Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Deus vult

I have gotten to a point where it is almost impossible to number the things about the United States (and much of the larger sphere of humanity, circa 2013) that drive me fucking crazy.

It seems incomprehensible to me that, given the options we have, that we seem bound and determined to drive this goddamn bus back into political and economic oligarchy, social inequity, and intellectual credulity and irrationality. But that seems to be the case in a fairly broad swath of the American and global publics.

Idiocies, ranging from tantrums of anti-science to an apparent longing for Dickensian unregulated capitalism, abound. People whose world-views range from simplistic to outright delusional find it childishly easy to convince the public to elect them to high office. Even our political "scandals" seem more boneheaded and ginned-up than the scandals of just a couple of decades ago...perhaps because we chose to deliberately obscure and forget those earlier scandals rather than look on them with critical eyes.

Obviously a hell of a lot of this that's happening in the U.S. has to do with the congealing of what's called "movement conservatism" in this country.

The U.S. GOP as currently constituted is less a political party as it is a cult. The GOP of my young adulthood believed in things like free markets, low taxes, strong armies, and "personal responsibility" as social goals and legislative objectives.

The current GOP believes in them as dogmas, the difference being that if you have a political position you can reasonably modify it or negotiate over it with people who don't agree with it to find as much of a compromise as you can but if you have an article of faith then it is either that or damnation. You would rather be dead, and your opponent be dead, and everything around you flaming wreckage than accept anything less than everything you demand.

But I think that this is just a symptom of a larger disease; the resurgence of fundamentalism.

The GOP is just one of the organizations that has been taken over by - or has deliberately absorbed within itself - people whose outlook is irrational based on belief rather than reason and conviction rather than questioning.

Human life has always been hard. Human problems have always been difficult; usually complex, often prone to messy, unsatisfactory, unpleasant outcomes. Humans have always been contrary, irritating, perverse, unruly creatures who tend to defy commonsense and logic in pursuit of unreachable and unreasonable desires.

And reasoning or questioning your way through this mess is damn deadly difficult.

It's difficult to acquire bits of evidence, it's difficult to sift through evidence to discern fact from perifact and outright fiction. It's difficult to assess our own best interests to apply this evidence to our potential courses of action to decide on the one or ones that will produce the best outcomes for us. And even more difficult is then trying to apply this to our group; our family, our village or town, our region, our nation, our world. Instead of answers you get more questions. Instead of comfort you find more trouble. You end up feeling small, and alone, and helpless, especially if you're a person who is troubled by things you don't understand or don't like going on around you. You WANT to feel strong and untroubled. You WANT answers, not more questions.

That's where "fundamentalism" helps.

Having a simplistic creed makes those decisions a hell of a lot easier. You don't have to worry about the moral or spiritual or economic or political complexities of your actions; God (or Marx, or the free market, or Allah...) says it, you believe it, that settles it.

There's only one teensy-weensy problem with that; it makes you functionally insane.

If you choose not to apply human reason to human problems, if you choose to instead effectively print yourself a set of punch cards with a small range of standard answers to the Big Questions on them, then you have made yourself into a sort of meat computer and if your inputs are wrong then your outputs will be wrong.

David Atkins does a good job of summing up the immense problems with this approach to human life and human issues:
"Fundamentalism of any nature causes extraordinary harm. Fundamentalists believe that the ends justify the means, and that their ideology cannot fail--only people can fail their ideology. Christian and Islamist fundamentalists alike attribute any ills befalling the world as a sign of inadequate obeisance to their God, and do whatever it takes to remake the world more in keeping with their scriptural dogma. Market fundamentalists elevate the "free market" as a divinely infallible authority, attributing even the most obvious market and corporate failures to intrusions of "big government", and offer up only more deregulation, tax cuts and the occasional military coup as a solution. Even Marxist fundamentalists exist, looking at the failures of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot not as refutations of their dogma, but as inadequate implementations of their ideology. The end result of all of these fundamentalist beliefs is mindless tragedy, violence and death."
When I look around what I see as the basis of a hell of a lot of this Vortex of Fucking Crazy is more than a willingness; an intense desire, almost a need to retreat from cautious ratiocination into simplistic answers driven by "faith".

The problem I have with that is that "faith", by its very nature, is personal. I believe some things because I am who I am and I have seen and done and learned what I have; I cannot transfer that to you anymore than I can slide the scar on right hand I earned by shoving it through a plate glass window when I was eight off my hand and onto yours.

I can tell you about that scar. I can try and convince you that the scar is a good scar, and one that should shape the way you live your life.

But the moment I try and force you to bear that scar - whether by law or might or social pressure - I put myself in a dangerous place.

And more and more I see people who want to force others to bear their scars, for no better reason than that they believe in their scars strongly enough to want to force those others to bear them, too.

That drives me fucking crazy.

What's worse, I cannot see a way around it.

We know more now, and more of us know more, about ourselves, about our world, about the natural processes, about politics and economics and societies of every stripe.

And yet we, many of us, seem to insist not on using that knowledge but deliberately ignoring it; making others' and our own lives more difficult, meaner, crueler, less tolerant, more violent and random and loveless rather than kinder and more rational.

And I have absolutely no idea how - if all that information and knowledge and communications cannot - you change that.


Anonymous said...

"it makes you functionally insane."

Yes, this. Functionally FUNDAMENTALLY insane at that. Fundament also means "ass"....and that IS where their heads seem to migrate after a brief term of practice.

And people wonder why I am telling my eldest son that yes, his plan to emigrate to Norway is good if he can get there before they slam shut the doors.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Ooops...somehow that sent the comment before I got my name signed...that was me discussing fundaments!

FDChief said...

Outside of pure anarchy I can't imagine a worse system of government than theocracy. Pile a big ol' heap of economic and scientific ignorance, credulity, and superstition on top?


What's depressing me about this is that seldom in human history have people had the opportunities we have now for learning and thinking. We COULD be making choices and taking actions based on reason and careful thought; instead it seems like an ever-larger group chooses willful ignorance and prejudice.

The depressing part is that if we can't use the electronic age to inform ourselves and act on that information...if we insist on closing our eyes and ears and brains tightly and chanting "lalalalalala!" rather than accept that things we WANT to be true are not or may not be true...what WILL make us do so?

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Pure anarchy at least might only entertain action that has an immediate positive payback. The credulous moron types kind of make taking "Pascal's Wager" a bit too much like nuclear Russian Roulette!

Ael said...

The problem is a technical one.

With modern marketing technology, political consultants segment the public and determine in precise detail what motivates actual voters (who make up a minority of the citizenry).

Rational voters are fickle. They make judgements based on performance and are liable to change their minds when facts change. Therefore, they are not to be relied on.

What the consultants do is identify segments of the voting market which are easy to satisfy (usually because they are one or two issue voters - you could call these issues "fundamental" to their vote). Once you have assembled enough fundamentalist segments to give the candidate a reasonable chance, you engage in a negative strategy that depresses the rest of the voter turnout.

It matters not that you may be driving rational voters away from your candidate. you simply want to reduce all rational players to escalate the power of your chosen segments.

Since this achieves power and since the media follow power, the natural outcome is the media landscape that you see today.

This is all enhanced by the two party system.

Luckily, the internet is making a lot more information and a lot more nuanced discussion available than ever before. I believe that at some point in the ill defined future it will crack the current stranglehold.

FDChief said...

Ael: Add to that the blatant gerrymandering at work in state and federal election districts that has made a huge proportion of districts "safe" for the two parties. And the cumulative effect of a horribly awfully bad courtier press.

But I wish I was as optimistic as you about the effect of the digital age. I see, rather, a combination of "signal-to-noise" issues causing further confusion amongst the proles rather than greater clarity. And that the process you describe - where the operatives on the Right (and it IS the Right, let's call it what it is) use the power of selective truthiness to drive thoughtful voters out and wedge the single-issue guns/God/gays/teatards in...

I tend to agree that American politics has NEVER been about "smart people"; it's always been about mobilizing a bunch of dummies to vote the way you want them to.

But at least in the past there were "dummies" on the Left; workingmen and women who had a deep, visceral loathing for the plutocrats and oligarchs and a distrust of the "idle rich". The success of the last half of the Twentieth Century in getting a critical mass of those people to either a) see themselves as "middle class" and thus as allied with the oligarchs (or at least aspiring to become them), or b) more fixated on useless social fetishes like abortion, guns, and homos than the reality that their Masters are raping them economically has been the great success story OF the Right.

I am just desperately convinced that there will be no resurgence of any sort of anti-oligarch coalition short of complete return to the Gilded Age. It took decades to break free from that morass the LAST time, and I don't have many decades left in me.