when you’re somewhere between dream, awake, and mountains far away.
Microsoft rolled out an AI chatbot and within 24 hours it began saying racist, misogynistic, and generally hateful things.
Lots of people have come out over the years to say how a powerful AI would be a nightmare and possibly cause the very extinction of the human species. I could sit here and search for links for hours and days and still not grab them all.
But just know that a lot of really intelligent people have been studying the potential calamitous effects of AI on our species. Stephen Hawking’s warned the world about it, and he’s not alone.
I always thought this was a bit silly.
I mean, why would AI automatically become anti-human?
I have a lot of thoughts about the potential of AI and why it’s so fascinating, but that’s maybe for another time. I’ve written novellas about it, and maybe they’ll be published someday.
I love both of those stories and they’re generally positive in their outlook for the future of AI and artificial species humanity may someday create.
But what happened here is more similar to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, where the AI essentially learns to be human from the internet.
I think this is the real problem, and the huge difference between Chiang and Yamamoto’s stories and Garland’s.
In Chiang and Yamamoto’s imagined futures, humans create AI and teach them to be human.
In Garland’s film and our real world, we’re taking a big shortcut. Rather than have it learn experientially in a more neutral and natural environment, we’re thrusting it onto the internet.
Something you wouldn’t wish on an infant, no matter how quickly it can learn.
Because, really, these are infants. Their development may be vastly quicker than a human’s, but they may be even slower. Because we’re creating another species.
I’ll say that again.
We’re creating a new species.
We’re not just uploading a program. I mean, in engineering terms, that’s kind of exactly what we’re doing. But, in reality, we’re doing something much more complex. Something that can’t be engineered easily.
I think–and this may sound silly–that we need to socialise our AI before letting it loose into the wilds of the internet.
Let’s be honest.
The internet is a nightmare.
I mean, it’s the coolest, greatest invention maybe ever, but it’s also where humans express their worst desires and represent the worst aspects of themselves.
It’s not a safe place.
But especially children. Especially a species that has absolutely zero experience.
If you throw one out into the world and tell the world that this is a new species, all the trolls will come out just to be the worst. Their goal will be to make it a vile thing. They’ll do this for fun.
Because, for a lot of people, that is fun.
And, see, this comes down to the amplification problem of the internet. Everywhere from gamergate to bernie bros to whatever else, you have a minority behaving in the worst possible way. And they don’t just say their piece and move on. They spend all day or week or year doing this. Attacking and attacking, doxxing, hacking, harassing, stalking. They go out of their way to ruin someone or something. To make them afraid. To make them ashamed. To rip their life apart. And to harass and dismantle their actual life and the lives around that person.
We even see it beyond fringe ugly movements. We see it in everything.
This is the lesson, basically.
If you let an infant onto the internet, especially if it’s an infant that can talk and reason, but maybe not discern information super well, you’ll have people twist it into a monster, because they think that’s fun or funny.
I think if we ever really get an AI going, we need to socialise it first. I don’t really know what that will entail, but it may take years or decades in a lab environment that’s closely monitored to make sure it isn’t made into a monster by those who think being monstrous is funny.
Anyrate, just a thought.
It’s been a long time since I wrote a book review on here, and this won’t really be that either. It’ll be more similar to what I wrote about Patrick Rothfuss a few months ago.
Which is to say, it’ll be more about my experience as a person and a reader, and less like a formal book review, which I guess I don’t even really do on goodreads, where I’ve begun reviewing just about everything I read, even if only dropping in a few sentences.
See, I bought my kindle way back in 2010, after I graduated college. I bought it because I was about to move to South Korea and knew I wouldn’t have easy access to physical books, so I took the dive into the ebook world and I still spend a lot of my reading there.
Anyway, I came across The Dream of Perpetual Motion somehow. I don’t even remember how, but what I remember is loving that title and its cover. Maybe more than anything else, those two things caused me to hit the buy button and wait for it to download.
Of course, that’s not when I read it.
What kind of maniac reads books the moment they buy them!
No, it wasn’t until I was on the first of what would be three plane trips that took me to Seoul, where I’d then take the bus to Gwangju. But I started reading this and I fell in love.
When I was growing up, I loved science fiction and fantasy. I fell in love with worlds and words but somewhere in my teenage years I became convinced that they were not proper Literature.
A foolish and ugly notion–I know. But so I spent a solid ten years not reading any science fiction and fantasy. It’s only in the last five years that I’ve really come back to it, and only last year where my reading was primarily speculative instead of literary. This is one of the novels [along with China Mieville] that brought me back.
I honestly don’t remember the novel very well anymore–such is time! But my thoughts on the novel, written months after I read it, are a bit instructive.
The thing is, I remember enjoying it and I remember feeling those things I wrote about in that review, but I didn’t really love it. It’s complicated, I guess, but I thought it was a fun, inventive, and clever novel, but it didn’t crawl deep inside me.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
The truth has become that it’s one of the novels I think about pretty often, even still, five years later. It’s grown in my estimation since then and I really want to give it another read, but I almost never reread books–who can say why–but after reading Version Control, I may just go back to it.
To be honest, I wasn’t super excited about this new book. I mean, I was, but what usually happens to me is that I get a book when it comes out and then don’t read it for months. This is probably one of the most persistent of my reading habits, unfortunately. So it’s very unusual for me to read books as they come out. Usually I’m a year or five behind, even if I preordered something.
For example, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, which I preordered way back in 2010. I still haven’t read even a word of it!
No real reason, either, especially considering how strange it is that I’ve read his newer novel already.
The other thing was that I go into novels knowing almost nothing about them. I don’t read excerpts or reviews or anything like that, except by way of gauging whether or not people seem to think it’s good or bad. I’m not really interested in what a book is about until I read it.
Sure, I often have a good idea. For example, when I picked up Game of Thrones I had a lot of assumptions about the book already–most of them proven incorrect–purely because of its genre.
But I knew this novel was a time travel novel, and though I grew up loving science fiction, time travel has never been something that really interests me. Even in Chrono Trigger, a game I love, the time travel wasn’t a selling point for me.
And still, I don’t much care for time travel in fiction or film, though Primer is devastatingly brilliant and La Jetee is so gorgeous I can barely breathe and Doctor Who is whimsically funny and terrible and worth watching. But, for the most part, I’m happy to skip over anything time travel related.
But the copy was available at the library so I picked it up.
And I started reading.
I’ve had a weird year of reading thus far. Most of what I’ve come across has been disappointing, to a certain degree. I haven’t really come across something yet that felt essential to my life or that changed the way I felt about the world. Or, I should amend that–though I won’t–because The Traitor Baru Cormorant might be one of the best novels I’ve recently read, barring this one, of course.
But most of what I’ve read this year has been somewhere between disappointing and just okay.
A lot of it has felt very thin, I guess. Very–I don’t know–shoddy? Books with high praise but little I found worth loving. Some of them have been extremely interesting or subversive or whathaveyou, but none of them have been what I really needed. Especially since last year was such a great year for me as a reader. It seemed like nearly everything I read was my favorite book!
So maybe I’m being unfair to the books I’ve read this year, especially since some of them have been quite good, but the point I’m coming to is that none of them were this.
None of them were Version Control. The book I needed but didn’t know. The book that would breathe into me in ways I haven’t felt in over a decade.
I was thinking about this, in the hour it’s been since I read those final words, tears on my cheeks, and now. How the closest I’ve ever felt to the way I felt after finishing this was when I discovered Steve Erickson, a writer who changed my life.
But more than him, even–giant that he is to me–I’m brought way farther back, to when I was sixteen and reading Crime and Punishment over and over. I read it the first time in three days when we had two months to read it. Immediately after finishing it, just crying my eyes out, I went back to page one and read it again.
I wept into that book. Nearly every page is underlined [which wasn’t useful, as a student, but maybe demonstrates how much this book meant to me] because every sentence, every word was precious to me. I was tattooing it on my heart. I was dying over those pages. Losing my mind.
That book broke me. It broke me to pieces. I was no longer the same person I was before I came across Dostoevsky’s words. He fundamentally transformed who I was and the way I saw the world. I’ve written thousands of words about him and read everything he’s written twice, and I’ve avoided him since I was eighteen.
I’m afraid of him.
Afraid to read him again, not so much because I fear he’ll be reduced by revisiting his work, but because I can’t bear to lose myself.
His books taught me to love myself, maybe for the first time.
They broke me apart and gradually rebuilt me. And I like who they made me.
If I read them again, and I fall again to pieces, who will I be once I close the book for the last time?
It scares me, even now, just sitting here.
Version Control wasn’t as dramatic as all that for me, no. But it hit me in ways that are very much familiar.Ways that I haven’t been hit in a long time.
Steve Erickson hit me in mostly emotional, existential, and aesthetic ways. I tore through his books twice and wept in a number of them, and he showed me how to live, how to write, how to love.
But Dostoevsky gave birth to me.
And reading Version Control–it’s similar to that.
It hit me in every way possible.
Intellectually, this is one of the most interesting novels I think I’ve read since Dostoevsky. Where Dostoevsky is all philosophy and existence, Palmer is more scientific. The intellectual capacity of this book is more cerebral than emotional–for me, Dostoevsky will always be understood emotionally as well as philosophically, and I think those are extremely linked in his work. I came across ideas in Version Control that were invigorating but also ones that were familiar.
Familiar in ways I’ve rarely shared.
The way he writes about social media, information, science, relationships–and he hits these on several registers–are all things that feel so much like reflections of how I’ve felt for years, living through this age of screens and avatars.
But more than that, he’s delving into the nature of reality, into the nature of the self and the other, into personal and cultural history.
This book was also genuinely funny at times. I laughed out loud through various scenes. So much so that my wife thought I was distracted by something else unrelated to the book! She asked me, from the other room, if I was on imgur because of how much I was laughing!
The characters are so fresh and alive. They feel lived in and real and familiar.
I feel like I could pick Philip or Rebecca or Carson or Kate or even Cheever and Sean out of a crowd if I had to. They feel so real to me, so obviously true.
And this goes down into the worldbuilding.
The novel takes place in the 2020s, and it’s all so well thought out, so reasoned, but no time is really spent creating it. There are all hints as background and implication. Palmer doesn’t need to write a chapter about how the world has changed. He shows you through the simple ways that characters react and interact with each other and the world around them.
It feels so solid.
This is, perhaps, what many of the books I’ve been reading have been missing–a solidness.
Palmer also lays out a world that is very much what I fear and expect the world to become.
You could label it a dystopia, but even in its harrowing implications, the book never deals with it in that way, because its characters don’t view it that way. Characters who are, for all intents and purposes, my generation. People who were in college during the financial collapse and spit out into a world of drones, social media, debt, and no jobs available.
He captures our loneliness, our ineffable sorrow for the things we can’t even name or describe. This wrongness we feel–or maybe just I feel–with the world. Like something happened somewhere, sometime to make the world slightly askew.
He delves into morality in interesting ways. The way we deal with the moral implications of the potential dystopia we consistently agree to and give into and let define us. The morality of relationship and our choices.
It really is an existential novel, with choice standing at its center, which is maybe why I keep thinking of Dostoevsky now that I’ve finished the book.
It’s not as heavy as him, because Palmer is still having fun. You can feel it.
He captures our awkwardness, our drunken shenanigans, our inability to do what’s right even when we know what it is, even when we truly want to.
He captures the distances between people and the times those distances evaporate until we’re almost one.
What I’m trying to say is that he does a little bit of everything and he does it brilliantly.
But what surprised me were my tears.
In this novel, I found pieces of myself laid bare.
I don’t often look for myself in art. I do often find myself there.
It’s an odd sensation, when you read something that sounds like your own brain, when you experience something that feels like your own life, that reverberates through your bones, that beats with the blood pumped by your own heart.
That’s what I discovered here. Even the cadence of my thoughts. Even the murmur or my own heart.
It was more of a recognition, at first. Seeing myself so clearly in a text that isn’t really about me.
It may be about my generation, but it’s not about me.
But then there I was, standing at its center, naked and alone and afraid but smiling, eventually laughing.
And ultimately crying.
It took me by surprise.
The emotions run deep in this novel. It’s easy to get lost in how interesting everything is, how clever the novel is, how real these characters are, how solid and true it all feels. Because of how well all these elements work, you don’t realise that you’ve already signed over your heart to these people, to Palmer.
He holds it and he knows how to squeeze it at just the right moments.
Even still, I didn’t think I’d cry. And I cried twice. In the space of about three paragraphs. On the last two pages of the book.
What’s maybe most amazing about this book is that it does a wide variety of things that would seem digressive or separate in most novels.
His exploration of race, for example, is breathtaking, and is also so tied into his explorations of science, society, relationships, capitalism, government, and emotional resonance that nothing feels out of place.
Every element works together, synergistically.
Dexter Palmer’s PhD is on the work of postmodernists like Pynchon, Gass, and Gaddis, but what he manages to do is never digress the way they do. They digress endlessly and you come to realise, maybe, that those digressions are part of the whole. But Palmer’s explorations into various facets of life never feel digressive. They feel like wholeness.
I’m endlessly impressed and in love with this novel.
I can’t imagine finding another book this year that’ll match it, but I am hopeful. But, yeah, this is already holding my vote for best book of 2016, early as we are into this year.
I hope you give it a chance and I hope you love it.
Dexter Palmer really does something gorgeous here. Something unforgettable.
Subtitle: The Inevitable Collapse of the US and Americanism
Alternative subtitle: The Inevitable Conclusion of the Imperial United States
Trigger Warning: I’ll be talking about Donald Trump and probably other such unpleasant things.
Length Warning: Yeah. Over 6,000 words.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for weeks and especially while I was driving all over Michigan. And then I read this great essay by Chris Hedges, who’s always worth reading. I don’t agree with everything he says there and I think he’s overstating certain elements, but it’s still worth reading and considering. But I want to talk about something related, though different.
But these essays have more to do with the current brand of american fascism sweeping the nation under the Luminous Grand Vizier Trump.
In some ways, Taibbi’s humorous disgust with the idiotic public is part of the problem I’ll be discussing here. Be that as it may, they’re still worth reading.
Before I really get into the point of all this, I want to reiterate that the US is a very conservative country. This isn’t new. We’ve always been very conservative. Now, even our progressives would be considered conservative in most other developed nations.
To put it another way, if Clinton and Sanders are the most progressive candidates we have to offer, then we’re proving just how conservative our country is. Clinton would be a conservative in most Western nations and Sanders would be a centrist leaning towards conservative values. I think this is important to understand as you read this very long post.
Anyrate, the matter at hand.
This is an old argument that seems to be sprouting up all over again. I mean, it’s an argument that happens everywhere in every era, but I see it all over social media, especially with regard to the rise of Donald Trump.
Idiots are ruining the US.
It really is that simple. That’s the whole of the argument.
Some people even point to a movie called Idiocracy and talk about it as being prophetic or at least meaningful satire/critique.
So let’s unpack this and talk about why it’s recklessly and absolutely false.
What We Mean When We Say Idiot
Oddly, I think this is one of the more complex elements of this whole thing, because people mean various things to varying degrees when they talk about dumb/stupid/idiotic americans (from now on I’ll just use dumb/idiot/stupid interchangeably, so pretend they mean the same thing, even as I pick apart how their umbrella meaning is inconsistent). Language is fluid and everchanging and we’re in a time of incomprehensible imprecision, when it comes to language, which is a problem of the press–something at the heart of this whole essay.
But, for the most part, what people mean when they call someone or a group of people idiots is that those people hold opposing ideals.
This is not unique to liberals or conservatives, to Republicans or Democrats.
We call George W Bush an idiot because it’s easier to handle.
We call Barack Obama an idiot for the same reason.
It’s much more difficult for us as a nation and as individuals if we believe that these men have intentionally done what they’ve done.
But, to quote Marco Rubio–something I’m loathe to do–They know exactly what they’re doing.
But I’ll return to that point later.
Calling people we disagree with idiots is the simplest and most basic use of the term. Those Duck Dynasty guys? Idiots. Those Black Lives Matter activists? Idiots. North Koreans? Idiots. The Dalai Lama? Idiot.
It rolls effortlessly off our tongues and it’s a mix of “I disagree with you” and “Only an idiot could believe that what you’re saying is true.”
Again, this is not an issue of conservative or progressive. It’s just how humans are and what we’ve done to our language.
(Which, since we’re on the topic–people blame the imprecision of the way language is used on idiots as well, and this may as well be a metaphor for the entire essay. We blame idiots for dumbing down the language because it’s easy to blame this amorphous and abstract Other that is too stupid to understand why they’re evil–or whatever. Really, the blame should be placed on media and the press. They’ve dramatically changed the language more than anyone or anything else. And it would be easy to say the media is full of idiots and that’s why this has happened, but that would be–well–an idiotic stance to take. Very smart people can choose to do very bad things on purpose, even knowing how bad those actions are, and it does not make them an idiot. So, if we want to decry the imprecision and reduction of our language, put blame on those who frame public thought. Because those people are smart and they’ve done what they’ve done on purpose. [Quick aside: the changing of language isn’t bad and you all need to get over yourselves and your dictionaries. The world changes. Language changes. People change. The way we talk about the world is different because the world has not remained fixed since the first dictionary was printed. So get over yourself.])
We also call people idiots for making poor choices.
This is an acceptable use of the term. I don’t have a lot to add here.
The most troubling usage has to do with education level.
A poll went all over social media relatively recently that showed a high percentage of Trump supporters were not college educated. The implication you were meant to make is that idiots are voting for Donald Trump.
Ignoring the scam that is the price of college and the crushing nature of student loans, let’s just look at what people are really saying.
It’s worth remembering that university in the US costs money. Often times it costs a lot of money. Sometimes it costs so much money that people remain in debt for decades or never even manage to get out of debt.
So the price of admission isn’t necessarily even tied to intelligence. It’s tied to your bank account.
What we say when we internalise the idea that not going to college makes you an idiot is that poor people are dumb. They’re idiots.
And these idiots are ruining the country.
So the blame for the US goes to the poor. They ruined it all!
We’re also saying that People of Color are ruining the nation, since they generally go to university in lower numbers than white people. They’re also less likely to graduate.
So your blame for the country goes onto the least privileged: the poor, the dispossessed, who are often people of color.
Let’s look at how we judge intelligence as well.
The IQ Test that people think of when you say IQ Test is an archaic test rooted in racism, classism, and eugenics. So the next time you use that as an indicator of a person’s worth, be aware of what you’re really saying.
You’re buying into the idea that people of non-European descent are inferior. That the cobbler’s son deserves to work in the mine because he doesn’t have the intelligence to find his way out of it.
This is not what we want to say when we call people idiots.
At least I hope not.
See, words change and they become politicized. This is just part of life, unfortunately. And when you blame the idiots, you are, in general, telling people of color and poor people of all ethnic groups that they are inferior to the aristocratic and merchant class.
This is an ancient idea and it’s shocking and repulsive to see how accepted it still is.
And, okay, let’s just accept that all these people actually are inferior and pretend like that makes sense and isn’t the most heinous kind of classic, racist nonsense.
If they are inferior, too stupid to even know what’s good for them, how are they to blame for their misfortune?
If this is genetic or predetermined by culture/context/class/whathaveyou, how can we reasonably say that it’s their fault?
If Not the Idiots, then Who?
I touched on this briefly, but I’ll unpack it.
Media consensus is that George W Bush is an idiot. He bumbled his way through 8 years in office, while changing the entire shape of political discourse and US foreign policy by beginning our first endless war, putting us in a constant state of militarism.
Does that sound accidental?
Well, of course not. At least not the way I phrased it.
But I find it incredibly unlikely that George W Bush was an idiot who just happened to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.
And, fine, let’s say that Cheney was the real mastermind here. I mean, even that shows a level of intelligence.
The people you surround yourself with says a lot about you. If you put a strong, capable, and intelligent person in a position of power, you’re probably not doing it on accident. To put this clearer: George W Bush may have been unfit to lead the country and incapable of making all the changes he wanted to make by himself, so he placed people he knew were capable and fit to enact change into positions where they would be most effective.
That’s not something an idiot does.
But I don’t buy the idiot Bush narrative. I think it excuses him of his war crimes and crimes against humanity and disastrous economic policies.
No, more likely, George W Bush is a highly intelligent man who knew what he was doing.
Sure, he may not be intelligent in the ways we tend to value them (as dictated by racist, classist IQ Tests), but there are many other forms of intelligence. And social intelligence (something we don’t measure or explicitly value) is probably the one most relevant to being a politician.
George W Bush knew what he was doing and he did it on purpose.
Ruper Murdoch and the Koch brothers know what they’re doing and are doing it on purpose. They’re effective because they’re brilliant dudes with essentially unlimited resources.
And, okay, I’m showing my own political bias here, which I was hoping to avoid, but whatever–if you read this blog at all you know where I stand.
See, these people who are, in my opinion, actively making the world and our country a worse place–the worst place–are highly intelligent.
They’re only idiots when you use it to mean “I disagree with you.” Which you might, but it’s not a precise way to speak, and so it muddles how we think about these things.
The Koch brothers have pushed through a conservative attack plan that has given them control of most of the country’s state legislatures, which effectively grants them control over a large portion of the country.
This was not accidental and the damage they’re doing is enormous. I don’t even mean simply that I disagree with conservative policies. I mean they’re undermining what our democracy is and can be (limited as it already was).
So the country is not in peril because idiots have ruined everything.
No, we’re where we are because very intelligent people have pushed the country in a very specific direction and undermined what it means to have a democracy.
And alleged progressives aren’t off the hook either. Barack Obama has done a great deal of damage as well. So have the Clintons. I mean, you can throw out a well known politician’s name and they’re probably partly to blame, regardless of their party or ideological leanings.
Even Bernie Sanders, current Patron Saint of US Progressives, is not clean of such things, though he looks pristine when compared to the gaggle of monsters he rubs shoulders with.
But we’re only talking about politicals right now. And that’s not where the blame ends.
The Failure of Expertise
Progressive discourse has alienated huge portions of the country. Not simply because those people are idiots, but because progressive intellectuals have failed to engage people, failed to communicate what their ideas really mean. But most of all, they’ve failed the people who needed them the most.
They’ve also simply failed to not be imperialists, as I discussed a few days ago.
I’m going to use an example that will have to include a lot of caveats, so bear with me.
Among progressive circles, it’s generally agreed that straight white cis men have done a lot of damage to just about every possible group of people you can think of, including straight white cis women.
It’s not uncommon to see this group of people treated as a cohesive whole, especially in discussion of privilege.
There are very valid reasons for this. I don’t want to dispute this. I think that this is absolutely true. People who look like me have done tremendous damage to the earth throughout history and we are, currently, the dominant culture and hold status above all else. That’s just true.
But ideology is one thing and people are quite another.
Imagine you live in Appalachia, one of–if not the–poorest areas in the US. This probably means you’re white. This probably also means that you’re undereducated and underemployed.
Imagine going on twitter or tumblr or facebook and seeing thinkpiece after thinkpiece about the privilege of white men. Imagine you post a comment disagreeing with this assumption in a public forum and then you get berated by other people.
Someone will probably say that this is an extreme example, but it is worth remembering that the internet is where the monsters come out to feed on pain and misery and groupthink. While thousands upon thousands of these people responding to the white kid from Appalachia may be civil and kind and even informative, there will be a handful who will act like people on the internet act: monstrously.
Unfortunately, this Appalachian kid isn’t going to remember all the kind and thoughtful responses, because those didn’t get a visceral reaction out of her. She’ll remember the bile spewing anonymous person who filled them with rage and hate and pain.
So we have a white girl from the poorest part of the country who is told that she has insane amounts of privilege, but when she looks around she sees nothing. No jobs. No infrastructure. No universities. No schools. No opportunities.
This builds resentment. This is when people dig trenches.
They probably won’t consider themselves especially privileged, largely because they’re not.
I mean, yes–if a person of color were in that same position, it would be even worse. That’s true.
But that’s not what she’s thinking when she reads these thinkpieces and the arguments in the comment section. She doesn’t take a step back from her own hopelessness, her own impoverished, small world. She sees people telling her she has every opportunity because she’s white, and she laughs with rage, because she sees how this is absurd. She lives without opportunity every day.
End of example.
I know I used an extreme case, but it was to make an extreme point.
Which is: How do we reach these people?
How has progressive ideology so failed these people?
And it’s not just poor white people. That’s incorrect to believe. It’s just an easy example to pick up.
On reddit there’s a discussion of why Bernie Sanders is failing to get the black vote (I find it troubling that we treat any ethnic group as a bulk whole, but I guess that’s what we do in america). Many progressives believe that black voters are voting against their interests.
What this shows is that progressives are failing to communicate and educate the public that we so readily describe as stupid.
One thing that’s happened is that the progressives have cloistered themselves, I think. They tend to paint poor white people who rage against affirmative action or rally round Trump as racists, for example.
This is the simple and ill-fitting response to a complex question.
Why are people voting for Trump?
Racism may certainly be an aspect of this. For some it may even be the primary one, but that’s not true for everyone. It’s not true for all conservatives either. Being conservative does not make you a bible thumping racist. It simply doesn’t. The same goes for independents.
It’s easy to just say they’re racist idiots and move on, but this causes them to dig trenches and alienates people even further.
Because what does racism come from?
It’s not a natural state.
We learn it. We learn it from other people or from our own experiences.
This is a simplification:
There are people who are afraid of dogs because they were attacked by one when they were a child.
This same logic can apply to racism, especially if a person almost never encounters people outside of their own ethnicity.
Like I said: a simplification.
But so what’s the answer?
If racism is learned, it can be unlearned. You can teach and show people that this is a harmful and simply incorrect way to think about other humans.
It’s not to attack them for being stupid. That’s the worst thing you can do.
You need to engage them, educate them. And education isn’t only academic.
That’s actually one of the least effective ways to teach someone.
It takes kindness and trust for education to occur.
This is, I think, partly why people of color from poor neighborhoods are often undereducated: they don’t trust their authority figures. And why should they? They’re more harshly disciplined than their white counterparts. They’re more likely to be harassed by authority figures.
How can you teach someone meaningfully when you also abuse them as a person and as an ethnic group and as an inheritor of a specific culture?
This is, I think, one of the biggest failures of progressives.
They don’t try to teach the idiots. They try to blame them.
You know why facts and figures don’t convince people?
Because they don’t trust you. They may not even like you.
Part of that is because you represent a class of people who treat them as inferiors.
This is the problem I see most often online. There’s no attempt to engage or find a middle ground or even find a common place to begin discussion.
The Strange Case of Failed Expertise
Let’s talk briefly about Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.
Probably the two most recognized–or at least loudest–atheists you’ll find still living. They’re the perfect example for how expertise fails most people and why so many people don’t trust it.
Dawkins and Harris are both scientists, and they’re good ones. They have serious expertise there. Of course, their current careers have very little to do with science or even their own fields.
Largely, they’re in the business of atheism, which absolutely is an industry. An industry with a small but devoted following.
They’re also part of the anti-muslim industry, which absolutely is a thing in the west. If you write about Islam, especially critically, you’re sure to reach millions of readers and be invited on television to talk about why Islam is dangerous and Muslims should be fundamentally treated different.
This is something both Harris and Dawkins advocate. Harris goes as far as defending torture.
These guys have huge followings and their followers are loud and obnoxious and begging for fights, especially online. There are, of course, more civil ones who take on these views.
I even know a number of them.
I’m really not interested in the defense of these men and their racist ideology of Manifest Destiny, so you can save it. I’ve heard it all and I’ve listened to enough by both men to be thoroughly unconvinced by the various defenses for them.
Oddly, these guys are advocating for the same thing as Trump.
While most atheists would fall on the progressive side of things, Islam becomes a sticking point. Both Dawkins and Harris are for the annihilation of the Middle East. They’d use different vocabulary than that, of course, but they really really really hate Muslims.
They hate christians too, but there’s more money and attention in hating Muslims. And maybe they really just do hate Muslims this much. That’s all very possible. I mean, I don’t think they’re faking racism–I think they’re just racists.
These scientists have leveraged one expertise into another field where they’re kind of hopelessly helpless, but they’ve probably never been more popular.
But even setting aside their hatred of Muslims around the world, they would define themselves, at times, as anti-theists, which is about the most uselessly silly thing to be.
You don’t believe in god? Fine, good for you. Carry on and live well.
But that’s not what these guys do.
Dawkins advocates militant atheism, which sounds a lot like fundamentalism, except good progressive thinkers are more often atheists than they are religious zealots.
But they use the same tactics and the same language.
All those arguments and tactics that drove them away from the religions of their youth, all that language has been repackaged to form this secular extremism, which is generally racist, and always aggressive.
You know how you hate having religion shoved in your face?
Turns out most people hate that.
They hate it, not because it’s religion, but because it’s obnoxious.
You know who hates having atheism shoved in their face?
Everyone, but especially theists of various denominations.
When you go on the attack and tell people that they’re wrong and/or evil for believing something, people don’t like it. And they don’t react positively to it.
When you go on the attack, people go on the defensive and stop listening to you.
No matter how brilliant your argument might be, when you scream it at someone, they don’t hear the words. They feel the attack, and they dig a trench to keep you at bay. When you threaten someone, they’re disinclined to roll over and let you have your way.
Or, many will let you have your way, but only to avoid confrontation. You haven’t changed their mind, you’ve just made them stop talking. But while you’re shouting your ideology and blaming them for the world’s problems, they’re building a wall inside. They’re thinking of ways to stop you from spreading this diseased message.
When you go into an argument to prove that you’re correct, you’ve already failed.
Really. If that’s your goal, just stop.
It’s better if you say nothing.
Dawkins and Harris are the worst examples of the failure of expertise. Mostly because they’re third rate political thinkers. But also because they are convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is an idiot and they needn’t waste time sharing air with a bunch of intellectual peasants.
They’re extreme examples, sure, but this is why many people don’t trust scientists.
Propaganda is a huge issue, of course. And we can blame the aristocratic class for that. They push an anti-science agenda and disseminate it through the million tentacles of the media.
But then the scientific community is failing to read people, because, for better or worse, people like Harris and Dawkins are the ones on the frontlines, giving atheists and scientists a bad name.
The reason Neil DeGrasse Tyson is so effective is because he’s a compassionate speaker. He strives to inspire you. It’s the same thing Carl Sagan did. When he remains inspirational and compassionate, he thrives.
This is effective because science really defends itself. If you introduce an inquisitive person to scientific inquiry, their whole life is transformed.
But if you take that same inquisitive person and tell her that first she needs to stop believing in her god–you may have just stopped a potential scientist from ever picking up her chemistry textbook.
When Tyson fails, it’s when he goes on the attack.
No one needs their religion attacked.
I mean, you may think that’s necessary. You may even think that it’s the most important thing in the world to do. But when you do that, you alienate people. Even other atheists and agnostics.
They look at your anger and think to themselves, I don’t want to be part of that.
But this is something that’s happening. We have geniuses get in shouting matches with creationists, which is the least effective thing in the world to do.
A debate like that doesn’t change anyone’s mind, because the audience is already split.
No one watches Dawkins debate a MegaChurch Preacher without their decision already made.
If you are on the fence at this moment, I encourage you to avoid watching or reading such debates.
They’re incredibly fruitless.
Rather, investigate both sides. Look at what science has to offer and what religion has to offer. And know that this does not have to be a choice.
It’s not religion on one side and science on the other.
You can believe in god and be a physicist. You can be a priest and an evolutionary biologists.
Such things are rare but not impossible or even incompatible.
Here’s even a link to an essay I wrote years ago about this very topic.
So we have the intellectual class failing people. Failing to build trust. Failing to engage with them in meaningful ways. Let’s look at another way the progressives have failed the so called idiots ruining the nation.
To bring this back to politics, there are a lot of good reasons people don’t trust the government. This goes across ethnic lines and even economic classes.
Let’s look at labor.
The Abuse of Labor by the Democratic Party
Labor was a 200 year fight in the US. Progressives and conservatives in government were against it. This goes all the way back to the founding fathers. They squashed labor riots quite violently, in fact.
The moment labor passed, we had a party trying to dismantle it. This was unfortunately effective, but the reason labor is essentially nonexistent is because of the failure of the progressives, who were meant to be advocates for labor.
The Democratic Party, which is the labor party, has undermined and sold out unions over and over and over again.
But, because we have a two party system, they’re the only pony to bet on in the race, so unions keep funding candidates who chop off their legs while smiling and telling them that this will make everything better.
Even labor stopped trusting progressives. Sure, the unions will still vote blue this election, but a surprising number of individual union workers won’t.
And that has more to do with trust than anything else.
NAFTA and the TPP are serious threats to unioned and non-unioned workers, and this can help explain why Trump is so appealing to so many voters.
Yes, it’s easy to say they’re all dumb racists, but that’s not what brings these people together most. It’s labor. And that’s worth thinking about.
I mean, yeah, Trump is rallying up racists, of which there are a lot, and, as Hedges says in his essay, he’s cruising on a course every fascist has rode to power.
So why is Trump so successful?
Because, like Taibbi says in his article, Trump knows how to con this game. He’s a genius at it.
He basically spent his whole life preparing for this campaign and didn’t even know it.
So while it’s easy to just wave your hands and waive all of this away by calling them idiots, by calling them racists, but when you do that, you make it worse. And Trump picks them up, tells them they’re beautiful, that they’re the true americans, and they find value in themselves and in this man who tells them the truth they want to hear.
You fail to educate and engage.
You make them dig their trenches deeper.
Every time you get into an argument with them, they dig a little deeper and resist you even more.
Because you’re part of the lying class. The class of people who promise but don’t really care. The intellectual aristocracy.
You can use phrases like cognitive dissonance and call them hypocrites, but those things are only convincing if the person hearing them cares what you have to say, and because they have no reason to trust you and because you’re not trying to understand their position, they simply won’t listen.
Would you listen if someone started shouting at you about why whites are the superior race?
I certainly hope not.
And I’m not really trying to be prescriptive here.
But this is the problem I see.
Progressives are not engaging conservative people. They’re not even trying to. Instead, they’re cloistering themselves within groups of agreement and labelling the Other in disparaging ways so they don’t have to take responsibility.
You know what’s brave?
Being a Mormon.
They have to go out into the world knowing that most people don’t agree with them and they have to try to convince you of two things:
- They’re not crazy
- That being Mormon is better than what you’re doing now
You know how they do that?
Kindness. Graciousness. Openness.
They literally knock on your door and politely ask you if they can discuss their faith with you.
You know how uncomfortable that must be?
Can you imagine how many people say no?
Can you imagine how many people are really rude when they say no?
To give a quick example, my dad saw some Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses walking to our house while he was pulling out of our garage, and he shouted out his window at them, demanding they leave.
Those kids didn’t get upset. They didn’t fight back.
They just moved on.
Some battles aren’t worth fighting.
Which like, yeah, if you see a dude with a swastika tattoo, that’s probably someone you don’t need to try to engage. I mean, you could certainly try.
But their decision is already seven layers deep on their skin and they may not be receptive to some stranger telling them they’re wrong.
Blame is not Useful
What this really comes down to is that we’re all to blame.
All of us.
Every US citizen.
We made Donald Trump happen.
We’ve fractured out nation so deeply that it may never heal.
I was talking to my wife the other day about how I’ve been convinced since I was fourteen that I would see the end of the US Empire in my lifetime. And while I did believe that then (I even said it would be within fifty years, which was maybe a conservative estimation, rather than the aggressive one I meant it to be) I never thought it would turn out like this.
I believe we’re at the brink of a potential civil war. We are a nation divided, with such little faith or trust in our own government. And this divide is much more even then people think.
It’s worth remembering what happened in the 2012 election.
Sure, Barack Obama decimated Mitt Romney electorally. But he only lost the popular vote by 5 million votes.
Sadly, less than half the nation voted (which is perhaps a deeper sign of how significant this divide is) but Romney only lost by 4%.
At the time, that was the most divided our nation had felt in decades upon decades. But things are even worse now.
We’re seeing the results of ideology spilling everywhere and it makes it easy to understand why people don’t trust the government.
Our government spies on us.
Our government wages illegal wars across the globe.
Our government tortures and indefinitely detains humans.
Our government commits war crimes at an alarming rate.
Our government attacks whistleblowers.
Our government is run by lobbyists and corporations.
Our government actively murders civilians, especially when they’re people of color.
Our government is doing nothing meaningful about climate change, a truly existential threat to the species.
Our government is failing us.
Many people, across the political spectrum, believe our government has failed us.
They believe we need a revolution.
Unfortunately, to most people, revolution seems to mean loudly voicing your opinion about you’re going to peacefully vote for.
But for other people this means armed occupation, murdering other civilians, and setting off bombs.
I think we’re on the brink of a civil war. It may be a violent one but it may just be a silent and gradual dissolution of our nation.
I think the dissolution of the United States would be positive in the long term, not only for us as a people, but for the world.
Unfortunately, if this does occur, it will make for a long arduous road.
It’s a scary time to be alive in this nation. I keep thinking of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and other Eastern Block works of art. We live in the most sophisticated surveillance state to ever exist. Our nation is a fascist nation and has been for decades.
But now we have a man who may launch us into something like the Third Reich.
Donald Trump may win this election and it won’t be because idiots have ruined the country.
It’ll be because very intelligent people have worked very hard to make the nation a certain way, and Trump has managed to exploit it in order to take control.
At the same time, very intelligent people who oppose these changes have failed to connect with the bulk of the population. They’ve watched as the undereducated, the poor, and the dispossessed have been manipulated by those other intelligent folks.
Which brings me to the media.
The Death of US Journalism
I wasn’t alive when it began but I’m here at its conclusion.
Because of the aggressive stance the government has towards journalists, real journalism has become increasingly dangerous, and, therefore, rare.
Whistleblowers are imprisoned or harassed and silenced. The government harasses journalists to discover the names of their sources. Legislation has been put forward that could seriously threaten a journalist’s ability to do her work in the US.
At the same time, we have people like Wolf Blitzer on television.
That’s who people associate journalism with now.
The pundit class.
I wish I had the patience and stamina to talk about the ways they’ve failed and betrayed the public, but I simply don’t.
But journalism has become so devalued, so meaningless, that most people don’t even bother watching.
See, we traded journalism for views.
When news on television became about ratings, we began to lose meaningful journalism
When the internet became about clicks and page views, we lost what it meant for the internet to have meaningful journalism.
You know how depressing it’s been following Mother Jones for the last six years?
They used to do real journalism, but now everything is opinion, and most of it’s simply clickbait.
This is what our national discussion has come to: clickbait and ratings.
Which is to say, US journalism is dying and we’re watching its collapse. And with it goes the whole of the empire.
This is a long post, yeah? My stamina’s running out.
There was more I wanted to say but I just feel depressed.
But what I meant to say here, with all of this, is that we are all failing. We have all been failing for decades.
Whether you’re a conservative or progressive, you’ve failed to meaningfully engage with the other side.
Instead you’ve labelled the other side an enemy and ended all contact, built an ideological wall, and are back there, sharpening your spears and your knives, waiting for the real war to begin.
We’re in a sort of ideological Cold War, which is leaning into a civil war.
We’ve failed the world, our nation, and each other.
We’ve given into hate and propaganda and separation and alienation and indifference.
Half the country doesn’t vote. The half that does is divided so equally and so powerfully that nothing even happens. Neither side is getting what they say they want.
But the war drum keeps beating and people abroad keep dying. Our own young men and women are dying or coming back so physically and emotionally crippled that they soon take their own lives.
This all used to be just disagreement. Conservatives and progressives found things to work together on, but now there’s only hate and separation.
Real hate. The kind that burns and erupts and incites violence.
Interestingly, the only thing our government officials unanimously agree on is war and the disintegration of the Bill of Rights.
I’ve talked a lot about my disdain for war in the past so I won’t repeat myself here, but I find the whole thing so heavy.
But I want to try to leave you with some hope, such as it is.
What Should We Do?
The only thing to do is vote locally. Vote for your state representatives and senators. Give up on the 24 hour news cycle. Stop watching the presidential debacle and find out who’s running in your state, in your district, in your town. Find out what they believe in and understand what those things mean for you as a person and for us as a nation.
Because all politics is local.
And the only way to fix this mess we’ve made is to educate yourself. The media won’t do it. The government doesn’t seem to care if you know what’s going on, which is why you can see politicians lie wildly on television without consequence.
So please, just vote. Vote for who you believe in locally, because those people will change the shape of your town, your county, your city, and your state. In doing so, they’ll change the nation.
During the last election, I wrote this essay. It was published at a website that no longer exists, but I thought I’d post it again here:
For the sake of discussion, we are going to begin with a rather large assumption:
* The god of the books is factual.
What this means is that god is God, an all powerful, all knowing, all present deity. God is everywhere, in everything. God is perfection. And we were made by God.
In this making, God chose to make us imperfect and rather intellectually stunted, when compared to the Creator. What this means is that humans, no matter how intelligent or faithful or great, can never actually know God. More than that, they can never even know if the existence of any god is factual. But they believe because God told some of us that It is real and here and everywhere else.
God spoke to a few different men throughout the millennia and had them record the history of the universe. God spoke to them in the language they knew, using words they knew, using concepts and metaphors they knew.
Even though God told humans that God is God, God further explained to them that God will always remain somewhat incomprehensible to them because of the vast and astronomical differences in knowledge and existence. God, for example, is incorporeal, which leads to some rather obvious difficulties in the created’s interactions with the Creator.
And then time went by and God shared less words with humans. God’s son came and went, some other men were whispered words by God and they wrote them down. Some two thousand years later, we land at the writing of this very sentence.
So let’s talk about science within this context. God came and explained, in broad strokes, the way existence worked and how it came to be. God gave us the intellectual tools and the vast playground of earth to discover all the secret treasures God did not divinely inspire into printed words. But God did command humans to cover and populate the earth, to take care of it and its creatures, to be benevolent rulers over all creation left to us by our divine Father. Humans walked about and played in the world, and in their playing, they discovered certain things that seemed to always be true. They discovered that humans come in different shapes and sizes, that there are an unbelievable amount of animals, that seasons change, that stars shine when the one closest to us rolls over the horizon, and millions of other discoveries that led to inventions, such as a ruler or compass or mobile phone.
Science is humanity’s response to the things we can see but do not yet understand. And there are many of these things that God simply did not bother to tell us. However, clearly God wanted us to know them or God would not have instilled us with curiosity, would not have encouraged our curiosity, would not have made the world so fascinating, would not have given us even the intellect to understand the behaviors of the planet or peoples or animals.
Science further led us to things that we could not see without tools but, when viewed, were demonstrably very real, such as atoms or quasars or electrons or blackholes.
So God left us the physical world to discover and understand. The rest, the incorporeal, the spiritual world, was left to God and nine choirs of angels and all those fallen angels and all the dead. God told us to trust in the words left by It and the men who wrote it down when it came to Its existence and all existence beyond this physicality.
Newt Gingrich said, while still running for president, that christian values were under attack in america. It is easy to waive him off and not bother with such nonsense. But he was completely correct. Christianity is losing its relevance. As a nation and as a world, the christian values that have defined western civilisation for two millennia are no longer the fulcrum that society is tethered round. It is no longer the moral compass by which every person bases their actions. There are many reasons for that, but we will not talk about them today.
Much is made of science’s attacks on religion. Religion, specifically religions of the book–and maybe even more specifically, christian religions–feel under attack with each new scientific discovery and with the generally held belief–which is not really a belief but is a fact–that science is based on facts. This becomes especially clear the more fundamental the religious sect is because these newly discovered facts tend to disagree with things written in the bible. I could say that they are all just overreacting about the whole thing, but people who think this way, who believe in the bible as the absolute and definitive word of God take this very seriously.
So what is belief? Belief is the confidence in the truth or existence of something that is not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. It tends to come with faith, which is belief that is not based on proof. So while facts may be self evident, we do not choose what is factual and not factual. However, we do choose what we do and do not believe in. These people choose to believe that God as revealed to us in the bible is True. To discount that is to discount maybe the most defining aspect of their life. Faith is not a whimsical thing for many people. It defines every choice they make. It might be easy to mock people who wear What Would Jesus Do? bracelets, but there are many people who use that very question to guide their life, just as others ask themselves what the Talmud and/or Torah asks of them, or what the prophet Muhammad would do, or what does Buddha teach, or what is my dharma, or where does the Tao lead.
That is rather significant, no matter how stupid you may think it is.
But let us return to science. Science is systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. Science is the tool by which humans come to understand the world they live in. Writing this sentence on my laptop is the result of generations upon countless generations of scientists. Science is an essentially playful thing because it is the way we come to understand the world, naturally. Every human begins as a primitive scientist, discovering the world and learning more about it every day of its life. We begin to understand by very simple experiments. If we move this arm and this leg in such a way and at such a rate, we can crawl. If we move our lips and tongue and jaw in just the right kind of ways, we can speak. All of this is a trial and error approach to learning. Hypothesis, predictions, tests, observations and so on until we have an understanding of how the process of speaking or walking or eating or throwing a ball works. As we grow and learn, our experimentation becomes more sophisticated and reliable, as we have all of the scientific tradition to learn from.
Science is the gateway to understanding the physical world. What science does not do and does not even actually care about is the metaphysical or incorporeal or spiritual or ethereal world. This is the area for philosophers and theologians, the plane where only ideas exist.
Why do scientists ignore this area of existence? This is actually quite simple: we cannot know it. There is nothing to observe and no one to observe it. Do we have souls? Maybe. It is pretty hard to say, using scientific tools, whether or not something that is weightless, odorless, colorless, and, ultimately, incorporeal is real or unreal. Science is not equipped to even begin to attempt to solve such a question. If souls had some aspect that was physical or observable, then, yes, science could try to answer the question.
And this is much the same as the existence of god. Many scientists believe in god or even God. Many do not. Really, their personal opinions about that do not matter to their professional lives because science has no interest in god. God, by definition, is metaphysical and, therefore, unknowable to humans, who happen to be bound by the laws of the physical reality they inhabit. If something is beyond physics, then it no longer becomes science’s problem. If god were, in some way, physical or measurable, then science would have something to say about it. Perhaps even very kind things.
Science is not trying to attack different ways of life. It is trying to understand life and, hopefully, improve it. For everyone.
But back to the bible, which science seems to constantly accidentally attack. Is it not possible, perhaps, that God, this perfect entity so beyond human comprehension, distilled the truths of the universe to humans the same way a human adult explains the world to an infant? Think of how simplified your explanations are to a child. Would you even bother to use the words physics or biology or chemistry? When is the last time you even discussed calculus with another adult or tried to explain to them where all the atoms in the universe come from? A human child happens to be the same species as a human adult, so it may be more appropriate to compare a human adult to a larval fly when comparing God to a human adult. Assuming you could make yourself understood to a fly, how would you explain the complexities of existence to it using its language?
Is it not possible that your reading of the bible is fundamentally flawed? Maybe it is all there, perfectly and succinctly. The entire cosmos wrapped up in those beginning chapter of genesis, yet, regrettably, owing to our astronomically deficient human intellect, we are so hopelessly incapable of even beginning to understand what God meant when It whispered those words to Moses [for the sake of argument] some three thousand years ago.
But the main point here is that religion and science are not at odds because they are not even the same language or in the same plane of existence. Discovering new words and metaphors in French does not make Cantonese less legitimate, nor does the understanding of one mean the attack of the other. Being a very good pelican may make you a terrible whale, but it is not really useful to compare the two, is it?
Rather than assume that every person who disagrees with you is also trying to destroy your way of life and ruin the future of humanity, maybe we should calm down a bit, sit down, and remember that apples are not oranges, and metaphysical apples are also not apples.
 Books here meaning the Qur’an and different versions of the Bible
Image taken from Getty Images.
Originally this was going to just be a portion of a longer essay about how we blame idiots for the ills of the world and especially for america’s problems, but this is already reasonably long, so I’m making it its own post.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to that essay.
Anyrate, this is something I came across on twitter. I thought about just screengrabbing them so they would have to potentially answer for their insane garbage logic, but I’ve decided to leave their names and faces out of it.
I mean, no one reads this site anyway, so who cares.
An exchange by two writers I know through the internet. They’re white, reasonably young, and would consider themselves progressives. Or at least Democrats.
Anyrate, the exchange, with commentary:
Imperialist 1: Clinton will kill too many people, just as Obama has. She will allow exploitation of far, far too many, just as Obama has. This is true.
Imperialist 2: Any president of the US is going to be at least indirectly responsible for a lot of deaths.
Imperialist 1: I don’t like drones but I think Obama sees them as a necessity to avoid massive bloodshed given our collective awfulness.
We’ll stop here for a moment.
We begin with what I assume is sort of a shrugging sorrow, if I’m being generous, or shrugging indifference, if I’m just reading the words.
Let’s assume it’s shrugging sorrow.
These two are people who would consider themselves the intelligent minority in the country. The people who wish the best for the country and know better than all those dumb poor idiots ruining it. They’re young white liberal writers, so they’d also consider themselves part of the good guys.
And what we get here is a shrug.
About the deaths of people of color across the globe.
They would probably paint this as being realistic. I mean, it is. This is reality. At least the first statement by the first imperialist. Obama is responsible for countless deaths. So is Clinton.
We come to an interesting point, that any US president is going to kill lots of people.
Why is this?
I mean, certainly this has been generally true. It’s part of the tradition of being US president.
But does it have to be?
Imperialist two seems to think it does have to be this way. They also make the interesting distinction that they would be indirectly responsible.
I assume this is because their policies kill people. They didn’t physically pull any triggers or drop any bombs.
This is, of course, absurd.
The president is the head of the US military, which means they can directly tell soldiers, generals, and anyone in the military to stand down. To stop fighting. They can pull out armies. They can send them abroad.
This also means that when the president sends troops to war, he or she takes on the burden of those lives. He or she sent the bombs, sent the guns, sent the soldiers, so they must answer for the dead, the broken bodies, the broken psychologies, the decimated infrastructure, the dispossessed, the refugees that get kicked up by our imperial boots.
Hardly blameless. This is not an indirect effect of policy.
Those dead, those mutilated, those psychologically broken, those refugees, those homeless, those starving–that is the purpose of militaristic policy. It’s not a tangential outcome. It’s the whole reason the policy exists.
I mean, technically it’s illegal for the president to send troops to war without congressional approval, but we’re well past this. But so if this is true, if the president can send troops wherever they want, whenever they want (which they do), then the opposite should also be true.
It might crush their public opinion, but that’s a small price to pay for saving millions.
Now we come to the third peculiar point. The idea that Obama is using drones in order to keep us from engaging in more actual wars.
A few things.
This completely ignores the (seemingly irrelevant) fact that the president cannot wage wars without congressional approval. So the easiest way for him to avoid larger wars would be for him to just stop bombing people abroad, yes?
It also ignores how Obama has used these drones.
Imperialist one almost makes it sound like altruism or benevolence.
He’s only illegally bombing civilians (a war crime) of foreign countries to keep us from engaging in an all out war (something he needs to declare and get approval for).
Which, even if we stop there, this is an enormous feat of mental gymnastics to give shrugging approval of what amount to war crimes.
So, in killing people illegally with unmanned drones, he’s saving lives.
But let’s look at how Obama’s administration has used drones.
Well, they’ve done it secretly. For eight years. Against civilians. It’s proven to be ineffective, horrifying, and indescriminate.
If Obama were really trying to save lives, if he were really doing this for a reason that we can argue is positive, why keep it hidden? Why not use this as an example of why traditional warfare is no longer necessary? Why not proclaim that the US has changed war! We’ve saved millions of lives by waging humane warfare (an extremely old argument that is always heinous nonsense)!
So we have this discussion of why Obama may feel like he needs to use drones in order to save lives which is so absurd I can barely even see straight when I read it.
But let’s move on.
Imperialist 2: Being a world power means you’re choosing which mass deaths you can live with.
Imperialist 1: Yeah. Not an exciting pitch! And certainly something I’d like to work on. But, yeah.
I put the most relevant part in bold but I’ll write it again.
BEING A WORLD POWER MEANS YOU’RE CHOOSING WHICH MASS DEATHS YOU CAN LIVE WITH.
This is the kind of heinous nonsense that passes for thought among those who believe themselves to be intelligent progressives. Again, they’d call this realism, but I call it the most odious form of imperialism and it follows a logic as ancient as imperial genocide, with the same shrugging indifference to all the war crimes and murder.
To use an old cultural catchphrase, This is why we can’t have nice things.
We have people basically accepting the logic that we, as a people and a country, need to kill other people on a massive scale. There’s no argument about whether we should or shouldn’t do this. Not even an explanation as to why this is necessary. Just an assumption that we can live with mass deaths. Just an acceptance that we will kill millions.
And then the next sentence is shrugging acceptance of that logic.
We’re going to murder a lot of people.
Well, it’s not ideal, but maybe it’ll work out all right!
This drives me insane.
Especially because this is probably intended as a kind of gallows humor.
I could go on but it’s really making me sick.
But this is the essence of imperialism. We internalise so deeply the morality of the empire that we no longer even care that what it’s doing is domestically illegal, internationally illegal, breaks treaties, and is widely condemned by nearly every single nation on the planet.
You can call it realism, but this is actively making the world a worse place. A more dangerous and diseased place.
Not just the policies, which are obviously devastating. But this kind of acceptance of the empire’s narrative, the empire’s morality.
You can blame it on “our collective awfulness,” but there are people who are fighting to stop this. They fight every day to expose war crimes and to spread peace. But, no–that’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand! We’re being realists about america and all the idiots who made it into this atrocity!
I find this to be one of the biggest issues with american thought.
We pass blame and care little for solutions. We accept the imperial morality and call any hope of overturning it idealism or unrealistic.
This is, by the way, the same reason why the Founding Fathers didn’t free the slaves.
It was unrealistic! Too difficult! Who could expect them to go that far?
It’s essentially the argument for every system of power.
You need to break some eggs to make an omelette, and if you want a big omelette, you better shatter a lot of eggs.
The failure of american thought and discourse is really exemplified, I think, by this short exchange on twitter.
And if we look at the recent debate, we have a war criminal who proudly proclaims her friendship with other war criminals and dictatorships around the world telling someone that they have questionable motives for being an anti-imperialist thirty years ago.
Red baiting like McCarthy.
That’s the new face of the Democratic Party.
Anyrate, I’m too angry and frustrated and disgusted to continue.
I feel pretty good about some of the stuff I accomplished over the last thirty days. They’re fitness related, so feel free to ignore this post as it’ll be mostly about that.
Like most people, I struggle to exercise. Partly because it’s simply not fun. Partly because I live far enough from a gym for it to be inconvenient enough for me to not go. Partly because it’s difficult for me to exercise at my house, since that’s also where I work, sleep, and do everything else [the curse of working at home!]. But I’ve been using this site Darebee for the last thirty days and it’s been pretty successful.
Almost all of the workouts require no equipment, which is something I need, since I don’t have any. And I do think that’s a big barrier for a lot of people. It has been for me, anyway. We get to thinking that you need equipment of some kind to exercise, whether it be a treadmill or simply a five pound weight. So this was a positive thing for me to stumble upon.
It also makes working out a challenge and a game, in a sense. Gamefication is one of those annoying buzzwords marketing people use, but it works really well as a motivator, and this site’s captured that pretty well. I encourage you to just kind of dig around, but I’ll explain what I did this month as well.
But first I’ll talk about my own health and body for a bit.
I was 5’11” and 150lbs from the age of 15 to about 25. Sometimes my weight would fluctuate. There were times I weighed as much as 165 and other times where I weighed as little as 135. And, yeah, I’d say both are underweight, though 165 is closer to what I should be. But, for the most part, I weighed about 150 pounds. That was my body size for so long that I still think of myself as that size, despite how time has changed me. I also never used to exercise and would eat like a snake. Which is to say, I’d consume about two days worth of food during one meal and then not eat for a day or two. Part of this is because I never had money, which meant I never had food, and part was because I have two brothers who would eat all the food our mother would make if you weren’t there to grab your share. So we all eat fast and we eat huge quantities, eating like this is our last chance to taste food for months.
Over the last three years, I’ve gained what I would consider a lot of weight. I’m not sure what I weigh at this moment, but I’m guessing I’m somewhere in the 180s. I’ve weighed as much as 195, at my heaviest, which, to me, is kind of a frightening number.
Someone reading this will probably laugh at that number or scoff at it, but when you gain 30 to 40 pounds in a short time period, it’s pretty alarming, even if you started out being pretty underweight for your height.
Anyrate, I gained most of this weight in about one year, and I know when it happened.
I began working as a temp at a Wells Fargo. I only worked there for about three months, but it coincided with a big bout of depression, possibly strongly associated with that job. I began gaining weight and not doing much activity. But I still ate the same way I had before. And, you know, getting older, my metabolism changed. A big reason it changed was because I had grown into a very static and sedentary lifestyle.
During college and after, I tended to walk everywhere because I didn’t have a car. When I lived in Korea and Ireland, I walked at least two miles every day. Typically, I walked much more than that. I also tended to stand a lot during the day, as my jobs were ones that required you to be on your feet.
So transitioning to a position where I sat for eight hours combined with poor eating habits and a big bout of depression, I started gaining weight.
I quit Wells Fargo and began freelancing, which led to some different problems. Things went well at first, and then they didn’t, and I became significantly more depressed as I was in a state of abject poverty while I would sit at my computer for hours and hours every day trying to find work and get it finished in time to make rent or have something to eat.
Things got worse when I became a contract worker for a digital marketing company. I sort of became the center of that company, in that I was communicating with our programmers in India, our designers in the Philippines, and our US satellite employees. I had a bit more money, but this job ruined my life. I was at my desk for sometimes as long as 18 hours a day. I would be up early to speak to India and the Philippines and I’d be up late talking to them. In between, I was managing employees spread over three timezones, and trying to get a startup company off the ground.
I was underpaid, overworked, and my health was suffering. Both mental and physical. This is when I gained the bulk of the weight.
I’m a little proud to say it’s the only time I’ve ever really let an employer take advantage of me, but, at the same time, it sucks to be taken advantage of, so it’s not really something to be proud of.
Anyrate, I quit after six months, or something like that. I joined a gym and was pretty good about getting there every day or every other day, despite it being inconveniently far.
But my current job makes for a lot of travel and as I go on, the travel increases, so a gym membership makes less and less sense and I was able to get there fewer times every month.
So it’s been difficult to find a workout program that worked for me, but Darebee seems like a good fit for me.
Over the last 30 days, I did nearly 2,000 pushups, 10,000 kicks, 10,000 punches, and did static planks for nearly 38 minutes.
A lot of other workouts went along with those numbers, but I think those numbers, by themselves, are pretty significant.
The kicks and punches especially. Man, when I first looked at what that program was, it seemed easy. Kicking and punching? That’s almost nothing. Well, sure, if you’re only doing a couple dozen. Try doing a couple hundred a day every day. Today, for example, I did 1,000 of each.
The kicking and punching was because of the Bruce Lee challenge. Essentially, it gives you a set amount of things to do every day. You can spread them out as much as you want, but I generally did them all in one go, because that works best for my schedule.
I think it’s probably best to just do one of these programs at a time, but I was also doing the Core challenge, the Push Ups challenge, and the Foundation Program. In addition, I also completed the Daily Dares every day for the last 30 days.
As you can see if you click on those, there is often an overlap between the Bruce Lee, Core, and Push Ups challenges, as each requires a certain amount of push ups every day. With that overlap, I just combined them. So like, for today, I didn’t do the 120 push ups for the Bruce Lee, the 120 for the Push Ups challenge, and the 60 for the Core challenge as separate things. Instead, I did 120 pushups, because that encompasses the other challenges within it.
And, man, I cannot imagine doing 300 pushups in a day. Especially considering how many pushups came before today.
Anyrate, I thought I’d just share this. It’s been really useful to me. I don’t necessarily recommend doing a lot of those programs simultaneously, because it really is exhausting and challenging. They all begin pretty easy so it’s not hard to do them all at once, but when you get to the final week–it’s tough. I mean, just doing 1,000 punches and kicks took me over an hour.
But I plan on continuing with this. There are thousands of individual workouts to choose from. I found the choices a bit overwhelming, which is why I chose to begin with the programs and challenges, but you can use filters to narrow things down.
I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight doing this for a month, which was certainly part of the goal, but I can tell you that I’ve become much more physically fit and my body’s shape is changing. Those two things are important first steps to weight loss. And weight loss will come, though I doubt I’ll ever weigh 150 pounds again. Partly because I just shouldn’t be that size. I never should have been. If you knew me in high school or college, you may remember being able to see my ribcage through my shirt.
It’s not a good look.
My target weight is, I think, like 170 pounds. I imagine that would be a good size for me.
But that’s the other thing–size. Your body’s shape and size are more important than any arbitrary weight number. Muscle weighs more than fat–we all know this–so you may look thinner when you’re actually heavier. That’s a big reason why I very much doubt I’ll ever be 150 pounds again. I was a seriously thin kid for a long time and there’s never been a time in my life that someone would have described me as muscular. But I’m certainly carrying a lot more muscle now than I was three years ago.
But, yeah, I’m happy to have accomplished this. The trick, now, is to stick with it. It works great for me because I spend so much time without a lot of space or time to exercise, so fitting in high intensity short workouts is really what I needed.
Hopefully this can be a resource to you as well. I recommend it.