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Friday, March 24, 2017

The Sad Time of Division

I've seen a couple of friends lament that they feel their feeds have become "echo chambers," and that they feel the need for "balance." Balance is not always a good thing. The question is, what things are you going to balance between?
Balance is a good thing if it is between two plausible, morally valid positions. It is not a good thing if you attempt to "balance" between a morally valid position and an immoral one. You don't want to be "sympathetic" to a Nazi, or a Stalinist, nor do you want to behave in a way that they would find acceptable.
If you were alive in Italy in the 1920's, would it distress you if you had no friends who supported Mussolini? Certainly not. History occasionally forces us into a time of dividing. I believe this is one of those times.
There are legitimate, valid sources of the Conservative position. The Wall Street Journal comes immediately to mind. National Review often has excellent work. But there are no morally valid perspectives from a deeply immoral movement like Trumpism. It is a totalizing movement, that sees truth as something entirely at their will and whim. Such a worldview makes honesty undesireable. Maybe impossible.
Not every Trumpist is a sexist, a racist, or the sort of person who wants to take away the health care of vulnerable people or take food from old people and schoolkids. But they have decided to support a movement that that does support all those things. That is a moral decision, and whether you want to be associated with those who have made that decision is a moral decision, too. It's not an easy decision, but it is an important one. Choose wisely.

Thinkers and Ideology

For someone who aspires to be a thinker, adopting a point of view, or worse, an "ideology," and then defending it fiercely makes as much sense as falling in love with a mayfly. If you are honestly studying, and honestly thinking you will not have the same position tomorrow that you have today.
Every honest thinker who becomes part of a "movement" sets themselves up to be a traitor. As Nietzsche put it, thinkers do not make good political party members - they think themselves through the party.

Interview on "The Farkas Files"

Here's the interview I gave on "The Farkas Files." David is an excellent host, and the conversation was wide-ranging. Thanks, David.

Interview, "The Farkas Files"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Would I Dance with Donald Trump?

Would I dance with Donald Trump?
Would we shake our aged rumps
And boogie on the White House lawn
And laugh and drink 'til logic dawns?
Would I tango with Melania?
And say with raised glass, "Hey, good on ya!"
While Bannon swings and pirouettes
We dance, our malice to forget?
Alas, though by the thought excited,
You and I are not invited.
We are not rich or well-connected
And we have never been elected.
Dionysius saves, he cleans
Souls better than the Nazarene.
But joy and laughter do not grace
The evil smirk, the orange face.
There is not wine enough to cleanse
The sorrow, or to make amends
To all those suffering in fear.
No, there will be no dancing here.

Free Trade Isn't Free

The theory goes that the economic prosperity of a country is best served by having extremely low barriers to goods from foreign countries. A larger, more dynamic market that allows businesses to go where they wish in search of lower costs, and that allows free movement of goods increases profits, and – eventually - lowers prices for consumer goods.

The first part of that happy forecast has largely proven true. Corporate profits have exploded as free trade policies have spread across the world. Productivity has climbed (although free trade isn't the primary driver of that – automation is) and the stock market has soared.

And the middle class in the advanced countries has been devastated. Why is that? What's wrong with the “free” trade system? Why has its human cost proven so high?

The wealthy will always resist any attempt to redistribute wealth to those left behind. And since wealth equals political power and influence, it is almost impossible for workers to get a fair share of the increased productivity that "free" trade (which is not free - the workers pay for it) creates.

It is worthless, even cruel to tell the workers that they have to "reeducate" themselves for the "new"economy, since they generally have the least economic margin - both in terms of money and time; and political parties that serve the interests of the rich will cut spending on education and relief for the workers as part of "austerity" measures.

This is not theoretical. It is exactly what has happened in any country where "free" trade has become the norm. The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, along with the concentration of political power that results has led to historic levels of wealth inequality. And in countries where inheritance is largely untaxed, this leads to a death spiral for the working middle class, and a monopolization of political power by inherited wealth.

The solution is to use government, and its ability to tax excess profits to redistribute wealth to reeducate and support the workers as they are forced to retool, reeducate, and relocate themselves. It is manifestly unfair to expect that the investing class should reap all the benefits of free trade, while the working class must bear all the burdens, risks and sacrifices.

The Dumbest Argument

The most mind-boggling form of thunderously dumb argument; one that I see on any number of issues is the use of intensity of belief as evidence for the truth of a proposition. "I believe it, it is so."
How hard you believe something says nothing about its truth. This isn't the mortal passion of Tinkerbell, where you can save her if you believe in fairies hard enough.
Insane people sincerely believe that they're Elvis, Jesus, Moses or Napoleon. Nazis fervently believed in Hitler's vision. The first fellow who believed he'd invented the parachute suit believed it strongly enough that he jumped off the Eiffel Tower to prove it. His absolute belief did not lessen the divot he made in the Bois de Bologne by one centimeter.
Ashleigh Brilliant probably said it best - "The more sure you are, the more wrong you can be."

The Buoyancy of Belief - The "Flight" of Fearless Franz

What Murder Is, Abortion Is Not

You can make any number of arguments for or against the legality of abortion, personally, I find the prohibitionist argument unconvincing - since I don't have the blessed burden of a uterus, I don't know why anyone who does would give a spare rib how I think she should use it.
But one argument you cannot make if you want to be at all honest in your rhetoric is "abortion is murder." Aside from the cruelty of hurling such a charge at someone in a vulnerable position, it's a nonsensical argument for several reasons.
First, if you want to argue that something is "murder," you're trying to distinguish it from legal forms of homicide, such as self-defense, killing in the line of public duty, and the like. The difference between legal and illegal killings is not malice - if you are killing someone who is in your home with a gun, you can be as malicious as you like. The difference is simply one of legality. It is defined as legal to kill a home invader, illegal to kill someone who just annoyed you by making clearly specious arguments.
As long as abortion is legal, it's not "murder." Period. Murder is a legal term. The law defines murder as "punishable homicide." The law. Not you. Change the law, you change that. But as it stands, the law gets the last word on what murder is. Not. You.
Secondly, "Abortion is murder" is not an argument, it is a conclusion. If you start with the premise that a fetus incapable of survival outside the womb is a full human being with civil rights attaching, then you've already assumed the argument entirely. If a fetus is a fully endowed human being, then abortion is murder, QED.
Of course the problem is that almost no one sees it that way, except for those who already agree with the prohibitionists. Not the courts, not the doctors, not the scientists, and certainly not the women making the decision to abort a pregnancy. If you are demanding the right to override her judgement with your own, and to commandeer her body to press-gang her into motherhood, you'd better have a more compelling argument than, "I believe it, it is so."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump Upon a Time - The Fairy Tale That May Destroy a Republic.

Normally, I would post something in its entirety here. But the editor of this article, Jen Froderman, did such an exquisite job formatting, editing, and even including a reading of my "Trumpian Fairy Tale" that it would be a disservice to you not to provide a link to the article. Please do visit, enjoy Ms. Froderman's excellent work, and share if you have a moment.

Trump Upon a Time - The Fairy Tale That May Destroy a Republic.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Brave Burro - Why We Must Fight

It is clear now, beyond all doubt, that Donald Trump and his cabal intend to hurt the most vulnerable and desperate in our society. Their medical plan leaves no ambiguity – they intend to let people die to allow their wealthy sponsors to mint coin from human misery.

The numbers are conclusive, the facts are inescapable. The statements of their legislative mouthpieces have been as crass and heartless as can be imagined. These people are willing to let vulnerable people die for money.

Some of us, not without cause, have said that the vulnerable have whatever happens coming to them. That we should allow them to suffer. They are, by and large, those who were gulled by Trump into believing that they would be spared – that only the “other” would suffer, and they were willing, even gleeful to see it happen. They put him into power. Now, the night of the long knives, where the elites turn on their useful tools, has come. It's only justice. We can't really resist effectively anyway. They hold all three branches of government, the majority of governorships and state legislatures, and the allegiance of the still conned, desperately clinging to loyalty to a man who does not know the meaning of duty, honor, loyalty or compassion.

I say that we must reject such thinking. First, there is simple justice. Sometimes, to be good, to do good, we must try to prevent too harsh consequences from falling, even on those who have brought it upon themselves. It is easy to see their vulgar, violent displays of tribal loyalty, their crass insults, and their stubborn stupidity and leave them to the consequences that nature imposes on the willfully stupid. That is who they are.

But is that who we are? Will we allow them to suffer just because they have been conned? Will we turn our backs on them – the ones that we claim to represent – the uneducated, the unfortunate, the oppressed? Why then, do we justify our participation in public life at all? If we, as progressives have a purpose it is to bring justice to everyone; to lift up the fallen, and protect even the errant.

Accept the fact that we will lose battle after battle. The miserific vision of Trump and his cabal will come to pass. They have the power to make it so. Nevertheless, we must fight. It is who we are, and why we are. Here and there, we will win. Now and then, something will be preserved.

And more importantly, we must show them that we can, and will fight for them, regardless of the odds. We must show them that we are both capable and willing to resist the forces that are crushing them. Incompetence and malice will have its day, and when the wreckage settles – when those who chanted “lock her up!” find that they have lost their health care, that their lot has not improved, that the jobs have not returned, that the services they depended on are gone, that the new wars claim their children without end, and that they have sacrificed to a false and bloody god, then, some of them will remember who fought to the last ditch to protect them. Not all of them, denial is a powerful thing, and an inability to admit you were deceived – made a fool of – will paralyze many of their minds for the rest of their lives. But some of them will remember who fought for them when it seemed meaningless, and sacrificed for them when they did not deserve it.

Can we turn this around today? No. To try to turn their minds in the flood tide of their power and the height of their delusion would be like trying to catch a falling knife. But when they inherit the whirlwind they have summoned, they will look for answers. We must be there, and we must have earned their trust – a trust we squandered by neglecting them and bowing to their oppressors in exchange for their money and their approval.

We courted Wall Street, when we should have been thinking of the factory worker, the miner, the minimum wage worker, the single mother, the neglected, forgotten, oppressed and alone. We went to their fancy dinners and spoke soothing words to them, when we should have been “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We “triangulated” them, betrayed them, forgot them and they punished us, and themselves with the scourge of Donald J. Trump.

So now, we earn their trust back, and we wait for them to come to their senses, if it takes a generation, and it well might. We fight for them, even as they call us “cucks” and say things designed to hurt, belittle and disparage. We lose nine in ten, then seven in nine, then five in eight, then two in four. We fight every bit of brutal legislation, and resist every vile nominee.

And even if it never changes. Even if the Republic becomes something we can not now recognize, we will have done our duty. If one day, we must turn away, we will do so with tears for the brave dream of a people's democracy, but with a clear conscience.

We are progressives. Let us progress though the current is against us. 

Nine Points Against Trumpism

Let's get rid of a few bits of dreck, for the sake of mental hygiene:
1) Women don't answer to you, or to the government for having sex, and being forced to have a child is not a fit punishment for what you perceive as promiscuity. Leave other people's genitals alone.
2) If you are using phrases like "Confronting the culture to advance God's kingdom," you're the American Taliban, a threat to the Republic, and a disgrace to Christianity. I am not only disinterested in your blather, I consider you a serious threat to a well-ordered, peaceful society. If you are pushing this nonsense onto children, you are a moral leper.
3) At this point in the "debate," if you can't cite SEVERAL peer-reviewed articles in legitimate scientific journals I'm not interested in your "contrarian" opinion about climate change. The science is as in as science ever is - catastrophic climate change is happening, we're causing it, and it's going to be a very serious problem, even if we do something about it. What we're talking about now is whether it's going to be catastrophic or apocalyptic. Go flatten your Earth or something.
4) Donald Trump is a dangerous, egomaniacal idiot, and his appointees range from incompetent to terrifying. If you are still supporting him at this point, you are no friend of the Republic.
5) It simply isn't possible to cut taxes, increase spending and decrease the debt or restrain the deficit. This should be obvious to anyone who can handle simple addition and subtraction, but somehow the idea that slashing government revenues will lead to explosive economic growth WILL. NOT. DIE. Mostly because it casts a vaguely intellectual veneer over what is actually sheer selfishness.
6) Private charities are not sufficient to help the poor. If you think they are, look at any place on this planet that does not provide sufficient public assistance. There was a time when we believed that the proper way of helping the poor was private charity and religious works - read Dickens for a tour of that golden age.
7) Censorship is the refuge of the intellectually and culturally inferior. Only the weak fear being exposed to material they disapprove of. And claiming your prudishness and fragility is for the sake of the children is contemptible. Hiding behind kids because you can't cope with modern life is despicable.
8) Again, and finally, leave other people's genitals alone. Other people's sex lives are none of your concern, and you don't get to treat them like second-class citizens because you are "uncomfortable." News flash - other people aren't in the world to see to your comfort. If you can't cope, if you can't deal with people who are different from you, don't blame others for your inability to adult.
9) The only reason we don't have a functioning health-care system is that unlike every other advanced nation we believe in the "right" of rich douchebags to charge as much as, and more than, the market will bear. We believe in allowing insurance companies to build huge, bloated empires at the expense of the sick and desperate. And we believe that some people (namely, rich people) are more "deserving" of health care than others. It's just plain, unvarnished, smells-like-what-it-is greed.

Trumpcare as Performance Art

Legislation is not a fine art. It is not dance, or theater, or sculpture. It is not done for the sake of beauty or aesthetic expression. It is a craft, like blacksmithing or bricklaying, or at it’s best, architecture. Its acts should serve a useful purpose, and a legislative act is rightly judged by how well it serves that purpose.
The problem with so much legislative activity these days is that it is performative rather than practical. It is designed to create an emotional reaction rather than actually accomplishing useful work. It’s easy to pull many examples from both sides of the aisle of policies and proposals that were “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” when they should have been “Get the road built, already,” but seldom is there so clear an example as “Trumpcare,” the proposed replacement for the ACA.
Every fair analysis shows that “Trumpcare” has a very serious flaw. It won’t work. It will cover fewer people, as higher cost, and with less useful service. Anyone who is being honest about this, be they bluest burro or proudest pachyderm, admits this. Still, the machinery schlumps, clangs and rattles forward. Why?
Because an example must be made. It simply looks intolerably ugly to a certain segment of our polity that the government is providing healthcare, and because it is associated with Barack Obama. Well, that show has left town, darling, and now it’s time for TRUMPCARE! The new show on the great, painfully white way.

“What’s the show about?” oh, don’t worry. We’ll fix that in pre-show.

What sort of building do you think you would get if you chose your carpenters, bricklayers, electricians and architects on the basis of how entertainingly they went about their work? As your plumbers gyrated like Jets and Sharks at the final rumble, and your carpenters tried to set levels with jazz hands, you might realize that getting the work done is more important than finding the process or method pleasing to your sense of aesthetics.
If you took all the ideological wrangling and “appearances” out of the healthcare question and asked, straightforwardly, “What are we trying to accomplish?” It’s reasonable to think that we’d get an answer something like, “Cover as many people as well as we can at the lowest cost we can.” Stripped of all politics and questions of ox-goring, we could come up with the answer quickly. I think the answer would be a single-payer, Medicare for all type system, but it is possible that if only practical, non-aesthetic, get-it-the-Hell-done considerations were weighed, we might come up with something even better.
But that’s not the process with “Trumpcare.” In contrast to the months of careful legislative work that went into the ACA, “Trumpcare” is being rammed through with ungainly haste, lest the farm girl from Kansas notice that there is a pathetic little humbug behind the curtain.
Health care is too important. It touches too many lives, deals with too much human suffering, and reaches far too much of our prosperity to allow it to become a show pony. It is inevitable in this mediated age that much of our politics will be reduced to something between a Broadway opening and a display of “human oddities.” But please, not this. Not your sister’s chemotherapy or your dad’s heart surgery. On this, we must work, not show.

The Dianetics of Trump

Dianetics, for those of you wise enough to avoid such things, is the pseudo-science practiced by Scientology and similar snake-oil syndicates that concerns itself with the “reactive mind,” that is to say the part of the mind that reacts to trauma and guilt. By means of “auditing,” a series of interrogations and confrontations in which a person has his nose rubbed in every error he’s ever been embarrassed by, the Scientologist pretends to be freeing the subject of those negative influences.
In fact, it is a deeply manipulative process in which the subject is made to feel dependent on Scientology for his validation. The people subject to this process are bound to the cult by temporary relief from private shame – a relief that can be withheld at any time, or worse, the information gathered is retained by the cult and used to blackmail any who question the organization or threaten to leave the fold.
The behavior one sees from a Scientologist, avoidance and denial of obvious facts, a desperate desire to protect the leaders of the cult, a readiness to slander and even attack those who disagree and fanatical identification with the organization bears more than a little resemblance to what one sees from the red-capped reactionaries of Trumpism. This isn’t surprising, as the same mechanism – manipulation of personal fear and guilt is at the heart of the Trumpist appeal.

A more “reactive” slogan than “Make America Great AGAIN” could hardly be designed. Behind it is a fear that the world has changed, and that certain features of the new reality – racial and gender equality, public disapproval of harassment of women and certain racial groups, public acceptance of homosexuality and full civil rights for traditionally marginalized people – carry with them a burden of historical guilt. Under each and every red hat you will find a mind that remembers when they said or did something hurtful to someone they perceived as further down the social ladder.
Of course, most of us carry something we did, out of ignorance, weakness, or spite that we’re not proud of. Many of us, especially if we’re white, were raised in an environment where such things were an accepted part of daily conversation. Racism, sexism, and homophobia were part of the backdrop. The difference is that some of us learned we were wrong, admitted that injustices exist, and decided to do what we could to remedy them. We deal with guilt by trying to make amends – to assist those who have been oppressed in reclaiming their power to lessen, and eventually end bigotry in all its forms. Repentance involves restitution.
But not to a Trumpist. To them, guilt does not bring a desire to heal, it brings shame and anger. The fury with which Trump supporters attacked protesters is not that of political disagreement, it is that of those confronted with their guilt, and furiously denying it – lashing out, even physically, at those who would remind them that they have been a party to historical injustice. The fury with which “political correctness” is attacked is not explained by anything less than a barely suppressed knowledge of guilt and shame.
The leaders of Trump’s cabal, and of course, Trump himself are aware of the root of their appeal to their most rabid supporters, and they whip that anger into blind devotion and furious rejection of ALL information that does not come from their own tsunami of dreck. Like Scientology, Trumpism is a totalizing movement. It seeks to become the sole source of information about the world that their adherents believe.
In Scientology, literal aliens are the threat. “Xenu,” a sort of space Hitler, brought aliens to Earth to corrupt human minds. Trumpism has its own “aliens.” Scary foreigners who speak different languages and somehow, in an arcane and inexplicable fashion, corrupt the lives of “real Americans.” Only Trump can protect them. Only adherence to the movement can make them safe.
At the root of every authoritarian movement is the manipulation of hate and fear. Both Scientology and Trumpism are adept at using that fear, and stoking hatred through the use of personal guilt. Breaking such conditioning is a long process that can begin only when the victim begins to question the isolation and exploitation that being a part of the movement has brought into their lives. When Trump’s promises prove hollow, when the jobs do not return, when the new war begins and mothers and fathers begin burying their children brought back from meaningless battle, when they begin facing the choice between paying the rent and paying for their medicines, some of them will begin to question.
In the meantime, we will have to deal with an unfocused, furious attempt to throw America back through a social time warp into a past that never existed – a past free of the consciousness of injustice and in which everyone spoke English, loved only those of the opposite gender, and had a job at the widget factory. We will have to resist, long and hard until the fever breaks – until reality becomes so intrusive that many will begin to waken from the delirium.
Resist now. Be ready then. And in the meantime, Hail Xenu.