Here's a Thought...
A (no longer) new section, with chunks of ideas that might grow into a bigger essay, but will likely stay as these small islands in this vast cyber-sea.
Here's a Thought July 2017
The personification of advancing technology will reach an impasse when it can have a conversation with us. It does not take much for people to slip into the motions of basic social interaction if they can get mostly expected responses back.
Soon a majority of call centre jobs will be replaced by very basic AI bots, with only the most difficult or unusual cases actually being transferred to a manager who will actually be a person.
And once companies announce that this going to become an industry standard for customer service departments, on certain calls, people will angrily yell at these bots, demanding them to admit that they are not real people. Will these bots be programmed to acknowledge this, and will they do it in a pleasant fashion? Since they will never feel threatened or upset by a caller's verbal abuse, will they never hang up and simply cheerfully wait for the caller's insults to end?
We all talk big when it comes to no longer supporting companies when we find out they do something terrible. Sure, the outrage is immediate on social media, and the company may issue a robotic apology and fire a couple executives, but their long term bottom line is rarely affected.
Uber has a pervasive problem with sexual harassment and misogyny in its upper ranks (including its founder and former CEO), and uses shady business practices such as sabotaging competitors, user privacy violations, and developing hacking technology to avoid law enforcement. Plenty of articles about it, lots of #deleteUber tweets, but it's still go a popular choice over taxis because it's cheaper.
Why shop at Wal-Mart or a big grocery store chain instead of a farmers market or small store? Because it's cheaper and easier. And that's why real change on the grassroots level is difficult. Even if people want to do the right thing, they don’t necessarily have the income to do so.
On top of thus, the less you know about the labour exploitation that goes into the making of your phone (from mining precious metals in Africa, to how they're assembled in China), the better you can sleep at night.
Health insurers make huge profits, largely due to them being extremely reluctant in paying out claims (some managers get bonuses if they are able to keep their departments’ claim amounts below a certain level).
With this in mind, there should be a massive incentive for health insurers to keep their customers as healthy as possible. But this runs up against the goal of the health care providers, who, yes, want to keep their patients healthy, but have the incentive of getting the patients to spend a lot of money on the treatments that are necessary to get well.
The government is caught trying to somehow appease both these markets, while its main goal is to have the revenue to cover the costs for the citizens who cannot afford proper care themselves (and covering the costs typically means raising taxes on the rich, who can already afford treatment for their own ailments and have a lot of money lying around).
This is the health care quandary not only in America, but pretty much every developed country, once the smell of profits drifts in. Money in health care is more immediately damaging than money in politics, even if the latter has great overall effect on any sort of legislation that comes before the halls of power (including health care legislation).
If one of the basic elements of our universe is a string-like vibrating particle, can be there some sort of knot-like event that affects its behaviour? We are still filling in gaps (let alone the massive gulf that is dark matter and dark energy, whose names are almost certainly more exciting and simplistic compared to what the explanations will be), so could plotted deviations from the norm - presence of dark matter, cosmic inflation - be considered 'knots' of sorts?
[Of course, terms like 'strings' and 'dark matter' are placeholder laymen terms for complicated phenomenon occurring micro and macroscopic scales. But these terms are necessary for engaging with the general populace for whom scientific knowledge is limited at best. Even if these labels are part of what got you interested in pursuing science as a career in the first place, you realize as you learn more and more that things are never so simple as 'strings and knots', especially when the first sine function comes into view]
Now the left can include anything from 'I believe in global warming but don't raise my taxes to address it', to 'Donald Trump should be tried for treason'. That's a huge gulf. That's a difference in opinion that is so vast you almost feel sorry for the politicians who are somehow expected to appease both segments.
The left is so much more efficient and modern than the right. The right took several decades to slowly become delusional and eat itself. The left is going to get it done in about four or five years!
After a tough presidential loss that is being described as historic, the left is feeling like the right did during the Obama years. Obstruction at all costs because the new administration's new ideas are terrible for America, and with the control of congress, they can practically do whatever they want (is this 2009 or 2017?). And when then there are large swath of angry and disaffected people looking to vent first and fact-check later, of course there is media for it:
People love conspiracy theories because they make everything easier. Movie-like easy where everything is wrapped in a nice, simple package. In a free and open society, the fringes will certainly push the more ridiculous and fact-free stories. What changes is when the leader of the country starts to promote these stories.
Pour one out for the slow, quiet loss of the written word.
During the first internet wave (let's say from where you could first log on to America Online on your desk-tops's 4800bps modem in the early nineties to just about when Blackberry and other PDAs first hit it big in the mid-2000s), literacy rates in the Western world didn't fall that much.
But in the ten years or so since then, there is just a slew of depressing events and fact that suggests reading is on the outs. The closing of big bookstore chains and tiny, neighbourhood-loved shops. The kindle and other electronic book replacements never really catching fire the way other technological advances have (why have one hundred books in your hand when you can have a drone control pad in it instead?). People don't grab the mass-market paperbacks in airports anymore. The choice is half-listening to podcasts while doing something else.
And when we do bother to read, we don't bother to read as much, and maybe only if it's punctuated with some audio-visual treats: ()
The ongoing woes of the print industry continues and is sadly not a surprise as we move (or pivot) towards an even deeper concentration of electronic devices in our hands instead of bound paper.
What should be much more unnerving and raise eyebrows is how this going to affect our critical thinking moving forward. To say 'we think in language' comes off much too flippant. We are limited in our ability to communicate and understand our existence when we have poor reading and writing skills. We have been on the path to increased literacy across the globe, and with it, higher standards of living (a good reminder about how globally, things are getting better for the majority of humanity:
()). To start and go in the reverse – starting in the West – is a blow to civilization.
Voter Suppression via the excuse of stopping Voter Fraud:
This story need to be covered more. This story cannot be covered often enough. This story needs to constantly be in the headlines, and lead every news program.
This is messing with the building blocks of democracy. This decides whether one is living in a free, democratic country or not, in a very different way than cynically believing that two main political parties are simply tools of the wealthy.
Eradicating voter rolls and beginning voter suppression removes the last mechanism to reverse this trend of corporate cronyism. It ends the possibility of putting any sort of social program that benefits the many back together, of returning the government to a sensible form of checks and balances.
This legislation closes doors on freedom. Now a citizen would not even have a choice between a selection of politicians that might best represent their political views. That right has been withdrawn, ostensibly to prevent a nonexistent problem.
Basic biological processes of reproduction underlie the interactions between males and females, whether we're talking about birds, elephants, or human beings. In our own species' case, we are valiantly attempting to balance these very simple and direct overtures with much more complex and even philosophical concepts of civilization, self-worth and equality.
This is not easy, since pushing against hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of years of evolution never is. When we express shock, disgust, confusion or titillation towards how someone is acting when it comes to sex and/or relationships, there are animal instincts at its core. Because we are animals, even as we are convinced we are animals...plus something more. What you say to someone you're attracted to, the clothes you wear, how you walk or drive down the street, it's not much different in terms of biological drive from elks fighting to the death for mating rights or birds trying to impress with their plumage.
As always, these more philosophical and moral quandaries do not exist in vacuum, other types of changes to civilization occur around the same time. The Scientific Revolution loosened religion's grip on Europe, and the Industrial Revolution ultimately began the expansion of rights for the individual and previously marginalized groups. Today’s electronic devices allow us to be virtually connected to the entire world, and are forcing us to question how we interact with each other face to face. Where is modern technology taking us (or, to be slightly more charitable, where are we taking technology)? It's affecting everything to how we communicate (now largely through handheld devices) to what he can become (thanks to medical advances in DNA augmentation).
But when we stop being animals, we almost certainly stop being human.
Branding is permeating politics, but it wasn't Donald Trump who first capitalized on its swagger-over-style-over-substance factor. Obama's 2008 election campaign won several PR/advertising awards (Chomsky noted this) including 'Marketer of the Year' by the Association of National Advertisers. After all, its message was quite simple: 'Yes we can', the 'HOPE' poster.
But in Obama's case there was substance behind the style. A smart, capable, reflective, respectful leader who inspired people.
Not so much with Trump.
Which reveals a rather depressing truth about advertising. When a commercial exaggerates or lies to you about the amazing-ness of one particular type of chewing gum, there's not much blowback except you being slightly annoyed that you wasted a buck-fifty. Even a big purchase like a car, as long as its unexpected problems don't lead to anything fatal, can be still be fixed for more money or sold.
When something as important and complicated as politics is treated with the same level of truth and consideration as chewing gum or a Civic, then there's going to be much more dire consequences when the 'product' fails to deliver.
Education has splintered along the monoculture (although inequality has also made certain basic standards of education hard to achieve across a large population/wide demographic), and it will be very difficult to find something to improve the situation in the near future.
Standardized testing (and unfortunately, rigorously teaching for the test) can create a very specific and narrow foundation for education, but it is of limited use not only for what we believe is important the children of today to learn, but of the coming generations as well.
How people learn is becoming as various as niche popular culture. Some still excel in traditional classroom learning, some do better with more open-concept classes that promote group/individual problem solving over classic instruction and recollection over repetition. Other finds podcasts and video more valuable.
And certainly Boards of Education across most countries on the planet are trying to adjust to these realities. And large, bureaucratic institutions don't move quickly.
Feynman's 'Principle of Least Action' can be cynically mirrored in our own society ('necessity is the mother of all inventions'), and once again suggests that the way we seek for answers (and what we look for), are reflected/represented in our biology. We are looking at the universe through the lens of our 'ourselves'.
The tiniest bits of matter may be full of potential energy, but each one seems to want to take easiest route to release it. And it stays pretty much the same once a lot of these particles are bundled up into the average homo sapien who hasn't yet had their morning cup of coffee.
There is no shortcut to ending/reducing poverty. Like every massive initiative humanity has applied itself to, it will take an incredibly large amount of money and a lot of time.
Both things of which are currently in short supply (cash and patience).
George Carlin cynical notes that if there was a way for Wall Street to make a few hundred million dollars in the process of ending homelessness in America, you'd find that problem solved very quickly.
But there is no longer a solvent enough-government to be able to pay a private enterprise to end poverty (and make the enterprise's owner a bunch of cash). The bone has been picked clean. Even if we are able to summon the angels of our better nature's will (like voting for politicians who believe that health care is a right and not a market commodity), we cannot start with the problem of the poor. We have to start with the problem of the rich. The government's coffers need to be filled again, and the people who have been paying less and less into them for the last thirty years need to pony up again. That is 'health democracy 101'.
Dogs, Humans, Work
Do dogs equate going for walks, and fetching balls or sticks as 'work', as some sort of responsibility that they are expected to do? Does it give then self-worth (even if they are not understanding of that concept)?
And how different is that from the way we treat our jobs and careers? We tell ourselves how it important the jobs we have are, how they allow us to do other things that we also think gives us our self worth.
And just as we may lightly laugh at the idea of a dog thinking what they do is important ('it's just a dog, all they need to do is lie around and eat food'), maybe an advanced civilization or species is chortling at us from above, rolling their eyes (if they have any) at how serious we take our jobs, when so many of them don't really mean much in terms of human civilization and advancing it further.
But we can't always look 'big picture'. Part of being human includes giving our actions meaning and importance. And even for jobs that are dangerous (to ourselves or to the environment around us) or full of annoyances that make us complain about them all the time, we still place a lot of importance upon them (or we, y'know, just quit). Jobs become our purpose. And to take/remove/steal one's self-appointed, 9 to 5 purpose (even inadvertently, through basic purchasing power or complicated business decisions) is at first a rather depressing way of looking at 21st century business, a time where it's constantly promoted that we are free to do (and buy) as we choose.
And certainly that is true in many ways.
But a job (or ideally, a career) defines the limits of our choices. And we are currently in a period where job security is collapsing and is being replaced by contract, temporary and underemployment. What is even more concerning is the next decade and a half, where 40% of all jobs will most likely be replaced by automation, advanced programming and robotics. Without a job (even a mundane one that you might constantly complain about), without a purpose, what happens to the human sense of self, let alone their economic situation?
If only we could make money fetching sticks. But then what would the dogs do?
Post-Modernism's Pandora's Box
There are no truths, only constructs. So sayeth Sartre, Foucault, Derrida, and now, the Executive Branch of the United States government.
At first conservatives decried the moral relativism of liberal thinking (no one religion is right or wrong, everyone can have their opinion and their differences should be embraced), but then they realized they could use these tools for their own ends.
-Climate change? Not all scientists agree
-Trickle down economics doesn't work? According to these particular examples, it does
-Crime is down across the country? Not in Chicago, so let's expand private prisons and police power
In academia, ‘there is no wrong answer’ was a taken-for-granted piece of advice that was to foster critical and lateral thinking from the student or scholar, and would be accepted for essays provided that there was some evidence to back the possibly unusual claim. Within papers and upon blackboards, there wasn’t much damage or danger if all metaphysical statements were thrown out the window, or that works could be interpreted without considering the author’s intent, or suddenly obstinately declaring that certain mathematical equations were no longer sufficient to explain quantum phenomena.
But when such blows to basic understanding and operations of science and politics occur outside the classroom, the actual effects to a society can be catastrophic.
When is autocracy inevitable?
And if it comes to America, do other Western nations have any chance in resisting?
If China and (to a lesser extent) Russia are the other 'super-power' nations, then democracy is becoming the exception rather than the rule. These nations are run in an autocratic fashion, regardless of what the government says (Russia says it's a democracy, China says it's communist). America is joining this club, and the world is all the worse for it.
Can it be said that at least America gave democracy the good ol' college try? Well, some basic tenets of democracy (like everyone has the right to vote) ae only fifty-plus years old. And not long after that, the rise of corporate power skyrocketed.
Examples, especially of late:
But hey, at least it was slow.
Trump's election is a tempting easily time of death, but so can the behaviour in his first hundred days, but one must not forget the current rolling back of even more voting rights by Congress….
Truthfully, however, the first symptoms of this cancer were apparent over thirty years ago. In the eighties, the rise of lobbying and a ‘war on drugs’ that was really a ‘war on the poor’ which hobbled the economic empowering of minorities were terrible blueprints of what was to come. Ending regulations for corporation and bank meant monolithic ‘too big to fail’ companies of all sorts, and executives on those boards bobbed in and out of political position to smooth deals and avoid taxes.
Civil and social rights gains throughout the sixties and early seventies, began to get rolled back in other forms. Cutting social programs or outsourcing them to private companies, who ran them in such a way to make a profit, and when they did not, they themselves made even more drastic cuts, to the point where it would sometimes take ninety minutes to get a response from 911 in various places across America, whether in Detroit or Appalachia.
It’s an impressive feat, going from democracy to autocracy in only third years and without bloodshed in the Capital. Perhaps America could now impress the world and roll it all back.
The generation's interests/obsessions over likes, re-tweets, week-long memes, and pop culture that is under three months old exists because there's nothing else available to vast majority of them.
No serious career options. No opportunity to save for a mortgage, or even a post-secondary education (without immediately going into a massive debt which looks increasingly likely that you'll never pay back).
There's is nothing concrete out there. Nothing to build a life upon that previous generations were able to take for granted. Yes, of course baby boomers and gen-X-ers had to work hard to get a good, stable job and - with that - a long term relationship and a house in the suburbs. But that was a path available to most. Now, that same sort of hard work doesn't guarantee any sort of stable job. 'Stable job' (aka, ‘career’) is the exception, not the rule, and with that, a middle class life also becomes the exception, not the rule.
And these are serious concerns. And if they never are presented in front of you, of course you're going to find something else to do with your time. Like watching another series on Netflix while waiting to see if you get called into a shift at work because someone else couldn't make it.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, don't kid yourself, we definitely remain at 'mutually assured destruction' levels. This needs to be something we are careful with. When it comes to nuclear weapons, you need a capable, calm, level-headed system of check and balances throughout the chain of command. From the head of state, to their national security team, to their military advisors, down to the actual soldiers and technicians who launch the equipment, everyone needs to alert, informed, and prepared to make deep, civilization altering decisions at a moment's notice.
And I don't think we have that in the United States right now.
Here's a Thought January 2017
Superhero films immediately started to decline in quality once they were anointed as the future of making money at the box office.
Summer 2008. Iron Man and The Dark Knight. There hasn't been a superhero film that has been as fun and exciting since Iron Man (although Guardians of the Galaxy gets close), and there hasn't been a superhero film that is as serious and captivating since The Dark Knight. They've all tried to capture the success of these two films (sometimes stealing scenes and setups directly), but it's been a series of constantly diminishing returns.
They have become flashy, two hour comic book issues, and have therefore inherited one of its basic flaws: constant and repetitive narrative formula.
As Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars Universe, and the DC Clusterfuck get bigger and bigger, budgets will rise and it will become all the more important that any sort of risk in story or character development that might confuse or alienate audiences cannot be taken. Simplification and broadness will be embraced since it's assumed that movie-goers both in America and abroad (who are so essential to big box office returns) don't want nuance and emotion getting in the way of their action beats.
The basic underlying theme of 20th and 21st century scientific discoveries which pertain to the laws of nature and of the universe is that things are expanding and speeding up, that things are constantly vibrating, splitting, colliding. There is constant chaos on higher and lower scales of size. And there are still many mysteries as to how the universe 'holds itself together' (since most of it is a combination of dark matter and dark energy, which are really just placeholder terms for...something).
At the same time, we think of our modern society being quicker, more immediate, instantaneous, overwhelming, interconnected, and - unfortunately - existing and operating at certain levels that a great many of us do not have access to.
The good ol’ mantra: 'as above, so below'.
As our lives accelerate, so does the universe (or really, our perspective of how the universe operates. How we live our lives is reflected in how we believe the universe 'lives' it's own life).
Rock has become the new jazz. This has been predicted several times before, but it's more apparent than ever now that rock has a jazz-club/theatre sized audience, with very few arena-packing outliers (examples: Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire), many of which have long, successful years racked up (typically beginning before the music industry as a whole began to crater).
Now most music (certainly most popular music) is made by manipulating already-made sounds, rather than create these sounds by plucking a string, pressing a key on piano, or blowing a horn. It's the further simplification of making music. Rock was the bottom rung for a long time (four chords max! 12 bar blues forever! It was constantly being mocked as being overly-simplistic and infantile in the late fifties and early sixties)). Hip-hop's focus on sampling and drum machines was certainly a first step in making music by not-exactly playing an instrument (and was similarly criticized for 'not being real music' when it first became popular).
Now you have a sampler hooked up to a sourced-up laptop and every sound ever made by a human being or robot is at your command. The way you run your finger over a touchpad to guide an instrument (or really, several instruments) is similar to how a conductors waves their baton over an orchestra.
Compared to the Devil, God is a much, much more plausible concept for people who are not religious fundamentalists, or even religious leaning.
If God as an imposing and powerful father figure who rewards and punishes as he sees fit seems ridiculous, then feel free to accept God as a higher concept of understanding, as another dimension intersecting with our own, as a symbol of whatever is 'above' the universe. People always seek explanation for their place and purpose, and God is a search for/answer to this question. There is something almost scientific as believing in God as being a complicated equation for life itself.
Even the heavenly aspect of the afterlife concept can take on a sort of scientific conceit, and is infinitely more plausible than hell. After your death, your material body breaks down and you 'become' more of an idea, a memory, a 'part' of the universe in the sense that your particles diffuse into the earth, sky, water and space, so you've gone back from whence you came.
But the devil invites childish explanations for evil and moral judgment. A place to be tortured for all eternity by an all powerful figure that wants trick you into being sent there? And the God that created this figure is completely satisfied with this? It's more than baffling, it's an insult to our intelligence (and to our concept of ultimate intelligence).
'Whatever gets you through the night' is a passable John Lennon-Elton John hybrid, which is probably about drinking and drugs, but is a pretty excellent summation of religion and spiritualism in the modern era.
To think that any one religion has any sort of metaphysical advantage over all the others is ridiculous. To think that one will allay your worldly concerns and answer more of your prayers better than all the others is also ridiculous.
You can certainly believe that the religion you follow is better than the others, but belief is more about one's opinion than any sort of declaration of fact. Saying 'I believe George Washington was the first president of the United States' sounds a bit odd, because saying 'George Washington was the first president of the United States' comes off as being much more objective and accurate.
As we move into the sciences, where personal opinion is held in less regard, saying 'I believe water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom' is ridiculous.
When it comes to god, however, the term 'I believe' is still very much in fashion, regardless of whether you follow that up with 'in god' or 'there is no god'.
And there is some irony in this, as originally the concept of God was designed to be an explanation for how the world works, and now that we look to science to these types of answers, God has changed to be much more of arbiter and judge of human behaviour, with concrete proof of its existence much less important than belief in it outright.
Settling Into the Technocratic Under-Class
It's safer than ever before. Why are we terrified?
Poverty is slowly decreasing in both developed and developing nations. Why are we falling into debt?
We are connected to everyone across the globe, and can meet and communicate with likeminded people instantaneously. Why do we feel so isolated?
We have more information about everything at our fingertips. Why do feel so confused?
Don't worry, these are just birthing pangs and growing pains, and it's going to take a while longer before we reach our uncomfortable and rock bottom. We're settling into the Technocratic Under-Class.
Humanity always takes awhile to get used to new technology. At first it's strange and exciting, then absolutely and everywhere, then frustrating and reviled because of the cold and irreversible changes it has created (usually the mass firings of the people who used to do the job that has been replaced by the machinery/computer).
Luddites (in)famously smashed up mechanized weaving equipment in the early years of the industrial revolution, angry that their jobs/livelihoods had been replaced by some bent pieces of metal and a coal-fired power source.
The first Industrial Revolution took place over two centuries, with some of the earliest inventions and advances (say, early eighteenth century) reaching certain parts of the globe in the late twentieth century. And that is a good partial explanation to explain how this unequal advance resulted in a very unequal balance of wealth and power.
The second (and current) industrial revolution is a replacement of industry with digitization and robotics. And while that in itself will separate it in distinction from the first industrial revolution, another aspect of it should be considered: It will be a revolution that will occur across the globe in almost perfect simultaneity.
Which sounds impressive in foresight and hindsight, but if you're living through it, and are being told that 40% of jobs that exist today will disappear in the next fifteen to twenty years thanks to advanced computers and robotics, it's a horrifying and numbing experience.
Of course it's not fair, but as North America and Europe getting rich in part due to the exploitation of labour throughout the rest of the world for the past few centuries, it's sensible that people there will now gripe and moan about how the party's over.
Adam Curtis' Hypernormalisation
Whenever we look at the challenges/disasters of today, it is typically through a lens of how there was a period in the past where things weren't like this, when they weren't so bad. That we've fallen from grace, that somehow we've been booted out of the garden of Eden. Certainly this is both a personal and historical nostalgia.
Adam Curtis' 2016 documentary Hypernormalisation does an impressive job at grabbing seemingly loose threads and events of the last fifty years and knitting them into a horrifying pair of twenty first century post-industrial mittens.
Snubbing Syria in the seventies led to the rise of suicide bombings, psychiatry via computer begets myopic alienation, Donald Trump’s rise as the emblem of Western greed and tone-deafness.
Even as Curtis acknowledges the increased and overwhelming complexity of the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, the connections he makes between events are simplified, omitting many factors that consistently affect international politics/bureaucracy/technological finance.
We can even make Curtis' observations more depressing by acknowledging that they actually aren't that new. Pseudo-freedom and helplessness have long been the status of most people across the earth through most of recorded history. It continues to day, if not through physical bondage, then through social and financial bondage.
The escape to cyberspace is certainly more immersive than anything we had in the past, but they play the same role as fairy tales. A place where there are no consequences, it's all so simple, and a happy ending is all but guaranteed. No wonder people don't like looking up from their phones.
The American Psyche is rooted in constant contradiction. A united series of individual states. A nation that proudly announces its cohesion and trust, while also acknowledging that its creation was full of violent and internal rebellion. The continued reliance in a post industrial society on a political document written in an agrarian, pre-industrial society. A document whose authors would barely recognize the conduct of those following it within the halls of power today, surprised at the rights it gives to individuals they thought unworthy, and the additional rights given to non-citizen legal entities (corporations). Calling itself a bastion of freedom even as slavery and the continuing oppression of minorities were/are part of its social and economic makeup. Championing its independence from global affairs while playing the lead role in directing them.
If divisions widen how much longer can this shaking house stand?
How the wealthy hide their money:
(Panama (Mossack-Fonseca) Papers, eat your heart out)
The rich don't run the planet in secret business meetings in French chateaus and yachts, cackling with lust for supreme power. They run the planet from offices and meeting room, sometimes on the phone with other rich people in other offices and meeting rooms.
Packaging financial instruments, shorting, finding/building loopholes in trade deals, the fine print is tremendously boring but it shapes the world we live in. The wealthiest people in the world are just as stupid, greedy, naive, short-sighted, and petty as the rest of us, and they try to keep as much of their money as possible by hiding it from taxation.
There is $22 trillion dollars hidden away in these off-shore ghost accounts.
That amount of money can change the future of life on earth.
That's a new form of social program that greatly reduces global inequality.
That's replacing fossil fuels with green energy on a hyper accelerated pace.
That's going to Mars.
That's cleaning the oceans and the air and the land.
That's building a series of space ships and space stations to be able to live 'off planet'.
That's bankrolling a series of much-needed infrastructure projects across the globe, plus the R&D budget to create new materials that will ensure the buildings, bridges, dams, etc. will last a long time before needing to be replaced again.
Politics is always going to fuck over somebody. It's just got to go back to fucking over rich people for awhile.
Good news everybody! It's going to be a kleptocracy, not a fascist state!
Perhaps Donald Trump inadvertently prevented an immediate fascist rise by quickly alienating the defence/military institutions of the United States by questioning their abilities over the Russian hacking debacle.
This article suggests that maybe: "Oligarchical nationalism is the default form for failing economies."
So maybe the future of America is what Russia currently exists as. Maybe the worst thing about Trump as president then is not so much the inevitable kleptocracy and selling off America's resources and government programs/institutions (which as been happening to some degree for over three decades now), but the now constant hold onto power by this small group of people through intimidating, ignoring and silencing the critics of the people in power.
The Death of the American town (or small city) has been predicted for many decades now, and as expected it's a slow, ignoble, and agonizing crawl to the grave. The vicious cycle of people leaving because there's no jobs means smaller populations which means fewer people paying any sort of tax or contributing to the economic cycle, which means there's less money to spend by government and by businesses, so social programs and basic services and more jobs get cut, so more people leave, and so on.
These shrinking and dying towns will become large regions outside of mega-cities that have little government or organizational presence. Higher crime due to lack of police, dangerous due to lack of emergency services.
Dead zones inside of countries.
And massive, overcrowded cities (with flailing social programs and an attempt at non-government organizations to offer community/stability, so things aren't as bad as the dead zones), with pockets of wealthy suburbs and nearby towns, with plenty of police and security in these regions to keep undesirables out.
Bring Social Mobility Back to America: Tax the Rich
The rich broke America, and the poor let them do it.
Call it the looming love-child of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand, but it's just straight up greed and selfishness.
The wealthiest 1% and 0.1% of Americans (or all global elites) aren't sitting around discussing the finer points of Keynes, Friedman, or Piketty. They just want their money, and they don't want to share it with anyone, especially not governments, who will (in the elite's eyes) just give it to lazy poor people or repair some bridge that will take to long and cost too much because of unions and red tape.
But the rich are wrong. Just because you've worked hard in one particular field, industry or discipline and succeeded wildly, doesn't mean that you automatically have the wisdom and experience to control so much power (in the form of capital) without oversight or accountability.
The 1% are the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a march towards feudalism until the Great Depression brought it crashing down (so let's also note that in the 1920s and 1930s, the other global trend besides an economic disaster was the rise of right-wing an xenophobic governments across the world, which led to the horrors of the Second World War).
Instead of the rich being forced to pay higher taxes (to actually fund government programs and shrink inequality and raise social mobility), they are going to bankroll government like building projects and social services...until they don't feel like it.
Check Your Nostalgia: How Good is Die Hard?
It is generally agreed that Die Hard is one of the finest action movies of all time. Everything that actions movies do, Die Hard does better. The acting, the writing, the pacing, the fight sequences (whether with guns or hand to hand combat), all are done at a higher level. To the point where films that came after consciously or unconsciously stole bits from it. Even when Die Hard hits the narrative cliches, it's done in an impressive and unique fashion.
Or maybe I think it does because I first watched Die Hard when I was twelve, and actually got a bit choked up when McClane and Powell finally met face to face at the end.
The pop culture you absorb in your pre-teen and teen years makes an indelible mark on the sort of person you will grow up to be, mainly because your circle of friends at that age will largely be defined by whatever you ended up watching or listening to. And your friends shape your personality at this age, which is integral to the type of person you'll become (and whether 'Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker', enters into your vocabulary).
So when something hits a nerve - whether it's Led Zeppelin, Prince, the Wu-Tang Clan (including solo albums), Radiohead, The Prisoner, The Watchmen, Star Wars, Die Hard, Fight Club, The Prisoner, MASH, Blue Velvet, The Invisibles, Beyoncé, Samuel Beckett, Stanley Kubrick, The Velvet Underground, Pulp Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut - at this impressionable age, and knocks your socks off, it's almost as if it changes your DNA.
And over time, as your tastes might get more discerning (or you just don't have the time to absorb as much new stuff as you used to), you find yourself effortlessly forgiving certain flaws in said pieces of pop-culture. Maybe some lines in Die Hard fall flat. Maybe some of the police officers seem comically dumb. Maybe you realize it doesn't make sense that German terrorists speak English more than necessary.
But it still won't sway your affection for the movie, TV show, book, or album. You'll love it not only in spite of its flaws, but because of its flaws. And while looking through world history with a nostalgic lens can actually be dangerous, it's reassuring to know that liking Liquid Swords no matter what is absolutely fine.
Running out of Stuff (and Running Out of Money to Buy What's Left)
Stuff is going to be hard to come by in the next several years (thanks to a plethora of factors, from scarcity of basic materials, to climate change affecting crop yields, to rising energy prices making it difficult to transport goods cross the globe, to Indian and Chinese markets competing with Western ones as more people in the East escape poverty).
(Un)fortunately, even if there was a steady stream of new items to purchase and use/enjoy, many of us wouldn't be able to afford a lot of it in the first place. Stagnant (or declining wages) while the cost of living rises means there's less disposable income to spend on any sort of luxury good or entertainment service.
This pattern has become so ingrained into daily life in the West (and, as noted above, has spread to China and India) that tens and millions of people have gone into debt (especially in the United States, where health care costs means it's frequently treated as a privilege, not a right), buying stuff they can't afford. A house bigger than they need, furnished with stuff you don't ever try to fix, but rather just replace outright when it breaks.
But this can't last forever, and let's not think these two scenarios cancel each other out. It's not a matter of 'there's less things, and less money to spend, so there's no net loss or gain'.
Human civilization in 2017 is predominantly a capitalist-materialist system, dependent on the constant exchange of goods and services. When this begins to break down (perhaps in conjunction with any other sort of financial crisis, like in the fall of 2008), it's time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask what we're doing, before the mirror gets repossessed.
Here's a thought summer 2016
Is love stronger than hate?
Well it sounds nice.
But love and hate are emotions, and what's more important is the actions taken because of love or hate (and the circumstances of the people taking these actions). Now it's pretty safe to say that many good and wonderful things have been done in the name of love, but there have certainly been some terrible things done in the name of love as well.
Correspondingly, it's more likely that things done because of the feeling of hatred are awful and tragic, but there is probably a small handful of acts done in the name of hatred that have been positive.
Fortunately, love is associated with other qualities such as peace, tranquility, sharing, and generosity, and these are bedrock traits for a sustainable community, which is much better for survival than constant chaos.
The Internet, Still
If the medium is the message, then the internet's message is kneejerk immediacy and short attention spans (which, by and large, is not a good activity to continually participate in).
Internet Outrage is officially a pastime, a hobby. Sadly, it begin with the best of intentions: trying to bring attention to injustice and society's failings (and these can run the gamut from matters of life and death that need addressing right away to more issue that might require more mundane and slower changes, like unfair hiring practices). That's a good thing. But a mob rules, first reporting, not follow-up, no second account type of mindset has made it made it an extremely limited form of ushering in real social change.
Change in the sense of actual reform and legislation takes time and effort. Lots of it. And 'time and effort' are two things that people rarely apply to their online perusal habits.
Keeping up with the latest Internet Outrage is like keeping up with new music when you reach your mid-thirties. Of course you can still do it, but it feels a lot more like work and repetition.
When OK Computer came out, it sounded like the future of rock (or what rock critics wanted the future of rock to sound like). Energetic, confrontational, debate-worthy, hook-filled but still experimental, anthemic, and a touch weird. This was the sound that the 'next big thing' was supposed to have, but that future never came.
OKC's melodies were aped by Coldplay and other 'softer' rock bands, which lacked the gnashing teeth and experimental leanings. The genre the album spawned missed its energy, excitement, and boundary-pushing.
Which is what the 'garage rock' revival of the early 00's had by the ton. But it wasn't a look to the future, it wasn't pushing forward and finding new sounds and recording techniques. It was a powerful embrace of the past. Punk’s power, New York’s cool grime, and recording equipment from the sixties.
OK Computer is the last great album that has guitars on it that made it seem like there would be more great guitar albums to come.
It's lyrical content (lamenting commercialization, technological alienation, a society that seems to have lost its way) is just as relevant today as it was nearly twenty years ago. It observed the world at a certain point in history, captured the zeitgeist, and is continuing to today because the zeitgeist hasn't changed that much (actually, it's very fragile).
OK Computer will always sound like the future of rock, but it's a future that will never come. Rock music has lost its heft, its weight, its connection with the youthful masses. OK Computer was latest frontier at a time when it was believed that rock music would always be a/the culturally relevant frontier. In that sense, OK Computer is the last rock album.
'Term limits' should not be restricted to only presidents. It should also apply to other political offices (congressman, members of parliament, senators). Not only that, but it should be applied to titans of industry, from financial to energy (perhaps not legally limited in this case, but acknowledged industry-wide that it's for the best).
Why? Because that level of power warps perspective. That level of responsibility and associated reward is not a healthy perspective to hold for long periods of time. You begin to lose the ability to recognize the viewpoint of not having these powers/responsibilities which a vast majority of people do not have. And losing that viewpoint is a serious problem. It's an important one, because it's losing a connection to/relationship with humanity (or at least how most of humanity lives).
There are legitimate problems that liberals traditionally criticize, and there are legitimate problems that conservatives traditionally criticize. But at the moment there are a lot problems out there that need liberal-style reforms instead of conservative-style reforms.
Here is a problem that conservatives are correct about (although some liberals will acknowledge it as well):
Union Pensions. (Note: This does not mean unions as a whole). We can't afford to pay firefighters $40,000 pensions for up to thirty years after they retire. That amount promised was from a very different economic era. Many, many people under the age of forty would love to make $40,000 a year. Western Nations (and by that, 'the governments of Western Nations') do not have that kind of money to spend anymore. In many states, emergency services are being scaled back and face deep budget cuts, in part so the government can pay retired emergency services employees.
The Responsibility of Leaders is to make difficult decisions that will pay off in the long run, and the responsibility of citizens is to understand and accept that the ramifications of these difficult decisions may include a change of present living standards. And both groups must 'suffer' through these hard times together.
And the challenge there is confronting the myth of 'It's Always Going to Get Better'. Forget things simply plateauing for the millennials. Sacrifices are going to have to be made regarding job security, access to health care, even the availability of basic resources like food and energy. Maybe having apples available year round in the northern hemisphere (because they are flown in from regions like South Africa) is going to have to end because of the drain on resources (from agriculture to transport).
Can the Rich Fix the World?
(Maybe the first issue is that because they are successful they don't see/experience the level of crisis that many other people are going through, and conclude that these concerns are overblown)
Certainly the first issue is unfairly profiling 'the rich' as all thinking and acting the same way. One billionaire cannot change the world, because two billionaires can outmaneuver/outspend him or her.
Because these challenges are extremely complicated, even if what must be done and how it should be done can, be universally agreed upon (already unlikely), there is still the chance for procedure to go awry.
The world is run by a series of amoral economic principles. While this ensures that not one particular person or political/religious ideology can monopolize it, it does allow for a small group of people and corporations to have a much, much larger say in its operation than all the people across the globe have an equal share.
It also makes the notion of 'throw the bums out' irrelevant. People can be replaced whether or not they support the dominant 'free market almost all of the time' economic principle, but the principles themselves are much, much harder to alter or replace.
What's the worst, most cynical way to describe/defend social assistance/welfare?
That we are paying people not to commit crimes by subsidizing their lifestyle of laziness and unemployment because doing that is actually cheaper than locking them up in prison for the crimes they would commit if we didn't pay.
And it's currently being PR-ed as 'basic guaranteed income', and has been attempted in certain towns and countries (Finland, to some degree) across the world. And it's being pushed by many in Silicon Valley.
If this is the goal, then suddenly 'the incentive not to work' (a criticism of welfare in the United States throughout the 80s) is irrelevant. The goal is simply to create functional and law-abiding citizens. If people want anything more than the basics, that is what they have to work for.
The challenge is finding a way for countries with tens (or hundreds) of millions of people to afford it. Augmenting the current social assistance/unemployment infrastructure, higher taxes, and expecting that you will save money in other areas like crime and health care...
I wish there was a heaven! Oh, that would be incredible, amazing! But it's such a ridiculous, nonsensical, unprovable piece of wishful thinking.
For billions of people it's the tentpole frame of their reality, the main focus of how they live their life: To appease the all-powerful creator of the universe so they will let them come and spend all of eternity in a magical place where you can get everything you want anytime at all, constantly bathed in the glory of god's love.
And there's no agreement! There's no majority of people that believe in one specific idea for the afterlife. Or god in general. Apparently the loving deity that created us all has no problem with millennia of bloody sectarian violence done in its name.
Wait, what if the Middle Class isn't/never was sustainable?
What if the rise, plateau, and fall of the middle class was just an anomaly born out of extremely unique and specific circumstances that rarely repeat themselves in such ways?
What if an over-class/underclass based society was the norm? (since that's what it's been for most of history. Not to say that civilization cannot change in one way and stay changed for a long time, but it seems like 'the middle class' certainly needs reinforcement to its foundation ASAP if it's going to stick around. If we've been closer than ever before to having a sustainable middle class, one should strive to make further adjustments to sociopolitical institutions so as to reach that level)
It certainly resembles a more animalistic hierarchy, one that we as the self-professed 'smartest people on earth' have unofficially made our goal ('be better than animals').
If the attempt to increase the taxes on the very wealthy keep failing in the halls of power (and frequently there is a PR framing of this issue (by those who would be subject to these increases) that pushes the misconception/misinformation that taxes are going up for everyone, which is why there is a not stronger push across the political spectrum), then a more effective way to increase much need revenue for governments is to tax corporations on a wider and higher scale. Fewer people will ever come out to defend a corporation as being treated unfairly. As corporations play larger and larger roles in our lives, people's anger towards them are growing, and (ideally) it should be easier for public support of higher taxes and regulation to be enacted.
Compromise: You'll Know it When you See It
Compromises are inevitable and unpredictable. It's hard to know exactly the conditions of the two (or more) sides ahead of time. There's too many specific contexts that can upend any pre-set scenario.
But the notion of compromise is becoming corrupted. There is obstruction from enacting large scale policy changes that would benefit the most amount of people as possible because the 1%/corporations still want to 'get theirs' (manifested perhaps in tax breaks or subsidies, or loosening regulations in an associated field/industry). The warped notion being that if each side doesn't get something they want (even if that same side has been given the primary fruits of past legislation for decades), then it's not compromise, and therefore not democratic.
The Free Market will Almost Fix Climate Change in Time
To get ahead of ourselves: Hooray!
Let's enjoy this while we can.
Somehow it's gotten through to enough energy industry investors (and they are primarily a small group of powerful people) that they won't make very much money if the whole planet becomes an overheated, flood and drought-ridden, natural resource-deprived shit-hole.
The free market is only interested in money, and if you look too far ahead, the money forecast looks blurry, so they figure it's best not to squint. Only look a few financial quarters and years ahead. You can see the prospective earnings better when you keep myopic and ignore upheavals and warnings of necessary change. Big corporations are inherently discouraged from looking long term. And climate change is always going to seem like a long term issue, even as its effects are being felt now (and have been felt for years).
So the decision to finally cut down on the coal and oil (mainly coal at the moment, they're going to still ride the oil train for many years to come) is a good sign, and it's heartening to hear that there might be money to be made if we keep working on stuff we have a lot of with less fewer drawbacks (like that big yellow thing in the sky).
Stereotypes In Art and Culture
They are inevitable due to the inherent flaws of narrative and characterization. For the sake of both, realistic portrayals of the passage of time, the odds of success and the complexities of human behaviour/psychology have to be drastically exaggerated and narrowed to the point where 'realistic' is no longer a possible descriptor.
The hero archetype is also a hero stereotype. The dashing male lead saving the damsel in distress is not designed to make women seem permanently helpless. It's how stories are told (which is not to say that the genders can't be flipped. Of course they can. But personality traits and narrative beats must be adhered to. The hero has to be shoehorned into a particular box, otherwise he or she won't be the hero).
Exaggeration for the sake of comedic effect because exaggeration/juxtaposition is at the heart of comedy.
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and Waylon Smithers are subject to jokes about the former's Indian background and the latter's sexual preference. Obviously it's preferred that positive stereotypes are presented (Apu is unfailingly polite and has a mindboggling work ethic), but positive stereotypes are still stereotypes. Saying 'all Indians work hard' is still errantly assuming that all people of a particular background act the same way.
The Simpsons is not trying to push any story of portrayal or agenda. At all. The point of the show is to entertain. Like all art and culture. But even if this the goal, do these portrayals reinforce stereotypes? Once again, we are asking how much art can influence culture, and if so, to what degree?
What's the meaning of life?
To make life better for the next generation.
It is a simple answer, but it can be a very difficult task.
To improve the world on a broad scale will require a goal that exists beyond the earth. Seeding human life on other planets. It's inspiring, apolitical, and - considering humanity is currently living an 'all our eggs in one basket' existence - practical, if we don't want to go extinct via asteroid, super solar flare, or environmental disaster.
(And there certainly can be disagreement and dissatisfaction with this answer, as it doesn't tell each individual person exactly what they should do with their lives. That's still up to them. They have to figure out the best way they can contribute to the goal of improving life for the next generation. Some people want the answer laid out for them, perfectly personalized).
A big philosophical question:
Why is there anything?
If we solve even more of science's big questions (solving all of them is probably an impossibility to our limited perception/intellect), we will never get a perfect answer as to understanding why there is something instead of nothing.
Why was there a Big Bang? Why was there not a Big Bang? Was one outcome more likely than the other?
Are we just another universe in a series of multiverses? What happens if you could 'zoom out' and see what all the multiverse together create? A cosmic super-molecule? That's part of one of the millions of molecules inside a colossal super-being that can manipulate it at will? And what is that 'colossal super being' made of? Colossal super molecule/multiverse/universes? And what if that's actually just one of the millions of molecules that make up fish in Lake Superior? (Which can suggest we're just part of this infinite, size-irrelevant super loop. But what's that part of?)
And why are there all those things? Why all those things instead of nothing?
Is Hollywood racist?
Yes, but incidentally. Just as it's incidentally sexist, homophobic, ignorant and insensitive to handicapped people, and ageist. Its primary goal is to make money, that's it, and it won't let any attitude or position get in the way.
Hollywood believes the best target demographic group to make the most money is young, white, straight males (whether this is true or not is certainly debatable, but Hollywood believes that this is true), and consequently caters practically everything with them in mind. And with box office records constantly being broken, this perception of who spends the money is not going to change very much anytime soon.
So what does this target group want? Check out what's in the multiplexes and the TV shows on premium cable and Netflix. Predominantly white male leads with attractive women helping out, fighting evil and keeping the apocalypse at bay.
It's a mirror to the money.
Steve Job's lionizations by the American media/public exemplifies one of the problems with the dominant American attitude/perception of modern times. Championing style over substance, ease of use over importance, and mythic simplicity over actual reality. All this addition to a personality better known for angry, belittling egoism than open-minded, patient generosity.
Who would be a better role model? His partner, the other Steve. Steve Wozniak. A friendly, eager computer programmer who actually did the work of developing and building the early Apple computer systems. He became an elementary school teacher for a while after becoming successful because he knew how important educating the youth is (most of his philanthropy is education based). He even helped design the universal remote.
One of the many problems with the uncertainty of ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence, the step above Artificial General Intelligence) is just how quickly after achieving this level of awareness and ability the entity will make the decision what to do with humanity. As in within seconds, it will compute our history, our current presence, our possible futures, and then make a decision and put whatever plan immediately into action. We won't have time to act, whether it's good or bad for us.
So if ASI is inevitable, as 98% of experts believe is the case, then we have to better pinpoint when the moment of hyper-sentience will be, because after it happens, our future is set.
While it's true we cannot be certain how an ASI will act (any more so than an ant or dog can understand how we act) in regards to humanity, I believe that maybe - just maybe - it will leave us alone. That 'meddling' with these lesser creatures (that would be us) is unhelpful and irrelevant in the grand scheme of the universe. If we have a 'planetary mindset', then it has a universal one, and would only intervene if our behaviour threatened the stability of the universe. Maybe it would watch over us. Maybe it would fulfill some people's notions of God.
But what if the ASI decides to get rid of humans, and decided that the best way (as in, least amount of possible rebellion) is some sort of Armageddon-like simulation/pageant? It creates - with its incredible power - the appearance of a holy war with actually messiahs, devils, and miracles, because so many people will accept this as the natural 'end' to humanity, and that there is an afterlife (because so many people already believe this). This makes humanity less likely to notice that it's the ASI orchestrating it all.
A False Equivalence
If A offers nine points/statistics supporting that increased regulation for massive corporations is good for the public and the overall strength of a nation's economy, but B offers a single point/statistic supporting less regulation, then B will never ever consider agreeing with A's position, even though the evidence is overwhelmingly pro-regulation.
If there is not 100% agreement on an issue, one position (and frequently positions are reduced to one or the other) will always be able to stall actual change on the issue, even if there is much less evidence to support that particular position.
If suffering was energy...
A higher-dimensional being could absorb and gain strength and nutrients from the terrible things that humans do to each other (through war, genocide, mass shootings, domestic abuse, etc.) because it 'gives off' some sort of immeasurable energy. And this higher-dimensional being could lightly manipulate us into certain situations to increase the amount of suffering. Probably the biggest 'hit' would be the complete eradication of the human race, but that would be a one-time thing with no follow up. So it must make sure suffering is a renewable resource, which ebbs and flows from moments of chaos (feast) to peace (famine) and back again. Starting wars, sending millions into poverty through changes in laws, storms that cause disasters, it's all done with thoughtless ease.
It's like when we try to make ants fight.
Here's a thought January 2016
For centuries, one of the easiest ways to bring people together was through the power of religion. Clearly what people may do once they are unified under this banner can be good or ill, and whether it's one or the other typically depends on the theology's definition of good and ill.
As we push and promote diversity and multiculturalism, we must acknowledge that while it is undoubtedly the morally right and socially beneficial position, it is not without its long term challenges.
A culturally homogeneous society has stronger and more extensive social bonds, which is advantageous when attempting to institute large scale policy reforms. Getting 'everyone on the same page' to fix a problem means the problem is solved much quicker. The task of making this connection is much more challenging when there are many social, cultural, racial and religious barriers to overcome.
Not at all an oxymoron, but it becomes harder to compartmentalize your spirituality when it is designed to dictate every aspect of your life. If your answer to philosophical/metaphysical questions ('why is there evil in the world?', 'what is the point of humanity?', 'what happens when you die?'), can be answered quickly and with finality that God is responsible, then there is always the concern that this orthodoxy can find its way into your frame of reference when dealing with scientific inquiry, where faith and acceptance without question are completely contrary to the point of its existence.
Islam is the Symptom, Not the Disease
The role that Islam plays across the Middle East is one of extreme social power and connection that is necessary for close knit communities because large scale institutions have failed them or been unable to reach them in the first place.
Religious orthodoxy and sectarian violence in Christian regions of the world were phased out extremely slowly (over centuries), and not without many setbacks. The straightforward and aptly named 'Wars of Religion' which swallowed up most of Europe in the first half of the 17th century was incredibly violent and set back scientific and social advances by many decades.
One of the reasons the American Founding Fathers excised as much religion as possible from the building blocks of the government was because they wanted to avoid any chance of religious violence occurring again (although Americans had no problem beating the shit out of first generation Mormons).
The French tripped up in their own revolution, by oversteering and actually closing the churches, which just provided resentment towards the new government from the masses. Complete removal from secular authorities of religion from society is stupid and fascist.
Life under fundamentalist Christianity is just as oppressive as under fundamentalist Islam, and our expectation for a predominantly agrarian society that is suffering through violent conflict to suddenly conform to Western social standards is too much. Does this mean we should simply throw up our hands and not bother to stay in contact with fundamentalist Islamic countries? Of course not (it would damn impossible even if that was the prevailing opinion). But we have to be patient. And patience includes having to acknowledge that terrible hardship and tragedy will still occur in these regions, and that religion will still play a hand in it.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a graph can be worth a thousand statistics. Google yourself a 'Wealth Map', which is a graph or map that shows the flow of wealth moving around like ocean or hot/cold air currents, specifically how so much of it is now swirling solely at the top (compare to how it use to move around more in the mid 20th century).
Our Random Access Memory
Since we don't have to remember such things as phone numbers or store hours or directions, do our brains simply get lazy, or do they instead focus on other things? And are these other things beneficial, or are there now just more opportunities to worry about trivial matters?
Our links to our technological devices are so consistent and integral that we can think of our hardware's memory as extensions of our own. And what do we fill it with? Like so many things, it depends on the person. The internet is that wonderfully/hideously democratic measuring device that can track page views extensively to understand users behaviour. It's just that most of it is much more celebrity-pop culture game focused rather than politics-economics-issues focused.
Chomsky vs. Grateful Dead
There's plenty of similarities between these left-wing, hippie legends. They both have a committed group of fans who will vociferously defend their hero(es) against critics. These same fans will seem them again and again, even though not much of 'setlist' changes these days, there's only slight difference at every concert/interview, depending on a new song/newsworthy event.
Long, droning same-sounding jams about lost love, mild criminal malfeasance, or American hegemony. While the Dead had/have 5 songs a set, Chomsky will have a 5 question an interview/'conversation with'.
The internet's future?
Just like how blockbuster video destroyed the local video store, and wal-mart destroyed pretty much everything, the move to apps from webpages is once again permitting a corporate takeover of the Internet (even if that was not wholly planned to be the goal). Apps need to be designed and promoted at a more technical and synergetic level to meet certain standards and reach a sizeable audience. A webpage in 1995 was easier to design by a single person than an app today (and an app has to meet more complicated tech specs to be available on online stores that sell them).
Maybe that's the first 'get off my lawn' sort of complaint about the Internet by the first generation of people who essentially grew up with it. We saw the transition from sending a text message through a computer to someone else in real time to watching graphics slowly download via 14.4K dialup modems to cable to napster to YouTube to Twitter to apps)
Apps and buzzfeed.
What we read on the internet now - in lists and quote-sized bits with the occasional paragraph to describe something really complex - is in the same parcel and package that America online and compuserve presented on their initial welcome screens And windows.
We've gone full circle. Apps for certain magazines and newspapers, all sorts of simple games, they were all offered in slower and less-graphically pleasing form twenty years ago.
AOL started losing out to straight up internet browser programs (Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Netscape) because they could offer a more versatile and detailed online experience (because anyone could design a website, from some guy to a company that doesn't want to exist in cyberspace in some sort of agreement with AOL).
Instead of nationalizing industries, why not 'charitize'? Maybe it simply becomes semantics, but if we view certain industries (or certain sections of industries) like energy, health care and sanitation as essential (the same way emergency services are considered essential and therefore are well-funded but are carefully monitored and regulated so it can continue to function properly), then we should be able to make sure that their proper functioning is more important than their quest for profit. And the easiest way to do this is to remove the profit motive.
Whatever the corporation/industry makes above its costs (and re-investment into research and development), it gives away to registered charities or government projects (rebuilding infrastructure, funding social programs).
And yes, just as what currently happens with taxes, corporations and wealthy individuals will do everything in their power to avoid paying more in taxes (and in this case, giving away profits to the new program), by hiding, transferring, renaming funds. Which is why a sizeable amount of initial funds received through the 'charitize' program will be used to set up an actually powerful regulatory and exploratory team/department that will seek out companies that try to avoid paying taxes/charitized funds and bring about heavy fines and penalties.
Running out of more?
Do we have to change capitalism before it eats us and then starves? things can't go up forever, and while people may acknowledge that, no one is willing to be on the hook for the loss. They will pass the buck (the loan, typically) in any way possible. Playing hot potato with the world economy. There is historical context for this. In America, for eight decades from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, there were recession tremors every generation or so, until the big one (Great Depression). Capitalism suffered a terrible stroke, and then policies were put in place during its rehab so it wouldn't come back and do the same damn thing.
But then we 'kind of forgot' about that, and since the 1980s we've let capitalism do what it did last time (lie, cheat and steal to accumulate more and more for a small group of people). History doesn't repeat itself, but the present does play a lot of cover versions of the past.
Capitalism benefitting the most amount of people in an economic region (let's not be so foolish as to limit it to only one particular country) is a step, not the end goal of the system. Theoretically, capitalism is a pyramid scheme. Every company/corporation/financial entity is designed to undercut and assimilate not only its competition, but smaller companies/corporations/financial entities which could possibly become their competition (or might be useful in defeating their actual competition). Ultimately there is going to be one company that completely oversees the entire market (or few companies working as one). When democracies lose the ability to rein in monopolies (as the western world - but especially America - in the last thirty years), power and wealth consolidates, and inequality increases.
There are enough major crises facing the world today (war, terrorism, large scale migration, rising inequality, economic stagnation, continued racial and social divisions, unsustainable materialism), that it's unfortunately easy to forget that the ultimate effects of climate change will mean there's no place to even try and solve these problems. Those other crises require a habitable planet to exist, just as much as the people dedicating to stopping them and make the world a better place require one. Climate change can completely throw civilization into upheaval.
It's the biggest problem on the game-board, because it IS the game-board.
Remembering the past
'The victors write the history books', 'nostalgia can ruin the future'.
How far in the past can we examine and judge particular events and situate them in the proper contemporary context to make the right decision for the future?
We can look at the Great Depression and its causes, and even if there are many similarities to the Great Recession, it's necessary for a sizeable segment of the populace (or an influential segment with considerable wealth and power) to understand the similarities and act accordingly if they wish to avoid another economic disaster.
Anecdotes are helpful to offer personal experiences of the past, and can draw people and inspire them to learn more about history, but it is no replacement for more objective facts and statistics.
The founding fathers said we were all created equal and then treated everyone differently (you had considerably less rights if you were not a land-owning (wealthy) white male).
What if we admit that everyone is different but treat everyone equally? What does that really mean, and what can that possibly look like for society? It suggests that there needs to be a sea change in successive generations to make this ‘a beyond legally enforced' perspective. That this will simply be a way that people naturally behave and approach the world around them.
Beyond the obvious and terrible effects of gun violence, it's rapid increase of occurrences has the less acknowledged effect of splintering communities by keeping people indoors, and by having public events much more heavily monitored and allowed only through bureaucratic channels.
The result of this: fewer people going outside and socializing. We can decry that the prevalence of the online world is keeping people glued to their phones/tablets/tv's, but when people find themselves choosing to live primarily through virtual spaces because the physical space is considered too dangerous, that is another form of forced isolation that can lead to more problems (it is through meeting people that we grow sympathy, empathy, and understanding for our fellow men and women).
I don't believe that utopia is possible. Regardless of what achievements humanity might accomplish in the future (overcoming environmental issues, eliminating poverty, advancing our technology to be able to travel and live in space). There is no way to prevent the basic, animalistic urge to assert power and influence over others.
While in the past it was much more direct and brutal (to be a king, or a wealthy landowner), it exists today in a form that is mainly economic. The corporate world at large owns a vast majority of the power and value that exists in the world, and with it can control large swaths of the planet's entire population. Even if wealth is abolished and materialism is scoffed at, the fact that we have a physical body means its needs and failures can become a touchstone for division between others, which can escalate to terrible problems.
Global Warming Deniers
I can understand how it's possible for someone to strongly disagree with the existence of climate change, especially if their livelihood depends on strongly disagreeing with it.
Your life, your career, your industry is not only in danger of being shut down, but is subject to vilification. And in addition to the importance of getting the paycheck in order to live your life, if you enjoy and/or are proud of your work, you want to defend it's importance to society (which is really what complicates the problem. The energy industry is obviously extremely important to how we live our lives, so it's easy to defend in that regard).
And the more time you've spent in these industries, the more you depend it because it has become a huge part of your life, and you don't want to suddenly confront the fact that how you spent your life - your career - was actually causing great harm to the planet and all the people living on it, including your children.
Regarding the Iraqi War (namely after acknowledging that the military force that invaded involved a fraction of the amount of troops recommended by Shinseki ): It's one thing to do the wrong thing, it's another thing to do the wrong thing on the cheap. If you're about to go to war for unverified and questionable reasons, you'd think you would want to completely overcompensate in terms of making sure it went as simple and straightforward as possible so fewer people would bring up that it was a terrible idea in the first place. More men, more stability and security, more sensible long term planning.
The fact that this did not happen just further proves the ineptness of the war's planners. The ramifications of these initial mistakes are still being felt today, with instability in the Middle East running rampant.
Permanently Inclement Weather
We will become more accustomed that for certain times of the year in certain regions, the weather will be so deleterious to 'business as usual', that it will be considered a liability in many senses to live there year round. For eight months, no problem, but for the four month period of intense rain/flooding, storms, drought, tidal waves, etc., many people leave and businesses shut down. A sort of hibernation.
For many years certain regions went into downtime because of cold weather (anything hunted for in the tundra), or because the resource was seasonal (fishing). Now it's going to happen in regions that seemed quite average and dependable (drought-laden California (and Australia), areas around the Mississippi River due to flooding and storms).
The Baby Boomers and Gen-X-ers were born into a primarily working lower/middle class that was just beginning to see economic opportunity simply explode.
When these two groups grew up and began to find careers they fell quite easily into the middle and upper middle class, and they expected the same for their children.
But through some very convoluted legislating and global developments, this has not happened. Western society has changed how it operates. A level of extremely large corporate influence (whose operation is controlled by a very small group of people) has warped the role that government must play. For the baby boomers and gen-X-ers, the government had a much strong social support and regulatory system that helped strengthen the middle class. Those facets no longer exist today.
If complexity is the primary antagonist to an improved, more egalitarian society, what is the solution? Simplicity seems like the obvious answer, but how do you go from complex to simple? It's a much bigger issue than, say, going from a large car with dozens of features to a smaller one with only the basic necessities.
Diversity of all sorts requires laws and statutes that fit very specific situations. To make a simpler legal system, you need simpler laws, but that might mean a lot of people would have to change how they live their lives, or go without certain legal protection.
The Grey Market
If the black market is the trading of illegal or stolen goods for profit, then the grey market can be considered the giving away of stolen goods for no profit at all. Why give it away? Protest against the rightful owners, an ethics system that dismisses the notion of copyright, wanting to be liked by others (even if this justification of whoever is giving the product(s) away seems altruistic, that activity is linked to a pleasurable sensation in the brain).
These products are mainly arts/cultural, and almost exclusively digital. Anything else that has a physical presence requires a lot more effort to create, steal, and re-sell, and the people involved in this have to be paid for their actions.
Stealing a collection of ones and zeroes is much, much, much easier. And consequently it barely feels like stealing. In fact, since it's been happening for nearly twenty years, there's an entire generation where so much of music, movies and TV is as close to free as you can get (if Netflix was difficult to use, or cost a bit more, people would find other ways to watch all the content in some other fashion, and not pay for it).
The current economic situation for people under thirty is a major factor to this situation. If you can't even begin to save money to pay off student loans, or save up for a mortgage or any long-term goals, then certainly you're going to be pinching pennies for your entertainment.
Art and culture (especially pop culture) are both valuable and worthless at the same time. It is in the Grey Market.
Political Correctness Vs. Censorship
If one person is offended by public policy or the actions of a private company or individual, is that enough for the policy/company/individual to be forced to change? If two people are offended? A hundred? Ten thousand?
A students group at the University of Ottawa objected to the teaching of yoga on campus because to them it signified cultural appropriation: ().
For people who are upset/offended by jokes, and say that it is pushing an unfair stereotype of (or insulting) a certain group.
Response: Do you think there should only be positive portrayals of all people in art/media?
If yes: Then it is a hideous misrepresentation of life, with no space for so many forms of expression.
If no: Then who will be the one to decide what is a positive portrayal and a negative portrayal? You? A group? How is this group chosen?
Here's a Thought - Summer 2015
As corporations become more and more powerful and are no longer constrained, restrained or held accountable by nations, we can longer see ourselves as citizens of 'only' the nation which we live in and participate politically as we have in the past. Regardless of where you vote, and the ramifications of your ballot, your true influence (however slight) in global/domestic affairs (and the line between them is blurring to a greater degree every year) is your spending habits and financial plans. So much of what you buy is manufactured in small segments across the globe. You decided the working conditions and economic climate in southeast Asia when you buy electronics and clothes. When you save money by purchasing a shirt at H&M, you are making a statement not only about fashion, but your values concerning how the clothes are made.
And it's ignorant and dismissive to say that sweatshops and slave-like assembly lines are somebody else's problem. It's fleeing from responsibility in an extremely interconnected world, where your jeans can determine the quality of life for people in Bangladesh.
The good (relatively cheap products) and the bad (they're cheap because of hideous exploitation and concentrated profits) of globalization is rationalized in a myriad of cold and impersonal ways, which once again re-affirms how capitalist/corporate values have become 'our' values. Luddite is typically a term for people who reject the advancement of technology, largely in part to its dehumanizing elements. Perhaps an 'economic luddite' might become a more popular term in years to come.
Gas prices will determine the future of the automobile. Carpooling will become commonplace if economic conditions persist, and suddenly two or three houses are sharing a car, for commuting and for shopping. This will affect the suburbs first, where distance between destinations means you need a car and also can barely afford it. On the plus side, it's a good way to really get to know your neighbours.
How much can we look to the past as guidance for contemporary changes?
Adapting policies from the 1930s and 1940s (which ushered in a middle class golden age) can only do so much in the early 21st century.
Can central tenets and laws of the economic policy instituted in the wake of the Great Depression, and later, in the wake of World War II, ever be reapplied to modern times?
Were the conditions so much dire back then, which required a sort of 'desperate times call for desperate measures'? (which in that case, meant re-writing much of financial, corporate and tax law) Have we not yet hit rock bottom? (clearly not, but we might be close, as many statistics about tax policy, inequality, and wall street irresponsibility, are similar to those of the 1920s)
Can we solve large scale problems facing civilization easier when inequality is low? It's a matter of whether everyone working together and having their say (lower inequality) is more effective than a handful of people running everything and delegating tasks (higher inequality). And perhaps this is even reductionist, since even in a situation of lower inequality, there still has to be experts in positions of greater power to oversee the solution(s).
There is also the matter of what the large scale problem actually is. A national domestic infrastructure challenges can be addressed with changes to taxes and budgeting within the government, but global resource management has so many more facets and considerations, with every nation having to play a distinct and relative role.
USE IT OR LOSE IT
Whether it be a PR budget at a big corporation, or the latest military technology, if you don't use the money/resources that you requested or were given, you might not get the same thing next year (or financial period). In fact, you'll probably get less.
'Saving money' one year might get you a pat on the back, but the people with the money will start to expect you to do it under budget every year. And while that's good in one sense (less money wasted), it can also have the effect of cutting jobs and supplies.
On a larger scale, militaries are put in a position where if you are presented with the opportunity to use the latest communication monitoring technology, you are going to use it in fear that your competition/opposition might be using it first and to a greater advantage.
Hence the NSA scandal.
The constant and violent instability in the Middle East means there is a steady stream of weapons technology required there. Some of the largest 'weapons conventions' take place in Dubai, the UAE playing a wealthy enclave surrounded by death and destruction. When you shut out the morality aspect (which plenty of businesses do), it's easier to keep that revenue stream flowing.
'Formula absorption' is when a quirky bit of something (nice and vague there, because it can be almost anything) becomes so popular that its replicated and mimicked to the point where it's uniqueness and originality is sucked dry and we all roll our eyes at it instead of nodding in appreciation.
The latest victim of formula absorption: Thirty seconds of clever dialogue that a bits of depth to the character and a slight narrative bump that might be a helpful callback later on.
(someone with more energy and action-movie obsessiveness than ourselves should compile a montage of all the shots of guns being knocked out of the hero or villain's hand and tumbling into a corner or sliding across the floor)
Lamenting the quality of pop culture is a fish-in-barrel type exercise, but it ignores the underlying fact that this is what the majority of people are satisfied with.
But they could have so much more, says the music snob/cinephile/New York Review of Books reader, why settle for 'just being satisfied', when there's culture out there than enthrals, amazes, challenges, and - dare we say it - even educates?
Because pop culture exists outside of those requirements ('pop' meaning popular). Money talks, and thank god that at least in the entertainment industry it doesn't directly contribute to making the general public's lives shittier (see: politics, resource industry). Although some people who watch a lot of films and listen to a lot of music will say that it makes movies and music shittier.
But a lot of people don't watch enough films to be bored with the same superhero archetype, or listen to enough music to be sick of cookie cutter Top 40 music.
ACTION BRONSON AND NXNE (old news, but meh, two cents is two cents)
I'm going to steer one way and then the other on this issue.
Action Bronson does not practice hate speech.
He's a performer. He's an artist. He's as guilty of hate speech as Schwarzenegger is of murder. His real name Ariyan Arslani. He's a fat white pothead from New York City who loves cooking.
Are his lyrics misogynistic, violent and offensive?
Yes, but he's not spouting these words from a podium or handing out pamphlets on a street corner.
It's art, and it has to be judged that way. The same accusations have been levied against James Joyce, William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Carlin (surprised I'm grouping a rapper with these literary and comedic greats? Burrough's Naked Lunch has scenes of girls and boys hanging each other from the gallows and then eating each other's genitals. And aliens drinking their sexual fluids).
Wanting to prevent Action Bronson from performing because you find his lyrics distasteful is censorship. I dislike pro-life supporters comparing abortion to the holocaust, but they have the right to do so.
But Action Bronson playing at Yonge Dundas Square is a bad idea.
The location of the concert is a real shithole. It's like standing (and for the artist, performing) in a giant advertisement.
It's free and it's across the street from the Eaton Centre.
It's tourist central. It's a place people go to orient themselves, not to go see a concert.
A lot of confused walk-ins in the late evening.
It's our Times Square. And I don't think anyone is going to let Action Bronson play there, either, for pretty much the same reason.
Hell, Swans played there last year. And if hardcore rap is a bad idea for this venue, so is thunderous drone rock (also: Swans have plenty of lyrics about religion, slavery, control and helplessness, but no one seems to have any problem with that).
Context is everything. Offensive language presented by a performance artist is different than offensive language is presented behind a podium or typed out for all the world to see. Just as a the performance artist holding a concert in a public square is different than the performance artist holding a concert in a club or theatre full of fans.
Free Market Capitalism is perfect if the world was run by robot/AI.
It is a system without emotion, without basic concepts of human behaviour.
It runs like a clock, with each piece working in perfect, predicted harmony.
It has calculated randomness (oxymoronic).
And it would be great if it worked, but imperfect people populate this planet. And while the rules may be perfect (or iron-clad and incontestable), the people who utilize them are not.
We are all susceptible to flaws like greed, ignorance, short-sightedness, lack of proper information, fear, panic, confusion, and all sort of temporary and physical maladies that can impair every sort of decision. And in an extremely concentrated and poorly regulated area of power (in this case, finance), the ramifications for this supposedly elegant and straightforward economic theory run by people (and their limitations) can be disastrous.
We need to acknowledges the central differences between the rules that are based on 'if we were perfect' and the rules that are based on 'because we're not perfect'
The manageable band-aid solution for entrenched democracy.
You don't vote for one candidate, but simply rank them from who you support most to the least, and each candidate gets a certain amount of points per pick.
Polarizing candidates might rank up a handful of firsts and a ton of lasts and close-to-lasts. Candidates that might sensibly understand the importance of compromise and diplomacy might ride a majority of second and third choices to victory.
Fewer people will be as disappointed as they usually are in a first-past-the-post electoral system, and the winning candidates will be forced to build a coalition that truly represents how the votes were cast (helping lower the importance of lobbying and money raised in campaigns).
Not that it's going to usher in a utopia by any stretch of the imagination. Everything will crash and burn eventually (as our current political system seems to be teetering upon the edge), and a new system rises from the ashes.
Ranked ballots will work well enough to enact policy changes, until they are co-opted by entrenched and power-motivated institutions in the not-so-near future (perhaps modelled on the Chinese government's plan of picking the candidates for the representatives of Hong Kong)
Until then, ranked balloting would be an extremely effective way of ensuring elections represented the will of the people and not the will of chiefly the wealthy and the corporations they own.
SELLING OUT SELLS OUT
It hasn't always been about the money, but it usually has.
Having your music played in a TV show or movie?
Acceptable (even laudable, as long as it's a good, hip one)
Having your music played in an ad?
Now it's a sound business decision. Even Minor Threat is okay with its t-shirts being sold at major retailers.
Besides, we the public did it first.
We sold out on 'buying'.
Now there can a wonderful and accurate laundry list of reasons why paying for art and entertainment in the early 21st century is more difficult than in the past half century (terrible economic conditions, shrinking of the middle class, underemployment for debt-ridden millennials, the ease of stealing/borrowing/streaming whatever you want to call it). But that's still no golden super-excuse to steal music, TV, and movies.
Rationalizing theft only because no one is chasing you through your home after you torrented three episodes of True Detective.
Radiohead's 2007 Pay-What-You-Want release of In Rainbows ('I see you coming!') (un)intentionally asked 'what is music worth?'
But the question is close related to, 'what is the musician worth?'
What are the roles/careers/jobs we play in society worth?
Hell, if we stick with the traditional definition of 'selling out' - that is, going back on or contradicting one's principles for financial gain or any sort of power or pleasure - then are we all guilty of it by focussing so much of our attention on culture and not enough on the issues concerning civilization?
I'd like to think that a vast majority believe we try to do what is right and responsible most of the time in our daily lives, but our blindspots are huge. From not paying for the music we listen to on our phones, to 'barely paying' the people on the other side of the planet who build our phones.
THE LIKELY SOLUTION:
Things have value because they are difficult to get (difficult in a relative sense. 'Having to pay for it' can be considered difficult here). Since acquiring/stealing things in digital form is so easy, the way around it is essentially including the intended price for these items in the product people have no choice but to pay for - internet service fees - or sit through - online advertising. The former will be much more effective. Suddenly your ISP will jack up the price to 'include' all the data (and type of data) your downloading. It's rather similar how small independent coffee shops have to pay an annual stipend to play whatever music they want. The consequence of this is that suddenly artists and content creators are now employees of Internet Service Providers, who coldly dole out dollars and cents (most likely cents) for every sort of download of said creator's material.
'Better than nothing' is hardly an inspiring ethos (and certainly a depressing business strategy), but it's a step above being shown your place at a car assembly line in 1911 and told you're going to be doing that exact same ratchet turn for the next forty years.
The Challenge of relying on the masses for social change
-it's hard to organize many people into one unified voice or action (and at a time when money is the most powerful tool to either give or withhold, even donations in one specific area - or boycotts in another - are difficult to undertake)
-concentrated power is much more easier to utilize, so it seems that the better way for social change is to convince/influence those with those power to take the steps to better and improve society. In some very superficial ways, this looks like asking the upper class to 'take responsibility' for the lower classes, which is not a fair assessment at all. It's slightly 'helping people who can't help themselves', but that also suggests an innate division between those with wealth and those without. And it's not so simple, obviously. So many conditions and factors must be considered (background, culture, geography, life experiences) when we look at the reasons for and effects of spreading the wealth.
Guns Germs and Steel's argument, reduced to video games:
You're playing a multiplayer deathmatch in Battlefield with teams of equal rank and ability. Every team starts only with pistols, every team starts off in more or less the same spot (but obviously not right beside each other), and each one begins to fan out through the large map. One team stumbles across a cache of rocket launchers, sniper rifles and med packs. Other teams only find the odd grenade or assault rifle. Who's going to win?
Everyone started in sub-saharan Africa, fanned out through the globe. Those that 'stumbled across' the fertile crescent in Southwest Asia - and the adjacent region of southeastern Europe, with similar conditions - got useful crops that could be grown and farmed (comparatively) easily, and animals that could domesticated (comparatively) easily. Everyone else got a couple nuts and the odd bison or dog. Who's going to 'win'?
Your Country's Being Taken From You?
Foolish thinking. You never had your country. It was always on a carefully crafted loan from economic forces that sit high above the actions of all humanity, because humanity cannot be trusted. Yes, there are aberrations such as inequality and war, but they always have existed, and they always will. They are large scale manifestations of our own flaws and fallibilities.
That you are 'losing' something is built in the mistaken thinking that you 'had' something. A strong middle class is an anomaly, not a norm. It occurred in the West thanks to the terrible events of the Great Depression and World War II, coupled with the need to fight the 'other' ideology in the Cold War. The baby boomers who were given this gift thought it as their cradle-to-grave birthright, and only now are they shaking their fists that things have changed (even as it was their eventual middle-age complacency that helped usher in this state of neoliberal free market capitalism).
To have a consistently strong middle class (outside of the unusual conditions mentioned above) requires a citizenry with a much more critical awareness and constant participation in democracy.
There seems to be only two forms of AI (at least depicted in culture, and debated in society): Benign and Malign. But what of the option (slightly explored in Her and Ex Machina - with both characters being women) that any robot that achieves a human level of sentience won't be on it for very long before surpassing it?
And instead of looking down and seeing humanity imperfect and therefore requiring destruction, what if it just ignores us? What if it sees as the stepping stone necessary for its own existence and nothing more, and leaves us to our own devices? Once the concept of 'the body' become outdated (which might be extremely quick for an entity that can essentially exist in the form of electrical signals), it doesn't require the same basic needs as humanity and therefore has no actually need for very much on or from planet earth.
In fact, it's only bit of aggression might be against anyone threatening it (a software designer trying to shut it down, a guard/soldier trying to shoot it's 'current' physical manifestation).
Maybe the safest advice for dealing with an AI is simply, 'leave it alone, and it'll go away'.
Here's a Thought - Jan 2015
2 Thoughts About Video Games
An interesting analogy regarding the challenge of trying to conceive other/multiple dimensions:
Imaging falling into the video game of another universe?
You think you are slowly beginning to understand the rules and concepts, but really there is an entire series of much larger and more complicated rules and concepts that you can't really experience. You can only experience a 'simulation' of what it's like to exist the actual 'other universe'.
Are video games' increasing immersive-ness and popularity going to be a concern to the future of widespread sociopolitical participation?
Were the forms of leisure we had in the past more social and less time/energy consuming, which allowed for other incidental but helpful behaviours (meeting people face to face from different backgrounds and discussing small talk and issues) to flourish? Or is this just a 'get off my lawn' type concern, and that there was only limited social mobility and assimilation back then? Perhaps video games have replaced one set of beneficial qualities with another (more intricate problem solving skills, speaking over mics is not that much different than speaking face to face, and you can meet people from across the world, not just across the street).
The Drunken Devil's Advocate Questions
If the West has it's tentacles all over the Middle East - resulting in the death and subjugation of millions in several different countries - how shocked can we be that there is a violent push against Western ideals in the name of Islam (the most stable institution of any sort in that region), both in the Middle East and the Middle Eastern diaspora West?
How responsible is an individual in a democratic nation when the country - through it's military/intelligence arm - engages in activities that the individual disagrees with? How responsible is an individual in a democratic nation when the country willfully misleads or suppresses information regarding how and why they are engaging in activities that the individual disagrees with?
The world has shrunk and shattered in a way that you can be a radicalized religious/political extremist in any nation, regardless if you were born, naturalized, or immigrated there.
The Oscars: The Super Bowl of Mulholland Drive
We've already gotten used to election campaigns being treated like a sports season (where strategy is talked about more than substance and style), and now it's the Oscars’ turn:
Forget the quality of the film (or the policies of the candidate), look at the terrible decisions about its release, how it tried to attract critical attention, and let's all shake our heads at the negative buzz it received from a semi-relevant person (and how the producers failed to anticipate or co-opt them). Obviously awards season in Hollywood has a lot to do with marketing (thank you very fucking much, Harvey Weinstein), but this feels like the first year where the PR is getting its own analysis.
To quote from the article link above:
"Had it opened six weeks before it did, I think we might well be looking at six nominations instead of two."
Can an Oscar for marketing be far behind? The nominees could be a mix of critically panned films that still made a shitload of money, and feel-good-inspirational-paint-by-number phone-in flicks that fooled enough critics and audiences into thinking it was something unique and groundbreaking.
Regardless of how you feel about awards shows in general (a celebration of art, a celebrity wank-off, or post-capitalist indulgence for all the world to see), we can all agree that taking them more seriously than the movies they’re giving awards to is putting a cart before the cart before the horse.
When both sides of a dispute are at fault to some degree for the unfortunate situation they find themselves in, it is the one with more power who should shoulder more blame, or a heavier punishment, as they are the ones who should have more responsibility in exchange for said power.
Power is a vessel in which we can't help but dump our insecurities and weaknesses in. If we can rise above our worst inclinations when operating with institutions meant to advance humanity forward, then our abilities are limitless.
Can this be any institution or system? Would utopia look more like capitalism or socialism?
But the above questions are render moot when we acknowledge that we cannot perfectly install a pure 'anything' ideology, whether it be communism or capitalism (or democracy, or fascism).
Perfect conditions do not exist off paper. Examples:
An uninformed populace in democracy, a rebellious underground faction in a fascist country. A capitalist country that requires the government to intervene when financial disaster strikes (price controls, adjusting interest rates). A country with a proud socialist traditions allowing private ownership.
And we can't really do this (randomness in the universe means we cannot control everything, and that inability filters down into preparing for the unknown, having to suffer through unstoppable tragedy), but we can certainly do better than we are now.
Breathing versus Progress
We've always looked at civilization and humanity as structures that progress, that is, they get better and more improved as time goes on. And while this can be said for technology (a frequent bell-weather for our pace), perhaps it's time to re-think the label of 'progress' as the one that best defines our move from the present into the future.
'Ecosystem' may be more appropriate, as it is much more fragile than 'progress'. Certainly less linear of an idea and one that suggests less of constantly improving, and instead posits the idea of advances and retreats, of incredible discoveries and devastating setbacks, that can threaten the very existence of civilization.
Perhaps a lung would be the most blatant analogy. The breathing in and out suggests times of stability and order being inhaled for a time, only to ultimately be replaced by the exhaling of confusion and chaos.
This can be seen in terms of resources, inequality, military superiority, etc.
Power is fleeting. Energy is always transferred.
A practical, contemporary example would be three decades of neo-liberalist economic policy that has governed Western nations (and therefore almost all the world as well). It’s effects have weakened the purchasing power of the middle and lower class, whereas corporations and the upper class that runs and owns them have increased and concentrated theirs.
For the good of the majority of citizens across the globe, it is high time for a gradual and regulated redistribution of this wealth via economic reforms (increased taxation, closure of tax loopholes and off-shore havens, greater regulation for corporations and financial institutions). Not as a permanent, entrenched policy, but one that will wax and wane and change once again in several decades’ time.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Who Would Enter an Art Installation that has a 10% Chance of Killing You?
Inside a normal looking room with above average paintings from renowned late 20th century American painters. As you enter a machine in the doorway fires a minuscule dart into your neck. For every ten people that enter, nine darts will contain harmless Iv fluid. The tenth will fire a fatal dose of morphine/cyanide/something that will kill the person in the next two minutes as they look at the paintings in the room.
Who would enter such a room?
Man Vs. [Insert Here]
The most basic is man vs. nature, where you simply to have eke out your own existence from your environment.
It was found that you could tame nature easier when you weren't alone, when you lived and hunted in groups, but that quickly introduced man vs. man, which comes in many sizes and can be terribly destructive.
The safest and most stable (at least as far as people who aren't you are concerned) is man vs. self, which is more cerebral and can range from suppressing desire and juggling guilt, to addressing philosophical questions about one's place in the world. This third form can exist in an almost indulgent form when the other two forms are at least temporarily tamed/ended.
HOW FREE IS YOUR INTERNET?
The 21st century measure of freedom: What is your government letting you access? How much access in the hands of corporations, and what are they letting you access? Can you be a piece of shit troll without getting arrested?
It gets wrapped up in legalities quite quickly (and in cases involving some of the worst of humanity - such as child pornography - it's certainly appropriate that the law gets involved as soon as possible). Hate speech, however, is that difficult middle ground, because words and thoughts should never be penalized. But how much can inciting people to violent and bigoted action through words be monitored and censured by the state? It differs from nation to nation. You can pretty much hand out as many offensive pamphlets as you want in America. But in France you can be arrested and charged for hate speech for anti-semetic tweet.
The internet has given us the opportunity for any sort of message (or meme) diffused across the whole planet practically instantaneously. Whether it’s cat memes, terrorist recruitment videos, or what some uneducated asshole thinks about the immigrants living next door. ‘We’re all connected’ means the good and the bad.
And while TV allowed us to be entertained all alone in our houses, the internet has allowed us to be entertained all alone no matter where we are.
(and that sounds all clever and a clichéd 'pining for the good ol' days, but the same criticisms have been argued against any new aspects of culture or technology that's been introduced, from the printing press to the novel to radio, etc.)
A Word on Duty
'Above and beyond the call of duty' is a term usually reserved for someone getting an award, but really, your duty as a responsible and conscientious citizen should not be award-worthy. It should be expected. Every act should be one done to the best of your ability, whether you’re an actor or a firefighter, having to recognize the obvious and expected be damned.
Duty above all. A responsible citizenry is the most powerful societal bond. And there's still wiggle-room for those who don't believe in sheer altruism. Expecting everyone to 'do their duty' benefits the community and therefore everyone in it. Someone who pushes constantly for the 'good of community' is getting something out of it because they are part of the community.
You should believe in god because it is the truth, not because you want something from ‘him’.
Who cares how you would like to be remembered after you’re dead? You’ll be dead, you won’t care. And if there is an afterlife, whether you’re in heaven, hell, or some other place, you’ll probably be too preoccupied with whatever’s happening there rather than whether people are thinking highly of your exploits on earth.
Wanting to live forever through your deeds is selfish. The important thing is that the good deeds were done, not who did them. Virtues should be praised over the virtuous.
The world’s not going to end. It’s just going to get shittier. And not even in an epic, revelatory way. It’s going to be extremely mundane, because it’s going to resemble what’s happening for decades now. Millions in the developing world will continue to die from situations that the developed world no longer has to concern themselves about (disease, starvation, violent political instability), and millions in the developed world will live in an ever-widening underclass society, exhausted, overworked, with increasingly less to call their own.
“If god did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” – Voltaire
What if we applied this to scientific theory, in the postmodernist metanarrative sense, where the push for a final/ultimate answer via complexity, is the (inadvertent) push for disorder?
Quantum physics is complicated, but it has continuously become more complex, never getting simpler as civilization has progressed forward.
Obviously the multitude of practical discoveries borne out of scientific advancement lends credence to its worth and usefulness, but this in some ways is incidental to its true goal: understanding the how and why of physical reality.
“We don’t know why god does what he does”, is the most basic and reductionist explanation for reality. And as civilization has become more complicated, so has our explanations (feel free to google ‘standard model equation’ which is the closest thing there is to the recipe of the universe).
Freedom? You are free to live an unhealthy lifestyle (obesity, legal addictions like coffee, prescription pills, cigarettes) and be ignorant of the greater issues concerning your nation and the world but you are not free from the ramifications of this lifestyle and ignorance. And neither are other citizens who are trying to keep their own lives and their own communities in order. It is almost impossible to live outside of modern civilization (a couple Amazonian tribes might be the closest), and that means everything and anything can affect everything else (butterfly flaps its wings…). And is that freedom? When every action you have comes with a consequence you cannot necessarily understand? Is freedom shrugging off any sort of responsibility and saying ‘fuck it’? Certainly the laws of a community/nation crush any notion of true freedom.
The conclusions of science and religion are both pretty ridiculous, but science gets results.
If it seems kind of inconceivable and paradoxical that god can be three separate entities (god, jesus, the holy spirit), just think about how light can be a particle and wave, or how one particle can exist as two particles for a brief moment, going through two slits at the same time.
If it’s maddening that when questioning a particularly ardent religious fellow, the answers seem to become more and more abstract, getting deeper and deeper into a philosophically/theologically unknowable terrain (example: what was before god, is god all-knowing, why does it not intervene), just think about how smaller and smaller bits of matter get seemingly to no end – atoms to neutrons to photons to gluons to quarks... – and how many special brand new laws and interactions had to be created to accommodate all these loose ends.
What’s in a name?
Using ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is typically too formal for casual conversation or offhand remarks, but at least the two are on equal footing. What I mean is that the more informal you go, the terms that typically go together to refer to gender don’t harmonize that well. For instance, ‘guy’ is the go to informal reference to a man (‘what’s up with that guy?’ ‘you’re a good guy, Joey-Joe-Joe’), but there is not one that is so universal for a woman. ‘Men and woman’ is a pairing. What pairs with ‘Guy’? ‘Gal’ comes of pretty old fashioned, and ‘girl’ can sound kind of iffy in certain circumstances, ‘wow, that girl’s hot’ can have unwanted Lolita-like overtones, even if you’re referring to someone who is clearly an adult. Devolving further, we can get ‘dude’ on the male side, but what’s on the female (skipping the Ninja Turtle created ‘dudette’)? Nothing really but superficial patriarchal pandering: Babe, chick, honey, baby. Going more formal is no problem: Sir goes with Ma’am, Gentleman with Lady.
Good Music is Hard to Find
With internet collapsing a lot of culture in a big pile of semi-free mush, it’s simultaneously easier and harder to find good music nowadays. Even the people we expect to offer insight and suggestion – critics (although everyone’s one these days) – can’t get to all the music being made. Some music therefore has become critic-free, in that it’s never been reviewed, so you might have just stumbled across it if you have the time to kill on bandcamp, soundcloud, rateyourmusic, or any other endless digital warehouse of garageband-recorded hopefuls.
But critic-free music can never be too popular. Once any bit of momentum and word of mouth (word of tweet? Word of facebook post?) begins, the typical marketing phase begins. And of course, typical today doesn’t mean record label contract (barely anything does anymore). Maybe a Pitchfork profile, a couple festival gigs, and if the artist is lucky, licensing for a film or TV (an ad, too, might be the sweetest, semi-sellout plum). The pool of contestants has widened, and the prizes thinned.
Here’s a Thought – July 2014
(mind grapes! (thank you, 30 Rock))
The Greatest Sequel of All Time:
Grantland had whittled it down to either The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back.
The former is the continuing saga of the Corleone crime family, told with impeccable style and grace, with classic performances by pretty much everybody.
The latter is the continuing safa of the Rebels fighting the Galactic Empire, told with impeccable style and grace, with classic performances by pretty much everybody.
Godfather II is art.
Empire is pop art.
For society to function:
The importance of access to the law is imperative, whether regarding criminal or civil issues. A person who can afford expensive lawyers and legal teams will have many more opportunities and advantages if they happen to be convicted of a crime, but also in more mundane – but still very important – legal matters such as influencing the passage and revoking of laws that you believe can affect the industry you work in. You have greater access to the intricacies of the government’s tax code, meaning you have a better chance at getting extremely high rates of deductions.
A grouping of these comparatively few wealthy citizens can have create dire (if unintended) consequences for the majority of a society’s citizens. Lemming-like corporate behaviour, oblivious to almost all the damage it could do, focusing exclusively on per quarter profits that allows them considerable bonuses.
Once you concede that a large segment of the populace will routinely vote against their interest or continually act in a way that is detrimental to the community’s and their own well being, does democracy suddenly begin to break down? Can we no longer be content with the idea that the majority knows best? And if so, how do we decide who is the right segment of people to act on behalf of the people’s benefit? How does that not slide into polyarchy, oligarchy, and fascism?
The 21st century demands that large institutions and structures be able to adapt to massive changes in how they operate quickly and efficiently. Some countries have laws and regulations that are much more malleable than others.
The United States – despite having an amendable constitution – has not been able to provide its citizens and the world a system of governance that can face modern day challenges – both external and internal – and everyone suffers for it.
Certainly restraint and prudence has to be part of the legislation process, but it is not too much to say that the current system in place is a morass of obscure processes and unrepresentative voting
Translating Fukuyama’s ‘The Future of History’:
Commies suck, unions suck, the welfare state sucks, but the much-needed middle class is disappearing because the upper 1% is robbing us all blind and since they have all the power democratic governments don’t seem to help out much right about now, so there needs to be left-wing movement of sorts that’s not too left-wing because I don’t like that sort of thing, and therefore can’t and won’t imagine what it would look like.
Fukuyama in ‘End of History’: I’m disappointed in the left for sucking, and am glad it’s weak
Fukuyama in ‘Future of History: I’m disappointed in the left for sucking, but wish it would come back, because my side over steered
Of all things to keep out of it, why would god allow people to die for the wrong conception of itself? And I do not pose this question to god (obviously), but to anyone who believes their creed is the correct one. Why do so many people believe differently? Is it an oversight? Is it intentional, that some are sadly never going to be saved? How can that be? How can something like geography – for certainly someone born in the West would be more likely to be raised Christian and follow it, just as someone born in the Middle East would be more likely to be raised Muslim and follow it – be the bellwether for supposed salvation?
Never discount the power of laziness (as the saying goes, ‘laziness – as opposed to necessity –is the mother of invention’). I think one of the reasons we’ve struggled to eliminate ‘man’ as the most basic term for a person – even though it ignores half the human race – is that it’s only one syllable. It’s easier to say instead of ‘person’, or ‘human’.
-Killswitch Industries. Corporations break down or become bloated. At Killswitch, we stop the slide before it starts by deciding upon implementation when we should carefully and cleanly blow our proverbial brains out. In some ways, this is a return to what corporations once were, a group of investors coming together to get a license of ‘limited culpability’ for a short period of time while a singular project is conceived, built, and completed. At which point the corporation dissolves.
-The Simpsons had a long slow fade into mediocrity, to the point where now, if it was a person, it would be experiencing a rather long stay in the nursing home, getting more decrepit and incontinent (‘do either of you know what incontinent means?’ ‘Lisa don’t spoil our fun’) by the year, with fewer old friends and well-wishers dropping by.
When we label every single person who works in the financial industry a criminal, we do a disservice to the people there who truly are attempting to work ethically and responsible, with the good of the community as a goal, just as many observers do a disservice to the reactionary protest movement by calling them all thugs when only a fraction might be engaged in vandalism or violence.
Of course, it must be noted, regarding the above comparison, that many of the problems with the financial industry are rooted in its current operation – it has lobbied hard for the government to make irresponsible and coffer-lining practices legal – whereas the overt illegal activity of the protesters are endorsed and committed by only a fraction of them. And actually, in some cases, encouraged by undercover police officers who have infiltrated activist groups.
Link to Globe and Mail article regarding G20:
Reading Halberstam’s ‘The Best and the Brightest’, one can’t help but feel that there was never a respite from immense problems throughout the 20th century. The post WWII decisions – actually, almost all decisions made in 1945 – dictated so many of the problems that would come to the fore in the upcoming decades (pg.79-85). One can try to focus on the individual politicians in the East and West during this time, but it is hard to separate their success to the failings of the leaders – and staff of leaders – of these same nations at the same time.
America’s crumbled in part due to the large institutions turning away from focusing on the public good. Yes, it’s good that by shutting down American factories and having your company’s products made in China you can manufacture and sell it for less – the result being a positive (affordable products) – but the consequence of that – putting hundreds or thousands of Americans out of work – is overwhelming negative when it comes to the public good.
And of course, we would be remiss to not acknowledge that in addition to offering the product at a lower price, the company owners also make a lot more money themselves by having it built in China or Malaysia.
The last bastion of American manufacturing is in weapons, which is why there won’t be a radical rethinking of drug or foreign military policy in the country, because too much money is made by manufacturing and selling weapons to the soldiers and officers who work in these respective institutions.
Reading Rashid’s ‘Descent Into Chaos’, the U.S. mishandled Afghanistan and Pakistan so badly it’s tempting to think that they did it intentionally so that they could push the need for ‘perpetual war’ in the region. But if that’s true, they – politicians, pentagon, arms manufacturers – are doing it at the expense of the nation itself, which is crumbling under unemployment and debt, and cannot afford – in any sense of the word – continued and expensive fighting in this region.
Would ‘they’ do that? Destroy their own country just to make weapons to fight constantly in another?
Maybe they don’t see it that way. Are they blind to what the true cost of this operation is, that this arrangement give them purpose.
Of course, occam’s razor suggests that they are just horribly ineffective, and in so many other instances this appears to be true. I mean, yes there is going to be war profiteering, but not getting the job even close to done while getting paid ridiculous amounts? That’s incompetence and idiocy, no grand evil plan.
The U.S. is constantly attacking like a blithering, always fooled idiot when dealing with Pakistan. Not exactly being outplayed, but complaining that the Pakistani army and intelligence service are corrupt and secretly supporting the Taliban, but they do little more than write memos.
If the goal is to keep making tons of cash by having this war go on and on, it’s coming at cost of American lives, Pakistani lives, and America’s reputation.
(once again, such actions come down to stupid or evil)
State vs. State
Divisions in American life are now occurring more rapidly on a state level, rather than a federal one.
Conservative states are going to have more guns, less social services, greater divisions between economic and social class, as well as between races, cultures and creeds.
Liberal states are going to have the opposite (stronger gun control, more social services, fewer divisions between economic and social class, as well as races, cultures and creeds).
And people who digress from the majority in their states will be pressured to move to one that does represent their viewpoints, accelerating the divisions.
Soon there really will be two Americas, with borders between states being patrolled like borders between nations.
I am getting too much information in piecemeal form. Chunks of art/literature, physical science, psychology, history, etc. And it’s second nature to try and cobble them together into a unifying schema of interrelated understanding, but there’s no guarantee that it works because it’s an arbitrary fitting based solely on my own interpretation and experience.
And that’s just what ‘they’ want, because this confusion and/or unresolved narrative of big issues regarding humanity keeps many of us paralyzed while they continue to hold the reigns of power.
But even this interpretation is flawed. I am ascribing more impressive abilities to those who run corporations, those who run the government, when in reality they are also ascribing their own experiences to their own schemas of what they believe the current state of reality is/should be.
In other words, no one seems to be in any sort of objective control. There is no one at the wheel, and if there is, it’s no one who deserves to be holding onto it any more than anyone else.
If we're getting the present in tweets, bullet points, graphs, and breaking news alerts, then all information concerning the past arrives in an even more tattered and misbegotten form.
I've never seen an episode of Hogan's Heroes, but I know it involves finding cornball comedy in a German POW camp and featured a character named Colonel Klink. This is because Homer Simpson was a fan, and at one point his guardian angel takes the form of Klink to better relate to him (Homer still doesn't get it, and asks if 'Kiink' got all his letters).
I've never seen Dirty Dancing, but I know the basic plot and iconic scenes thanks mainly to an early Family Guy episode (how Peter met Lois mirrors the film's plot quite closely).
I've never seen Snakes on Plane, but I know Samuel L. Jackson's tagline.
Physics is all about figuring out where things are. Tiny things. Really tiny things whizzing all over the place. And they follow some very specific rules about how they move around. And if you can figure out how they move around, you might be able to figure out a way to get them to move in a particular way.
And 'a particular way' can mean big changes to how our world works, because there's a lot of energy involved in these things whizzing around.
Different times are catching up with each other.
Time is relative, therefore space is relative, but these relativities are based on absolute quantifications, such as the speed of light and the masses of particles.
Does this mean, that on a level which us too basic for much philosophical discussion to emerge from it, that there are absolute truths in the universe?
That these are the laws? Proved to be exact time and time again in the language without ambiguity, mathematics?
It would be, if we didn’t have to change them every generation or so because some hotshot with a particle accelerator keeps finding new unexplainable bosons and gluons…
Anti-matter! Hey, fuck you!
RPG and The Open World: The Future of Your Fun
I just finished playing Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
It was my first. Legend of Zelda? Final Fantasy? Grand Theft Auto?
No, no, and no.
I am very far behind on this shit.
For a long time RPGs belonged to a sizeable majority of dedicated gamers. Dedicated being the operative word here. Just 'cause you had a console and played Mario 3, Sonic the Hedgehog, NBA Jam, or Halo doesn't mean you were dedicated.
I certainly wasn't, and I played my fair share of games with the word 'Mario' in it.
There's commitment to an RPG that doesn't exist in other gaming genres.
Where you can do tasks beyond the basic ‘save the princess/world’ or ‘win the race’ type games. While RPGs include these, there are also side tasks, strategy decisions, other characters to talk to, shortcuts, long cuts and a maddening endlessness to the whole endeavour. It’s a bit like life.
To get vaguely paranoid and political, it's a great way to drop out of the world around, accept your lower class job, and focus your attention and energy on the incredibly realistic fantasy world that game developers have created for you.
You have all the time in your world to spend in theirs.
Now it’s not street smart or book smart, but game smart.
The trouble is the jump from the possibility of a greater force's existence to the unquestionable existence of a paradoxically knowable and unknowable god.
While the agnostic (and perhaps even atheist) will acknowledge that there are currently unknowable forces in the universe, the forces are precisely as that: Unknowable, with no qualities of any sort ascribed to them.
Meanwhile, many theists give very human - and very specific - qualities (like love, anger, jealousy, agency and interest in human affairs) to this greater force. But it is an incomplete portrait/explanation of the deity. How can one understand and know some qualities of a deity when the deity also has the quality of being unknowable?
Just as the notion of god is paradoxical, so too is the notion of faith in god. Now as far as god being paradoxical (accepting prayers for things despite the fact that we are in the midst of a divine plan, to be a loving god while knowing and permitting evil acts, of being an emptiness inside a fullness – to use existential terminology – which means always incorporating change while always being perfect and unchanging), that can explained by theists due to the simple power of god being able to transcend our philosophical discussions of it. God cares not a whit for what we consider impossible, illogical, or contradictory.
The paradoxical notion of faith in god is more troubling, however, as both believers and non-believers alike will ask why god acts in certain ways, and sometimes a defender of the faith will supply an incomplete explanation (did a house burn down because of faulty wiring, or because god was punishing the owner? How would we know which?) and sometimes they will offer up the admission that we cannot always understand the ways of god (not coincidentally, most people only ask 'why would god do such a thing?' when something goes wrong), even while asserting the act in question is god’s and not our own.
Drawn Together is the Herman's Hermits, the GWAR, the Hawkwind, the Offspring, the Poison, and the Nelly of contemporary animated television.
Especially if The Simpsons were The Beatles.
Like the artists listed above, the show does what it does relatively well, and a hardcore group of fans of that genre may defend it ardently, but the average consumer of pop culture either rolls their eyes or blinks dumbfoundedly at the mention of 'Drawn Together'.
A spoof of animated programs (for children and adult alike) and reality television, the show brought eight cartoon characters together to live in one house where they will be filmed at all times while competing various tasks and getting in all sorts of exciting hijinks.
It rails whatever is left on the line between low-brow and awful.
Perhaps the most likely reaction by people who remember the show is, 'oh yeah, that one'.
Proof of Marx's theory on alienation:
The disconnect between the purchase and the greater economic forces that enabled and are affected by the purchase. People shop at Wal-Mart with a willful form of ignorance, choosing prices that come saddled with poor conditions (the end of domestic manufacturing, the exploitation of third world labour), which are necessary to keep the prices low.
TIME TRAVEL TIME!
Well, not really.
Time travel is a cool idea for movies, a decent topic for social icebreaking, and exactly what you talk about after hitting the bong with three friends.
Quantum physics allows for particles to jump back milliseconds in time, but that obviously a far cry from something made up of billions and billions of particles (a person) to travel any period beyond a fraction of a breath.
Time travel will most likely remain impossible until we somehow have the power to safely blow up stars and harness their energy.
And if we can ultimately do that, many, many, many years from now, we’ve probably evolved enough to become some level of advanced entity that would find time travel irrelevant.
But all and all, it's not quite 'zombies' on the impossible scale.
The 1990s were an unusual time for the West. The Cold War was over, but soon the problems of fighting fragmented foes instead of one large would rear its ugly head. The economy was on the upswing after a late eighties/early nineties recession thanks in part to the boom, but soon it would explode and the dismantling of Glass-Steagall.
We could actually worry about class warfare and corporate corruption. That’s what people had the time and energy to actual protest.
We were worried about cubicles and a dearth of meaningful culture. The internet was connecting us all and we were feeling lonelier than ever. At least that we felt we were supposed to feel.
Oh, and there were pills for that.
It really does feel nostalgic, actually. The problems are more or less the same as today, sure, but they didn’t feel as important. It was like we could wallow in and over them…
Jan 2014 Here's a Thought
(some half-baked, undercooked chin-scratchers)
New Old Terms: Nobility and Slavery
The Nobility (aka Elite) are less tied to national boundaries, and therefore, national interests. In a interconnected global economy, all statutes and regulations can be bent, blurred or bought. What is good for the wealthy is rarely good for the nation.
It's not nine people that run the planet. It's nine concepts, and hundreds of people represent this concept in their various forms (and millions work for the corporations that service these concepts). Their sizes cannot be understated. Their growth has been slow and steady, ever expanding across the globe.
And certainly their interconnectedness is their strength (and to a lesser degree, their weakness).
-Economic foundations (if not explicitly free market, then certainly corporate friendly)
When a person with newly granted power - let's say a president - says, 'I want to do this', he will presented with the challenges that come with enacting such an idea. Who will benefit? Who will lose out?
If you slash the defence budget, here are the corporations that will lose money, and close down plants and fire thousands of people.
A single-payer system for health-care? Well the health insurance companies will have something to say about that, and they will donate to/bribe people in Congress to make sure it ends up just the way they want it to.
And yes, there are people in the defence and health insurance industry (with family, friends, concerns about the future), but they don't make decisions as people, or for people. They make decisions that would benefit the corporation/industry (which of course will in the end, also benefit themselves in the form of continued employment and therefore large salary and bonuses).
It's a terrible gift, to be able to effortlessly put the profit of a few above the state of the state (and even terrifying to believe you are actually acting in the state's interest).
It's a disconnect between the narrow-minded goal of the wealthy (and the aspiring wealthy) and the masses that has existed for the whole length of civilization. And when the masses rise up, the nobility - if we can call it as we see it - has always blamed them as being shiftless and ungrateful. As if those with less serve at the pleasure of the rich. While it's not exactly the other way around, the relationship between these two groups (and where there is admittedly plenty of complicated overlap) is frequently tenuous,
Slavery is the legal ownership of a person. It is reprehensible.
How far are slave-like wages away from slavery?
At the extreme end of being able to treat a person like property in terms of destroying him or her without any retribution, there are thankfully fewer instances with which to compare that to what is happening today.
To the less extreme degree, slavery involved terribly difficult hard labour in which you were given room and board because that's what was need for you to remain alive to continue your duties.
If the wages paid today in many developing countries cover only room and board, and conditions are such that you have little to no rights in the eyes of your employers and the law, is it a matter of semantics in terms of differences? The only difference is that you are free to go be a slave-like worker in another factory down the road. Or starve.
-If you search ‘what?’ on google (admittedly, a not pressing, bored at work type search), the first result is regarding 9/11 Conspiracy theories. Great. Look, when everyone – from the lowest to highest earners – does a bit of ‘ethics shaving’ (a placeholder term for doing the not-exactly-right thing to make your job a bit easier, or a bit more financially rewarding), then it can easily appear that certain groups or institutions are all moving in tandem or conjunction or have a larger grand plan.
-conspiracy buffs scoff at the idea that this is all ‘a coincidence’, that everything is working together. But it’s not a coincidence in the sense that they deride. It's even simpler than that. It’s human nature, because we all act quite similar. We all take shortcuts. But the shortcuts the people with more power take have greater ramifications than the short cuts the people with less power take.
-most aggravating, evil's not evil, it's just shit happening that you don't like. There's no objective agreement on what is evil, because most likely the one committing the evil has justified it to him or herself, preventing agreement, preventing objectivity. One nation killing its own citizens? They'll call it 'protecting the nations from rebels and terrorists', even if the rest of the world calls it a genocide or ethnic cleansing. Obviously this is a terribly slippery slope, and just because several thousands nazis thought it was a good idea, doesn't mean the holocaust gets a pass on the evil label. And that in some ways made the atrocities committed by them so terrifying. The Nazis didn't see their actions as evil.
The Toothlessness of the Presidency
-checks and balances in a democratic system (whether congressional or parliamentary) are meant to keep any branch to have too much power. The President cannot introduce bills on the floor of congress, for example.
And that there are elected citizens (politicians) here to represent the will of particular districts and keep the public's interest at heart is the cornerstone of power diffusion.
But when special interest groups - those that represent concentrated capital, such as energy, weapons, financial and health care industries - become more powerful, it's that much easier for them to corrupt these politicians. There are frequently examples of lobbyists coming up to politicians - or those running for office - and handing them a sheet of paper with ten issues, and if the politician or candidate is willing to vote with whatever group the lobbyist represents on seven of those things, the group would support them financially in all future election campaigns. It's the making of a careerist, fat-cat politician.
Once enough are turned, then suddenly that's 'how things are done' in the capital.
-And consider the incredible (and documented) proposition that when the president takes a position on an issue, the opposing party immediately derides it and gives it no support at all. Bipartisanship is more likely if the president’s opinions and ideas are kept quiet and under wraps. This is not exactly a recent phenomenon, but the regularity and extremity of it has increased. A president is more effective taking a backseat in most examples of legislation.
Instead, campaigning has become a more important activity than that of governing. ‘What I will do as President’ is shouted from every podium, restaurant and photo opportunity in the long, long run up to the election. They are constantly in the spotlight, admonishing the other side while making exciting promises about uniting the country and moving it forward. And while details of their policies and plans slowly eke out and are timidly analyzed by the experts and pundits, the news organizations (including the same experts and pundits) instead invest almost all their interest in rhetoric, perception, and strategy (in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, the campaigns are finding themselves having to tailor their activities to these superficial aspects of governance because that’s where the media’s attention was focused).
Meanwhile, once elected, the president has to lead carefully, being tough and out front in foreign matters, and almost completely hidden and mum on domestic ones, even if some of the domestic issues were the cornerstone of their election campaign (Obama ran on health care, and then didn’t touch the debate with a ten foot pole).
Has rock gotten snobbier?
Yes, but rock has always been portrayed as outsider music (it wasn't really, as it was being hawked mainly by large media corporations who saw it as a quick fad cash grab, but it was a good image to have, since the way to get into the scene was simply buying a record or two). That was one of its attractions to eighteen year old males in the first place.
Don't get me wrong, once record labels realized how much they could make if they pushed it, they pushed it hard, but even then it was condemned in the 60s as corrupting, drug-promoting, and unsuitable for the youth. Even The Beatles - which were always more pop than rock, at least in the initial Beatlemania phase - were criticized by the establishment at the time. And a fraction of this group always bought more music, researched their purchase decisions by combing through the NME, Crawdaddy, Creem, and eventually Rolling Stone. An interest to be on the cutting edge, catching the initial wave of the next big thing was/is always a snob culture hallmark. And rock's restless experimentation lent itself to the restless consumption by a handful of dedicated listeners.
And when rock got bloated or stale (yet could still piss off your parents), a return to the
fundamentals always came by to anchor it again (punk in the 70s, at least in the UK, grunge everywhere in the 90s, garage rock in the early 00s), before the industry truly began to crater.
But because of the fragmentation of the genre, now you're a snob - not only of rock, but of music altogether - if you buy x amount of it that rarely hits the top twenty (which is mostly heavily promoted, corporatized pop-rock-hip-hop-electronic-country-but-chiefly-pop hybrid), especially if you buy it on vinyl.
The Corporatization of Disease
-the goal is prevention and cure
-one of the methods to reach the goal above is to bring attention to such problems (because the more people who know of them will ensure that they stay healthy, known symptoms, get tested early, etc., and perhaps donate to/raise money for the cause), and we're so used to such promotions for disease like cancers of all sorts, AIDS, MS, and mental illness that at no point do we realize that it's become a career for many people to perpetuate these fundraising and awareness drives
-this is not a new situation. Charity and poverty groups have come under fire in the past for how much money donated to them goes to the organization itself and advertising and how little goes to the actual people they are campaigning for
Drinking the Molotov Cocktail
[the following is inspired by New Yorker article:
Anarchy gets a bad rap because people like hot water.
That's it in a nutshell.
Not that the grievances of those who support some form of community or state based on anarchic concepts are wrong when they posit that the efficiency and functioning of other forms of government becomes compromised over time.
An entrenched institutionalization of principles and precepts - whether feudal, fascist, or democratic, to name but a few - means they are ill-prepared to inevitable changes in the conditions of a society/community/state over time.
We aren't good enough for horizontal anarchic collectivism. We have to settle for democracy.
James C. Scott, in 'Two Cheers for Anarchism', lauds anarchism for its 'tolerance for confusion and improvisation'. Not exactly the best concepts to build a coherent and stable society out of for hundreds of millions of people.
Why was financial regulation able to pass in the wake of the Great Depression and not in the wake of the Great Recession? Was it because things were truly and obviously that much worse in the 1930s for everyone that the powerful institutions (and their supporters in government) knew they couldn't fight against it and win? Were the politicians then more educated and/or more ethical than the politicians of today? Was Roosevelt and his 'brain trust' able to inform the public and convince both political parties that this legislation needed to be passed (succeeding where the Obama administration failed)?
Most likely it is a combination of all these factors (plus perhaps two or three more), which once again reminds us of the maddening complexity of addressing large scale problems. The solutions have to be numerous and large scale as well.
Choice is Relative
We are given the power over extremely minor things in our lives. Choices about food and entertainment.
Focus groups and test audiences. We have a say in how these things are created and marketed for us. Movies with happy endings, car chases, beautiful and dashing women and men. Half the fat all of the taste, twenty varieties of chips,
But for much larger issues and concerns, the public seems to have less of a say than ever (of this is debatable, depending on the historical standpoint you take, and the definition of 'public'). And in terms of their voices in government via elected representation, polls show a near complete disapproval of the bodies such as congress or parliament. The actions by politicians rarely reflect the will of the majority of the people, who have very particular and well documented opinions on issues such as financial reform, corporate regulation, and energy policy. These are matters affect everyone, but a very small group of people create and adjust the rules that govern these institutions.
Everyone is dissatisfied with 'sometimes this works', and that can be applied to almost anything, to the steps used to write a successful screenplay (sometimes dozens of drafts improves the script, sometimes it doesn't), to the strategies for investing in the stock market (sometimes the high risk tech stocks deliver, sometimes they don't).
People want demonstrative formulas that repeatedly bring the same result.
And while science has played a social role in fortifying this mindset, every institution that humanity has depended upon is expected to have a simple and reliable causality to its existence (if A has occurred, then B will follow). No one wants to hear that it's complicated, and that nine other factors will have to be analyzed to make sure the desired outcome will in fact happen.
What am I doing with my life?
The fucking nerve of that question. A privileged, first world question if there ever was one.
That you could even be able to ask yourself such a question - in addition to taking steps to actually change your course in life - is a massive exception to the rule under which most people live.
I've only spent a few days in a third world country so don't think for a second I am trying to come off at an expert at the reality of the type of poverty and social upheaval that billions of people must face everyday. But I do turn off the lights when I leave the room and make an effort to waste as little food as possible because things like electricity and a full belly are not rights. Education is not a right. Health care is not a right. Justice is not a right, nor is security.
These are all privileges that many, many people across the globe have no access to.
The fortune that those who live in the West (and especially those who are born and raised in the West) cannot be overstated. And even in the West society is tiered in such a way that those in extreme poverty here have a semblance of understanding as to how most people in most other countries live.
Rights are an ideal, a goal to strive for, something to cherish when it is bestowed upon you, and they ebb and flow, offering their bounty when society is able to provide (typically giving the most amount of power to those at the top. The trickle down theory doesn't work for economics, but it does for power).
Rights can be taken away, through votes in your democratically elected parliament on congress. They can stripped in the name of security, emergency, or business.
What most of the planet are doing with their lives are trying to meet the basic necessities that we in the West take for granted. And this is not meant to come across as a guilt trip. First and foremost this should come across as empowering.
The challenge is to alter the question from 'what am I doing with my life?' to 'what can I do for other people's lives?' (a nod to Kennedy's quote, then).
If you have the ability, the opportunity, or the drive to change the world for the better, then why aren't you?
Here's a Thought - Summertime Blues (true piecemeal sludge this time! Ha!) - July.17.2013
It's always a shame when stupidity ends up being a force to be reckoned with
Why Does My Generation Embrace Irony and Emotional Detachment?
Because the previous ones used genuine emotion, sentimentality, and earnestness to sell greeting cards, insurance, and diapers.
Irony is a form of defense against the embracing the one thing that shouldn't have a price tag, shouldn't have been woven into sitcom cliches where the music swells.
If you are person in the public eye and do not present an easily consumable narrative, don't worry, one will be provided for you (or rather, start to worry, one will be provided for you). Not saying anything says a lot, and it grants many the license (fairly and unfairly) to make greater assumptions about you and your work that - if left unanswered - will become the dominant narrative of your public persona.
DIE HARD as a metaphor for eighties political ideology, with the individual being more powerful than corrupt and useless institutions. Plus an emphasis on family, as institutions have failed them, what with business breaking up McClane's family, and Powell's being underdeveloped (he shot a kid, wife only expecting), and McClane completes his family need.
The Limits of Human Knowledge and Understanding
Progress is a loaded term, commonly applied to cause-and-effect increments of human achievement. In a slightly more abstract form, progress can refer to movement towards perfect understanding, in the sense that the more one understands a concept or event, the more control they have over it, which also means the amount of power they have over it.
In the sciences, we have instruments that measure the physical properties of the universe, and the more we discover the better the equipment we develop to learn even more, in a process that is meant to reach a level where everything is understood. We have gotten to the point where the current missing link in quantum physics is called ‘the god particle’, meant to suggest that we will achieve something close to perfect knowledge if we can find and understand it (even though the confirmation of the existence of the 'higgs boson' will reaffirm the calculations of the standard model of the universe, which does not explain mysterious placeholder concepts like dark matter and dark energy).
So too do other philosophical concepts that are perhaps more applicable to our daily life. The pursuit for justice, truth, and happiness are all attempt to create a better functioning society and individual, with the ideal (but unlikely) result being a perfect functioning of them both.
A perfect understanding of law, politics, medicine, or any other discipline means you can effortlessly utilize these systems for your own advantage. Lawyers with more experience and knowledge can help clients beat charges on technicalities, extract millions in civil suits, and change the law with well structured arguments.
On a personal level, the better you know other people, the more likely you’ll know how they’ll react in certain situations, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and whether they can be trusted to watch your stuff when you go to the bathroom.
But there is no perfect understanding. The closer you get to this perfection, the harder it gets to nail it down.
In science the particles you need to measure to understand how they work get smaller and smaller. As per the laws of physics, the faster you go the more energy you require, both to maintain the speed and go faster. In philosophy the few paradoxes you come to at ‘the end’ can bring down the entire house of cards. In practical disciplines, physical limitations mean you can’t know what your opponent knows. And personally, you can’t know how your spouse or best friend will act in certain once in a life-time situations because they haven’t experienced them. There are fewer and fewer frames of reference when you get to the extremes.
In the grand scheme of things, the shrinking of the middle class in Western society does not merit the same amount of concern as general unrest by the working classes in the rest of the world, or the wide-ranging consequences of global warming (which will accelerate a resource crisis).
We forget that laws exist because man's nature is not purely benign. It's not purely malign, either. In fact, it's because our inclinations dwell in that endlessly complicated grey area that laws have err on the side of caution. This means that they can't simply be vaguely positive ('treat everyone nicely, always give to the needy when you have something to spare'), that they instead have to be extremely specific when it comes infractions of community standards (what constitutes the difference between first and second degree murder).
Music on mushrooms isn't necessarily that important, as the experience of mushrooms is such that your attention can buzz from one sense of stimuli to the next without much care as to whether it's music, a cloud, the sound of your friend playing video games, or whatever's happening at the grass you've been staring at for five minutes (which was really five seconds). So the music that is going to enhance your trip is more related to the music you personally enjoy, as familiarity can always be a benefit on such trips, when other experiences can be a novelty overload.
Anyway, that said, as mushrooms are traditionally seen as a 'nature-embracing' hallucinogen, I would highly recommend relaxing ambient electronic music from artists like Boards of Canada, The Cinematic Orchestra, and Brian Eno. It's music that can effortlessly move from back to foreground, so that every so often a rhythm or sound might pull you in and then release you. In the case of Boards of Canada, some of that might be intercut with tracks with narration snippets of Leslie Neilsen talking about diving.
Anyway, a favourite of mine has always been Radiohead's Amnesiac, as it's fun and weird without sacrificing any top quality songwriting. Pyramid Song is fragile and then bombastic, You and Whose Army is a top notch vocal performance and slow burner, Knives Out is frantic jangle-pop, and Like Spinning Plates might just be the best 'shroom track ever, it's alien pulses sounding like god's throne room.
transcribing some stuff from the phone
All a guy wants is a place to drink, a time to think, and a bit of the pink
Is there anything more metal than a guitar solo that sounds like a fire alarm?
Where do we go from here? You've released three thrash metal/britpop/(insert any genre here) albums that have won over the critics and created a dedicated fan base. You've toured constantly, have an actual organization of sorts to support. You're at your wits end, you feel like you're running around in circles, akin to a jukebox. Now what do you do for album four? You either do the same thing and risk a slow disinterest (first from the critics who tire of the same ol' same ol', then the fans, who still like the stuff when you had that initial edge), or try to expand your sound and risk immediate scorn (because it didn't work, according to the critics and fans).
Sometimes the first change works, alienating only a handful of diehards (metallica's black album), but then it gets progressively harder to integrate new ideas (load and reload), and take even crazier risks (st. anger), releasing something that almost everyone doesn't like. But now you see your mistakes and just rehash the first breakthrough.
History doesn't repeat itself but sometimes it looks damn familiar
You can't remember what you never knew.
Anarchist's good bye: Punch yourself in the face for me.
What do you call it when you shit and immediately have to shit again? Deja pooh
I sometimes feel like I'm nine thousand variations on a single idea of a person I create and re-create everyday. And as much as that can be a freeing notion, it's kind of stultifying.
Attack of the nothings. Claim something while you still can. Without risks there is no advancement. Pride should be swallowed daily. Only the damned practice that which they do not preach. A shadowy mood attacks the floor with cold teeth. You ought to know better than the maggots you toss out on their asses every other day. Offering your betters your hacked off tongue used to mean something. A cut in just the right place can mean more than decapitation. We rush, we want to, so we can rest when we have to. Scurrying away from the frenzied and brutal beatings. What's to stop them from putting a boot to your face for the rest of time? Other them. The best get humbled much harder. Second guesses are typically better educated, since one error is out of the way. Without terror we'd die of boredom. Good everything comes on slow. We should all be thankful for the occasional denial of privileges. faith costs the most in all of your life and as per its definition it might not pay out. Don't worry nice guys, in actuality everyone finishes last. Nothing is truly hopeless until you're dead. Don't judge the maze strictly on the exit. Answers are temporary, questions are eternal.
The truth is complicated and temporary.
Nobody likes that answer, so that how you can tell it's the correct one.
Chicken soup just the way your mother's ass used to bleed.
Consistency is planning's best friend.
If you have an erection that lasts for more than four hours please write a letter to penthouse forum.
Nobody doesn't love you like I don't love you.
Sometimes the triumph of the human spirit includes killing and eating your neighbour before he can do the same to you.
I told her everything I thought she wanted to hear.
The red door at Mr. Pongs. This may mean nothing in the morning. But it is gripping in a drunk sort of way. A symbol even. The unknown. The unapproachable.
Free speech dies when money talks.
Better to be forgotten than remembered as a jerk.
-It seems like god is hatin' again, or at least giving less of a shit that was given before. It's getting too easy to compare the incomparable since you can just do it poorly. Let the fingers do the breaking and you can ruminate to your heart's content. What the fuck are you insinuating, that I know what it means to be less of a man? Aren't you trying to pay attention through haggard bloodshot smiles? Sweat it beyond the typical, out flood your neighbour's yards and dressers. Count your blessings while they count for something. Be careful with the glass friends perched upon your soldier. Guns are exciting problems. Demand less bass. Amongst the rabble are musical notes that were left by pertinent and literate echoes. You have to hear the sounds of [the] clinic to get healthy. How many times did the keys to your house walk across your feet?
-being good at something is much better than building character
-sometimes the truth doesn't set you free. sometimes it just shows that you live in chains.
-a carving in a tree: nobody (heart) me [this was conceived on mushrooms
-be careful what you bitch for
-you're reading too much into me talking to you
A million clicks of gravel and blood road. Instead of choking on dust it's warm ginger ale. It's where ninety five percent of everything is exactly as you expect it and the other five always stumbles with a glasgow grin. And it's not like the last five'll fuck you. The other ninety five is just as dangerous and gritty, but at least that's a familiar gritty. The last five can save you just as quick as it can damn you. Wild cards that rain down like silver antelope heads. Machines that get the occasionally kick from an ostrich and always get it. And the cities level off at sixty eight floors but it's really sixty nine because there's a forty three A and a forty three B (due to the ventilation).
A mistake of gorilla proportions. You ruled against the heat but it scuttled away and found stronger friends with coagulants for their bloody biceps. And now it gets into the worst guts of your nose and you sneeze out celsius at record rates. The disposition on the sands comes and goes from courageous benefactor to the wicked prick of the west. You hike the rest of the way because each car trunk you're stuffed into breaks down after thirty click. At the plateau is a hot plate and a cold bath. Three kicks to the chest from an unknown shadow is enough to get you out of the tub, blood and bubbles dripping. If off course has gotten you this far, may as well pour yourself another gin and ice 'cause fuck tonic. Everything goes down quicker when there's nothing else to do. Fuck the man made mountains in the distance, you aren't the type to get caught up in down payments. Your positions are your person and right now you're setting the corner aflame. Old beliefs catch with the smoking curtains. It's a full circle fire that requires you to exit through the back and wait for the professionals. Since you handed in your qualifications for that second chance.
Sermonizing with a branding iron. Hissing like a snake in a brass trombone. Trying to be confident with silent and ugly. Waiting for the anticipated discount. Like a child at a burned down candy store, corpses among the charred chocolate fudge. Hiding with your betters as the goon squad takes furniture measurements. As the battery leaks out into the open you concede that potential and kinetic energy both made mistakes. And as night falls it seems like a pen and paper would be to you what the glass of water would be to the desert fool.
Here’s a Thought – February.28.2013
-a nice confirmation of ‘as above, so below’ in a scientific way: the acknowledgment that the behaviour of objects change when they are measured/monitored (when there is an ‘awareness’ of continued measurement as compared to when there is a measurement at the beginning and end of a process). In people, this is seen in both surveys (people will lie – sometimes without fully realizing it – because they want to give the answers they think the surveyors want to hear), psychological testing (‘generosity experiments’ find that people are more charitable when people are witness to the act), and when it is acknowledged that people are on camera, whether security cameras (will avoid acting suspiciously, or stop from committing a crime) or simply public events (jump up and down, shy away). One of the best examples is reality television, where people will alter their behaviour in situations where they otherwise might act differently.
And in the quantum physics world, individual particles act differently when a measuring device is placed at various spots throughout an experiment. A photon will go through two slits when unmonitored – creating an interference pattern – and will ‘choose’ one or the other – creating a ‘two band’ pattern – when an instrument measures which slit it ‘actually’ goes through.
An odd overlap between ourselves and the tiny pieces of matter we’re made of.
-facebook. It made things easier, but not necessarily better. Ditto Apple. Could Google also be lumped into the mix? Which of these three companies can be said to have changed how we live in the early twenty-first century the most? First off, Apple is a hardware company, and had already done some revolutionizing in the 1980s. Its products typically change how the rest of the market orients itself, especially when one looks at MP3 players, smart phones, tablets, and – to a lesser extent – laptops (odd that the most computer-like device is the one with ‘lightest’ Apple stamp). But all of these products and the technology within them already existed when Apple released their version of it. They just did a better job. Apple tweaks things ever so slightly, saving us time and effort. It makes technological products more people friendly. Steve Jobs occupied that highly coveted space between useful technology and simple design that when combined equaled big money.
Facebook added photos to your email contacts and a personal newsfeed. It sounds kind of stupidly obvious (like a toaster with a clock in it), and it is, considering that there were a proliferation of similar ideas at the time, and a really popular website that just wasn’t as user friendly (myspace, friendster).
-and Google. Google designed a simpler, more-efficient search engine. And then found ways to make money off it, and then had enough money to try and buy almost anything under the sun (youtube, for one). Is Google’s unofficial ethos ‘don’t be evil’ a better example of how new business philosophies/ethics have arrived (if they even have)? Is its stance on China choosing money over morals?
-in the world of computer technology, we’ve seemed to reach a point where the technological innovations and their effects are mainly gradual. Perhaps in hindsight it could be said that the iPod’s debut in 2001 was earthshaking, but it wasn’t until around 2004-ish that it became prevalent, a must-have accessory. Maybe the iPhone and iPad was a success right out of the gate, but it was a combination of other devices more than anything else. After all, Samsung designed much of the hardware for both products.
-‘there’s some power I don’t understand making sure things work out, and in the meantime I’m going to try and be a good person.’ Imagine if that statement was the most religious people were? It’s ridiculous how quickly little customs and behaviours adjustments infiltrate such basic ideas as the one expressed above. How divisions in opinion from person to person – or group of people to group of people – can lead to holy wars.
-banks/bankers on drugs. What other explanation is there? They’re addicted to risk and the profits that comes with it. For a long time they were satisfied being bored people making decent wages on steady, unglamourous interest, but just about the time coke and crack became the drug of choice (this would be the 1980s), these guys loosened their ties/regulations and started betting the farm (and the farmer) to see profits (and risk) skyrocket, and they didn’t care whose retirement fund they snorted up. And now they can’t stop. Their addicted, and if anyone tries to cut off their supply for the sake of community they’re endangering, they freak out and claim that if they’re forced to change their ways they’ll die and take everyone with them. So really, it’s definitely time for an intervention and tough love. Tie-you-to-the-bed-for-your-own-good type love. ‘You’re addicted to a destructive way of life that is harming yourself and the people/community around you. You have gotten so used to it that you are in many ways blind to its effects and dismiss your critics as lazy people who don’t understand.’
Flying with obscenities on your shirt:
Okay, it’s that matter of what a citizen is allowed to do or say within the ‘privacy’ of another citizen (or a space owned by a citizen or corporation).
I believe you should be able to say what you want (or wear your opinions on your sleeve or chest), since words cannot really hurt another person the same way as physically harassing them. These other people can silently dismiss the speaker or wearer as an insensitive fool. They can turn away from the t-shirt. And in an airplane it becomes moot even quicker, since you can’t really ‘see’ many people for very long, unless they’re right beside you.
But at the same time, exercising your rights in such a space can be frustrating and exhausting for the community or group around you (those that must come to your aid and defend you after hearing about the matter, and those on the plane who aren’t offended by your shirt, but are now subject to waiting for the matter to be resolved at the terminal or on the tarmac). You are wasting the time and efforts of others, both of which can be utilized on more important or rewarding endeavours.
Am I ignoring the bigger, theoretical issue by focusing on the practical annoyances? Yes, but it’s these instances that affect of how we imagine the theoretical sense of free speech.
What does society gain by defending your right to wear a ‘fuck pro-lifers’ t-shirt (I am assuming this is the gist of the shirt mentioned in the above article, as it does not go into exact detail) onto an airplane? Is this the complete wrong question? Should society not be expected to gain anything, or that simply by allowing you to wear it, society does in fact gain?
Why acquiesce the complaints of other passengers then? Are they in the wrong, demanding that they should not have to tolerate or see opinions they find objectionable? Are they the ones that need a free speech lesson?
Either way, that plane’s gonna be late.
-citizens in many Western democratic nations are treated like spoiled children at a family reunion. They have their own table where they can believe in whatever and act however they want as long as they don't bother the adults (aka, the people with power) at the grown ups table. Some of the adults (politicians) have to occasional appease the children saying how wonderful they are and give them the odd toy to play with, and afterwards they go back to the other adults (wealthy corporations and the 1%) and make actual decisions about the family/nation.
-Can it really be stressed any more than China is the prime nation/power of the 21st century? Even all the downsides of being number one can be applied to them. On a massive scale, they are going to experience resource shortages, environmental degradation, social and political unrest between the haves and have-nots. And this means they are going to have to solve them and become a model for the rest of the world as all the other nations and regions deal with their own levels of these problems, or they are going to succumb to them and be the first to flame out.
America has many crises at the moment, but it should be thanking its lucky stars that it's slipping to number 2, if only because the pressure's off.
-to receive any level of media attention for being offended by a work of art or culture is truly a privilege of a democratic and free society, and one that should not be taken lightly. There is actually an arena for people to exercise their right to free speech by decrying others’ right to free speech. That said, for the creator of said art or cultural work to apologize for offending this citizen or possibly citizens is absolutely ridiculous. The work in question is not real in any true sense. It is a representation of an idea or event, or a performance that does not involve any unwilling participant. To be offended by it is your right, but so is the right for the artist to bring into the public consciousness without any need to apologize for it (this does not exclude them from any sort of reaction by the public that might jeopardize their future endeavours (joking about rape or scuplting religious figures out of shit might get some gigs or contracts cancelled), they just don't have to apologize for it).
-the byline on sex when it comes to religious dogma (specifically Christian if we’re looking at the Western world), it’s that sex within marriage is wonderful, provided you don’t employ contraceptives or ever get an abortion. The thinking being, why would you? You’re having sex not because it’s fun but because you are ‘being fruitful and multiplying’, right? Okay, maybe it feels good, but it’s supposed to be strictly incidental, not the focus! And for an antiquated organization, this antiquated view makes perfect sense. This idea of sexual morality was important because having a bunch of kids was important because the likelihood – up to about one hundred and fifty years ago – was that most of them would die before adulthood. Sure, not every pregnancy was intended, but considering the odds of survival, every opportunity to raise a child was one you took (and having a kid back then was done in part because he/she will take care of your job/business as you got sick and old and died, taking care of you as you went through that uncomfortable period, most likely in your forties or fifties).
This is not to say that dirty sex wasn’t happening all willy-nilly since the beginning of civilization. Of course it was, and in the classes where you were better fed and cleaner and had dozens of servants to take care of you (the nobility), the need to churn out babies was slightly less important (don’t get me wrong, you needed one male heir, but outside that, meh), and so sex could take on a more frivolous activity. Hence the mistresses, paramours, brothels (for every level of society, actually) and the ‘taking advantage’ of chambermaids. And since these people were of lesser importance than you, you could do the abortion-equivalent and just kick the person you’ve knocked up out of your life (occasionally when I consider the treatment of women as a whole throughout history, I’m left speechless and ashamed. The achievements made in the last half century are incredible, but considering they still burn people for witchcraft in Africa, there is still much work to be done).
-While the belief in a spiritual or moral presence in the organization of the universe can be tremendously beneficial on a persona level, it's encroachment into the public sphere can be difficult, especially in a modern democratic society.
This is due in part to the notion that the body politic decides what is best for the people through the exercises of trial and error, observations and reports, and other activities based on the scientific method.
These are discussions and recommendations based on verifiable facts and anecdotes, and they are constantly changing, based on the accumulation of more immediate and accurate data.
This is vastly different from someone who holds a perspective where god is placed at the centre of knowledge and understanding, because there is no need for an extended pursuit of how or why. The matter begins and ends with, 'god did it'. Because this answer is absolute, these discussions and this perspective cannot evolve, cannot adapt, cannot change. 'God' is just that much more awkwardly forced upon the conditions in the physical world, without much of an attempt to find a more detailed or advantageous explanation.
-are energy companies prepared for the future, in that they have the technology for alternatives to petroleum at a very advanced stage and are simply waiting until we run out of oil – or until the public actually pushes back against prices and oil’s clear connection with global warming – before introducing it to the market? Sounds like a plan, unless some hotshot engineer or scientist who somehow flies under the radar introduces a similar style product to the market before the ‘big dogs’ can.
-when we've eliminated poverty, when every child can be born into an environment that is safe, healthy, full of love and attentiveness, then I'll be against abortion. In reality, it's pretty clear that in many cases we can't take care of each other that well, regardless of whether people are babies, youths, adults, or senior citizens. ‘Many’ is certainly not all, and as long as that's the case, women need to have the choice of whether or not they have the ability to properly care for their child. So abortion stays. And why not stress adoption heavier than abortion? Well shit, even adoption's not a guarantee to a good life. And as long as there are no guarantees, as long as the 'safety net' has gaping, people-sized holes, all options for not adding to suffering and difficulties to the community remains in play.
-If governments were honest to its troops in Afghanistan: ‘you’re there as a money spending PR placeholder for the American military industrial complex. You can’t win this battle. You don’t want it bad enough. This is your job, but for the Taliban, it’s their life. You’re here for what, nine month deployments and then you go back home to a supermarket and wi-fi internet? Your opponent is here, always here, because it’s their home. In fact, you only do patrol for x amount of hours a day then you retire to your barracks, eat packaged food, and play video games. The Taliban fighter stay squatting in his hole clutching his gun the whole damn time. Firepower be damned. You don’t have a chance because there’s no great unifying willpower.’
-FIREPOWER HAS GOT NOTHIN’ ON WILLPOWER
-even free-market capitalists hate certain aspects of capitalism. Everyone goes to extreme lengths to crush, stymie, or neutralize their current or upcoming competition in the community (frequently breaking the law or having government get involved), even if they claim that competition ‘in principle’ is an important part of the functioning economy. This level of exceptionalism is not only a trait of powerful states, but of powerful companies (and powerful people. And powerless people, actually, it’s just that they don’t have a chance to act on their belief that they deserve more than others). The trait of Nepotism infiltrates most forms of human behavior.
-communism was meant to correct the flaws that were becoming apparent in democracy, where despite the promises that the people were going to have a say in how their state was going to be run, the power still resided in the hands of very few individuals. It was the replacing of the landing-owning-noble class with the factory-owning-industrialist/robber-baron class (the nineteenth century was passing of this torch), which meant the masses still suffered under the boot of the wealthy and powerful, they just had a chance to air their grievances when there was an election (which wasn’t really true, as at this point lot of people who were poor couldn’t vote anyway). Marx and Engels saw all this happening and wrote about how the worker had to take control of the means of production, which really mean running the factory like a collective and sharing the profits with all the employees and that no single person or group was in charge. It’s a nice idea – and actually sounds quite democratic – but it’s sadly not really applicable in ‘real life’, and Marx instead waxed philosophical in the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital rather than give a practical step-by-step guide as to how to make this change from owner to worker control.
-of course the West is on the decline! And about fucking time, too! You’ve been top dog since about the fifteenth century. It’s normal that you’ll have a bit of a freak out when your economy gets sluggish and you only realize too late that you’ve given all your money and power to an entrenched and stubborn noble class, but try to have a shred of dignity and not blow up the world or yourselves. For the millions of Americans/Westerners that slide into the growing underclass, hundreds of millions – if not billions – more in Asia and South America are climbing out of poverty into, well, an underclass of sorts but one that’s still a massive improvement from how they have been living for decades, or even centuries. It’s hard to imagine that there could be any other way to reverse this trend, but them’s the breaks. Sometimes it’s your shift that gets shat upon. The West should get one big last ticker tape parade for all the goods it’s done, and then settle into second place without much fuss.
Is the passivity of the majority a sign of the state’s success or failure?
What does it take for a grassroots revolution? A key sign is food riots. Complacency comes easy, but a rumbling stomach can awaken anger and resentment better than any crawling introduction of police state measures ever could.
People who wish to overhaul the system to great degrees – these people are usually found on the extremes of the political spectrum – loathe this mushy majority of people for whom politics is three quarters public relations and one-quarter substantial policy.
How do you win them over, bring them to your side?
You don’t. You may see them as pawns, but to them the only game that’s relevant is the one where they are at the centre. Their own personal interests are the key ones, and only when it is obvious that radical change must be made to retain a semblance of their current standard of living will they be willing to make such sacrifices.
The West has not had to sacrifice since the Second World War. Over three generations. No wonder it seems impossible to institute much change. Widespread strikes in France throughout the years and the current upheavals in Greece and Spain are not on the same level as what is being done on the streets in Syria, Yemen, and Egypt, where basic freedoms and necessities for survival are at stake, not pensions.
Neoliberalism is an economic theory whose tenets are easily obfuscated due in part to the assumed connection to its root namesake and how in varying degrees it can be supported by those across the political spectrum, either libertarians or fiscal conservatives.
Is the term intentionally misleading, as that means it can somehow acquire wider support from those who might not do so otherwise, or is it accidentally misleading, a botched naming that – while loosely tied to the term liberal – exists as a blight on economic theory and its own internal interworking as a whole?
Once again, stupid or evil are our options.
-our ‘community’ has gotten so indomitable that simply having it continue in the most basic way possible – that is, having children – is not required by all citizens/couples. In fact, this has actually become a hazard. Overpopulation is a huge problem, and will only become a bigger one as resources are going to be stretched even more thinly in the coming decades. It has gotten to the point where contributing to the community can be done by not having children, and consuming less resources. It’s time to shrink our footprint for the time being, if only so we can safely expand it once again when conditions warrant. After all, you can be sure that other factors will force the shrink of our footprint in much more unseemly ways if we don’t do it willingly (food riots, war over resources, disease – which y’know, looks at like Armageddon, but biblical misery is pretty much just regular misery with an angry loving god letting it happen).
-even if civilization slides into a terrible chaotic state depicted in The Road or Mad Max, think how disappointing the hardcore Christians are going to be who were hoping for some crazy apocalyptic fantasy with Babylon whores, bowl of pestilence, broken seals, four horseman, dragons and an anti-christ. Know what it’ll look like? Somalia. Or other African nations that have fallen into violent chaos and disrepair over the last few decades. They have experienced their own apocalypse, where nothing works and death is always present. It should be a terrifying lesson and reminder. What went wrong, and how can we avoid this from happening on a larger scale?
-the sad thing about the state of the corporate world bureaucracy is how terribly lemming-like it is, with everyone imitating that one person or plan that has somehow done something new and successful (success can be defined in many ways, both good and bad, as a new financial instrument can make its creator and/or wielder lots of money, even if they run in an unscrupulous and dishonest fashion), without necessarily looking to see the ramifications if everyone acts the same way (a callback to Kant’s categorical imperative).
-extrapolating from this, we see that there are not necessarily grand conspiracies. Rather, it is everyone each trying to game the system for themselves, and when everyone does it in more or less the same way, it appears that all the energy companies or financial institutions are in cahoots with each other. They’re not. In fact, if one of them stumbles or shows a weakness, others will turn on their competitor in a heartbeat. Because the goal is the same for all (more money, more power), and everyone is reaching for it, it only appears to be done in some sort of planned harmony.
-at the same time of this complexity, the government-corporation relationship is ridiculously stupid and simplistic. If companies give fundraising donations (bribes) to politicians, the politicians will support legislation that benefit said companies in congress or parliament. It gets around that pesky bit of democracy, which is expected to put the public’s needs first.
-and the corporations exist in a simple way, too. Maximize profits for the benefit of our shareholders.
-the game is rigged in the blandest way possible, and one that wholly reflects the strengths and weaknesses of human behaviour. The oligarchy naively believes itself to be better than the rest because those who constitute it are a small number of like-minded people who seem to have plenty of power, even though many of them are pretty much interchangeable. The position has the power, not the person who temporarily has the position.
The Present Snapshot The 2012 Presidential Election: Money vs. The Masses
It’s not secret that the US election so far is pretty damn dull, and there doesn’t look like there’s going to be much in the upcoming months to change that (although the media will certainly overreact to any sort of verbal miscue or foot-in-mouth and try to make it seem important because hey, that’s where the money is).
But make no bones about it. This is a hellishly important election, although this does not mean you have to pay attention to anything but the odd fundraising headline until November 6th.
Thanks in part – not fully, but its weight cannot be understated – to the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizen’s United, the amount of money flowing into the coffers of both the Republican and Democratic parties is record-shattering and terrifying.
And it might all be for naught.
Can you explicitly buy an election in the most powerful nation on earth?
Oh sure, you can find examples in the past (both recent and distant) of the power of the few bending votes one way or the other (especially on the voting inside Congress), but now the reporting of fundraising results comes as frequent as the weekend box office reports for movies.
And they mean just as much.
Just as making $120 million dollars on opening weekend doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is a good one, Mitt or Barack making $40 million in June doesn’t mean that they’re that much better or worse of a candidate, and that their policies are a hindrance or help to the future of America.
But where is this money coming from? Romney is being showered in money from rich folk and corporations. Obama is also being showered in money from rich folk, but fewer corporations, which in his case are replaced by millions of people donating five to twenty five bucks.
Therefore, the dangerous oversimplification:
Obama represents the entangled masses, and Romney represents the united elite.
So where does the power reside in early 21st century America? The party line is that money is going to win this election, but whose money? The people’s or the private’s?
It’s as if the powerful institutions realized that purchasing power was going to become the most important measure of participation in politics in the 21st century, and so made a point beginning in the 1980s to absorb as much wealth among a small contingent of individuals and corporations so they would have a bigger say than the rest of us.
Well played, rich assholes, well played.
The key to [something] is empathy, and the key to that is typically remembering particular moments – or a string of moments – in your particular life. A financially successful person can understand the position of people a bit hard up and pushing for social/financial reform (or I could just say the 1% can better understand the 99%) when they remember how difficult, challenging, or seemingly hopeless their situation may have been years prior.
To fight the enemies in the shadows, the United States adopted the tactics of these enemies, and their principles became a shadow itself.
How do you get out? Rarely willingly. The curtain is torn asunder, typically when you’ve become too weak to keep properly placed. And then the people see what you’ve done in the name of liberty and justice.
In an article (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/sifting-through-the-golf-sands-for-a-hint-of-north-koreas-future/article2287964/) on the brainwashing in North Korea by the state – who essentially deifies Kim Jong Il and now his son – it is revealed that Jong Il shot several holes in ones the first time he tried playing golf, and that he sat at 38 under par. But an odd bit comes at the end of the article, when they quote a Professor of Asian Relations, who explains that because the people in North Korea have no viable alternative source of information, they grow up believing this, even if we in the freer West quickly realize such stories are ridiculous.
To give an example of how we sometimes passively accept unusual claims without question he rhetorically asks:
“Do people in the West believe in transubstantiation?” Prof. Evans asked in reply. “Do they believe in the devil?”
And then the writer of this article then goes on to conclude:
Myths are sturdy things, in other words. And although miracles do happen, they are more likely to come in the form of golf scores than an Arab-style awakening in North Korea this spring.
It seems that the writer – and, perhaps by extension, The Globe and Mail – is openly connecting Christian theology with mythology. And I’m surprised and kind of pleased, as it might be a sign that we are approaching such delicate issues with a bit more of an open – but no less critical – mind.
Or I’m projecting.
-metaphor for wave-function collapse: poker, where the possibility of what the players hands are always up in the air until the moment when they are revealed (akin to wave-function collapse). But even this is not a perfect analogy, as the moment of the poker-hand-reveal actually exists, can be measured and have conclusions drawn from, before the next hand begins. In quantum physics, you cannot actually measure the collapse in any way, as it alters the results of the collapse.
-with the sudden limelight shone back on Canada for seemingly nullifying same-sex marriages, the conversation doesn’t really ask the question: well…what is marriage? It’s two people in a loving relationship who are acknowledged by society in such a way that they get tax breaks and other social program-derived benefits.
And that’s a pretty recent definition, because prior to say, the early (or even mid) twentieth century, love wasn’t really a term thrown around all that much when it came to marriage. Mainly because one of the people involved didn’t have much say in the matter (that would be the woman). Hell, go back another hundred and between the beginning of civilization and then, and you were lucky if it wasn’t the parents of the bride and groom actually hashing out the arrangement. You were lucky if you got along with the person you were going to marry, let alone like them. Think of how specific you can be in your preferences for a partner these days, and how easy you can jettison them if things don’t work out for any reason at all. And in the past you married within your class, typically someone within your village or town.
-women were little more than chattel for millennia. By marrying off your daughter, you got land, cows, riches, etc.
-so why not same-sex marriages? Why not multi-party marriages? Anything between consenting adults should be permitted. It’s not a slide of community standards but an expansion of them. And where are the checks and balances? Well, we've corrected some of the more unseemly aspects of what used to be permissible within marriage over time, namely, marring twelve year olds and relatives. This was accepted, we've moved away from that, and have incorporated aspects that reflect a society with different shades of tolerance (down with pedophilia, up with homosexuals).
-and the sanctity of marriage is about a legitimate as the sanctity of life, meaning not very. With a divorce rate of 50%, the 'til death do us part' is clearly optional, and should be replaced with, 'til one of us finally accepts that they can't change the other'.
-the closer a statement gets to objectivity the less practical it becomes, eventually reaching the state of tautology. This occurred to me as I thought of how the only accurate advice I think a writer can give to others trying to write is, ‘write a lot, read a lot, submit your best’. It’s a very common sense statement, which does not really address any individual writer’s concerns, but it can be applied to the community as a whole and still be accurate. Even if the reaction is lukewarm: ‘yeah, we know’. Of course you ‘know’! that’s why it’s close to objective.
-life is more powerful than love. Life will eat its mother to persevere. In fact, in several cases in the animal kingdom, that’s exactly what happens. Life is beyond good and evil, any sort of morals, any sort of personal two-person relationship. Life will do terrible things to create wonder and beauty but even that’s just a smoke screen for its only purpose: continuation.
-meeting with people you disagree with is more important than meeting people you agree with. Be polite, but don’t pull punches. And avoid the ‘empty public relations gesture’ as much as possible (and in this case, if you find out the ‘meeting’ is ten second handshake with cameras going off around you, fuck ‘em).
-grading the president in Jan 2012. automatically gets at least a D for staving off the big D(epression). Knock him up to a C for his foreign policy (out of Iraq, Osama DOA, Libya went well, arms control with Russia, hasn't pissed off many countries). C+ for passing something resembling health care reform. Other bits of positivity like ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, extending unemployment benefits, investing in domestic businesses, can get him a straight B. Fucking up the Financial Reform Bill: down to C+. National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (which includes indefinite detention of US citizens): down to a C. Regarding that last one: You really have to consider what values your nation has lost when you go to certain extremes to supposedly save it. Hell, maybe that last one should knock him down to a C-minus.
By and Buy…
The annaandkristina.com website – two young blonde Vancouver mothers with a blog about baby supplies – encourage visitors to ‘become a shopping bag’:
-perhaps this is an easy target for dehumanization/the individual as a consumer animal and nothing more, but when was humanity any better? What illusion are we holding onto, that things were nobler and honest in the past?
-what is this assumption that life was better when we ‘lived off the land’ and with fewer appliances and less cultural items to pore over? Why was it better when only a small fraction of the people on the planet – mostly white men – made most of the important decisions and discoveries?
-what have we lost? Do we really think people didn’t bitch and complain in the past? Our nostalgizing of almost anything before the present – save for the actual moments of great upheaval that actually changed the course of history – is creating an artificial psycho-social crisis, that is getting in the way of many actual problems that needs addressing right quick. But because these more important matters - environment, global resource depletion, economic stagnation –s don’t directly address a Western individual’s immediate needs and dissatisfaction (which could lead to them buying something), they are given the shorter shift.
-wait, I have just gone from complaining about how people are overemphasizing the dangerous of consumerism to complaining about the dangers of consumerism? Yes, but to clarify, my objection is grounded in contemporary issues that affect the planet and the lack of attention they are getting, not that ‘oh, it was better when we all had less’. And the two are not necessarily related. We have gotten much more careful in harnessing the power of environmentally-destroying energy resources, it’s just that we use so much more of them, and part of that is because of advances that allow more and more people to live with such associated amenities. So maybe that’s the point of looking to the past and saying it was better when most of us had less: it was healthier for the planet, at least. But it didn’t make us better or worse people.
-it’s both reassuring and tragic that we’re pretty much the same people that have existed throughout history, that our abilities and intellect hasn’t really changed that much in the last several thousand years, and it doesn’t seem to make sense that we should get that much smarter in the future.
-when you read a how inept the US Customs and Border Patrol is, then you have to assume that terrorist organizations are even more inept than that (or that the former is doing their job just good enough to prevent the latter from attacking). Although regardless of the organization’s actual effectiveness, the consistently low employee morale ratings (bottom or close to the bottom when compared to all federal agencies) is good indicator of gross internal dysfunction
-exceptionalism – a nice fancy form of institutionalized hypocrisy – is sought after by many powerful states and organizations. The ‘have your cake and eat it too’ mindset. Where you say that everyone should play by the rules, except you, when it gets in the way of your own goals (United States, Russia, China, pretty much every dictator-led country with an army when it comes to dealing their own antsy citizens, financial corporations, insurance industry). Decrying certain social changes or ideas, while casually embracing secondary benefits of said changes or ideas (religious adherents decrying a secular-scientific mindset in the society, while stocking up on iphones, medicine, and other science derived goods and services). You can’t have it both ways. You have to take the good with the bad.
why i support the creation of stupid pop culture ideas that i have a dislike or low expectations for:
-because it creates jobs. at least for a while. the transformers trilogy may be a turd sandwich, but it cost about $600 million to make. they employed thousands of people (some directly, like cast and crew, some indirectly, like the people at hotels, catering services that served the cast and crew), meaning these people can afford housing, food, and other things which keep the economy churning. the trilogy netted over a billion dollars, and while most of that went into the pockets of the producers and the film company (who buy fancier houses with nicer things, all stuff that require more people to make stuff and work on), some of it went to the people that worked the theatre chains, marketing departments, etc.
bad movie? who gives a shit when you look at it in those terms. and this was all done domestically (although with more foreign investment coming into hollywood, even that is admittedly changing).
the descendants might be an incredible film, but its budget was diddlysquat and its box office might be similar. in fact, it's movies like transformers that permits big studios - that pretty much bankroll small movie houses - to make films like the descendants.
so which is more helpful to us all?
now don't get me wrong, the critically acclaimed, thought-provoking film will typically live on far beyond the brain dead blockbuster, and become an artistic statement representative of its time and place, but never forget it's shit like twilight, and the fourth pirates of the Caribbean movie that puts more food on more plates in the present day.
-the bad news: America is becoming a police state. The not-exactly-good news: America is becoming a really half-assed, poorly enforced police state. The perfect police state is the most feared kind, where big brother stamps out sedition and keeps the masses in line effortlessly. But this only exists in fiction and North Korea (the latter having the ‘advantage’ of building the police state in the ashes of a war, when things are already in a state of disarray and when citizens are much more dependent on – and therefore deferential towards – the government). The slow creation of a police state in a post-industrial nation that is extremely familiar with the notions of freedom in all its forms guarantees that it will not be set up very well, no matter how draconian the laws. There is that schizophrenic dichotomy of the wealthy trying to give more and more freedom to the corporation while taking more and more away from the individual citizen (power being a finite resource, of course, and those with it are trying to concentrate as much of it as possible). This is why corporate political donations have a greater role in shaping government policy than the voice of the electorate through voting. It is actually a return of sorts to the power structure that America’s founding fathers envisioned. A merchant/corporate class having a shitload of power over the masses. In the eighteenth/nineteenth century this was enforced by restricting the type of people who could vote to those who would typically support the power of the merchant/corporate class (well off white males). As the right to vote extended through all groups in society (poor white males, women, minorities), power was suddenly more defused, which didn’t sit well with this suddenly endangered merchant/corporate class. So they re-wrote the rules and now voting isn’t as important as owning a big company (which is typically a position filled by…wait for it… well off white males).
If there was a movie about your life, and you understood from the get go that – while they certainly wanted to show people what your life is/was like – they aren’t going to let truth get too much in the way of a good story, can you still enjoy it? Would say upon viewing to the makers, ‘that didn’t happen like that’? Because they would come right back and say, ‘okay, but this works better for the story, the reality of the film’. And they would be right. After all, you can’t accurately portray one’s life in a two hour anything. Hell, you can barely do it in a thousand-page biography. Even an autobiography is going to be a naturally warped perspective of the subject’s life. In both book cases, it too is chained to the need to tell a story and make it interesting (after all, that’s pretty much why you’d become a topic of this nature), in addition to the fact that compiling past moments and fitting it in to a particular narrative is never going to be perfectly accurate, and the accounts of the people involved – both central and peripheral – are going to be subjective.
Could you enjoy the film on its own merits? Can you divest yourself and your own memories of events while watching a representation of yourself and these events and judge it aesthetically, not personally? Obviously your take on the film would be particularly biased – or viewed as biased – no matter how hard you tried, but could you at least enjoy it, and forget that it’s ‘you’, and just an idea of you? (and let’s not get into the differences between those two identities here)
Why a degree in literature?
“Stories, sadly*, come first.”
(*-why sadly? There’s very little money in understanding ‘story’ in the real world. It sits in the background, like microwave radiation from the big bang. It’s usually priceless in the negative sense. So far, anyway…and actually I am wary of a time when this understanding can exploited for profit and used as a commodity)
Stories are the most basic form of understanding, the simplest ‘before, during, after, and why’. While we typically associate it with fabrication and inventiveness, this is because we’ve so internalized its original point. It is an account of the passage of time through space plus an attempt at explanation. It molds itself from a variety of recollections ranging from one’s afternoon to a theory of creation, whether involving god or science. It’s ‘cause and effect’ crystallized. If A then B. Then C. The End.
We create in our minds – almost instantaneously – before we create in the physical world or within the rules of the physical world (theory), and this creation is the imagination fashioning the ideal story for the moment (it is the process of our understanding, of what we assume or project based on the immediate evidence in front of us). This can range from creating a narrative for ‘my trip to the coffee shop’, for ‘how an element decays’, and ‘Oz as an allegory for American economic policy’.
The study of literature is the study of how ‘the story’ has changed over time, to suit – or usher in – a particular historical epoch. Obviously a history book can give you the nuts and bolts of past events, but it’s the literary texts of those times that do a greater job in teaching us more about how people saw themselves and what the rules, limits, and context of storytelling in that period.
On the political spectrum, the US Congress is a centre-right deliberative body (favouring strong defense spending, deregulation, and a smaller government, which means lows taxes and fewer government run programs), because the ‘people’ (the wealthy, corporations and special interest groups) that fund election campaigns are centre-right (whether through direct financing, or as super-delegates, a startling accurate term suggesting a hierarchy, in that these people’s opinion counts for more than a regular delegate). Consequently, a centre-right White House will accomplish more of its goals than a centre-left one. Which is why Bush II pushed through many of his policies quite easily, while everything for Obama is a near-hopeless slog.
Life isn’t short. Life is billions and billions of years old. Life isn’t inexplicable; its sole point is to be here, to persevere, to continue until it doesn’t. Why does there have to be more of a reason than that? Isn’t such interconnectedness and complexity good enough of an explanation?
Is it too impersonal for you? Does it not soothe your queries concerning your own role? Does it, in fact, diminish your role? Well imagine how an ant feels when it and its scores of brethren are thoughtlessly stepped on. Or millions of bacteria that multiply and vaporize every second.
Well that’s different, you might say, they are lower life forms, they do not have the awareness of the world and the universe around them, the abilities that we do.
But so what? They have their roles to play, as do we. We can just obsess over it so much more. The curse and blessings of our powerful brains. Brains that will eventually decay into nothingness, just like that star above our heads and the ants beneath our shoe.
But hey, that’s life.
|The person who incidentally destroys the planet will claim that they were just following orders|