Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Don't let your light go down with the ship!

This is a popular Facebook meme that hilariously illustrates the baffling depths of people's denial in the face of a situation that should be undeniable.

Facebook Meme, unattributed.

But I want to use to this cartoon to illustrate a deeper message, which I hope will both orient and inspire my fellow travelers.

The overall theme of my posts since the election of Donald Trump has been along the lines of abandoning the futile, and increasingly dangerous endeavor of trying to get the folks on the Right to wake up and reject Trump and his ideology before it destroys our country.

Every time that Trump or one of his staffers says or does something horrifyingly unhinged, or tells a verifiable bold-faced lie, or does something illegal, we all have this collective hope that this will be the last straw! Surely there are still some sane conservatives somewhere who will finally stand with us and oppose this administration!

Investigate!

Impeach!

Do something!

So, please refer to the above illustration as I try to explain this.

The ship is sinking, and you're still trying to convince our fellow passengers that the ship is sinking, in the hope that we can all band together and repair the damage to the hull.

1) You're not going to convince Trump fans of anything. Here's a great article from the New Yorker explaining the science of Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds.

And I know this even is harder to accept, but:

2) We're not patching this hull.

Even if we could win support from enough conservatives, which we can't, what's the magic solution?

Impeach Trump? Clinton was impeached. He didn't stop being President, remember?

Even if Trump were removed from office, the Corporate Plutocracy has already been appointed. And let's be serious, it wasn't that big a leap to directly appoint millionaires and billionaires to our top government positions. They've been writing the legislation for years.

This is not a message of pessimism,
but a message of determination!

This is the end of an era, not the end of the world. This is the end of an idea that was never really true in the first place. Not here. Not now. Not yet. But it will be true someday. This is a moment in history when we have to think bigger than ourselves and beyond the lives of our children and grandchildren. Many people before us have tucked this idea against their bosom and smuggled it through the darkest times when it seemed that the whole world had gone mad. Many people around the world at this very moment are fighting to keep their little flicker of light alive in dark recesses that you and I cannot even fathom.

These are the stories we tell our children of courage in the face of evil, justice in the face corruption, and the passing on of knowledge under penalty of death.

It's Jewish children whispering alef... bet.. vet.. by candlelight.

It's Christians kneeling before lions.

It's scientists refusing to recant facts at the Inquisition.

It's the hymns of the hopelessly shackled guiding their escaped brethren to freedom.

It's Pakistani girls going to school.

It's Native Americans offering up their blood and bones to protect the last sliver of Mother Earth they have left to protect.

The unsinkable is sinking. The wealthy ticket holders are already in the lifeboats. The really really rich have flown away in their golden helicopters. Is that who lives to tell the tale? Is that who decides the lesson of this American tragedy?

Hold on to your light, take a deep breath, and plunge into the freezing abyss.

Grab the hand of the person who jumped before you and the person who jumps after you.

We're not going down without a fight.

We will rage against the dying of the light.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Poo-tee-weet

Bobbing up and down in the middle of the San Diego Bay, clinging to the possessions we had frantically gathered after our kayaks had been blown away by an oblivious military helicopter, and without any rescue in sight, I looked at my son and said, "We should have just stayed home today."

Through his blueish lips and chattering teeth he said, almost indignantly, "What are you talking about? This is way more interesting!"

I laughed and tucked the humorous little life lesson in the back of my mind for future use, and I recall it quite often, as I'm especially prone to "interesting" turns of events (a car accident, a spill at the gym that earned me 14 staples in my head, and so on). I think, well, it's not an adventure if nothing bad happens, right?

But until today, it hadn't occurred to me that this might be a suitable philosophy for the grander scheme of life, the universe, and everything.

The recent catastrophic election of Trump, and the overwhelming deluge of all my worst fears about his presidency coming to fruition with a rapidity that has surprised even me, left me in such an emotional state that I actually sort of identified with the last three syndromes that Robert Reich outlines in his discussion about the Four Dangerous Signs of Passivity in the face of Trump Tyranny (though not to the point of passivity in my case).

At any rate, I have been trying on a lot of different reactionary philosophies without any of them fitting very well. From feeling like we should be rioting in the streets, "burn this motherfucker to the ground and start over," to feeling like I should shut down this blog, withdraw from my activist groups, and stop caring entirely, "what difference does any of it make anyway?"

But the philosophy I've finally arrived at is beautiful in its all-encompassing simplicity.

I had been listening to Machiavelli's "The Prince" in the hope of gleaning some political wisdom from a parallel time, and it occurred to me that it's not just parallel, but the same story over and over and over throughout modern history: the freedoms we gain and the republics we build are stolen out from under us by the rich and powerful with the tools of religion and war. And we keep going through the motions again and again like the movie Groundhog Day; to the point of comedy.

But my epiphany was this: why should I be any more angry about the dissolution of our own republic than about the War of the League of Cambrai? The events seem every bit as inevitable. Like reading a history book that has already been written. Like the Tralfamadorians in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five explain, "All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber."

And of all the times to be alive, to be experiencing this play first hand... what better time than here and now?

There are no songs or novels or history chapters detailing the times of abundance of peace and freedom (none worth noting, anyway).

An unattributed quote on Facebook pointed out that when you were sitting in History class thinking about what you would have done if you were alive then; "You're alive now. Whatever you're doing is what you would have done."

What better role to play in history than to be a resistor of tyranny?

Because tyranny will fall.

And each and every one of us will die just the same.

So it goes.

Poo-tee-weet.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Arguments Welcome! (Really!)

There have been periods over the years when this blog has been hopping. Inevitably, however, I get busy with other things, post less frequently, and my audience wanders off.

To me, the posts are far less important than the conversations that follow. In fact, most of my posts are short and concise and only meant to spark a conversation; they are not my final thought on a given subject at all.

I take no offense to people questioning my ideas.

I genuinely want to know what you think, especially if you disagree with part or all of my post.

I understand that not everyone thrives on conflict, but we all need get comfortable with conflict if we are going to effectively resist the dark days ahead in our country. Debate is invaluable for clarifying and expanding on your ideas, and for effectively communicating your principles.

I am primarily interested in debating with other liberals, or with independents. Arguing with conservatives is usually pointless, but I'll engage if the argument is thoughtful and respectful.

While I encourage readers to take issue with my posts or ideas, I am not going to engage in a discussion with someone who takes issue with me personally.

And by all means, if you want to write something for this blog, I always welcome submissions for guest posts.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our opinion of reality.



This is a good point, but I disagree.

I mean, what is reality anyway?

It's our brain's best approximation of the world around us based on its limited ability to interpret the data it receives from our limited physical senses.

Bear in mind also, that our brain literally ignores the existence of data it can't catagorize or understand.

My point is not to say that everyone's opinion is equally valid. It's that opinions are still opinions, and not facts.

The starting point for the two characters in the above cartoon should not be to assert their own opinion as fact in the first place.

And I wouldn't even go so far as to say that one of them must be correct.

Maybe they're both wrong.

Maybe it's a lower-case g.

And if figuring out the identity of a single alphanumeric character is this complicated once you account for the fact that your own perspective is limiting the data you receive, how much more likely is it that your interpretation of politics, the economy, and the nature of the universe is anything close to the actual truth?

We are all fond of saying to other people, "you just don't understand how the world works." But if they are reasonably functional adults, they probably understand pretty well how the world works. Their world. And if you can't see the world from their prospective because you're too intrenched in your own, that doesn't really make you the expert.

A young mother on foodstamps taking the bus to three part-time jobs shouldn't be expected to understand international trade. A father laid off from his third factory job this year doesn't know how Wall Street shareholders manipulate quarterly earnings reports for leverage over business owners.

You can stack up as many facts and statistics as it takes to prove the specific point you're trying to make, and then you can get upset when the person you're talking to accuses you of being out of touch with how the "real" world works (their world), but how many times are you willing to chase your tail in circles before you throw your hands up in exasperation and walk away?

What a different world it would be if we could give up the notion of facts entirely.

If everyone could come to the table and say, "this is my perspective. This is the world from my point of view. These are things that I struggle with on a daily basis and would like to fix."

We could work together to build a system that truly benefits everyone, at least in the places where our worlds intersect.

The case of the split brain.

We all have two brains.

The right brain and the left brain are each completely separate operating systems, linked together by a band of nerves called the Corpus Callosum.

In some rare cases of severe epilepsy, patients have had their Corpus Callosum severed so that the electrical impulses of their seizures cannot spread from one side of the brain to the other, thereby mitigating some of the damage. For the most part, these people are not impaired by the procedure; they think and function quite normally.


A spoon is held up in the subject's right visual field, and the researcher asks "What is this?" 

The subject responds, "What is what?" They don't see the spoon.

The researcher then says, "Here, take this spoon," and the subject reaches out and takes it.

Here's what is happening:

The part of the brain that names things is in the left hemisphere, so when asked to name an object that is only visible in the right visual field, the person does not perceive an object at all (because the part of the brain that names things can't see the object and the two sides of the brain can no longer communicate).

But the person does see the object when they are told to take it. 

There are many other examples of this neurological phenomenon; the brain fails to perceive stimuli when it cannot process and categorize it.

So, on top of the whole spectrum of light that our eyes cannot even perceive, how much of the information our eyes do take in never registers in our consciousness because our brain can't categorize it. It's like that information doesn't exist at all.

The reality that we are able to perceive is very likely a tiny sliver of the reality that actually exists. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Of Right and Wrong

Oh, Abraham! Confounder of children.

I sat in the car after Mass while my dad went into the store to get a Sunday paper and a box of doughnuts. This was usually my favorite part of Sunday; the Sunday funnies, the doughnuts, hanging out with my dad. I would emerge into the sunlight from the dark, fragrant cathedral with the weight of sitting still for two whole hours lifted from my body.

But this Sunday, the weight lingered...

So... Abraham was going to kill Isaac?

Yes, but God didn't let him.

But he was going to?

Yes.

And that was the right thing to do?

Yes, but God was never going to let him actually kill Isaac. It was just a test.

To see if he would?

Yes.

And it was right that he would?

Yes, because nothing is more important than God. If God tells you to do something, you do it!

Even if God tells you to kill your son?

Yes, but God wouldn't tell you to do something bad. He never actually told Abraham to kill Isaac.

But it was a test to see if he would?

Yes.

And he passed the test?

Yes.

Because he would kill his son?

Yes, but that's not the point. God was never going to let him kill Isaac.

But that very much was the point for me.

Looking at the story now, as an atheist, I can pick it apart in all kinds of ways. If God is all-knowing, why would he need to test Abraham to begin with?

But as an eight-year-old child who firmly believed that there was a God and a Heaven and a Hell, this story was life-altering.

I knew that killing Isaac was wrong. That being willing to kill Isaac was wrong. And sitting in that car alone, I saw hell-fire and burning and the wrath of Almighty God, but I resolved that I would never be willing to kill Isaac, no matter what. That was when I first began to consciously part ways with God.

This really gets to core of how individuals differentiate right from wrong, regardless of religion or culture or time period.

Most people will do what they're told.

Some people will not follow an order they know is wrong, no matter who gives it.

Most people need to know that someone is in charge in order for the universe to make sense to them. They need authority, they need order, they need rules. That authority can be God, a monarch, Science, Capitalism, Pope Francis, Charles Manson; so long as there is a system in place and someone is in charge, they can sleep at night knowing that there is order in the world.

And then there are the people whose moral code transcends any authority. These people are in the minority.

Chaos doesn't phase me. I don't need order.

Maybe we are energy beings, more than the sum of our parts, maybe our time in this physical existence is part of a grander scheme that we cannot even fathom.

Or maybe we are an accidental coagulation of polymer chains languishing on a meaningless piece of rock hurling through a vast vacuum of space for no reason at all.

Either way, I will still never be willing to kill Isaac.