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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Alien Nation

H.R. Giger
The life of all conspiracy theories is alienation, some very important truth missing from the narrative received from established authorities.

The thing that is pejoratively referred to as “conspiracy theory” is really just a response to logical inconsistency in the received narrative.  Alternative theories are inevitable in in low- or poor-information environments, as almost everyone agrees is the situation we find ourselves in today.  Far from indicating that the practitioner lacks capacity, the crafting of alternative narratives is an attempt to restore coherence and mental discipline to the processing of significant events.  

That is precisely why alternative narratives attract such scorn.  Self assertion exposes a troubling contradiction: our society’s (alleged) simultaneous commitments to individual autonomy and democratic consensus.  To propose an alternative narrative, especially a well-crafted one, is to uphold autonomy, but in a way that challenges the fitness of more conventional people to participate in the project of consensus building.  If you are not insane, and you admit the reality of comparative objectivity, truth cannot be a democratic project.

Still, alternative narratives are just narratives, subject to the same epistemological constraints as received narratives, with the added political debility that their proponents lack social capital.  As a result, even if an alternative narrative is substantially correct, if so much as one of the supporting details presented is proven incorrect or incomplete, it will be typically be rejected in favor of a far less coherent received narrative.  It is cruel and unfair, but this is ironically motivated by the same concern that gave birth to the alternative theory in the first place:  the need for a narrative that works, albeit as a social lubricant rather than robust logical construct.

This is why a generalized commitment to the idea of truth is so important for crafters of alternative narratives.  Starting from a deficit of social capital, the crafter of an alternative narrative must necessarily adopt a long-term strategy, minimizing his own exposure to valid logical criticisms as his opponent slowly burns through social capital to compensate for logical incoherence.

We can’t allow ourselves to become distressed when our narratives are not immediately accepted.  Good decisions are based on accurate information, and accurate information can only be obtained by an iterative process with a methodological rigor and consistency that is entirely indifferent to the whims of social capital in a fickle society.  In other words, if we are to become champions of accuracy, we must willingly--and repeatedly--alienate ourselves from society.  We have to own our alienation.

This is why I’ve undertaken a sort of people’s biography project, collecting personal narratives of alienation in order to build a more sophisticated appreciation for the countless complicated ways we estrange ourselves from the people around us.

I have no doubt that certain aspects of my own alienation make me uniquely qualified to perform this kind of work.  For instance, I am an ugly, horse-faced man who none the less projects a certain type of quiet, retiring dignity.  I’m pretty sure that this is why so many near-strangers have felt comfortable sharing their most painful vulnerabilities with me--they recognize their alienation in me, and at the same time know that I lack the social capital necessary to become a serious threat.  I represent release without consequence, a chance to achieve some sense of integrity, even if fleeting and incomplete.

What follows is a selection of my favorite alienation narratives, collected over a period of years in various hotels, bars and restaurants, pared down for relevance to this theme, and, of course, obfuscated to prevent the identification of any specific individuals.  Most of them come close to a type of confession, a private admission of some fault the narrator cannot admit to their friends yet which they none the less cannot bring themselves to regret.

”I got married right out of high school to an older man I did not really love.  He was nice enough, just very boring and very preachy and judgmental.  Not my type at all, but kind and a good earner who lived outside of my home town, which I was anxious to leave.  

Eventually it got to be too much for me and I started to have affairs.  It went on for years until I gave him a venereal disease.  It made me sick the way he cried and begged me to stay.  I kept thinking:  ‘I just gave you VD, you dumbfuck!  I fucking hate you!’

I could never tell any of this to my current fiance.  He wouldn’t understand.”  
Penny, 30-ish woman

”Years ago, straight out of college, a close friend and I accepted positions in a global consulting firm.  For a long time our careers pretty much tracked in tandem until I got friendly with the husband of the HR director of our regional office.  That turned out to be a great move because it gave me an accelerated education in office politics, especially the career value of the various client assignments.

However, I also received occasional, under-the-table early notice of policy changes which I couldn’t in good conscience share with my friend.  This was mostly not a big concern until the financial crisis of 2007, when my friend was assigned to a ‘goat’ project, very work-intensive and technically demanding, but to a very unprestigious client not at all on our office’s fast track.  If he had known, as I did, that our office was going to be folded into that of a much larger neighboring region, he probably would have left the firm.  

But I respected the HR director’s confidence, told my friend nothing, and the inevitable happened:  the firm expanded its review requirements in light of the crisis and destroyed his budget.  There’s always some attrition when consolidating offices, but this series of events guaranteed my friend wouldn’t make the cut.  I saw that much coming a mile away.

What I didn’t see coming was the vicious way they cut him loose.  The crisis churned up a bunch of sludge that had been laying there for years and the new office chief wanted to start with a clean slate.  Somebody had to take it on the chin.  My friend got blacklisted and, as far as I know, never worked another day in his life.  

As far as I know.  I got busy settling into my new role and just lost contact.  But sometimes I wonder.”  
Jim, 40-ish man

”A few years ago I went to a cousin’s wedding in the deep South.  I had a good time and tried to moderate my drinking, but was totally unfamiliar with the weird, winding rural roads.  In the darkness, and a little disoriented, I ended up in a fender bender with a young black woman, maybe in her early 20s.  We were on the road talking when the cop got there, and I don’t know if my body language was defensive or what, but the cop started grilling her pretty hard, getting all up in her face.

I have a job that requires a clean driving record, so this encounter could have ended in disaster for me.  In the circumstances, I didn’t feel I was in any position to challenge the cop, so I just hoped for the best and let the situation play itself out.  I got a verbal warning; she got taken in to the station for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.  Beyond that I don’t know what happened.

It wasn’t really much of an accident.  I would be surprised if the bill totaled $500.  But I can’t go back in time and change the way I reacted, though I revisit it in my mind from time to time.  I guess this is why I’ve become something of a social justice warrior on the internet.”  
Phil, 30-ish (white) man

”When I found out I had cancer, my marriage descended into constant arguments so I ended up leaving.  I haven’t spoken to my ex since.

None of this is her fault.  She tried to be very supportive, but there was something that she didn’t know and was getting dangerously close to finding out:  I’m the product of incest.

She knows that I’m adopted.  I just never told her that I know who my biological parents were.  I couldn’t risk a DNA test revealing that, and she and the doctor kept hounding me to get one done in order to identify qualified organ donors.

If it were just a question of my ego I might have been able to handle it, but I have kids.  Thank god they ended up normal, which they never would have, psychologically, if they had this hanging over their heads.  The whole point of this exercise, of this marriage, was to leave the past behind and create a new future.  Who would it have benefited to drag all this up again?  For 30% survival odds and crippling debt?  At least this way they get some life insurance money.

It tears my guts up to put them through all this doubt and anxiety, but sometimes certainty is worse.”  Jake, 50-ish man

“I was always the weird, ugly kid, gawky with a bird’s face.  I don’t have any brothers and sisters, and my mom left me with my grandmother after my dad went away.  I was totally used to being alone, at home, at school, in the lunch room and the playground.

So I actually resented it when this kid, I’ll call him Bobby, started asking me about myself in 1st grade.  I was pretty sure he was fucking with me, but he sure was taking his time getting around to it.  I got bored enough to play along, and in a couple of days we were pretending to be friends.

Until maybe 4 or 5 months later, when we were crawling up and over some play tunnels at recess.  Bobby had gotten a little ahead of me and was moving, head first, over the crest of this huge play tunnel surrounded by a bed of gravel.  I couldn’t help myself, and shoved him over the side, where he landed on his face.  He ended up losing an eye.

It was pretty funny, but I was still a little shaken up, so the principal and his parents believed me when I pretended I didn’t know what happened.  The school wound up paying the medical bills, probably on the reasoning that it was inexcusably fucking stupid to surround a slippery goddamned jungle gym with a pit of pointy rocks.  

But I don’t think Bobby’s mother would have pressed the point even if she knew it was me who pushed him.  My family’s poverty was legendary and it would have been like trying to get blood from a stone.  Plus, Bobby’s family were some kind of smug Jesus freaks.  Mormons, I think.  They probably thought they were getting extra god points for forgiving me, the bastards.  That’s why I enjoyed doing it so much in the first place.

The only thing that made me think if something else might have been going on happened a couple years ago when a neighbor of mine came back from Afghanistan.  Now his face is all messed up, one leg and part of the other are gone, and I think he might be missing his nuts.  But his friends still come around, and in fact, he and his girlfriend are getting married next month.

I wonder if it works different if you get ugly after being normal first.”
Todd, 30-ish man

“I wonder if I’m becoming autistic or something, or if I have been all along.

In my senior year of high school I had an intense fling with the sister of a friend of mine.  She and I were total opposites, so it was pretty exciting, in both the positive and negative sense of that word.

But I went away to college, and sustaining a long distance relationship was just not in the cards.  She was too impulsive, which was what drew me to her in the first place.  That was obvious from the beginning, so it was not hard to accept intellectually, although it didn’t stop me from dwelling on it inwardly in quiet moments.

Fast forward to the summer after my sophomore year, which I spent back in my parents’ house.  I ran into my friend for the first time in years at the bank.  It felt a little awkward at first because this fling didn’t end well and I knew their mother never liked me hanging around her in the first place.  A little bit of bullshit self deception on all of our parts, except perhaps my friend, since this girl was always the wild one and everyone knew that.

Not to dwell on this unnecessarily, but that point is worth emphasizing:  EVERYONE knew that.  In great and lurid detail.

Anyhow, my friend’s tone now was totally genuine and free of these heavy associations.  I convinced myself that I was being a silly cunt by acting like such a drama queen, and so overrode a feeling of creeping doubt when I accepted an invitation to meet him for dinner at a local restaurant.

I noticed my friend’s car in the restaurant’s lot ahead of me, and through a window caught a glimpse of him--and someone else next to him in the booth. Entering the building, I wound my way first around the bar opposite where he was sitting, glancing around a pillar to get my bearings.  Of course it was her.  An uncharacteristically heavy her.

I didn’t need to think about this now, mostly because I’d spent most of the last two years anticipating it.  Now, I figured, was the time to take advantage of all that anguished forewarning and literally leave and cut my losses.  Which I did.

I probably didn’t become Rain Man all at once.  I spent a couple of months torturing myself about the right thing to do, but all doubts were removed when I caught sight of her, her mother--and her baby--one day as I wandered the local shopping mall in a stupor.  My informants seem to have been correct in every detail.  The math was unassailable.  This child could not possibly be mine.

Not that you could tell by the icy glare her mother shot when she noticed me staring.

Although this incident has stayed with me all this time, I almost never say anything about it.  I mostly don’t see the point.  I mostly don’t see the point in anything, anymore.”
Ray, 40-ish man

“My career languished for a while after I moved back to my small provincial hometown from the large coastal city where I attended college.  My company has a very structured, seniority-oriented career path, and I no longer clearly fit into any of the existing categories.

But last year I finally caught on and received a promotion.  Turns out that I had graduated out of the entry-level, technical competence intensive part of the career path before I even transferred back home.  Now I’m expected to develop sales oriented relationships outside the company and more collegial relationships with upper management and mentoring relationships with junior members inside the company.  This entails a lot of insincere shmoozing with people I don’t really like.  Golf courses and Christmas cards.

Last week I had to attend a going away party for a departing junior associate that I was mentoring.  Let’s call him ‘Jamal’.  Yes, Jamal is black.

I don’t know why, but I found myself mechanically repeating some canned lines from my mentor training to Jamal as I prepared to leave.  WTF was the point supposed to be?  He was leaving the company.

That’s when his girlfriend, let’s call her Carla, started this bizarre, slow maniacal laugh.  Everyone at the table felt uncomfortable, but Carla didn’t stop, or even appear to notice.  To cap it all off, her left eye began to roll creepily back into her head.

Nobody overtly acknowledged this, not even Jamal.  For my part I just plowed through to end of my prepared comments and departed on schedule with the expected pleasantries all around.

I hate my job.  I had an entirely different idea of this profession before I entered it.  I assumed the engagements were going to be personal, technical and ethical.  Instead they are almost entirely commercial and political.  What little time I have to myself I now spend drinking and hoping that I won’t wake up in the morning.”
Sharon, 30-ish (white) woman

“I don’t like my son.  

I don’t hate him.  I don’t wish he didn’t exist.  I just don’t like being around him.

He’s such a smug little prick.  Always questioning my ‘life choices’ and trying to convert me to some dumb opinion he just swallowed from NPR.  As if I were so stupid that my seven decades of life experience counted for nothing and he were bringing the real world to me for the first time.

I endure him for the sake of my wife during the holidays, but I live for the days in between.”
Gar, 70-ish man

“Look, you’ve already gotten everything from me worth taking.  Three tours of duty in Iraq, including Falujah.  Go away.”
Unnamed, 40-ish man

“Well, yeah.  Of course I’m alienated.  We’re all alienated.  That’s what makes us individuals.  If we all achieved perfect identification we’d be the same person and there would be no scope for our ambition.”
Alex, 40-ish man

Friday, December 12, 2014

Playing Through the Pain

Emergency responders will tell you that pain is actually a good sign in trauma victims--the fact that nerves haven't been destroyed leaves open the hope that injuries might be substantially repaired.  But your typical lay person may not recognize this.

Andrea Tantaros doesn't want to deal with this.  She just wants the pain of America's illegal and immoral torture programs to be over, hoping that simply shouting "America is awesome" will make it so .  Although this attitude is dangerous and wrong-headed, she's far from alone in this.

Contemporary society in general does not honor 'playing through the pain'.  It regards  discomfort and inconvenience with unmitigated fear and disgust.  It's all a part of a consumerist world view that has rejected life in an infantile effort to ward off the inevitability of challenge and change; the only thing Americans value is immediate satisfaction of their personal wants.

Our ancestors had a different outlook.  They didn't see life as an unchanging condition of stasis to be maintained at all costs, moral, intellectual or otherwise.  They saw human life as a natural progression of development whereby individuals tested themselves against time and their fellows to attain the height of their capacities, spiritual as well as physical.  This is why they honored age; having proved their mettle in the crucibles of outrageous fortune, these were people whose sorrows could prove instructive to the young.

But no more.  We just want the pain to be over.  We refuse to learn from it.

If this is to be America's attitude going forward it's best days are already behind it, left behind with the lessons it doesn't think are worth learning.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Your Excellency

The good citizen must wish for the well-being of his fellows as earnestly as he wishes it for himself.  On this all the best thinkers, both ancient and modern, agree.  This is for the reason that by definition, society is comprised of a number of distinguishable but interdependent parts, each, ideally contributing to the stability and prosperity of the whole.  The happiness of the one is indeed ultimately dependent upon the happiness of the others.

Of course, it is impossible that any single person, let alone the entirety of the citizenry, should be at once capable of feeling the needs of all of his fellows to the degree that each feels his or her own, and wise enough to foresee the precise means of accomplishing it while at the same time having the practical means to realize it.  The expedient adopted by all societies to offset this defect is to promote mutual forebearance, on the implicit understanding that if no one is able to obtain perfect satisfaction for him or her self, at least they are all able to achieve a portion of it.

An excellent method of inculcating the principle of mutual forebearance is to multiply the number of interactions each member of society has with his fellows.  Perceiving many opportunities to arrive at the desired result, the citizen becomes less resentful of those occassions he or she fails to achieve it, confident that another opportunity will present itself shortly; if the failing today, he or she may succeed tomorrow.  Each citizen sees that his or her personal happiness is enhanced by interacting with his or her fellows.

But a "trans"-action is not necessarily an "inter"-action.  "Trans"-actions are those that occur across unlike parties; "inter"-actions are mutually undertaken among like parties.  One may negotiate, on more or less equal terms, the requirements of an "inter"-action, whereas the disparity of powers inherent to a "trans"-action compells one party or the other to simply accept its terms or do without in toto.

The significance of this difference is often lost in societies predisposed towards democracy.  It is not merely the function of the unsophistication of individual intellects, but the common imperative to respect one's fellows as equals in dignity.  Constantly reminding him or her self that all are entitled to an equal human dignity, the member of a democratic society is apt to forget that each is not endowed with identical capacities.

This diversity of capacities is often presented as the particular virtue of democratic societies, the theory being that democracy, being least prejudicial to individual interests, is, among all political forms, best constituted to harnessing individual energies to the common good.

But this is rarely the case.  It is often forgotten by those predisposed to see their fellows as equals in dignity, that the laws do not always proceed from the social mores of the people those laws govern.

Finding it odious to disparage others, citizens of good will are unwilling to question the aims of those who, unlike themselves, wish to obtain a secret command that makes transactions increasingly un-equal.  Cloaked by language directly opposed to his actual intent, the gifted dissembler obscures from us the fact that a moral agent is not necessarily a competent economic agent, and thus he encounters no serious barrier in his evil design to bind others to him by chains of obligation which they cannot scorn except at the cost of their livliehood.

What wonder, then, that simple souls, intending nothing but the honest well-being of their fellows, and committed to respect of the common law as they find it, step by step become unwitting accomplices to the destruction of everything they love?  For that is the case.  Sooner or later, the accumulated dissatisfaction of people living under such an un-equal system, as it becomes more and more apparent, must necessarily dissolve the bonds of mutual esteem that render a society coherent.  For this cause and for no other are societies destroyed.

So while the good citizen must wish for the well-being of his fellows as earnestly as he or she wishes it for himself, the excellent citizen must make careful inquiries into the particular qualities of each he encounters and take care that no one of them acquire command over too many.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Perfect Crime

In the coming days, weeks and months many influential public figures will spend a great deal of time and energy trying to convince you to take part in a crime.  I advise you to heed the advice of your “better angels” and refuse.

Events on the ground are developing rapidly, but as of the time of this writing it is clear that military forces of the Russian state and paramilitary groups serving it have seized property belonging to the sovereign state of Ukraine in the odd name of “stabilizing” the situation there.  The airwaves are being bombarded with continual updates of unverified information, but what is clear is that this is the sort of crisis in which the credibility of the international community of nation states is at stake; the roles they have assumed for themselves demand they take some sort of decisive action.

We know what “decisive action” means:  inevitably progress military escalation to open warfare.  Only for the purpose of “stabilizing” the situation there, of course.

Equally inevitably, in times of external crisis, all nation states demand redoubled internal unity.  Only for the purpose of “stabilizing” the situation over here, of course.  Your presidents, prime ministers, members of Parliament, Duma and Congress will ask you to stand “with” your country rather than “against” it; they will ask you to become an accomplice in your own murder.

Our generation, for all our sins, foibles, errors and misfortunes does have one happy blessing, however, that sets us apart uniquely from all generations that went before us:  we have lived through a decade of warfare whose most intimate operations have been laid bare to us in real time, courtesy of the likes of Alexander Litvinenko, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and the like.  Serhi Scherbyna, editor of the Ukrainian investigative journalism team at Insider, has published thousands of documents saved from destruction by the fleeing regime of ousted president Victor Yanukovych.  This has been publicized through western media such as The Globe and Mail in Canada.

These documents reveal that, despite convenient claims of all international players to the contrary, these recent events have occurred, not as the sudden, unpredictable consequence of civil unrest in Ukraine, but a coordinated effort of BOTH western AND Russian elites to manipulate public opinion and defalcate billions of dollars in public assets to their own private benefit.  For instance, not only did Yanukovych personally plan and coordinate a foreign military intervention, but he also hired numerous highly placed western lawyers (e.g., Gregory B. Craig, a close advisor of Barrack Obama, et al.) to craft legal and public relations strategies regarding a series of political show trials to stifle internal dissent.

So, in essence, when events inevitably arrive at open military hostilities, your nation state’s political leaders will ask you to die to distract attention from their own crimes.  You will be asked to kill innocent strangers and be killed in return in order to sustain the fiction that the “leaders” of the nation state—ANY NATION STATE—has the interests of their subjects at heart.  It is a tactic as old as the nation state itself, but now it is being (mis)applied outside the context of one-way legacy media conduits that gave it credibility.

The “perfect crime” is often used to mean one that goes undetected, but  I beg to differ.  I assert that the “perfect” crime is one that co-opts its victims to the extent that nobody has any interest in prosecuting its perpetrators.  Don’t make this the perfect crime.  Don’t become an accomplice in your own murder.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rx for Revolution

Pugachev Administering Justice by Vasily Perov

"We were probably the most conservative-minded revolutionaries who put through a successful revolution." Kevin O'Higgins

"If they have real grievances redress them, if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them . . . . If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. "  George Washington, letter to Henry Lee, 31 October 1786

"I am a monarch of God's creation, and you reptiles of the earth dare not oppose me.  I render an account of my government to none . . . ."
Napoleon Bonaparte, speech at Breda, 1 May 1810

While the exact precipitants of overt rebellion are perhaps impossible to predict, history does grant us absolute certainty that the next regime will be a fundamentally conservative one.

The revolution of 1789 may have been reasonably foreseen given that country's horrific long-term economic trends and decades of fiscal mismanagement by the French Crown.  However, before Easter 1916, few would have dared prophecy an end to nearly 800 years of English dominance in a disgruntled and disenfranchised but thoroughly exhausted and demoralised Ireland. And even today it is more than a little perplexing as to why 1773 in particular should be the occasion for violent resistance to British Crown policies which had been pursued at least since 1696, when William III established the Lords of Trade.  But inevitably each of these momentous events was succeeded by a conservative regime.

The art of successful revolution lies in the reconciliation of the iconoclasm required to dismantle the old regime while simultaneously projecting the familiarity (comfortable or otherwise) required to elicit the confidence of the political nation.  It is, to say the least, a difficult thing to achieve.

During the ten thousand years or so since the adoption of agriculture demanded a fixed ordering of society along more or less arbitrary lines, the specialization of labor has reinforced the naturally uneven distribution of qualities among its members to the point where the presumption of "standing"--the moral right for the individual to meaningful participation in society's ordering institutions--is not so much questioned as it is ridiculed as inchoate nonsense.

In sedentary societies the economic imperative is conformity, based on the conviction that the fundamental questions of physical necessity have been adequately resolved, and that all that is required is their implementation and further elaboration along the established lines.  Deviance, dissent and variation are no longer viewed as presenting valuable new contributions to society's repertoire of resources and techniques, but existential dangers.  This is to say, the only value the individual has to offer society is his consent.

Therefore it is to be assumed that there will always be a fundamental cleavage between the political role of the productive classes (i.e., the masses whose lives are almost wholly given over to the performance of economically productive activities) and the leadership class (i.e., those few who supervise the toil of the many).  Whether or not a given laborer is cleverer than a given member of the ruling classes matters not--his very status as 'laborer' undermines his ability to effectively assume a leadership role.  The fact that the current incumbent may be spectacularly stupid does not matter either, because it is not the validity of the individual which is crucial, but that of the overarching social model, which is usually taken for granted.

As long as the leadership class are capable of wringing at least a subsistence level of economic productivity from the orthodox model, their privilege cannot come under serious internal challenge.  The only people likely to express dissatisfaction are those whose opinion, by definition, does not matter.

So, in other words, the onus on the successful revolutionary is to present himself not as the successor to the existing regime, but the restoration of the productive primal order which justifies the inescapable suppression of individuality which is the lot of the vast majority of people in sedentary societies.

Very rarely combined in one person are both the social facility needed to convincingly perform such an astounding feat of hypocritical playacting and the wisdom needed to recognize and productively direct a cadre of competent followers from the unruly mass of displaced peasantry which is the inevitable result of rebellion.  One is tempted to say that, relatively speaking, serviceable acting skills are more easily found than acceptable management skills, given the extreme infrequency of successful revolutions, but that would be to ignore the fact that given society's conservative nature, the opportunities for play acting are so much more abundant than the opportunities for active management.

In light of all this, it shouldn't surprise us at all that successful revolutionaries, almost without exception, are a very conservative lot.  Indeed, to the extent that a successful revolutionary accepts (or at least does not avowedly contradict) any egalitarian ideals incidental to the movement that brought him into power, he is obliged to balance them against pressing threats to the public to preserve fundamental inequalities. 

This was accomplished in the early days of the Republic of Ireland by Fianna Fรกil's reinforcement of Catholic orthodoxy and an Anglophobic rhetoric which were aimed more at crippling internal dissent and managing unrealistic economic expectations rather than accomplishing their stated objective of political independence of the entire island from Britain.

Washington was faced with a more unique challenge in that, as captain of an entirely new polity, there were few established institutions commanding the unequivocal allegiance of all the former colonies.  He generally steered a very careful, non-committal course between the near anarchic egalitarianism favored by many prominent social philosophers, like Jeffersons and the muscular authority proposed by thinkers preoccupied by the economic development of the American federation, such as Hamilton.  But when this uneasy equilibrium was put to a decisive test, he was not ambiguous.  He quickly availed himself of the opportunity to used armed force against an unpopular minority, the so-called Scots-Irish of America's backwoods regions, to underscore the primacy of the east coast political elites during the Whiskey Rebellion.

In the wake of the disasters of the early revolutionary period, including the generally abysmal conduct of the War of the Second Coalition by the Directory, Napoleon almost immediately recognized that a more dramatic, conventional sort of authority was required to restore public confidence.  He lost little time in leveraging his military credentials to the consulship, and ultimately emperor's throne.  From then on, whatever remained of the high-flown ideals of the Rights of Man were to be brutally (but, within France at least mostly willingly) subordinated to the glory of the French Empire.

Even if we allow ourselves to indulge in the momentary thought that the recent incredible dysfunctions on display in the US Congress heralds the immanent collapse of American Empire, we should be under no illusion that what replaces it will be the dawn of a Utopian society.  Even if the new order is established only after considerable culling, it can in no way base itself on the active political participation of its subjects, for the simple reason that the fundamental top-down economic paradigm remains unchallenged. 

So-and-so or such-and-such may be president or prime minister tomorrow; we may or may not find ourselves with the opportunity to vote over contentious legislation; we may or may not be allowed to assemble in public spaces.  But no one at all seriously expects that he/she will not be required to report promptly as ordered by the workplace supervisor.  Indeed, that we may not be allowed to do so is a very mortal terror.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We Are Legion

Detail from the frontispiece of the 1651 edition of Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan"

Any experienced manager will tell you that the single most challenging part of his or her job is not to be found within the mass of technical details that run through a given project's design, but keeping their workers productively occupied during the inevitable yet unpredictable lulls and logjams that force their way through at inopportune moments.  Power outages, equipment failures, traffic jams, sudden, urgent changes in customer specs, etc., etc., will all, at one point or another, intrude upon the orderly execution of any significant project, totally f*ckin' up your sh*t unless you can convincingly improvise on short notice.

Time is money, and labor is only borrowed, not owned, so you sitting there on your hands is usually not an option.  Unless you do something about it now now NOW you're gonna be up sh*t creek, mon frere.  The consequences don't bear thinking about.

And to add insult to injury, your team, just as inevitably as these interruptions will occur, will view them as opportunity to prove the old adage "idle hands are the Devil's workshop".  Sure, the odd individual here or there may prove to have some initiative of their own, seizing some previously unidentified flexibility within their own assignments.  But that flexibility will always be limited.  And frankly, despite the pseudo-folksy drivel of communistic America-haters like Garrison Keillor, it is simply mathematically impossible for ALL the children to be "above average".

The sad truth of the matters is that all men are NOT created equal.  We will never become successful managers of our own affairs until we admit that plain fact.  It is not merely an absurdity, but a malicious deception to tell a child that he or she can "grow up to be anything." 

A blind narcoleptic will never become an airline pilot.  A child suffering from uncontrollable tics and spasms will not become a band saw operator at a wood mill.  A soul burdened by excessive concern with ethics and transparency will never become an investment banker or politician.

The responsible parent or manager admits this up front. 

When a child or worker's lack of direction has led them away from the path of contented productivity, the loving parent or manager will provide his or her charge with an acceptable alternative path forward.  The excellent parent or manager will guide or her charge to the discovery of their own path forward.  The execrable parent or manager will let the chips fall where they may, hoping he or she won't get crushed in the fallout, whatever may become of his or her charge.

Sadly, it is the last sort of management style which seems to have captured the popular imagination for the last several decades, cynically perverting the laudatory notions of 'equality of opportunity' and 'equality of dignity' into the sick and destructive lie of 'guarantee of outcome' to give licence to the wicked and corrosive chaos that destroys faith and cohesion within a society.

The Law is not applied.  The weak and powerless are punished more severely[1] than the powerful and the privilegedRighteousness is punishedPrudence is ridiculedThe youth are not cultivated, but are left to wander the streets aimlessly like feral animals.

'Leading from behind', is a lie, because, in fact, leadership presupposes initiative.  'Leading by example' can only apply to those very few destined to become leaders themselves.  'Aggressive leadership' is a laughable oxymoron, because anyone emotionally mature and responsible enough to be an actual leader understands that the goal is mutually productive engagement--and that it is completely impossible, and indeed an abominable notion, to reduce another human soul to abject conformity.

The true leader will display 'engaged leadership'--an in depth sense of his or her charges' capabilities and contributions to the team that can only come from genuine and unforced interactions that are mutually reinforcing.  The true leader understands that he can neither destroy nor remake those who would be his or her followers, and so commits him or her self only to those endeavors which are worthy of the team.

This last point is why America is suffering in chaos, why there can be no true leadership here.  No American is willing to admit that the idea of the U.S.A. as some kind of comic book superhero is a perverse joke.  We have committed ourselves to an unrealistic and utterly inhuman project that is not only doomed to failure, but requires us to savagely destroy ourselves in the process.

[1] "But federal research shows that the average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug offender is longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Only Real Reason American Conservatives Fear Gay Marriage

“The most effective form of police state is one in which the masses police themselves.”

Wives and children are little policemen.  Miniature Stasi agents.  Watching your—and more importantly, making you watch your own--every movement.

That, in a nutshell is it.  No more no less.  The traditional family model’s importance is solely the control of potential political subversion. 

They don’t care about Biblical injunctions against sodomy.  Hell, they’ve got the Vatican anchoring their side.  And last time I heard, Pope Benedict XVI was forced to resign due to pressure from a powerful cabal of high-level sodomists. 

Also, check out George Rekers' ‘stache.  A real Freddy Mercury type of thing going on there.  The Protestants are no better than the Catholics on this one.

I had the poor fortune recently of spending four hours at a local watering hole listening to an old college buddy of mine go on and on (and on and on) about how sh*tty his life was, how the boss was an *sshole, and how all he got at home from the old lady were complaints and insults, whining about how his crappy salary didn’t give them enough to meet the bills, and how the kids were always coming down with some bug or another and needed some type of treatmentment that his worthless insurance policy didn’t cover.  The litany seemed endless.

So how do you respond to this type of emotional toxic dump?  You may have a different opinion, but it seemed pretty clear to me at the time:  don’t respond at all.

I mean, seriously, what could I tell this guy?  “Just divorce that f*ckin’ hag and get on with your life, already!  Look at me—never married, never been married, never thought about getting’ married.  Got no kids—or at least none that I know of.  And I’m living the life of Riley.  Sure, I’ve got no television set or cable.  So if you was to quiz me on the latest episode of Jersey Shore or Duck Dynasty or whatever, chances are I’d fail miserably, but I regard that as an acceptable price to pay.  You tell me which of us has the better life?”

No, clearly that would not do.  For one thing, it would be just too brutal, even if every word of it is true.  You just don’t kick a guy when he’s down, just that simple. 

Plus, I know this guy well enough.  He wouldn’t have responded with anything remotely like, “Yeah, Liam, you’ve got me on this one.  Boy, did I really f*ck up when I married Trudy.”  No, he would have said something more along the lines of:  “Liam, you’re just not getting the whole picture here.  No offense or anything, but you’re as ugly as sin.  You’ve got the complexion of an olive loaf and the hairline of something that’s been left in the ‘fridge too long.  There was never any chance of you getting married in the first place.  You’ll never know the miracle of birth, the wonder of watching your kid’s first steps and whatnot.  Not to be cruel about it, but there’s a whole dimension to life that you only begin to discover when you become a father.  No offense.”

Such views reveal, unintentionally yet very convincingly, the architecture of the conservative’s plan to control society:  control it by sentimentalizing the very means of oppression.  If my friend was inhibited from effectively challenging the immorality inherent in contemporary capitalism by his family’s incessant demands upon his time and resources, he was absolutely precluded from even questioning it by the delusion that the bars of his prison cell as wonderful gilded doors.

Throughout history, all the greatest thinkers have been terrible husbands and parents:   Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire.  And really, when you get down to it, Jesus may have been able to walk on water, but not even he could have achieved anything noteworthy if he’d listened to his Jewish mother and settled down and gotten a law degree like she’d insisted.  Family life is the yoke of mediocrity.

It scares the living bejeebers out of conservatives that their most effective means of surveillance and control might be prized from their filthy paws.  If legitimization of personal relationships is not monopolized by a centralized hierarchy and enforced by arbitrary violence, what is to prevent people from seeking their own happiness?

For the vast majority of its history, the Church hasn’t given two sh*ts about marriage except as a means of political control. 

Oh, occasionally they illegitimated the offspring of some royal union on the grounds of consanguinity during the Middle Ages.  But that was only enforced against rulers the Pope didn’t like.  Jeez, look at the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs.  Theirs was more like a family shrub than a tree.  Tons of first cousin marriages and more than one uncle/niece marriage, to the point where the dynasty collapsed upon itself in a fetid soup of incest with Carlos II, “El Hechizado” (i.e., “the Cursed”).  All tolerated because of their uncritical endorsement of the papacy.

But the relationship between the spouses themselves wasn’t even considered important enough to merit an official sacrament until the Protestant Reformation gave the Church a reason to claim a monopoly on all marriages.  Clear through the early 1500’s we have literally tens of thousands of examples of courts upholding as legitimate and perfectly legal the informal union of individuals who did nothing more than privately declare themselves to be married—without so much as the presence of a third party witness.  This type of off-the-books yet fully recognized transaction is at the core of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliette”, and is notably celebrated in the marriage of young Margery Paston and Richard Calle of the “Paston Letters” fame.

Back then, that sort of do-as-you-like behavior could be tolerated for the lower orders of society, when autocracy was the only political endorsed by ‘right thinking people’ everywhere.  No point in spending a lot of time actively policing people whose opinions could not, even theoretically, matter.

That all changed with the advent Martin Luther.  The inescapable implication was that, in theory, if not in actual practice, that every man and woman had a right to interpret the world as he or she sought fit—despite the zealous efforts of Luther himself to convince peasants that a Protestant peasant was still just a peasant.

Until the late 19th century, peasants had far too much to do to ensure their own mere physical survival, much less develop elaborate ideals about proper social and political relationships.  There was still little political need to officially proclaim a monopoly on all human relationships.

But what do you do in a world of plenty?  When technology has increased human productivity several hundred times over and yet minimum required caloric intake remains just the same as it ever was?  How do you justify an arbitrary authority when systems are so diverse and interdependent that no one person or institution could ever hope to control the economy’s physical choke points?  Even if they are inclined to apply a brutal physical violence, conservatives become like sharks, doomed to circle their prey, endlessly and sleeplessly, inevitably to fatigue themselves with their own greed.  Even sharks must die.  Much better to convince the serfs to police themselves.

This, when you think of it, on a planet as horribly overpopulated as our own, is the most compelling social function of child bearing.  Without the cutesy factor of kids, with their aura of charming innocence and all-consuming dependency, how long would most of us put up with the ceaseless and irrational demands of marriage?  What, maybe five percent, tops?

What kind of decent state-subsidized Ponzi scheme or illegal military adventure could a nation sustain if a mere five percent of your population were too preoccupied to resist?  If the shabby ideological framework of neoliberal capitalism chains us to our economic masters, the ridiculous and totally ahistorical conservative notion of ‘traditional’ marriage and childrearing chains us to our spiritual masters.