Posts Tagged ‘ republicans

Season of the Witch

Presidential election season is on the horizon again, and this time around, it’s the left’ish part of the hackarati that has to spin a reactionary, pro-corporate, pro-warfare, presidency of historical proportions into something that will “energize the base”–i.e. to get the 10 to 20% of the population that might bother voting (and voting Democrat) out to the polls[1].

Vast Left political cartoonFrom the American Extremists archive
In my political lifetime (starting circa 1992), the institutional left has lost all credibility, and the non-institutional left has demonstrated how impossibly silly challenging an oligarchy within a political framework set up by oligarchs is. Come to think of it, the non-institutional right got a chance to demonstrate the same thing in the same window.

As the empire decays, and it’s barbarity and depredations become yet more fantastic and impossible to ignore, the spectacle of elections becomes all the more . . . . spectacular.

In the last 8 years, we have seen the very best that the two-headed beast of the American political party has to offer. Principled persons across the political spectrum are giving up on the whole depraved charade. Nobody with any grasp of reality and any ability to reason–apart, of course, from paid shills–can make a case for being spending valuable time and energy “engaging” in the political process.

It will be interesting to see what feats of mental acrobatics and what depths of dis-ingenuity are possible as the intellectual and media bodyguards of the collapsing political system attempt to herd everyone into the polling stations this time around.

I predict renewed interest in alternatives to politics.

  1. [1] Mostly, they just have to do their part to get something around 40% of the population to vote, total, so the whole thing isn’t a complete farce . . . well, more of a complete farce.

Empathy

I bumped into this disturbing gem of mental sickness via a pandagon post.  To summarize briefly: torturing people by simulating drowning can’t be bad because swimmers immerse themselves in water and have people yelling at them, and they’re fine.  My initial thought was to provide the teeny, tiny, bit of critical thought required to dismantle this argument.   Somebody beat me to it (also linked to in the pandagon post), and had come up with a half-dozen more and better examples than what I was thinking of.

Oddly, not a single person I know is compelled by the water-boarding = swimming-team = not-that-bad argument*.  We understand a very simple and, I think, ironclad truth: when it comes to physically interacting with, controlling, manipulating, modifying or destroying another a human’s body, if consent is not given, a crime is being committed.

I started thinking along these lines with the intention of hitting-the-broad-side-of-the-barn with a commentary on the moral bankruptcy of the right-wing position–hey, sometimes I don’t want to think too hard before posting.  Talking it over with my better half lead me to an insight that I had previously lacked.  The red state author wasn’t glossing over the consent vs. non-consent distinction as a rhetorical ploy–he couldn’t face the reality that being in a consensual vs. non-consensual context changes the subjective human experience.

With morality put aside, why is it that so many people equate, say, standing at a music festival for six hours with standing blindfolded in a prison for six hours?  This seemingly absurd position can only be maintained in the mind through a stunning lack of empathy.  Immediately condemning this blindness as backwards and evil, as I did and tend regularly to do, also demonstrates a lack of empathy**.

Only two*** possibilities exist that could lead someone to be so callous to the reality of the human experience.  First, he might have lived a life devoid of non-consensual relationships.  Having no experiences in which his will is overridden by an asymmetrical power relationship, he has no understanding of being in such a position.  Because he was always treated with respect and dignity, he cannot conceive of the alternate subjective experience that results from surrender and obedience .

I believe that, while possible, a human experience devoid of dominance is extremely rare.  The most severe and, often, the longest lasting power disparity is between a child and its parents.  I imagine that a childhood free of dominance, while not providing much experience with non-consensual actions, would probably result in a tremendous ability to empathize with suffering.  I believe that this is the case because asymmetrical power relationships tend first and foremost to remove from the victim empathy for their own situation.

Let’s examine the other possibility that explains our red state author’s amazing inability to empathize.  The second possibility is that he was immersed for his entire life in non-consensual action, in an environment of violent dominance.  To avoid physical and emotional attack, he had to constantly surrender and obey.  As an adult, he lives in a world in which he perceives asymmetrical power relationships as moral necessities that provide order and structure in an otherwise chaotic world.

If this is the case, any glimmer of empathy for a beaten, sleep deprived prisoner is coupled to empathy for his own historical relationship with those who held absolute power over him.  This glimmer, should it ever occur, must be ruthlessly crushed within himself because he probably is still in close contact with his former captors and is, very likely, exercising similar dominance now over his own spouse and children.

I’m not attempting to justify the author’s advocacy of brutality.  It is impossible to compare subjective experiences.  We may dismiss empathetic feelings for any hypothetical suffering experienced by a white male political pundit.  Clearly, there are others who spend their entire lives subject to the violent dominance of others: women foremost among them.  It can be challenging to empathize with those who spend 18 years in prison when others linger there for their entire lives.

Rather, I am interested in the social mechanisms that disallow us from coming, collectively, to understand something as simple as “torture is always wrong.”  Is it possible to make rational arguments that undo the damage done by a lifetime of dominance?  Can we heap the evidence high enough that someone will concede that violent domination of another human being’s will is everywhere and always evil?

Empirically, the answer is “no”.  Rational arguments have been made, the pile of evidence eclipses the sun, and yet the brutality proceeds apace.  I’m not proposing a solution–I don’t have any.  If there is a direction that will lead to a saner world, it involves a radical increase in empathy.  Eventually, this implies empathy one human for another–currently difficult for the best of us, and impossible for most.  It must begin initially where all change begins–we need greater empathy, first and foremost, for ourselves.

* I use the not-a-single-person-I-know argument alot.  I am aware that plenty of people are not people-I-know.  I would like to recommend a policy of not knowing people for whom this argument makes sense after any amount of consideration.

** Meta-empathy?

*** That I can think of.

Problem Solving: Violence and Non-violence

There are two types of people in the world, those who seek non-violent solutions to a given issue and those who believe that applying violence is the best alternative to enforce their preferrences.  The difference between a couple that compromises and builds consensus versus a batterer and his/her victim is clear enough to most of us.  Likewise, a parent who explains and negotiates situations with a child stands in sharp contrast to one who threatens the child with beatings for questions or disobedience.

We in the non-violent camp understand the advantages of our position.  Negotiated solutions receive “buy-in” from all parties.  Violence breeds resentment, discord and, inevitably, more and increased violence.  Consensus respects the humanity and individuality of each human being.  Coercion creates two classes of humans, the rulers and the ruled–both degraded and incapable of the full expression of their humanity.  When examining the long-term viability of human societies, a voluntary society that works towards consent-based solutions is far more likely to reach stable and sustainable institutions.  This stability and sustainability is the bedrock for peace in human relations.  Peace provides the context for rapid improvement in the quality of life of each individual human being.  In contrast, systems based on the oppression of one class of humans over another cannot be stable.  Injustices breed resentment and a desire for vengeance.  Constantly changing power dynamics ensure that the oppressed will eventually have the physical force required to seize the engines of violence.  In this uncertain environment, long-term investment in well-being is undertaken more rarely and the store of human progress is depleted in short-term consumption.

The paradigm that many of us subscribe to maps the non-violent and the coercive to the two leading political parties.  Republicans, like a violent parent, do not wish to negotiate solutions to differences of preference.  In their opinion, broadly speaking1, “drugs are bad” and they use para-military units and the largest prison system in the history of the world to enforce this preference on their neighbors.  Likewise, they are of the opinion that, “homosexuality is bad,” and use violence to institutionally prevent a voluntary agreement from being declared between gay partners.  Internationally, the republican preference for violent solutions is legendary–this is also the arena in which the negative effects of unilateral solutions are least controversial.

According to this same paradigm, the democrats in our country prefer negotiated, consensus based solutions to problems.  The briefest leap into the position of an objective observer, however, reveals the illusory nature of this position.  We will leave aside, for this post anyway, the huge swaths of policies that the two parties share: the wars on drugs and terrorism, the handing of trillions of dollars to ueber-wealthy corporate allies, the carte blanche granted to the military and police, the imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of non-violent “offenders,” and so forth.  Let’s focus on the first issue that I can think of about which right-wing solutions are less likely to get violent than than left: gun control.

We all have an opinion about who should be armed and how well.  The “moderate” position of allowing registered weapons for hunting purposes stands toward the center of a very long spectrum.  On the one end are those who would prefer that no-one own or carry anything more weapon-like than a pocket-knife.  On the other extreme are the proponents of personal, unregistered nuclear devices–which, admittedly, might come in handy in negotiations with police.  The non-violent approach is, as always, to accord the same respect for others that you wish for yourself.  Concerns for the safety of children in an armed household can be raised and responded to in a reasonable manner.  The non-violent social disapproval that keeps most of us out of our pajamas when we visit downtown can be directed at those who make poor choices (in your opinion) about keeping and bearing arms.  Damage done due to gun negligence could be treated in the same manner as damage done due to negligence in a car.  In any case, everyone should be free to keep whatever weapons they want out of their house as well.  The quantity of solutions and services that freely cooperating individuals can generate to ease their and others’ anxiety is limitless.

In the case of gun control, progressives find themselves adopting the typically conservative stance.  This issue cannot be solved, they claim, by the organic societies of family, friends, neighbors and community.  It requires that the preference of one group be imposed on the rest by, extra-ironically in this case, very heavily armed state officials.
This is not meant to express a position on gun control, or any other issue for that matter.  I am less interested in presenting and defending my opinion about a particular topic and more interested in examining how we as a society make these decisions.  Or, to remove the collectivist lense, how we as individuals don’t make these decisions, but rather do as we’re told by individuals who claim the legitimacy to imprison or kill us.

I have opinions, sometimes strong opinions about how to dress, what to eat, what music to listen to, appropriate sexual partnerships (no invertibrates!), transportation, religion, standards of cleanliness, and what constitutes a good education.  Humanity will take a leap forward once we commit, individually, to expressing our opinions in a context of respectful negotiation.   It will make an incomprehensibly huger leap forward when we find the courage and the camaraderie to denounce as reprehensible the aggressive use of violence against non-violent people in order to enforce personal preferences and opinions.

[1] I will be speaking broadly about democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives throughout this post. Apologies ahead of time to well armed democrats and pacifist republicans.