easily be that great height quite accidentally becomes a desired thing.

So what the hell is ‘white’?  Genetic studies show these many European cultures to be as variable as any other, containing markers from the entire planet; whiteness (let’s be honest here; wallpaper-paste-ness) of skin was continuously selected for no matter the source of the genetic contribution to any particular individual in those cultures – but not an evolutionary selection, simply a cultural one as ‘beautiful’ individuals did better than ‘ugly’ ones.  Thus we peckerwood adopted as indications of beauty a whiteness of skin that could be achieved by any genetic contribution given only a few generations to show up; it has been well-established that a light-skinned or dark-skinned Brazilian is just as likely as not to have more of the opposite skin colored individuals in his genetic ancestry as similarly colored.  After all, using height as an example from African, the very tall Watusi are most closely related genetically to some of the many peoples we call ‘pygmies’, while quite distant from others.

I had for many year a very good friend who was born in Yakima, Washington.  Though he was a third-generation American, he had a peculiarly pure genetic history.  That area of the semi-arid West had been settled by immigrants from Germany – assuming I’m remembering correctly, from a small area in Bavaria; his parents, and their parents, were descendants of a group of Germans that had married exclusively with other immigrants from the same area.  Thus he and his five brothers represented a ‘pure’ genetic history going back hundreds of years from one small German area.  And on his wall he had a picture of himself with his exclusively-Bavarian brothers.

It was a fascinating picture, and I’d often look at it in amazement.  There was dark skin, light skin, ruddy skin; every size from quite tall to relatively short; broad shoulders, narrow shoulders, sloped shoulders; black hair, red hair, blond hair, brown hair, straight and long, curled and short, kinky, wavy; fat bodies, muscular bodies, skinny bodies; and he had other pictures going back to his Black Forrest ancestors that show the same wild variation.

Hitler proved the point.  He created select Army units, tall, broad-shouldered, blond, the very epitome of what idiot German researchers falsely thought of as ‘Aryan’, and fully expected they would lead their Army to victory.  They were useless in the field; if you want to select for effective soldiers, you have to accept that every other characteristic will be random and widely variable.

So, again – what the hell does ‘white’ mean?

In America, to be ‘white’ has come to mean to unquestioningly assume privilege, to expect a dominant position to ‘non-white’.  To avoid objective, rational thought in favor of ‘scenario thinking’, whereby the goal – such as proving one’s inherent right to rule – is reached by any means possible, no matter how contorted and illogical the path.  Thus idiocy like “No nation can survive without secure borders” is an unexamined assumption; how did we ever come to create the American Century with borders like sieves for countless generations?  How is it that those few nations that have managed to secure their borders – North Korea comes to mind as an excellent example – are such minor players on the world’s stage?  Conservatives used to fear dictatorship; now they seem to revel in it, and to glorify its characteristics, like ‘secure borders’.

The histories of immigrant cultures and their contributions are well-known, well-researched.  First generations of immigrants strongly tend to be law-abiding and hard-working, usually at menial jobs ‘whites’ won’t do.  Their children powerfully adapt to the American way of life, and are driven to excel in it in any field open to them and to push against their assumed limitations, often developing great wealth and making tremendous contributions; their grandchildren may try to re-discover their roots, but just as often seem to want to forget them – and become as American as anybody.  It’s only in the fourth and fifth generations – when they’ve become as ‘white’ as Steve King, no matter their ancestry – that this strong urge to prove their American-ness becomes the privilege-assuming, arrogant, condescending snideness we know as ‘white’.

And to introduce here an aspect of ‘white’ that infuriates and embarrasses me – to lose the simple, basic, essential ability to clap in time to the damned music!  Jeeze, what a bunch of apes!  Some dreadful polka starts up, the Colorless Clods start clapping immediately, and in two bars they’ve lost the beat!  And this is the Master Race?  Gag me with a spoon!

Here’s a truth you won’t like – beauty, as defined within any particular culture, almost ensures stupidity.  The uncomfortable fact is that, unless a child is strongly influenced to use its brain, it won’t.  Our brains, depending entirely on what you measure and how you define it, use from a third to two-thirds of the energy we take in.  Not thinking very much or very hard thus becomes the norm, a wise conservation of energy that is its own reward.  To be diverted away from this norm, the growing child must encounter some strong influence, some situation that drives it to use and develop its intelligence.  Thus it is not surprising at all that, when you examine the lives of the creative among us, you always find some strong trigger that moves them to think; a disability, a difference, like poverty, or sexuality, or social constrictions – some situation in their upbringing, some difference from the norm, that forces them to use their brains.

Whereas the beautiful are seldom drawn to think.  Why should they?  The people who surround the Rich and Beautiful are always so willing to do as the Beautiful wish; their assumption of privilege is always fulfilled.  What is there to think about?  Why waste the energy?  The Beautiful skate across a world created and maintained by the energies of the Different, the Weird.  ‘Whiteness’ is too often the froth on America’s delicious latte, itself adding no flavor, empty of any meaning, not making any contribution – but always assumed to be there, on top, pretty, mindless, pointless.

So Representative King need not worry about ‘other people’s babies’.  His wealthy backers will take advantage of newcomers’ economic slavery; Wall Street investors will jump at the chance to profit from those babies’ and their babies’ inventiveness and strong work ethic; McDonalds and Burger King will feed them lousy food and employ them at insulting wages; they’ll pay taxes so that King’s true bosses can avoid paying their share; and in only a few short years, these ‘other’ babies will be sitting on a porch in King’s district, with their tee-shirts barely covering their beer bellies, belching at the passing cars, listening to Country&Western music, complaining about ‘other people’s babies’ and voting for idiots like King.

Ecce whiteness.

The View from Space

We spin out of control – because we tried to control.

So here we are, sitting in space, looking down on the Earth from the comfy confines of our alien hosts’ ship, and viewing this massive power shift in the civilizations of the planet beneath as our green friends chuckle, in their weird subsonic way, at our bewilderment.

They are used to it, you see.  They have the histories of many civilizations at their suction-cup-covered finger tips.  They know that civilizations of sentient beings are the most complex organisms in the Universe, and so follow the rules of such.  They know that complex systems known as ‘cultures’ can display great peace, calm, civil behaviors as the norm in those that are healthy, stable, and productive for all its members as long as they obey this rule: Order must self-arise from the voluntary interactions of its parts, not from imposed ordering.

They also know that this realization – that trying to act globally to impose Order, no matter how wise the ordering, will always, must always destroy order and collapse the productivity of the system – is always going to be anti-intuitive to any civilization that has grown in its power to the point that the issue becomes important.  It hardly mattered if the Romans or the British Raj understood the dangers of the Unintended Consequence when merely the lives and cultures of the lowly millions were at stake.  They are just so much empire-fluff, History’s dust-bunnies.  Or so the Great Powers thought; deterministic, top-down ordering got them what they wanted, so what matter the blood beneath their wheels?

But as power is spread to more and more of those dust bunnies, comes a different time, a time when technologies bring the lives only lived before by the powerful within the reach, or at least the dreams, of all – when the entire planet has enough wealth that all intelligent beings on it come to want control of their own lives.  Things become very different then, and very dangerous: The mistakes a technologically advancing culture can make are powerful enough to snuff out their civilization, and their populations, entirely.

Klaxa and Quionxilla have seen this happen.  They know they are watching a tipping-point as the system as a whole behaves in predictable, but to those living it out, bewildering ways; that is, the stable patterns will increasingly wobble nearer to instability until a point is reached where new mass behaviors start to emerge, where behaviors previously accepted as generally the ‘norm’ break into many different streams – bifurcation patterns – including many behaviors followed by large minorities of individuals that are far outside the previously acceptable – and invariably violent.

The entire civilization could collapse, and that’s what Klaxa wants because he’s a blood-thirsty sod, and when Great Civilizations fall, they fall hard, killing many as they do and returning that minority that survives to live in the nature that is left, if any.  Quionxilla is a sweetheart – not ‘heart’, exactly, more of a smear of sponge all over the – well, let’s not talk about it, it’s not too pleasant – she’s a sweetwhatever, and she is hoping for the best; that a new norm arises that more effectively meets the needs of that large mass of individuals who tipped it all into chaos in the first place.  She wants the silly, rather ugly flesh-lumps beneath to discover that world of peace, decency and comfort that can only come about when its members quit trying to force these good ends on others and instead act locally, and live them themselves, doing what they can for those around them rather than imposing global commands.

But she’s not expecting it either.  On their version of the Internet, the Universe-Wide-Snotglob, they’re both betting the same way; they’re shorting Mankind.  With Klaxa making a side-bet that the result is an irradiated planet, the slate wiped clean, see what the lower forms can build back up to.  I don’t much like Klaxa, really, but I gotta suck up or he’ll throw me out.

That’s why they’re here just now, inviting me along to view in noble ease and with blissful detachment as the World’s Most Powerful Nation decides it doesn’t want to be that any more, and maybe not this messy Democracy crap either.  Will we hoomans wake up in time?  Will we keep this experiment in self-government going?

They’ve made big bets against.  The race doesn’t always go to the swift, but that’s the safe play; and we’ve shown, as the great Walt Kelley once said, all the wisdom of a back molar.  Very un-swift.

What they are expecting is that among the individual parts of the evolving culture, with its predictable but wrong-minded dependence on control mechanisms, there will grow an increasing sense of unease, of dis-connection.  The particular cause of this for any one individual could be many things, many local conditions, but taken together they emerge as fear, anger and hatred – themselves fairly standard patterns across galaxies.  Beings led by intelligence must arise from beings led by emotion, or some analog of it, and will become overwhelmed by that emotion when under stress.

Self-awareness always arises from a state of ‘nature’, whatever that might mean on any given planet, and inevitably comes to see itself as internally a hierarchy with whatever that being pictures as ‘me’ atop it, ordering the brain and body ‘below’ it.  I propose that idea as an observation in how all intelligence arises anywhere in the Universe; all organic intelligence must evolve in such a way that it believes itself to be a single entity in hierarchical command of all its processes, even though that isn’t, and cannot be true – intelligence can only be a productive, orderly manifestation of a highly complex system in which that order has naturally arisen, not remotely hierarchical but distributed and variable.   Because of this it’s always hard for those beings to resist the urge to see that need for top-down control, that false but needed illusion of internal command structure, in the patterns it sees around it.  Our hosts see culture after culture making just this mistake; that the self-arising Order that brings so much productivity doesn’t behave at all like the simple systems needing top-down ordering that the culture is getting so good at making.

 

That’s why mayhem-loving Klaxa and sweet-natured Quionxilla are here.  They see this Drumpf fellow (they have a tradition in their culture of maintaining family names) as hilariously unhinged, but inevitably unimportant.  He represents little more than the unintended consequence, important only as he represents the disorder that always follows attempts at imposing order.  He is simply the way in which this particular culture spins into deconstructive insanity, himself of no real significance beyond what he represents – the disordering of a culture that had become dangerously dependent on centralized control for the imposition of an order that had become, for too many individuals, constrictive and unresponsive, a false order too removed from the lives of its members as they wanted the freedom to live them.  They’d seen it all before, and it seldom works out well; and again, with Klaxa’s side-bet that the funny little Great Orange Prune will, in his comical flailings and rantings, set off the planet’s primitive nuclear weapons.

In fact, Klaxa expects that, within fifty of our planet’s orbital rotations around its star, he will be able to return to a sphere that is little more than a snowball.  That’s okay with him – he likes snowballs, and expects to profit from this one.  Quionxilla hopes she sees an advanced civilization at peace with itself, with its parts willing to let the other parts be wrong without trying to force rightness on them.  She’d like to see that, so that’s her side-bet.

 

She hasn’t won one of these side-bets yet.  She lives in hope.

 

My bet?  That she loses.  That Klaxa and Quionxilla don’t exist; that I just made them up.  That when we turn our high-powered listening devices upon the Infinite we hear no trace of any other technologically-advanced civilizations because there are none, not anywhere in the Universe.  That it’s an unavoidable consequence of the nature of organic intelligence that it will not, can not see beyond its own dependence on the false assumption of an internal top-down ordering far enough to imagine that others might possibly come to do The Good and Right because it is good and right, and not because they’ve been forced to.  That no matter the kind of being and the nature of its ‘mind’ it is just too seductive to see itself as a unitary, hierarchical intelligence rather than the distributed one it actually must be.  That this always leads to essentially insane beings.  That technology will always arise to put great power and force under the command of that internal insanity; unable to imagine that the world can exist without this mad desire of the powerful to impose order on what it sees, organic intelligence always ends up destroying itself, controlling itself to death.  I bet that the Universe contains only burnt-out shells where creativity once arose, flickering candles whose brightness shone out only for a short time, and died.  That’s my bet.

 

But they won’t let me bet.  They think our money is ridiculous, and dull.  Such, while it lasts, is life.

 

 

Playing Political Ping Pong

How the False Idea of ‘Popular Mandates’ Maintains the Two-Party System and Gives Control to Extremists

The first thing we need to understand is that every American eligible to vote does, in fact, vote.  If you do not vote, that itself has a power and an effect in the system fully equal to that of the people who do vote; it itself ends up being a vote against the system, a vote to empower others, and has a meaning.  Whether you actually register and fill out a real ballot or not, you still vote.

With that observation understood, we can talk about the electorate – both those who vote at the ballot box and those who vote by not voting – as being divided into very roughly three groups.

One third has traditionally been called ‘conservative’, though this designation means very little any more.  For several centuries, the word ‘conservative’ has been applied to people whose interests are centered on an impulse to defend – that is, conserve – existing social structures.  Using that definition, which I insist is the only one that is of any use, we can more easily understand that President Obama was of this tradition, as every one of his decisions can best be explained as being solidly within those habits of thought.  He conserved the banks; he conserved General Motors; his Affordable Care Act was designed first and foremost to conserve and expand private health insurance; his judicial appointments have been people concerned first with conserving our legal traditions.

But this third no longer has any such beliefs.  They have come to believe in an aggressive, expansive, tradition-destroying, budget-busting extension of Government deep into people’s lives.  They have worked hard for decades to make sure their party is the only one that can legislate, administrate or judge; that wealthy backers of the party should have unfettered access to government processes at all levels; that their chosen religion should be recognized as the one official belief; and that anyone wanting to work with or in government should belong to the One Party and praise the One God.

That set of political descriptions has a name, and I will use it –

Fascism.  The particular fascist brand being pushed at the moment can best be called ‘Trascism’, but that is true only at this moment.

So that’s about one third of the electorate.  Another third has traditionally been called ‘liberal’, a word meant to describe the habit of thought that social structures should be open to change, with the understanding that the free marketplace of ideas debated outside of governance, rather than a slavish defense of tradition by the mechanisms of the State, should lead us to make better voluntary associations.  But ‘liberal’ also has very little meaning any more, with the power on that side having been ceded to Progressives.  Thus the concept of respect for the clash of ideas leading to better voluntary social structures has been replaced by the much more seductive idea that governance should be directed toward advancing specific causes and meeting social goals of equality and charity – that is, the perfecting of society – through law, tax policy and government programs.

Weak-minded Rightists have claimed that this, too, is fascism.  But fascism, as much as other boomers like me have thrown this term around very loosely, is in fact a specific, definable political belief; the seamless, boundary-free blending of One Party, all State mechanisms, one chosen Religion and that Wealth that supports the Party and its Leader.  Nothing the Left has done can be described this way – but in the end, it’s just as dictatorial.  Fascism is the dictatorship of Wealth; Progressivism is the dictatorship of The Good.  These are very different goals, very different processes, but both lead to the same place – the Voluntary Society being replaced by the Command Society.

Since the creation of a two-party system shortly after the founding of our nation, we have been at tremendous advantage due to the tension between these habits of thought – between conservative and liberal.  The parties have changed over time, with this constructive tension being as much within as between parties.  Issues of color have always been a large part of the changes that have happened to and within parties, and were responsible for the greatest change to parties – between Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, this tension stopped being within parties but came to define them.  In my childhood there were still conservatives, reactionaries, liberals and progressives – and fascists, on the fringes – in both parties, and it was, in fact, more likely that if you were a conservative you were a Democrat and if progressive, Republican.  The reactionaries and racists, pretending to be conservatives, were drawn to remake the GOP by Reagan; that ended the time of conservative-liberal tension within parties at the same time heralding the slow replacement of conservatism by fascists and liberalism by progressives.

So that describes about two-thirds of the electorate.  The final third largely consists of those who vote by not voting, composed of those who are more or less repelled by the too-Holy-by-half two-thirds, and often by past members of the other two sides too pooped by Ping-Pong Politics to play.  This third has an odd position in our Game of Governance; strangely, it’s both the only third that actually matters in elections and yet is the only third that makes absolutely no difference, has absolutely no power between elections.  With the centrist two thirds having at most a plurality, whoever appeals most to these immoderate Moderates and dependent Independents wins; but whoever wins, these unPartied make no difference either in support of or opposition to the choices the two parties make for them.  The exhausted, uncertain and disinterested mostly want to live their own lives without telling anyone what to do or being told what to do, though enough of them would love to tell others what to do if only they could make up their minds.

Thus, the set-up that leads to the Game of Ping-Pong which has best described our political system over my long, irritating life-time, a game that is being played with ever-increasing intensity, and has become the only game in town.

I know full well that, if anyone reads this, that reader will most likely belong to one or another of the two Statist groups. That means that, if you’ve gotten this far, you are angry at my description – not of the opposite group, but of the one you belong to.  This is unavoidable.  It’s easy to see the things that others do to achieve political ascendancy as ‘dictatorial’, but it’s nearly impossible for you to see the things that you want to force on others as anything other than Necessary and Good.  Because of the way our brains work, we are blind to our own acts of control by our desire to do good – our own decency and morality – so that the only limit we can possibly conceive of to turning our morality into The Official Moral Dictum is whether or not we are right about those morals.  If we see a problem, the impulse to turn to centralized control of society to impose our preferred solution on others is too strong; so of course we must (fill in the blank.)

People believe in this so strongly that their resistance to centralized control (by others, anyway) becomes limited by whether or not they can allow themselves to recognize the existence of the problem itself; once they agree that there is some specific ill to be cured, the assumption that the State must cure it – that “we all must . . . ” – is immediate and unchallenged.  Thus the inability of the Right to ‘believe in’ global warming.  The fascist Right is just as convinced as the dictatorial Left that a problem as vast as the anthropogenic unbalancing of the carbon cycle would demand a strong governmental program of controls on society, and that accepting global warming as ‘real’ would instantly mean supporting centralized solutions being imposed from above.  They cannot accept such regulation, but lack the intelligence or the objectivity to take the wiser position – yes, it’s a real problem that must be solved, but no, it cannot be solved by commanding behaviors.  So they square that circle by the easier method; deny the problem exists.

And there you have the ground rules for the American Political Ping-Pong Game.  I want you to try to see beyond your own chosen group’s habits of thought so that you can see this objectively; I propose to you the idea that this Game best describes our politics as, say, an observer from a different planet might see it.  For this reason, and somewhat in honor of those magnificent philosophers known to History as Monty Python, lets call them Team B and Team 2.

The third that mostly wants to be left alone, mostly votes by not voting, decides all elections and nothing except elections, is The Ball.

We’ll give Team B first crack.  They serve first; that is to say, their time in Governance begins the game.  They are convinced by their victory at the ballot box that they have a Mandate To Rule, and so they set about imposing their own, God-Endorsed policies and social constrictions on everyone.

The Ball reacts to this imposition with horror; they just want to live their lives, they don’t want to be told what to do, and so they are repelled by Team B, and fly across the net.  Our politics is absurdly dualistic; there are allowed to be only two sides with any power, so the only place The Ball can fly to in their fearful rejection of the commands of Team B is –

Team 2.  So now, after one or two elections, The Ball is on the other side of the net.  And now Team 2 convinces itself that they have A Mandate From the People, and impose their chosen commands on society.  This isn’t at all the truth; they have taken power only because The Ball has suddenly appeared in their court, flung there by The Ball’s rejection of the demands of the other side.  But this truth is invisible to their view, clouded as it is by their own desire to Do the Right and Good.  So they take this assumed but false Mandate to mean it’s full speed ahead for all their imposed commands, nor do they see them as commands, because ‘of course it must be so’.

And so, after one or two elections, The Ball, now scared and repelled by Team 2’s new programs and regulations, flies away from them.  And again, in our limited political duality, there is no where else for The Ball to go except into the court of Team B.

Back and forth, back and forth, each side empowered in its turn not by any actual mandate but by the temporary presence of people who have rejected the other side; back and forth, back and forth, each side in its turn deluded by their own desire to tell everyone what to do into thinking they have this chimeric Mandate.  Back and forth, back and forth; and since, when their side is In Command, each team is much less interested in cleaning up the excess of Law left by the other than in using Law to carry out their own desire to control, the only thing that is actually accomplished over time is that Governance gets more and more powerful, more and more entrenched, more and more the definer of what our society is and how it behaves, more and more the imposer or limiter of approved or disapproved behavior.

So in the end our democracy grows weaker, and Dictatorship as an assumed, unchallenged need gets stronger.  The only debate that those playing the game are having is about which side gets to be the dictator.  We’ve abandoned any pretense to being a Voluntary Society, with our entire political debate being limited to an argument over which side wins the permanent right to command all – to be the arbiters of the Command Society.

Right now, the repellent, corrupt, moronic, Russian-puppet Trump Administration is doing its best – at this point, very successfully – to work its way so deeply into all facets of The State that it can sweep away all resistance, destroying the protections of free speech and a free press.  The intrinsic right of every citizen to petition the government or be represented in the Legislature or protected by the Judiciary is being replaced by a system that will respond only to the needs of the One Party, the One Religion, and that Wealth that most supports the Glorious Leader.

People are, quite rightfully, repelled and frightened by this, and are protesting.  And how are the Progressives, the Democrats, reacting?  By choosing to see those protesting the Fascism of the Republicans as somehow, magically, being an endorsement not of our tradition of representative democracy and its checks and balances but of Progressivism.  People are in a panic, and with good reason – but Democrats only see this as opportunity.  We see article after article, discussion after discussion, not in support of the virtues of our democratic republican system but as a specific endorsement of Progressive control.

How can Progressives best take advantage of these protests to put themselves in power?  That’s as far as the Left is able to go.  The concepts of Liberty, the defense of the Voluntary Society, are nowhere to be seen; The Ball is being flung with tremendous force, a massive, powerful, emotional rejection of the now undeniable fascism that has swept all Republican and Conservative values into the garbage can and replaced them with a massive endorsement of the aggressive, intolerant Trump State – and all that the Progressive-controlled, liberal-values-rejecting Democratic Left is able to see is the political advantage that they can bend these protests into.

That’s the American game.  There can be allowed only two sides; only the most extreme believers on each side are allowed to play; the side that has the serve at any particular moment is that which has been fooled into thinking it has a Mandate To Rule by the voters who have temporarily fled to them in fear of the demands of the other side; and the winner is the side that can so thoroughly take command that the game can be ended.

And the loser?

The great American experiment in representative governance.  Thus ends the American Century.