Archive for January, 2010

Revisionist History, aka Reality Based History

I like the thought-exercise of viewing historical events as if one were a disinterested Martian. When stripped of the rhetoric, oratory and emotional appeals to the psychological hooks by which we’re so easily manipulated, what does an event look like?

The resulting narrative–in this case, of the creation of the american revolution and creation of the constitution–looks alot like this post by IOZ.

A gang of propertied tax yahoos who’d read a bit too much Cicero did what any patriotic Roman might’ve done in days of yore. They raised a private army and made civil war on a tyrant. They won! And in the decade the followed, they crafted a Roman-style aristocratic Republic, from slaveholding through general manhood citizenship through a vaguely consular system of government. That’s not some anachronistic metaphor. That was their self-conscious project. How many fasciae, how much cognomenizing of Washington as Cincinnatus does it take, huh? Anyway, after a few hundred years, that Republic, which was a little less glimmering than nostalgia recalls, is now deformed beyond recognition or repair. It has inevitably acquired an imperial identity, as you’d expect given its past economic and military success, and its consular-dictatorial office has acquired the trappings of a monarchy. . .

Alright, so maybe IOZ does express a point of view greater in strength than the Martian description. I may be inclined to forgive a bit of non-objective sarcasm and derision since the next-most-mainstream position already incorporates the honorary, “Founding Fathers.” You’ve got to travel a long way past the last outpost of Serious politics to find the position that the constitution is: “neat historical document, like the Twelve Tables, or Leviticus, or Hammurabi’s code, but it is the law of the United States in the same sense that we are guided by, say, the Ten Commandments.”

I’ve still got Howard Zinn on my mind and so I hunted down his take on the American Revolution:

In the year before those famous shots were fired, farmers in Western Massachusetts had driven the British government out without firing a single shot. They had assembled by the thousands and thousands around courthouses and colonial offices and they had just taken over and they said goodbye to the British officials. It was a nonviolent revolution that took place. But then came Lexington and Concord, and the revolution became violent, and it was run not by the farmers but by the Founding Fathers. The farmers were rather poor; the Founding Fathers were rather rich.

Zinn sticks more to my ideal of Martian detachment–he’s even generous enough to use “Founding Fathers” instead of “gang of propertied tax yahoos,” though I favor the latter description myself.

What is presented in both pieces are perspectives stripped of the propaganda accepted as truth, or a close approximation thereof, by virtually everyone. It’s no small part of the pain and suffering in the world that these clear-eyed perspectives on the history of nations and peoples is considered “radical” rather than “reality.”

Goodbye, Howard Zinn

Looking back on it now, Howard Zinn had a major impact on my radicalization.  I remember reading The 20th Century, essentially a subsection of The People’s History, on a park bench in Rutland, VT.  I recall my surprise that the progressive political agenda whose return I had hoped for during the Clinton presidency was, in fact, a reactionary force.

The political giants of the era who, I had been told for years, fought against greedy and monopolistic corporate barons had, in reality, actively crushed social movements challenging the economic dominance of said barons.  The 20th Century also introduced me to dozens of individuals and communities that I had never read about, but with which I felt an immediatel and powerful solidarity*.

I spent most of that day and the following months and years unlearning the “leftist” history I had accumulated in my first quarter century on earth.  I marveled at the monstrosity of the crimes committed by the paragons of the progressive political narrative*.   The ruthlessness with which they smashed nascent unions, sowed discontent between the races, and used police, prisons, and the courts to break up organic social structures that were rapidly forming across the working class brought into question, for the first time in my life, the notion of political solutions**.
In Zinn’s telling, every chapter ends in a victory for the conservative establishment.  Every populist movement is destroyed or absorbed, its energy dispersed or twisted to serve the increasingly powerful ruling class.  Throughout the entire book, chapter by chapter, you get a sinking feeling that, if the pattern doesn’t change, the people he’s writing about are going to end up . . . well, exactly where we are.
Dennis Perrin wrote a post about Howard Zinn’s passing titled, The Human Train which does a better job of expressing my sentiments than my own post.  The title triggered a feeling within me, which I’m having a hard time pinning down.  I feel loss, which I am not accustomed to when strangers pass.  Maybe it’s a feeling of connection and motion, even between people far removed.  Anyway, I’m saddened by his passing, and very grateful for his work and the influence it’s had on my life.
* Yeah, and the ones on the right too, but I already knew they sucked.

** RIP that notion ~2002

Reason vs. Faith

As further evidence of my unresolved psychological issues, I’ve occasionally have conversations with theists.  A classic dynamic that I find myself in during these conversations is the faith vs. evidence/discernment–I think most skeptics are familiar with the phenomenon.

First, the theist will claim that their belief is just a reasonable following of the facts.  After the evidence examined, found lacking, and dispensed with, the theist claims that their beliefs are faith based and founded on subjective experience–hard to argue with that!
Today I was talking to an ex-catholic who had been challenged in his teens to reconcile the bible with the tenets of the catholic religion.  He decided to read the bible in order to refute the challenger, but found instead that the man had, in fact, been correct.  He was upset that more self-identified Christians didn’t take time to apply reason to their beliefs and discern god’s intent for their lives.
I pointed out the irresolvable problem he faces: if a person examines the evidence and applies reason to religious beliefs, she will become an atheist.  The most basic filters that we humans use to strain out nonsense-that-cannot-possibly-be-true immediately get rid of all religious claims.  Only indoctrination of the young and the threat of ostracism and/or physical harm keeps these relics of humanity’s psychotic past alive.

Mixed Messages

Before I present the story, I need to make a statement for the record: I hold Islam in no lower (or higher) esteem than any other lunacy invented whole-cloth by crazy people and passed down through the generations by abusive indoctrination of children.  Also, this is apparently an old story (Feb 2009), that I’m just now hearing about due to some even nuttier recent updates (h/t Rob Taylor, btw I disagree w/ his assessment of Lancet).

There’s a television network called Bridges TV, whose purpose is “to foster a greater understanding among many cultures and diverse populations.”  Specifically, the founder and CEO, Muzzammil Syed Hassan, also known as Mo Steve Hassan, hoped togives American Muslims a voice and will depict them in everyday, real life situations” to counter the stereotypical Hollywood depiction of Muslims as unhinged psychopaths.

Then he cut his wife’s head off.  Again, I’m certain that on the same day, men off all religions the world over murdered their wives in a number of ways, and this is a horrible, despicable thing.  Still, talk about giving a mixed message.

Up in the Air

Alisa and I just got back from watching Up in the Air.  On the whole, the movie was pretty good.  I’ll not summarize the plot too much, but there are spoilers down below.

In Up in the Air, the George Clooney character is a solitary adult that has spent his lifetime travelling for business.  He’s disconnected from his family and has forsworn marriage and children.  During the film, he meets a fellow business traveller (Vira Farmiga) and they begin a no-committment relationship.  Over the course of the movie, he decides that his life is incomplete–that he’s missing out on something–and he abandons a motivation speaking gig (mid-speech, of course) to fly to Chicago and . . . well, we never get to know what he planned to do.
It turns out she’s married and George is denied his happily ever after.  I found this to be a refreshing twist on the romantic comedy, or unromantic comedy, as it turns out.
Some of the subplots were slightly more jarring, if more predictable.  The further one lives one life from the mainstream, the stranger some cultural norms become.
In this case, the redemptive power of marriage.
Clooney’s sister (Melanie Lynskey) gets married about 2/3rds the way through the movie.  Her fiance (Danny McBride) has squandered their savings on real estate scams and seems like sort-of a loser.  On the day of the wedding, he gets cold feet–citing the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death.   Rather than welcoming the breakup and encouraging his sister to hold out for a healthy and responsible partner, he convinces McBride that he’ll be happier with someone as his “co-pilot.”
Why not advise Lynskey and McBride to take a little while to introspect and ensure that they have identified what they would like out of life.  Maybe they could talk to a councilor, find out why death looms so large in McBride’s mind, why he’d risk their collective financial assets on risky investments, that sort of thing.  Why rush into marriage?
I know it’s silly to imagine a movie bucking both the romantic comedy happily-ever-after and the inherent value and necessity of marriage, but a guy can dream.

WTF: No exit polls?

My beloved better half constantly chides me for exiting the popular political narrative during a given discussion. As a made up example: she’ll call bullshit on Obama’s not repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I’ll jump in with, “having a military is bullshit.” So I’m not much fun when discussing the kinds of tactical political minutiae favored by my intellectual peers–or political events in general, frankly.

Nevertheless, like a horrified bypasser stopping to watch two trains heading at each other at full speed, I Googled “Massachusetts election ‘exit polls.’” Guess what? Nobody’s taking exit polls! Nobody has to convince me that elections are a complete fraud and were even before Diebold and their “buggy” proprietary software guaranteed preselected results.

Even in a sham 4th world election, there are exit polls so that everyone *knows* the results are a fraud. Anytime the UN or other multi-national body declares irregularities in an election, it’s due to a discrepancy between exit polls and actual results.

Soooo, playing inside the box, I’m pre-declaring the results of the Massachusetts election to be a fraud–a fraud inside lie wrapped in a sham, to paraphrase a beloved war criminal. Since the democrat candidate had a gigantic lead (part of the stated reason for no exit polls), I’m going to guess that this one is rigged for the republicans–again, just a guess.

Zogby, who correctly predicted that John Kerry would “win” the 2004 race–if by win one means having the majority of voters cast a ballot for you in the correct electoral combination*–is saying that the dem will win by < 1%. I feel supported in my assertion that this is a republican steal by Zogby’s prediction.

* as opposed to the more favored definition which refers to actually assuming the political title for which one was contending.