Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When America falls

Contemplating the looming collapse of the United States of America, I reflected that the Vietnam War was the death blow. The civil rights movement contributed, because of endemic racism, but the Vietnam War really shattered trust in the government that had been painstakingly built through the mid to late 1930s.

We had come out of World War II feeling pretty good about ourselves. The Cold War set up a climate of constant anxiety that gave the military-industrial complex a huge boost, but it was Us against Them. McCarthyism cast doubt on loyalties within our country, but still fell short of discrediting our entire government in the broader public eye.

Vietnam was the turning point. We've been on the long slide ever since.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the protracted war that followed, was referred to at times as the USSR's Vietnam. It was cited as a contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia emerged from the wreckage of the USSR in pretty rough shape, but has now managed to make itself a threat as a strong-willed and well armed world power. Russia existed before the Soviet Union. It exists after the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was in many ways just a rebranding of the Russian Empire. It was good while it lasted, but not vital. You could say we won our Vietnam War because it has taken us so much longer to crumble from the structural damage. But Russia has regrouped and regained power. It has even regained some territory.

After the United States collapses, we have no mighty former identity we can resume. Everything was tied up in the myth of the Land of the Free, the exceptional nation composed of immigrant land thieves pushing a wave of genocide from coast to coast, and then settling in to be the tech nerds and cowboys to the world. It's a giant bullshit souffle that has stayed up a remarkably long time, considering that it depends entirely on hot air.

An uncharitable view? Ungrateful to my forebears? Change very few things and I ever exist. Now that I DO exist, I want to avoid pain and misery. Do I owe anything to future generations? I can only take my best guess as to what humanity will need -- aside from mass sterilization -- to enjoy life in The Future.

We developed our national identity at a time when humans could believe that a winner really could take all. I'm sure realistically deep thinkers realized that such a victory, if ever it came to pass, would be short lived. Aside from the ponderous difficulty of conquering every square inch and keeping subdued areas under control while the tyrant's forces moved on to the next target, even when all was under the despotic thumb, little wigglers would be slithering out to bite the hand that grips them.

The idea of a big winner persisted into the latter part of the 20th Century. For a time, the United States looked like it. But of course we weren't, and didn't really claim to be. Sure, we were the last superpower (Don't look at China! No fair looking at China!), but we were nice guys. We were basically your big, strong, older brother, who will slap you upside the head if you get out of line, but otherwise is looking out for you against the real bullies.

Thing is, we aren't the older brother. We are a work of fiction, a creation of philosophy, rather than tribal boundaries blended with evolved concepts of nationalism.

To a large extent, every nation is a work of fiction. When humans grouped by clan on hunting and farming lands they had evolved on for longer than they had language to describe it, their identity as creatures of their piece of Earth had some merit. As language and the ability to dissemble evolved, government and group identity became more cerebral, even though the effects are concrete, and can be deadly.

There are younger nations than the United States. None of them have been -- or likely will be -- superpowers. Indeed, what is a superpower? It must be both an economic and a military powerhouse. But a military powerhouse is not a land of free people. But we have to defend our freedom from the outsiders who would take it. So we must be a military powerhouse. But a military powerhouse alone does not guarantee a vibrant economy, unless your power is so much greater than anyone else's that they pay tribute to your nation rather than face your wrath.

That still doesn't sound like the Land of the Free. It sounds like a crazy man sitting on a powder keg. Nobody wants to rile him up, but no one is happy or serene, either. Is that the best we can do? Maybe so. It's worth considering. Is the challenge of the pursuit of happiness that we have to do it under threat of annihilation by the forces of paranoia? As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be?

Every living thing faces its eventual death, so you could say we already pursue our happiness under that considerable handicap. As far as I'm concerned, that does not excuse the aggressors who threaten anyone they don't like.

We're going down, arguing bitterly about the right of ordinary citizens to own high-powered firearms, the right of corporate titans to buy government, and the full acceptance of the wonderful and terrifying diversity that our founding documents have unleashed.

We've run beyond the simple idea that merely requiring every young adult to put on a uniform and be trained as a soldier will miraculously produce the kind of national unity that will propel us and our species forward into what could have been a relatively comfortable and entertaining future. That's still the winner take all mentality. We have to force ourselves to evolve beyond killing each other. A large percentage of people believe that is impossible. They may be right.

As far as the future is concerned, everything is optional. That means anything is disposable. Winning that mess could look a lot like losing.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Deadly, self-centered attention whores

The shootings in Orlando are just the latest act by deadly, self-centered attention whores who want to end their lives in spectacular murder-suicide. They probably won't be the last. Murderous suicide is an increasingly common emotional disorder with deep roots in the human psyche.

This latest performer has done a great service to the Stanford rapist, Brock Turner, by pushing him out of the internet's spotlight of shame. The sole imperative of the attention whore is to get attention, to the detriment of whatever else might still deserve consideration and detailed, careful discussion.

The attention whore is irrational. The motives of the attention whore are also irrational. This is particularly conspicuous now, when atrocities are committed by home hobbyists claiming cosmic motives of religious devotion. They are condoned by the manipulators of such passions, who themselves see only a new way to operate a global power play. Religious militancy is nothing new at all, but using it through widespread media and communication to launch attacks here, there, and everywhere is up-to-the-minute use of technology. No need to gather troops and transport them to a battlefield. Just broadcast suggestions and let the volunteers create the killing ground at any convenient location.

Attention whores never realize that they are pathetic. They have no shame, because they are the innocent, the aggrieved, the brave martyr. It's a seductive role. Never worry about old age, retirement, sickness, a bad credit rating, a failing marriage, or any other stressor in modern life. You're going to die anyway. Why not go out in a blaze of glory? Strike a blow for something noble, best expressed by slaughtering defenseless people in an undefended environment. If you have properly dehumanized them before you start, the rest is truly easy.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Just because a person died in uniform doesn't mean they died for freedom. That's the saddest part. The great wallow in conspicuous gratitude and automatic exaltation of the death truly does the armed forces a disservice. Many of those lives have been outright wasted.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Term Limits

The idea of term limits for elected officials appeals to a lot of people who haven't really thought about the depth of the problem of corrupt government and why it exists.

The false premise behind term limits is that people who run for elected office are sincere to begin with. They come into office as idealistic innocents who are then corrupted by their own power and proximity to the collective power of others in leadership positions. That hasn't been true for many years.

Corruption in politics has been a tradition for centuries. A rare elected leader might display altruism, but for the most part the activities of politics are pragmatic, if not downright filthy. But the advent of media campaigns allowed a new dimension in corruption, in which wealthy interests can manipulate public opinion without appearing in the media themselves. We've all heard of the notorious Koch brothers, and George Soros, and a small list of other billionaire heavies, but they occupy the headlines far less than their elected lackeys and whipping boys who do the dirty work. Railroad one lackey out, be assured another lackey is being groomed to move up the chain into the vacated slot. So, there is flaw number one with term limits.

Flaw number two is that term limits are generally discussed for national offices. Forces who hated Franklin Roosevelt managed to get limits placed on presidential terms. The movement now talks about doing it down through the senate and house of representatives. In addition to simply speeding up the conveyor belt of pork and favors with absolutely no interruption of services provided to the oligarchs, this also leaves the vastly influential state, county, municipal and local governments in which power brokers can lodge like reef-dwelling eels, growing longer and fatter, with sharper and sharper teeth as no amount of spearfishing manages to dislodge them. And so we come to the one -- and only one -- way term limits could work.

Term limits could work if they were instituted without exception all the way down to the lowest elected office in the tiniest jurisdiction in the country. It would be the closest we could come to drafted government, which would, in fact, be quite resistant to corruption. Turnover would be regular, and could be quite rapid if the limits were made tight. We would have to choose from eligible candidates, as previous office holders limited out and could no longer serve directly. Politicians no longer eligible could still hang around and exert influence, the way former elected officials become lobbyists and paid lecturers, but they would be out of the direct chain of command. However, unless the laws were written specifically to prevent it, a bad actor could get elected to one position, then another, then another, aided by backers who would advertise the candidate's experience right alongside his outsider status coming into each new position. Voters are easily led by shallow rhetoric and slick entertainment. We vote by emotion as we pay lip service to well-reasoned consideration of the issues.

Without massive overhaul of campaign finance, and a thorough application of term limits as far down as I have stated, corruption will find a way, because corruption has the more powerful motive than innocent honesty. Honesty just wants to do the right thing and have everyone else do it, too. Corruption wants to manipulate the system for the gain of a few masterminds. It doesn't take a lot of energy as long as the corrupters remain focused on their goal and keep applying the funds they control to consolidate their advantage.

Personally, I would welcome term limits at the town level, because I would be ousted from my two board positions and could screw off on those evenings. But in a town as small as Effingham, we would have to import people in just a few cycles, to have anyone eligible at all.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Employment and vacation

We who were born in the 1950s and '60s grew up with widely accepted concepts that included retirement and vacation. They seem to persist even now, but the time must be near when we realize they are as unnatural as so many of our other civilized assumptions.

At the start of the industrial age, workers were expected to put in 16-hour days, six days a week, having only a sabbath on which to pay the proper respect to the deity of their choice -- provided the deity's schedule fit the factory's schedule. Anyone who wanted to escape from that grind had to figure out how to maintain sufficient income to survive, and possibly prosper, outside of the rigors of the productive system imposed by the owners and their accountants.

Small business owners learned that they could catch more customers if they spread the net as wide as possible, to the limits of their endurance, or their ability to conscript their spouses and children to serve as cheap labor.

Only the wealthy vacationed.

Fast forward through the rise of the labor movement, the imposition of a more humane official work week, and the spreading of such benefits as paid time off. At the height of the golden age of American employment, the bread winner might in good conscience and with full legal justification take two weeks with pay to spend time with the family, visiting national parks, or renting a beach house. Someone below the top ranks might actually be spared from the vital processes of the company for that long. Someone in the top ranks could manage to break away for longer. It was the age of democratized leisure.

The Revenge of the Bean Counters started to kick in during the 1980s. Becoming wealthy replaced having a good life as the focus of everyone's efforts. The perception that businesses existed to make money, and that the actual product was merely incidental went in tandem with this. And if a business exists only to make money, not to make lives better, the first thing we need to do is cut down the work force so that only essential personnel remain. Work 'em hard, bleed 'em dry and hire new ones, because there's no shortage of eager beavers coming out of school with shiny new educations and no street smarts.

I'm not sure when the 40-hour work week became a joke, because I was actually trying to have a good life for my early working life. The idea that people were expected to put in 50-80 hours a week as a matter of routine never occurred to me.

I'm still trying to have a good life, now at a more acknowledged cost of decreased life expectancy.

Legally, an employee can still claim paid vacation from many employers. As a result, one must ask whether the bean counters have managed to complete their program and excise all surplus employees from the payroll, or are the remaining workers stressed all the more to cover the lack of necessary hands.

When I left work for 11 days to go to a funeral, the remaining worker on our payroll had to give up all his days off to cover my shifts. Now he's about to head off to Japan for an actual vacation trip. I may be called upon to torch my personal time to meet the needs of the business from which we derive our sustenance. That funeral trip was almost the farthest thing from a battery-recharging pleasure cruise. But in the reality of survival, the business must go on. Whatever my hopes, dreams, and needs for personal experiences, I have a job to do.

A small business is like a lifeboat. Everybody has to row. Everybody has to bail. Hopefully, someone knows how to navigate, to keep you pointed toward some theoretical island, or cross the shipping lanes and be rescued. But in all likelihood you just row until the boat sinks and then swim to another one or drown in the attempt.

We're older and tireder. The fact that the business no longer draws as many customers as it used to makes the fact that we close one day a week both possible and necessary. The owners can't pay for coverage for a full seven days. With the middle class becoming the working poor, fewer people anywhere seem to be able to afford to play tourist, or even to recreate more or less locally. Down, down, in a lazy spiral goes the economy and the aging population.

An energetic generation waits to take over after the die-off frees up land, and a philosophical shift brings about the sustainable society I hoped we would start working on 40 years ago. I wish I could feel happier for them, but I'm afraid I still resent the greedy assholes of my generation who turned their backs on all that hippie shit in the mid 1970s and chased the dollars instead.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Civilization: Humanity's Greatest Blunder

Civilization is the mechanism for concentrating and exerting power. Offspring of the lust for power, civilization has created all the problems that compassion seeks to cure. Without consolidated power, evil can only work piecemeal. Without consolidated power, there is no prize. No prize, no contest. No contest, no cheating.

Civilization started innocently enough. Some geniuses figured out that plants and animals people eat would be easier to find if we kept them together in one place conducive to their proliferation. Some places were better than others. Crops and herds grew in those places more than in others. The people stuck in the less comfortable environments organized themselves to see how they could improve their circumstances in various ways, through trade, conquest, or assimilation.

Without question, civilization has gradually made life more comfortable. I wouldn't want to give up the creature comforts. But since no one can be trusted to run things, and thousands of years of resentments keep grievances fresh through generations, we've probably hit our peak as far as attaining a peaceful and happy world.

When altruism reaches the point where people kill themselves almost daily for the sake of killing other people they see as opponents to their ideology, you see how far the lust for power has come. Murder-suicide is always a problem, because the knowledge of inevitable mortality makes some people unstable. Add the allure of a heroic contribution to a better future, and people who might be teetering, wrestling with the decision whether to embrace suicide, get a new incentive to choose flamboyant death. Political manipulators will encourage the tendency. Manipulators always know how to get the most out of other people's emotions. Political manipulators use these controls to advance grand plans.

Civilization helped the human population surge, and life spans increase. Civilization nurtured technology. Technology advanced civilization. Industrialization increased the speed and efficiency with which natural resources could be gouged out of the Earth and turned into useful objects. The byproducts of these processes have been wealth, filth, and disregard for each other and for nature.

Civilization could have been good. If you're a hopeful sort, you probably believe it still could be. Past performance does not guarantee future results, as the investment shills like to warn us before we hand them the check. The greedy, the angry and the far-too-clever stand in ranks between us and that brighter future.

Brussels, the latest insanity

The stated motive behind the current generation of terrorists is to institute their own authoritarian state, an Islamic theocracy. However, if they succeed, they will have to govern a populace that now accepts suicidal terrorism as a proven method of driving social change. Very much like the Republican party now facing the ultimate blowback from its own deal with the devil.

The knowledge of our own inevitable mortality has bred some bizarre coping mechanisms. Explosively rushing off to your "eternal life" is just about the worst.