Tag: information

Confronting the inner teabagger

Read the article at HuffPo yesterday, got pissed and wrote something angry, then went to work. While at work I read some comments, though, admittedly, not all of them, and realized why so many people have a beef with HuffPo. I’m not trying to throw HuffPo under the bus, writing in anger leads to this, and I wrote in anger and put too much trust into a single source. Just because you are using a BIG NAME for a source doesn’t mean that source is right, they are just as likely to misinterpret something as you are. That is human. But there is a difference between misinterpreting and deliberately misconstruing, and since our political guard is always up about deception, and since many of us are partisans, we often frame things within our own pre-made narrative. All of these things I have been guilty of, but who among us can plead innocent among such charges?

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Thoughts on Reading Chris Hedges, With Poll

About America of the past:

It could be cruel and unjust if you were poor, gay, a woman, or an immigrant, but there was hope it could be better. It was a country I loved and honored. It paid its workers wages envied around the world. It made sure these workers, thanks to labor unions and champions of the working class in the Democratic Party and the press, had health benefits and pensions….It honored basic democratic values and held in regard the rule of law, including international law, and respect for human rights.

—Chris Hedges

And today?

The country I live in today uses the same civic, patriotic, and historical language to describe itself, the same symbols and iconography, the same  national myths, but only the shell remains. The America we celebrate is an illusion. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father, and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be unrecognizable.

—Chris Hedges

I use this poignant observation because it has a deep emotional resonance. Unlike me, Hedges has deep roots in this country. His life is far more deeply shaped by America than mine could ever be. I can tell when I see him on videos and hear him interviewed how much he is in pain. His last book is angry and bitter as he looks around him without flinching. When you’ve seen a lot of death–you don’t flinch so much. Once you decide to see things squarely, you can’t stop just because the thought of seeing your country being flushed down the toilet by fucking criminals haunts you. Worse, for Hedges (and me) is to see people who call themselves Americans degrade into a cowardly group of junkies living in fantasies.  

Narrowing the Gap Between the Industrial Age and the Information Age

During the State of the Union address, President Obama noted what a slew of other previous Presidents have noted–that the United States of America needs to start exporting goods again.  Few people can disagree with a statement like this, but what Obama, nor any of his predecessors have ever discovered is precisely what one would need to trade with other countries and in what form this new invention would take.  If were wise enough to know, I’d probably be well on my way to being a very wealthy man, so I don’t underestimate the challenge in front of us.  However, though I believe that the capitalist system caters more to the selfish side of us more than the altruistic one, with selfishness does come innovation for the sake of maximum material gain, and in that regard, perhaps our basest instincts might come to everyone’s aid, at least for a time.

Careworn phrases like “good old fashioned American ingenuity” have been utilized over and over again for at least a century, insinuating strongly that there was no problem beyond our grasp which would not eventually render a solution.  And, honestly, I don’t think that this mode of thought nor of rhetorical framing has ever really gone away altogether.  But what I do think is that we don’t often look for these signs so much for where they are so much as where we think they ought to be.  Everyone can drive by and see the looming, titanic mass of buildings that house a paper processing plant or a textile mill, but the more subtle evidence of, say, a software design firm is much less visible to our senses and our psyches.  Even though we may be headed towards a purely service-based economy, other developing nations are only now in the process of beginning their industrial phase of growth.  Though our example might be the means by which they set their sights and chart their course, one must also crawl before one walks.  

If we were all more or less on the same page the whole world round regarding economic parity, then exporting commodities would be a much easier task.  Right now we do retain some residual elements of an earlier day, but often our products can’t compete globally because they cost more to produce and thus they cost more to purchase.  I honestly believe that we can be indebted to one of two stances in this instance, but not both.  Either we pay people more in line of a fair wage, granting them adequate benefits— recognizing that this will ensure that many countries can always buy what they need at a cheaper price from another source, or we slash costs to the bone and with them salaries and benefits.  It goes without saying that I would never advocate the second position, but for the future going forward that model might be the only option that makes our products look attractive and compelling to another country or region’s buyer, based on the current state of affairs as they exist today.

Speaking specifically about food, for example, I note that our own cultural attitudes are often to blame for much of the disparity.  The more affluent among us can afford to be socially conscious by means of pocketbook and pay two times as much for products at a Whole Foods or a locally-grown produce Farmer’s Market.  The poorest, of course, simply aren’t afforded this option.  Americans might cut corners or scrimp to buy a wide screen television or to save up to take a vacation, but never towards food.  Food is always supposed to be readily available, unquestionably cheap, and supremely varied.  Organic food is a kind of innovation of sorts, since though its stated purpose is to use older methods of cultivation, it still combines elements of more modern technological strategies with the tried-and-true methods of a different time.  Though it would never willfully adopt this label, organic food is itself a hybrid concept—one that seeks the middle ground between old and new.  

These, of course, are previously established channels and instances.  As for what product or products would find favor among the consumers of the globe, one assumes upon first thought that the most likely innovation would come in the form of some new technological breakthrough, one perhaps tied closely to the computer or the internet.  However, like organic food, perhaps it would be best to seek for something with a foot in old ways and a foot in newer formulations.  The most enterprising soul would be wise to recognize that products can be designed purely with the intention of always having a reliably steady stream of buyers and demand, or that they can be modified in the hopes of both making money and pulling in less developed countries and regions more economically in line with ours.  Straddling the gap between the way it has always been and they way it needs to be is partially why we are at the impasse in which we find ourselves.  While I do believe that the phrase “ethical capitalism” is a complete oxymoron, I do also recognize that if we are left with a system unable to be discarded for quite some time, it would be much easier if we limited as many disparities and points of difference between people as we could, since then it would be able for us to better address the remaining and still quite numerous problems left over.  

We are still in the middle of a shift between an industrial economy and an information-based one, but at times our benchmarks and guideposts are indebted to a by-gone epoch.  Nostalgia is strong and so is the resistance to the way things were always supposed to be.  For instance, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city which was forced to completely reinvent itself after the collapse of its native steel industry in the 1970’s.  In so doing, it embraced banking and a world-class health care center based around a university, both of which are the two largest employers in the metro area.  We might be wise to emulate their example, which is far from the only instance that a city teetered on a knife’s edge between survival and disaster and managed to righted itself.

It is a short-sighted, short-term gain over long-term ultimate resolution means of thinking that got us into our current mess.  American must learn that delayed gratification provides temporarily discomfort but eventual, eternal satisfaction.  Greed drives humans to go for the quick cash-in and the gravy train, instead of a more modest, but still very satisfying profit.  I don’t ascribe to a theory of American exceptionalism because I am too aware of the times at which we fall short, though I also recognize that we are far from the only country, society, or culture which has a tendency to opt for the quick fix rather than engaging in the soul-searching and introspection which leads towards true resolution.  Lasting success is based on hard work and research, not the accidental score.  

Neither do I count myself among the numbers of those who adopt a cynical tact towards American identity and greater purpose that seeks fault first and rarely gives room for success.  Somewhere between those who believe that our best days are yet to come and those who assert that we are soon going the way of the UK into second-tier country status is something close to the reality of the situation.  Still, what we require right now is a new kind of skill set, one willing to work with existing trends, rather than fight them, build up native industry without seeking salvation in the form of a foreign company with an open checkbook, pay a bit more than usual for household staples with the understanding that increased cost doesn’t always mean money wasted, and recognize that in a truly fair world, it shouldn’t matter who is number 1 or number 500.  If money is what makes the world go round, we can’t begin to get any other unfair construct in check until we ensure that monetary policy levels the playing field.  Real equality does not trickle-down and it never will.  

Information Overload is Our Main Problem

I often puzzle over whether I should be concerned with our political situation and write about it or just get on with life. The situation often appears utterly hopeless, not because there’s nothing we can do but because there are so many choices and possibilities as well as too much information to process. Human beings are not meant to have so much stuff to think about which is why, as hard as we try, it feels like we are increasingly overloaded not just with things to do but also the knowledge that problems are multiplying faster than solutions. Any reasonable look at the current state of politics shows that every possible solutions to the critical short, medium and long term problems are just quick-fix-its that are designed to enrich some set of grandees. And knowing that, knowing that to put your faith in Obama or any conventional politician is a sure road to hell just plain hurts. We sit here at our screens and really we are in pain and if we are not in pain then we are largely unconscious or enlightened masters.

Information overload is the most direct cause of our political and social problems. The more intelligent and compassionate you are the worse it is. So how do we create a situation where expanding our knowledge can help us rather than weaken us and make us miserable. Other people just ignore stuff that is difficult or inconvenient to think about–why do we persist? Should we?

What we lack is a positive framework to put our insights and realizations into something we can build on. What that entails I’m not sure–but it’s worth thinking about.

But the first thing we need to do before we go any further is to have compassion for those that choose to hide and not think, yes even the yahoos who believe that the Bible is literally true. What if they didn’t? They don’t have the ability to navigate doubt and intellectual cross-currents–they would be swallowed up and driven mad so they survive by ignoring the blaringly obvious contradictions and clear fictions in the Bible (in fact few fundies actually read anything other than carefully selected passages of the Bible). Few of the people who actually vote for Republicans are bad people who are as glaringly selfish and destructive as the Republican public policy positions would indicate–they just want some sense of security and certainty and belongingness in a world that seems to have gone mad. That the people they are voting for actually seek to create a world filled with war, violence, pornography, materialism and hedonism and then blame others is to painful to look at. To seek alternatives that don’t offer them a place with dignity, that doesn’t offend their sense of public morality as abortion, gay rights and feminism as well as “patriotism” obviously is not going to happen easily. Most importantly these communities in the “red” areas of the country don’t want to move away from prejudices and traditions that make for a common sense of community. Generations ago it would have been far easier for them to stay in traditions because contrary information was not widely available–but today they must make a strong act of will to deliberately pull the wool over their own eyes (as the sub-genius movement suggests).

We may not “like” these people but we are required, if we truly believe in egalitarianism and democracy, to accept them and the fact they will not change sides easily or automatically believe in gay marriage or peace. Cooperation and compromise with them is required (and not with the Republican and some Democratic politicians that run confidence games on them).

Second thing we need to do is have compassion for ourselves and see how hard it is for us to swim against the current and acknowledge that just surviving without running screaming into the street (though some of us may do that from time to time) is quite an accomplishment. So we can pat ourselves on the back for a sec and then start looking for a way to use those muscles we have develop to start swimming with the stream creatively and get something done. With that in mind we must understand that inner and outer work is the same and that for that work to be effective we must, must, must be part of communities focuse on building something. Giving each other insights, keeping the information flowing as we have been doing is part of what we need to do but it is not enough because unless we build something with that information we will just get more and more frustrated–we build and create something. For example, building a wiki or database like this 9/11 timeline. There are other kinds of collective actions we could take as well–if anyone has any suggestions I’d like to hear them.

Am I a conspiracy theorist?

Well, not really–that’s just what I am called because I actually believe conspiracies are an important part of our socio-political reality–so I will cop to the plea no matter how bad it sounds. Of course, we have all seen conspiracies in our lives and no one doubts it. What we have trouble is understanding that those in power are in power largely because they are part of groups or cliques that work together often in conspiracy to gain and maintain power. We seem to be of the opinion that things just “happen” and that things are unconnected. We are surprised when we find our government lies to us. Why that surprise exists has always astonished me–government always lie, always will lie, and currently lie. If they did not they would lose power. What we have to do is understand how power works.