Minority Report

I am not sure, but I think this may be my first post concerning a current political issue, other than elections, that is being talked about in the news and my corner of the social/digital universe.

If you live under a rock, or just do not pay attention to news or politics, here is the gist. There are international talks underway concerning the nuclear development program in Iran (I know, right? When aren’t there international talks concerning the nuclear development program in Iran?). The United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran, which is beginning to sound promising.

A little while back the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, came and spoke to the Congress of the United States at the request of House Speaker John Boehner, not the President. Following the speech, freshman senator Tom Cotton wrote an open letter to the  “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” which has, predictably drawn considerable criticism. Just do a google search for “letter to Iran,” and see for yourself.

Having read the letter, and doing my very best to keep my bias removed from this line of thought, I can see where the writer is coming from, and the point he is trying to convey. However (there is always an however), the way the letter is written reeks of condescension. It reads as a mini-lecture on American civics given to middle-schoolers. I cannot comprehend the level of self-importance that the language conveys.

The writer, and those that signed, are members of a collective body whose voice is supposed to be singular. They each are one member and one vote within a body of one-hundred. At best, the body can be interpreted as representatives from 50 individual states. Even then, they are a delegation of two. Yet, one sovereign body it is, as defined by the Constitution, Article I. Forty-seven senators, including the writer, signed the letter that is written on a piece of paper with the letterhead “United States Senate, Washington, DC 20510.”

Trying to look beyond the patronizing language sent to leaders and the head of state of another sovereign nation, there is another level of self-importance over which I cannot get. Forty-seven signatures beneath a letter written beneath a letterhead representing one body made up of one-hundred delegates. Do the math. Forty-seven out of one-hundred is forty-seven percent. That is not a majority. How self-involved does one have to be to believe that what is decidedly less than a majority represents the opinion of a collective body?

Had the senator written this letter under his office’s letterhead, I could understand that. But, by using the letterhead of the United States Senate, he, and the other signers, attempted to use the august body of the Senate to give greater credence to a minority opinion and their individual benefit. Yet, nowhere in his letter does he stipulate that this point of view is of the minority.

I believe it would serve the senator from Arkansas well to have any other open letters he wishes to send to leaders or heads of state written by his communications staffers. Yes, he may very well be representing the interests of his constituents in Arkansas, but when he is attempting to represent the Senate of the United States, he is representing many more people, and, clearly, according to the number of agreeing signatures, the minority in this case.

I do not know if this is the first case of a minority opinion being sent on official United States Senate letterhead to leaders of another nation, but it sure as hell should be the last.

Partisan rhetoric aside, the minority opinion does not represent the opinion of a body that represents the whole country. It would do well for Mr. Cotton and the forty-six other senators that support him, including the two from my state, to remember that. The Senate was not established to represent individual or minority points of view. In the Senate, the majority rules.

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The Panopticon, Santa Claus, and Stanley Kubrick

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading quite a bit and have begun to delve into the world and theories of Foucault. Currently, I am reading Discipline & Punish and just finished the chapter on the panopticon. There is quite a lot to wrap one’s head around within this chapter, but it is the final question asked that sticks with me, which demonstrates the point being made.

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” -Foucault, Discipline & Punish, translated by Alan Sheridan.

I suppose a little background is necessary to understand. Through the book, Foucault illustrates how the physical punishment of the Middle Ages up through the monarchies of the 18th century began to transform, with the thinking of the Enlightenment, into a more subtle form of discipline that focuses less on the body and more on the mind and behavior of the subject being disciplined. That is the gist that I get from it, anyway.

The panopticon is an architectural design that facilitates this relatively new disciplinary form, involving a circular building, hollow in its center with a tower in the middle allowing those being disciplined to be observed at any time and/or all times. The individual cells within the building that holds those being disciplined are able to be viewed at any time by the observer in the tower. However, those in the cells cannot see those who are surveilling them. The “major effect” being “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent disability that assures the automatic functioning of power.” The tower, not necessarily being occupied at all times (though the observed do not know that), serves to portray an unending process of surveillance and observation.

http://www.christianhubert.com/writings/diagram___abstract1.jpeg

The Panopticon Source

Foucault expands on the idea of the theoretical “mechanism” of the panopticon, “it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use,” showing how the separation of those to be observed into individual units and the constant observation performed on, not only convicts in prisons, but also, workers in factories, military service members, students in schools, patients in hospitals, etc. The observing parties, be they prison guards, teachers/professors, military leaders/commanders, job foremen/supervisors, religious leaders, etc… represent the rules and protocols that the observed are expected to follow and work to engrain those rules and protocols into those being observed.

As I ruminated on this, the quote referenced at the top, and this idea as well, “…in order to be exercised, this power has to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance, capable of making all visible, as long as it could itself remain invisible,” I had a thought. Santa Claus. Yep, that was my thought. Santa Claus is the panopticon. Think about it. “He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

So, the idea of the panopticon, or the mechanism, has become a naturally conditioned phenomenon in our society. There is a lot said for the perceived, unending surveillance perpetrated by the government. We wax endlessly concerning the infinite presence of Big Brother. We exclaim from the mountaintops the right to privacy. Yet, for any number of reasons, we allow ourselves to be observed or surveilled in the most intimate of settings in order to feel safe and to know that our society is secure and stable.

Any number of reasons. The primary reason is for stability. Word has it that in order for a society to function, there must be stability. In order to create stability, norms have to be established. In order for norms to be established, there has to be a specific consensus on what is to be considered normal. Once the norms are established, they have to be codified and the norms enforced. Once this happens, norms become rules. In order for the dynamics of power within a group of people to remain stable and unchanging, the rules governing said group must be developed, observed, practiced, and enforced.

What better way is there to enforce societal norms and rules than to teach young children about a man that “knows if you’ve been bad or good,” and if the young children are not good, their behavior will be rewarded negatively; in other words, they will be disciplined. If the children adhere to the rules, they will be rewarded positively with gifts and such. Even though Santa is not there, he is there, and he is always watching, ever vigilant to ensure stability within the group.

We are conditioned for this never-ending observation and surveillance. We accept it, most of the time, without question, because to question is to challenge the authority performing the observation, and challenging authority is to promote instability. Instability provides for the upsetting of the established dynamics of power within a group of people; it is, therefore, frowned upon. So to borrow a title from Stanley Kubrick of a movie that I have never seen, we operate in our society with our “eyes wide shut.” This is something to consider the next time Big Brother is brought up in terms of government surveillance. The government is a visible mechanism of power, and can, therefore, be directly protested. There are powers unseen and unheard that can, and probably should, be scrutinized and protested as well, though it is difficult to protest intangible power. These powers are submitted to voluntarily by most of us with our eyes wide shut, yet, they permeate much deeper than any surveillance the government can perform. Our very souls, our very character is affected by them, and, most of the time, is done so without question because of our conditioning to social stability and the normal that is enforced through them.

That leaves me begging a question or two that I will not answer here. If something is to be considered normal and stable, why does it need rules enforced in order to continue its stability? Doesn’t the necessity for rules negate the very meaning of what is to be normal and what is to be stable?

A Change in the System

As I sit here waiting for the snow to start falling again, I’m thinking about this article I just read concerning a certain presidential hopeful. I’m not going to post the article here or talk about the particular hopeful candidate. I think we are all a little tired of campaigning and electoral politics, especially in my home state of North Carolina. We just finished with a very bitter and what seemed like a never-ending campaign season.

Now, I love politics. I do. I especially enjoy studying political history. What I am not a fan of is current electoral politics. Emotions get involved and warp the debate that should be based on reason. Then the shouting and finger pointing start, along with snide and pithy remarks that go on and on and on and on and on. It gets old and boring and accomplishes nothing beyond expanding the commenters’ own ego and hubris. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am, at least, and I admit it. Why is it so damn hard for others to do the same?

Imagine how much more civil the process can be if we set our egos and emotions aside and simply talked to one another concerning our opinions. If we stopped allowing politicians and their ilk to bring our emotions into the varied debates, they would stop. If we turned off our televisions and radios when their emotion provoking advertisements came on, they would stop spending money to have them broadcast. The web ads are more difficult, but are easily ignored, and sometimes can be blocked.

The fact of the matter is that politicians themselves, as well as their biggest supporters, have more than enough ego to push their side of the debate. It is our job, no, our responsibility to take their ego out of the equation and attempt to work the problem out rationally, without the influence of emotion or ego.

Another fact is that a particular political platform is not going to please or benefit everyone. Let’s get real about it. According to the United States Census Bureau, the total population for the United States plus Armed Forces overseas through January 2015 was 320,366,579 people. 320. Million. People. That’s a lot of people to please. A lot. Of people. To please. A lot of personalities to influence. No one person, no one party, no one policy, no one law is going to please or influence them all.

Oh? We are a representative democracy? or a Federal Republic? or a Constitutional Republic? Whatever label you want to put on it? So, it takes a majority to set policy and such, a majority being 50% plus 1. Half of 320,366,579 is 160,183, 289.5. That’s still 160 million people to influence or persuade.

But not all of those 320 million people are eligible to vote. Okay. According to the United States Election Project, the voting age population was at 245,712,915 people for the general election of 2014. Half of that is 122,856,475.5. That’s still a lot of egos to influence. But, only 81,687,059 ballots were cast for the highest office on the ballot. Only two-thirds of those even eligible to vote cared enough to do so.

Though not a presidential election year when more voters go to the polls, these numbers illustrate a couple of possibilities, one of which being apathy. People just do not care. Another is that a lot of folks assume that their congressional representatives will win their seats with little to no contest. The incumbency rate averages safely over 80% for representatives and over 75% for senators, so voters tend to stay home for midterm elections thinking their vote will not sway too much one way or the other.

The last possibility that I will mention here goes along with the first possibility that people just don’t care, and that is voter fatigue. A lot of us are just tired of elections. The election cycle never, ever ends. Campaigning never goes away. It is an endless and vicious cycle, and we are tired of it. l say “we,” because I do not think I am alone in this. I no longer watch the news, and very rarely listen to, or read, it much anymore. Well, I probably read or listen more than the average person, but not anything like I used to do. It’s not news anymore. There is little “new” in the news. It is the same story with different characters and different wording, but the plot never changes. Who wants to keep track of that? And with most news outlets, especially those driven by profit motives, mixing news with opinion and commentary, the news is not news anymore. It is simply an orchestrated pandering for like-minded viewers, readers, and listeners. This pandering is nothing more than free campaign contributions given by a given media outlet to the candidate or political cause of its choice, thus continuing the already endless campaign cycle. What it almost seems like is that there is little governance occurring within our system, giving way to the tiresome cycle of unending campaign pandering and electioneering.

And that brings us back to the emotional and ego driven side of electoral politics and the necessity to go beyond the emotional and reach for the rational, to put aside egos and that intoxicating feeling of being right. We can force a better and more constructive conversation. The office seekers are not going to change the conversation for us. We have to demand it. We have to make it known that we are tired of it. The absolute best way to do so is to stop. Stop contributing to a system that does nothing but indulge your ego. Turn the channel if you watch the 24-hour news cycle. Force media outlets to report news, real news, not opinion or commentary. Use your own thoughts to construct an opinion or frame of mind rather than ruminating on something that someone else has already said. Take your own thoughts and use them when having a constructive dialogue concerning a political issue or official instead of bloviating the same tired talking points that someone else has put together. Doing so can reinvigorate our citizenry and bring about an enjoyment of participating in our primary civic responsibility of self-governance.

We” are the government, not the media or elected officials. Elected officials are supposed to represent our wants and needs. We supplement the ideas and we give the political will. It is not the other way around. The media is not there to shape opinion with commentary, but to report factual information. Hold the media to its responsibility. If you see a program giving commentary, turn the channel and do not go back to it. If you read a news article that provides commentary or opinion presented as fact, go to another website or throw the periodical in the trash.

It can be done. I am as big a political junkie as anyone I have ever met. I watched the 24-hour news cycle like it was a religion. I read the news like I could not get enough of it. I have not watched the news on television in going on three years, maybe longer. I have not consistently read news on a major media website in about the same amount of time. I may click on a link here and there if there is an article that is really newsworthy, but as far as taking one, or even two outlets as the political and civic gospel? No, I do not do it anymore.

Ask your own questions and find your own answers. With such an amazing tool as the internet, it does not take much time to do, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Scrutinize and criticize on your own terms. Stop letting others do it for you. Information feeds knowledge and knowledge is power, real power. Stop letting others dictate what information is important and take it upon yourself to do so.

Do you know what scares those in power most? It is not an armed citizenry, but an educated citizenry that has the ability to process information and use that information for its benefit. Information and knowledge can do more to challenge authority than any other weapon. And that is how you bring about change to a system that desperately needs changing.

The Things that Drive Us

Motive:
1 a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious: a motive for his murder.
2 (in art, literature, or music) a motif: the entire work grows organically from the opening horn motive.

Everyone has one. Good or bad. Hidden or plainly known. Everyone has a motive for every action. For some reason, however, “motive” is a word with profoundly negative connotations.

“Don’t trust that guy. He has an ulterior motive.”

“Don’t believe anything (insert the name of ANY politician) says. He has other motives other than what he says.”

Back to the beginning. Everyone, everyone of us, have motives. The reasons we do the things we do and think the things we speak are because of the motives behind them. We don’t want to believe people because they have ulterior motives? I’d bet that most motives are ulterior.

Hey, why did that lady give that guy sitting on the sidewalk half of her sandwich?

Yes, maybe she is a nice lady, but let’s say that she is also a Christian. Every Christian has a motive, and it is usually ulterior. Every Christian wants to get into heaven. Every single one. Getting into heaven is the motivation behind a Christian’s actions. Do Christians always proclaim such when they perform a particular deed or utter a particular statement? No, not all the time. So, the unspoken or hidden motive is ulterior. It isn’t bad. It’s just omitted because in the time and place the motive is not the important issue. The action is more important than the motive. Shedding light on the motive does not make the motive reprehensible. It just gives a better understanding as to why a particular action takes place.

Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, an action, like the one above, has more than one motive. The lady is a Christian and wants to go to heaven, so she helps her neighbor. The lady doesn’t want to see the guy starve, so she gives him something to eat. She wants to feel good about herself, so she does a good deed. These are all motives with good intentions, but they are unspoken, so, therefore, ulterior.

Then there are those that get surprised and/or insulted when it becomes known that one’s motivation to perform an action is self-serving. I’m not sure why this is a surprise, but it is, apparently. The self-serving motive is probably the purest motive there can be. We all want what is best for us and for those closest to us. The primary reason we want the best for those closest to us is because when the ones closest to us are doing well, we are doing well, too…usually. Yet, when someone points out a self-serving motive, you can count on offending someone or pissing someone off. It’s guaranteed.

Let’s take the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as examples. Certainly there were politicians that wanted to ensure that African-Americans received the full rights, privileges, and protections that white people experienced. Passage of these bills was the morally correct thing to do. Morality can be a powerful and effective motive. Lyndon Johnson and his allies in Congress wanted to pass these laws to ensure that all citizens, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity, were given equal standing under law. It is a good story and is more than likely true. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

However, is it possible that there were other motivations driving this issue? Of course it’s possible. Is it possible that one of the motives of the Democratic Party to pass these laws was to curry favor with the African-American community? Is it possible that the Democratic Party wanted a larger party base in order to perform well in elections and win? Just think back to political science 101. What is the primary mission of a political party? I’ll answer for you. It’s to win elections. The primary reason for the existence of a political party is to ensure that a group of people of like political persuasion get their candidates elected to office; once the party holds a particular office, it’s motivation becomes to hold on to that particular office. The party is made up of a group of people that are, well, self-serving. They want what they want and want to make sure their opponents do not win.

Does this make the people within that party bad people? No. It makes them human.

The move Selma released a couple of weeks ago demonstrates this idea of motive quite well, giving a glimpse at the pragmatic approach Lyndon Johnson took toward passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As the president and, ultimately, a politician that still had one more national campaign to run, he had to weigh the pros and cons of promoting and pushing such a bill. He had to weigh the political costs as well as the ramifications it could have among both white and black southerners. This point of view also brought considerable criticism to the film and the story it portrays.

Yes, his morality may have guided him to the need to force passage of the bill, but he had to consider the political motivations and consequences, not to mention, also, the possible social backlash that could arise as a result of the politics. To believe that he did not take into account his political future against his moral motivation is to be naïve. To believe there was not a self-serving motive behind his support of the bill is just as naïve, if not more so.

As much as we respect what we believe to be pure motivations behind political decisions such as whether or not to propose and promote a bill like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we must accept that there is usually more than one story, more than one motive, when it comes to the people in the story. If we don’t, we fail to see the whole story, and we fail to fully grasp the humanity within it.

Were Johnson’s motives, beyond those compelled by morality, in poor taste? Not necessarily. Were they self-serving? Probably. He was only human, and we humans have a strong tendency to look out for ourselves. Only human, this is what we fail to remember when the great figures of history are polished and glorified without consideration or knowledge of the whole story.

For those that refuse to believe such motivations existed in Johnson’s thought process, I ask these questions. When he and other Democrats pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, why did they not include the laws put forth a year later in the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Why did they wait a year to add these laws to the books? And remember, 1964 was an election year, Johnson’s first, actually.

“The Economy, Stupid” and Matt Taibbi

Finally, after a long, long few weeks, I have a day off today with a weekend off at the end of the coming week. I have some time to think, some time to read, and some time to just be. Well, that is after doing a few chores that I am certain my better half prefers that I get done. Before I get into that messiness, though, I am going to write, by god. I haven’t had much time to pay attention to, well, anything of late. It has been go, go, go without a stop.

I did make some time to read a book that I bought a few weeks back, Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. I must say that I am a fan of his writing, and was sad to see him leave RollingStone magazine. He was the only reason I had a subscription to that periodical. I don’t remember the first time I read him; I do recall that upon my first reading, I immediately compared him to Hunter S. Thompson. His writing style and wit are, well, Thompsonesque.

After reading a few of his articles in the magazine and keeping up with his blog, I decided to read one of his books, Griftopia. I was amazed after reading it, and consequently, I re-read it recently. I suggest reading it, if you haven’t already.

I had seen somewhere that he was coming out with a new book, but it slipped my mind until my wife and I went to the bookstore. I went immediately, as I always do, to the “Current Events” section at Barnes & Noble, did my scan of recently released titles, and came across Taibbi’s new book. Without hesitation, I picked it up and scanned the summary on the book jacket, followed by a quick glance through the introduction. I did not even look at the price of the book, though I know it would be pricey since it was a hardcover, but I did not care.

See, if you read Taibbi, or follow him in any sense, you know that he has written a ton concerning the present day wealth gap in the United States, well really the world, but primarily the US. Following the crash of the housing bubble, the concurrent collapse of the financial sector, and then the inevitable recession of the world economy, Taibbi seemed to make investigating the causes and effects of the crash, as well as the outcome of the major players involved, the primary subject of his writing.

I am fascinated by the subject as well. I’ve read a lot on the subject, trying to wrap my head around it all and understand what happened, but, more importantly, how and why it was allowed to happen in the first place. The thing is, though, I am not an economist, and I have a relatively rudimentary understanding of economic jargon and I won’t even get started on the math. I took my two courses on economics in college, micro and macro, and passed them both with decent grades (although micro nearly destroyed me).  I also took a course on World Economic History that came more closely to destroying me than micro did, so I can give you a collegiate sophomore level analysis of what happened and even then it will probably be only about an A-, probably a B+, but A- at best.

Anyway, as I said, I am fascinated by the subject. Really, I’m fascinated by the economy period. I mean, the actions of the major players within the economy and the overall health of it are important…really important, and as such, those actions and that health trickle down and affect us either positively or negatively. Everyone of us.

Enough about all of that…

Essentially, Taibbi’s book is a story of the different types of treatment given to those that have and those that don’t. For a country that prides itself on equality and justice for all, the levels of distinct inequality concerning this treatment should piss the people off, but really, it doesn’t.

The last line of the book says it all. “We don’t do it often enough.” Sorry for the spoiler, but when I read that line at the end of the 412 pages that Taibbi uses to display his argument, I just had to nod my head in agreement.

I want to say more about the book, but I would prefer that everyone go out and get themselves a copy and read it. It’s written in plain English without so much economic or market jargon, so it is pretty easily understood.

I know, maybe I’m weird.  Does anyone else find this stuff as fascinating as I do?

Pissed. That’s really all I can say.

I try to stay away from the news nowadays.  Usually it does nothing more than piss me off, but after hearing a little snippet on NPR yesterday or this morning (I can’t remember exactly when it was) about the President’s announcement yesterday, I decided to check out the hubbub.  Soooo, I found this.  And “this” pisses me right the hell off. I mean, I think I hit 8th, 9th, maybe even 10th level pissed upon reading this article and a few more that I decided to dig around through.

After that fateful day in September of 2001, I felt like many of us felt.  I was angry, pissed, scared, and worried.  I had kind of a kill ’em all and let God sort them out mindset.  I was all about blasting the fuckers responsible back to the stone-age.  I followed the war fever and the patriotic unity among those in government straight through Afghanistan and even supported military intervention in Iraq, just knowing that Saddam Hussein was evil incarnate and had enough “weapons of mass distraction” to wipe us out along with anyone else that he felt like removing from the face of the earth. I believed it when we were told how necessary it was to go in and take him out.  I believed it when we were told that the secured Iraqi oil reserves would pay for any military action and the cost would not be passed to the taxpayer.  I believed it when we were told that the operation would be relatively short and sweet.  I believed it when we were told that a minimum of American boys and girls would be put in harms way.  I believed it all.  All. 

What do I believe now?

I believe that we need to take care of the wounded soldiers and veterans that we have on our hands now rather than sending more of our men and women in uniform back over there to have come home wounded, or worse, dead.  I believe that we should have heeded the words of Dick Cheney, John McCain, and others that, before Bush II took office believed that any intervention in Iraq would do nothing more than remove a force that kept the various sects vying for power from killing each other and swallowing the country in a civil war.  I believe that we should heed those words now.  NOW!  I believe that sending “military advisors” to Iraq is nothing more than a prelude to a larger force that will go over there again. I believe that Iraq is not worth one more drop of American blood spilt on its arid ground.  I believe that Jim Wright was right in his opinion and indictment of those that rattle the sabers in the hopes of driving more Americans to wanting more war (If you have not read this piece, it is the most poignant piece on this entire debacle I have read, and that includes over 10 years of reading…lots and lots of articles and more than a few books).  I believe that the President caved on this.  I believe the President has let down those whom he depended on to put him in the White House in 2008, and those he needed to keep him there in 2012.  I know that he lost my vote in 2012 because he sold his political power in order to pass a healthcare reform bill that does more for private insurance companies than it does for the American people.  I believe, now, that he has lost my respect, because he lightly pushes progressive causes just enough to placate liberals so that they won’t go ape-shit on him when he does something like this.  I believe that the one “liberal” that could have kept this from happening caved in order to save face for his party and the hopes that his party does not lose too much power in November.

I firmly believe that this advisory role will escalate just as it did in Vietnam.  Though the number of dead Americans, 4,411 (according to the Department of Defense), is far less than those that died in Vietnam, 58,220, how many more Americans have to die or get wounded before we cut our losses?  I’ve read memes and posts from those that would disagree with me, stating that the sacrifices made by those that have already given their lives in this conflict will mean nothing.  And to that, I say bullshit!  To them I say does it make their sacrifice that much more meaningful to have more American blood spilt on that altar?  So, how many more Americans need to spill their blood to make the sacrifice given by those before that much more meaningful?  How many?  HOW MANY???

How many more Americans need their lives altered by life changing injuries and mind changing psychological distress?  How many more American families need to feel the loss that so many American families feel now?  Go on.  Tell me.  I’m waiting.

Not one more drop of American blood needs to be spilled; not one more American life needs to be laid down for the security of a foreign country that we have already spent a generation trying to secure. Period.  End of story.

 

We’re Doing It Wrong.

I just finished reading this article talking about the creation of bullet-proof blankets for children at school.  I applaud the creator for thinking of, and making, something that can provide even a modicum of safety and security for our young people, but it deeply saddens me that such an idea was even contemplated in the first place.

It saddens me that our society is so drenched in violence that people are completely desensitized to it.  It saddens me that we have allowed it to happen.  We condone it every day, either actively or passively.  We glorify it rather than reflect and learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again.  We memorialize violent acts through memorializing the victims rather than doing anything to ensure, or even partially prevent, such acts from ever occurring again.  And it keeps happening more and more and more.

Apparently, such thinking is considered naïve and unrealistic.  I mean, how does anyone think that all violence can be stopped?  It’s impossible.  Violence is going to occur.  It is going to happen, so why try to stop it?  Kind of reminds me of a phrase I heard after two boys got into a fight, “oh well, boys will be boys.” This coming from the father of one of the boys.  This.  This is part of the problem, but only part, but it does get us closer to the source, but that comes later.

Through our actions and words we advocate violence as a method of solving problems, or better yet, eliminating them.  We do not deal with it.  We beat it into submission until it goes away or erase issues from our consciouses altogether.

Think about this.  No war has ever ended because the ones doing the fighting ran out of bullets or bombs.  Wars are ended at tables or desks, and with pen, paper and discussion.

Violence tends to come about because someone wants something they feel they cannot get through other means, or, maybe, the perpetrators of violence believe it to be the most effective, or easiest, means with which to obtain what it is they desire.

Example:

My brother and I are two years apart in age.  I am the older.  He, the younger.  We fought all the time, and it was usually because one of us had something, or was doing something, the other wanted or wanted to do.  When the one doing would not give, shouting typically ensued.  Then when the yelling did nothing, pushing, shoving, grabbing, arm twisting, and punching started.  Sometimes it was effective. Most of the time, however, not so much.  What usually happened was that the parents would intervene and we were both denied, so we both lost. Violence accomplished nothing.

We are better than the violence we see or read about everyday.  We are put together with minds that understand compassion, that have empathy.  We have minds that are capable of understanding and working through issues in a nonviolent manner.  Such is much more challenging than escalating to violence. Challenges that require constant work do not bode well for a society that craves instant gratification.  We are willing to work ourselves to the bone in order to obtain what we want or need materially.  Adults get in fist fights while Christmas shopping, think about that, too.  Yet, when it comes to being better humans or being more humane, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Do you think we have a problem yet?

We are better than the violence that people protect themselves from everyday.  Some carry a firearm with them everywhere they go.  What does that say about a society when, number one, one feels that in order to feel safe going to the grocery store they have to be packing a pistol, or number two, that such would even be condoned?  What does it say about a society in which an individual develops bullet-proof blankets in the hopes that they will save children’s lives at school?  What does it say about a society that even considers arming teachers or other school faculty and staff to provide security at a school?  What does it say about a society that attempts to solve problems by throwing possible solutions at the symptoms of the issue rather than the source? It’s kind of like trying to cure strep throat by placing a cool cloth on a fevered forehead.

What is the source?  Where does the violence come from?  Does it come from within?  Or from without?

I have my ideas, most of which lie within society itself, but I am sure it is not that simple.  Most of the ideas that I have are simply symptoms, but maybe not.  As I said before, we glorify violence.  We watch it on television.  Often times some pay extra to watch human beings beat one another senseless for money.  People promote this.  People participate in it, and people pay to watch it.  Name another species of animal on the planet that does this.  Sure, there is violence within other parts of the animal kingdom.  There are challenges for dominion and killing done for the purposes of survival.  We, on the other hand, have forward thinking, intellect, and reason. We can see, process, and understand the consequences of our actions.  Such sets us apart from what we see on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel.  I mean, if they show documentaries anymore besides Shark Week.

The violence that I am thinking about is not only gun violence.  We are surrounded by violence of all kinds.  People are killed by violent people with guns, knives, or bare hands to name a few tools.  Some tools make it easier to kill than other ones.  Some tools were made specifically for the purpose of unleashing death.  Some tools are misused and become harbingers of death.  This is a hotly contested debate that only attempts to control a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself.

People kill or beat out of perceived necessity, desire, or fear.  People commit violence due to a lack of understanding and/or compassion for those that live lives in a different way.  People kill or harm in order to defend the ones they love and what is theirs. People kill out of anger.  People kill or commit violence because of a lack of empathy toward fellow human beings.

Earlier, I wrote of what saddens me about all of this, but here is what saddens me the most…

Some, many maybe, will read this post and scoff. They will consider it naïve, immature, idealistic, and unrealistic. The response will be that violence cannot be ended. There has always been violence.  There will always be violence. There are violent people in the world. There is nothing that can be done about that.

We will quit before we even get started. It will end before it begins. The idea will fail before even having the opportunity to succeed.

There is a quote from one of Noam Chomsky’s most recent books,  Hopes and Prospects, I particularly enjoy, and I think it bears stating here:

“Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead.”

Essentially, what we do not remember or learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. As our society continues to disconnect from one another, the human connections we are possible of establishing and maintaining will continue to wither.  Rather than being seen as people, we will see each other as small square profile pictures with little thought or regard toward the person within the photo; lacking the compassion or understanding to even attempt to see their struggles or feelings or their hopes and dreams.

What makes us human and separates us from the rest of the world is that we have this conscious choice. We can choose to be empathetic, compassionate, and understanding people; or we can choose to ignore this gift we have. Some say it is God given. Some say it is simply an evolution of animal psychology. That does not matter here. Whether it is given to us by God or by Nature, it is being thrown away with little regard for the consequences that we can more than easily see every single time another human being is murdered or beaten or raped by another human being.

We are supposed to be a civil species at either the pinnacle of evolution or made distinctly in God’s image. You choose your belief. I personally believe that we are failing on both counts, and the continued violence and glorification and justification, either active or passive, of it is a perfect and sad illustration of that failure.

 

I Demand! but not really…

“I think a man with a helmet defending his country would make more money than a man with a helmet defending a football.”

I happened upon this quote/meme on Facebook during the week following Memorial Day. It may have been on Memorial Day. I can’t be sure, though.  It is pretty simplistic, as memes tend to be, but in this case, it points out something clearly obvious.  Maybe not clearly obvious, or obvious at all given that the idea was presented in the first place.

Of course, agreeing with the message of the meme, I decided to share it.  I thought it would get a good reception from so many friends that unabashedly support our men and women in uniform.  It has received two “likes” so far out of some 246 friends that may have seen it.  Now, I know that not everyone has seen it, and honestly some friends just pass by my posts because we do not agree on anything, but this one was for them.  This is something that, without a shadow of a doubt, we can all agree on.  But, like I said, they probably didn’t see it.

One of my friends commented on it, pointing out the infallible dictation of the law of supply and demand (I added the “infallible” and its emphasis).

In a previous post, I ended by saying “Need vs. Want is complicated!” This is where my mind goes when the issue of supply and demand shows its head, and even though I know it is an invaluable tool that shows the price, and fluctuations of price, in terms of supply versus demand, and those fluctuations, I still cannot help but think it is an imperfect idea.

I mean, people talk all the time about how ridiculous it is that athletes, show business entertainers, and others make so much more than military service members, firemen, police officers, teachers, and other service roles.  Yet, nothing about the purported problem changes unless one of those that brings in the big bucks refuses,or takes a voluntary reduction of, pay.

Why is that exactly?

This is where the law of supply and demand rears its ugly, unforgiving head and shows us the cold, hard, and indisputable truth:

Actions speak louder than words.

Every time we choose to spend money on a given form of entertainment, be it a sporting event, a movie, a play, a musical, a concert, what have you, we influence its demand and the demand for that given product or service rises.  With enough choices in favor of the same product, the demand for it rises and affects supply in a negative way, and the cost goes up as the demand outgrows the supply and the supply cannot keep up with the demand. Increased value is attributed to the sought after product, and the cost is paid by those that demand it, and it is paid willingly.

In essence, we vote for, and decide the, value of a product or service with every dollar we spend, so each dollar, or cent, is a ballot that determines what is deemed most important to the holder of it.

There are some things that supply and demand cannot illustrate accurately for us, however.  As I said, people talk about how ridiculous it is that entertainers, athletes, and the like make so much more than uniformed service members.  This seems to make things tricky because the market, and its law of supply and demand, does not dictate the value attributed to military service members or any government expense.  The people, directly or indirectly, decide the issue themselves.

Practically, as laid out by our government’s foundation proclaims, “We the People” are the voice that influences the actions and words given out by the government, and as such, the government carries out the people’s will.  As much as people complain about the government, and that it ignores the will of the people, data and observation show that the reality is that it listens to the people, and listens well.

Every two years elections are held to reshape the government as the people see fit.  One branch of Congress is chosen completely, and one-third of the other is elected.  Each legislator is eligible for re-election at the end of their respective term of office with no limit as to how many terms they may hold.  So, theoretically, Congress can remain constant forever (hold on to that thought).

Every four years, an executive is chosen.  There is a maximum of two terms that a given individual may hold for this office, so a maximum of eight years is the term for a constant manner of executive leadership.  Every four years, theoretically, the executive can be changed, and every eight years it has to change should it not change in the first four years, according to the Constitution.

There are arguments for and against the structure of elections, terms of office, and limits of those terms, but those are issues for another time and another post.

The issue here is that people presumably wish for better treatment and pay for those serving in the military and for those who have served.  Yet, this issue is never fully resolved. Ever.  For decades, I have observed people wanting more in terms of pay and treatment for active duty, reserve, and veteran members of the military.  And for decades,I have observed the government not responding to the pleas of the people with actual policy changes, but only with sound bites and campaign promises.  Service members are paid beans next to those performing related tasks and jobs in the private sector, and veterans…well an observation of the VA tells their story.

But here is the rub.

The House of Representatives is re-elected an average of 90% of the time.  The rate of incumbency in the Senate is a little less at an average of about 80% or so.

Given that, how do people expect treatment of service members and veterans to change when we willingly (there is that word again) refuse to change the branch that dictates how service members are paid and treated by the government?

Perhaps government is not so different from the market and supply and demand.  Both are swayed by public opinion. Demand of both are dictated by choices the people make, and people make those choices based on the wants and needs they experience.  Choices are made consciously and willingly. The only difference is that one is decided by the ballot and how it is filled out, and the other is decided by the dollar and how it is spent.

Words are loud and empty.  Actions, and decisions based on those actions, are louder and have actual substance. If we continue to make the same choices but demand a different outcome, what does that say about us?

 

A Principled Solution

Regardless of what I may think or say, I am not always right. I think those are some of the most difficult words to say. I’m usually right, anyway. Well…sometimes I’m right. My wife will give me that much.

And those times when I am right, I thoroughly enjoy. Being right is one of life’s great pleasures. It does not matter why I am right or what I am right about but just the fact that I am right brings loads of happiness and delight my way.

Sometimes I am wrong, but that’s done on purpose. It’s good to spread the right around from time to time. You know…just give ’em a taste, get ’em hooked, and they’ll come back wanting more.

Being right is addictive. It is to me anyway. I may have a problem, but that is for another post. I spend my life looking for the right answers, and it seems like a neverending quest. Searching, searching, searching everywhere. Looking for the elusive right answer that will solve a given problem. Looking for the solution that will come without a conflicting response or opinion. I look for these and when I cannot find them, I try desperately to develop them in my mind. When that does not work, I go to like-minded souls that will reassure me that the course I wish to take is the right one and will not faulter. I check my beliefs and my unshakable bedrock of principles against the issue that needs addressing. It is in those things, those places and recesses of my mind I find solace. I find comfort and reassurance. Yet, the issue remains unresolved.

People change.

Needs change.

Wants change.

Situations change.

Seasons change.

The weather changes.

Minds change.

With changes, questions change and answers change. As much as we would like to believe that the world is black and white and is set in stone; it surely is not. Rather the world is fluid. It is always changing and shifting, both figuratively and literally, and perhaps in the most minute ways. Those that wish to survive in it must learn to grow and adapt to the changes that are coming and that will come.

With the immense challenge that comes with keeping up with a changing world, there is a need to come to grips with the uncertainty that is sure to accompany those changes that will arise. More gray will be thrown into a world that is already muddled with many shades of gray between the already indistinguishable black and white. Undoubtedly, panic will ensue with some of the changes that perceivably threaten the status quo. People will not know what happens next, as much as we pride ourselves in believing we do know. Tempers will rise. Defensive mindsets will take over. Comfort will be sought within groups of like-minded people. Instead of built, bridges will be burned.

We see it all the time in politics and government, but this happens in the everyday as well. Bridges must be built and maintained between contesting ideas in order to promote meaningful solutions that each holder of a given idea believes to be correct. It is here, in these bridges, that the real work of problem solving is done. It takes hard work, a lot of communicating, and a little humility to find satisfying and agreeable solutions that will alleviate the problems that accompany a change that requires action or an obstacle to overcome.

However, we allow individual egos to get in the way (See the opening paragraph). Egos and the individual’s perception of need taints the process and clouds the issue that needs to be addressed. It is easy to see this everywhere. Just turn on the television. There are an endless number of voices and views which pander to individual wants, needs, and egos. They provide us a zone of comfort and an area of certainty within a truly uncertain world. Within them, we know our point of view is safe and right. It is easier to stay within those walls than it is to come out and experience another point of view, or at the very least, entertain one. Yet, in order to see the whole picture and find a solution to it, it is necessary to put egos on hold and allow “the better angels of our nature” to shine forth and show the way to meaningful solutions to issues that come with the changing world. Add to that time and patience and reflection, and we can accomplish anything.

I will be the first to admit that I am not the most patient person. I find it difficult to maintain a patient attitude, especially when there is a problem. Often, I will make my point of view known with little regard toward those who disagree with my position. Eventually, I will listen to an opposing idea, and after immediately dismissing it, I will take time to contemplate or even consider the prospect. It may not be right, but there is planted the seed of a possibility, the chance that an idea can be built which incorporates the better parts of competing views; and then, that idea, or multiple ideas, may be better on the whole than the original competing propositions.

It seems to me that this is the only way to bring about any meaningful change that has a chance of lasting. What most people are afraid of, I think, is the idea that they may come to empathize or sympathize with an idea or principle that is opposite to what they believe. They do not want to consider that, though their idea is right, there may be a better idea wandering in the fray. For many, to empathize, sympathize, or otherwise identify with a diametrically opposed position means to cast doubt on one’s own position or principles. If such is the case, then perhaps that position  or those principles require change, and there is nothing wrong with that.

It takes a strong character to be willing to look at one’s self, and what one believes, and see that a change is necessary. It happens to the best of us, even me, and will continue to happen. We learn new things through experience, and life is just that…a series of experiences. What we do with what we learn speaks volumes about the people we are and that which we want to be.

And maybe, just maybe, through learning by way of experience, we can adopt better principles upon which to lay stronger, more worthwhile, and sturdy foundations.