Institutional Fluidity

I am a student of history. That’s what I do. I love it. I love the digging and the finding. I love the aggregation of large amounts of information and working to put the pieces together into a story that makes sense of all of the stuff. Piles of papers, notes, clippings, books, texts, documents, in the last year these have become my life.

I know it is going to be some time, quite a long time, until a historian is really able to make something coherent out of the mess that is the 2016 campaign season, but I am going to put forth a thought as a jumping off point.

Let me say first that I do not think the two-party system is going anywhere anytime soon. The only way that such a thing might happen would be if as older party loyalists pass on, younger generations, such as millennials,  refuse the temptation to power that the two major parties provide. The easy part is resisting the temptation. What proves infinitely more difficult is organizing any coherent opposition, and for that to happen one must find a group of people with similar interests and ideas large enough to successfully shift the balance of power. With the splintering of various degrees of laissez-faire, libertarian conservatives, socialist-leaning liberals, and moderate pragmatists who do not allow a particular ideology to frame a debate on a particular issue making up a plurality of the electorate, especially over the last few years since 2012, it seems that the time is right for a real challenge to the two-party structure. However, due to multiple divisions among unaffiliated voters, it is improbable.

Conservatives lost their chance when the Republican party failed to heed the words of Barry Goldwater concerning its adoption of Christian conservatism that began with the rise of the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell in the 1970s and the Christian Coalition of the 1980s-90s. Liberals have not yet lost their chance, but are working on it as the Democratic party perpetually juggles an infinite number of issues that always need to be addressed right now and places them all under the umbrella term “progress.” This is all assuming that the two parties continue appealing to their present constituencies.

Which brings us to the theory of realignment. This is not to suggest that this will be a realigning election, yet there are those that believe it could very well be. What I am illustrating is the fact that the two parties, though structural institutions, are fluid and forever amending themselves in order to garner more voter support. Fact number one that has to be remembered is that the primary goal of a political party is to win elections. In order to do so, a party must attract voters, and the only way to do that is to make the party attractive to the most voters possible in a given district, state, region, or country (the beauty of federalism). This one principle must be remembered when talking about political parties.

An example…

During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democratic party managed to splice together a diverse coalition of the white working class (labor unions), urban-ethnic minorities, African Americans, and traditional southern Democrats with memories of the Old Confederacy. This coalition managed to hold together throughout the Depression, World War II, and into the 1950s and 60s. With the progression of the civil rights movement, which had been carried on parallel throughout the period, the coalition reached its breaking point at the height of the movement, from the Brown decision in 1954 on integration and ultimately the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965, respectively. White racial conservatives in the South and middle-class moderates nationwide began leaving their party and joined the Silent Majority that supported Nixon who preached, not without a little irony, the same law and order mantra heard from the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. The realignment began in the late 60s and culminated in 1994 with the Republican takeover of Congress, three decades after passage of the CRA and forty years after Brown. Since Nixon’s election, Democrats have struggled to build a lasting coalition as strong as that built by FDR.

The story is really much longer and much more interesting than presented here, but this is all to say that the parties are always on the move, always looking for ways to attract new voters, and always seeking a way to win elections.

So in a nutshell, these are (some of) the historical forces at work that make third-party contests so difficult in American politics, which brings me back to my original point, making sense of this mess that has become the 2016 campaign season.

For the Republican party, it seems too simple. The party has been absent from the executive branch for eight years and is desperate to regain power. The most blatant demonstration of the historical forces at work within the party is the nominee’s choice for vice president. Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence, an unapologetic Christian conservative with distinctly differing social views than Trump, clearly shows the strength of Christian, social conservatism within the Republican party, without which the party cannot succeed in its continued want for power. Yet, many Republicans still are not on the Trump bandwagon, and conservative independent voters seem less than excited about the party’s ticket, not to mention traditional conservative intellectuals such as William Kristol, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer.

For Democrats, the party finds itself divided much in the same way the Republican party divided during the 2008 and 2012 elections with the rise of the Tea Party. Many find themselves, for one reason or another, dissatisfied by the party. With the party’s chase for middle-class votes, working-class Democrats (primarily white) find themselves wanting things that the party is not giving them. Party loyalists lay the blame at the feet of the opposition, but that is only because the opposition has had more success in swaying public opinion in its direction and rallying those voters to the ballot box in their favor. The party has been working for nearly fifty years to figure out how best to maintain its new coalition, made up of a diverse array of people from all walks of life and origins, and the primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has shown the divisions not only within the party, but among unaffiliated liberal voters the party wants to, and needs to, attract. The selection of Tim Kaine as Clinton’s running mate exemplifies the party’s strategic attempt to hold its constituency together. He is a southern Democrat (Barack Obama is the only Democrat not from the South who has succeeded in a national campaign since John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960, whose running mate hailed from Texas) who proclaims strong Christian values and gives a nod to the business community, while advocating for the rights of minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos, as well as the LGBTQ community.

On the surface it all seems simple, but the study of society, especially one as culturally diverse as the United States, is rarely as simple as it seems. I have been working on a question concerning this for a solid year, and I am still finding pieces that fit somewhere in a puzzle that has no clear image as a guide to the solution. Different ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, genders, generations, and class interests (just to name a few) all bring varying points of view into social discourse and fuel the political dialogue necessary in order to bring to fruition the idea of self governance. Just like the two-system, society is fluid and ever-changing. The President stole a bit of my thunder in his convention speech when he noted the framers’ cause of forming  not a perfect union, but a “more perfect Union,” a union that is always looking for ways to make itself better. Can the two parties maintain their power and stave off the challenges presented by disaffected voters in order to achieve this noble purpose? It is too early to tell, but, as I said before, it seems probable.

At the moment, a plurality of voters claim no affiliation to either of the parties. How will the parties react, and, in turn, how will voters respond? I am suffering from campaign fatigue, but I will more than likely continue to pay attention, especially come November when I cast my vote. It will not be my vote I am thinking about, though. I will be looking at everyone else’s, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

Getting Interested…

I’ve been busy.  I met with a professor within the department to which I am applying for graduate school last week.  I’ve also been speaking a little with a friend that is wrapping up her graduate studies.  Between the two, I have a pretty good reading list worked out and have buried myself in books, pen, and paper.

A consensus between the two, the point driven especially hard by my friend, is to develop a background on the theories set forth by Foucault and other postmodernist thinkers (I disagreed with this kind of labelling before I began to read Foucault, but now that I have read a little of him, I disagree with it even more).  So, I’ve begun reading, beginning with Discipline & Punish.  At first I was intimidated by the thought of reading modern philosophy, because, well, I have had a difficult time reading philosophy in the past, but (and maybe I am not reading quite deeply enough into it) I think I have at least a layman’s understanding of what is being said.

See, I have this fascination with motives.  I enjoy exploring unspoken motives, especially those motives that drive people who occupy positions of power.  As I wrote in a post a couple of weeks ago before even thinking of reading Foucault:

“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.”

Maybe that’s why some of what Foucault has to say, especially concerning power, institutions, and knowledge, makes at least some sense to me, and drives me to want to know more and come to a better understanding. As I said in the referred to post,”the self-serving motive is probably the purest motive there can be,”  and what can be more motivating, or self-serving, than coming into a position of power or sustaining the favorable power dynamics within a relationship that one may already have?

In order to see the basic humanity within a story, which is really all history is, this cannot be ignored.  Even those historical, or even contemporary, figures which we admire have to be scrutinized to some degree, for they were, or are, human, and like all humans they did, or do, have flaws.  On a more positive note, such scrutinization may uncover more positive and wholesome motivations.  To be fair that cannot be ruled out.

Anyway, this interests me a lot.  There will be more to come.

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.

‘fraid So

I need to get back into form. Lately, I have been reading a lot of fiction and rereading books. I’ve also not really been writing as much as I should. The problem with my writing is that the same words and ideas keep popping up in my head and flowing through my fingers, and I hate a rut. There is much to be written and much of which to think or consider. Why does my brain have such a difficult time finding it when it needs to find it most? Why do my fingers continue to tap out the same tired lines again and again? I suppose I could expand upon my latest blog post concerning the upcoming election and the instigation of fear as a means to the accumulation of power.

As I stated, fear can be an incredible motivator, or it can be paralyzing. Both can lead to responses that are, let us say, less than rational. Everyone knows this. Yet, we continually allow fear to give credence to our decisions. We continually allow those that instigate and propagate fear outlets with which to spread their messages of doom and gloom.

Also, as I said, I’m aware that there are real fears. I do not dispute that at all, but the question is that those real fears that you have, do you have to be reminded of them? If there is something that genuinely scares you or makes you uneasy, do you forget about it? Does it slip your mind as something unimportant? Or, do you consider this fear each and every time a situation arises in which that fear is presented?

I am no expert on human psychology, but I do know me. I know that the genuine fears I have do not have to be presented to me time and time again. I know them. I feel them. I acknowledge them when it comes time to make a decision concerning certain situations. I do not need to be reminded of them. I remain vigilant toward them without needing to be told to do so.

There are fears that I’ve had that I no longer have because I came to an understanding concerning them, or because I realized they were irrational and not contributing to my life in any positive way.

Here’s the thing. I do my best to avoid listening to those that tell me what it is that I need to fear. Do you need someone telling you what to fear? I don’t need that advice.

If something happens, I’ll either fear it or I won’t. I think it’s that simple. If it is something to fear, I will do my best to avoid it or overcome it, otherwise, I’ll pay it no mind.

If it is something to embrace, I’ll embrace it. Otherwise, I’ll pay it no mind.

It’s that simple.

It really is.

If I see a particular situation or circumstance affect someone in a negative way, I’ll approach it cautiously. If I hear secondhand of how a particular situation or circumstance has affected someone in a negative way, I’ll do my best to ascertain how the situation arose, how the person was affected by it, and how best to handle it should it be something I come across.

One should not fear a given situation or circumstance unless that situation or circumstance has been experienced personally, all of the facts are known, or the outcome is already known. This is rational.

Where irrationality comes into play is when someone tells us about something that someone told them about something that someone told them. Facts are lost. Effects are unknown and there can be no clear picture illustrated through the levels of hearsay. This is why hearsay is not admissible in a court of law. It cannot be proven. Why should fear not be held to the same burden of proof?

With irrational fear, all logic and reason have been removed, therefore, a rational choice cannot be made, and a poor decision becomes more possible, all because of something that someone heard from someone else.

Think of that the next time you hear or see a campaign advertisement telling you why you should vote against, or for, a given candidate, or the next time you hear or see someone telling you to be afraid of something. Also, think of why they are telling you that. What are they trying to get you to do, and what is in it for them?

Personally capitalizing on one’s fear is a pretty shitty way to make a living.  There is no reason why we should allow those that do so to continue doing it.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

It is a beautiful day, which is pretty fantastic since the weather over the past couple of days has been down right atrocious. I cannot remember the last time I saw so much wind and rain. Needless to say, I’ve missed the weather we get up here in the High Country. Like I told my wife, the bad weather days make you appreciate the beautiful days that much more, and when the weather is beautiful, it cannot be beat.

Fall is in the air. The leaves are in the midst of changing, well the ones that are still on the trees after the blustery weather of the past two days. The ambers, oranges, and yellows mixed with the still green oaks and pines covering the hillsides are beautiful and quite a sight to see. Set against the crisp blue sky, there are not many landscapes or portraits that can approach the level of splendor afforded to us during this change of seasons.

There are some things, however, that never seem to change, and are altogether ghastly in comparison to the beauty of the natural world around us. We are in the midst of an unpleasant and obnoxious midterm election season. Time is winding down to election day and the campaigns for, and against, those that hold elected office have been trudging along since the last general election nearly two years ago.

Luckily, we do not have traditional television. We stream all of our television over the internet via Netflix, Hulu, PBS, and other outlets. This has sheltered us, somewhat, from the nastiness that plagues regular television during this time of even numbered years. The campaign advertisements are endless from both of the mainstream candidates vying for the Senate seat up for grabs in North Carolina. Interest groups and PACs are shoveling money into the race as well with ads pitting different points of view into, seemingly, an all out war against one another. Watching these ads, one unfamiliar with our political culture would come to the conclusion that life itself hangs in the balance; that the human race is doomed, and that the planet is heading down a path toward irreconcilable destruction. I do not subscribe to newspapers or popular magazines, so I cannot say much concerning advertising that goes on in print media, but I doubt it paints any more of a rosy picture.

Speaking of the precarious position of life as we know it, I posted a little observation on Facebook the other day…

“Terrorists, illegal aliens, tyrannical government, ebola…seems there is always something we are supposed to fear. Those cashing in on the mass paranoia being spread through the media and social networks are only fearful of one thing…that we will, one day, stop being afraid. Until then, they are going to keep laughing all the way to the bank while everyone else huddles together in small, divided, fearful masses.”

There are other fears that I can add to the list including, but not limited to, climate change, recession, depression, gay marriage, AIDS, guns, gun control, war, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, believers, nonbelievers, Muslims, the Illuminati, the one percent, the 99%, the 45%, the welfare state, the military-industrial complex, homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered people, corporations, multinational conglomerates, the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission, the World Trade Organization, the Federal Reserve, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, and so on and so forth.

There is a lot of shit of which to be afraid…a lot, and those seeking power bet on the fact that if they can harness that fear and disseminate it among the populace, then they can achieve power.

The worst part concerning all of this is that we allow it to happen cycle, after cycle, after cycle, after cycle. Can we blame them? Fear is an incredible motivator, probably the greatest motivator. Fear of death, fear of discomfort, fear of the unknown. Fear is motivating, but can also be paralyzing and irrational. It can promote good decisions and poor ones.

Sure, there are real fears in the world around us. We all know what it is that scares us. It is time we stop letting others tell us what it is that we need to fear. Life is too short and the world is too magnificent to do otherwise.

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?