Monday, November 03, 2014

The Bully's Pulpit 2017

First, a caveat: ALL generalizations are flawed.

Having said that, I can unequivocally state that there are two kinds of people: People who divide things into two groups and those who don't. Too many of us are too sure that there are only two sides to every debate, just as there are two sides to a coin.  Heads/Tails; Right/Left; Liberal/Conservative; White/Black; Male/Female.  Why, if my opinion is Right, must yours be Wrong?

Spin a coin on its edge.

Quickly, how many sides does the coin have?

Which side is light?

Which side is dark?

Which side is up?

Which side is down?

What if the coin rolls off the table and onto the floor?

What if it rolls under the fridge?

Who wins?

Us Vs. Them

As progressives, and liberals, and conservatives, and libertarians, and neo-cons and tea-baggers continue to redefine themselves in terms of hot-button issues having little, if anything, to do with political philosophy, and absolutely nothing to do with good government, we each find ourselves on opposite sides of incendiary issues without realizing that we have more in common with each other than with those who wield power and influence.  How can "we" target "them" when the target keeps moving?

It's natural for people, as for most animals, to seek companionship and community, whether based on genetic or philosophical commonalities.  We all belong to families, or tribes, or churches, or homelands, some of which we are born into and some which we choose, consciously or otherwise.  At the same time, we all have that inner Garbo that wants to be left alone - we want to feel safe and secure in our own homes.  Add to this conundrum an axis of selfishness and its no wonder we all feel conflicted about doing what's best (or safest, or most profitable, or most spiritually rewarding) for ourselves versus doing the right thing for our people (whoever they may be - our family members, or tribesmen, or whatever flock we happen to gather together as defined by whatever feather we happen to have in common).

It's easy to exploit the "us versus them" mentality. Name calling works at a visceral level by drawing clear lines of distinction. It's something we've been taught since birth. Pre-emptive talking points, repeated repeatedly and frequently, often mis-appropriate slanderous labels for the sole purpose of dividing us against ourselves. Some of those labels might be labelled by psychiatrists, or psychologists, or just plain psychos as projection - the Republicons have made such talking points an art form - debate devoid of reason, the institutionalization of the "I'm rubber and you're glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you." theory of blunt force diatribe. Hence, the "Obama" shutdown, the Democrats' "job-killing policies", their refusal to negotiate, the demons of "disastrous economic policies" and "infringements of liberties" define as self-proclaimed patriots the hypocritical factions of religious zealots, libertarians, neo-cons and white supremacist survivalists (or American Exceptionalists) who share nothing more than their paranoid delusions and misplaced self-righteous convictions.

Unfortunately, our allegiances are often short sighted and easily manipulated. Once we understand that we all carry within us a certain propensity for selfishness relative to a natural inclination to gravitate toward a common community, it's easy to see that well-meaning people can do really stupid things in the name of "what's right" without regard to truth, or justice.  It's the American Way!  It's all about defining your community.  There are some obvious identification tags - family, race, ethnicity, or gender - as well as some more esoteric ones - sexual orientation, political philosophy, favorite band, or blog color.  We, the vast majority of whom are followers, are but lemmings when a charismatic or powerful leader asserts authority.

Whether you can be characterized as a liberal or a conservative depends on how narrowly or broadly you define your community.  The closer you are to the selfish egoist end of the spectrum, the more likely you are to be paranoid - you've defined "us" so narrowly that there's nothing but "them" out there - and they hate you.  If, however, you're on the selfless, altruistic end of that axis, you can define your community so broadly, and in terms of love instead of hate, that we are all "us" and there are very few of "them" - it's just a little frustrating that "they" have all the money, and the power, and a critical mass of deaf, dumb and blind followers willing to mount primary challenges in the name of Ronald Reagan.

After all, didn't Jesus say "Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you!"?

 It's all a matter of perspective and circumstance - whom do you fear when you wake up in the morning, or go to work, or walk home at night, or go to bed alone - who's your boogeyman?

The strategies of Leo Strauss, Milton Friedman, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Trump and even The Congress That Couldn't Shoot Straight rely on classic "divide and conquer" ploys that pit people against each other on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or socio-economic status, or with regard to matters of individual choice so convoluted that they defy political solution or definition, like abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage, the death penalty, affirmative action, global warming, and health care (Seriously?! Health care?!).  The fact that human beings are an irrational bunch subject to manipulation and delusion disguised as faith yields the unfortunate conflation of oxymorons like "family values" and "creation science" into a mythology of neo-conservatism that becomes the brand identifier for the 30% of the population that fear the unspecified but omnipresent disaster known as Obamacare.  These are the flock that the disaster capitalists so aptly described by Naomi Klein have learned to herd as easily as sheep (of course, the men behind the curtain - the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, for example - have supplanted "the Jews" as the filthy rich capitalists who control all of our financial institutions, big businesses, the media and politicians, but no one on the right seems to have noticed). We live in a world run by autocrats who have assumed control of virtually every government, every corporation, every media outlet, and every advertising agency.  And we like it!  Why not?  Part of that little lizard brain lurking in our heads wants to have someone in authority tell us what to do, what to think and to reassure us that everything will be all right.  What happens when such an authoritarian figure attains a position of real power and throws in the element of fear, or shock?  Look around.

Every zealot's interest is wrapped in nationalism, religion, jingoism, and ethno-centrism to masquerade as the people's self interest.  The various power brokers, whether they be found in "democracies," monarchies, corporatocracies, oligarchies, or anarchies compete for survival at the expense of their own constituents.  When the petty tyrants get into the act, the warlords, gang leaders, crime bosses and lobbyists assume the guise of freedom-fighters, terrorists, islamo-fascists or saviors, depending on your perspective.  Define your community; it's "us" versus "them": Christians/heathens; Sox/Yankees; white/black (or brown).  "They" hate us for our freedom, so we'll declare war on terror. We fought terror with terror and terror won; so much for freedoms. Greed and arrogance can easily muster fear and hatred among the masses. Slap a label on the threat and point a finger at the enemy and fear takes over.  Health insurance for the unemployed becomes socialism;  gay marriage threatens family values; separation of church and state infringes on our right to impose our "values" on our neighbors.

The American two-party system has just devolved into chaos.  The Democrats have devolved into their historical herd of cats; the Republicons have gone from "Let them eat cake" (i.e., cutting Food Stamps and penalizing small farmers in the process) to "Jumping the shark." They'll promise to Make America Great Again, by which I assume they mean returning to the failed trickle-down economics of the Reagan and Bush Administrations - crippling the entire economy by making the rich folks richer and the working class poorer. Unfortunately, the dog-whistle base hears "White" instead of "Great" and assumes they'll be going along for a ride on that prosperity train. They's being taken for a ride, all right, but it's all to benefit the military-industrial contractors, big pharma, multi-national oil and Trump, Inc - let's just give those guys the United States of American Express Gold Card - with no credit limit and no plan to pay off the debt or reduce the deficit.

Look back at the past 8 years of Congressional stagnation - all to avoid giving a black President even the appearance of victory (or credit where credit is due, depending on your perspective).

Tyranny in any form, whether by majority rule or by fear, terror, and extortion based on common ethnicity or religious belief has proven to be an unworkable political methodology (see e.g., Northern Ireland, Uganda, Darfur, and South Africa or look up the definition of "balkanization" and "ethnic cleansing" - or just watch Return of the Jedi). The Evil Emperor never wins!

If we don't realize that WE the people of earth are hurtling through space alone together on a big blue starship pretty soon, I fear that we will all succumb to the disaster capitalists.  Here's an idea. Think before you speak. Shut Up and Listen. Learn. Treat those who would do you harm as human beings.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? - Abraham Lincoln

It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business. - Mohandas Gandhi

If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies. - Moshe Dayan

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. - Isaiah 2:4

It's time to spin the coin again - are there just two sides? It has a head AND a tail; it's light AND it's dark; it has an edge with an infinite number of sides.  It's starting a new revolution.  I'm gonna call it secular altruism. Just do the right thing!  I hope it's not too late.

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. ~Kurt Vonnegut