Thoughts On the Election

I wanted to write about the election in some fashion, but it’s fucking depressing, so I have delayed.  I’m not saying it is without hope.  In Bernie Sanders I believe there is a candidate that is addressing the main problem in America, that our economic system has completely corrupted our ability as a country to deal with the very real problems we face.  A system that values money above all else, and that is what our system truly values, has lead to obscene income inequality, environmental degradation, a mainstream culture that is largely meaningless, and more.  My hope comes from the fact that not only is Sanders bringing this issue to a larger audience, but that he is dong as well as he is so far.  At the beginning of the election I didn’t have much hope that a democratic socialist could go almost head to head with the Clinton machine.

That being said the rest of the election feels like the WWE is organizing it in a banana republic.  Send in the clowns.  Imagine if you were from another country looking in.  The most powerful country in the world, the country with the strongest military, was considering putting either a reality TV star or Ted Cruz at the head of one of its two political parties.  I don’t even know what to call Ted Cruz.  Words escape me.  I can’t tell if he is a charlatan of the worst kind, or a dangerous true believer.  There is something reptilian about him.  He makes George W. Bush look like FDR.  (Never ever say things can’t get worse.  The world will install a trapdoor in the abyss if you boldly declare you have hit rock bottom.)

In the middle of all of this you have Clinton.  I don’t know what to make of her either, but for a different reason.  Her husband was a corporate Democrat.  If you think otherwise go read about his presidency.  What does she believe in?  Does she share her husband’s values?  (There is no guarantee either way.)  How could someone that has been in the public eye this long still mystify me as to what her true political beliefs are?  In one sense I understand it.  She was attacked so vehemently from the outset, when she was First Lady, that it’s not hard to imagine that she would have to develop an impenetrable exterior to deal with it.  But armor can not only protect, but conceal.  I think she would be pretty centrist, but there are a few key issues, in terms of what kind of centrist, that could make all the difference.  (There is a potential for Clinton to be a great president.  She is definitely smart and capable.  I think she understands the machinations of the political system enough to get things done.  However, without knowing what she believes, I feel like choosing her over Sanders would be casting a vote into the void, just hoping for the best.)  Don’t get me wrong, I’d vote for her over this bunch of Republicans, as it would be a vote against total insanity.  But what does it say about our country that we might end up having to choose between middle-of-the-road and batshit crazy?

…………………..

On another note, I can’t help but feel that many on the right and left are angry about the same things, even if they can’t agree on the cause.  A lot of people are feeling the uncertainty that our economic system has caused.  But I also think both sides feel the meaninglessness that is inherent in our culture.  Those on the right might call it immoral, but I would just say meaningless, though what has created it is a certain kind of greedy immorality.  The main operating value is money.  Whatever makes money wins.  This is how we end up with so many things that just end up representing the lowest common denominator.   Although there are of course things that the right and left will never agree upon, I do believe that if both sides could recognize the meaninglessness of a lot of our culture, and the fact that greed has created it, there could be positive changes that would satisfy members of both groups.  But maybe I’m just dreaming?

Hannah Arendt and Anti-Semitism

One of my favorite political writers, aside from George Orwell, is Hannah Arendt.  Right now I am reading her book The Origins of Totalitarianism.  I have read a great deal about Nazi Germany, World War II, and world politics between the World Wars.  However, despite this, I have never completely understood how so many were captivated by such vehement anti-semitism.  A conversation with a friend made me realize that as much as I had read, I only had some vague notion of how such an ideology could be so popular.  The first part of this book attempts to explain how this modern form of anti-semitism arose.  Arendt, an assimilated German Jew, was able to escape Nazi Germany and eventually make her way to America.  Arendt’s work is challenging, not because of the language, but because of the complexity of the ideas apparent in it. I don’t feel that I am at a point that I can do a great job summing up her ideas.  The subject matter, as are most large scale issues in the world, is complex, dealing with history and political theory, not only of those that eventually became anti-semetic, but also of Jewish history, and the politics of power, that would take a writer far greater than I to do a short summery of it.  Really the best way to understand it is to read her book, which I think is really worth it.  In examining this subject, it has not only made me think about anti-semitism, but the complexity of politics and history in general.  Human beings love simple stories and often myths.  But the truth of the world often is only obscured by our wish for simplicity.  She had one of the great minds of the 20th Century.  She was not only able to balance many different ideas and disciplines at once, but was relentless in her pursuit of the truth.  The pressure to tell a simpler story must have been immense.  If you view her in her time period, a Jew during one of the most horrific events in all of history, and woman, who did much of her most important work in America before the Feminist movement, she only seems more fearless.

A Disagreement with Ta-Nehisi Coates

I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best and brightest writers of his generation, but lately I have had a problem with his approach to politics, especially his criticisms of Bernie Sanders.  I think it was Chuck D that said that when white people face a recession, black people face a depression.  (Paraphrased)  I totally think that is the truth.  There is no doubt that black people face inequality, not only in income, but across the board when it comes to rule of law.  One can simply look at the violence directed towards black people by the police in comparison to white people.  And these things are only touching the surface.  However, I can’t help but feel that Coates addresses everything through a one issue lens, while also misunderstanding the realities of presidential politics.  I want the same end goals as Coates does, but I feel that his approach is misguided.

America made progress on a whole host of issues from Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, through the Civil Rights and other movements of the 60’s,  until the rise of Ronald Reagan.  Since Reagan the working and middle class of this country have have seen tremendous setbacks.  There is no doubt that these setbacks have affected blacks and other minorities worse than whites.  One of the truths of American power, since the Civil War, that has been more or less effective at different time periods, has been to divide and conquer.  Lower class whites and blacks, which in reality have much in common, have been pitted against each other.  (Often all too easily I’m afraid.)

Aside from rare achievements like Obamacare, which many of us on the left think didn’t go far enough, true progressive goals have been sidelined.  This is due to the Republicans ability to siphon off white working class voters.  But this is also due to the fragmented nature of the left, where each group has their pet issue, instead of uniting for the greater common good.  In a capitalist society, money is power.  Unions have been destroyed.  Healthcare still doesn’t reach enough people.  Education has been robbed of the kind of value that allows people to think critically, not only making people less intelligent politically, but preventing the kind of fluid intelligence that allows people to change jobs with changing times.  The right and left argue over culture matters.  The left is guilty of this for sure.  Instead of addressing issues that will lead to a fairer system, inequality is attacked in a series of patchwork attempts, always leaving some other hole for problems to arise.

Politics is also largely a realm of the realistic.  One can only harness energy and attention for so long.  How do you do the most good with limited energy?  What topics does one tackle first?  A president must not only try to balance the wishes of many groups simultaneously, but is also constricted through very real laws that balance the power of government between different branches.  That is how the presidency has been since the founding of our country.  The founding fathers did not create a dictatorship.

It is true that there is a need for certain kinds of extremists and dreamers in the political realm.  You need people that push the envelope, that hold those in power accountable.  I am by no means saying that these people don’t have their place.  But when this becomes the norm, I think you will see that a political party stands a very slim chance of getting anything done that will last.  There have to be those that understand the reality of law, how to get laws actually passed, etc.  As a musician, I am a dreamer.  But as a History and eventually an American Studies Major, I also know that there needs to be those in power than understand the mechanisms of government.

One of my favorite writers is George Orwell.  Orwell was a democratic socialist that was also highly critical of the utopian left.  He understood that if you wanted to raise the living of the working class, you had to get them on your side.  Orwell understood the plight of miners in Northern England, even if intellectually and culturally he was quite different.  He understood why these people had certain religious and cultural beliefs.  A certain kind of culture and education influences the way one thinks.  Attacking something someone holds dear, if it is not related to the matter at hand, especially if in all other ways they would be open to an important political goal, is foolish.  In politics, you have to be willing to meet people where they are at.

I believe that overall Sanders and Coates want the same end goal.  They both want to live in a fairer country where there is more opportunity for all people, where everyone is treated equally under the rule of law.  But Coates as been critical of Sanders for not taking up one of his explicit political causes.  If he was attacking a sitting political power I would deem what he is doing as noble and necessary to the political process.

However, in an election cycle, especially when the opposing choices are so horrendous, I can’t help but think of what he is doing is foolish.  Sanders largely shares the same goals, even if he views getting there differently.  Why, when critiquing someone, would you pick Sanders?  Coates explains this, but I just can’t agree with him.  (And anyone that thinks all politicians are the same needs to merely think how recent historical events would have played out if Gore would have won instead of Bush.  At least Bill Maher is honest enough to admit he should have not voted for Nader.  And if you don’t believe voting matters, that politicians are the same, there are probably thousands of dead Iraqis that would say differently, if only they could.)

In a perfect world there would possibly be a greater variety among the candidates.  But politics is again partially dealing with the realities of a situation.  These are the candidates that we have.  Sanders might not be checking off every box for Coates, but doesn’t he run the risk of helping to elect someone that is either completely part of the status quo, with Hillary, or someone that is actually opposed to Coates brand of politics?  This is an election cycle where certain candidates are outright demonizing minorities.  Well this might be election year B.S, I can’t help but feel that there is a dark undercurrent in the right that will actually see the light if one of the Republicans is elected.

I view income inequality and climate change as the two biggest issues of our day.  With climate change, if that isn’t addressed, all other issues may be worthless, as we might all end up sharing a world that isn’t worth living in.  There is also a clock on that issue.  We only have so long to get it right.  The Democrats are much better on that issue than the Republicans.  It is also worth saying that the poorest people in the world will be affected the most by climate change, many of them minorities.

Income inequality affects people from all races, even if it is disproportionately affecting minorities.  How long can we live in a world where 65 people hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion, before there is a revolution that doesn’t not happen through the comparatively peaceful channels of politics?  Sanders is the best candidate on this issue.  Again, I’m not saying his platform would go far enough in addressing all wrongs, but I think it is the platform that would do the most good for the most people.

These is not saying that there are not other issues that this country needs to address by any means.  But a candidate that can make a difference on these issues can do good for a great amount of people, including minorities.  In a year when so many things are on the line, should not those of us that share common goals, do our best to put away our differences for the time being?  I have my own personal checkbox of things I would like to see changed, but I know what is first and foremost of importance.  I’m not even arguing that Coates should not be adding to the dialog, saying certain proposals don’t go far enough.  But I find his particular criticism of the candidate closest to him to be troubling.  I just can’t help but feel Coates is doing some harm right now, along with some good, when it comes to the political future of this country.

 

 

George Orwell: Why I Write

George Orwell: Why I Write

A friend is reading a collection of George Orwell essays I recommended called Facing Unpleasant Facts.  Because I wanted to be able to talk about the book intelligently, but it had been some time since reading it, I decided on the van ride home today to reread a couple of his best essays, including Why I Write.  You can read the same essay at the above link.

Orwell was probably better than any writer, in the English language, at getting across big ideas in clear direct language.  In this essay Orwell not only provides a window into his motivation for writing, but the motivation for writers as a whole. He also makes the case for writing as truth telling.

Another reason I love Orwell is that he was very realistic about how to achieve political goals.  He is often misunderstood, due to readers’ selectiveness, as his writing is crystal clear.  Orwell considered himself a democratic socialist, but he often criticized the left for their approach to achieving their goals, especially in the language that they used.  I can’t help but feel that Orwell is greatly missed in these tumultuous times.  Luckily his writings are still here, still powerful, pointing the way.

 

No We Won’t Be Safer if We All Go Buy Guns

No, We Won’t Be Safer if We All Go Buy Guns

The above article breaks down statistically why society is not safer with more guns, as some on the extreme right have proposed.  From the article:

Analysis by the Violence Policy Center has found that at least 29 mass shootings since 2007 were carried out by perpetrators with concealed carry permits. That’s more than three times the number of concealed permit holders who prevented mass shootings through their swift action. And it’s not as though those heroes (and they are heroes) are truly stemming the tide of non-sensical gun deaths in the U.S.: A Washington Post analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data found that, for every “justifiable” gun homicide in 2012, there were 34 criminal gun homicides, 78 gun suicides, and at least two accidental gun deaths. Similarly, a 2014 study from the University of California–San Francisco found that people who owned a gun were three times as likely to kill themselves as non-firearm owners; by comparison, the annual per capita risk of death during a home invasion is 0.0000002 percent. Hell, even toddlers kill more people than terrorists. Guns are used far more often for killing than for self-defense, despite the fact that some 63 percent of Americans think guns make them feel safer.

I don’t even believe the majority of gun owners want guns to be easier to obtain.  I know that several of my gun owning friends in Texas are troubled by the state’s new open carry law.  But there is a vocal minority and a powerful industry that wants reality to be ignored.  That minority are the ones that not only endanger us, but also have lead people like me, who used to be an agnostic on guns, to want to see more restrictions placed on them.  If you can’t police yourself, mom and dad need to take away your toys.  I don’t even like to waste the time writing about guns, as there are so many issues of greater importance.  But the extreme right gives one no choice.  They are forcing this issue, creating the very enemies to their issues that they imagined to be there, before they opened their mouths.

The End of ‘The Hateful Eight’ and George Carlin

The following post concerns the end of the movie ‘The Hateful Eight’.  You’ve been warned.

Bullshit is the glue, that binds us as a nation.

Where would we be without our safe, familiar, American bullshit? Land of the free, home of the brave, the American dream, all men are equal, justice is blind, the press is free, your vote counts, business is honest, the good guys win, the police are on your side, God is watching you, your standard of living will never decline… and everything is going to be just fine— The official national bullshit story. I call it the American okie doke.

– George Carlin

I couldn’t help but think of that quote as I watched the end of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie.  The new Western features a group of characters that get sequestered in a lodge during a Wyoming winter, in the decade after the Civil War.  Like all Tarantino movies, he takes a well known genre and introduces new elements to it, often from other cinematic influences.  You could easily watch this movie and just be entertained by it’s combination of dark humor, suspenseful drama, and sensational violence.  But like other Tarantino’s movies, especially the last few, there is a more than just sheer entertainment going on.  Although Tarantino’s genius has always been attributed to the innovative ways he tells stories through film and his quotable dialog, the style of his films and not their substance, it is wrong to think his films are only style.

The Hateful Eight features historical and cinematic American archetypes.  Samuel Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren, is a bounty hunter and a former member of the Union Calvary.  Bruce Dern plays a former Confederate General.  Walter Goggins is a younger Southerner who mentions the Lost Cause of Southern defeat.  Those characters and others don’t trust each other.  Everyone has a secret, no one trusts that the others are what they say, and a lot of the suspense from the movie comes from the these characters poking and prodding each other to figure out what the real aims are of everyone in the lodge.  Whether you like the film or not probably depends on how much you like Tarantino’s style of filmmaking, of which I happen to be a fan of.

But for those that are not fans, you are missing out on one of the best movie endings of the year.  The end of the movie features Jackson and Goggins, two characters that are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, teaming up against the gang of which is there to free Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing criminal Daisy Domergue.  Like many Tarantino movies, the end of the movie features cinematic violence that leads to all of the characters either being dead or wounded.  Jackson and Goggins are the last two alive.

Earlier in the film Jackson’s character produces a letter that he claims is written by Abraham Lincoln.  He later admits it is false and claims the lie about the letter is to make white people feel safe around him.

The last shot of the movie, as Jack and Goggin’s characters lay dying, Goggins asks to read the letter, and both men seem to find comfort in it.  I couldn’t help but think of this as a metaphor for America, where people with seemingly nothing in common, other than a shared history of violence and bigotry, are bound together by a pretty story that sounds nice, but has very little to do with reality or fact.  This is a cynical view, but there is a lot of truth to it.  Often the patriotic political stories that we are told as children, and that we still believe far into adulthood, are closer to fairy tales than to reality.  One only needs to think of the myth of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree.  But even such phrases as “the land of the brave and the home of the free” are nationalistic claptrap that we use like a comfort blanket as we imagine an imaginary past where everything was as it should be.

I can’t really think of a better scene in a movie that demonstrates the point Carlin is trying to make above.  “Bullshit is the glue, that binds us as a nation.”  David Milch, through his show Deadwood, also uses the quote, “History is a lie agreed upon.”  I’m not trying to deny the many great things that America has done.  There is a duality running through this country’s history.  But nostalgia for an imagined past is something that too often prevents many of our citizens from realizing that there can be better days ahead, if only we don’t repeat our ancestors mistakes.

 

Matt Taibbi On Oregon Standoff

Matt Taibbi On Oregon Standoff

I have tried several times to write about what is going on in Oregon, only to find myself not being able to adequately convey the proper level of outrage and absurdity.  Thank heavens that Matt Taibbi is there when you need him.  Above is his take on the events over at Rolling Stone.  Every time I read an article on Ammon Bundy and the gang, I feel my brain melting down.  Even Donald Trump and the Koch brothers don’t fill me with such loathing.  Even if they see themselves as David vs. Goliath, and in terms of sheer firepower and physicality, compared to the federal government, they may be, as soon as they brought weapons into their political argument they took on the role of the bully.  They somehow represent sheer dumb force, even as they are strikingly pathetic. Sooner or later they will end up in jail or possibly dead, and unlike so many in this country, they will have brought that upon themselves.  Unwittingly these people are making a better argument for a strong government than any liberal possibly could.

Thoughts On PC Culture

Even though I am politically on the left, and largely agree with many of the political aims of a great deal of those on the far left, I can’t help but be constantly agitated with those who argue for more PC language.  I think this is extremely unhelpful to those aims and to human behavior in general.  I once volunteered for a political group that was on the left.  Even though the goals that we are all seeking were mostly common ones, after a day of working with these people, I remember thinking, “Get me the fuck out of here!”

  1.  I think it turns people off who otherwise might be open to the goals of the left.  You’ve got to meet people where they are at.  The goal is the important thing, not how you get there.  (Of course I do not mean that one should do anything unethical to achieve a goal.)  Language matters.  How you talk to someone matters.  You need to talk to people in a way that the goal in mind makes sense to them.  Having a language police reduces the effectiveness of communication.
  2. Worrying about things being PC can consume energy that could be used more effectively somewhere else.  The reality of the world is that everyone has only so much energy, and so much time to pay attention.  Anything that distracts from the end goal is a waste of time.  If you want to see more people make a living wage, if you want to see less racism or sexism, if you want to see more people included into the American dream, that is the goal and the thing worth working towards.  Any kind of mini-battels along the way that could draw attention from those very real and important goals is a waste of energy.  It could also be the thing that people remember and not the goal itself.
  3. Communication is incredibly difficult.  One can often talk to someone else, even a dear friend or family member, and misinterpret what they are trying to say.  Before one raises a fuss over certain buzzword or term, one should do their best to determine a person’s intentions.  Is someone intellectually on your side or not, at least enough to achieve the goal that you set out?  The world is made up of imperfect people.  Equality in the utopian sense is not possible.  What everyone should be striving for is equality in society and in the law.  Until that goal is reached everything else beyond that is not possible.

These are very brief thoughts that at some point I should try to elaborate on.  There is a very real struggle going on in this country that is destroying some people’s lives, much of it derived from income inequality.  The sooner we get that solved the better.  The more than those that want those problems to end fight amongst ourselves, the slower the progress.  If someone is trying to do the right thing, but in that process says something that is wrong, and they are demonized for it, an enemy may be created where once there was a friend.  Clearly, when so much hangs in the balance, this is not what people want is it?  Or do people simply want to feel righteous, defeat or victory being only secondary in nature?

Enlightenment and Alienation

I am finally free to start writing again, as I have been spending a large degree of my free time on musical projects.  As much as I want to make people aware of things I think are worthy in our culture, I want to occasionally tackle bigger fish as well.  I was thinking tonight about enlightenment.  Now I am far from enlightened my friends!  As Morrissey once sang, “It’s written all over my face.”  I still am gripped by an insane temper at times, and that is only one of my many personal and biological faults.  (We are always up against not only the world around us, but also the chemicals inside us.)  But tonight I was thinking about how enlightenment is hard, not only to achieve, but how anyone that was truly enlightened would be an outsider in our society anyhow.  Our consumerist, anxiety ridden culture doesn’t really want people to be enlightened.  Ads are not made to appeal to enlightened people.  Our political class is often the very definition of those that are ego driven.  (Donald Trump anyone?)

So the very idea of perfecting oneself is in many ways at cross purposes with fitting in to the larger culture landscape that we swim in every day.  I can’t help but think that to be enlightened is to also be alienated.  Obviously if someone was enlightened they would be at peace, but I am talking more about the process of getting there.  I am talking about how society puts up its own endless roadblocks to such a place.

In may ways I am a typical consumer.  I love to consume things, although they are usually books, movies, records, etc.  Hell, it is what I write about half the time, things.  But as I get older I also am increasingly aware that material things don’t really matter.  Sure, you don’t want to be stressed out over money.  You don’t want to be worried about survival.  You want to have some fun, to have some things to enjoy your time with.  You want to be able to travel or do things that you find interesting.  But many material things, expensive cars, mansions, are really just hymns to the the self, that in no way reflect on a person in any positive way, and may even reflect negatively, although there is no guarantee of that either.

But as I increasingly become aware of such thoughts, and others, I also find myself in an increasingly large amount of conversations with people that seem like they operating on a different planet.  Life increasingly becomes like a strange dream, where you realize society is no more than a mask for some bigger mystery.  Maybe once one is more enlightened they can help other people see this in a way that will make the world better.  But often one is stuck smiling and nodding, trying their best to be polite, while realizing the river between you is way wider than you thought.

I can’t help but feel enlightenment and alienation are two parts of the same thing.  The first is the ideal end goal.  The other is part of the journey there, but for too many the place they get stuck.  Often in the manifesto of a crazy person there will be equal parts truth and confusion.  It’s like they saw temporarily behind the mask, but instead of learning, it drove them mad.  I remember a friend once reading a book about how close saints and madmen were.  Who knows such things…

I don’t have any answers, or any points.  I am only asking you to reflect and to ponder.