I write because it helps me cope. I haven’t been able to write lately because my mind is unfocused by a bunch of things. What I am seeing around me is a kind of existential apocalypse. Part of it is the world around me, part of it is the realization that I live in a part of the world where I just don’t belong.
Writing is a way to let some of that negative energy out in a (mostly) harmless way. I have suffered some physical injuries in the past year, so my martial arts training weight lifting has been sidelined for quite a while, leaving me with video games, stress eating, and writing as my outlets. Lately writing has been hard, so I pretty much just play Skyrim and Stardew Valley.
The Great Big Thing is a kind of toxic complexity that has led to an existential threat at a global scale. I sense that our American capitalist system is slowly collapsing and the problem is so complex that not only can nobody see it, nobody can even face it. This reflexive/involuntary ignorance has left me with a kind of low grade rage at my friends and family, and a kind of generalized panic.
I have liberal friends who don’t understand nationalism or how white supremacists operate. I have conservative friends that don’t understand the shock doctrine or military doctorine. Neither faction seems to know the difference between fiscal policy and monetary policy, or what tax rates and margins are. I can’t help but feel like everyone is obtusely seeing this oversimplified version of the world. The only friend I have that doesn’t want to just bitch about the presidential election (from a year ago) is a batshit crazy UFO conspiracy theorist. What does that say about me?
The Make Believe World
Nationalism is a logical consequence to globalization. It is the result of the failure of politics to control corporate power, or possibly the corruption of politics via money by corporate interests. It’s what happens when people lose faith in institutions and turn to corporations. Sure there is a racist/anti-immigration component to nationalism, but there is an equal, or possibly greater component that is economic. What you end up with is a population that is mad at the globe, wants to retreat inward. This results in a kind of “foxhole mentality” where you feel that you and your way of life is under attack and anyone outside of your world-view is the enemy. I mean, your way of life is under attack. It’s just being attacked by unchecked corporate greed, not by poor people and brown-skinned immigrants.
Speaking of race and nationalism, modern white supremacists *want* to be judged and attacked for their beliefs, *especially* by other whites, because it plays into their whole “white genocide” narrative. The audience for these theatrics isn’t minorities, it’s disenfranchised/underachieving white dudes. It’s the exact same tactic employed by ISIS and the Westboro Baptist Church. ISIS wants the west to crack down on moderate Muslims because it empowers their “the west wants to destroy all of Islam” rhetoric that helps them recruit martyrs. Westboro is a family of lawyers posing as radicals. The Phelps family wants people to assault them at their protests so that they can file lawsuits and collect settlements. Martyrdom is the endgame, and if you engage them, they win. They’re gonna get mileage off it and there’s noting you can do about it. So you have to get even more.
What’s worse is that my liberal friends are calling for bans on this kind of speech. Hate speech in all forms is bullshit, but that’s not the point. The point is that hate speech is a kind of canary in the coal mine. It’s the way that you prove to the world that you are willing to stand up for all other (i.e. the important) forms of free speech. If you call for a ban on hate speech, how do you plan on enforcing it? The federal government?
How will you keep that ban from silencing the people who need to speak the most? Bans by government at any level *WILL* be used against activists and protesters. Any move a government body makes against the Alt-Right *WILL* harm Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Occupy, and every other group that liberals think are cool. I have been called a “free speech apologist” by a liberal friend for pointing this out. It reminds me of Daffy Duck sticking a shotgun into a hole and having the barrel poke him in the ass. Sure, it’s counter intuitive, but that’s how it always works: the government always punishes vulnerable people, especially when it tries to protect them.
On the Conservative side, my friends don’t seem to understand the pernicious nature of authoritarianism. The shock doctrine is where authoritarian governments and leaders use crises to justify the maneuvers they make to restrict the rights of the people they govern. The neocons did this during the Bush administration after 9/11. That’s not a conspiracy, the PATRIOT act was a direct result. The intelligence apparat did the same thing during the Obama administration in response to various insurgencies in the Middle East following the Arab Spring. Some tragedy happens and new laws suddenly appear to take away even more freedoms.
Most liberals were quick to criticize George W. Bush for letting the intelligence community build its mass surveillance apparatus, but they were curiously silent about Obama letting the same intel community expand it and then equip it with murder drones. It’s not about the politics, it’s about the intel community and the multi-billion dollar industry that supports it forming a kind of ‘deep state’ (I hate using that term) that’s immune to the political process. The country swings from red to blue and back to red, but the Intel Community Apparatchiks gain more power with each cycle. Oh, and the American people are silently complicit. As Trump clashes with the Intel Apparat, liberals support the Apparat, as if they have forgotten about all the kidnapping and torture that they did in the past. At this point, throwing shade at any president means that 50% of the time, I’m the bad guy every time.
Speaking of governmental overreach, my conservative friends are just as delusional as my liberal friends. A few of them seem to think that this is still 1776 and that they can fight *whomever* on equal footing. This is a willful disregard of modern military doctrine. A force multiplier is a technology or tactic that improves the combat effectiveness of a weapon, a soldier, or military unit. Satellite communications, land navigation, advanced optics, and close air support are examples of force multipliers. It’s the tactical support that makes special operations so special, not beards and MOLLE gear. Don’t get me wrong, those operators are total badasses, but behind each badass on the ground there are hundreds of people, millions of dollars in communications equipment, and thousands of man hours of intelligence gathering. You may be dead eye dick with an AR-15, but you won’t even scratch the paint on a Specter or a Warthog. Nuff said.
Because of this worship/obsession with special operations, a kind of cargo cult has formed around guns and gun culture as a result; a certain group of people think that carrying military-style equipment and weapons makes them one of these heroic badass operators fending off a mythical Golden Horde. AR-15’s, beards and vests don’t make you a badass, years of training and access to orbital technology does.
I have written elsewhere about geardos: non-military people, usually right wingers of some kind, who are obessed with military equipment. I can admit to making use of the modularity of MOLLE gear for carrying electronic equipment, so maybe I am more sensitive to this phenomenon than others. Also, I was in the Army in the 90’s and MOLLE gear is way more useful than the shitty Vietnam-era ALICE gear that I had to use. There are three basic types of geardos: 1) the 2nd amendment gun nut types, 2) doomsday preppers/survivalists, and 3) people who fantasize about the zombie apocalypse. There is a weird connection between all 3 types; in one form or another they all share this kind of male power fantasy about the proverbial shit hitting the fan. The point here is that once you remove the racist/sexist/right-wing fantasy, what remains is still fantasy.
So when some NRA gun-nut talks about using his god-given right to assault rifles to “Don’t Tread On Me” against tyranny, don’t believe it for a second. The 2nd Amendment is real, and written into the constitution, so it’s not going anywhere. That doesn’t make it a hedge against tyranny. At all. If the culture wars blossom into a full blown civil war, the military will be the deciding factor, not the geardos. Whichever side the military backs will be the winning side in *very* short order. You could put the entire state of Kentucky, the National Guard included, up against the First Infantry Division, and the smart money would be on the Big Red One. The NRA knows this, which is why their thinly veiled threats are directed specifically at journalists and not at the left in general. Campaign contributions are cool and all, but they’re nothing compared to private military company money.
My side, your side, their side, we don’t know.
What I see around me is that the machinery of the western world is running amok. It’s a vast and complicated system that no one is in control of. I see a militarist/imperialist/plutocratic caste that is doing steadily crazier and crazier shit to keep the system stable, but nothing else. Meanwhile, everyone I know is arguing over what color we should have painted the machines last year. They are -Every. Single. One.- oblivious to the fact that the system went off the rails something like 20 years ago.
If all they did was argue about machine painting, that might be understandable, but that is not the case. They are so dug so deep into their all-we-have-to-do-is-paint-the-machines factions that they don’t see that they have basically switched places with each other. The memes and bumper stickers that rail against Trump are basically the same ones that railed against Obama. “Obama is a Muslim” has been replaced with “Trump is a Nazi”. One side looked stupid when they did it, and now the other side looks equally stupid and neither of the realizes it. Again, it’s not about the politics, it’s about the foxhole mentality. Neither side will come out of their holes to listen to anything. Which was probably the plan all along.
Both sides use the same hateful condescending language. Liberals are the new bible thumpers. Saving the world from institutional bigotry is great, but the tools that the left uses are the same right-wing fundie bullshit: judgement, ridicule, and self-righteousness.
If you are sick of conservatives clutching their pearls in judgement of your secular hedonistic lifestyle, you don’t respond by clutching your own pearls in judgement of their fundamentalism. When my liberal friends attempt to deploy guilt and shame to enforce their world view, I just want to scream “WHAT ARE YOU A FUCKING CATHOLIC?”
What it’s like listening to all of this
I can’t help but feel like Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. I feel like the last sane person in a world that has gone mad.
“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happenned to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”
It’s Not the Economy, stupid.
The thing that bugs me the most is that both sides seem to be arguing petty cultural bullshit while corporations seize power hand over fist. Liberals and conservatives call for economic reforms without having a concept of basic economic principles. I understand why. It’s too complicated.
The Bush administration let the banks crash the economy; the Obama administration bailed them out; no one went to jail for it. The war on drugs is a war on poor people and people of color; prison is a multi-billion dollar private industry, as is war. There’s all the money in the world for prison and war, yet education and healthcare costs are skyrocketing. This is reality, but everyone wants to bitch about the economy. World going one way, people another.
For example, the difference between revenue and income. Revenue is simply a measure of the money that comes to you, income is a measure of what’s yours to keep. Most people think about their personal income with regard to income taxes, but to the government, income is a different animal. For corporations, income is a much bigger deal.
The issue I see a lot of people discussing is raising and lowering taxes with no real understanding of the difference between rates and margins. The tax rate is the amount that you are supposed to pay, the margin is the amount of your income and holdings that you actually hand over to the government. You can vote all you want to increase the rate, and if by some miracle you succeed it won’t make a single bit of difference because corporations don’t cheat on their tax rates, they cheat on their tax margins. You could double the tax rates on the rich and you might see a slight increase in tax *revenue*, but the government would likely end up with less tax *income*. But by all means, keep fighting about the rates.
I guess this is where the idea of a flat tax comes into play. This is where everyone pays the exact same rate regardless of their income, and there are absolutely no deductions. The actual rate could lower, say to 10% (like capital gains), and if you close all of the loopholes for bonuses, losses (real or fictitious), and the like, the government’s tax income could increase significantly. It would probably put an end to all of those tax haven schemes that are said to be hiding several trillion dollars (See the Mark Blythe video above).
The same thing is true for fiscal policy and monetary policy. Fiscal policy has to do with how the government spends money. Monetary policy is how the fed controls the money supply through interest rates. The two really don’t have much to do with one another, other than they sort of come into play at similar times. Low interest rates are supposed to spur borrowing, but they also discourage saving. Interest rates have gone about as low as they can, so not much else can be done by the fed to stimulate the economy. It’s up to the government to do the rest, but it can’t because Wall Street.
This is where all the complexity comes into play. I have ranted about this before, so I will do what I can to not duplicate the issue here. I am frustrated by the discussions that I see because the left and the right are arguing based on two narratives that don’t reflect reality.
Basically, engineering an economy always has unforeseen consequences. Not engineering an economy always has predictable consequences. The New Deal was probably the most ambitious attempt at engineering an economy, followed by the Clinton and Blair administrations’ campaigns to deregulate the economy in the late 90’s. Both maneuvers are what put us in the state that we are in now. The system gets modified and there are consequences.
Engineering an economy is impossible to get completely right, but that’s not the point. The point is that not engineering an economy is incredibly easy to get completely wrong. Neither narrative (pro-economic-engineering or anti-economic-engineering) captures the complexities of a national or global economy. Economies are made up of individuals. These individuals may or may not act rationally, and they may or may not act in their own self interest. That Hobbesian/Randian Zero Sum Game Theory is largely bullshit. Trying to create stability within a large and complex system that’s based on non-rational and illogical human behavior is foolish and will ultimately lead to nonpolitical forces seizing power. Non-political forces do not have to answer to The People, which is undermining The People’s liberty and will continue to undermine the social contract.
This is what I mean by the machinery of The West running amok. The machine isn’t doing what anyone wants, and no one can make it behave. The machine is too complex and the consequences of modifying it are too unpredictable. No one can change the system because no one can predict what the outcome of a change will be. So we just give up. We know that the best outcome is that it remains stable, so we argue over what color to paint the housing. This is the story of pretty much all of western civilization. The reality of the problem is so complex, so ugly, and requires so much consensus that there isn’t any solution. It’s bullshit, we know it, and we don’t do anything because we can’t imagine doing anything else.
When someone tells you a story that you believe so thoroughly that you can’t see reality, that’s the definition of a con. This is where I should get on my soapbox about a movement based on hacker ideals and disruptive technologies to give the power back to the people, but I just don’t have it in me. Also, such a cultural revolution would probably end like every other cultural revolution: in Soviet or Chinese style totalitarianism. Cheery thought, huh?