Emergent Principles of Human Nature (EPHN) These are the articles that I have pulled ideas from in order to create the page of the same name. Ideas that I’m musing about in these articles will probably eventually be rolled into subjects that will appear in the long-form page. My first philosophical text, possibly my only philosophical text.
As a libertarian I used to believe some pretty crazy things. I believed that a dollar was something you worked for, for one. A dollar is a debt instrument that every business in the United States is required to accept as payment. It is not a measure of hours worked or effort expended. You don’t work for dollars, you have to have dollars to pay for the things you need or want. You trade effort or hours for dollars if you are a working stiff in the modern age. If you have dollars you make the dollars work for you to create more dollars. This is a subtle but important distinction, one that anyone who desires excessive wealth should take to heart.
Similarly I believed, and most libertarians still believe, that freedom of speech meant you had to listen to every idea equally. Give every idea equal weight. This crazy notion is not limited to just fringe political groups, it has been embraced by a very large portion of conservatives and Republicans, and even American liberals don’t understand some of the finer points of what the first amendment, freedom of speech, means.
The problem with continuing to listen to bad ideas is that each successive generation receives those ideas as if they are all of equal value. This position is obviously false. Some ideas are incorrect. The world is not flat, it is visibly curved to any observer who cares to study the subject. The Earth, her moon, the other planets and their moons, etc. all move in mathematically predictable ways around the sun. We do not have to prove to each successive generation of human beings that the Earth is not the center of the universe. We need simply show how we know the Earth is round, the sun the center of a solar system, for them to grasp the math involved with these correct observations. These are factually demonstrable truths that do not have to be viewed equally with the Ptolemaic system, requiring each successive generation of human beings to determine which finding is the correct one. Learn a little math, do a few observations, yep, that confirms the heliocentric model. Onto the next thing we have to learn.
Not all truths are as obvious as the basic findings of astronomy, and even those findings are not universally embraced by all modern humans. There are a few disturbed people out there who still think the world is flat, and we don’t let those people run NASA for a reason. That reason? Because their denial of science disqualifies them from leading a scientific agency. They fail the test of expertise, another demonstrable truth.
There are things that experts know that the layman does not. I know things about CAD systems and architectural detailing that would bore the pants off of anyone who isn’t enamored of building systems and the illustration of same. That expertise qualified me to hold a high-paying job in the architectural field once upon a time. It had real value; and expertise, all expertise, is demonstrated through that value. If you plant lima beans for a living, and you do it successfully for long enough, you become an expert on lima beans. But that doesn’t make you an expert on rocket ships.
Which brings us to another truth. Expertise is limited in scope, and the farther outside your expertise you venture, the more likely you are to be wrong in your beliefs. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect in a nutshell. Everyone believes they know more about subjects that they are not experts in than they actually do. This is why a brain surgeon isn’t a good candidate to run a poverty program. The fact that Ben Carson successfully navigated a hierarchy as complicated as working in a hospital presents is probably the only reason he still has his cabinet position. He knows how to keep his mouth shut when he needs to. When he has a job to do and isn’t campaigning. He knows the value of expertise and he doesn’t visibly contradict the experts around him who know things about the department of Housing and Urban Development.
When the Republican party formed back in 1854, the value of expertise was understood. With little else to distract the population in the way of entertainment, politicians and pundits would debate for hours in front of huge crowds, working and reworking the issues of the day. Abraham Lincoln was an expert at navigating the treacherous terrain to be found between openly advocating for the abolition of slavery, and allowing slavery to encroach into the Northern states that hated slaves and slavery for what it did to the lives of average men. Hated slavery for the degrading poverty and dearth of industry in the South that slavery imposed on the economy of the South. The Lincoln-Douglas debates featured his abilities to master the subject, a success that eventually snagged him the nomination of the Republican party and through their growing influence, the presidency of the United States.
He then expertly managed to conduct the the office of the presidency, successfully, while maintaining a war with half of the original republic, and at the same time engineering the largest change in civil society, the abolition of slavery, that the United States had seen in its short 75 years of existence. Had he survived his time in office, had he not been felled by Southern hands and succeeded by a Southern sympathizer, many of the problems that we wrestle with today would never have manifested in the first place. That was the master politician that Abraham Lincoln was. That was the kind of organization that the Republican party was when it was progressive and liberal and on the right side of history.
From Lincoln to the Orange Hate-Monkey in 150 years. That is what the Republican party gained from not understanding that there were real, actual truths underneath all the political posturing. That science and expertise have real, demonstrable value. GIGO or Garbage In, Garbage Out has taken its toll on the GOP and rendered it the political organ of a would-be fascist. A would-be fascist whose political supporters want to enact a racial cleansing on the United States. The party that ended slavery has become the party of the inheritors of slavery’s stolen wealth. The irony is almost rich enough to laugh at, if the fate of the world didn’t hang in the balance, and it does currently hang in the balance.
It hangs in the balance because Vladimir Putin did work to get Donald Trump elected as president. He worked to get Britain to embrace Brexit, and his troll farm is still actively attempting to subvert political processes in the United States and all across the world. He is seeking inroads to power wherever he can find them, and right now the internet is his tool of choice. All information on the internet is now suspect. Nothing can be taken for granted. Every platform, every system, every piece of information technology can now be possibly subverted by criminal actors attempting undermine the great advances that have been made in the world, and they are doing this with the technology we, the West, invented.
On Thursday, President Trump flew down to McAllen, Texas to push his pro-wall, anti-immigrant narrative. This week, On the Media examines how the community tells a more welcoming story about the border — and a dogged presidential fact-checker joins us to pick apart the Oval Office address. Plus, how some progressives used Russian election interference tactics against a right-wing senate campaign. Also, is everything online fake?
Make no mistake, we have made great strides toward improving equality across the world. In between the war profiteering and other boondoggles embarked on by the powers that be in Washington DC, the technology we created has moved out of the United States and improved the lives of people everywhere. So much so that poverty in the world is the lowest that it has been at any point so far in history. But the spreading of information and equality through technological systems has opened the doors for misinformation and distraction to be spread in the same way, through the same mechanisms.
Political bias, racial bias, religious bias. All these things still exist, and all these things are corruptions of the truth. They are weaknesses that the power-hungry can exploit in order to gain more power. That is what Vladimir Putin has done in Russia by re-establishing the Russian Orthodox church. He gives ethnic Russians a thing to believe in now that the dictatorships that liberated the Russian people from Czarist rule have fallen. He foments friction at the edges of his political empire, his fake republic, and exploits the resulting distrust by seizing land belonging to neighboring nations, by re-asserting old Soviet alliances. His neighbors fear him, which is what he wants, and his old foes are confused, fighting among themselves. All by his design.
The first thing we need to do, if we want to oppose this new criminal oligarchy founded by Vladimir Putin and embodied in his paid-for stooge in the White House, is to know who it is we are fighting, why we are fighting them and how we intend to win this fight. The first casualty of this information war has to be the ability to promote falsities as truths. If we can’t even determine what is true and what is false, then we have already lost the war.
If we believe what we are told by others with no need to verify what is true, we are sheep lead to slaughter. Subjectivity is the enemy. The people we are fighting are liars. Charlatans. Confidence artists. People who say things we want to believe but which are not demonstrably true.
Many people cite this quote, few understand it. To be eternally vigilant is to practice due diligence as often as required when it comes to the things you believe as well as the things you are told. What is due diligence? Caveat Emptor. The two states of mind are interchangeable. Healthy caution and skepticism. If you want to be at liberty, if you want to maintain liberty, then you must be skeptical of all things that are not immediately apparent.
As an example. Freedom of speech is not free. You cannot say whatever springs to your mind and expect to suffer no consequences. This is what most people think freedom of speech means. Speech without consequences. All speech has a cost, in that you may be held accountable for the results of the words you speak. This is why you are punished for causing a panic by yelling fire! when there is no fire. It is not the speech that is punished, it is the result of the speech. The cause of the harm was speech if anyone was harmed in the resultant panic. No harm, no foul, as the adage goes.
But how do you assess harm? Is all harm readily apparent? If you are not harmed by a person’s speech, but your neighbor is, should you care? What if your neighbor is a different race? A different religion? A member of a different political party? Insert Niemöller’s law here.
That way lies death. So harm, even delayed, indirect harm, should be guarded against. And that, dear reader, is the quandary. As I noted on my last article about Alex Jones, deplatforming is not censoring a person’s speech. All these people claiming they have been censored by social media have their own websites. They have just as much access to consumers as any other individual in the system has. They simply do not have a megaphone through which to spread their lies. We are fighting an information war here, and the first thing that has to go is information which is demonstrably false.
Kicking ethics violators off of Twitter and Facebook is not censoring them, it is applying objective rules to subjective life. This is necessarily a messy business, but then bad people do exist. Bad ideas do exist. Stupid people do exist, and they don’t know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea. This requires things like rules of order (Robert’s Rules) parliamentary procedures, etcetera. Objective ethical standards have to be in place and they have to be enforced so that ideas can be properly tested and debated. You cannot call for harming another person and not expect the platform from which you speak to be taken away. That is simply good information hygiene. Any platform which doesn’t distinguish between good (correct) and bad (incorrect) information is a platform which is doomed to be dominated by the most ruthless, because it is the ruthless people who have no boundaries. Ruthless people do not worry about harming others to get their way. Lies. Fraud. These are but tools in the hands of the ruthless. Does deplatforming cause them harm? Only if they subjectively deem that their lies bring them power. In that case they don’t need a platform, they need a therapist.
Any platform created to be all inclusive (Spreely.com, Minds.com, etcetera) will be dominated by the most hateful. There is no way to avoid this scenario if you do not set hard ethical lines which cannot be crossed. I hope these platform providers enjoy taking orders from fascists. Fascists that will tell them what and how to think; which is what fascists do and why fascists (like Nazis) shouldn’t be given a platform in the first place. It is a quandary, but it isn’t an unsolvable problem.
I’m still on Facebook, for now. They at least acknowledge the existence of incorrect information and harmful social interaction. I’m not happy with providing a platform for ideas designed to kill me. I won’t spend time on a social platform that allows them space to spread their lies. Consequently those who voice views about political purity, religious purity, racial purity, promote the lie that life is a zero-sum game that requires I harm others to win, these kinds of people and beliefs are not welcome anywhere that I am expected to be. I would ban these people myself. I do block and report these people when I’m given the tools to do so.
Authority might be necessary, but authority need not lead to authoritarianism. The difference between allowing Donald Trump to take office because existing mechanisms put him in position to assume that office, and not allowing Caudillo Trump to violate the law in the name of his whims or his stormtrumper’s whims is exactly how that ethical hair is split.
There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.
I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.
But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things that Donald Trump or the majority of conservatives say is causing poverty, and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?
No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?
All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Mythsbrought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.
…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,
James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States.
His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…
…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.
As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple…
…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity.
Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work.
The above hits the high points of that Freakonomics episode, without getting into the meat of it, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,
In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.
This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.
As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.
The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is that I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.
“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.”
The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those kinds of people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.
I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.
Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?
The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations from the time of this writing. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.
Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.
We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.
Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.”
Personal responsibility orpaying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way. Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.
While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.
The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. Maintaining the illusion of normalcy was more important than personal desires. The illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status kept me working.
Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the pierced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of Donald Trump was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,
Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years.
I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time after kicking the alcoholic out of our home my mom tried to make the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.
So she remarried. The new husband was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad also started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.
Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.
The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.
When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.
For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.
This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,
Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.
…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.
It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.
I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.
I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.
In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?
With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.
Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility thathappily ever after might ever occur.
“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had a limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.
It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.
In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.
With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.
Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.
In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.
It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.
There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.
Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.
Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.
When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.
With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.
Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly. We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real.
One final video for this article. Another take on the problem of wealth in America. The concentration of wealth in the hands of far too few people.
Editor’s note. This article was originally written for the blogspot url in 2017. I retitled it, rewrote the beginning of the article and moved it up to its current publish date after Trump’s bullshit about the end of poverty started making the rounds in 2018. It was ported over to WordPress with the rest of the Blogspot content, and then updated in October of 2020 for the new url. I toned down the language slightly so as to not alienate the people I wrote the article for. You are welcome.
How will you shoot dozens of people if your gun doesn’t reload itself?
If you want law enforcement to predict the future without violating your rights, without taking away all the guns, without turning America into an science fiction dystopian nightmare, you HAVE to give them the tools to do the job.
If we want gun rights the way the gun defenders suggest they exist, the way their constitutional interpretation represents them, we will have to follow the rules of 17th century militia induction and assume that all adult residents of a region are militia members, and we will have to train everyone in weapons usage and assess their abilities accordingly.
The militia authority can then establish who can be relied upon to use what weapon and require those people to keep arms ready at all times for reason of regional defense. This is the way that the verbiage in the constitution works out. The military is subordinate to the civil authority. Civil authority has dictated that the militias will be organized under the National Guard. Every adult person in the United States is a member of the local militia. Everyone will immediately be enrolled in the Guard for the purposes of weapons training and assessment. We cannot have weapons in the hands of the untrained, and the proficiency of the soldier in question has to be known in order to ensure that they are properly trained in their military role. This is what it means to have the at-will right to keep and bear arms, especially military grade weaponry. You will be trained, and you will be assigned a weapon that suits your abilities.
It is either that or we have to interpret the constitution differently, and allow that the government has the authority to deny weapons to people who are not certified, trained and insured to handle those weapons. And if gunnuts start making comparisons to knives we can talk about training people with knives too. A lot of these arguments descend to the level of the ridiculous extremely fast.
You don’t want anyone to have weapons.
I want everyone to know how to defend themselves and to be trained in the best methods of achieving that goal. Weirdly, escaping from a threat is probably the most useful method of self-defense, and the gunnuts I’m frequently arguing with never fail to reject the idea that the sensible thing to do when confronted or threatened is to run away if you can.
I have talked about both these slants on the subject previously:
The ability to move is just about as fundamental as it gets. It is why the human species has adapted to so many different climates on this planet. We travel and set up shop somewhere else where there isn’t already ten thousand other people trying to live. Where resources aren’t already owned. Where our lives are not threatened by a greater number of others who want what we have and/or need to survive. A classic defensive strategy, not to be where your enemies are looking for you.
Travel is a right. Limitations on travel without due process is a violation of our rights, what the government is supposed to be safeguarding for us. So the existence of the (Terrorist) no-fly list outside of due process is a constitutional violation of our rights.
All transfers of ownership of registered NFA firearms must be done through the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (the “NFA registry”). The NFA also requires that the permanent transport of NFA firearms across state lines by the owner must be reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
This is especially true in the light of workarounds that have been affected to make semi-autos into full automatic weapons. If there aren’t a plethora of semi-autos to modify in the population, there won’t be the problem with the mass shootings we currently have.
The problem is not going to get any better on its own. This is because population pressure is the likely culprit for the increase in mass shooting events in the last twenty or thirty years. There are simply more people living more densely than ever before in human history, all across the face of the planet, and that statistic is only going to increase if you look at projections into the future. America is only one facet of this problem, but we are the outlier when it comes to availability of weapons of mass destruction.
Local control is the reason that weapons are so prevalent in cities in the US today. City ordinances are generally pretty harsh (even in Texas) on weapons usage, even weapon carrying, but you can’t just stop and frisk everyone or expect every traveler to let themselves be x-rayed for weapons everywhere they go. So the local ordinances are overwhelmed by modern commercialism and the movement of populations. Weapons manufactured in other locals find their way into the cities where the police are already overwhelmed and don’t have time to track down every weapon in the city. Track them down so they can confiscate them. This was the law in Chicago and Washington DC for decades, no weapons allowed within the jurisdiction of the city authority unless they met specific criteria written into the law.
What is now needed is a revision to national laws. Some kind of coherent, proven method of harm reduction that applies to whole regions. Restricting all semi automatics to licensure and insurance requirements are in that vein. I don’t see the harm in allowing weapons for self-defense. What I do see harm in is claiming self-defense as your reason for having weapons, when what you have is a weapon that will demonstrably inflict collateral damage while you are defending yourself. QED, a weapon that fires multiple shots quickly and easily.
There is no way to be safe from harm. But there also isn’t any real justification for having a weapon that reloads itself for the next trigger pull, and propellant powered reloading is the mechanism that allows semi-automatic weapons to be become fully automatic, thereby upping the body count when firing into a crowd. If you have to work a bolt or a lever to reload, you aren’t going to be hitting 600 people in a crowded mall before the crowd disperses. That is simple math.
The mechanics of getting a weapon to reload automatically after being fired is quite tricky to pull off. Putting all semi-automatic weapons into the same category as automatic weapons will restrict the availability of those weapons and cartridges. The average city-dweller can defend themselves with a revolver, never mind that statistics show you are more likely to be killed by your own weapon than you are to kill others with it.
Almost all mass shootings are carried out with long guns. Not having a semi-automatic weapon easily accessible would achieve the goal of ending mass shootings as we have come to know them. The counter argument to this observation runs along the lines of machinists being willing to put themselves at risk by manufacturing and selling semi-automatic weapons out of their garages; but you aren’t going to see a lot of machinists willing to be targeted for lawsuits if they start cranking out semi-automatic weapons on the cheap, and then those weapons are used to kill a bunch of people.
Again. There is no way to be safe from harm. People who are afraid are not reasonable people. Which is why you can sell people afraid of what an authoritarian government or a criminal element represents on the idea that they are safer with a weapon for self-defense. This is statistically simply not the case. Women are more at risk of being killed by someone else with their gun than they are of killing someone with it. Men take their own lives with a gun far more frequently than they use that very same gun for self-defense. Guns are not the answer to worries about personal security.
I am all-in on making people feel secure. I am neurotic about locking doors. I tried to get my children into self-defense courses when they were younger. I think everyone should be trained in hand-to-hand defensive tactics. I think every woman should be trained in how to kill a man with their bare hands, if not actually outfitted with whatever weapon they are comfortable with, at a cost borne by the government, in the furtherance of ending violence targeting women. All-in on teaching women to fight back, equipping them to fight back. This is how you reduce the numbers of women who are victims, stop making them victims-in-waiting.
But that doesn’t negate the simple statistic that the presence of a weapon means that the weapon will be used against the owners of the weapon more often than not, especially in the case of women.
I grew up in rural Kansas. I currently live in Texas where, if you drive out to the country, you’ll still find a firearm and/or gun rack in every vehicle. I have owned weapons in the past, including semi-automatics. I understand gun culture even if I’m no longer immersed in it. I was a gunnut once. Owning a weapon is shorthand for having independence in the US; and this delusion we live with, that weapons keep us free, is probably the largest blind spot most Americans have. We are being robbed blind by thieves as I sit here typing and no increase in firepower will stop that theft. Understanding how modern battles are fought, and where, is how we get a handle on that theft. The first step is admitting we don’t understand what is happening, and then trying to figure out what is going on.
Information inequality is the biggest contributor to the gap in the perceptions between rural and metropolitan, the poor and the wealthy. I live in Austin, one of the high-tech hubs in the US. I have the entire knowledge of mankind available to me in a fraction of a second. All I have to do is know what question to ask, and the internet will give me the answer to that question. Day or night, rain or shine. If my home fiber-optic cable happens to be down, there are an even dozen places within walking distance that can get me equivalent access for free or nearly free. I don’t watch TV. I don’t listen to the radio. I read, and I do that voraciously. I listen to targeted podcasts and audiobooks almost constantly.
I can do this because the metropolitan area and my own economic niche I carved out when I was a productive member of society allows me access to this information that easily. But I have relatives that live in the country. Going out to their homes is almost like turning off my mind. They watch TV and still pay for cable so that they can get at least that much entertainment. They are limited by their cellular data plans, cannot access the information that they need to make informed decisions even if they knew they needed to ask questions before making decisions that they simply don’t have the knowledge for. They aren’t stupid, they are uninformed because the entertainment that they can get access to doesn’t offer them any real information. They don’t even know that they are missing information that is critical to making whatever decision is in front of them.
We are living in a Dunning-Kruger experiment of hellish proportions in the US today. Whole segments of the population are asked to render opinions on subjects that they have never had exposure to, and they only know of a subject because of the advertising in the form of infotainment that they get from mass media. That is a recipe for disaster, a disaster we are currently living through.
Imagine what it would be like to be able to get access to the information you want right now, the websites that contain the info you need to bolster your argument or to prove that your initial perceptions are wrong. Fully half the time I start out writing anything, I discover that I am wrong on some key part of my understanding which then alters the narrative that I’m composing as I’m writing it. I go through this process on an hourly basis.
And the most important understanding that I have developed over years of attempting to understand a myriad of subjects is that NO ONE is capable of digesting the amount of information required to make knowledgeable decisions on every subject. It simply can’t be done by the average human being. There is literally too much information now for any one person to know what the right answer is to any random question without spending days, weeks, months and years studying the problem. We, as a people, need to accept this fact. That expertise has a value that we should support. That we don’t know everything we need to know and truthfully can’t know it all at one time.
When it comes to weapons and the statistics of their use, we are all dealing with a subject that we think we understand, with views that we are loathe to give up crafted over a lifetime. Most ideas about guns and the proper way to respond to gun violence, simply don’t work to alter the statistics that more knowledgeable people bring to the table. In order to have a criminal record that will disqualify you from owning a gun, as the laws are currently written, you have to have committed a crime that disqualifies you. This means that we cannot screen out the unknown quantity of people who should never have access to firearms.
There is no specific need to throw large amounts of lead downrange quickly, the one thing that automatic and semi-automatic weapons were designed to do well. Ammosexuals will argue that their weapons have to reload themselves or they aren’t worth anything. This simply is not the case and limiting access to these weapons would radically reduce the numbers of deaths and almost instantly end most of the mass shootings, because the weapons that allow them simply are priced out of the range of people intent on creating mayhem. Will they turn to other weapons? Some of them will. It will at least require them to work harder to conduct their mayhem, meaning we’ll catch more of them in the process.
But in the meantime we have people who shouldn’t have access to guns being given access to the best killing machine that money can buy, available at every sporting outlet in the country. This is a surefire recipe for disaster.
Good guy with a gun? Self-defense? If you see someone breaking into a car, do you shoot first, or do you try and figure out why they are breaking into that car? I’ve broken into my own vehicle countless times. It took years for me to start carrying a spare set of keys around with me and/or making sure I had my keys on me before locking and closing the car door. I’m glad no one ever shot me for breaking into my own car. Is it self-defense to shoot someone for breaking into car? Really?
We’ve had people right here in Austin shot for breaking into cars. The specific shooter that I’m thinking of was acquitted because the thief brandished a screwdriver before being shot, or so he claimed. We don’t know because the thief is dead and the only witness to the incident was the shooter. In any case we have a pedestrian who is dead in someone’s driveway because he had a screwdriver and was purportedly caught in the owner’s vehicle. A screwdriver!
This is insanity. I’m all for self-defense, as I’ve said many times. I’m a Texan whether I like it or not. Self-defense arguments are in my blood. But a guy threatening you with a screwdriver deserves a bullet?
What he deserves is to be disarmed and hauled before a judge. A criminal record will keep you or him from ever owning a firearm, which is a finding that should have been applied, at minimum, to the shooter himself. If you shoot someone, you probably shouldn’t have access to firearms for at least a few months of cool down time. Good luck even getting that minimal amount of change enacted into law.
This culture you’ve created, the cost of your so-called freedom. The face of this kid. You want ALL the victims, the victims of war, gun violence, racism, sexual assault, all of it, to be silent. You can’t face it, because it makes you ashamed and you don’t have the guts to look it in the eye. So you don’t have to do anything. You’re cowards, America. Just like your president. Fortunately for our future, however, kids like David Hogg are not.
This is a story of two Facebook friends who served as muses of a kind. Both of them in their own time and in their own way served as muses for my writing, but over the span of a few weeks or months they both left my circle in ways that were violent to my psyche. They will remain nameless here. Their names are as irrelevant as the names of any writer’s muse. Their importance was always in what they represented to the creative side of my mind, not in who they were, what they were called, but what they meant to me as inspirations behind some of the words that I have written here over the years.
The first was a singer/songwriter. His work has made an impression on me over the span of several decades. Ages ago, way back in the 1990’s, there was a cool site called MP3.com, a site that is completely different from the lame site that squats at that URL today. Back then you could log on this site, pop in a purchased audio disc, and after a short period of verification you could listen to MP3’s of that audio wherever you were, free of charge. It was a streaming service before any other streaming service existed.
Not only could you listen to previously purchased music, but you could find new music and local music on the site, making it a very useful place for the average music listener to go to find the kinds of music that they found interesting.
While registering my voluminous numbers of purchased albums I had time to discover even more music, music not available at the local music store. Music untouched by corporate handlers. I even purchased albums directly from MP3.com, music that I didn’t have to pay for, but do pay for because I wanted to support those artists.
His band was one of those new bands. They were different, not quite like anything else in the alternative rock scene that I had been part of for pretty much as long as I could remember. I bought their albums. I got to see them at an anime convention that I went to specifically to be able to talk to them and listen to their live performance. That weekend was the pinnacle of my experiences with the band and with the singer/songwriter that lead them.
The mistake was in getting too close to him and to his band. It started with Facebook, like most of these kinds of stories do. I was an early adopter. I was part of Myspace before Facebook was a thing, and I migrated to Facebook when it became the thing that everyone was doing at the time. He was on Myspace and Facebook as well. MP3.com having since been sued out of existence, he had to move on with the tide, just like I did. Everywhere I was I looked for him and his band, promoted him and his band. I loved him. I loved his words. I loved his music, the music of the people he chose to surround himself with.
He has the same problem that so many Americans have. He is an armaphile, he has no capacity to understand that the killing machine he loves has to be given up if we are ever to get past this point in history.
This train of thought leads me directly to the second muse in this tale of woe. I honestly don’t know who she was aside from what she meant to me on Facebook. She was a she then, and she possessed that certain something that has always attracted me to women, that something that confirmed to me that I wasn’t a homosexual in the way that most people think of homosexuality. I was attracted to men, don’t get me wrong. I just wasn’t attracted to men as strongly as I was attracted to women.
The decades when I was growing up were tough for people who weren’t willing to either present as traditional males or traditional females. When my mother instructed me to leave my dolls at home when I went to school, explained to me that the other boys would not understand that I liked to play with dolls, I realized that I was different and that I would have to lock away certain parts of myself in order to fit in with the other children in my age group.
Much like a closeted homosexual, I locked away the things that were different about me and I tried to conform to the norms that were on display around me. Pretending to enjoy sporting events because all the other men did. Trying to play sports because it was expected of me. On and on and on. The list of norms that I attempted to conform to over the years is longer than the number of years in which conformity was something I strove for.
I made a series of bargains with myself as each stumbling point was reached in my life. The first one was to deny the nurturing part of myself to anyone who couldn’t accept who I presented myself as. This was manifested in my willingness to let my dolls go as a six year old. That part of me stopped then and only resurfaced again when I was forced to help raise my brothers and sisters as a teenager.
At about ten years of age I started exploring the mysteries of sex, as any growing human would and does. Having been denied an explanation of the ins and outs of the subject from my parents, I started exploring the subject with my childhood friends, the ones who were also curious about the subject and ready to explore. None of this exploration amounted to anything meaningful (nothing that years of therapy can’t address anyway) but it all ended with another bargain with myself. I would refrain from having sex with other men so as to avoid the stigma of being dismissed as a queer and being consigned to Hell for being one.
Strangely enough, one of the other bargains I struck with myself was that I would dismiss the possibility of the existence of Hell from my mind. Worrying about going to Hell will drive you crazy in the end, and I was already overburdened with more anxiety than the average person had to deal with by that point. So I dismissed the possibility of Hell as being outside the realm of dealing with a caring, loving god, and I got on with trying to live my increasingly complex life.
This lead to the next bargain I struck with myself, one that I am reticent to admit even now. Even now, after mentioning the other failings (failing to live up to the vision of manliness that was forced on males in my age group) I’ve had to bargain with myself over. The last bargain was my agreement to not kill anyone or anything else unless I simply could not avoid it.
It is strangely hard to not kill things in life. You kill plants and bugs every day whether you know this or not as you are passing through existence. Trying to be respectful of life is quite hard. I can’t even begin to imagine the kinds of burdens of doubt that the average Jain must carry, trying not to cause harm to the smallest of creatures.
It was the evolution of this last bargain, the evolution being forced by moving through the decades and periods of life, it was this bargain that lead to the falling out between myself and that singer/songwriter. If killing others is wrong, if killing itself is wrong, then the tools that are used to kill must be regulated so that killing can be minimized. Controlled. He couldn’t give up his shotgun, couldn’t understand that I wasn’t even talking about his goddamn shotgun in the first place.
So he blocked me, and through his blocking me he severed the connection between the meaning that his music carried for me as surely as he severed the emotional connection with me. So he gets to keep his shotgun. Good for him. I wonder if he has the wherewithal to make a living using that tool, and only that tool, for the rest of his life?
Does this tie to the Gift of Fear? (Sam Harris #90 Living With Violence) The guilt of being born a white man in the same way that being born black or a woman assigns you to positions, powers and groups you never wanted to be part of? Does it tie into the narrative that I’m constructing for the other muse, too? The she who no longer wants to be considered a she but instead wants to carry the cludgy gender identity of non-binary?
I present this podcast as evidence for my argument:
Gender is one of the first things we notice about the people around us. But where do our ideas about gender come from? Can gender differences be explained by genes and chromosomes, or are they the result of upbringing, culture and the environment? This week, we delve into the debate over nature vs. nurture, and meet the first person in the United States to officially reject the labels of both male and female, and be recognized as non-binary.
A podcast in which we discover that non-binary was a label invented by a lawyer. Non-binary is bad legalese and doesn’t address anything substantial. No, I’m not saying you have to be seen as male or female; what I am saying is that not adopting one or the other stereotype is something that cannot be captured by a made-up legal definition like non-binary. I’d no more accept that label than I would accept the label cisgender or transgender. None of those things are really things unless you had work done by a surgeon that alters your sex, and then you are a transsexual because you changed sexes. We put way too much importance on the gender stereotypes we subject others to. We put way too much importance on what we call ourselves in relation to what we think the stereotype for our sex is.
Biologically I am male. That hasn’t got a thing to do with who I am aside from the mechanics of reproduction. No one gave me a choice as a child. I was told I was a boy and a boy acts this way. I saw that boys that didn’t act in acceptable ways were targeted and destroyed by other boys. I wanted to live a full life. I chose to conform, outwardly. This conformity cost little for me because, as I jokingly tell the wife, I’m a bull dike who just happens to have the correct biological equipment. I get to be spared being called a lesbian and outed because I just happen to look outwardly like a man, even though I don’t like being a man very much if at all. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t assume that what goes on between my legs is any more of your business than what goes on between a woman’s legs, thank you ever so much.
Claiming to be non-binary is just striking a pose, posing, an attempt to escape categorization by creating a new category and not calling that category androgyny for some unknown reason. Everyone is non-binary, it is just that most of them have no idea that they can’t be one-half of a binary pair. For there to be a binary pairing, there would have to be sexual polarity in the same way that there is magnetic polarity, and every magnet has both a negative and a positive pole.
Monopoles (magnets with a single pole) probably don’t exist, so even the allegory that there is some essential polar opposites manifesting as sexes or genders fails in the end. How about ambisexual like ambidextrous? You can go both ways at once and you aren’t particular about the direction? It’s physically possible to be both at once. Why isn’t that acknowledged as it’s own sex, it’s own gender?
The moral of this story? You can rely on a lawyer to invent a term for a thing that already has a term in the first place. A term like non-binary. Next time consult a linguist first.
None of this would change the outcome of the argument on Facebook. They blocked me like he blocked me and I was forced to go searching for the next muse to stimulate my mind with, so that I could continue to do the thing that defines my existence these days. I don’t think I want to say anything more to the singer/songwriter. He’s off having a great time doing whatever it is he does these days with whoever he’s with these days. He’s a survivor. He’ll be fine.
I might have more to say to the non-binary person that used to be one of the women that I prize so highly. The women with minds of their own that are harnessed to wills that allow them to get shit done around them, and they don’t feel the need to put the man first and adopt that false femininity that only pisses me off when I’m around it. The ones that wake up and throw clothes on and never bother to check the mirror before heading out of the house because what they look like really isn’t that important to getting shit done. The people around you will tell you if you need to put the shirt on frontwards and right side out. If they don’t then it wasn’t that important in the first place. The women that act like a man does because he is allowed to act that way.
I worry about that former muse when I think about them. I don’t do it out of some manly need to protect. At least, I don’t think that is what this is. I do this because worrying is one of the things that I do best. I learned how to do this from a master, the strongest person in my life, who just happens to be the most feminine person in my life at the same time.
The content of this post had to be generated from memory because of the violence committed against me by these two former muses when they cut off my access to my own words by blocking me. C’est la vie. I used material from several uncompleted drafts to put this piece together as a tribute to lost muses. May there always be another muse to turn to.
The man/woman conundrum continues in the world outside. I hate to break it to these people who are terrified of the non-conforming around them but you can’t demonstrably be a man or a woman unless you have created children with your vaunted sex organs. Fertility is the only determinable difference between men and women. There are a lot of women who don’t like to think that the ability to produce children is what makes them women, just like a lot of men would be uncomfortable with the knowledge that not being able to father children means they aren’t men.
Sticking to these objectively determinable sexual facts would exclude a lot of people from residing comfortably in either sex category, but it remains true that the purpose of male and female, women and men, the existence of sex itself, is procreation. That is the only reason it exists and so the ability to procreate necessarily defines what it is to be a male or a female. EVERY OTHER CHARACTERISTIC IS SUBJECTIVE. Every other imagined purpose for sex is also subjective.
So either we need to stop pretending there are hard and fast definitions for what a man or a woman is, or we need to understand that a majority of people are neither men nor women in any objective sense and simply accept that fact. If you, dear reader, want to then say “oh that doesn’t count as a definition of the sexes either” then you are essentially saying “we’re all the same” and I’m good with that too. One human race not a bunch of different groups trying to distinguish themselves from the groups they dislike or want to be different from. Cool, cool. What were we talking about, then?
What you’re reading now is a multiple-concept piece amalgamated from several other pieces, reworked and re-edited so many times I’ve lost count. The fact that several of my Facebook friends are now openly endorsing an unapologetic authoritarian, that I have severed my long-time association with the Liberty Dollar over their new commemorative coin, pushes me to complete this piece even though I remain dissatisfied with the way that it firms up.
I am troubled by undercurrents in politics that are presenting themselves these days. I have been troubled since I wrote the article Obama Best President Since Eisenhower and my tepid acceptance of who the next president should be, titled Hillary for President? What troubles me is elusive. It is hard to give it a label. It is even harder to find people discussing the perturbations that aren’t actually trying to cover them up in some way. This tendency to hide true motivations has made the process of expressing my concerns even harder to elucidate, to solidify into words, than they normally are.
I’ve written and rewritten this article more than a few times now with various titles and themes. It started out as Feudalism vs. Socialism, but I couldn’t get a handle on what precisely feudalism was based on the judgement of historians. None of them agree on what it was, when it started and when it ended. The death blow was that The Wife hated the original piece. She essentially forbade me to publish it because it was beneath me. I almost did publish it, but I knew I could do better.
To imagine that our times are defined primarily by the struggle between “liberalism” and “conservatism” or between the Democratic and Republican parties is to be dangerously distracted and misled. There is a struggle that defines our times, all right, but it’s a struggle over what the United States of America is all about—what “America” means. And we have to be aware of this struggle and recognize it for what it is.
Here’s our task: We have to begin framing the debate not as liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican, but as equality or neo-Confederacy. We have to do this every time we speak, every time we write.
We have to do this because we have to push the Democratic Party to stand for equality, not for equality-except-in-politics-and-economics.
We have to know what a progressive, pro-equality position is and what a neo-Confederate position is on every issue—which position promotes freedom for all, and which promotes only the “liberties” of a lucky, privileged class. We have to present those positions to every Democratic candidate and ask her to choose one, and if she chooses the patrician position, we have to ask her why she’s favoring inequality over equality. We have to make her see equality as sensible and popular and inequality as radical and unthinkable.
Because unless we have a Democratic Party that unequivocally stands for equality and rejects inequality—social, political and economic—we can’t have an America that stands for equality.
The Republicans have gone all in for neo-Confederate authoritarianism. We have to go all in, too, for liberty, equality, justice and dignity for all—or the long arc of the moral universe will bend away from us, away from justice, and back into the darkness of rule by force and fear.
Equality is the founding principle of socialism, of humanism, no matter how poorly attempts to bring the notions of socialism into the world have failed, equality remains its basis. I tossed the idea out to see if it floated at a BBS I’ve been known to frequent with the title Egalitarianism vs. Kyriarchy, and got some interesting (and not so interesting) feedback. I just couldn’t get it to gel the way I wanted, so I disgustedly shelved the piece again.
Continuing my exploration of concepts, I ran across this Vox article The Rise of American Authoritarianism. That was when it hit me, the label for at least one of the forces at play in the world:
The political phenomenon we identify as right-wing populism seems to line up, with almost astonishing precision, with the research on how authoritarianism is both caused and expressed
After an early period of junk science in the mid-20th century, a more serious group of scholars has addressed this question, specifically studying how it plays out in American politics: researchers like Hetherington and Weiler, Stanley Feldman, Karen Stenner, and Elizabeth Suhay, to name just a few.
The field, after a breakthrough in the early 1990s, has come to develop the contours of a grand theory of authoritarianism, culminating quite recently, in 2005, with Stenner’s seminal The Authoritarian Dynamic — just in time for that theory to seemingly come true, more rapidly and in greater force than any of them had imagined, in the personage of one Donald Trump and his norm-shattering rise.
Authoritarianism is old, as old as humanity. Everyone in some corner of their mind can find some kinship with the notions of the great man, someone we can turn to in order to fix the problems that trouble us. If we can hand it all to him, he will make it alright. That is authoritarianism, in a nutshell. It manifests in the current election in the two counter-culture Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but the dream of the great man predates all of us.
What is the other force though? The other codifying idea that people coalesce around. It really isn’t socialism per se. Those with authority want you to believe that capitalism vs. socialism is the fight that continues. The holders of old money, the inheritors of new money, the powerful who want to retain power. They raise the specter of socialism like a bogeyman to scare those of us who remember when socialism was the masque worn by dictators across Europe and Asia.
The mind reels at trying to communicate the fear that the word socialism engenders in the minds of people who remember the Berlin wall as a real barrier people were shot crossing. How to communicate the history? Twenty-eight years before 9/11/2001, back in the time when 2001 was a symbol of a bright future in a film yet to be made, I was born. Born in the same year that JFK’s Camelot came to an end. My mother escaped from Europe on the heels of what she figured was the beginning of WWIII, the general suspicion of the time being that the USSR had a hand in the death of our president. The end of an age, the beginning of another one.
What were those years like, what was the feeling during that time? It’s hard even for me to say. From 1963 to 1969 there was assassination after assassination in the political sphere. JFK. MLK. RFK. The riots. The marches. Vietnam. Then the 70’s. Nixon and Watergate. The fall of Saigon. Carter and the oil embargo. The Iran hostage crisis. The return of Ronald Reagan.
I graduated high school out in flyover country and Red Dawn was seen as prophetic when it premiered in 1984. I mean really prophetic, not some kind of hokey, campy the Russkies are coming to get us kind of joke you hear so often these days. We knew the commies were coming to get us, it was just a matter of time. The feds in DC were the real joke because they had no idea what was going on in the world.
How could there be a bright future in 2001 while Red Dawn was a real prophecy of the failure of capitalism, both at the same time? That was/is the kind of discord present in every mind that thinks there is a grand conspiracy out there somewhere running things. There is the world that is, and the world as it really is, and you have to decode the one to find the secret other world. Besides, 2001 was nearly 20 years away. Who can see 20 years into the future?
It was all a lie. All of it. While the USSR and the KGB did plant spies in the US in an attempt to sway US politics, they were never effective. The red scare was and is a chimera, a boogeyman that was and is still used to keep the American people in line. The USSR which had survived on graft for generations finally collapsed under its own weight not long after Red Dawn premiered. I got a job and started working for a living, and the authorities of the world redrew all the maps I memorized in school, and life went on as if we hadn’t spent the last 40 years afraid of our own shadows, afraid of the communists among us.
The war machine though, it went on without stopping. With no enemies to fight, the machine still wanted us to act like we were at war. Reagan was mentally AWOL virtually from the day he took office. His VP barely squeaked out a win on Reagan’s coattails and had to raise taxes to pay for the killing machines conservatives wanted him to build. Bush the first lost to Bill Clinton because of the fiscal reality of who pays for the war machines, the wars, but Slick Willy still had to appease the conservatives who held power and the majority, scared in their own beds at night of the commies waiting to get them. Bill fought every battle he found an excuse for just to keep them quiet and still couldn’t justify the military budget, which he had to cut.
Then came the surprise that created the world we know now; created it out of silicon and electricity. PC’s became widely available. Suddenly everyone had the ability to wax verbose across the entire US, the ability to read the craziest rantings of the most marginalized among us as if they were some kind of representative sample of American thought. Not too long after the US was wired, the whole world was wired. We went from having to do research that took months and years to complete in dusty libraries across differing regions to being able to access virtually all of human knowledge with the click of a mouse.
Not all of that knowledge is real though. Very little of it is, when you start sifting the contents of the internet. Bloggers proliferated in the early years, including yours truly, spreading rumor as if it was fact, furthering the reach of questionable thinking, of non-rational thought.
It became possible to find news on your own, invent news on your own. No longer force-fed nightly at 6 and 10, you could binge on news 24/7. News that you wanted to read/watch/listen to, not the things that the media determined were things an educated public should know. The doors started to come off the media machine, the carefully crafted machine that fed the US and the world the news it wanted us to hear. Out of that chaos was born the conservative echo-chamber as we know it today.
The conservative echo-chamber elected Bush the second. Conservatives fed off other conservatives, on channels they created to coordinate what it was they wanted done, how they wanted their arguments to proceed. What they wanted the grass roots to believe. Small government. Low taxes on the wealthy so they would spend more. Low taxes on everybody so that they had more to spend. A war machine to rival all others. Jobs for everybody. All of it born out of the half-baked plans that came to power with Reagan, that influenced Reagan. Neoconservatism. Libertarian economics. A perversion of Goldwater conservatism that even Barry Goldwater would be hard pressed to back.
With Jesus and the prosperity gospel, they brought their selected candidate to office. It’s just too bad he didn’t know what it was he was doing.
I never did credit W with a wealth of brains. Familiarity breeds contempt, and as a Texan I knew what kind of lackluster thinker the Junior Bush was. He did know at least one thing, because it wasn’t that hard to figure out. Any human group works better together with an enemy to fight, and he started off his term in office with every intention of dealing with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, even before that fateful day in September of 2001.
A relative of his Saudi business partners, Osama Bin Laden, had similar if opposing goals. Having been betrayed by the US at the end of the Cold War when we abandoned the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, outraged by the stationing of infidel troops in the holy land, OBL hatched a plan to start a war with the US by destroying the icons of US capitalism and dominance in the world, the trade center in NYC. The towers fell and the wars started, and the jobs never came and the debts mounted.
That is what it has been like, from then to now. Conservatives afraid of commies, of socialism, suspicious of even their countrymen, especially their liberal countrymen who didn’t see the threat they saw, backing whatever horse showed up claiming to be able to hold the commies at bay, because they prayed to their god to send them a savior. Faith in the supernatural, reliance on the unknowable, fear and betrayal and more betrayal. That is why conservatives back the demagogue, Donald Trump. They are tired of being betrayed by complex people with complex arguments, and they want a war to destroy their enemy (whoever that is) before they are themselves destroyed. Before they are dissolved into history.
Returning to the narrative, that is why socialism is a non-starter in fly-over country, the vast angry red areas of the United States. They still think socialism is a thing to be afraid of. They have no idea that socialism is their insurance coverage. Their police force. Their fire fighters. Their hospitals. Any effort that benefits us all and doesn’t have a clear profit motivation to push it forward, that is socialism at work.
Socialism means no more and no less than control of social systems being held by the many rather than the wealthy few. The corporations. The elites. That the costs of maintaining and running the system are spread across the social groups the system serves rather than paid directly by the person who receives the benefit.
When you get a check from your insurance company, you have benefited from a socializing system. The cost to reimburse you for your loss is borne by the group who pays premiums to that insurance company. When you are injured and rushed to a hospital, the existence of those systems being there to keep you from dying is due to socialism’s influence. When you log on to your computer to check Facebook or whatever social site is popular right now, the existence of that system is due to the socializing influence of government investment in technology.
The internet was not conceived of by a single corporation, was not the brainchild of a single mind. It was conceived of by many people working separately with funds infused by government for the purpose of stimulating research. It was the product of many people working towards the goal of making knowledge available to a larger and larger group of people, for the betterment of humanity as a whole. The internet is the most social of social structures ever invented by man. More social than the grandest ideals of socialism, more liberating than millions of dollars handed to each and every poor person.
Socialism spread without the USSR. Socialism spread without communist China, too. Socialism is greater than Karl Marx. Socialism is less duplicitous than Lenin. Socialism is the antithetical to feudalism, to fascism, but not to capitalism, because socialism isn’t limited to economics. Right or wrong, absolute equality is the basis for socialist theory, and socialist theory is here to stay, just like all the other ideas that have been conceived by the human mind since we first formed words to describe the world around us.
The opposing force for Authoritarianism is deeper than socialism, which is why acceptance of socialism as the good is irrelevant in the long run. Authoritarianism is the godhead. The worship of absolute authority over all things living. What opposes it is just as strong, but largely unvoiced. It is an expression of the value of each human life. It is at its core humanism, the valuing of the human over the spiritual or supernatural. Humanism is a movement that was spawned with the enlightenment and has been forgotten by most people today.
Those of us who do remember a time before 9/11 remember Hillary Clinton’s first entrance on the world stage as First Lady to William Jefferson Clinton’s Presidency. Sadly it is against the backdrop of his presidency that her suitability for office is judged, rightly or wrongly. Her first book It Takes a Village was routinely derided by conservatives who knew the harsh cruel world for what it was, never actually asking if that was the world they wanted to live in or not. Whether it might be in our power to change the nature of the world. Change the nature of existence, at least among us humans.
But the humanist notions of It Takes a Village have proven to be true over time. We do need to create a better world for our children and grandchildren. Capitalism needs updating now, so as to bring the floor of our social structure up to a tolerable level, to bring all of the people into the fold reserved for the privileged few in previous human generations. However, it is the basis of capitalism that authoritarians want us to talk about the least. They don’t want to talk about it because the system set up by the privileged is the one that keeps them fat and happy today.
Capitalism is nothing more or less than an outgrowth of the creation of money for trading goods and services. An outgrowth of the common notion that one should profit from transactions with others. Capitalism and money are themselves tools, part of the bigger picture of human interactions. Money cannot exist without others who accept that it is a fair trade for real or imagined value, making capitalism versus socialism a false dichotomy easily destroyed by authoritarians bent on altering the system to suit their goals.
Historical feudalism was an expression of authoritarianism, and facets of feudalism persist into the modern age long past the time when historians have credited it as dead. The notion that one can be granted title to people as well as property by a King or other warlord who controls a region seems outmoded or medieval; however the actual governing of areas, the ownership of lands and systems in the modern age seems hardly different in practice. Holding title to lands was first introduced as a feudal practice. Inheriting that title and associated wealth was also introduced then.
Obviously a family will and should be allowed to continue to use what was held by the head of the household before death. That seems like common sense. But the idea that it belonged to his/her heirs, the notion of heirs itself is feudalism. Is it justice for inheritors to possess gains which were ill-gotten? Gains handed to the original owner on the basis of skin color or where they called home previously? Where is the justice in that, where is the room to be merely human in a world of rigid structure like that?
One can argue that people are no longer property, held with the lands. That is probably the one big difference between the modern world and the ancient world. People are no longer legally property in most places around the world. But if you are poor and cannot afford to leave the lands you were born into (Greece in perspective) the functional difference between the two states blurs. The poor and unfortunate are the pawns of today’s systems just as they were in feudal systems. They are entirely at the mercy of those who control them and the lands they can’t afford to leave. There is little improvement through the ages for the poor among us aside from modern plumbing and the spreading of the knowledge of science.
Capitalism is not a social structure. It is an economic philosophy of a value for value trade, a good solid basis for dealing fairly with those around you. A basis for labor having a value of its own which can be traded for goods and other labor at a later time. Capitalism has nothing at all to say about the content of society, what the minimum standards of living should be, what humane treatment of the sick and injured should be, how the elderly are cared for. In fact it has little of merit to say about most things human.
During the course of the First World War the old establishments of feudalism/authoritarianism started to give way to the new ideas of democracy and self-rule. If you aren’t a student of history, you might not know that WWI saw the end of one of the longest running governments in human history, the Ottoman Empire. It was itself the inheritor of much of the wealth and knowledge of the Byzantine Empire which marked time all the way back through the Roman Empire almost to the beginning of recorded history. So the belief that feudalism was a practice limited to the middle ages is not much more than a quaint notion for scholars to debate. The practices of feudalism were encoded into law, and some of them continue to this day.
The United States, an early precursor of the modern age of democracy (one man one vote) wisely adopted many of the mechanisms established by the successful feudal societies that founded the colonies it sprang from. Mechanisms like corporations to shield business owners from direct personal liability for business losses. Mechanisms like a sound money system which established a commodity as the base measure of value. But the US has always been a mixed economy. Mixed as in respecting the feudal/capitalist nature of the systems that were inherited from the English and the Dutch.
Corporations are feudal creations, originally charters granted by emperors and kings, and their structures are feudal in execution. Yes, a group requires a leader, that is a given of all human systems. But the value of that leadership in today’s world is highly over-rated. The pay for corporate executives far out-weighs the contributions they make to the process of creating the goods and services a corporation produces (Saving Capitalism) the average person on the street cannot name the current head of a single corporation.
Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton
This is the intersection which we are currently attempting to navigate. Donald Trump represents exactly what economic conservatives have wanted for a generation. He is a businessman willing to take on the job of running the country, running the country like a business. Unfortunately for them he exhibits even less control than the previous businessmen conservatives have flirted with nominating. He launched his candidacy by laying this turd in full view of the watching world:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Donald Trump. Or as I like to refer to him, the Orange Hate-Monkey. Fake tanned, he has embraced the conservative tropes of yesteryear, flinging the hatred of other like a monkey flings shit at gawkers at the zoo. His supporters hear only that they will be saved, if they follow him. That is all they want to hear.
I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?
Donald Trump is the poster boy for feudal privilege. Far from being a hero of the common man, an example of bootstrapping, Trump inherited his wealth and businesses from his father. He has bankrupted those businesses not once, but four times. His claim to authority is based entirely on his birth to a position of wealth and influence, the modern equivalent to nobility. The Dukes & Earls of previous societies are now referred to as CEO or CFO. Positions on the boards of large corporations mark your power within modern feudal society. Governments bow to your whims, write laws to benefit your finances, cater to your desires to the detriment of the poor forced to work for a living within the societies you rule.
Many, many people look at Hillary Clinton, look at her with the backdrop of 40 years of increasingly more conservative dominated politics, as well as the Presidency of her husband, and can’t see how she is an improvement on the President we currently have. There are independents who look at the two major party candidates and inexplicably cannot see a difference between the two of them because they can’t separate the woman from the men she has been required to serve with, the real estate developer who has lied to himself for so long he doesn’t even know what the truth is anymore.
Maybe I’m just weird.
I’m struck today with the same sense of surrealism that I’ve had since the day I first heard the term Birther, long before there was such a thing as Birther-in-Chief, another apt Trump label. When I heard the accusation that Barack Obama wasn’t an American, I recognized it immediately as racism and dismissed it. When the conspiracy fantasy wouldn’t go away, when the Birther-in-Chief picked up this obvious dog whistle and wouldn’t stop blowing it, I realized that the conservative echo-chamber was a thing, not just a possibility.
These people don’t know reality from fantasy. Their fantasies about what goes on in the world mean more to them than the facts that govern it. They dismiss those facts when convenient, when the facts get in the way of their fantasies. And since the echo-chamber reflects back to them what they want to hear, they never get the corrective feedback that reality attempts to deliver.
In much the same way, it is painfully clear to me that misogyny governs most of the reporting that goes on in relation to Hillary Clinton. The media desperately attempt to echo the narrative that the long-dominant political forces in the US seem to want to hear. But there are voices out there sending the feedback that we need to be listening for, if only we are paying attention.
However, even if the worst of the worst of the beliefs about Hillary Clinton are true (and they aren’t) There is no way, NO WAY POSSIBLE that she could be as bad, much less worse than Trump. The beast that he has shackled himself to requires human sacrifice to be satiated. That is what happens when you found your campaign on creating an enemy in our midst. When your every other pronouncement decries the barbarian at the door.
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on
The old adage runs like this: “American fascism will arrive carrying a cross and wrapped in a flag” and it has. However, there is no one person to fear that enters dragging fascism in their wake. The threat is not the figurehead, the Trump or the Hitler. The people to fear are those willing to vote for wrong, to back wrong with force, in the mistaken belief they are right. And that is scarier than the mere presence of Donald Trump on the political scene.
These people desire the destruction of the system itself, in their mad desire to be free of their fears, to the potential destruction of us all. How is that, you ask?
The delivery of modern technology and modern medicine are such complex ventures that their continuation virtually requires the existence of government, government which is now threatened by corporate greed and corporate malfeasance. It is corporations who benefit from the loss of governmental power, not the individual. Corporations who stand ready to reap larger and larger profits at the cost of the lives of the poor and the sacrifice of the rest of the middle class in the US and across the face of the world. Corporations which must be brought to heel by government if we are ever to see the dawn of a new age. The age of the individual as expressed through humanism, the leveling of the playing field with the more equal distribution of information through technology.
Humanism is the vehicle which will bring the corporations to heel. Its time has finally arrived, let us not waste this opportunity to grasp the future for ourselves, our children and our children’s children. Trust in our ability to make the systems work to our benefit, using modern technology as our tool. It matters little what Hillary Clinton wants to do so long as she keeps the systems running long enough for us to realize the potential present in the technology we now have at our disposal. Let us not fear the future, but embrace it.
I have gone through and re-edited the text of this article to genericize it away from the events that inspired its publication. While they are still present in the text, I have added some detail to anchor them in time. I have also engaged in some generic wordsmithing to clean up the text and make it more understandable from a narrative perspective. Even I lost track of what it was I was trying to say about halfway through the history of the American love affair with authoritarians.
Three days ago I looked at the front page of this blog. The last article written is still the February 2016 primary piece Who Gives a Shit About Iowa? Have I not written anything since then? WTF?
I’ve had several interesting conversations since writing that piece. I’ve had two or three good ideas (one of which will be applied to the next chapter of EPHN if I ever get around to completing the one I’m working on) None of the stuff I come up with gets beyond notes phase. None of it gets beyond notes phase because essentially, I have no brain. The problem I’m having is one of the symptoms of Meniere’s, one that half the medical community says isn’t real. Those of us who have Meniere’s know differently. We call it brain fog. I’m struggling with it right now, so please bear with me.
I’m trying to write today even though I have trouble forming basic thoughts because this is yet another part of the disease that plagues my every moment, and I don’t really bother to talk about it to anyone outside the wife, the daughter and the son.
Brain fog. It’s like the insides of my head are full of cotton wool. Like the frontal lobes of my brain (had to look that up, sadly) have electrical current running through them, and conscious thought is elusive. Just beyond reach. Most frequently brought on by vertigo attacks, it can show up without notice any time the pressure in the ears change, the tinnitus changes, the headaches start or stop. You name it. I think I had a vertigo attack while sleeping last night because I went to bed early and dizzy. I woke up the drooling genius searching for keys on his keyboard that I am now.
When I woke up seven hours ago I thought about writing this piece. Clever ideas about what to say, ideas about how to express myself floated in one side of my head and out the other. They are lost to me now. I keep hearing the voice of the antagonist from Spock’s Brain“I put the teacher on my head” a frequent joke around the house when one of us is forgetful.
But it really isn’t a joke when I feel this way. Ah, to have access to a device that would put the knowledge back in my head. To restore the mental acuity that I usually take for granted but is so lacking now (took a full 30 seconds to come up with the word acuity) I’m torn between stomping my feet in mock anger “brain and brain, what is brain?” or just going with the flow and embracing the silence.
The above is another inside joke around this house, as frequently referenced as Spock’s Brain. At least Earth Girls are Easy was meant to be funny. If only I was blond and female I could make vapid work for me. Guys without brains or muscle aren’t of much use. The Wife is blond and generally smarter than me when I’m like this. Some would tell you she is always smarter. Can’t argue with that right now.
So I’m going back to my marathon of Better Call Saul. I’ve been meaning to watch that anyway, and it is complex enough that I actually have to watch it or I’ll miss something, unlike most television. Finished the Expanse yesterday and there won’t be new Walking Dead till Sunday. I’ll find something else to watch when I finish that. Hopefully this fog will pass soon and I’ll have something more substantive to say.
I don’t watch gotcha films. I don’t watch gotcha films on any subject, not just on this subject. The reason I don’t watch gotcha films is because there is no way to know whether or not what you are seeing is in any way real. The protest that “these videos are unedited” is a claim which cannot be verified, in a general sense. It is possible to fake almost anything you’d like to these days, and that ability only becomes easier with time.
What I rely on instead is my established ability to sift through a large amount of written language and recognize currents through various writers and posts. I take people at their word for goals and drives, and filter what they then say against those stated goals looking for what they say that isn’t crafted to further those goals.
That is why my first stop on visiting a site is generally the about page. This is so that I can see who funds the site, what the stated goals are, what the makeup of the management of the site looks like. With that knowledge in hand, it then becomes possible to determine what any entry on the site is placed there to achieve.
Case in point, the recent melt-down involving Planned Parenthood selling body parts from abortions they’ve performed. As the article on the subject over at Snopes.com points out:
Fetal tissue may only be used or sold post-abortion with the consent of the woman undergoing the procedure. Although some researchers may obtain fetal tissue directly from abortion clinics at their own medical facilities, others have to purchase it from middlemen who pay fees to providers such as Planned Parenthood for specimens and then resell those specimens to researchers. Planned Parenthood maintains they charge only what the law allows (i.e., what they need to cover their expenses in such transactions), while the middlemen charge a markup to cover their processing costs. But regulation of these types of transactions is somewhat murky.
So what the Republican candidates for President are tearing their hair over, and what the morons who lead the House of Representatives want to shut the government down over, is already illegal in the first place. It can’t get more illegal than it already is; and since Planned Parenthood and its leadership have not been charged with violating any laws, I’d bet that what we are witnessing is just more demagoguery and not real revelations on the issue.
I am a certified fan of Planned Parenthood and a fan of it’s current leader, the daughter of a former Texas Governor. Planned Parenthood provides vital and irreplaceable services for the poor all across the US, and services for women’s health (be they rich or poor) which cannot be obtained from any other provider in many areas of the US. If your response to this declaration is that abortion is murder, I direct you to my previously posted article titled simply Abortion, and to the hopefully soon completed EPHN article on the misunderstanding of what human life is. Abortion is a protected procedure that every woman will contemplate at some point in their lives. Those women who deny this are lying to you and possibly even to themselves.
It is worth noting that the incident which is most often quoted, the one related by Carly Fiorina in the second Republican Presidential debate, never actually occurred in any of the video that Ms. Fiorina could have seen. So she was lying on national television during a debate. This really isn’t news because candidates lie all the time (Lips are moving? They’re lying) but usually it’s about things that they’ll do if elected. Rational types might hold out the hope that threats to end legal abortion in the US are equally lies since the President cannot override decisions set down by the Supreme Court, but there is plenty of other mischief that an activist President can do with his or her office.
Arguably the worst aspect of this scam video, beyond the harm it will do to reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood, is the reality that Dr. Nucatela’s life is all but ruined for the foreseeable future. At this moment, anti-choice extremists are likely fanning out around the internet, collecting damaging information about her; finding out her home address and contact information; discovering whether she has children and where they go to school; planning rallies outside her house; or worse. Based on wrongful charges, she now represents Enemy Number One for googly-eyed radicals, fueled by visions of aborted fetuses and the false impression of Planned Parenthood as the Walmart of black market fetus organs.
Real people with real lives in the real world whose lives are ruined because of these faked videos. Faked in that the materials sold are not sold for profit, and are a part of a vital network of research and transplantation that saves lives.
If you doubt that this is true, then I highly recommend the episode of Radiolab titled Gray’s Donation which goes into precisely how many lives the materials from a single aborted fetus can be impacted in a positive manner. A fetus that had no chance for life because of the birth defects he would have suffered from, in the specific instance of the Gray’s investigation.
That is the practice that this anti-abortion hate group wants to end. Let these facts sink in for a minute.
I’ve taken the time to write this because I was recently sent a link to an article on Rational Review News (a site I used to follow pretty regularly) that was so patently false on its face that I found it hard to believe that the same guy I used to rely on for libertarian news could be so demonstrably wrong on the subject. Proof that, if nothing else, the Balkanization of internet information continues unabated. Clear thinking and understanding of a subject has never been more critical than it is today, nor has it ever been more wanting, apparently.
One can hope that the effect of exposing this obscure process to light will lead to more transparency on the subject, but I personally doubt it. Few people really are interested in the details of transactions that occur all around them without their noticing. Subjects like this only occasionally see the light of day, and the outrage in response is predictable and almost humdrum in its monotonous outrage. If the individual who is outraged over fetal tissue used for research were to spend time investigating the subject of medical history and the process of obtaining materials for research historically, the outrage over the acquisition of cadavers for medical schools would be something we’d never hear the end of. Because that, historically, was a very dark process indeed.
The anti-abortion industry having beaten this dead horse long enough will simply find another soft target to attack in their never-ending drive to stop abortion in all cases. They really aren’t interested in truth, reality or the constraints of biology or biological life. The procedure is evil in their eyes, and evil should not be tolerated. Their own blindness to the reality of human life ensures that the fight will never end, because women who do not want to have children will continue to end pregnancies whether the procedure is legal or not. Whether the woman is pro-life or pro-choice, the choice occurs anyway.
The long and tortuous process of holding these fakirs accountable for their damaging actions continues to unfold in various state courts:
After the videos surfaced last year, Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, a Republican, asked the Republican district attorney in Harris County to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood in August. A grand jury ended up indicting Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, and taking no action against Planned Parenthood.
As the title of the source article states, the charges in Texas were dropped. Texas as a political entity hates itself in a very weird and self-destructive way. This comes out in events like the above, with religious crusaders elected to office attempting to score religious points in a political arena simply don’t understand what the law says even though they are trained lawyers. Luckily for justice, there are other states who aren’t as consumed with self-loathing as Texas:
Prosecutors filed 14 felony counts of unlawfully recording people without their permission — one count for each person — as well as one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.
Becerra, a veteran congressman who became attorney general in January, said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said.
The problem in all these cases, and there were cases being investigated in several states after the videos were released, is that the concerns and laws protecting privacy are butting heads with the first amendment right of the press and freedom of speech. It is a near-impossibility for a public entity like Planned Parenthood to win a case of slander or libel against the perpetrators of these fraudulent videos. It might be possible to seek damages from them if they weren’t essentially penniless conspiracy fantasists in the first place. The chances of any case being successfully prosecuted against them on any grounds fades to a faint hope when you understand the hurdles placed in the way of justice in this case.
Justice would require that Daleiden and his conspirator Sandra Merritt go in front of groups of people who think like they do and explain why what they did was wrong. This is the form justice should take, because I don’t think that they or their supporters understand the injustice they engaged in. The harm that they have committed in their blind ambition to see abortion ended in the US and across the world. Real people harmed in real ways by their delusions about life in the womb. It is criminal that they cannot be shown reason that will convince them on this subject.
The subject of abortion is an emotionally fraught discussion that almost no one wants to have. They don’t want to have the discussion with their lovers, parents or spouses. It is the unspoken taboo, abortion. Even if we don’t talk about it, it happens. It happens in nature and it happens in clinics. It happens by choice and it happens without choice. It happens and we need to accept that it happens.
I do understand where anti-abortionists are coming from when they say that abortion is murder. Where they think they are coming from when they try to adopt the label pro-life, and then fail utterly at being pro-life. I have two children of my own. When I say that people who oppose abortion fail to grasp objectivity on this subject, I do this with my own subjective, anecdotal experience with my own children to back me up.
My children were persons from the time I knew they existed, and I would have been devastated if anything had kept them from becoming the people that they are today. No amount of knowledge concerning the limited nature of their selves while in the womb and even several years after their birth could modify the way I thought of them, treated them. They were always going to become adults, people, responsible humans, if only I managed not to screw things up.
I got lucky, or maybe it was just plodding, methodical planning. In any case, they’ve grown up well and I’ve never had to make the kinds of choices that other potential parents have had to make. We could have waited to have children, we could have been more diligent about birth control or could have accessed abortion services that were freely available. We could have done any of those things and life would have been easier for us, but you play the hand you are dealt. That is a mantra I’ve lived by all my life.
What was inside the Wife’s womb wasn’t really a person yet. Not legally and not scientifically either. It was a person to her and to me, and we acted like it was a person, caring for ourselves during those nine months in ways that we hadn’t before. There was no there there no matter what we thought of what was in her womb. There was no there there, no human life, because the markers for life were hers. Her breath, her heartbeat, driving nutrients to the growing life inside her. Without her life there would have been no children. Life that emerged from her body and became human in a scientifically measurable way some time after birth. Possibly even long after birth.
What proof would I accept that there was a separate and unique human life in the womb, then? Prove the existence of the soul. I don’t mean have faith that we have one, I mean scientifically prove the existence of the soul. That is the evidence that would counter all court decisions and scientific evidence accumulated to date. Ensoulment is what believers hang their hats on when they talk about personhood being a part of the fertilized egg. Most of them have enough caution not to bring that up as proof these days.
Believers have been trying to prove the existence of the soul since the methodology of science was discovered. All of these attempts have come up empty, and there were a lot more scientists who believed in the existence of the soul when science was young than there are now that we have progressed as far as we have today in our understanding of the natural world. Our understanding of science itself.
Pardon me if I feel that these truths are self-evident here. Abortion is not murder because we can’t prove that human life exists inside of a woman’s body, separate from her body. I keep getting hung up on the fact that the subjects of abortion and “when does human life begin?” are still an issue. I am genuinely baffled by this fact because these questions have never (and I do mean never) been something I suffered moral quandaries about. The reason this has never been an issue for me is the subject of EPHN: A Right to Life? which goes into the murky world of what human life is and why most contrary opinions about the nature of human life are completely wrong; but since that chapter of the EPHN page is not about abortion but instead about the distinction between generic life (living tissue) and human life, that leaves me with a ton of text that I’ve written over the years on the subject of abortion itself that really needs to be published or re-published under its own heading somewhere on the blog.
I’ve lost several Facebook friends over the years because of this subject, largely because I cannot let falsehoods stand unchallenged. This argument of mine about abortion goes back to the dawn of my internet experience (much like the arguments about the subjects of gender and homosexuality go back to my Compuserve days) and spans complete shifts in most of my other opinions on other subjects. This one, though. On this subject I know what reality is. Reality is harsh, it is brutish, and it isn’t fair.
The natural world doesn’t worry about those softer concepts. The young, the old and the infirm are the most common fodder for the predator. The unsuspecting are the victims of the parasite. In evolutionary terms, procreation is fundamental to an organism’s success. It doesn’t matter how many of the species is killed just as long as a mating pair survives long enough to mate and produce sufficient offspring to continue the species. That fact of life is the reason that sex exists, and that is also the reason that sex feels good. It feels good so as to encourage the organism to engage in the activity more often. Any other interpretation of the reasons for the processes are a matter of individual delusion or group ritual (which is phenomenally about the same as mass delusion) there are social reasons to engage in sex outside of procreation (pair bonding as one example) but those reasons do not negate the actual purpose of the act.
After a similar fashion, the natural world has no problem with abortion. Three quarters (or thereabouts) of all fertilized eggs do not produce live offspring. Half of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. The vast majority of potential human lives never see the light of day with human eyes, because nature is a harsh judge of viability.
Until very recently in the civilized parts of the world, infant mortality was astronomically high. It was commonplace for women to have 8 to 10 children and yet only 3 or 4 make it to adulthood. In some parts of the world these death rates still occur.
It is the mark of several decades of arguing this subject that I can rattle off these facts without having to consult reference material to back them up. The links to this information have long slipped my mind, and searching for the current location of the information is time-consuming and pointless. If you doubt the facts dear reader, please take the time to try to verify them. Here is your fair warning in advance; If your source has anything to do with the anti-abortion industry, I will reject it. They have been shown to be lying time and time again in the past and I don’t trust the same liars twice.
So abortion and child death are normal states in nature. As mentioned previously, predators single out the young, the old and the infirm as their first targets for consumption. They are easier to take down, and the herd animals will leave them behind in order to preserve the remaining numbers of the herd. Predators that live birth large litters of young will frequently eat the smaller, sicklier young themselves. Nature is brutish in this way.
Into this world we too are born. But as the lucky few of the lucky even smaller few, we exist in a world of science. We have science-based medicine to thank for the dramatic reduction in child deaths, mothers dying in childbirth, epidemics that halve the populations of entire nations of people. We have government to thank for civilizing the vast majority of the world’s population, enforcing laws that are (Hopefully. As the future continues to regress into the past I remain hopeful) grounded in common sense and science.
At the very least, the courts which try laws and the violators of law have rules based on solid science and evidence. Which is where we get to the popular confusion concerning life, human life and abortion.
Among the generally reasonable people who just want to get through their day so that they can have time at the end of the day to relax, there is a very large section of the population who don’t understand how much of our society is actually based on science. They don’t realize that the very technology used to write this blog, the technology you used to get here to read this article, means that science is based on objective reality. That the existence of this technology means that reality is as I’ve described it so far. These people are magical thinkers. I haven’t written that blog entry yet, but for the purpose of this article it should suffice to say that these people are not satisfied with reality as it exists. They’d like very much to believe that reality is something which can be bypassed or altered.
These people see that they want their children. They see that they love their children, and they cannot conceive of a world where children are not wanted at best and are a liability at worst. They are outraged at the notion that people might engage in sexual activity without intending to have children. They are inflamed with righteous indignation that women are avoiding the punishment of having to raise the children that they’ve created because science and medicine have created an escape for them by harnessing the powers of nature that already exist. Already exist and are used to get rid of conceived offspring that are unwanted, unaffordable or not viable.
The magical thinker in question is usually a member of a religion; and in the US that religion is overwhelmingly one of the hundreds of variants known colloquially as christianity. Christians are convinced that their god is opposed to abortion even though the natural world (which he also made if he exists) utilizes abortion on a much greater scale than we humans could ever achieve. Attempting to show these christians that their holy book makes no mention of abortion has been a futile effort in my experience. Most christians accept Catholic dogma on the subject, even though the majority of US christians are protestants whose ancestors spent precious blood escaping from Catholic rule.
Most of them are also unswayed by arguments that Judaism (the precursor to christianity) rules the beginning of life as the taking of the first breath; that the soul enters the body with that breath of air. Why this argument doesn’t sway is anybody’s guess, because science tends to agree with the idea that breathing air allows for consciousness to occur. Consciousness which is the hallmark of human life:
…Consciousness requires a sophisticated network of highly interconnected components, nerve cells. Its physical substrate, the thalamo-cortical complex that provides consciousness with its highly elaborate content, begins to be in place between the 24th and 28th week of gestation. Roughly two months later synchrony of the electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythm across both cortical hemispheres signals the onset of global neuronal integration. Thus, many of the circuit elements necessary for consciousness are in place by the third trimester. By this time, preterm infants can survive outside the womb under proper medical care. And as it is so much easier to observe and interact with a preterm baby than with a fetus of the same gestational age in the womb, the fetus is often considered to be like a preterm baby, like an unborn newborn. But this notion disregards the unique uterine environment: suspended in a warm and dark cave, connected to the placenta that pumps blood, nutrients and hormones into its growing body and brain, the fetus is asleep.
Invasive experiments in rat and lamb pups and observational studies using ultrasound and electrical recordings in humans show that the third-trimester fetus is almost always in one of two sleep states. Called active and quiet sleep, these states can be distinguished using electroencephalography. Their different EEG signatures go hand in hand with distinct behaviors: breathing, swallowing, licking, and moving the eyes but no large-scale body movements in active sleep; no breathing, no eye movements and tonic muscle activity in quiet sleep. These stages correspond to rapid-eye-movement (REM) and slow-wave sleep common to all mammals. In late gestation the fetus is in one of these two sleep states 95 percent of the time, separated by brief transitions.
What is fascinating is the discovery that the fetus is actively sedated by the low oxygen pressure (equivalent to that at the top of Mount Everest), the warm and cushioned uterine environment and a range of neuroinhibitory and sleep-inducing substances produced by the placenta and the fetus itself: adenosine; two steroidal anesthetics, allopregnanolone and pregnanolone; one potent hormone, prostaglandin D2; and others. The role of the placenta in maintaining sedation is revealed when the umbilical cord is closed off while keeping the fetus adequately supplied with oxygen. The lamb embryo now moves and breathes continuously. From all this evidence, neonatologists conclude that the fetus is asleep while its brain matures.
These same magical thinkers rail against the decision of Roe Vs. Wade completely oblivious to the benefit that they gain from having a right to privacy established in the Constitution (Ninth Amendment) granting them the privilege of private conversation with their doctors and attorneys. They are equally oblivious to the biology behind why the third trimester of a pregnancy is the only part of a pregnancy which the government should rightly have any say over; and then only on the presumption that more inhabitants of the state are good for the state.
In spite of the small shift toward opposition to legal abortion, the basic contours of the debate are still intact, with most major groups lining up on the same side of the issue as they have in the past. For example, most people who regularly attend religious services continue to come down in opposition to abortion, while the large majority of those who rarely or never attend religious services still support legal abortion.
The survey also reveals continued polarization over abortion. Even as the public expresses support for finding a middle ground, most Americans are quite certain that their own position on abortion is the right one, with only a quarter (26%) saying they ever wonder about their views on the issue. This is a slight decline since 2006, when 30% expressed doubts about their own view on abortion. Furthermore, many people on both sides of the issue say that the opposite point of view on abortion is not a “respectable” opinion for someone to hold. Nearly half of abortion opponents (47%), including 62% of those who say abortion should be illegal in all cases, say that a pro-choice view is not a respectable opinion for someone to hold. On the other side, 42% of abortion supporters (including 54% of those who want abortion to be legal in all cases) say the pro-life point of view is not respectable.
Attend church services weekly, 73% favor making all abortion illegal. There’s your pro-life movement, and that movement is shrinking at a regular rate. It is already smaller than it has been at any time in US history, and is only going to get smaller as time goes on. Christianity’s declining numbers also leads to attempts to tie christianity’s resistance to abortion to humanitarian beliefs in general, but that is merely a lie perpetrated by the desperate:
The current secular consensus, however, is that all stages of human life do not merit equal protection. As mentioned above, it’s an uncontroversially easy choice to allow a woman to live, not her fetus, when that choice is forced by a dangerous pregnancy.
Which also addresses why abortion is not murder; because not all stages of life are protectable or even demonstrably human in any way beyond basic genetic makeup. Human life is governed by several necessary components; volitional will, conscious mind, corporeal existence, breath and heartbeat. Abortion stopping a beating heart is only an observation that the autonomic functions of the brain stem have been established and then terminated. The fetal brain itself is still not functioning in any meaningful way until well into the third trimester, and even then the brain if it even exists is in a sleep state until after birth, see the Scientific American article I quote above.
In the first trimester (when the vast majority of abortions and chemical interventions take place) there isn’t even a beating heart yet. This doesn’t stop the punishment obsessed from inflicting the requirement for ultrasound examinations and various other forms of near-torture on the woman who is contemplating an abortion:
Halfway through my pregnancy, I learned that my baby was ill. Profoundly so. My doctor gave us the news kindly, but still, my husband and I weren’t prepared. Just a few minutes earlier, we’d been smiling giddily at fellow expectant parents as we waited for the doctor to see us. In a sonography room smelling faintly of lemongrass, I’d just had gel rubbed on my stomach, just seen blots on the screen become tiny hands. For a brief, exultant moment, we’d seen our son—a brother for our 2-year-old girl.
Yet now my doctor was looking grim and, with chair pulled close, was speaking of alarming things. “I’m worried about your baby’s head shape,” she said. “I want you to see a specialist—now.”
My husband looked angry, and maybe I did too, but it was astonishment more than anger. Ours was a profound disbelief that something so bad might happen to people who think themselves charmed. We already had one healthy child and had expected good fortune to give us two.Instead, before I’d even known I was pregnant, a molecular flaw had determined that our son’s brain, spine and legs wouldn’t develop correctly. If he were to make it to term—something our doctor couldn’t guarantee—he’d need a lifetime of medical care. From the moment he was born, my doctor told us, our son would suffer greatly.
That is how you can get to the second trimester and not act to terminate a pregnancy. It isn’t laziness or inconvenience or even wanton disregard. It is that these things take time to determine. This poor woman’s story isn’t even rare or particularly hard to sympathize with. Nor was it over:
“I’m so sorry that I have to do this,” the doctor told us, “but if I don’t, I can lose my license.” Before he could even start to describe our baby, I began to sob until I could barely breathe. Somewhere, a nurse cranked up the volume on a radio, allowing the inane pronouncements of a DJ to dull the doctor’s voice. Still, despite the noise, I heard him. His unwelcome words echoed off sterile walls while I, trapped on a bed, my feet in stirrups, twisted away from his voice.
“Here I see a well-developed diaphragm and here I see four healthy chambers of the heart…”
I closed my eyes and waited for it to end, as one waits for the car to stop rolling at the end of a terrible accident.
When the description was finally over, the doctor held up a script and said he was legally obliged to read me information provided by the state. It was about the health dangers of having an abortion, the risks of infection or hemorrhage, the potential for infertility and my increased chance of getting breast cancer. I was reminded that medical benefits may be available for my maternity care and that the baby’s father was liable to provide support, whether he’d agreed to pay for the abortion or not.
Most second and third trimester abortions fall into this category. In fact, only 5% of third trimester abortions occur because of delay, even delay with a valid reason. 95% of third trimester abortions occur because of a defect in the fetus that would be life-threatening, a defect that couldn’t be diagnosed until this late stage of pregnancy. So the overwhelming majority of women seeking abortion in the third trimester are needlessly subjected to shaming measures in the misbegotten hope that they will carry to term and deliver a child which will die shortly after birth if the mother herself does not also die in the process. The best outcome for these pregnancies if they were not aborted is that the child produced will grow up into an adult who will always be a burden on society.
This makes third trimester abortion resistance nothing more than a smoke-screen, and a harmful one at that. The laws which the well-meaning have gotten passed have only served to torment women who want to have healthy children, but have been unlucky enough to have a pregnancy that tests positive for birth defects. Most of them desperately wanted to have their children but have finally accepted the inevitable. They are then subjected to torment by protesters outside the clinics they don’t even want to go to, and then tormented by law by healthcare practitioners who are chained to requirements over which they have not control.
When I said reality is harsh, it is brutish, and it isn’t fair I wasn’t joking. And I wasn’t even talking about abortion then. I was talking about the ease with which it is to find oneself pregnant. The notion that all children are wanted, or that all women see their pregnancies as a blessing (or even a potential life) is soft-headed bullshit, just to be blunt. Ask any poor child starving anywhere in the world (even in the US) if they felt their existence was valued, that life was worth living, and you are likely to be shocked by the answer.
…And that is today, when abortion is legal and generally available. If you travel to Southern Asia or Africa or South America to regions where women are still treated as property, you will run into the kinds of offspring that used to be common everywhere around the world. Children that women were forced to have because no alternatives were available to them. Unwanted children who turn into criminal-minded adults that are a plague on society as a whole.
The effect of legalized abortion on crime (sometimes referred to as the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis) is the theory that legal abortion reduces crime. Proponents of the theory generally argue that since unwanted children are more likely to become criminals and that an inverse correlation is observed between the availability of abortion and subsequent crime. Not only that, but children born under these conditions are usually less fortunate as enough preparation was not put in place for their birth and upbringing. In particular, it is argued that the legalization of abortion in the United States, largely due to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, has reduced crime in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Opponents generally reject these statistics, and argue that abortion has negative effects on society or decrease in crime is brought about in other ways.
If you don’t believe this, read the book. I have read the book, and several books after that. I have researched the counters and the later revelations on the influence of lead in gasoline on violence in society. Nothing seen so far disproves the hypothesis that abortion had a noticeable effect in lowering crime rates in the US; and it bears thinking that perhaps freeing women from chattel states throughout the parts of the world where they are still deemed property, and providing them with access to modern healthcare including abortion and contraception might lead to more stable societies in those areas.
This is true because reality isn’t fair. Reality makes sex irresistible to the people among us (the young) who are least able to provide for the offspring sex produces. The cost of raising a child is astronomical (projected as over $245,000 in 2015) where would the average 16 to 18 year old find that kind of money? Are we, as a society going to foot that bill? Anyone? Are you ready to ante up the cost of raising all the unwanted children all over the world as a means of stemming the plague of abortion? Where will we house the extra millions who need to be housed, feed them, clothe them, etcetera, when the world population already tops 7 billion and the maximum projected supportable population (with current technology) is 10 billion?
No, I really want to know! You want to stop abortion, but you don’t want to pay for the consequences of removing that option from the table. Tell me how we stop people from having children they can’t raise without allowing them to decide if they can afford children or not. Because any plan that doesn’t include those calculations is just magical thinking, and this is the real world.
So, don’t speak to me about abortion, about the sacredness of human LIFE, when you don’t give a damn about the future of the planet, when you prize the warrior over the peacemaker and the teacher, when you’d build walls to keep out human life and pull the ladder up after yourself, when you don’t think all human life deserves liberty, justice, access to healthcare, clean water, adequate food, a decent place to live, education, safety, and the right to define themselves as they will.
The contents of this article have been rearranged and the article itself has been retitled since I initially wrote it. Unfortunately this is one of the few articles that was never captured by the Wayback Machine when the blog was live on Blogspot, so I have no reference record to illustrate the changes. I know that I took the original final section of the article, the part where I break down my understanding of the kneejerk fetuses are alive reaction, and moved it to the beginning because I realized within a week of writing the article that no lifer was going to read through all the heavy-handed stuff I originally started the article with unless I captured them in the first few paragraphs with something sympathetic. That change was relatively easy to make.
However, I have never been happy with the way my thoughts on this subject organized themselves, much like I’ve never been able to express the complexity of the feelings I have when it comes to the subject of firearms. This is evident in the numbers of re-edits that this text has gone through since I wrote it. The argument itself has remained essentially the same, I have simply rephrased a lot of the text that creates it to reflect the further honing of the thoughts around the central argument.
Major portions of this article were lifted directly from content that went into the Abortion thread on the DCBBS. Some of the re-edits are a result of looking at the compiled content through fresh eyes and noticing its effect or lack of effect on others. I framed the unspoken central point of all of my abortion arguments here:
An article that I have also since revised from its original version. Revision appears to be my lot in life.
Part 2 of a series of posts defining the Emergent Principles of Human Nature. This effort is an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I explain inalienable rights without including god. Like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.
The title of this piece was chosen consciously and deliberately. There are many philosophers who have written over the years of natural rights and inalienable rights. Inalienable rights as Emergent Principles of Human Nature was addressed in the first piece, and will be addressed in a series of pieces that follow this one.
This piece (hopes to) explain the difference between natural rights and human rights.
I hemmed and hawed about writing this section at all. I almost went back and re-edited the first section just to take the reference to this one out. Having written that section I was immediately faced with this problem; Emergent Principles of Human Nature are by definition natural. How can they not be the same thing?
The problem with natural rights as a concept is this; if rights are natural, a part of an individual, then that individual should be able to determine what those rights are. Unfortunately, human nature conspires to prevent this, making the common notion of natural rights almost unfathomable from the outset. The limitations we face are a part of us and are consequently almost invisible to the individual. They are obvious when pointed out, but even then most people will deny that they are limited by them, never mind that there is no escaping these limitations while remaining human.
The first of these constraints is confirmation bias. If an individual believes something, that individual is going to work to confirm those beliefs, no matter what mountains of evidence to the contrary have to be climbed. If you believe you have a right to a firearm, you’re going to find every reason you can lay your hands on to justify having that weapon. No amount of basic logic to the contrary; say, the simple observation of how will you get it if no one can make it? will dissuade you from that belief.
If you are one of those people you are crafting counters right now, if you were even able to finish reading that sentence. However, the parameters of the argument are contained in that simple sentence. There really isn’t an argument beyond I’ll make it myself, which leads to the next constraint.
This is the fact that limitations in areas of understanding renders an individual blind to their own limitations. Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, I wondered for years why someone I knew was incompetent in a particular area couldn’t understand why they really shouldn’t be doing whatever it was they were incompetent at.
I myself vaguely discern an echoing gulf of misunderstanding around me when I attempt to communicate with the average mundane (normal person) I simply cannot communicate in any form other than the written word, apparently. The connections aren’t there in the brain, I can’t read faces, I have no idea what anyone is feeling at any given moment. I have to blunder along hoping that person I’m talking too is willing to be as dead honest with me as I am forced to be with them.
The one makes essential the licensing practices we’ve come to establish over the last hundred years; and the other convinces us that we don’t need anyone to tell us what we can or can’t do. Even though, to an external observer, it’s obvious that you (me, everybody) really do need supervision.
It is these limitations that render impotent the common sense notion of natural rights. It is these limitations that render the individual incapable of determining for themselves what their own aptitudes are. That necessitate the requirement for testing and licensing, so that others can know without having to become experts in all fields themselves (a technical impossibility) what proficiencies someone else is trained in.
These two related constraints are hardly an exhaustive list of the limitations we flawed humans face. The briefest investigation into the subject of priming should give you pause; especially when you understand that simply mentioning firearms earlier in the article, just their reading of that word, means that a significant portion of readers have formed opinions about my goals with this manuscript. Goals that I frankly haven’t even worked out for myself.
Then we could discuss motivated numeracy and how that leads individuals to question science itself when it produces results they don’t like. I expect that this list of an individuals potential failings will move steadily towards infinite length, the more we understand the limitations of the human animal.
Our knowledge of ourselves is flawed by our very nature; making self-doubt not just a necessity, but a virtue. Every time that our certainties are challenged we should be willing to step back and question our most cherished beliefs. Capable of not only defending them, but of logically justifying them to the harshest critic. It is this ability, this willingness to admit the possibility of fault, that embraces our humanity.
This was the need that motivated me to finally admit that the subject of natural rights had to be addressed. The need to point out that our nature allows for a definition of human rights, while at the same time in no way authorizes individual demands. Yes, Emergent Principles of Human Nature are natural. But that does not mean that individuals are born with a right to a firearm. With the right to demand actions, services and material goods of unrelated others.
We are born with an ability to make our own way, to build upon the works of those who came before us and improve on that foundation; but we are beholden to those who contributed to establishing that foundation. We are indebted to those whose blood, sweat and tears are mixed into the knowledge that is preserved for us to utilize. Every single individual who ever existed before you had to exist in order for you to be here, now, in this place and time with the knowledge you have at your disposal. If you can grasp it, that is a daunting perspective to behold. The thousands of generations of creatures who had to exist just so that you could be here, now.
Every person longs to be part of something greater than themselves; it is through this longing that so many paths are forged. A wise man once said “No man is an island” and this is demonstrably true. Those who perceive themselves as islands simply fail to grasp the necessity of all the people who came before him who supported him, educated him and elevated him until his head broke the surface to appear as an island.
All of those people who preceded that individual human being, who contributed to the vast database of knowledge made available to him, had to exist in order for that individual to exist. If this was not so then all of us could claim perfect understanding of the universe at birth, which is demonstrably untrue.
This is the nature of the flaw in individualist philosophies. Objectivism, Libertarianism, Anarchism. All of them carry the same flaw. Rothbard, Rand and all their ideas are flawed from the precept stage of development. They assume that there is just one natural law governing man, and that that law makes itself apparent to all men. This is also demonstrably not the case. The vast majority of the world’s population simply don’t understand the notion of taxes as theft, or that socializing the healthcare system (or the school system, or whatever) interferes with the contract rights of every man, and consequently determines the paths of those caught within the system.
And yet Rothbard, Rand and those who follow their reasoning simply gloss these facts over, and continue asserting that what they see as the ultimate truth is the only apparent truth.
When I think of natural law, I see several possibilities for defining codes within the parameters of nature. The parasites’ code. The predators’ ethic. These are, of course, not correct codes, as people raised with a mid-western work ethic would conceive of them. And yet, like the misguided people who took the phrase right-to-life and perverted it into a belief system that takes away a woman’s right to her own life; so too the phrase natural rights or natural law lends itself to many different interpretations.
Interpretations that become equally as valid as Rothbard’s real intent when he crafted the ideas behind Anarcho-capitalism, or Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, because there is no central authority to determine what is or isn’t right in the natural sense beyond might makes right. Because all of us are incapable of objective certainty at any particular point in time, try as we might to maintain a sense of objectivity. It simply can’t be done and remain human at the same time.
Our nature defines the principles that we live under, but by that same nature no one individual can say with certainty exactly what rights he should be permitted to exercise.