This is an affliction that most people in the world suffer under. Anyone who says the phrase my money as if money is personal property. Anyone who thinks that working is how you earn money. Anyone who thinks that money has value beyond what it can buy at the moment you need to purchase something. Those people all live under the delusion of money. Anarcho-capitalists, libertarians and fiscal conservatives all suffer under this delusion. Their ideals of what money is precludes them from ever understanding what will solve the recurring economic crises we’ve suffered throughout history. Until we understand what money is, we cannot hope to fix the problem of the boom/bust cycle.
When I take the time to listen to conservatives and libertarians these days, to read their arguments, I’ve started posing this counter question. What is Libertarian Socialism? They generally short circuit like a drone android calling for Norman. You know, Libertarian Socialism, the political movement that dismisses notions of taxes as anything other than the monetary recapturing tool that taxes are, sees Guaranteed Minimum Income as a necessary function of living in large groups? If my antagonist of the moment can manage a reply, then it is generally a denial that Libertarian Socialism is a real thing. But Libertarian Socialism is real, and it is just one more movement afoot to bring economic freedom to the problem of worldwide poverty. A real solution to a real problem, not hidebound ideology and wishful thinking.
The process of discovering what money is and what its functions in human society are has lifted a veil from my eyes. The punishment of poverty that is meted out most vengefully by the middle class, egged on by the wealthy who know just how much of a delusion the middle class labors under, is unwarranted. People are not poor because of some failing of theirs. People are poor because the system forces them into poverty.
I have struggled with how to present the ideas that seem so clear to me, present them in a way that will be understood by others. Understood by others who have not dropped their preconceived notions about money. How to have the ideas understood by them, and not simply have the argument rejected out of hand.
Year after year, when I was a libertarian, I promoted the World’s Smallest Political Quiz (WSPQ) as the way to illustrate, concretely, just how libertarians were different from liberals or conservatives. I wish I had spent that time studying economics rather than promoting fringe ideology now. The WSPQ is a variation on the Nolan chart, a political spectrum diagram created by American libertarian activist David Nolan. The WSPQ slims down the questions asked by Nolan to ten yes/maybe/no questions, and then places people in their political quadrants based on their answers. I never understood the pushback offered by people who suggested that financial freedom wasn’t what the diagram described while I was out stumping for it. Now I can see the problem more clearly.
The Nolan chart and all it’s minor variations don’t deal with the reality of economics; and consequently, these attempts to measure political beliefs do not measure economic freedom as they claim to do. This fact makes all libertarian ideas that deal with economics flawed at the precept level, shattering the entire structure of libertarian philosophy. The flaw shatters not just libertarianism, but any philosophy that includes the ideals of money as an individual possession. You cannot define libertarianism as different than the same flawed left/right and/or liberal/conservative political lines without a measuring stick that is separate from social freedom, and economic freedom enables social freedom more than any other kind of freedom one can imagine. The two go hand in hand (Four Freedoms) Understanding what money is, conceptually, is the first step to understanding how the systems we live in can be improved.
Money is not a thing; or rather, money isn’t just one thing. Money is not a possession, although physical representations of money can be possessed. Money is not a commodity even though it is currently traded like a commodity. If I had the last glass of water, you could have all the money in the world and you couldn’t buy that last glass of water from me. That is the difference between a commodity and a currency. Money isn’t even a set value as my previous writing on the subject of money skims over. So what is money?
I’ve been bashing my head against this wall and several others for the last decade and more. It’s part of the overall arc of EPHN, my languishing work on Emergent Principles of Human Nature. The work languishes because I lack the depth of knowledge to deal with the questions posed by writing the work, not by my ability to express the ideas contained within it. The accumulation of information takes time, and so the work languishes, in a general sense. At the same time, my understanding grows about certain subjects that interest me, and one of those subjects is the delusion of money.
Money = Lubricant
Any mechanical part that moves in relation to another part of a mechanical construct, like a motor or an engine, has to be protected from the friction present when any two parts come in contact. This protection can take several forms, and even several forms at the same time. Motor oil. Hydraulic fluid. Ball bearings. Grease. Money is like these things in many ways. It reduces the friction between one side of the economy, supply, and the other side of the economy, consumption.
If you provide sufficient funds to each household to allow them to meet needs you will see how much of each product needs to be produced based on the value assigned to the product by the consumer. Thusly, money eases the acquisition of goods and services for the people who need them. Without money we are forced to barter one good for anther one, and that system has never functioned in a way that the average human found acceptable, which is why we invented money in the first place.
Then you, the money issuing authority, sit back and wait. You wait to see where the money goes. When you notice that money is pooling in areas and not being spent, you tax those pools that don’t enhance the economy, the economic backwaters that don’t serve the purpose of lubricating the system generally. You tax them because money hoarding is a corruption of the intent of the system. Money is for spending not for hoarding. Property is what you keep. If you want to hang on to wealth, invest it.
Money is a third-party contract that is carried along with every other financial contract that is agreed to. Money is the underlying agreement between the people who are giving over goods or services and the people receiving said goods or services, that the compensation will be in X currency at a particular value. Anyone who has read a financial contract should recognize this language. The value of money, that money will have value at all, is an agreement between every working and consuming person on the face of the planet. When that agreement breaks down, commerce breaks down. Goods rot in warehouses. Families starve.
Ten autumns ago came two watershed moments in the history of money. In September 2008, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers triggered a financial meltdown from which the world has yet to fully recover. The following month, someone using the name Satoshi Nakamoto introduced BitCoin, the first cryptocurrency. Before our eyes, the very architecture of money was evolving — potentially changing the world in the process. In this hour, On the Media looks at the story of money, from its uncertain origins to its digital reinvention in the form of cryptocurrency.
Money is a collective belief in the value of a thing, a story we tell ourselves about buying what we buy and what we buy it with. Bitcoin is the essence of this narrative. It only has value because calculating entries in the blockchain is currently rewarded with bitcoin, funding all of the Bitcoin mining centers all across the world. What happens when the last Bitcoin is minted? Where will the value in maintaining the blockchain ledgers come from then? No one who invests in Bitcoin wants to know what the answer to that question is. In the meantime the story of the value of Bitcoin continues. But any currency is only as valuable as the people who trade in it think it is. If you can’t buy anything with the currency, the value of the currency is zero.
How can you make money to spend if there is no debt to create money from? This was the problem that faced the world after the crash of 1929. There was insufficient money in circulation. No one had money, and the reasons for this defied explanation according to the rules of the time. Europe needed gold to create money. Europe did what the gold standard required of them and raised taxes on their poor citizenry to the brink of starvation in an attempt to create gold reserves, creating backing for government spending that they needed in order to dig out of the holes that World War One left them in. The hordes of gold that the US held in reserve profited the American people not one bit, even though the rules of the gold standard dictated that America should be swimming in cash. Why was there no cash? Because the rules of the gold standard did not accurately describe how economics works. (Lords of Finance) FDR had to create new, insane rules, by the standards of economists of the time, to justify creating money that did not already exist, so that he could hand it out to people who wanted to work but could not find work.
Making sure that everyone has money to spend simply shortcuts the requirement that incomes will start at zero. Work is not required to generate debt, to create money. Work is how you pay off debt, and government generates money to make these transactions possible. But money is more than that, too. It is more than a lubricant that makes nearly frictionless exchange of goods possible. More than a contractual obligation that we all agree to every day when we buy or sell anything. More than a story we tell ourselves and more than a debt obligation that we must dig out from under.
The disconnect over the subject of money really isn’t the fault of libertarians, they are nothing more than my target of opportunity because of their culpability in promoting the ideas that have come to dominate most thinking about money and economics in the US these days. Classical economics itself deals with the individual rational actor the homo economicus as he is occasionally referred to. Economics was set up at the outset to create the delusion of the supreme individual modifying the market with his rational demands. This has proven not to be the case, but most economists who come from the Chicago school are still caught up in the delusion. Capitalism, as classically taught, was at war with a socialism that eschewed profit. The Marxist utopia of communism. Like most utopias, Marxist communism is a dystopia that we would be better off not pursuing. However, in a general ideological sense, capitalism and socialism aren’t even in conflict. Authoritarianism and democracy are in conflict, and authoritarianism is in ascendency.
Authoritarianism has been in ascendancy since Vladimir Putin started trying to dismantle the democratic West, and China decided to help him. When there is one party, and you control that party, knowing who your enemies are makes controlling that government child’s play. Consequently these rising authoritarian regimes (including the United States under Trump) have a lot of political prisoners. Removing them into the slavery of the prison system is the best way to clear your path. This is one of those facts that should have been obvious to us in the US for a very long time. We’ve been growing the prison population since Nixon was in office, and we now have the largest prison population per capita. Most of those people are there because of crimes that were invented in order to criminalize Nixon’s political opposition, and it has proven prudent for each president since Nixon to leave those people there.
Capitalism and socialism are not in opposition. Capitalism and socialism can be present in the same mixed system because they deal with different parts of human interaction. Profit is not evil. Profit, when properly managed, is the reward for the entrepreneurial spirit. Profit, when held as an inviolable sacrement, leads to worship of the wealthy, what Objectivism has turned into over the last half-century. The Trump administration is laboring under this delusion of money. This holy profit-taking. Trump has started beating the drum of red baiting. He is promoting the same old schtick that Nixon and McCarthy did so well with two generations ago. I’ve said this from the moment that he announced his candidacy and he’s proven it daily since the broken system we live in delivered him into office. Trump believes in the zero-sum game and is right now rigging it to favor the wealthy who currently own our country.
Subscribing to the delusion of money as Trump and the average American thinks of it today is to go back in time to the days of the robber barons, when monopolies ran roughshod over Americans and the the world at large, when the simple fact that you had money meant that you had the right to rule. We don’t want to go back to those days. This is why Make America Great Again is the chant of mouth-breathing idiots. The America that they think was greater than it currently is was an America where they would have died young of a preventable disease, probably at the hands of someone like Don Jr.
To paraphrase what I said to Trump Jr: Never too earlier to teach her about conservative capitalism either.
Put her in an orphanage that sells her out to work in a coal mine. Kid that size can get into spaces an adult can’t, business can find all sorts of uses for them. You don’t have to pay them. They don’t need safety equipment. You hardly have to feed them. And if they die, fuck it, you can always get more.
Meanwhile, the Robber Baron she works for gets 99% of all the candy in the world and she and all the other kids get to split 1%.
Oh, and while you’re teaching lessons, Junior, make sure she knows her lady parts belong to you.
If you combine the dollar being the world currency with the results of moving off of the gold standard as detailed in Lords of Finance you can create a money background for yourself to muse about the current perilous status of the dollar against. Or you can be like the libertarian that I was trying to enlighten today who called out for Norman before locking up in the illogic of money being a social construct. Pick one.
If you need further examples of just how confused the problem of money is, here is another one. TED Radio Hour, The Money Paradox. I did get one response from a libertarian after writing this piece. He informed me that I wouldn’t be taken seriously on the subject of money unless I looked like a rich man. People who are wealthy don’t bother with trying to look wealthy. They don’t need to convince anyone of their wealth because they are reassured that they have wealth in simply living their lives.
Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.
This article was posted when it was because of a conversation that was evolving on a Facebook group I’m part of. A conversation between people convinced that their personal beliefs are somehow manifested in a show they love, Star Trek in this instance, and then argue that their political beliefs somehow are justified in the show. Star Trek represents a post-scarcity economy, as several people went to great pains to explain during that evolving conversation. As expected, the notion that there could be a society where everyone gets enough to eat and has a place to sleep that protects them at night from predation, that notion is conceptually beyond the thought processes of your average Stormtrumper. This fact doesn’t change what the show’s creator set out to do.
That isn’t what happened. What the meme image says? That isn’t what happened. Oh, I know the media casts things a particular way. They say cheated when what they can prove is conscious manipulation of existing rules to favor the Democrat within the Democratic party.
You can’t rely on Wikileaks to deliver unbiased, unvarnished truth any more than you can rely on an author flogging her latest book to be completely forthright when it comes to her own complicity in seeing the biggest fundraiser for the Democratic party received the nomination of the Democratic party. This is why the accusation of cheating doesn’t stick. It doesn’t stick because the private entity that is the Democratic party isn’t beholden to advance candidates that are popular with people who aren’t Democrats. Democratic money, Democratic supporters, Democratic choice. This is party politics 101.
I’ve been working on a post for ages that I had titled Why Libertarians Lose. I can’t make the damned article gel out into a set of arguments and ideas that looked like a consistent narrative. An article that didn’t read as petty and vindictive. I can sum up the long, long argument that I’ve made over the years with a single sentence. There is no reason why libertarians lose aside from the fact that they insanely know the reasons they lose, and then they repeat the behavior that made them lose each and every election previously. The reason the article reads as petty and vindictive can also be summed up with a single sentence. Every other independent and every other third party in existence fails in the exact same way.
They all, independently and in all their third party forms, fall into the same trap. What trap, you ask? The trap of not understanding what politics is. Politics, by definition, discounts individual actors. Your beliefs, your feelings, your desires, are irrelevant to political machinations. This is true of every group effort everywhere. Politics is group effort. Working as a group. Achieving a goal, as a group. How do you achieve goals as a group? Compromise. Compromise is the name of the game and those unwilling to compromise are what makes governing impossible without resorting to the use of force.
Force is the jaw of the trap swinging shut. Force will be brought to bear if compromise remains an impossibility. This is a truism, a fact of human existence that anarchists and individualists everywhere need to understand. Unwillingness to compromise on ideological grounds requires force as a response in order to achieve any given goal. You may be right to say you own all the water in a particular area. You may be able to prove this in court. It will not make you any less dead when the people around you who are dying for want of your water kill you for it.
In this system if you don’t vote blue you had best be prepared to be ruled by red. Because that’s where we are headed in the long run. The ground has been staked out. The forces have been drawn up. Democracy on the one side, and authoritarianism on the other side. The Democrats, through sheer force of will on the part of the populace, have been wrenched into the position of supporting democracy. The Republicans represent the feudalist forces of corporate dominance and central authoritarian rule, as I outlined in Authoritarianism vs Humanism.
The Berners or Bernie Bros as they were labeled by some of the press are still intent on Berning it all down. That is an article I wrote during the election, detailing why these accusations of cheating leveled at Clinton and the DNC are fake. The accusation is simply more of the type of authoritarian bullshit that we’re getting now from the Tea Party neh Republicans. One guy can’t fix the United States by himself, and Bernie Sanders and his candidates still aren’t winning Democratic races. They aren’t winning because Democrats aren’t voting for them, and you can’t make people vote the way you want.
You have to alter the underlying system of primaries and party structure, and that means joining one of the two parties encoded into the system. I spent more than a decade in third party hinterlands. That pursuit is a fool’s errand. Good luck with that.
Pay attention to the graphic, the one where Austin is split into 5 different districts. How do you fix that? You fix it by participating in the democratic process and then voting for Democrats because Republicans currently run the state of Texas at all levels above county court. It will either be Democrats or Republicans that run the Texas state government because that is how the system in Texas is set up. It is even worse in several other states. Voting third party is no better than not voting at all; possibly worse than not voting. At least the people who aren’t voting aren’t completely wasting their time.
The Democratic party didn’t cheat Bernie out of the nomination because the Democratic party sets its own standards for who can lead it, and Bernie Sanders did not meet those standards. The Democrats set standards in much the same way that Republicans failed to set standards and so got a demagogue elected to the White House. This is the exact failure of faction that Madison opined about. The failure of faction playing out in front of our faces But that doesn’t alter the system that has to be maintained through the parties in the meantime. Someone has to and will do that work. I would prefer to actively participate in the reordering of American society rather than light the match that burns it all to the ground. That is the difference between me and the people supporting Bernie Sanders. The people supporting Donald Trump. I like the dream that the founders envisioned and tried to capture. Failed to capture. Always we strive to be a more perfect union, and we fail frequently. But we pick ourselves back up and try again. That is what being an American is all about.
Saying that the Democrats cannot win Texas, cannot do the job in front of them nationally, is to engage in the waste of time known as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Vote blue or be ruled by red. Stop serving the factions (including Greens and Libertarians) start serving the long-term good of the country. Vote Democrats like Joe Manchin out of office. Do it at the primary level. His vote for Kavanaugh proves what he is as a person. He’s willing to bend a knee before unearned authority. We don’t need his kind anywhere but behind bars.
The Bernie Bros lost because they (Bernie Sanders and his supporters) did not want to play the game the way the Democrats played it. The way The Clintons have played it since ascending to power in 1992. They played the system they knew, and they won. The Clintons won only to lose to Hillary’s high negative numbers, the highest negatives for any presidential candidate in history except for one. Donald Trump, the most hated president ever to be elected to office. Hated before he had done a single thing in office.
Trump played the Republican game exactly the way the Republicans set it up, and won. He’s president, in spite of the fact that the Clintons got three million more votes, and in spite of the fact that his negative numbers were higher than her negative numbers. This little set of facts proves out the game theory hypothesis concerning the worst candidates winning in straight plurality voting, but it proves absolutely nothing about law, or fairness, or cheating.
Cheating is getting the FBI to question your morality a week before the election. Cheating is getting in bed with foreign dictators (the same foreign dictators that Wikileaks is in bed with) and using their assets to hack your opponents campaign. Cheating is what Trump will finally be brought to trial for, if only the House flips and the Senate changes hands sufficiently that the writing will be on the wall for the surviving portions of GOP power. If congress flips and the Democrats follow through on promises made (and why wouldn’t they? They will after all have to answer to voters just as the Republicans do) there will be proof of cheating in the form of criminal convictions. There are already criminal convictions and Mueller is just getting warmed up.
I have news for anyone deluded enough to think that third parties can win elections. The Greens will lose in 2018 (they did) and 2020. Do you know why the Greens will lose? Why the Libertarian Party will lose? Why all third parties will lose? Because the system is set up to make sure they lose. You can call that cheating, just like the articles cited by Bernie Bros talk about cheating in the legal sense, all the while lacking actual laws to bring charges against perpetrators. The system works a particular way because it is set up that way. Making memes and spreading apathy and discontent will not win you elections. It will simply ensure that the GOP holds power just long enough to destroy what is left of the United States.
In the meantime Sanders, who is a consummate politician, has altered the Democratic party so that what happened in 2016 won’t happen again. He changed the rules of the game to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He changed the system from within, which is what you have to do if you want to make effective change.
You cannot, repeat cannot, change the system from outside the system, and the system is only set up to allow Democrats and Republicans on the ballot in the majority of states. That means joining and changing either the Democrats (like Bernie Sanders has done) or the Republicans (like the Tea Partiers have done) but you cannot elect national representatives from any of the dozens of third parties and make effective change. Bernie Sanders proved this with his entire career in Washington.
So good for you, Bernie Bros. You can point to articles to bolster you and your followers apathy and resistance. I hope that cold comfort soothes you when the Democrats don’t reclaim the House and the Senate and Donald Trump and his hold on all three branches of government makes sure that the presidency never leaves the hands of his family. Kiss the ring of the new American kings and be thankful for the crusts of bread they leave you.
I was trying to think about the last time American history seemed to matter as much as it seems to right now. We’re minding our past in debates over monuments and standing or kneeling during our national anthem, aren’t we essentially asking ourselves over and over what it means to be an American? We’re testing our arguments, our old ones and new ones, we’re staking claims for ourselves and our families and whatever comes of this place we call home. Yeah, we can think of this as a fight I guess, or we can think of this as part of our natural destiny. We claim to be founded on ideas, well maybe this is how an enlightenment nation grows. How we settle the great divide will be the stuff our grandchildren will be reading about. And I suppose we do have this much in common; surely we want to make them proud.
I have no use for football. I realize that I’m committing a cardinal Texas sin by saying that, but it is the truth. I don’t play it, I don’t watch it, I don’t care about it at all. I don’t know who won the Superbowl last year. I have no idea who is doing well or poorly or has done well or poorly since I moved out of my dad’s house as a teenager and stopped having to endure football viewing in order to watch anything on TV with him. However, I do know a thing or two about football because of those years of enforced viewing with my father. I also know a thing or two about how to properly treat a flag because of him and his desire that I spend time in the Boy Scouts as child.
The attending audiences in these giant government-funded sports arenas are shocked. Shocked! I say. How dare these players protest the treatment of black people by racially biased police departments? How dare they protest in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick who was excluded from playing in the 2017 season after he started staging political protests during the national anthem in the 2016 season? These players are disrespecting the flag! They can’t be allowed to protest like this! the outraged fans insist. Except it isn’t about flags or soldiers or any of the other things the fans, lead by their stormtrumper-in-chief, object to.
In the week since I wrote the original post about Colin Kaepernick on Facebook I’ve received literally tens of thousands of responses. The overwhelming majority are positive, notes of encouragement and understanding, enthusiastic and even reluctant agreement. It makes me proud to note many of those responses came from veterans, from cops, and from Americans who put their asses on line for their fellows every day without expectation of reward or thanks. They may not agree with Kaepernick, but they stand with him nonetheless as true Americans do. A number came from non-Americans, those on foreign shores who look to America with equal parts fear and fascination and wonder at that shining city on the hill and it makes me proud that they can still admire this nation for what it is supposed to represent.
But in that same week I’ve daily posted a roster of those who don’t get it. Those who wrote me, many who claim to be veterans, who called me traitor and called Kaepernick nigger and who have daily sent me death threats and seething hate simply because I spoke of honor and duty and respect. It is these people, these haters, these dimwitted goons, who prove with their own words the validity and necessity of Kaepernick’s protest and why I stand with him.
These protesters, these professional football players, aren’t disrespecting the flag. They are disrespecting the outrage of the fans who demand that their sport be free of politics. Free of politics that the votes of the fans have brought directly into conflict with the players on the field. The people who are booing? They are fans of Donald Trump as well as football, and I say this because only people dumb enough to believe that a con artist like Trump wouldn’t line his own pockets at their expense would believe that you can isolate a sport and keep it from reflecting the world around it.
So let’s talk about respecting the flag and the nation, since I don’t care about football and really wouldn’t be writing this post if it was really all about football or the fans of football. Here is an example image of the kinds of daily disrespect an American flag is subjected to in this day and age. Study the image carefully. You see the flag, right? The flag bunched up around the ring of the field in the foreground, an American flag laying right on the dirt of the field. Do you see it now?
The US flag is not to touch the ground. US flags should not be bunched up or crumpled. How do I know this? It’s right there in the flag code. I hear a question from the audience. What was the question? there’s a flag code? Yes. Yes there is a flag code, as the most rudimentary search of the internet should reveal. Here is a link to the text on wikipedia. This should be common knowledge for anyone interested in seeing the flag of your nation treated with respect. Follow the code and you are respecting the flag, don’t follow the code and you run the risk of making a mockery of the flag.
Most national flags and battle flags are not to be allowed to lay on the ground. It is one of the highest forms of disrespect to treat a flag the way this flag is being treated, whether this is common practice or not at your average sports event. I don’t think this fact, spelled out in the flag code, can be said loudly enough to not be ignored by the politically blind in today’s United States. They know what they want to believe, emotionally. Your words will not carry meaning for them unless those words agree with the things they already believe. But the president of the United States is lying to the people who are booing from the stands at these sports events, and he’s doing it because it makes him look better agreeing with their outrage at being disrespected.
How many people know that the US flag was never worn as clothing until the 60’s? When Abbie Hoffman wore it in protest and was arrested and tried for doing so? I’d wager that not many of the MAGA do. The way we treat the flag these days in almost all venues is disrespectful. It should not be allowed to fly in the rain. It should not be left hanging on the flagpole after dark unless spotlit. It should not be allowed to touch the ground, with various theories as to what you should do with the flag after it has been allowed to touch the ground (the wiki article addresses this urban legend) the answer being, get it off the ground when you see it touching the ground. That flag on the ground is being disrespected by every fan in the stadium because they do not rush out onto the field and see that it is lifted from the ground immediately.
So those guys taking a knee in protest? That is the least of the flag code offenses currently occurring in football stadiums, and the players’ failure to assume the accepted position of obeisance before the attending audience should be understood as a protest against those self-same people. Maybe these audiences should worry about some of the other violations of the flag code first. The violations of law and common decency running rampant amongst the #MAGA, the Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans who are the ones destroying the fabric of American society. Destroying it by calling for an end to political speech by professional football players. It might fix the players need to protest in the process.
A few days after I had written this, On The Media riffed on the same subject. This is the benefit of just sitting down and banging out some text when you have something to say. When I hit publish, the work is done. A podcast has to write and edit, then interview, then re-edit and narrate connective segments, then do a final review and edit before publishing. Once a week for a podcast is an almost breakneck pace, when you understand how much work goes into one.
On The Media understands that the outrage is not really about flags or football either. It’s really about controlling speech, limiting the speech of unpopular speakers. They also have more resources so they can dig deep on subjects that deserve to be revealed to the light of day.
That’s right. The Star-Spangled Banner was based on earlier works. It was part of a valued tradition of protest and counter-protests set to song. On The Media also touches on the important story that isn’t being discussed while Donald Trump rants on about football players and tearing up the first amendment.
Trump did go to Puerto Rico several days after I wrote the original article. I guess the island finally had an air conditioned room they could put him up in for his required stay there. This allowed him to be seen being presidential at the site of the hurricane’s destruction. I’m betting the people of Puerto Rico would have preferred he stayed in Washington D.C. and actually got to work doing the job he was elected to do. Instead he did his usual insane media op, in this case tossing rolls of paper towels into the crowd that showed up waiting to hear what their president was planning on doing for them. Tossing towels into the crowd as if the people there were at a sports event and were there by choice; not because they were homeless, hungry, thirsty and desperate. They went away without reassurances. So much for being presidential.
There are three other segments in the episode of On The Media (Insult to Injury) in addition to the three that I embedded directly in this post. On The Media is one of the few podcasts that I am sure to listen to when it shows up in my podcast queue. It is one of the few that I take extra time to listen to closely. Brooke’s editing is a masterwork. She wastes no time on filler. Facts and more facts are ladled on in rapid succession. Pay attention because there will be a test later.
In the For What It’s Worth department I have the evidence that the idea to take a knee came from a US veteran who saw Colin Kaepernick sitting during his first protest. The video below is an excellent little montage that explains the reason why taking a knee is not disrespecting the flag as much as calling for an end to protests is.
With this addendum I moved the post up to August 26, 2018. This is something I don’t feel the need to do very often, but then these aren’t normal times. Who would have thought that we’d still be arguing about this bullshit three football seasons later? We are though, and that means it’s still news. What makes it news is that the fans still can’t get it through their heads that they cannot command respect from the players no matter how many times they scream about it. No matter how many times they grill candidates for public office about curtailing the rights of people to protest at public events.
If the players cannot protest, even when those players are protesting respectfully and peacefully, then none of us are allowed to air our grievances in public. Like Beto O’Rourke I can think of few other things less American than telling people to stop protesting and to fall in line. The few times this attitude has been taken and enforced historically (and it has happened) the results were not what the authorities of that time expected or wanted. Those decisions have also been overturned in court. The people screaming about this behavior are also the people screaming about asylum seekers and funds spent on hurricane recovery. If we are too broke as a country to pay for caring for the harborless and homeless, we are certainly too broke to be imprisoning football players for unwanted speech and then having to defend those actions in court.
This Texan really hopes that the video goes viral. Beto O’Rourke is a shining example of intelligence in Texas. I’m hoping there are enough intelligent people in Texas to fix the problems Texas faces rather than continuing to allow the stupid to make more problems for Texas to deal with. I’ll see you all at the polls November 6th.
Nike’s latest ad campaign, Sept. 5, 2018, features Colin Kaepernick as a spokesman. In the distance you could hear the sound of a million conservative heads exploding in outrage.
In the immediate backlash against the campaign, announced on Monday, Nike shares fell nearly 4 percent at one point on Tuesday and closed down 3.2 percent.
Calls for a boycott fed social media buzz about the campaign. There were 2.7 million mentions of Nike over the previous 24 hours, the social media analysis firm Talkwalker said at midday, an increase of 135 percent over the previous week.
This article was originally written for the blogspot URL in September of 2017. I updated it several times as the dumpster fire continued to re-ignite every new football season until the coronavirus ended sports as we had known it previously. An out of control pandemic is what you get when you elect people to government that fundamentally believe that government doesn’t work. Congratulations, you broke the government. In October of 2020 I re-edited the article again for the new URL and I softened the language in the article so as to not drive off the people I wrote it for. You are welcome.
I grew up washing lures on Swanson reservoir. I know what the second definition for trolling means. Washing lures is what my dad jokingly called trolling. Trolling for fish. We spent hours and days on end idling up and down the reservoir never getting a bite. That was the usual method of trolling. As the old adage goes, if throwing a lure in the water always brought back a fish, they’d call it catching not fishing.
Sometimes we’d get into a school of fish, and then the trolling would go viral. We’d get 8, 10, sometimes thirty fish on those days. Those were the rare days. The reason for going fishing in the first place.
There are fish on the internet too, it’s just kind of hard to tell the difference between a fish (a mark as fraudsters and con artists label them) and another troll or even an anti-troll.
Trolls inhabit our daily lives, waiting under every figurative bridge along your route, waiting to jump out and try to ruin your day. Online trolls are the ones most people notice, but there are trolls offline as well. We don’t recognize them because we know them by name, not by their behavior.
Decades of trial and error on the internet, as well as at work and at play have proven to me that my default behavior is anti-troll. The barbed replies that I compose to posts in online forums and social platforms frequently happen without any planning on my part. Counter-trolling the unwanted and unwelcome, tormenting them with attacks that they will feel obliged to lash out at, speaks to internal issues of conformity and certitude that I wrestle with. And I do wrestle with them from online moment to online moment. There have been far more words that I’ve deleted from posts than I’ve ever posted in the decades since I started spending time on the internet.
Trolling is an obscure internet behavioral reference to just drop on the uninitiated. I figure if you got to this blog, you probably know your way around the internet. But still, most of us use words all day long that we don’t really have definitions for and can’t really define if pressed. I started this post with a definition for trolling, and I included both definitions for the behavior for a reason. Trolling is seen in one light by the troll, in the other light by those being trolled. Trolls think they are the good guys. They are certain they know the truth and they think they are convincing people by trolling. They are speaking to the silent masses reading with a knowing eye and not to the people they are arguing with. They are expecting their antagonists to admit that they are fakes and to walk away from the argument as changed people. If they think they are arguing with a person and take that person seriously.
It is an open question whether the troll conceives of their opponents as people. It is definitely an open question whether they take their opponent seriously. Most of them do not take their opponents seriously. Most of them think this is all a joke, and they are probably laughing for the entire time they troll. The fact that they just might be wrong on the ideas they are promoting never even crosses their minds. If the thought did cross their minds, they would never go where they go and say the crazy things they say.
So when a troll posts in a forum, any forum about anything at all, they are posting specifically to attract the unwary. Hoping against hope that someone will acknowledge their existence and gratify their longing to make a difference by taking the time to argue with them about whatever it is they posted. Cat videos in a dog forum. Dog memes in a cat forum. Rainbow colored memes in a conservative forum. Gun images in a liberal forum. Hentai memes in an Anime forum. Whatever it is, their fondest wish is that you click on their thing and reward them with your attention. Once they have a flame war going, they are like hogs in a wallow. They roll luxuriously through the mud being slung in every direction. Which is generally where people like me show up. Flame war going, hogs wallowing, attention being lavished on the undeserving. From the anti-trolling perspective.
When people like me see an inept attempt to troll a group that the troll doesn’t like, we can’t keep ourselves from trolling them right back. Our desire is to put out the flame war, to deny the troll the attention that they are looking for. We offend the easily offended so that they will leave the conversation. Piss off the trolls so that they abandon their own threads, or cross some preset line of conduct that will get them evicted from the forum or punished in some other fashion. If nothing else works, spamming a thread with nonsense will generally put out a flame war because no one can keep track of what was said last by whom, silencing both sides with avalanches of bullshit.
Why do I and others like me do this? If you are going to take pleasure in causing someone else pain, at least have the decency to be good at it. That is why.
I have tried many things to remedy this habit of mine. Proactive blocking. Spam reporting. Hate-speech reporting. Nothing seems to stem the unending tide of idiots who think they know how to score points on their enemy. There are just too many of you inept motherfuckers out there. I can’t escape you and your pathetic drivel, so I will do the only other thing available to me. I will write a primer on the subject so that I can hand it out to you when I regrettably run across one of you.
The first bit of business, like most subjects of discussion, isn’t what you think it is. You, dear reader, probably think that I’m going to illustrate how to compose a decent meme or perhaps lecture on shouting at people in ALL CAPS. This isn’t that kind of blog. There are other places you can go for that information. I am not your internet help desk. No, the first thing to understand is knowing when you are being trollish. Learn to recognize when you are causing pain to another person and to ask for forgiveness if offense is legitimately taken. The first order of business is to understand what it means to troll. If you don’t know what you are trying to do, you will not be successful in carrying out your mission.
Your initial post should be savvy enough to be taken seriously by the casual observer. Posting porn images to a photography group will reliably get you banned the first time you do it. So don’t do it from an account you might want to use again, if that’s your thing. On the other hand, social posting has to attract attention in order to be social. A dialog rather than a monologue. Why post at all if what you are doing is going to be ignored? Why talk to yourself online? You might as well log off and go masturbate if you are just playing with yourself; and frankly, most trolls would be better off masturbating more often anyway. It relieves the stress to perform well, take it from an old hand at this. If you are thinking about trolling, go masturbate first. It’s better for everyone if you do.
Back already? Well, that was quick. Where were we? Ah, yes, the meaning of trolling, crafting a successful troll. You want to be provocative, but not offensive. You want to question the status quo but do so in a way that won’t get you evicted from a group. It is a consequence of this fact of internet life, the loneliness of it, the desire to gain the attention of others, that makes nearly every internet post an attempt to troll, an attempt to get people to pay attention to you, to dig me as George Carlin once put the question on his album Class Clown.
Virtually all comedy is trolling behavior. Anything you think is funny is probably offensive to someone. Posting humor will get you labeled as a troll, especially if you post that humor in places where whoever is being made fun of hang out. Telling Polack jokes on a Polish immigrant forum will get you banned as someone engaging in hate speech pretty quickly, and probably rightly so. Polack jokes are so 1990’s. Get with the times. Clearly the targets of choice have shifted back to the brown-skinned people South of the US border. If you are from Texas you reference them by pointing out they have to swim to get to this side of the border. In New Mexico, Arizona and California (states with land borders) that kind of reference is considered racist and will get you outed as a racist. And rightly so. So the second point of successfully trolling is to know the subject that you hope to exploit. Even in Texas you can be confused with a racist if you are so insensitive as to name a movie Deadbacks in humorous reference to the racial epithets of yesteryear.
Writing by its very nature implies that someone will read what you write. If no one reads it, do the words even exist? That is a bit metaphysical, isn’t it? Unlike speech, which elicits response if anyone can hear you, even when you are talking to yourself, writing really does imply that someone will read the words you write. Every writer imagines someone they are writing to while they are writing. That is how you gauge whether you are getting across to your audience, you imagine who they are as you type. Are they confused? Misunderstood? Go back and read anything you’ve written in the past, like I have done on this blog. Go back and read the things you wrote ten years ago, see if you recognize the person writing at that time. So many things we think are important at any given time look pathetically misguided in hindsight.
Most people hate to think about the things they believe. Asking another person to do that is generally branded as trollish behavior. The most provocative thing you can do online is to challenge someone else’s beliefs. Any ideologue is a prime target for trolling. It isn’t just conservatives in the wild who are susceptible. It is also anarchists and socialists, any group or person more allied with a set of ideas than they are with other people.
That homophobe or transphobe you are always running across is no more deserving of trolling than the social justice warrior who doesn’t know when to shut up. The Jehovah’s Witness who rings your doorbell on a Sunday morning that you’ve always wanted to introduce to the Flying Spaghetti Monster is on the same level as a target of trolling as that atheist friend who thinks all religion is stupid is a target. If you’ve asked a question specifically to get someone to question their beliefs, congratulations, you are a troll.
If you’ve ever engaged in anything other than casual conversation, you’ve probably engaged in trolling behavior yourself. Admit this fact, we’ll keep it between ourselves. No one will know of the secret pleasure felt when someone rewards you with a reply to your cleverly worded bait. It’s OK, we all do it. Everyone is a troll in some fashion, especially the people who think they would never do that. Like passive aggressiveness, everyone has trolled at least once. All of us find ourselves in conversations online and off, conversations that we weren’t invited to, have no real interest in, or are required to participate in because of social norms. You just want a drink of water and the group at the water cooler stares at you as you approach. Do you offer an insight or just duck and cover? The smart person might keep to himself, but the adventurous amongst us probably attempts to riff on what the conversation appeared to be when it suddenly included them. If the comment can be deemed provocative in any way, congratulations you have just trolled the water cooler.
This behavior, trolling, is not really a new thing at all in spite of the fact that it never had a name before the internet evolved. It is the way that conversation has evolved over the millennia from basic communication needs, imparting information from one person to another that was life critical,
Into ways to convey complex levels of thought and to do so with enough rigor that the teachings were retained through multiple generations of descendants. The briefest of excursions into the subject of Freemasonry will shed light on just how convoluted verbal teachings can get, and just how misunderstood meanings passed down without writing and divorced of the concretes they deal with, specifically masonry in this case, can become.
It is not merely coincidental that some of the earliest human groups formed around the subject of masonry; nor is it coincidental that those groups sought to exclude others, the outgroup, from understanding what it was they were doing. The first recorded words that we still retain were recorded on stone by stone masons. And they retained their exclusive rank and that ability to divorce the spoken word from that impediment to communication, time, up until the fifteenth century and Johannes Gutenberg‘s masterful invention. It was only then that language becomes divorced from the spoken word. Only then that reading became something that anyone could afford to take time to learn and do, because it facilitated learning in other areas. Before the invention of moveable type you communicated all information directly, from master to apprentice, in words designed specifically to impart knowledge from the person with hands-on experience to the person who wanted to know how to do whatever that thing was.
After Gutenberg invented the printing press, it became more profitable for the master to write his knowledge down directly, so that his mastery could be spread wider. Could be spread to students who couldn’t hear his voice directly, because they lived in another town or even in another century. From Gutenberg’s invention until today we have continued to evolve the written word. From masters writing their knowledge down for the erudition of us all, into entire industries making billions of dollars off of the spreading of information world wide, into fat, naked old white men typing out their masurbatory fantasies in the darkness of their mother’s basement, all alone in the night. I’m not so sure this whole printing press thing is going to work out well in the end, from that perspective.
The first time the veracity of the information imparted was questioned,
that ain’t food, that’s shit.
Trolling was born. Deriding or dismissing the offered information. Refusing a directive like turning a blind eye. Being known for writing a rebuttal to a treatise that history has long since forgot. Trolling 101. Anyone can engage in this basic form of rebellion, just like the millions of meme-posters on Facebook, all of them convinced they are somehow unique and worthy of the attention of others. Facebook is the internet equivalent to the office watercooler, one step below icanhascheezburger on the meritocratic scale of trolling. Facebook is an intellectual level below lolcats, because lolcats know they are attention seekers and have to hone their craft against other self-admitted attention seekers. Most people on Facebook don’t even admit that what they want to gain by hanging out there is attention.
Facebook meme posters are to trolls what script kiddies are to hackers. Someone who only understands how to do one thing in a field that encompasses all known forms of things. Anyone can screen cap an offensive image and post it. Anyone can copy and paste a meme generator image, the kind you find reposted ad infinitum across the vast Facebook wasteland. It takes no talent at all to piss someone off. Shit flinging monkeys can do it with a single gesture. Hell, if it exists, is filled with memes.
The internet is so full of amateur mental gamers, amateur trolls, that there are terms created just for them. Just asking questions is now referred to as Jaqing off. A Facebook friend went off on a tear recently because someone suggested they were playing devil’s advocate. An artist never reveals his art as art. An artist creates and either the art is accepted or rejected.If you are going to play devil’s advocate, be the devil’s advocate. Don’t expect other people to indulge your mental masturbations, or to refrain from punishing you for your transgressions of norms. No one likes a showoff. No one respects an artist whose defense is but this is art or especially I was only joking.
The key to knowing when to troll and when not to troll is honesty. Knowing what results you want from a conversation and how you will get it. This knowledge turns a memer into someone interested in perfecting the art of the troll. A person interested in the shape of the conversation itself. It is at this point that the apprentice troll becomes a journeyman troll, believes himself capable of trolling like a master. This is the point where the smartass becomes the asshole, as in “the asshole that ruined [insert name here] forum.” I have been kicked off so many forums over the years that I’ve actually lost count. I was kicked off of most of them because that is what I wanted the moderators to do, although I may not have known it at the time. Challenge authority publicly and you will be smacked down. This occurs because 99.9% of authority’s effectiveness in the wild is based on fear of the application of force. If the mundanes you have authority over are not afraid of you, you will lose control sooner or later.
Respect can replace fear most the time, but there has to be mutual respect for hard and fast rules for this to occur. Mutual respect for rules, while a basis for any good argument, is sadly lacking in most online forums. Rules have to be enforceable to be hard rules. Rules against doing something the authority cannot even check on aren’t rules, they’re wishful thinking. It is not within the ability of a forum moderator to compel civil discourse, to prevent or observe that one member has blocked messages from another member, an example of a rule I broke and then told the moderators “I broke that rule” just so they would kick me. (the ploy worked. They changed the rule. I win) Hard and fast rules permeate the internet. You can be banned from forums just for observing that forum moderators are as naked as the emperor. Never tell authority that their rules are meaningless. You cannot compel discourse or civility in the wild. You can only control who gets to have a voice in your forum.
Contrary to popular belief, trolls do not ruin forums, moderators do. More to the point, a moderator is the shepherd of the forum, and the moderator needs to be given permission by the forum owner to do the job they need to do. The most damaging belief among forum moderators is that applying rules justly equates to censorship. That you cannot remove posts and users without denying them their free speech. You may never hear from that person again, or they might be back in minutes as a new user you’ve never heard of before; but either way the activities of a moderator are not censorship. Applying rules justly is how civilization is maintained, how progress is secured. Make no mistake, a bad moderator can destroy a forum but a good moderator can make a forum work flawlessly if they simply have the knack for smoothing over the rough bits. Here ends the moderator’s tangent.
Getting back to the assholes; as in, this is the point where the smartass becomes the asshole, assholes should be kicked off forums en masse, everywhere on the internet. Kicked and kicked again until they graduate to the next level of trolling, or cease to troll altogether. It is possible to not troll, The wife is one of those rare exceptions. Trolling is as alien to her as double entendres or puns. When she ventures into those fields it is hilarious because it is so unexpected. Every time she reads my posts she is baffled about why I bother. Every time she reads responses to my posts she is livid, and it’s all I can do to keep her from hunting the offending party down.
The only way to deal with assholes is to remove them, and like a bandage it is best done quickly to limit the pain. As many times as I’ve been kicked out of groups over the decades, there are even more places that I’ve been a member of that have been reduced to ghost towns by assholes who simply don’t know when to shut up and had control over that Uniform Resource Locator or subreddit. On more than one occasion, that asshole was me.
Some of the assholes never learn. They just get bitter. They just get angry. Anger is a copout. The targets of the troll are angry too. Justifiably so, in their eyes. That too is a copout, but it is an understandable one. People who are pushed, who are angry, lash out. A good moderator on a forum does what the name implies. A good moderator moderates.
“Dude, I know you think this is fun, but your target does not. I know you can’t see the tears, but there are tears.”
When kicked from a group, understand that you are in error. Authority is never in error. Authority never admits error, in any case. The only time authority ever admits error is when they are pulling a Gorbachev. They are on their way out, and on their way out they add “oh by the way, we fucked up. Sorry about that.” Trolls live for that moment. But the kicking? That is personal. It is all about you and your blindness to lines that everyone else knew was there and you didn’t. Until you crossed the line. Now you know where the line is. Cross that line again and expect the same results. Cross the same line the same way and now you are just being stupid. Keep crossing the same line and you turn into a criminal, not a troll.
This is the other point I wanted to make. Trolls are not criminals any more than hackers are criminals. Trolls that continue pursuing the same person after they’ve been warned off are stalkers. Trolls that harass after they’ve been warned off are guilty of harassment. Trolls (or anybody else) who threatens to harm another person have crossed one of the few universal hard and fast lines in human society. That person won’t be enjoying his liberty to troll people who aren’t in orange jumpers for much longer.
But there is hope. The existence of this blog is proof.
I learned. I survived and evolved. I knew that a change had occurred. For quite some time now I’ve changed tacks rather than bash my head against ineffectual moderation. I’ve walked away from conversations that were clearly going nowhere. The baited feeding the troll and all of them wallowing in troll varnish, another trophy to hang on the troll’s wall. I’ve walked away from conversations where my target wasn’t ever going to appreciate the time invested in pointing out their errors to them. I’ve simply packed up and left rather than finish the art, complete the conversational arc. I’ve walked away from forums where the moderators could not bring themselves to cull the assholes. The moderators couldn’t keep the Jaq-offs from posting every meme that crossed their newsfeed. If the sub-group is going to be subjected to everything on the larger forum, why join the group? It really is too bad that Facebook is about the only place left to have an argument in the wild on the internet. Yahoogroups? Dead. BBcode forums? Dead. Usenet? I’ve heard rumors they still exist. I haven’t been there in years.
I’ve wasted enough time flinging shit at other shit-flinging monkeys. There is no pleasure in it any longer. I have grown to appreciate the art of the troll while a growing despite for the mechanics of it keeps me from over-indulging.
You can say that you have graduated to an appreciation for the art of the troll when you can lead someone to a devastating conclusion blissfully unaware right up to that last step, and you leave them to it. You don’t hang around to admire the mess that ensues. That isn’t the point of a masterful troll, an artful troll. The point is to bring the offender into a position where they can recoil in horror at their own stupidity. Hang themselves with the lengths of rope that you’ve graciously continued to hand to them as they tied the knot and thrust their head through the loop to grin at you. Allowed the petty and the vain to impale themselves on their own sharp wits.
We all have a limited amount of time on this Earth and we can either fritter it away arguing with the ignorant and the ideologically blind, or we can spend time having conversations that have meaning and purpose and the potential for making positive changes in the world. More and more often these days, I’m choosing the latter. Anyone who comes into a forum for a specific point of view and purposefully trashes that point of view is not there to learn anything. They are there to convert by the sword. My response, now, is to repel with the sword. I block, report, and prosecute threats against my person. I block and report trolls who show up looking for a fight. I block, report and follow up on people who are racist, homophobic or Christianist to a dangerous level. That is how I’m going to make the world better for people who just want to live their lives as peacefully as possible.
That and this primer is all the trolls will ever get from me.
If you are reading this, go wish Henry Edward Hardy a good day in hell from me. It’s because of him this was posted today.
My feeling is that the reckless, no-consequences, tantrum culture that has evolved online was something that sprouted and became normalized through SF fandom way back when, which makes it incumbent on us who are still part of it to do whatever is possible to make things better. The internet getting devoured by rage culture is only inevitable if we leave the trolls to the cesspool.
The OHM’s Russian spy paid lip service to the plight of brown-skinned children being kept in American concentration camps today, or so I’m told. Who knows what is real anymore. Us not knowing what is real anymore is by design. This is what cointelpro is all about, confusing your enemy, and American citizens who don’t approve of the sitting President are the enemies of both American and Russian spy operations now. Make no mistake about it, we are the targets of the best disinformation machines ever created.
How do I know this? Because I have friends across the political spectrum. Two days ago, a stormtrumper friend of mine was spreading talking point he heard on Conservative media. How Obama had the same problems with asylum seeking children while he was President, and none of you liberals cared then. Except we liberals did care then, it’s just that nobody else noticed we cared. It didn’t even rate a blip on the radar, then. Now, thanks to the OHM’s ham-handed zero-tolerance policy and the outrage that average Americans are leveling at him over it, the plight of children and families fleeing the destruction of their countries at the hands of gangs and dictators
Unaccompanied minors are crossing the U.S. Southwest border in growing numbers again, sparking concerns that the new influx of children could eventually approach the levels that last year prompted the Obama administration to declare a humanitarian crisis.
We liberals cared in 2014 and in 2015. Hell, a good number of us have cared about treatment of immigrants from Central and South America for as long as we’ve been aware of the mistreatment they recieve. What the conservative I intercepted lambasting liberals means is, HE didn’t care when Obama was mistreating children and earning the label Deporter-in-Chief. The rest of us that weren’t him cared quite a bit.
Frankly I expected this to not be a thing in 24 hours. The Twitters and the Facespaces and Instamessengers are all aflame, still. I think it has been more than 24 hours now. I’m not sure. I don’t care. Yesterday the conservative trolls started up with the what about Samantha Bee? questions on liberal groups everywhere. Here’s one example image. Conservatives think they’ve got a point, and that the point isn’t on the top of their heads. A point they’re willing to flog endlessly. As I said on that thread,
The finer point that is never made is that if you are offended by comedy sketch artists and think they should be punished for it (aside from losing their jobs. For not being funny enough) then you have completely missed the POINT of comedy. Get a sense of humor, everyone.
I roundly criticized Bill Clinton in the 90’s because of his excesses with women, a fact that gets me in trouble with Democrats to this day. He had no business taxing that ass when that ass worked for him in the White House let alone at the governor’s mansion. That is simply not the way you relate to people from a position of authority. When Stormtrumpers throw what about Bill? at me I have always pointed to my own history of not putting up with crap from him, so I have no compunction with holding the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) accountable now.
The motivated numeracy that afflicts political groups is truly troubling. Conservatives do not see the degree of crimes that the OHM is guilty of as being any worse, and probably less detrimental, than what they believe Bill and Hillary Clinton are guilty of. Never mind that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton are demonstrably different people and are not interchangeable characters (no matter how much they sold us on the two for one special we got when we put them in the White House) or that the Clinton murder list that they frequently cite is complete bullshit as are all the other dismissed charges that have been raised over the last twenty-five years.
I’ve started in the middle of the story again. Fuck. I hate it when I do that. Starting from the beginning:
I hated Roseanne in its final years in its previous incarnation, I hated the new show from the beginning. What I would like is some honesty from the people who talk about how honest Trump is. The fakery in the new show was so transparent as to make the acting cringe-worthy. …having said that, if only it were this easy to fire a president over embarrassing tweets.
Why did I hate the last few years of Roseanne? Because she had become a fake. She had money by that point. She had plastic surgery and mental health counseling and a marriage failing over creative differences and too much money. She was no longer convincing as the domestic goddess that she was in the beginning. I remember her stand up routines. She has great timing and she is quick and clever. But she doesn’t pull punches and that isn’t becoming in someone who literally has the money to get her way pretty much all the time. Her brand of comedy doesn’t fit coming from someone with money and sense. Maybe she should grow a little sense and she could keep a job.
But then not saying whatever thing comes into your head that sounds funny to you is not how you become famous as a stand up comic. So perhaps she’s still on the comedy track and I simply can’t appreciate her comedy anymore. That is entirely possible.
I don’t like either Roseanne Barr or Samantha Bee. I figured out who Samantha Bee was on The Daily Show. I rarely found her funny then, and I’m still not finding her funny often enough to take the time to watch Full Frontalnow. I follow comics, it’s something I do for the occasional laugh. I stop following the comics when they stop making me laugh. I certainly don’t pay to see their shows if I’m not laughing. Most conservatives forget that they were pissed off at Roseanne a decade and more ago when she butchered the Star Spangled Banner at a baseball game, an event that was brought to mind by someone with a question about it on Snopes two days ago,
I remember this well. I remember that I thought it was an overreaction at the time. She was a stand-up comic. Her act (and most comedy acts) include ethnic slurs. If you can’t accept the humor, don’t watch it, read it or listen to it. That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t get in trouble for her jokes told in bad taste, or for comedy routines (like the OP) that bombed.
What is telling is how many comics who pride themselves with doing mostly ethnic slurs end up supporting people like Trump. Very instructive.
Why are people listening to comics that don’t make them laugh? There isn’t a Rush Limbaugh fan who has laughed at him in a decade or more. Why is that?
Yesterday the creator of the G+ group Conservative Union a man with twenty-six thousand followers decided to troll the members of the G+ group Being Liberal. I’m not one to question the motivations of people who clearly have way more attention than most of us should be comfortable with, especially when their actions are bound to create more distraction and attention for themselves that isn’t of a positive nature. But he decided he’d demand answers of the membership of that group, a group demonstrably populated with more trolls than liberals. Perhaps what Being Liberal needs is a moderator that can make sure that conservative trolls don’t get into the group to stir up ugliness on a regular basis. Moderators that control content like Dan Lewis does for his Conservative Union group. But I’m getting ahead of myself again,
I mean, you post this bullshit here,just JAQ’ing off, as if you are asking something weighty. As if people who don’t follow shock jocks and outrageous comedians are offended by a lot of what passes for public discourse these days (take a number after “grab ’em by the pussy”) and simply adjusts their filters accordingly, and at the same time you demand that we all pay attention because you think this is important.
Well, it isn’t important. Roseanne hasn’t been important in twenty years and Samantha Bee’s fifteen minutes are about up. Nobody cares except for white nationalists and anarchists who want to see America made white again. People who support Trump and won’t admit that they are racists for supporting him. Those are the people who need to wake the fuck up.
He invokes ad hominems. Antifa. As if I should think that punching Nazis like Antifa does is somehow unAmerican. I can’t figure out why you shouldn’t punch Nazis, unless it’s some kind of official rally and cops would arrest you for punching them. That I get. Otherwise it seems like the most American thing to do, if you know the person at the other end of your fist is a Nazis. I’m thinking Inglourious Basterds here. Maybe punching isn’t a strong enough response? When I suggest that content control is something everyone profits from he alludes to Antifa. When I suggest I might block him for being a troll (demonstrated) and probably an anarcho-capitalist (suspected) I mean, he doesn’t let just anyone into his groups. Or as I put the rhetorical question to him,
How exactly do you intend to listen to the input of 8 billion people when they all try to speak at once? When every single one of them must be given the attention they demand? Take as long as you need to answer, since I know there isn’t an answer you will admit to.
And when he feigned incomprehension,
It’s a simple question. All 8 billion people on the planet will have something to say and according to the rules you have set up, all of them must be heard. How will you achieve this when all of them will want all of the time you have remaining on earth?
A little FYI is warranted here. I block people I determine that I cannot reason with. I do this on every platform and in every social interaction. If I start talking about the weather in a face to face conversation, you should know that I am blocking you right to your face. I have determined that you are not someone I can reason with. This fact is established over several encounters, so if I see you for the first time and I mention the weather, understand that I don’t say how are you? as a greeting, the most common form of blowing someone off while pretending to care. I simply don’t have time for a lengthy conversation on my journey from here to there. I do not exclude people for reasons other than the ones relevant to the conversation in question at any given time. For what it’s worth, those people are found everywhere, on all sides of every issue. It’s why several hundred people on any given platform cannot see what I write. It’s better for my sanity and health and it is better for their sanity, too. I would say their health as well, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m threatening them, so hot outside today, isn’t it?
The troll and the defenders of Samantha Bee then proceeded to conduct their rolling orgy in a cesspool after I posed the content control question, because that’s what these trolls and the people who feed them do. I didn’t care less then and I still couldn’t care less now. Roseanne should have been fired because she has no intention to conform to some kind of societal norms. Maybe there is a return to decent stand-up routines in her future, I’m not the one to ask on that score. Samantha Bee deserved to be dealt with harshly if she hadn’t apologized. She has. It’s up to her network now, just as it was with Roseanne, when it comes to what happens next.
The thing I’m left with is the hypocrisy. The hypocrisy on all sides when it comes to these issues. Anyone who objects to Samantha Bee using the word cunt in reference to someone in a position of authority in our government (elected or not) should be outraged by this t-shirt proudly worn by Stormtrumpers during the 2016 election that gave us the OHM. Anyone surprised by racism coming from people who support the OHM were not paying attention during the election and have not been paying attention since he took office. Am I surprised by the hypocrisy? I’m surprised that anyone notices hypocrisy since the OHM descended the golden escalator in 2015 and started the shitshow we are in today. 1 year, 132 days, 6 hours, 46 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s how long the OHM had been president when I wrote this. Is he still President? Then the hypocrisy continues. Wake me up when the impeachment hearings start.
It is the work of the mendacious to claim allegiance to a past that we all share, all the while excluding those who don’t fit the mold they create with spurious data. Everyone who lives in America is an American. This fact is demonstrable. Conservatives cannot abide this kind of judgment because exclusion is how they secure the zero-sum game they have created.
I’m doing my best not to pay attention to the midterm elections going on right now as I type this. I’d like to think Americans are smart enough to know when they’ve been had by a shyster like the OHM is. It’s just a little more than disheartening to realize that Americans historically have been even more clueless than they were in 2016 when they voted for the OHM in the first place. So, I’d like to hope, but I have been burned before when trying to hope. So I’ll plan for the zombie apocalypse instead. At least that isn’t likely to happen. I hope.
The image at right was culled from a friend’s Facebook wall a few years back. The image serves as an introduction, the proverbial rabbit-hole, a building 7 to 9/11 truthers, a lead-in to draw you deeper into this post dedicated to critical thinking. Humor me, dear reader. I’m going somewhere with this.
You might well ask, what does the image mean? Anyone who doesn’t recognize Morpheus from The Matrix movies really needs to go back and do some homework before reading this. The Matrix is its own introduction to conspiratorial thinking, a rabbit hole of its own metaphorical making. However, the text on the image is misleading. Anyone running for public office, from any party, is subject to the will of the people who fund their campaigns. If the candidates from the party do not pander to the big spenders (i.e. the corporations) then the party will not get the funds they need to win, meaning their ideology will never take root directly in the politics of the nation. All parties work for corporations, even the third parties. The Kochs owned the LP for a long time before they shifted to the Republicans. The Kochs represent some of the worst of the worst of corporate behavior, strong-arming groups that they fund trying to force them to echo the policies that the Kochs find favorable. This will continue to be true until we get money out of politics, plain and simple. There is no other way to fix the problem of corporations buying the parties and the candidates for office.
I have no problem with the image. I probably don’t have a problem with the website the image came from, although I haven’t spent any real time on it. What I had a problem with was where the conspiratorially motivated fantasists took the image in the wild after it was released. I have culled most of the incorrigible conspiracists from my Facebook wall. Every now and then a new one pops up and I subject them to the ban hammer; but generally my wall is free of their posts. Some of my oldest friends do indulge in conspiracy fantasies though, and as a consequence of this I still have to deal with the odd reference to a conspiracy theory even though I find the entire subject of grand conspiracies completely ludicrous.
Grand conspiracies are ludicrous, starting with the phrase conspiracy theory. Grand conspiracies aren’t theories. A theory not only explains the facts in evidence, it survives rigorous testing through trial and error. The theory of evolution is an excellent example of this. It has survived test after test, and has made predictions about evolutionary history which have been proven to be true. It is a robust theory, accepted by nearly all of the scientific community. The fact that nearly half of Americans reject the theory of evolution merely serves as a painful reminder of just how misinformed most of us are.
Grand conspiracies aren’t conspiracy hypothesis either, which is the step in evidence below theory. A hypothesis of necessity must explain all the predominant facts it is attempting to address. A hypothesis has to be testable to be acceptable as a scientific explanation. Grand conspiracies tend to ignore all evidence and instead look for anomalies that can be held up as examples of failure for explanations the grand conspiracy believer doesn’t like. Phrases like magic bullet get thrown around, as if the unexplained will remain inexplicable forever.
Grand conspiracies are conspiratorial conjecture, nothing more. They are stories that are told to entertain. They are, as the title of this piece states, conspiracy fantasies. When you start allowing your fantasies to replace the reality around you, a whole host of bad is waiting in the wings to descend upon you. When the Facebook friend (mentioned previously) made a tangential reference to the Rothschild family in his post, I recognized the reference immediately (Rothschild Skeptoid episode) It is an old anti-Semitic/white supremacist fabrication. Like the whole sovereign thing. There is no sound basis for asserting that the fantasy has any reality to it, unless you have a problem with Jews, which says more about you than it does about anyone else.
I’ve argued with this guy and his friends over beers before. I know there is no convincing him that his pet fantasies were meaningless. Rather than hopelessly resign myself to having to ignore him once again, I tried to tangent into a discussion of the gullibility of conspiracy fantasists. I linked this video of Rebecca Watson discussing a recent study to see if I could head off the impending disaster,
Unfortunately for all concerned, the only fact that penetrated their heads was that “the Pink Haired Lady says chemtrails aren’t real” which lead him and his friends to try to convince me they were real. Well, they aren’t real. Of course chemicals are detectable in airline contrails. The planes that create them are shedding molecules into the atmosphere everywhere they fly. The combustion engines they are powered by emit exhaust chemicals, which are also detectable. This really isn’t that hard to figure out.
…Unless there is a ready-made market of science denial set up specifically to use the tools of science against it. An entire method of approaching the world around us that paints the activities of others as nefarious and unscrupulous. This says more about the conspiracy fans than it does about the rest of us, but there is a large group of people out there ready to confirm your suspicions about any activity that concerns you. All that is required is to entertain your curiosity without engaging your critical thinking skills. If you ever learned to think critically in the first place. Without critical thinking we are all babes in the wilderness.
If you, dear reader, think the pink haired lady only dismisses chemtrails, then you are probably also a conspiracy fan, lack critical thinking skills, and are as gullible as the study she talks about shows. If I felt like messing with conspiracy fans I could feed them all kinds of crazy stuff which they would buy right into, just like Alex Jones does. So if that kind of trolling is something you enjoy, have at it. They’ll never know you’re pulling their legs.
After I rebutted the chemtrails argument the conversation with that Facebook friend I mentioned proceeded to spiral down the proverbial rabbit hole, morphing into a discussion of various other conspiracy tales. Haarp was mentioned. Like Agenda 21, it isn’t anything close to what conspiracy fans think it is. Monsanto was raised, Godwin style. It was at that point that I knew I was quite literally wasting my time, and I really didn’t want to have to hear about Building 7 one more time. I didn’t want to have yet another conversation where the fans throw each conspiracy they believe at me one at a time, each time certain that it can’t be explained. All of them can be explained, and not with grand conspiracies. Good luck getting one of the fans to notice this fact.
So why are grand conspiracies fantasies? Scale. That’s really all there is to it. Fantasists who support whatever conspiracy I sent you here to inoculate yourself against (if you got here without my linking this article in a discussion, well done!) will likely talk about the Gulf of Tonkin incident or Watergate or more recently, Edward Snowden. Well, Watergate wasn’t a grand conspiracy. It relied on about ten people keeping their mouths shut, and that conspiracy not only failed because ten people couldn’t keep quiet, it failed because Nixon was taping everything said in his office. He was that paranoid.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident, like the revelations of NSA spying, are the very stories that illustrate the problem with massive conspiracies and the theories spun about them. The NSA spying was anything but secret. Oh, it was officially denied like Tonkin was denied, and the US government would love to punish Snowden for his revelations. But the spying was itself an open secret. Anyone interested in the subject knew that the NSA was involved in a dragnet of information across the internet.
It is a lot like the people who point to the denials of Groom Lake (area 51) being a location for testing new Air Force technologies, and then conclude that the stories of alien visitations are true. The locals knew it was testing facility for decades. The official denials proved nothing aside from the fact that they were conducting secret tests there. They certainly don’t point to any factual truth concerning extraterrestrial contact. The NSA’s spying program, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Tuskegee experiment, Project MKUltra, etcetera, are all hallmarks of the inability for large conspiracies to remain secret. It is only a matter of time before the secret becomes common knowledge.
After once again being forced to ignore an old friend, I’m left wondering why is the US such a misanthropic nation? Why do we obsess over these silly fantasies that cannot possibly be true? Perhaps the reason why so many Americans believe conspiracy fantasies is because they understand their culpability in allowing their government to go so far astray. Like all the guilty parties of the world, they are quick to point to those shadowy others out there “Them! They did it! It wasn’t me!” rather than take the blame for their own inaction, their unwillingness to sully themselves with real politics. I mean, if lizard people are running the world, why bother with democratic participation?
However this willful blindness to the state of US politics on the part of the people whom the government supposedly represents does have a cost. It is not all fun and games as we pretend that lizards run our country or that we narrowly missed being governed by a pedophile in the last election. Conspiracies do exist, yes. And when they are represented in plots hatched by a foreign government, especially on that speaks a different language and is on shaky ties with the US to start with, they can be quite large and even link to the leadership of that government, and still take years for us to catch wind of it.
It turns out that the Jade Helm 15 fantasy that took the nation by storm during the Obama administration came from somewhere, and that somewhere wasn’t inside the United States. It was created by Russian operatives as a testbed to see if they could alter US politics by sowing discord.
If you think the president can just wave his big Magic Negro Ray of Chocolate Mojo and declare martial law, you really don’t understand how your government works – but then again that’s not even a little bit surprising given a sitting US senator such as Ted Cruz apparently doesn’t understand how the very government he is part of works either.
So the answer was yes. Yes Russia could and did interfere with our politics; and they continued to do it from that point straight on through the 2016 presidential elections that gave us the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) as president.
A former director of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space,” and that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to send the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation gave them proof of the power of such misinformation campaigns.
Michael Hayden, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”
Abbott ordered the State Guard to monitor the federal exercise soon after news broke of the operation. Hayden said that move gave Russians the go-ahead to continue — and possibly expand — their efforts to spread fear.
“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’” Hayden said of Abbott’s response. “At that point, I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”
Does this mean that the OHM is a Russian stooge? No. No it doesn’t. Why? Because those links are tenuous and unproven. Likely unprovable. He is a money launderer and a client for Russian oligarchs, but he isn’t an invisible bomb-throwing ninja of the scale necessary to pull off that kind of spy intrigue. He’s just another conman who was used in a con that targeted the American people. The sooner we figure that out and get him out of office, the better everything will be.
However, he is one of the people who believed the Jade Helm story at the time. Just like Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Just like Ted Cruz. This is the cost of believing these conspiratorial fairytales. The cost being that these people have been shown to be unfit for office. They are far too gullible to be trusted with handling the daily business of our government. Unfortunately for the average American, they’re still caught up in so many other conspiratorial fantasies that they probably haven’t noticed that their leaders have been shown to be just as clueless as they are.
Throwing off the baggage of revealed knowledge. We don’t need its dead weight any longer.
This is a story about a title, a phrase. It is the story of an an idea and about disbelief in general. It is also a story about how the best of intentions can go so horribly wrong when you promote an idea to a prejudiced group, an idea that you don’t quite understand yet yourself. It is also a story about a label and who will willingly wear it.
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.
I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.
Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.
I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry. (Christianists. –ed.)
After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?
Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave it. Every one of the new names I came up with were blatant attempts to murder the thread. I would change the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread, and I did that several times over the course of years. The effort was largely ineffective, although I did get the thread to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.
As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from just about every forum I joined. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.
That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please don’t hold your breath waiting to see if it will work. I’m not going to hold my breath so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to, either.
Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand. Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. Back in the olden days before the internet and cable television, the days when you had to read books to learn anything, and you had to know which books told you what thing you needed to know to even be able to pull off that herculean task. But it was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader who wouldn’t have minded living at the library, I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.
Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is the name Winston Churchill gave to the afterlife. A featureless non-consciousness with no experience of time. Eternal dreamless sleep. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.
But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.
But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to those questions is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means “X” I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.
What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief, let alone a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.
A belief is an attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is true. (Wikipedia) A belief system comprises a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs of any such system can be religious, philosophical, political, ideological, or a combination of these. (Wikipedia) There are things which are beyond the level of mere belief. The kind of things that go unquestioned and so are never even things you consciously believe in. The spiritually minded call that faith. Faith or trust can be used almost interchangeably by the average person. There is no fundamental difference between the two words.
There are things which are not faiths or beliefs or trusts. There are things which simply are. Things that simply are can be questioned and their nature will be revealed by the interrogation. Gravity exists, even though science cannot currently explain it. The Earth rotates around the sun and also rotates on its axis. This gravitational relationship causes the sun to appear to rise every single day, and this arrangement has persisted for the entire length of recorded time. None of us need to believe the sun will rise, it simply does the thing it does just like dropped objects will fall to the ground. If they don’t fall then you aren’t on Earth. What is the weather like in space? Believing the sun will rise is a waste of brain energy, just as believing in gravity is a waste of brain energy. Things that can be demonstrated don’t have to be believed to be true, they simply are true.
Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.
Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well, having been raised a protestant christian in the middle of the bible belt, but Islam’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.
Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.
This is not true of atheism. I didn’t always think this way. When I was first liberated from the need to feign belief in the father/son/holy ghost I wanted to proclaim my atheism to the world. I wanted to evangelize like the christians that I was surrounded by did. I wanted to be able to check atheist off on the religion list and say “see, I don’t believe in your god.” That thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS was an outgrowth of my desire to tell everyone that their god was bullshit. I was an anti-theist.
Then I discovered that not all atheists were attempting to understand what it was they believed and why; they were not dreaming of themselves as amateur philosophers. They weren’t even people who were interested in knowing how they knew things. They simply believed like religious people believe, never questioning the fundamentals of what it was they believed. Some of them were not anti-theist. My experiences there changed my attitudes and thus changed me from an anti-theist to an atheist to a freethinker. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere.
Now I will move on to hazard a definition of atheism. I’m going to cite a source rather than walk out on that limb all by myself:
Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.
Atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.
Atheism, as a mode of critical thinking, is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. Skeptics can simply dispute the findings of science. Like atheists, you can argue with those people about what it is they believe and why, but they will still call themselves skeptics anyway. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover. This is why I don’t identify as a skeptic even though I am skeptical of just about everything I hear, read or see.
Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist:
When people talk about “isms,” they are referring to some “distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice” like liberalism, communism, conservatism, or pacifism. Atheism has the suffix “ism,” so it belongs in this group, right? Wrong: the suffix “ism” also means a “state, condition, attribute, or quality” like pauperism, astigmatism, heroism, anachronism, or metabolism. Is astigmatism a theory? Is metabolism a doctrine? Is anachronism a practice? Not every word that ends in “ism” is a system of beliefs or an “ism” in the way people usually mean it. Failure to realize this can be behind other errors here.
When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.
Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it, you might like it.
When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.
The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. If we want to be successful in our objections, we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.
What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.
The United States was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.
The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.
There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.
This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control it for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.
It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.
Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. Hitler was not an atheist and atheists don’t kill people for having a religion. That argument figured highly in numbers of mindless repetitions, but it was a stupid argument so I won’t write about it here. Austin Cline who wrote for About.com at the dawn of the internet age has written much more about this subject than I ever will. Go read his work if you just have to have that argument addressed right here and now. I will, however, take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few of the better thought out counters that I’ve run across in the past. I will be saving everyone some time and frustration this way. No one needs more frustration, and everyone wants more time these days.
I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever other than the sects of the majority’s own religion, sects that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.
The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention:
Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false.
Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge, and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something doesn’t exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, or much more, a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing has to prove that thing is true or real. In this case, a god.
Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?
As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.
It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.
After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.
The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.
While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs…
An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.
“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.”
I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.
Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me?Luckily, science has an answer for that:
The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.
There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know, I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.
As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.
The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.
The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. So long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues.
General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section – 03/24/2018. Added a sentence declaring why I was better acquainted with christianity to the Islam paragraph, and added a link to my origin of the universe postulation in the addendum 10/15/2018. Migration to WordPress – 1/7/2019. Added Pastafarianism doesn’t kill image – 2/23/2019. Added the TAM2012 youtube link, updated links to current blog location – 4/22/2019. Redirected some links from archive.org to blog posts created on the blog from the archives records. Other minor wordsmithing. Recreated the quote from About.com for “is atheism an ism?” after finding it in the Wayback Machine again. Added the war in the name of atheism link and descriptive sentences to the first paragraph of the addendum. Added seven states image and associated links – 7/28/2019. Added Bertrand Russell end quote and the featured image with a link to the author of the image – 2/6/2020. Redirected the who kills more question to the article Atheism Kills that just went live on the blog as a recovered archive piece, wrote an intro paragraph to explain the wandering nature of the narrative, fixed the Mo teapot image link. – 02/29/2021. Added a definitional paragraph for beliefs. I almost can’t believe I had to do that. Added a paragraph for my abandonment of anti-theism. – 07/19/21
“By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.”
An essay from his collection of essays due out shortly We Were Eight Years in Power: An American TragedyI wish I could disagree with the content of the article more than I do. But I can’t. He’s voiced a lot of what I think privately in this article. It’s just too painful to read it and agree with it. The naked truth out in public like that. Shocking.
Is Ta-Nehisi Coates being too harsh on White People? I sure wish I believed he was. But I suspect that from the eyes of a black man, he still hasn’t said enough. That, in itself, is a frightening thought to contemplate. To some extent the author is being over-broad in his condemnation of white action as racism. The broader social policy, the wrong-headed economic notion of the zero-sum game, is to blame for the belief that there must be social winners and losers, people who give and people who take. The economic structure crafted to make the zero-sum game a part of human life is where racism manifests; but in the end it is racism that is the cause for blacks and the brown-skinned to be seen as lessor, the natural losers in a zero-sum game.
This is so wrong-headed as to baffle the senses, adhering to the zero-sum game in modern society. When a farmer produces food for the marketplace and sells it, is he the winner or the loser? Are the people who buy the food winners because they get to eat, or losers because they paid for the food? Is he the winner because he keeps his farm and gets to keep working by accepting a money transaction, or is he the loser because he didn’t keep the food for himself? Life is not a zero-sum game beyond the observation that it starts with nothing and ends with nothing, but all that bit in the middle, the part where life is? That is the only part that matters from a personal perspective.
Does a black man care that he is poor because his ancestry led him to this place and time, through mechanisms that he doesn’t approve of and cannot control? No more than a poor white man does, I’m sure. Which is actually the heart of the problem of dealing with structural racism resultant from belief in the zero-sum game. White Nationalism masquerading as the alt-right will attempt to keep blacks in their place for fear of losing what is theirs, and in equal proportion poor blacks will push to escape the place forced on them by institutions that should never have been created in the first place.
I wrote the historical entries on poverty for this blog specifically to bring to the forefront the very issue in contention here. Systemic acceptance of grinding poverty as a necessary evil, a side-effect of the free market. Not just white poverty or black poverty, but poverty of and for itself. Poverty doesn’t have to exist anywhere on this planet. We humans are wealthy enough and understand enough now to be able to make every person on the planet capable of meeting their own needs. All we lack is the will to see this change take place.
The triumph of Trump’s campaign of bigotry presented the problematic spectacle of an American president succeeding at best in spite of his racism and possibly because of it. Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. Hillary Clinton simply could not be correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a candidate because of bigotry. The implications—that systemic bigotry is still central to our politics; that the country is susceptible to such bigotry; that the salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics are not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos; that Calhoun’s aim of a pan-Caucasian embrace between workers and capitalists still endures—were just too dark. Leftists would have to cope with the failure, yet again, of class unity in the face of racism. Incorporating all of this into an analysis of America and the path forward proved too much to ask. Instead, the response has largely been an argument aimed at emotion—the summoning of the white working class, emblem of America’s hardscrabble roots, inheritor of its pioneer spirit, as a shield against the horrific and empirical evidence of trenchant bigotry.
Packer dismisses the Democratic Party as a coalition of “rising professionals and diversity.” The dismissal is derived from, of all people, Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and White House economist, who last year labeled the Democratic Party “a coalition of the cosmopolitan élite and diversity.” The inference is that the party has forgotten how to speak on hard economic issues and prefers discussing presumably softer cultural issues such as “diversity.” It’s worth unpacking what, precisely, falls under this rubric of “diversity”—resistance to the monstrous incarceration of legions of black men, resistance to the destruction of health providers for poor women, resistance to the effort to deport parents, resistance to a policing whose sole legitimacy is rooted in brute force, resistance to a theory of education that preaches “no excuses” to black and brown children, even as excuses are proffered for mendacious corporate executives “too big to jail.” That this suite of concerns, taken together, can be dismissed by both an elite economist like Summers and a brilliant journalist like Packer as “diversity” simply reveals the safe space they enjoy. Because of their identity.
The basket of deplorables that voted for Trump, friends and family among them, should take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the face of modern American racism. I rejected Trump from the beginning. I recognized his race-baiting tactics immediately. He never tried to hide what he was doing, and I remain mystified why anyone, ANYONE voted for him. Why anyone didn’t know what they were voting for, a white nationalist, a racist, someone who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. He couldn’t have made it more obvious if he stitched it onto bright red caps that he and everyone around him wore.
Oh, wait, he did stitch it onto hats! Make America Great Again by definition means a return to an America that was more racist than it was in the Obama years. It means more racism because America has never been less racist than it was during the last eight years, and it is only going to get worse as Trump’s administration continues to ramp up the racist rhetoric,. This is something he did just last week by announcing the repeal of DACA. The entirety of the history of Hispanics in this country has been a thinly veiled tale of racial exploitation. This really shouldn’t be news to anybody, but even I didn’t understand the full history of the expletive wetback until listening to a segment on the Texas Standard last week.
I’ve said this many times on this blog and elsewhere. When you are working in construction or out on the farm, anywhere there is labor that needs doing, you see brown faces out in the sun. The white faces are almost always hidden inside. They’re leading construction from the comfort of an air conditioned trailer, sitting in comfort inside of an idling truck. There are exceptions to this rule, but the presence of those few white faces simply amplifies the disparity.
My father did me a great service when I was a teenager, but I never understood it then. He sent me out in the fields to work one summer, so that I could get a taste of what working for a living without an education felt like. I was given over to a friend or perhaps a relative of one of his employees. A one-armed ancient hispanic man who made me look like a slacker, or the complete novice that I was, by doing more and better work with one arm than I could with two. He could and did do it day-in and day-out for months and years spanning into decades. He probably died out there in one of those fields. I don’t know because it wasn’t important to me. The lesson was learned, never to be forgotten. I wanted to work indoors, out of the sun. I wanted to turn knowledge into profit. I wanted to work smart instead of hard.
The ability to do what I’ve done? The ability to assert one’s knowledge without credentials or any evidence of talent or knack for the process? That comes from being who I was, where I was. If I had been born brown or black, African, Asian or Latino in this part of the world? That sort of assertiveness would have been ground out of me before I was even an adult, back in the time I was born into. That is what white privilege means. Ask Philando Castile if he can carry a weapon like a white man does, if you doubt this is true. Ask Ahmed Mohamed if he’s even allowed to be unusually bright and curious in this day and age. I could probably trot out a million examples of why my experiences warrant the label white privilege, but I would not convince a single Trump voter that what I said was the truth. That is the shame we are living through today.
And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon.
In 2015, the political scientists Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan L. Hajnal published White Backlash, a study of political trends, and found that “whites who hold more negative views of immigrants have a greater tendency to support Republican candidates at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels, even after controlling for party identification and other major factors purported to drive the vote.”
While that finding may seem obvious, it isn’t simply a description of existing Republicans, but of the trends driving some white Democrats into the Republican Party. Using data from the American National Election Survey, Abrajano and Hajnal conclude that “changes in individual attitudes toward immigrants precede shifts in partisanship,” and that “immigration really is driving individual defections from the Democratic to Republican Party.”
Offered simply to put paid to the lie that Republicans aren’t the racists in America. By and large, that is what they have become, and Donald Trump is an outgrowth of that increased racism in the party. He embodies and embraces it in ways that a less cynical man would be ashamed of. Trump knows that the average American is a clueless rube just waiting to be fleeced of the few coins in his purse. Just so long as you say the right things, stand the right way when you say it. I personally prefer our leaders to have more going for them than just the color of their skin, the type of sex organs hidden under their clothing. Apparently that is asking too much in this day and age.
Trump and his zero-sum obsession became a bit of a theme on the blog after awhile. I became curious about where and when the term entered my thought processes and I couldn’t track down when I started using it as shorthand for Trump’s racism. I will credit Ta-Nehisi Coates for this simply because I used the term six times in this article, even though it isn’t the earliest occurrence on the blog. In going back to try to find where I started using the term, I discovered that I was spelling the phrase both with and without a hyphen. I have now fixed that inconsistency. while I was at it I also linked the single entries for the phrase in most articles to this book on the subject:
This is the most common question I’ve been asked for as long as I can remember. From high school through to the last argument I had “Why are you so angry?” pops up again and again. Everyone I talk to on almost any given subject is convinced that there is some one thing in my life that is bugging me, and that if they can just fix that one thing I’ll be happy.
I’m not angry, I’m intense. This would be my explanation. I’m focused on whatever it is that I’m talking about, writing about, thinking about. It comes across in nearly every conversation, in nearly any documentation, in almost any interaction. I’m pretty sure it freaks most people out and I have no idea how to turn it off.
The quickest way to get me to feel actual anger is to ask me why are you so angry? when I’m simply responding with emphasis. This tendency to fly off the handle has gotten me sent to many headshrinkers over the years. Thoughtful types who purse their lips and want to dig through all the detritus in my head to find out what makes me tick. They would press me to get past the anger masking the real emotion so that they could help me.
Let’s say I’m angry, just to admit a point for debate. Why would I be angry?
I have always been a smartass. My father made sure that I knew this at a very young age, informing me “you really are a smartass, aren’t you?” throughout most of my youth. The internet age has given me a synonym for smartass. Troll. I apparently trolled my parents and teachers pretty frequently. I was sent on mysterious errands in Sunday school for asking things like “who made god?” or “where did the extra loaves and fishes come from?” I had no idea I was being a smartass. The questions occurred, and questions need answers. There were always more questions than there ever were answers, and I’d bet one of my limbs that the first time I was labeled a smartass was when I observed this fact to an adult. Why couldn’t they answer my questions? I thought adults knew everything.
Standing apart and observing others with a clinical eye when most people are too busy, too caught up in the rough and tumble to notice the larger picture. Disturbing the peace with my questions, my unwelcome observations. Daring to call down the wrath of adults and spending more hours sitting in a corner than I probably ever did on the playground, just to gain an insight into behaviors that puzzled me, patterns and habits that baffled me.
Stuck in the middle of Kansas surrounded by people that I could just barely relate to, forced to participate in rituals that I had no interest in. Church? Football? Rodeo? That last one is the kicker I will never understand. What purpose is served by rodeo? In the medieval guilds you would call what rodeo does a demonstration of skill. A demonstration that a journeyman attempts in order to be hired on somewhere as a master. I guess if I had a need for horse riders or cattlemen, I’d go to a rodeo to find them. Luckily for me, I don’t need any of those so don’t need to go to the rodeo. The inscrutability of rodeo is tangential, though. It is a speed bump in the middle of nowhere that makes you ask, why? The speed bump is irrelevant, the question is important.
Why am I so angry? Well, there is a start right there. If I’m angry at all. Am I really angry?
I was first clued in on the synonym for smartass while in a Compuserve chat group way back at the dawn of the internet. They called me a troll. In hindsight this label was indeed accurate. I was trolling then. Internet trolls do seem angry about something, although what they are angry about is open to question. The wife insists I’m not a troll because in her eye trolls are evil creatures. Trolls are not evil, trolls are misanthropes; and all of us are misanthropes outside of our comfort zone. I was called a troll because I didn’t understand and wanted to know. Wanted to know about being other kinds of people than I appeared to be. I appeared to be, still appear to be, a white guy who appreciates his guns, cars and the company of women. I understand that. That is life for the average male in the midwest. It’s not enough for me, but it appears to be enough for most men.
I wanted to know, so I went outside my comfort zone which is the only way to learn anything and started asking questions, making observations. As I have always done. As I will probably always do. I asked, I read, I listened and I learned. Because I learned I became sensitive to the misuse of various words, which I have even wrote about in the hopes of educating others.
If you don’t listen to the answers to your questions, if you don’t learn anything from asking questions, you are worse than a troll. You are wasting everyone’s time asking questions that you have no intention of internalizing the answers for. You are tormenting others just to hear yourself talk. You are engaging in casual conversation, conversation without feeling. Conversation without meaning.
I loathe casual conversation.
If I am angry, a point which I do not concede, then the demand to engage in meaningless banter on a near constant basis is probably the biggest reason why. I do not speak to hear myself talk. I’m not quick on the uptake and most wit goes right over my head on first pass. It is only later that I will piece together the joke and then facepalm over the stupidity of not getting the point while the conversation is occurring, when it would have done me some good.
It takes mental energy to engage in small talk effectively. To be witty in a casual fashion. Far more energy than I care to devote to a brief conversation with a stranger whom I will probably never meet again. I have always had goals that were far more important to me than witty banter. Goals which consumed most of my mental energy. When the adults around me failed to produce answers to my questions, I turned to the only source available in 1970’s Kansas. I went to the local library. For most of my life I have wandered around with my nose stuck in books. Books were the only place where answers could be found, where stories that interested me were being told.
What was real? Where are we going? Where did we come from? Every question answered produced at least two new questions that needed answers. A never-ending task of education which now extends out beyond my mortal existence. Another good excuse to be angry. Frustrated by the limitations of life itself. I will die still needing answers to questions that will never be answered. If that doesn’t piss you off, you aren’t thinking about the problem.
Thinking. Thinking about thinking. Thinking about thinking about thinking. The philosopher’s dilemma. Is this me thinking or is this an outside influence causing me to come to a particular conclusion? Am I angry or does my thinking make you angry which you then reflect on me? I’m thinking the latter. Of course I would think that. You would think that in my place.
I’m thinking that most people hate thinking so much they’ll pay to undergo pain in order to stop themselves from thinking. I’m thinking I’m not angry but that you wish I’d stop troubling you with my thinking, my desire to make you think. You are angry because I’m thinking and thinking makes you angry. I apologize for not having electric probes for you to blank those thoughts with. Is it sadism to make people think knowing that they would rather endure pain than think? Am I the jackass whisperer? If I’m not, am I the jackass? It’s probably best to leave the jackasses to their electric shocks and not taint myself with their pain.
“Casual conversations, how they bore me. Yeah, they go on and on endlessly. No matter what I say you’ll ignore me anyway. I might as well talk in my sleep, I could weep.”
Editor’s note. This narrative was originally interwoven with the narrative contained in The Unappreciated Art of the Troll when I first wrote it. I set it aside and then left it out of the second draft. Still, enough of my own experience is in this narrative that I thought I ought to at least publish it on the date it was written. So here it is.