Summer of 2022 and “team sports” politics

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe Vs. Wade and Biden made his recent effort at student loan forgiveness, a few right wing arguments have caught my attention.

If you’re wondering, I’m pro-choice and I think student loan forgiveness is the right thing to do. I’m a leftist but I think that the proliferation of political echo chambers is one of the major forces of destruction at work in America and in the world. I think that all of us- my political fellow travelers included -need to be more comfortable with conversation, confrontation and the exchange of ideas. It requires relentless honesty but it also requires compassion and intellectual curiosity.

I wear my positions on my sleeve but I want to emphasize that I do not think those who disagree are necessarily bad people. But I do think that, in the wake of what has recently happened with Roe v. Wade and Biden’s proposed debt relief, some bad ideas have been aired.

Fallacious ones, to be more specific. One of my common touchstones among the political talking heads of YouTube is Rising which featured an opinion piece(“radar”) by Briahna Joy Gray. She made a comparison which, in my assessment, is fair: the SCOTUS ruling on abortion resembles a Christian equivalent of Sharia law. The overwhelming volume of pro-life activists who loudly express Christian religious motivations make a comparison tempting, at least.

Robby Soave, Briahna’s frequent co-host on Rising, had notes afterward: Briahna used the phrasing “Catholic Sharia law.” Soave claimed that pro-life legislation is not, by definition, inseparable from Catholicism. Assuming he wasn’t making a denominational distinction about Catholicism, he likely also takes issue with the more general comparison. Fundamentally: that the pro-life position is not endemically religious and that this SCOTUS ruling should not be seen as an incursion of the church into the state.

In the interest of covering our bases, let’s own that there is at least one non-religious movement whose cause is represented in the overturning of Roe v. Wade. A number of social media profiles posted statements that the SCOTUS decision can only effect those who have made mistakes. In the words of one detractor, this argument can be characterized as “sluts need consequences.”

What’s interesting is that I can recall adult men having similar conversations around me when I was a child. When there was news coverage of a potential vaccine against HPV, someone said “everyone should have VD once in their lives.”

If I had to speculate why this person thought that, I suspect they may have meant that getting a sexually transmitted infection is a learning experience and a rite of passage. That’s the best I can do with that. The same people might think abortion should be outlawed for the same reason. My opinion is that arguing the social benefit of unplanned pregnancies and STIs is like arguing for the social benefit of rape or poverty. It smacks of social Darwinism or accelerationism. Social Darwinism and accelerationism are often used as rhetorical proxies by fascists. Many people connect those dots. If someone openly claims “sluts need consequences”, their only ideological home would be something like inceldom.

I think there are more Evangelical Christians in the American conservative mainstream then there are social Darwinists and incels. The people who are super stoked about the overturning of Roe v. Wade are mostly Christian. Robbie Soave’s point, that the pro-life movement is not necessarily Christian, just doesn’t map onto reality. But I’ve also encountered that point outside of YouTube.

The other way this is argued is that Evangelical Christianity is an outward symptom of deeper sociological influences like patriarchy. This introduces the problem of the accuser believing that they know the hearts of their opponents better than they themselves do. In theory, this is gas-lighting. In practice, accusing Evangelical Christians of existing only to empower men over women just confuses Evangelicals- while making them look cool to incels.

This also leads to the belief in one group being intellectually or morally inferior to the other. This is ordinary chauvinism and it closes the avenues of connection that allow democracy to work. Ideas cannot prove themselves in civil discourse if they’re excluded or not taken seriously. To say nothing of how those on the receiving end of chauvinism are aggravated and possibly radicalized by their dismissal.

The search for pro-life ideologues outside of American Christianity stops at incels and social Darwinists, both of which are statistical minorities. The only other way to take religion out of the equation is to reject what the Christian majority says about itself.

So is the notion of a non-religious pro-life position a complete fraud? A number of people seem to believe that one exists, even though it contradicts the driving force of the pro-life movement itself. If the stated points of an argument are not true, it makes sense to wonder about other factors.

I think a belief lies behind it; a belief that manifested itself again when Biden stated his intention to forgive up to 10,000$ of student debt. Tucker Carlson epitomized it with a rant headed with the line “this move will not help ordinary Americans.” Do I even need to spell out how asinine those words are?

More importantly though: the best conservative arguments against student loan debt forgiveness are based on the profit motive for colleges. Massive sums spent on gyms and stuff to attract students from wealthy families. A fundamental consequence of modern tuition prices is that college freshmen must, necessarily, resign themselves to anywhere between six-thousand dollars and ten-thousand dollars of debt, up front. I suspect I’m being conservative in my assessment of the “price of admission” but last I heard that was a predictable baseline. If there is any way they can make you pay more, they will find it.

If the problem with an institution (like higher education) is that it is too privatized and too driven by profit…then it needs more outside intervention, not less. Perhaps reverence for capitalism heads off that line of reasoning. Inaction is not supportable. Loan forgiveness, on its own, frees the innocent while paying no attention to the guilty. To do right by the innocent while stopping the guilty would include the admission that American universities are dangerously unregulated. But if you can’t get to that last stage, you’re stuck moralizing about how bailing out student debt subsidizes the lenders.

The pro-life movement in America is a religious one and Biden’s student loan relief effort was a minimal reaction to a problem requiring a bigger solution. And I do not think the political right wing would necessarily suffer by conceding these things. It would forfeit some traditional conservative rallying cries but the gains would be considerable.

On August 20th, YouGov released some interesting data on shifting political attitudes. Those who have changed their positions on political issues were polled. The data was collected from Aurgust 3rd to the 5th. Out of the respondents who shifted their stance on abortion, a 50% movement toward pro-choice away from pro-life was recorded. A 68% conservative-to-liberal swing was found on gay marriage and a 38% shift to the left happened with climate change.

For context, the rightward movements on those respective issues were 34%, 13% and 31%. I’ll also add that these percentages only represented the people who responded, not America as a whole. Even with that caveat, though, these numbers strike me as significant. It has been a politically rocky summer and- evidently -the people who changed their minds favored the left. 50% of those who reported changing their minds have become closer to pro-choice than pro-life. By at least one metric, overturning Roe v. Wade has created more liberals than conservatives.

The gay marriage figure strikes me as significant because of the recent spurning of the Log Cabin Republicans. For those who don’t know: the Log Cabin Republicans are a Texas-based LGBT-inclusive Republican group. At the Texas Republican Convention this summer, they were denied the space to have a booth for the second time in a row. Numerous blogs and news outlets covered this, and dropping their anti-LGBT platforms has been discussed in confidence among members of the RNC. Obviously, it has not happened, but there are clearly some who sympathize as insiders (like the Log Cabin Republicans) who want them to. Even Caitlin Jenner has said that including the queer community would change the Republican party less than the changes she would make to the Democratic party.

If the pro-life position is necessarily religious and therefore, as a political aim, theocratic…then imagine the opportunity the RNC has, right now. They have a vocal (if small) LGBT following waiting in the wings. Imagine if the RNC said that it was time to get real about abortion bans: it is Christian theocracy, full stop. Not only does it allow the church to overreach the state- it allows the church to go straight to the physical body of the individual. The absence of this criticism within conservative thought has always baffled me. Anywhere that welcomes libertarians should have at least a few people insisting that the individual’s right to self-determination is sacrosanct. Yet this affiliation between libertarians and Republicans is the only reason I can think of as to why feminism seems so deeply alienated from libertarianism.

The values that once made me a libertarian eventually made me a feminist. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more voices saying that both feminists and libertarians share an investment in protecting the individual from tyranny. There have got to be at least some “big L” Libertarians who are female, queer, feminist or all of the above who are tired of the DNC being the only game in town.

If the RNC had some kind of “crush theocracy wherever we find it” movement, the influx of support would be considerable. Combined with some “we learned our lesson” messaging, the Republican party could reinvent and reinvigorate itself. A bold and energetic new direction with enthusiastic supporters would also enable them take their power back from Trump’s influence. Speaking of YouGov, a more recent poll they took suggested that the majority of Americans think Trump should face criminal prosecution.

Right now, Trump’s best hope is that the “it’s all political persecution” line lands with his base and the public. The polling data indicates that it hasn’t landed with the public. If that’s true, then the RNC could gain much by simply saying it out loud: the investigation is just and we want to nominate someone else. It would go well for them if they did it in conjunction with an influx of new blood.

None of this is likely to happen, though. And I’m interested in why.

I’m convinced that the only thing stopping mainstream American conservatives from flipping on abortion and loan forgiveness is partisanship. Recently, it’s been referred to as “team sports” mentality. According to APNews, the Michigan elections board vetoed a direct ballot initiative effort that gathered its required number of signatures. The initiative was an effort to safeguard the reproductive protections afforded by Roe v. Wade. That’s when “team sports” becomes more than just an ugly oversight. If the Republican party can’t change for the good of ordinary people or even their own political advantage, hopefully the duty of the elected to the electors can still be counted on. Just more reliably than in Michigan.

https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2022/08/16/how-often-and-why-do-americans-change-their-minds?utm_medium=organic_social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=SM-2022-08-US-B2C-Politics

https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2022/08/24/trump-fbi-economist-yougov-poll-august-20-2022

https://apnews.com/article/abortion-2022-midterm-elections-us-supreme-court-health-michigan-4888105cd9fe270786420c150e18c8b3

https://www.npr.org/2022/07/13/1111285143/abortion-10-year-old-raped-ohio

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/louisiana-woman-headless-fetus-abortion-florida-b2146452.html

Ukraine & corollaries

I wonder if these people would still be salivating at the thought of war if they were the ones to be deployed

Tell your friends and family that you love them. Take nothing for granted. Love unreservedly and live life uncompromisingly. Chase your passions and your dreams.

While the climate change clock ticks, Vladimir Putin has decided to take military action according to a historical, ethnic grievance. In his estimation, Ukraine is ethnically Russian and therefore Russia is entitled to seize the country. For this reason, he has targeted nuclear power plants and insinuated the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Because of a sense of ethnic possession, a whirlpool of death has quickened and may attract the currents of other ventings of insanity.

Obviously there are other factors, but in my opinion those other factors are of questionable value. Before now, the overtures the west has made toward Ukraine regarding possible inclusion of NATO was obviously a contributing factor. And I am aware that, if the west had not pursued this, than the current invasion may not have happened.

In fact, the Ukrainian President has recently stated that he agrees not to bring his country into any such group.

As of 3/17/22, the Russian advances on Kiev have tentatively halted. Yet this hasn’t stopped pontificating, warhawk voyeurs from badgering White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about adding our fighting forces to the mix- as if global, nuclear annihilation was not possible.

Yet this perspective itself is not without it’s substance: they are asking whether the fear of a nuclear strike should allow the conflict play out as it will which evidently includes bombing nuclear power plants.

What appalls me about the recent White House press briefings, though, is the consensus among pampered, American stenographers that nuclear holocaust should be treated as a non-issue. As though the human cost was admissible.

While this happens, Saudi Arabia availed themselves to the lack of coverage of other things, having executed 81 individuals en masse on March 12- a record of recent history.

In the event of global escalation, it is difficult to overlook Iran’s remarks from January about the murder of General Soleimani. They have vowed revenge if they cannot prosecute Donald Trump. America has never turned over an ex-President for something like that and Russia has carried out joint military operations with Iran in the last few years. Do the math.

Israel has behaved similarly, with new Knesset legislation that strips citizenship from Palestinian spouses of Israelis. If that’s not the act of a apartheid ethnostate, I don’t know what is.

Be good to each other and take nothing for granted. That is all.

https://theintercept.com/2022/03/15/ukraine-russia-war-sovereignty-negotiations/

https://www.politico.com/news/2022/03/16/zelenskyy-recalls-pearl-harbor-9-11-in-plea-for-u-s-aid-00017698

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/zelensky-ukraine-conflict-nato-russia-b2037181.html%3famp

https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20220312/news/303129969

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/15/saudi-arabia-mass-execution-81-men#

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.latimes.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/story/2022-03-16/debating-israels-law-banning-palestinian-spouses%3f_amp=true

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-vows-revenge-soleimani-killing-if-trump-not-put-trial-2022-01-03/

Afghan withdrawal

For the first time since I’ve been of voting age, I finally managed to support an anti-war president; and to think I almost didn’t.

Not that I don’t continue to have reservations about Biden’s political record; I absolutely do. In the sixties he called mixed-race schools “racial jungles” and he worked on legislation empowering private prisons and the drug war. Considering how the enforcement of drug laws has typically been carried out, it paints a scary picture in conjunction with the “racial jungle” comment. He even co-authored a bill with Strom Thurmond that expanded civil asset forfeiture to those convicted of drug crimes. He then laundered his image by running alongside Barack Obama in 2008.

(To clarify: civil asset forfeiture is when the police are empowered to preemptively seize property or money if they think you are going to use them to commit a crime. Essentially, it’s when law enforcement takes your stuff because they think you might do something illegal)

Joe Biden’s record could reflect corruption at worst or political opportunism at best. But the withdrawal from Afghanistan has, in my opinion, proven that Joe Biden is already twice the President that either Trump or Obama was. What he has done was both necessary and profoundly brave.

Some obvious objections are the American collaborators we left behind and the return of Islamic theocracy with the Taliban. Regarding our collaborators, it is possible that there was some sort of miscommunication: before the withdrawal, Biden said that military intelligence projected months before any possibility of a Taliban incursion. Right now, though, military intelligence liaisons are telling the media that they always knew the Taliban would instantly take control.

As of this writing, it doesn’t look like the precise mechanics of what wires were crossed with what is in any way clear. But there is room for legitimate criticism there.

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though, has a simpler context which I believe is causing subconscious angst in the media coverage of the withdrawal.

Put simply: it was preventable. Easily preventable. And easily preventable by the Afghans.

America spent roughly eighty-nine billion dollars training the Afghan army. An army that numbered some 300,000, armed with modern American weaponry. The Taliban had 75,000 combatants on their side, with artillery from the eighties and nineties. The Taliban was vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

Yet the stronger Afghan army instantly cleared the way for them and the Afghan head of state disappeared. The only way that could have happened is if they wanted it to.

America gave Afghanistan every means of support we could possibly offer. But all the money and weapons in the world can’t make a nation do what she does not want to.

The shallow and obtuse pearl-clutching in the mainstream media strikes me as more psychological than moral. If a western-style democracy is not the prerogative of the Afghan people, it makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that our stated motive of benevolent statecraft was never truly about the Afghan people.

Let us be clear: our recently stated motive of benevolent statecraft.

After the death of Bin Laden, it became impossible to pretend that our military presence in the Muslim world had anything to do with 9/11. So the justification then had to be an altruistic effort on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This reframing took place during the administration of Barack Obama. After quarantine and the end of the Trump presidency, nostalgia is now more sacrosanct than ever. Everyone wants to get back to normal and Barack Obama is one of the symbols of life before 2016-2020.

To admit that an altruistic effort to establish western-style democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq was never the desire of those nations touches a nerve. Both Trump and Obama won droves of voters with the promise to end American intervention in the Middle East. Many (perhaps most) Americans probably voted for one President or the other. And both of them welched on their anti-war platforms. To cling to the fantasy that either Trump or Obama represent some lost state of greatness is to buy into the belief that A. we were right to support their anti-war platforms and B. they were right to welch on them.

These two articles of faith are reconciled in a narrative of maturation: we were once youthful idealists but we learned hard lessons. In this narrative, it follows that the fine points of responsibility require us to eradicate tyranny in the Muslim world and leave them with representative governments. This leads to a perpetually receding goal post and permission to chase it forever.

To let go of what Obama and Trump represented is to admit just how deeply we were lied to. And the last thing anyone wants to do as they pine for the good old days is to lose more of their illusions.

The falsehood of our altruistic claims is particularly glaring in light of the parties who have benefited from our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jon Schwarz, writing for The Intercept, reports that a 10,000$ investment in defense stocks at the beginning of the Afghan war would now be worth 100,000$. A recent tweet from Public Citizen listed the returns on defense stocks during the Afghan war:

Now that we realize that our stated aspirations could not have been realized, we are forced to ask who benefited from it all. The answer to that is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us. We pursued a political program for those who did not want it for no better reason than the enrichment of defense contractors. We are now forced to grapple with this, and hopefully we will be more clear-eyed in our voting and political scrutiny.

Less money squandered on foreign occupations can also allow us to re-allocate resources to fight climate change. Billions to trillions of dollars every year, now freed up. You know, so there can be some humans walking around after we’re dead carrying our genetic code.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/07/08/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-drawdown-of-u-s-forces-in-afghanistan/

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-us-efforts-build-afghan-army-2021-08-15/

https://theintercept.com/2021/08/16/afghanistan-war-defense-stocks/

America’s forever war: bombshells from Trump and Hillary Clinton

Alex Kane, in a May 25th article on jewishcurrents.com, wrote that the Biden State Department committed over five million dollars of aid to Gaza humanitarian efforts. Simultaneously, the State Department also accepted a 735, 000, 000$ offer from Israel in exchange for military support.

Kane writes that the State Department dispensed an export license to Boeing to carry out the American end of the purchase. This included Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Small Diameter Bombs: two varieties of laser-guided explosives used by Israel in an eleven day attack on the Gaza Strip which ended on Friday, the 21st of May.

Reporting earlier that month suggests an interesting dialectical process leading up to this point. On May 3rd, Axios reporter Rebecca Falconer published an article detailing remarks made by Hilary Clinton on a potential withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. Clinton warned that such an event could cause a surge of Afghan refugees and give Jihadi militias a chance to regain lost ground. Two weeks later, the UK branch of The Independent reported that Trump sent a private memo to his Pentagon appointees, stating a wish to immediately withdraw from Afghanistan following his loss of the 2020 Presidential election.

The irony is hard to miss: Trump gets all furious and apoplectic after losing so he decides to punish his own base. So Mister “I love selling weapons to the Saudis” wants to take his ball and go home. Since the 2020 Presidential election and immediately afterward, all criticism of Trump is welcome on the left- even if it’s for things the left should be doing. This leaves the door open for Hilary to look after her own bottom line and look good doing it.

So on the 25th of May, we learn Biden sold laser-guided weapons to Israel for 735 million dollars while kicking five mil to Palestine for humanitarian aid. The dude is hedging his bets but it’s clear which one he expects the bigger return from.

You know how green infrastructure reform, universal healthcare and universal basic income are constantly shot down by people asking how we’re gonna pay for it? Do the outraged deficit hawks have nothing to say about the laundering of perpetual war? Is this what the big liberal rollback of the Trump administration looks like?

Important update: https://ailixchaerea.blog/2021/08/21/afghan-withdrawal/

Days Before Approving Humanitarian Aid to Gaza, State Department Agreed to Contentious Bomb Sale to Israel

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-election-memo-military-troops-b1848997.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.axios.com/hillary-clinton-pulling-us-troops-afghanistan-consequences-0f57af75-56b3-465b-ab94-9b27a3afec02.html

North Dakota’s theocratic gambit & potential anti-trans legal rollout

Anti-LGBT lawmakers and activists are taking inventory, now that Biden is in office. Under Trump it was open season on the queer community and now social conservatives are testing boundaries to determine what they can get away with. Hopefully, this reconnaissance won’t cost too many lives.

On January 19th of this year, North Dakota began legislation on House Bill 1476. On January 21st, it was fortunately withdrawn. The bill would have made same-sex marriages from other states as good as non-existent in North Dakota and penalize any corporate or state entity that openly expresses support for LGBT people in general. The bill also would have criminalized the teaching of anything about sexual or gender variance in history, science or health.

As bad as that would have been, there was a truly surreal detail in the bill’s list of relevant definitions.

After my head stopped spinning, I looked online for any legal validation or precedent for this. I found only two outstanding instances. One of them was a 1890 court ruling and the other dates back to 2014. The 2014 case involved convicted prisoners who wished to form a secular humanist discussion group, the way that prisons host religious discussion groups. That particular case ended in a ruling that secular humanists are entitled to the same First Amendment rights that protect religious expression.

The 1890 decision, meanwhile, was simply the last attempt made in court to set a legal definition of religion. It was then provisionally offered that “The term ‘religion’ had reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose.” In the same case, it was said that to defend fundamentalist Mormons who wish to practice polygamy as a religious freedom is to “offend the common sense of mankind.”

Further reading revealed that the 1890 case only affords potential for interpreting secular humanism as a religion. And this is only because one of the attendant Justices capitalized Secular Humanism like a proper noun in a written brief.

There are two likely possibilities: one is that the “religion of secular humanism” is something the author(s) of ND HB 1476 fabricated out of whole cloth and means nothing. This would be nice and the withdrawal of the bill could make it seem likely: maybe it was withdrawn because that claim was so sweeping and dramatic that the authors pulled it before it could be scrutinized closely by other lawmakers.

The language of 1476 also reveals conceptual, theocratic groundwork: repeatedly within both the definitions and the proposals, it is written that the bill attempts to isolate the public from “nonsecular” influences and classifies secular humanism as “nonsecular.” On it’s face, this echoes the claim within Christian apologetics that Christianity is both necessary and relevant to every living human.

C.S. Lewis frequently espoused this, to name just one of the Christian thinkers to champion that argument. In this view, the only reason you would claim to be an atheist or an agnostic is either ignorance or dishonesty and everyone is “religious” whether they cop to it or not. (as the image above shows, claiming to be non-religious is treated as patently false) The only meaning of the word ‘secular’ that would make sense in this theology is a state intermediary between religious individuals.

Claiming that all values must necessarily come from religion sounds like it would be laughed out of the room by lawmakers in a country that separates church and state. This is where we get to the scarier possibility: what if increased scrutiny was not the reason it was withdrawn? What if, because so many state-level lawmakers play to social conservative voters, increased scrutiny would not have stopped it anyway?

An absurd claim can either indicate ignorance or the existence of an understated plan. Twenty-eight states have considered similar bills lately with less expressly theocratic language. This could simply be part of a trial and error exercise for social conservatives to delineate where the “line” is. In that scenario, ND HB 1476 could simply be an effort to test the deep end, which would be cold comfort to those who have already suffered from these laws.

In Arkansas, doctors are prohibited from providing transition-related health care to minors. Minors who were already receiving hormone replacement therapy have had their treatment summarily stopped. A USA Today article paraphrased Rep. Deborah Ferguson’s description of a testimony provided by a physician from Arkansas Children’s Hospital. This doctor stated that several minors that receive HRT at Arkansas Children’s Hospital attempted suicide days after this law went into effect.

If one were determined to play devil’s advocate, it could be said that North Dakota is willing to put it’s money where it’s mouth is. There are also two separate bills banning transitioning minors from school sports, one of which contains a stipulation that medical research will be gathered going forward. However I do not envy the person who has to tell the parents of a suffering child “don’t worry, we’ll do research. If your child’s mental health tanks, we’ll consider it with the rest of the data!”

https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/67-2021/documents/21-0831-03000.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3UJafL9DNTpzbWztQ2lnRX3YdG-2kD0rQGUu3MlErvnjF5WsVLZt3fSyY

https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/north-dakota-lawmakers-need-focus-real-issues-not-discriminatory-bills

https://www.aclund.org/en/legislation/house-bill-1476

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/11/19/atheists-and-secular-humanists-are-protected-by-the-constitution-regardless-of-whether-their-belief-systems-should-be-considered-religions-or-not/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.insider.com/over-half-of-us-states-tried-passing-anti-trans-bills-2021-3

https://www.google.com/amp/s/bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/north-dakota-transgender-sports-bill-would-revive-ban-and-add-study/article_e95dc5ff-dcf9-5b92-86c3-6c5fbd36247e.amp.html

The reframing of America’s neverending war: 2001 until now

Oval Office memo this morning: “Talk to corporate LIKE A BOSS“

Welp, America just attacked Syria, the first military action ordered by Biden during his presidency. Without congressional authorization. The reporting relays a claim that the targets of this strike were Iran-led militias.

As someone who was a preteen in America when 9/11 happened, this is depressing. This is even more depressing because it might not occupy the spotlight of the American media for very long, as it doesn’t have a conventionally salacious antecedent.

If you’re an American in your early thirties or older, you can probably remember the press dialectic during the years immediately after 9/11. The memory almost feels like a Lonely Island song that’s written around repetition, like Jizzed In My Pants or Like A Boss. Where the thing being repeated gets more and more unrelated to everything else and becomes comically random.

First it was all about Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Then there was a “preventative” reframing that was all about getting weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of heads of state who collaborate with terrorists. We then hyper-focus on Saddam Hussein and ignore the break in cause and effect. Because Dick Cheney is clearly a man of honor and wouldn’t even consider continuing the botched Iraq invasion from the days of George the Elder. I mean, why would you even go there, that’s ridiculous, right?

So at that point the dialectic shifts to the need for providing stability until a functional local government takes control. This was an effective way to quash debate since, in the absence of context, the moral stakes look confusing. If someone says “we never should have been there in the first place and there is no causal link between this and 9/11” the other side can reply with “what are we supposed to do, just leave them without any judicial system or constabulary?” An American could say that, regardless of what happened in the past or how, we have a responsibility to vulnerable Iraqis right now. I grew up with people who joined the military and were deployed to Iraq at that time, when this was the prevailing point of view.

Actually…when I was a senior in high school, I had classmates who thought spreading “western democracy” would have been justification enough without the war on terror. I grew up in Nowhere, Alaska in a small, rural town with a distinctive cultural and ethnic history. Not every small town in America is comparable to the one I grew up in, but there are probably some similarities. It is conceivable that there were average Americans watching Fox News and CNN every night at that time who may have thought something like that in the back of their minds. There were probably more than just a few thinking that, really.

So between the lack of a clear either/or choice and the emotional temptation to think that your own nation should expand anyway, a lot of people checked out of the conversation. To this day, the popular wisdom among Americans is that we’re occupying the Middle East to provide stability until a local democracy develops. Obviously, the insistence on only relinquishing control to a democracy gives America the ability to set its own standard for withdrawing.

Nearly a week ago on MSNBC, Morning Joe discouraged the usage of terms like “perpetual war”, “forever war” and “occupation” to describe the American presence in the Midde East. He prefers the term “open-ended presence.” The apathy and confusion that followed the American assumption that we just gotta stay there forever has taken root. And those roots are so deep that a pundit on MSNBC can claim that perpetual war is both normal and desirable. I repeat- on MSNBC, which has a reputation for being a left-leaning news network. In 2001, openly justifying perpetual war would have been political suicide for anyone on the mainstream right. Back then, a conservative who didn’t want to get heckled out of the room would have to at least invoke the appearance of a definite end-point.

It is so tempting to think that the American mainstream has ceased to care about this loose thread. Many probably have. And there are many dimensions of culpability on both the left and the right. When Barack Obama was sworn in, he said he was not inclined to allow an investigation into the war crimes of George Junior. In keeping with his morally bold and assertive image, he said his would be an administration that looks forward, not backward.

Perfectly good sentiment on its face, if it didn’t continue the laundering of neverending American war. The dude went on to authorize Air Force and drone strikes on Middle Eastern civilians. In the case of the air strikes involving pilots, said pilots were directed to swing back and bomb the same location to make sure the emergency first responders were killed. This was referred to as a “double-tap”. I guess he was looking forward, just not the way we hoped.

Perpetual war, at that point, was so deeply entrenched in our sense of normalcy that the prosecution of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange barely got a rise out of anyone.

Many learned, then, that blowing a whistle on war crimes was no longer a moral slam dunk in America. People learn through example and Obama was a President with a dedicated, skin-deep liberal movement behind him. Do the math.

Then came Trump. If ever there was a convenient opportunity to make war crimes evil again, it would be with a President we all love to hate. The first time the dice were rolled on impeachment, the blue dogs decided to invoke the phone call about Hunter Biden. The second time, it was over the Capitol riot. Out of all the reasons to go after Trump, no one decided to make an impeachment movement about laundering money through his DC hotel chain. Through which payment was made to Trump by the Saudis, in exchange for American-made weapons. Late in 2018, spent shell casings that were manufactured in America were found in warzones where Saudi Arabia was participating in guerrilla warfare.

I mean, you’d think the assassination of General Soleimani a year ago might have been brought up. Emoluments, weapons-dealing with laundered money or assassinating an Iranian General at a peace conference in Iraq were not deemed worthy to base an impeachment case on. Trump even said, in an interview, that our military forces in Libya have seized their oil wells. He elaborated that he wasn’t inclined to take permanent possession of the wells- but he wasn’t ruling it out, either. Later on, Neera Tanden spit balls the notion of confiscating Libyan oil revenue for compensation for our military expenditures and gets picked by Biden for Budget Director.

This is a huge reason why the discourse around civility is so mind-numbing (even if I think a version of it is desirable- read my ‘Civility’ post if you care what I think about that). What most people mean by civility is decorum: if Tanden’s confirmation is nipped in the bud, it will be because Joe Manchin was upset by her mean Tweets. Being a catty troll on social media will stop you from holding office but openly fantasizing about colonial piracy will not.

If you live in America, ask yourself if this is really a nation you feel good about being a part of. We revile bad manners on Twitter more than war crimes. If that seems whiny/hyperbolic, then where does this lead eventually? Just a few decades ago wasn’t there a hugely popular counter-culture movement galvanized by moral outrage over our invasion of Vietnam in the sixties? Wow. Just wow. And to think, these days if you scream bloody murder over illegal, offesnive wars you’ll be lucky if getting told to shut the fuck up is all that happens to you. Ask Chelsea Manning about that one. If you do comissions for a high-profile news outlet like the Guardian, you might loose that comission if you criticize a fashionable, above-board arms deal. While the cash stimulus for COVID relief gets shaved down.

Oh and escalating death and disaster because of climate change? Remember back in 2018 when the WMO said we had about ten years to get that under control before we can’t? That was three years ago. Tick-tock, tick-tock. That pesky problem that gets laughed out of the room if anyone brings up anything decisive and effectual, like a Green New Deal? Does the military industrial complex get to go on spending billions every year while alternative energy is always slapped down by people asking how we’re gonna pay for it? The invisible elephant in the room loves money. This even carries over into deficit-hawkery. Whenever a 15 dollar minimum wage, green energy, police reform, universal basic income or Medicare for all gets brought up, conservatives and blue dogs love to invoke the deficit. It’s almost like there’s a huge, voracious, cancer-like growth that that keeps wasting billions of dollars. Every damn year. People insist on money for goods and services so maybe that could do the motivational heavy-lifting that regard for life and limb can no longer accomplish. If the depth of trauma we inflict across the globe doesn’t get under your skin then maybe somebody could think of the money. Maybe if we saved more of it we could do something about the looming floods, hurricanes and our non-functioning healthcare system. You know, bringing us full-circle back to the value of human life and limb.

During the final days of Trump’s lame duck period, Andrew Yang said that, if we prosecuted Trump for war crimes, we would risk keeping company with third-world dictatorships where heads roll between administrations. I’m just a catty troll on the internet but I think having Presidents who can commit war crimes with impugnity is a bigger problem.

More on this, from May 2021

An important update: Afghan withdrawal

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2021/02/25/us/politics/biden-syria-airstrike-iran.amp.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/10/08/world-has-only-years-get-climate-change-under-control-un-scientists-say/%3foutputType=amp

https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2012/12/20/1171594/-Any-outrage-about-Double-Tap-Drone-Strikes-Killing-Rescuers-and-Children-Any-sympathy

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.timesofisrael.com/guardian-columnist-claims-he-was-let-go-for-joke-tweet-on-us-aid-to-israel/amp/

The hard work of civility

Content warning

I’m pretty sure this is gonna annoy or piss off nearly everyone.

In both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections here in America, there were widespread expressions of shock. Many Americans began to see a near-majority of us as being demonstrably evil. Or, at the very least, the other half sees evil as a tolerable state of normalcy.

I chose to use the meme above because of how confrontational it is. To forgive mistakes and to see the good in those that are guilty of evil feels very different now. Nearly impossible.

Nor am I exempt from this. Lots of queer people like myself get used to people-pleasing because we are so deprived of acceptance that any price might seem acceptable. I won’t belabor this point but I’ll say that, in order to reverse this destructive psychological tendency, I swung hard in the other direction.

I essentially adopted a policy of zero expectations from others and license to do whatever I want, without explanation or justification. Pure fairness.

This belief is also embodied in a well-known adage from Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible: “If your happiness or success is offensive to someone, DESTROY THEM”

This continues to be one of my favorite quotes and I’ll probably embroider it on a homey lil doorway decoration that all cute, quaint little houses seem to have.

I believe in my lived truth: I cannot do otherwise. I know what it is like to learn the value of dignity the hard way. But even if the specific point of contact between lived truth and objective reality is difficult to perceive, it must be grappled with.

This would be true anyway, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it unavoidable. The new, resilient and even more contagious strain that originated in the United Kingdom is now in America, and even before that we’ve fucked up our response so badly that we got travel-banned by the EU. Our negligence, as private individuals, is now pushing the limit of our healthcare, administrative and scientific infrastructure. Those who did not take the first lockdown seriously are now saying that we should have followed the order better the first time around. Reality has become so negotiable that we see it as our due when we make exceptions to break quarantine. Across America, hospitals are being filled to capacity and dead bodies are quickly and efficiently removed because of the need for more hospital beds. Our belief in our right to ignore the needs, humanity and mortality of others has enabled this pandemic to become what it is here.

There is, though, a less obvious but equally pressing need for greater unity. A society that values democracy as an aspiration will not change without minds being changed. Minds do not change without conversation. The portrayal of civility above as a naïve attempt to marry an unstoppable force with an immovable object is a lived reality in many respects. I have no desire to sit down with people who do not think I am as human as they are, or that the historical trauma of my ancestors was an acceptable price to pay for the proliferation of Western culture. But there is no other way forward.

In an adversarial duopoly such as the one America is subject to, there are convenient and practical reasons not to believe this. We are shown that the side opposite our own will stop at nothing to defeat us, including sabotage, deception and potentially even violence. We often feel that to play by the rules under those circumstances is a mistake. A friend of mine once said “When you try to be reasonable with unreasonable people, you get played.”

If you were not alive for it, then consider what racial integration in public schools must have looked like when Lyndon Johnson decided to enforce it with the military. At that time, it must have seemed like a question with a diversity of opinions on both sides and to claim that you are right and so many others are wrong would have sounded like sweeping arrogance. Yet we now take racial integration in society for granted. Democratic change happens through exposure to other ideas and sometimes that exposure must come through confrontation. A first blow needs to be struck sooner or later. When the abolitionist John Brown was publicly hung, a young solider named John Wilkes Booth was in attendance who would go on to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Meanwhile, other contemporaries of Brown equated his willingness to die for the greater good with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The early skirmishes preceding change are always seen in the most polarizing and combative lights. If these necessary challenges to popular wisdom are to last, though, conflict cannot be the end even when it must be the beginning.

If not sooner, conversation must happen later. And the prospect makes my blood boil, at times. I grew up practicing a marginalized religion and my Christian neighbors spent both my childhood and their own trying to convert me and convince me that Western conquest could not have been that bad if Natives got Christianity out of it. The various rounds of bathroom panic create an expectation that myself and those who share my gender identity are sexual predators and that we are obligated to explain how we are not. Transphobia and stealth racism have become fashionable brands and a method for washed up political figures and celebrities to renew their cultural relevance. I have dated people who saw me as racially inferior and my gender identity as false and I simply took the time to civilly engage them in conversation about it when I could. And it has never gone well. I detest the prospect of nobly taking one on the chin for the moral edification of others for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, I could not have made it this far in my life and achieved this much success and happiness if I thought everyone who demonized me and people like me were demons themselves. This admission, though, must co-exist with the point of contact between lived truth and objective reality. What would such reconciliation actually look like?

I once had a traumatic encounter with someone who was released from prison mere weeks beforehand, having been jailed for victimizing others the way he did me. Might I, potentially, be required to shake that person’s hand, or the hands of those like him? During the few occasions where he approached me in public afterward, I could not even bring myself to make eye-contact with him. When he was seen around my mother’s workplace a few years later, I ended up binge drinking for days.

Perhaps there is a boarder to the territory of forgiveness. If so, I don’t know definitively where it is and I doubt anyone else does. I would also like to clarify that I am not equating violent people with those who give voice to bigotry. We are all familiar of the conversational slope of “what about”-ism, though. I am only relating that memory as my only experience that could furnish a worst-case scenario of forgiveness. Yes, someone who enables or condones evil might not be an evil person- but what about those who have committed predatory acts and have an established pattern of it? If conversation is necessary in the long run, then the scope of necessary engagement will probably include some painful conversations. If all movements for positive change start as a marginalized effort, though, then the fear of a bad outcome cannot stop us from trying.

There is a concept that has degraded from misuse by bad faith pundits in the last decade. This is the free market of ideas. Without those harrowing conversations, we cannot say that we have given the range and applicability of public discourse it’s due. The free market of ideas cannot be dismissed as a dishonest ploy from hipster commentators if there are ideas that have not entered the market for fear of bad company.

The true, ethical imperative of civility and dialogue can lead to frightening responsibilities and confrontations. It frightens me. But what alternative exists? If we see those who disagree with us as monsters in human form, what would the application of this belief look like? If we cannot deign to associate with them at all, then we cannot claim to be the victims of unfairness when they accuse us of being tribal and unreasonable. As potentially terrifying and mysterious as such negotiations may be, a pandemic in which our healthcare system is bursting at the seams is not the time to experiment with disposing of civility.

At the same time, though, we need to be able to recognize other common-sense needs. We need our Lyndon Johnsons and our John Browns and those who are willing to use their power unapologetically for the greater good. I absolutely support the push for Progressives in Congress to force a vote for Medicare for all and a greater stimulus effort because the health care system and our profit-driven society simply have not left us prepared to face things like a long quarantine during which we can’t work in person (or at all). Civility must be weighed in balance with external demands, but the degree to which other people create external demands means civility will keep coming up.

Other contemporary events, such as civilian violence, may also be attributable to others who feel driven by necessity. This has the appearance of an impossible and escalating gridlock. I acknowledge that it is possible, but I do not think it is necessary. Not only does civil discourse need to be weighed in balance with circumstantially necessary action. It must remain possible at roughly the same time (whether intermittently or perpetually).

This will not be easy. Yet when we are driven to act unilaterally, we can at least be honest about why. Those reasons being laid bare enables others to speak to us on the level at which we need to be heard.

-Leonard Cohen

Leftism, transphobia and Zeno’s paradox

Zeno’s paradox, for our purposes, can be summarized thusly: someone shoots an arrow and measures it’s progress by halves. While measuring by halves, one is constantly shaving off a half of the difference no matter how close or far the arrow is. While measuring in the halves of the closing distance, one could potentially keep measuring the relative halves down to subatomic increments and never actually record the impact.

Obviously, the arrow is going to hit something sooner or later. This is undeniable, but it is also possible to measure the progress in such a way that it cannot be perceived.

Since the American presidential election ended, I’ve taken a break from writing about political stuff. It simply wasn’t doing my mental health any favors. I was watching a video from the YouTuber called Thought Slime, though, about transphobes attempting to weaponize philosophical materialism. A commonly echoed point shared by this flavor of bigot is that A. trans people claim that gender is a social construct and B. social constructs are not real.

The analogous relationship this claim has to Zeno’s paradox is also uncannily relevant to the recent voter-shaming fad within the American left. To keep things sequential, though:

The gender-essentialist avenue of transphobia typically allies itself with a clash between philosophical materialism and linguistic fluidity. You know, the Jordan Peterson/J.K. Rowling types that hold that post-modernism is being turned against cultural institutions that are validated by human nature and tradition. Ergo, the notion of social constructs amounts to consensus reality and consensus reality empowers things that are not real.

This is easily refuted by both sociology and animal psychology. When pack animals are threatened by a separate species, they respond with the typical fight/flight response. When threatened by members of their own species, the fight/flight response becomes posture/submit. Pack animals typically try to signify victory or submission rather than engage in mortal violence. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule, but this is an observable and documented behavioral convention among pack animals.

Consciousness, famously, is an emergent phenomenon. The exact electrical/chemical process that gives rise to our experienced consciousness cannot be observed, yet we know enough about the electro-chemical interplay of the brain to infer how it leads to consciousness.

An emergent phenomenon is where you know what goes in, you know what comes out but you don’t know the middle stage. In that situation, you can make educated inferences about the transformative phase based on the beginning and ending, but until you can observe it, an educated inference is as good as it gets.

Now…we own that humans are pack animals, and pack animals typically show behavioral evidence of shared psychological experiences. This is what people usually mean by the ‘herd instinct’. Since the expressed convention of the herd instinct predictably shows itself in a specific type of animal, it is likely that this behavioral pattern has a biological origin. This cannot be objectively documented any more than the emergence of consciousness itself, but the herd instinct’s ubiquity among pack animals is a strong sign that the herd instinct is not fabricated out of whole cloth.

This means that social constructs are almost certainly real. Social constructs and their predictable origins in the herd instinct cannot be observed, but to include it’s inscrutability in philosophical materialism leads straight to fallacy. Similarly, we understand that our eyes receive and compile refracted light: most of the things we take for granted, such as color, are not as literally real as we think. The color of an object is not an inherent, material quality; it’s just the color of the photons that pigmentation bounces outward into our eyes.

If things that are not literally, materialistically manifest are not real, then our eyeballs and their neurological interface with our brain are bullshit. I don’t know anyone who would actually commit to that chain of reasoning.

The falseness of the claim made by gender essentialist and gender critical feminism, though, still leaves a lot of room for uncertainty. Externally documented patterns with strong implications about things that cannot be documented leaves room for subjective claims on any side. Another common talking point is that lived experience does not validate anything outside the binary, ala J.K. Rowling. The evidence that Rowling and those like her advance is their own lived experience as cispeople and their belief in the reality of claims made by cispeople (ciswomen, most frequently). Those experiences may, absolutely, be real to the people who have them, but it does not advance their central claim about philosophical materialism. It does not even relate to anything beyond the feelings of specific people.

Having spent years trying to convince doctors and family members of my own dysphoria before being permitted to medically transition, I feel as if I will always be an outsider to the binary even though I’m a binary transwoman. I am a binary transwoman because my dysphoria is relieved by medical interventions that create feminine secondary sex characteristics. Yet I did not have the same childhood and early social conditioning as a ciswoman, nor did I have the same childhood as a cisman. As a child, I simply chose to express myself as “female-like” or girly as possible, up to and including frankly describing myself as a girl if anyone asked. This led to relentless teasing in elementary school and non-stop suicidal ideation for my entire adolescence and early adulthood, but simply “stopping” was never a genuine possibility.

On one hand, my medical transition fits within the binary. On the other, there are many experiential differences between my life as a transwoman and the lives of ciswomen and cismen. While I am a binary transwoman, I will never be a ciswoman. If I am a binary female only in the sense that I am a “binary transwoman”, one almost begins to wonder what the distinction between binary and non-binary even means. If anything, my lived experience has led me to believe in a third gender category at least.

Of course, I know that arguing this point against actual transphobes is probably pointless, since everyone has a subjective expeirence that backs them up. This is simply an expression of the frustrating social facet of Zeno’s paradox: there is almost certainly a biological prompting for a lot of our mental states, but our existence is still fundamentally rooted in our subjectivity. The two probably meet through cause and effect, but because we can only measure the distance relative to ourselves, we’ll never actually perceive the moment of impact. Lately, it seems like every social phenomenon lends itself to that analogy and it’s scream-into-the-void frustrating.

Like, remember when I wrote that Biden’s expressed commitment to trans rights, on it’s own, might have been enough to get me to vote for him in spite of the rest of his record? This has lately come back to haunt me. Since winning the 2020 election, Biden has elevated a few state-level transgender political leaders. To his credit, Joe Biden has also committed himself to rolling back the Trump-era executive orders regarding trans healthcare. Meanwhile, Lael Braenard and Tony Blinken are in line for cabinet posts in Biden’s White House, two of the most infamous forces of military intervention from Obama’s presidency. They are joined by Neera Tanden, who has given voice to the opinion that we should seize Libya’s oil as our due compensation for the resources we spent occupying their country. On one hand, American trans people are more protected, on the other, so is the American war machine.

Commitment to civil rights can be used with cynical abandon by politicians who want to launder their image while continuing business as usual. Business as usual, in this case, is proceeding apace in spite of the fact that we may be in the final decade in which we can still roll back the damage done to our biosphere. Republicans and Corporate Democrats relentlessly hit leftists with the “#whereisthemoney” argument, which we need to be able to respond to, clearly and loudly.

I believe the correct loud and clear answer is the dismantling of the military industrial complex: the American war machine spends money in proportion to the money it makes, which means it requires billions of dollars every year to continue functioning. By hitting the military industrial complex, we can begin to rehabilitate our image on the world stage while simultaneously liberating funds for a green new deal. While perpetual war is an apalling crime against humanity on it’s face, it is now standing directly in the way of America’s chance to ease away from the damage we are doing to the collective future of our planet. If this does not change, the conversation about the survival of our species may need to move from saving Earth to leaving Earth.

The incremantalist reading of these events is to take the wins when we can. Biden’s complicity with the military industrial complex might stop any effective action toward climate change, universal health care or any other pressing necessity, but at least he is nice to trans people. Trans equality is now further within the Overton window. The same incrementalists also claim that, while Biden’s expressed concern about perpetual war and environmental protection are lip-service, it makes the right choices possible in the future if not right now, irrespective of the ticking clock.

Increased safety and access to medical care for myself and people like me is an unambiguous win, but we are still dealing in the gold-standard of subjective values (societal ethics) without any consideration for outside pressure (the biosphere and perpetual war). This year’s presidential election was a passionate, psychologically harrowing experience for a lot of us, but so long as we measure things relative only to ourselves, the clash with the wider world must necessarily take us by surprise.

Civil disobedience and “social issues”

In my last post I wrote about the legal precedents being set in states like Tennessee and New York that punish non-lethal civil disobedience as severely as violent crime, entailing in some cases a felony conviction. This is particularly amoral since civil disobedience is one of the few tools that American political minorities have historically had at their disposal. Punishing civil means of resistance and discourse can radicalize people for lack of any other option and could contribute to civil war.

Remember, this was done ostensibly out of a fear of violent uprising. If vandalizing public property, blocking access to public places and other non-lethal crimes are punished with felonies, then political minorities are shunted squarely in front of militarism out of necessity.

This is clearly a double-bluff: with fear of rioting being the stated reason for these crack downs, Republican legislators have framed the notion of civil unrest in a way that takes attention away from the natural outcome of the policies they plan to enact. That outcome, civil unrest, will confirm what they’ve positioned as a worst case scenario (rioting). This reflects a calculated awareness of the purpose of civil disobedience and a wish to use the result for political gain.

To address some common sense concerns, yes it makes sense to punish minor crimes and the law is meant to be followed. However, that attitude must coexist with other social realities. Ever since the labor organizers of the early 20th century and the nineteen sixties civil rights movement, civil disobedience has been established as a means of civil discourse.

What is the thing that stops it from being insurrection? Non-violence. If no one is harmed, then no one is alienated against the inevitable implication: that this specific law can be broken or that a prospective or related law can be given social censure. More often than not, the implication is that the specific law should be broken or that a legal or political act should be censured. The subtle depth to what has happened in Tennessee and New York is that, when non-violent crime is punished identically to violent crime (a felony charge) it discourages non-violent activism and emboldens those who claim that civil discourse is fruitless. If civil activism is not seen as an effective choice then non-civil activism begins to look practical. If that course is followed, then those decrying BLM as violent will claim to have been right all along.

Such well-informed social engineering enacted from above makes me wonder about everyone else. Especially since the ability to define an idea by being the first voice in a conversation to articulate it is used so carefully (“BLM are violent” *does things that drive out non-violent protestors and leave the violent ones* “See?”). Social calculations and dynamics are mixed up in how we think about social issues.

The importance of the herd-instinct and our mammalian, prosocial hard-wiring cannot be overstated. Language is how most problems are solved between individuals and language (whether it’s speech, writing, typing or any other medium) is how we are taught to express ourselves. After the example of self-expression, it is no surprise that the language we use most frequently probably looks a lot how we think our private thoughts.

It follows that some of our private thoughts may resemble external social dynamics. If one believes that those in power will never negotiate with those without, then an actual refusal to negotiate will create the appearance that you are right. If this “you” is a BLM protester, others will remember claims about how violent your movement is and will think they are right while you are receiving the message that nothing short of violence will be heard.

This is nothing new: most of us have heard about stereotype threat (aka labeling theory) and confirmation bias. If you have not: both of those things refer to ways that social stereotyping can effect both behavior and private thoughts.

Recent events have made me wonder what the current state of things looks like, though, through the eyes of social engineers. In a recent speech, Trump mentioned that he was afraid of running against Bernie Sanders since Sanders had a movement following, like himself. With Joe Biden, he is less afraid, since the majority of those voting for Biden are doing so because he is not Trump.

Donald Trump realizes that the Democratic Party scattered their base when the DNC gave the nomination to Biden. He is now attempting to hit us where it hurts: by saying he was intimidated by Bernie’s movement, he is trying to touch a sore spot of progressives to stop the left from uniting.

The senators in Tennessee and New York are preparing to punish civil disobedience harshly enough to escalate violence. And Trump just attempted to use the emotional momentum of the scattered Democratic base against itself. One reflects a calculated effort to get people to think and act a certain way and the other reflects an informed knowledge of how people feel to begin with and how to exploit it.

This kind of manipulation only works with people who believe that their value system furnishes everything they need to know. If one believes they have an airtight grasp on an issue, it becomes easy to be disinterested in other consequences. What most people know more about, than anything else, are their personal experiences. The kind of political issues that can most directly effect our experiences are often social issues.

Speaking of recent political events, Kamala Harris used an interesting rhetorical device in her speech to the DNC: she began talking about an impersonal and voracious virus which turned out to be a metaphor for racism.

If you start talking about a virus right now, people are going to think of COVID-19. Did she say COVID-19? Nope. But I think it’s importance in general (to say nothing of it’s importance in American politics) is hard to ignore. I don’t know of anything else such a metaphor could be referring to. It strikes me as likely that she did intend to use COVID-19 as a metaphor for racism.

This rhetorical technique is familiar: start your talk with something everyone knows about in order to frame your point as comparable to it. Is a viral pandemic the same kind of problem as racism?

I’m not saying it’s not possible for overlap. Racism effects the function of government infrastructure, so systemic racism can impact how a response to a pandemic unfolds. And I have no doubt that it has. But when you equate a social issue like racism with a non-social issue like a pandemic, it’s clear which directions the emotional support is coming from and going toward within that analogy. With the intended metaphor and the metaphor’s meaning, the emotional momentum of anti-racism is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those two things we all probably know at least something about, and the other is a mystery that our best doctors and scientists are still laboring over. For most people, to relate those two things will allow one to borrow emotional “weight” from the other. It makes the mystery less scary.

But if the effect that racism has on the pandemic is the actual point, the comparison cannot be literal. It relies on the emotions that the viewers bring with them. To start with emotional momentum is not necessarily proof of bad faith but it makes it easy to suspect: either the emotional momentum is supposed to make the truth evident or the emotional momentum is the point itself.

In either case, the psychological button being pressed is more visible than what the person pressing it wants. Not knowing what someone wants could make one feel like they’re not being honest. If their end game is not stated, then they either feel no need to or think you already know. Neither inspires confidence.

Obviously not every statement that invokes ideas with strong social resonance with a vaguely defined or undefined goal is social engineering. Context, as usual, must complete the picture. What makes the legislation in Tennessee and New York so unique is that it reflects both a knowledge of the function served by civil disobedience and how to exploit it. Every day, though, I wonder when the psychological momentum summoned by those in power will clash against forces it cannot move.

American civil unrest and America’s social imagination

Plainclothes officers in Portland, under the Federal direction of Donald Trump, abducted BLM protesters this summer. In Tennessee, lawmakers are currently finding ways to charge those protesting at the Capitol with felony offenses. Tear gas and rubber bullets in addition to ordinary violence are being used by police and Federal agents with punitive abandon.

All this happened because George Floyd did something that I myself did on accident years ago: I had a counterfeit bill in my wallet while buying a sandwich during my lunch break at work. I think I must have gotten the fake bill in some change. Anyway, the old lady who rung me up took the bill and held it up to a fluorescent light. Her face lit up and she said “Hey, check this out!” I went back there with her and she showed me how she knew it was fake. We both kind of giggled over it, I paid with plastic instead and ate my lunch. George Floyd was asphyxiated by a cop for doing the same thing, though.

Obviously, I have nothing but love and support for #BlackLivesMatter. The authoritarian crack down and violence used against both protestors and bystanders has brought something out in this country that may be very difficult to ameliorate or pacify. This is something that could, potentially, involve every American soon. Like I said in my post about trans rights and the modern left though, this is also something I hope I am wrong about.

Tennessee lawmakers wish to charge protestors with felonies (entailing revoked voting rights and a six year prison sentence) if they do things such as block access to public places. In July, Nikki Stone was arrested in New York for spray painting the lenses of security cameras.

One of the main assets of marginalized political groups in America is civil disobedience: civil defiance of laws that we have a principled disagreement with. By imposing draconian consequences for non-violent law-breaking, Tennessee and New York state officials are taking specific aim at the means of civil discourse between law enforcement, lawmakers and the public.

The civil part of civil disobedience usually gets less attention than the disobedience. It is important, though, because if the legal disobedience is civil and hurts no one, it remains a statement. One can agree or disagree with a statement and the person making a statement can be engaged in discussion. If legal defiance stops being civil, it becomes either insurrection or terrorism.

Adding insult to injury, legislators in Tennessee are citing the possibility of violent revolt as a justification for this crack down. What these policies will do, though, is strongly discourage people from non-violent legal defiance. This could send the message that nonviolent activism will not be heard and push people toward violence. GOP lawmakers may engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For many American millennials and zoomers, nothing like this has happened before in our lives. More Americans than usual lately have had to grapple with how to respond to something outside of our personal and/or moral frame of reference. For some, the first taste was the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville during the summer of 2017. The authoritarianism of the Trump administration could make a second term of his presidency feel like an existential threat. There are also just as many Trump supporters on the other end of the spectrum that see a potential Biden presidency as equally threatening for their own reasons.

The last time there was violent civil unrest escalating as a presidential election draws closer was before the time of millennials and zoomers, though. It was the American Civil War.

I’m not saying that I believe the upcoming election will be that catastrophic, but I think it’s a possibility that needs to be acknowledged. Without any prior experiences to draw from, violent activism is unexplored territory for a lot of people. While many people in America are heavily armed, the majority of those armed individuals have no idea what a military combat situation feels like.

If the authoritarianism ramps up, the armed civilians are set up for death and defeat. So then we will have people who are traumatized, humiliated and heavily armed. With situations that we have no basis for comparison for, it is difficult to know limits.

Some of those armed people belong to anti-racist groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition. While the trauma, grief and anguish they are feeling are as alive now as they were at America’s birth, many of the individuals themselves are as new to the lived experience of combat as the right-wing militias.

If more states follow the recent examples of Tennessee and New York and non-violent activism becomes illegal, that’s only going to leave one more outlet. If any militia groups tried to wage war on the government now, they would be swiftly and painfully quelled. Wounds create resentment, everyone loves an underdog and martyrs provide moral validation. The military response to such an event could create emotional and psychological momentum that could rebound destructively.

If I sound like I’m catastrophising, it’s because the American government simply won’t quit lately. Trump has engineered a nationwide postal service emergency in order to thwart mail-in voting and criminal charges that prevent voting are being weaponized against protestors. Every day there is a new civil rights violation to read about. With so much pressure coming from above, it does not seem likely that those below will simply do nothing.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/13/tennessee-camping-felony-capitol/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8573305/amp/NYPD-release-clip-woman-throwing-paint-security-camera-pushed-unmarked-car.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/08/15/us/post-office-vote-by-mail.amp.html