Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Listen to those long since passed who predicted the future

   I used to frequent the bargain basement of Riverow Bookshop in Owego, NY, commandeering everything from Louis L'Amour to Plato. Truth be told, I've read more L'Amour than Plato. Much of the shop's used stock was destroyed in the 2011 flood (check out the photo):
   When they reopened, I visited and happened upon Aldous Huxley's "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" - a collection of essays written by Huxley between 1952 and 1956. He had a such a clear view of human nature and subsequently a clear view of the future. Many Progressives are so very resistant to Huxley, Orwell and the like, content and confined to living in the moment with a fountain of academic knowledge but a deficit of understanding. I'm not suggesting we live in the past to fix our present. But should we not consider the perspectives of those who accurately predicted our future? History is a resource to recognize warnings signs, analyze cause and effect, one that is mostly squandered on winning rather than learning.
    The current political climate is incredibly emotional and divisive. These career politicians are narcissistic celebrities with power beyond the three walls of a set, beyond the fourth wall, in fact - for their reach extends to our life and death reality. And yet they play and bicker like middle school children. They implement grand sweeping changes every election cycle, but rarely address detail and causation. They speak in generalities, then condescend to us when we challenge them.  
    In the essay collection's namesake Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Huxley writes:
"We may not appreciate the fact; but a fact nevertheless it remains: we are living in a Golden Age, the most gilded Golden Age of human history - not only of past history, but of future history. For, as Sir Charles Darwin and many others before him have pointed out, we are living like drunken sailors, like the irresponsible heirs of a millionaire uncle...How long can this spending spree go on?"
    Huxely was a man not only given the gift of knowledge, but of understanding. Of this he writes:
"Knowledge is acquired when we succeed in fitting a new experience into the system of concepts based upon our old experiences. Understanding comes when we liberate ourselves from the old and so make possible a direct, unmediated contact with the new, the mystery, moment by moment, of our existence.
   Knowledge is always in terms of concepts and can be passed on by means of words or other symbols. Understanding is not conceptual, and therefore cannot be passed on. It is an immediate experience, and immediate experience can only be talked about (very inadequately), never shared.
   Nobody can actually feel another’s pain or grief, another’s love or joy or hunger. And similarly nobody can experience another’s understanding of a given event or situation. There can, of course, be knowledge of such an understanding and this knowledge may be passed on in speech or writing, or by means of other symbols. Such communicable knowledge is useful as a reminder that there have been specific understandings in the past, and that understanding is at all times possible. But we must always remember that knowledge of understanding is not the same thing as the understanding, which is the raw material of that knowledge. It is as different from understanding as the doctor’s prescription for penicillin is different from penicillin".
    Many of us are so willing to speak for others, fathom to know their motivations and proclaim them wrong or evil. That's not understanding, that's anti-enlightenment. And what of self-reflection? With the pervasive sensory overload of technology and corruptive Tribal mentality, despite a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips - one of the positives of modern technology - self-awareness seems to be at an all-time low. How can this be? As Mark Twain said, "It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Affordable Care? Didn't the IRS just hire thousands of new agents?

    Interesting article on the Supreme Court's Affordable Care Act decision. Generally, I'm of the opinion that the political elites name bills and laws in true Machiavellian fashion; that is, a piece of legislation's ultimate purpose is to create a slush fund or leverage votes but must be named something magnanimous and positive and propagandized as such - No Child Left Behind, Community Reinvestment Act, Social Security, AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, anything with Free Trade somewhere in the acronym, etc. You'd think we'd catch on quicker, but unfortunately we think of things in election cycles and skirt details unless they're blared to us in our Facebook news feeds...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, congruent thinking, and an excerpt from David Mamet's "The Secret Knowledge"

  David Mamet is a prolific playwright and director who created quite a stir in 2008 with his Vanity Fair article, “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal.’” Also in 2008, Mamet released Redbelt, a film I believe to be his underrated masterpiece. As an artist and avid fan with Conservative core values, I’ve enjoyed entertaining the notion that Mamet’s paradigm shift and the textured, confident filmmaking of Redbelt were not mutually exclusive. So many of the people I revere artistically seem to be, ideologically speaking, my polar opposites. So it’s nice to win one once in awhile is all. On the other hand, perhaps ideological and political narcissism works both ways. It’s fair to say many to most politicians are public sector tacticians invested in their own career longevity. Without term limits and within the confines of human nature, how can they not be? But what of us in the electorate who continually choose representation who most remind us of ourselves? I guess it’s our damn fault.

  Mamet opens his Vanity Fair article with the John Maynard Keynes quote, "When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?" How many of those professed to be radical Liberals today would perpetuate the cause absent from the comforting camaraderie, shelter, and political correctness of The Tribe? Technology and an increasingly rigid ceiling of tribal doctrine have given people with little experience or perspective in this country the ability to tear it down. The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters are rallying against exorbitant profits and bonuses, in general corporate greed. They voted to make sleeping bags rather than purchase them premade from a corporation. But a rational mind must consider the organizational funds provided to them by billionaire George Soros, their networking on billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, and their use of products created by a billionaire, the late Steve Jobs, and wonder, “Okay, um, what are they protesting again?”

  The group’s online extension, “Occupy Main Street”, is attempting on a large scale what Senator Schumer perpetrated on California’s IndyMac Bancorp in 2008, a bank run that was one of the catalysts of the 2008 financial meltdown. In Washington, politicians become rich, slush funds like Social Security waste our tax dollars, wars and nation building in tough economic times supersede free trade, and the very things “Occupy Wall Street” participants are protesting are made possible by lobbyists, lack of Congressional term limits, and a ballooning federal bureaucracy. So where’s “Occupy Constitution Ave”? Oh, right, that was The Tea Party. But they’re all racist obstructionists. 

  The fast-paced surface sheen of online social interactions and reading habits have contributed to the unfortunate practice of truly judging books, people, and issues by their covers. I was wary of then candidate Barrack Obama in 2008. I had read “Audacity of Hope”, sections of “Dreams of My Father,” and watched him unload his fiery rhetoric in numerous interviews as a junior senator already on the Presidential campaign trail. Even by today’s standards of media bias and corporate news conglomerates, I was taken aback by how many well spoken, seemingly well researched people like me were dismissed outright as racists. For further insight into this technique, I highly recommend Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals".

  The following is a poignant excerpt from David Mamet’s “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture”:

  “It has taken me rather an effort of will to wrench myself free from various abstractions regarding human interaction. A sample of these would include: that poverty can be eradicated, that greed is the cause of poverty, that poverty is the cause of crime, that Government, given enough money, can cure all ills, and that, thus, it should be so engaged. These insupportable opinions (prejudices, really), that function, in the West, much like a routine of magic tricks. The magician pulls a rabbit out of a supposedly empty hat, and while one wonders, ‘How did he do that?’ he’s already diverting the audience to a new trick – for he cannot give the audience time to dwell upon the effect. Neither can he repeat it – for the trick is a confounding of cause and effect. We watch the trick, and, in our surprise at its conclusion, remember it as the demonstration of a proposition. (I will cause a live cockatoo to appear from the front of my frilly shirt; watch.)

  That is what the mind remembers, but that is not what actually occurred; for, had the magician said, ‘Watch my shirt to see if you can find the cockatoo’, the audience would do so. No, the magician makes a magic pass or two, and the shirt, upon which we had previously devoted no attention, gives forth the cockatoo, AS IF FROM NOWHERE. But the cockatoo did not come from nowhere, it was the frill on the shirt.

  The trick of the politician and his fellow mountebanks, ‘Earn big money while never leaving your house!’ is an inversion of the above: the dupe is told the proposition (I will now change the frill into a cockatoo; I will raise productivity and, thus, wealth, by taxing everyone to death, and driving capital out of the market), and then he is distracted from the fact that the trick has no conclusion. The politician says, ‘Watch closely, watch closely,’ and then ‘Wait, wait, wait...’ and, while our attention is diverted, he makes off with the money.

  What did he just do, the opposition asks? He ruined the economy, took our savings, destroyed our ability to do business, and indebted our grandchildren. ‘Wait, wait, wait,’ say the believers, ‘You fool: didn’t he say ‘it might take time?’’ And should the believers grow restive, a new effect (crisis) is right around the corner...

  Perhaps ‘you can’t cheat an honest man’ because the struggle to live honestly has of necessity created the habit of honest observation. The honest man might observe, for example, that no one gets something for nothing; that politicians go in poor and come out rich; that the Government screws up everything it touches; and that the Will to Believe is best confined to Religious Venue, as, to practice it elsewhere is just too damned expensive.”

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Teabaggers Unite!

There'll be a debt deal by Tuesday, but the Tea Party folks should be proud.  They completely reshaped the debate and stood their ground.  They've served their constituents and their country.  They've also served a number of petulant career politicians on a silver platter for this upcoming election year!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Marxism Failed

The incentive that impels a person to act is always some uneasiness. Humans, unlike purely instinctual creatures, strive for subjective happiness. A newspaper headline reads, “Successful Business Man Throws Self From Building.” The phrasing is misleading as this man had clearly not attained success where it counted.  Material gain and happiness are very often mutually exclusive.
So what does it mean to be happy?  As this is a subjective question, the answers are and will continue to be innumerable. That true happiness can not be imposed is the only objective certainty. So then the consideration must become whether the pursuit of subjective happiness is a right or a privilege. What aspects of human nature must be suppressed or controlled in some to create serviceable societal conditions for most?   
Writer Theodore Dalrymple provided this passage from Marquis de Custine’s Le Russie en 1839 in which Custine described a Russian official: “This member of the machine…functioning according to a will which is not his own, lives as much as the movement of a clock…One asks oneself what [such men] can do with their excess of thought and you feel uncomfortable at the idea of the force that had to be exerted against intelligent beings to succeed in making them only things.”
As with two competing empirical science experiments, the comparison of a planned economy with a market economy must be examined using a control. That control is human nature. Unlike the empirical sciences, however, using the facts of human nature to predict the exact form and result of human action is not a quantifiable undertaking. We must consider the law of unintended consequences. It is irresponsible to prescribe often politicized social and economic fixes on the whole of society based on theoretical results. Unlike the trial and error of empirical tests within the confines of a laboratory, haphazard social experimentation can irreversibly influence individual and collective human physiological development. 
The study of human action, or praxeology, dictates unequivocally that people will naturally, unconsciously compete for material gain, peer approval, and improved socioeconomic status unless satiated with opposing stimuli. Therein lays both the inherent risks of free market competition and the questionable socioeconomic implications of Marxism. In other words, with competition there is always a winner and loser. With Marxism, there is oppression of the individual to eradicate competition all together. If everyone is not only receiving an equal share but scorned for individual achievement, there is no motivation to produce more than is necessary. This, Marx contends, would produce a fair society with no inherent purpose for nationalistic or competitive exertion on others and consequently no mode or purpose to wage war. But these output levels are not static as each subsequent generation will require more aggressive negative stimuli to produce comparably.  
     Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises suggests that individual human action driven by subjective goals is the necessary catalyst of any functioning socioeconomic condition. “The road to the performance of great things must always lead through the performance of partial tasks,” he wrote. A market society thrives not on the benevolence of government, but on the individual citizen’s attempt to improve or maintain their lot in life. A planned Marxist economy would stagnate and collapse beneath government ownership of industry and steadily expanding forced collectivism. This is theoretical because political upheaval and violence have consistently stalled socialist experiments. Attempts like the Soviet Union and the short lived Paris Commune of 1871 have descended into chaos and death.  Of the Paris Commune Lenin wrote, “…when the mass revolutionary movement of the proletariat bust forth, Marx, in spite of the failure of that movement, in spite of its short life and its patent weakness, began to study what forms it had discovered.” Not what a particularly astute Communard had discovered, but what “it” had discovered. One may infer that Marx and Lenin considered death and turmoil as nothing more than faceless chain reactions in an experiment servicing their desired ends. The people of Karl Marx’s ideology were not individuals; they were the proletariat and the bourgeois. The Workers Paradise exists to collectively perpetuate the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. "Why study a man, when you know Men?", Dalrymple writes sardonically. Today, even the socialist politicians have learned the value of personifying the individual, though these citizens’ tales of adversity and triumph are often exploited; habitually used as the means to political popularity rather than celebrated as the ends of a free society. Adversity is focused upon quixotically to leverage votes when some forms of adversity are precisely what guide and drive us to better ourselves. 
     Marx offered an official correction to his and Charles Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party: “One thing was especially proved by the Commune…that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’” Violent revolution was to establish a weak State or, as Lenin put it, “a fuller democracy” which would theoretically wither away and give rise to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. In reality, the “weak State” is a soft tyranny which naturally progresses, despite Marx’s promises of a Worker’s Paradise, to Totalitarianism. 
The Conservative argument maintains that absolute governmental power corrupts absolutely. The road to enlightenment is disciplined, educated choice amidst a reasonably regulated free market and a strong, entrpeneurial private sector--which includes, for example, mal practice insurance reform to enable doctors to practice their vocation and treat the needy pro bono--and a clearly defined public sector with limited term rather than career politicians. Mises wrote, “People fell prey to the fallacy that the improvement of the methods of production was contemporaneous with the policy of laissez faire only by accident. Deluded by Marxian myths, they consider modern industrialism an outcome of the operation of mysterious ‘productive forces’ that do not depend in any way on ideological factors.” Consider again the projected output of a society whose members have no means or motivation to excel because they are prescribed an equal share: recession even amidst forced labor would occur, at which point Capitalist principals would need to be reestablished to generate growth, followed by a resurgence of violent upheaval to reestablish the Communists' "weak State" and so on. A cyclical whirlwind of human calamity. The “peace, bread, and land” propaganda used during Lenin’s October Revolution in Russia professed a far different view of the future than what even a cursory examination of Marx’s theories would suggest to an objective mind. 
Marx professed to believe that all systemic conflict stemmed from social inequality. Is that what drove both his daughters to commit suicide? Or did Marx's own disorganized, bohemian existence juxtaposed with his maddening attempts to control their's do the trick? Social inequality interested many of Marx’s contemporaries, including Charles Darwin. Darwin was puzzled over the apparent lack of social hierarchy amongst the Fuegian Indians of South America. He wrote, “even a piece of cloth is torn into shreds and distributed; no one individual becomes richer than another.” He thought this “perfect equality” would “for a long time retard their civilization.” Judging from this excerpt he failed to grasp that social hierarchy could manifest itself differently than the conventional societal stratum he was accustomed to. But Darwin nonetheless recognized that a lack of competition would not only adversely affect the exchange of commodities, but would retard society as a whole. 
Is their a lesser evil when choosing between bureaucratic competition and free market competition?  Sustained economic success under Stalinism, Maoism and other Marxist inspired regimes was illusive due to internal and external political upheaval.  Mass oppression and genocide, however, were starkly evident. Capitalism has yielded both quantifiable successes and disastrous social oppression.  Of the latter result in the United States, arguably a grotesquely mutated sense of entitlement, interventionist militarism, and general disregard of the principles of Federalism have contributed to and nurtured this oppression.     
     The devout allegiance to a particular ideology is as much a catalyst for passionate debate and outright conflict as social inequality has been professed to be.  John Milton wrote, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Consider these intentions. Texts that promise to ease the ills of society have received more understanding and adulation by some than have the people and places that make-up that society. In these cases, the Utopian reality is more appealing than the plausible, achievable results within the confines of our actual reality. The inescapably messy, convoluted nature of human existence is a barrier such delusional minds will never fully understand. In nature, self-deception occurs so that organisms may present themselves as whatever it is in their genetic interest to be. Presumably these creatures lack self-awareness. Some orchids, for example, that look like female wasps to attract and devour male wasps are not, as far as we understand, aware of what they’re doing.  Humans, on the other hand, have taken deception and self-deception to new and infinitely more destructive places.   

Monday, June 27, 2011

Long Live the New Flesh: Virtual Social Interaction

I remember my parents’ black rotary phone. As a rather introverted child of the ‘80s, I found it an ominous presence in the kitchen. Sandwiched between beige table top shelving on the left and an ever shifting stack of “stuff” on the right, it was never ignored if we were within earshot of its metallic drone. I was frequently asked to answer it. I hated being forced to talk to anyone, let alone a strange adult. But without an answering machine or caller ID, I had no choice. In my late teens I was working at a video store when “Dan,” a middle-aged, married neighbor of mine approached the register and bought an X-rated movie. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me - it was very awkward. Mostly for him. Experiences like these two seemingly innocuous examples of social adversity teach us valuable lessons. “Dan” won’t have to do that again, I thought to myself a few years later as online pornography was taking off. The internet in its infancy was a communication tool of the U.S. military. Networks like ARPANET in the 1960s allowed for limited data packet transfers across single network paths. Blips on a black screen.  As these networks became interconnected, they spawned discussion forums, or newsgroups, which led directly to contemporary social media.
In the aptly titled book Alone Together, psychologist Sherry Turkle examines our evolving relationship with technology.  Turkle suggests, “We’re using inanimate objects to convince ourselves that even when we’re alone, we feel together. And then when we’re with each other, we put ourselves in situations where we feel alone - constantly on our mobile devices”. She describes high-school students “who fear having to make a phone call, and elementary-school children who become distraught when their toy robot pets ‘die’”. Facebook, Twitter,and MySpace allow for real-time, full color virtual interaction. We used to have to answer that black rotary phone without knowing who would be on the other end. Now, with a few clicks and a touch of self-delusion, we’re able to withdraw from our physical reality. But escape it is not. From the moment you’re plugged in you’re inundated with stream after stream of stimuli: post on this blog, buy this product, accept this invitation, “like” this photo, tell us what you’re thinking, feeling, doing. The more we know, the more persuasive our targeted advertising will be! As Chuck Palahniuk writes, “Old George Orwell got it backward. Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing...holding your attention every moment you’re awake.... With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what’s on your mind. With everyone’s imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world”. You wake up and there’s a Tweet on your phone stating an attractive woman halfway around the world from you is enjoying a late breakfast of coffee and slightly stale glazed donuts. Ping!  She just posted a cute “self portrait” taken not 30 seconds prior. She is so hung over. You were so hung over last Thursday. IM her later. How did she become your virtual “friend”? You can’t remember. But her favorite movie is “The Notebook” and she’s upset her enlisted brother was just shipped off to South Korea. Such unprecedented connection, yet this stimulus rich realm dictates interactions have a certain cursory quality to them. Originally utilized as a communication tool for the Deaf, text messaging on cell phones is one of a multitude of addictive virtual phenomena that have skewed “our perceptions of intimacy and solitude”. As applied to contemporary dating, never before has so much casual physical gratification been achievable with so little effort. Feeling lonely?  No need for the potentially mortifying late night phone call. “Test the waters” with a text! Denied? Feign mistaken messaging!
Virtual networking has been cemented into many a daily routine. Are the relatively limited or socially challenging confines of our immediate physical reality by comparison becoming less appealing? Are our children doomed to develop stunted social skills immersed in such an omni prescient and addictive alternate reality? How destructive would a “Google Bomb” be if detonated in a populated area? In the parlance of our times, lol. Consider each successive generation of technologically advanced youth: do they not seem more disenfranchised, more collectivist, more infected with a pervasive sense of entitlement than the last?  Certainly teenagers have always been malcontented and dependant upon the acceptance of their peers. But today these traits are developing unchecked and are more frequently manifesting in adults. Virtual social interaction has revealed an irresistible conduit for our natural desires and subsequently amplified them to unnatural levels. Filmmaker David Cronenberg writes, “Technology is us...there is no separation. Technology is a sheer expression of human creative will. And if at times it’s dangerous or threatening, it’s because in us we have things that are dangerous and self-destructive and threatening”. The subject of Cronenberg’s 1999 film “eXistenZ is an organic virtual reality game made from tissue, proteins and chromosomes. The device taps into a person’s nervous system and subconscious through a surgically implanted port at the base of the spine. Is this the future our children are headed for? Robots, cloning, and the internet are all examples of science fiction evolving into science fact. Faced with so much information and opportunity, the potential intellectual growth of our society seems equaled only by our ability to approach everything as rabid consumers. Consider as well the amount of personal or infrastructural information that’s readily available online. In 2009, Nielsen research suggested that online social activity around the world was up 82% with an estimated 300 million users. Given the right circumstances, we would be at the mercy of anyone able to use this technology against us. Turkle writes, “To me, opening up a conversation about rethinking the Net, privacy, and civil society is not backward-looking nostalgia in the least. It seems like part of a healthy process of democracy defining it’s sacred spaces”.
There are many positive aspects to virtual social interaction - not the least of which is the ability to stay connected with loved ones across great distances. But as with the whole of technology, positive effects should not dictate we ignore all the inherent problems. Parents and educators should refocus on inspiring not appeasing children. Illustrate that technology is a powerful tool that must be used with discipline. In the home, implement small but firm steps like social media free nights.  Encourage more introspective time. Prayer or meditation contributes hugely to self discipline. In the classroom, utilize the internet to research current events, social media to amass a critical consensus, and open dialogue to approach issues from different sides. Challenge kids to be individuals and to understand opposing viewpoints.
Are we Tweeting our experiences rather than living them? I understand the desire to share, to seek peer approval. But if a tree falls in the forest, it does indeed make a sound. So many people are schizophrenic inhabitants of digital microcosms: they function simultaneously as celebrity and paparazzi. Let’s take a step back and get reacquainted with our analog existences.        

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Herman Cain and John Stewart: It's only comedy, plus Conservatives, especially the African-Amercian ones, are all inherently racist.

Did anyone out there see John Stewart tear into Herman Cain? So Stewart can use a "Black voice" to ridicule Herman Cain, but Rush Limbaugh is routinely called a racist when he dons a "Black voice" to ridicule Obama.  Psychologically, this is very interesting.  It perfectly illustrates the Tribal (Statist) mentality.  Members of the Tribe accept Tribal knowledge as the pinnacle of achievable thought. It evolves only when evolved by their academic elite, and includes opinion.  The majority of Left-leaning Tribesmen and -women believe, for example, that Limbaugh is indeed a racist not because they've listened to his show or received hard evidence, but because they've accepted in toto the Tribal canon.  Now perhaps it's your opinion based on actual research and experience that Limbaugh is a racist.  That's fine.  Odds are you've applied that critical thinking to people like Stewart.  But amidst Alinksy style subterfuge and political and personal attacks, there is always much more critical thinking required than the Tribe is usually willing to accommodate.