Tag Archives: Stefan tries and fails to talk about complex political philosophy

Analyzing My Awful Conservative Doppelganger, Steven Crowder

MARRIED!

Last Saturday I got unnecessarily excited at the premier of Part III of Fox News junior pundit and stand-up comedian Steven Crowder’s magnum opus of “MY MARRIAGE RULZ FUCK YOU HATERS”. The reason for my joy, which manifested itself in a few regrettably dumb tweets, was that Crowder’s previous pieces on the same subject were so chock full of inane observations and transparently silly misconceptions about the world that I frankly rejoiced at the thought of viciously skewering the new post before I even read the thing. I even primed my editor over at Wonkette with some half-assed “hoo boy this should be fun” before realizing that I could only excise one mediocre gay joke from the whole piece.

After reading Crowder’s post “I’m a guy and I’ll never badmouth my wife”, my enthusiasm diminished and my desire to do almost anything with the post floated into the abyss of meh that has surrounded much of the last few weeks. In reading Crowder now I not only see someone who is running out of material to write about, I am also gazing at the proverbial fun house mirror and seeing a slightly distorted image of myself. Given how much time I spent excoriating every aspect of this young man’s life recently, the realization that he and I are not so different is jarring to say the least. However there is something to learn both in our similarities, as well as our differences, which in a way I think (although this is probably bordering on self-indulgence here) highlight the stark divergence in political socialization that we now so playing out today.

In case you are reading this and wondering why in the fuck I am prepping you for a long form article concerning my thoughts on this dude, let me first explain that Crowder is not only the guy who made the news last year for getting punched in the face during a Union protest in Wisconsin, he is also the fine gentleman who trolled the world with his pieces for FoxNews.com. These included: bragging about how his decision to not fuck his lady friend until they got married makes him a better person than the rest of us, shitting on some obscure rapper’s decision not to get a vasectomy, and some rambly piece of shit about how marriage will solve all of societies woes. As you can see nothing that he has to say is particularly insightful or original, but the fact that he as a young man is saying it (versus the usual faces of folks like Pat Robertson or Phyllis Schlafly) make him a bit of show pony for the right wing’s latest new angle on the same awful ideas. Of course it also makes him a prime target for folks like me on the other side, so Crowder’s increased notoriety is a bipartisan success story.

However after reading Crowder’s new post I decided to re-visit his older works in order to confirm something that I started to suspect. What I know think about the man is that, at least on this one issue, he is not just some well-coifed finger puppet for the Conservative Movement (although that is how they regard him). Instead Crowder is actually rather sincere in his beliefs regarding the institution, and also in his love for his wife– issues for which I absolutely do not begrudge him, and for obvious reasons.

As a fellow young married millennial whose favorite pastimes happens to include posting silly things on the internet, I have some pretty glaring similarities with the way more successful Crowder. So many in fact that one could probably conclude that much of my resentment for the man is based on a case of professional jealousy. He and his family will not starve as he is building an impressive resume sucking the engorged cock of wingnut welfare. Meanwhile I am on the precibus of taking the bar exam and am probably looking down the barrel of an extended period pain brought on by long term unemployment combined with crippling student loan debt. I would gladly sell out my righteousness in a second and toss Roger Ailes’ salad on a regular basis if it meant a six figure salary and a few weeks of paid vacation with my wife.

But beyond just the subtle feelings of envy  Crowder’s work are the striking parallels in the subject matter of our published works. Both of us are concerned with the pressing political and social problems of this country and we both have our preferred methods of disassembling those issues for a mass audience while still maintaining a degree of verifiable truth to our arguments. However it is here where it is appropriate to parse out our differences.

For example while Crowder and I both might see a culture where it is acceptable for men our age to wallow in adolescence for perpetuity and feel a degree of anger, it is Crowder who takes the opportunity to reflexively blame a whole host of conservative bete noires. Homosexuals, metrosexuals, and the entire progressive movement are at the root of a generation of young men who are unemployed and financially dependent on their parents. Taking the extra step to analyze the degrading economic opportunities and solidifying class-based inequality in our society would require Crowder to abandon the steely resolve of his antagonistic ideology. As being challenged is not Crowder’s strong suit he instead settles for simplicity and unnecessary acts of provocation towards people like me.

This sort of ideological divide compounded with a refusal to be intellectually curious also is evident in Crowder’s posts on marriage and family values. While we both turn our noses at the cultural acceptance of straight men whining incessantly about their wives as some sort of wonderful past time, he once again dives in some half cocked condemnation of the individuals who engage in this sort of behavior instead of perhaps exploring the wider issues of systemic sexism (or just simply acknowledging that “marriage is work“). Equally idiotic is his treatment of “fatherhood”, whereby liburlz are somehow simultaneously responsible for the burden of unwanted and unplanned children while also existing as history’s greatest monsters by advocating for family planning and legal abortions.

I am completely guilty of attempting to gain some degree of publicity by riding Crowders coattails into the internet zeitgeist whenever he stupidly decides to engage some sort of ideological match that is way beyond his weight class. He is an easy individual to lampoon as his ideas are old and tiresome and his own existence personifies the clueless angry jerk that liberals like myself have known and hated since we were in primary school. Crowder may constantly beat up on the poor by blaming them for all of societies ills, but folks like me are right behind him ready to kick him straight in the ass for the exact same reason: vulnerability.

Perhaps the message here is that those of us with a degree of skill in this world of internet scribbling should be brave enough in our  convictions and our analytical ability to take on those with real power and influence instead of focusing on the clowns who act as their accomplices on the ground. People like Lanny Davis, Mickey Kraus, Joe Scarborough, and Bob Woodward are equally as disgusting as Steven Crowder, yet they are smart enough to hide their blatant disregard for humanity and democracy behind a veneer of social grace. The acceptability of pundits and politicians who guide young dumbass activists like Crowder has done irreparable damage to the social contract and the basic shared value of humanity in this country. Encouraging hate-clicking on some 25 year old jackass with an occasional Fox News column just seems like a waste of time compared to enlightening people about the permanent destruction of the New Deal.

But then again like Crowder, I’m just a young white moron with a laptop and an audience. Whatever either of us has to say about a particular subject must be viewed through the lens of privilege, inexperience, and (frankly) ignorance. At least I am cognizant enough to realize that fact.


Dread

The last two weeks I have found it hard to write about, well anything. Finals are heating up here in Law School land, the campaigns are over, and my family is currently mourning the loss of my uncle. Furthermore the dominant news stories of the day are either relating to inane stupidity (the “fiscal cliff” and CNBC’s faux deficit concern trolling) or terribly depressing (the utter hatred and violence exhibited by both sides in the seemingly endless conflict between Israel and the Palestinians). All of these factors provide me with a great excuse to let another day pass without writing, especially as I am increasingly unable to properly articulate the return of the all-encompassing, yet surprisingly subtle sense of dread that I feel.

If I were forced to provide a simple answer about why I am concerned it is that sometime in the immediate future I, as a young adult will soon enter society as a “professional”, and that the values and ethics of this “community” are incredibly fucked up. It is my baseline belief that the level hatred and vitriol towards our underclass remains at an unacceptably high, and that even our ostensibly liberal elected officials are not incentivized to do anything to address any aspect of this problem.

Last night my favorite show to watch sober, Frontline, aired a fantastic and hard-hitting hour long documentary on the lives of poor children struggling in this country after the great recession. The resilient and observant kids described a variety of different problems that their families have encountered in the last few years, and did so while maintaing a stoic composure and self-awareness present in only few adults that I know. Despite the diversity of their challenges their remained an underlying and troubling theme within each of these families: institutional and societal neglect.

This neglect takes many forms, and I am experiencing one of them right now. I am taking a poverty law class this semester in school. It is a 3L seminar, and as such the majority of the students in the class regard the reading assignments as optional and the discussions as useless. The possibility for a rich and complex look into the American legal system’s treatment of poverty is lost on the denizens of this Orange County law school community, as Gchat and Facebook updates remain much more relevant to their lives than the intricacies of TANF. But I can’t blame them for not caring, as in truth anyone who is seeking to pay off 200k in student loans by working in poverty law (i.e. me) is completely insane.

Poor children do not vote, and their parents are not exactly a sought after demographic themselves. These families are the invisible people who line up outside of Labor Ready everyday at 4:00am for the chance to work a minimum wage landscaping job. They are the people working to raise the children of their mentally ill adult child despite being old enough themselves to qualify for Social Security Retirement. They are the people praying that their abscessed molar will not become infected as they cannot afford treatment- and Medicaid does not cover dental issues. We talk about the deficit in terms of a moral obligation to our children to become debt free. However I have yet to here about the moral obligation to make sure that these children do not have endure on a waiting list for emergency Friday food rations from their public schools meant to ensure that they have something to eat over the weekend.

So perhaps I am down because the Holidays for me means the “stress” of fixing a large meal or the arguments that my healthy and stable family will have concerning some relatively innocuous bullshit. In reality much of the dread I am feeling probably has to do with the inevitable (and fast approaching) end of my schooling career and the still atrocious job market for young JD’s. However the subtle concern that I am at least beginning to recognize both in my life and in the wider policy realm is that the willingness to care about each other’s welfare, and about our neighbors struggle to survive in this increasingly unstable society of ours just doesn’t exist. Despite the similarities of our worries and difficulties, we are either too embroiled in our individual battles or too full of hate or distrust of one another to do much of anything to prevent this great unraveling that is happening all around us.

Happy Thanksgiving


Gamma Omicron Pi: The Republican Fraternity

For a someone who would like to entertain the idea that I understand political issues enough to blog about them, understanding the other side is beyond essential. Sadly in attempting to comprehend their actions and ethos, I concluded that they are in fact not a reasonable group of people who happen to hold different political views than mine. Instead this exercise in understanding just reinforced what I had always feared about modern “conservatism”. The Republican Party is little more than the fraternity full of hostile children that you avoided at all costs in college. Their increasingly vicious policy platforms and campaign strategies derive from and represent the worst elements of the American Greek System , and they and the entire country has suffered as a result of their embrace of masculine fascism.

The effect of post 1960’s college experience is at least mostly responsible for this dominate dynamic inside of the party. Ever since Animal House became part of the cannon of silly comedies for adolescent males, we have celebrated juvenile sociopathy as a legitimate part of life for those privileged enough to go to college (and are white males). This celebration of those who are willing to inflict massive amounts of pain while ignoring the rights of other people also coincided with reactionary conservatism. The leaders of the GOP seized this opportunity to recruit the new generation of elite conservative activists, and have never regretted the decision since.

One could see the evolution starting with Barry Goldwater’s appeal to the disaffected young white men of the country in 1964. This was followed by Nixon’s recruitment of legitimate asshole like Roger Stone or G.Gordon Liddy who headed his famed “plumbers”, who adopted campus pranks into the sort of political malfeasance that would ensure Republican control of Washington. However it was Reagan’s embrace of the new generation of demogmuogic rouges like Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, and Ralph Reed that truly solidified the “fraternization” of the GOP . Once these men were provided with the resources and access of a truly weak-minded President like Reagan, they were free to do whatever they desired under the facade of a legitimate political institution. Whereas the Democrats consciously knee-capped liberal movements like the Yippies or SDS, the GOP was more than willing to entrust their political futures to the rampaging psychopaths who once headed the College Republican clubs across the country.

Once these energetic (yet intrinsically evil) dudes started to assume titles like “chief campaign strategist” or “senior policy advisor” the ideology of the most privileged group of juvenile delinquents that have ever existed in this country started to become the official platform of the Republican party. The decisions for the party of the patricians and aristocracy were now being dictated by the political equivalent of the soulless pledgemaster and the date-rapist chapter president. To make things even worse, the elite members of the media refused to chastise these men for their willingness to abuse the democratic process and instead praised their “tough” politicking and “disciplined” campaigning. We were being lead by a group of people who openly mocked the idea of a social contract, and the media was so blinded by their charisma that their deeds were reported as “hijinks” instead of “political terrorism”.

The parallels between the endemic sadism and horrendous classism within the “Greek” system and the current Republican platform are pretty striking. An individual who would think that a “team building” exercise should take the form of forced binge drinking or would subject their fellow “brothers” to a hell week of sleeping in a confined space would probably think nothing of water boarding a suspected terrorist or forcing them into a “stress position”. A person whose parents not only paid for their admission into the most exclusive institutions of higher education in the country, but who also ponied-up for their child’s private drinking club cum-fraternity cannot be expected to understand the complexities involved in being a member of the working poor. An individual who is trained to think of women on a scale of disposable hook-ups on one end and trophy wives on the other will never see women as anything more than “sluts” seeking a payout.

The current vitriol against powerful liberals also makes sense when viewing the GOP as a Frat instead of a political party. The ascendency of someone as accomplished as Barack Obama, as effortlessly charming as Bill Clinton, or as demonstrably tough as Sandra Fluke drives members of the Republican fraternity insane. Democracy is after all, simply a popularity consequence with tangible consequences. For a group of people that see utilizing resentment as a the single greatest tool for maintaining power, and are defined by their cynicism, someone who becomes popular by professing a more accepting and inclusive message (while personifying a more hopeful existence) must be destroyed. Now that the Republican Frat has wielded the reigns of power for a generation, they have no intent of ceding that level of influence to those who are not intrinsically “worthy” or did not “earn” this privilege in a manner that is less horrendous than their path. The rhetoric and tactics that are used to continually defame liberalism are not unique to politics, rather they are endemic within a certain class of people who are used to receiving a particular level of respect from the “lesser” people within the institutions that they expect to control.

The narrative of the modern Republican party usually ignores the important role that its young professional instigators played in promoting the now dominant political philosophies regarding social spending, international policy, and civil rights. Those individuals who are more or less responsible for the current party trajectory usually prefer to remain hidden from the wider public (with some notable exceptions), but their work must be recognized if we have any hope of undoing the damage that they have caused. Deconstructing the “great man” myth behind Nixon, Reagan, and Bush will aid liberals in realizing that the current Republican “elites” are little more than juvenile pranksters with entitlement complexes. We are not dealing with a political party, we are dealing with spoiled rich kids working to keep their daddy’s friends in power.


In Defense Of The Trolls

For the generation of shut-ins that enjoys nothing more than wasting their employer’s time and resources by reading bullshit on the internet, the experience of the “troll” is becoming an all to familiar one. A “troll” could be defined as a modern day nihilist provocateur whose entire purpose is mainly to elicit some sort of exasperated response from the regional internet hive-mind. These people take the form of right-wingers blasting away ALL CAPS tirades against liberals on Daily Kos, or asshole left-wing bloggers spending an inordinate amount of time saying nasty things about a Republican City Councilman (HI GARY!). The troll is almost universally hated, and with good reason at times. However in reality their existence is actually pretty necessary. Those who dictate the conventional wisdom within traditional and corporatized media outlets are increasingly displaying a complete lack of nuanced understanding or even a basic grasp of the subjects on which they investigate and report. A troll keeps those with power honest, and can attract people who are discontented with the current status quo along the way.

What is important to remember when delving into the complicated miasma of awful that is media criticism and politics is that objectively, most people could give less of a shit about “the cycle”. Political junkies are exactly the same type of person who becomes obsessed with reality television, sabermetrics in sports, or punk rock music. We are an insular and highly self-regulating group of people whose daily existence and activities are barely perceptible to the vast majority of people who exist on the outside. We would like to believe that our words or opinions have an effect on the political consensus, as the subject of our obsession does objectively “matter” to the daily lives of millions of people, but this is just not the case. Most people maintain a more balanced set of interests, and only engage with the political sphere at certain “important” points. Therefore those who control the dominant media outlets (especially on broadcast television) have an immense amount of power in deciding which issues become important, and how the various sides of an argument are framed.

Politicians follow a similar form of information gathering. There is a reason that the detailed economic analysis of Krugman, Klein, or Dean Baker are frequently ignored in place of whatever jackass is squaking on CNBC. It is the same reason that the careful political advice provided by a Robert Reich is overshadowed by Mike Allen’s awful tip sheet. The average legislator has literally minutes to familiarize themselves with the news and issues of the day before having to fundraise or glad hand with their backers. Short, stupid, and comfortable bullet points of news and opinion are going to be noticed and digested at a much higher rate by someone in power than a 10,000 word treatise dealing with the existential truths behind actual threats to our democracy.

So how do bloggers fit into this process? Despite our own individual expertise on a subject we will never have the reach of someone in the mainstream media (unless Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington get really desperate), as our own esoteric concerns have zero marketability (literally no one would ever read a blog devoted to me rambling about PRWORA all day long, but it would be awesome). Furthermore our tone tends to drive away people who see politics as an endless and depressing display of nastiness. Realistically our greatest insights, despite existing on the web for all too see, are frequently only being repeated to other members of the same camp, and then are recycled over and over again in other friendly forums.

The experience of a troll is different however. A troll, when performing their task in a controlled and intelligent manner,  can change the narrative in a way that the most well-reasoned and researched argument never could on its own. A troll, by invading the space of the other side in an argument, forces those within the friendly confines of a partisan forum or in a mindless center of moderation, to truly defend their own preconceptions and ideology. If a person cannot steadfastly articulate why they believe a certain “truth” than they might be susceptible to being changed, or at least hearing more from a group of people whom they previously dismissed. A troll also strengthens those who know what the fuck they are talking about, as complacency is always going to be the enemy of someone’s passion and understanding of a complex subject.

Trolls serve a dual purpose in today’s increasingly homogenized media and political environment. An effective troll can keep those who wield actual power and influence in check by constantly reminding elected officials or media kingpins that their assertions are subject to an uncontrollable, and yet surprisingly efficient form of quality control over the internet. Trolls can also be harnessed by either side of a political debate to shape the larger popular consensus by placing these individuals in receptive or purposefully antagonistic forums where their words or actions could spark outrage or mass conversions. A troll should exist as someone who sparks an actual debate on a subject where before there only existed a sense of assured self-righteousness, and their contribution to society in this form is actually quite evident.


Why Suicide Demonstrates The Need For Ambiguity In Policy

Tony Scott, the acclaimed director of movies like Top Gun, Enemy of the State, and Man on Fire, recently took his own life by jumping off of a bridge here in California. When the news was first reported the natural human desire to axttach a reason behind Scott’s decision eventually came to an end when it was revealed that the man had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I am uncomfortable with simply settling on this rather easy explanation for Scott’s decision (especially as the family is denying the veracity of the report), as the various factors affecting the Scott’s life were undoubtedly more complex than just “I’m gonna die anyway so what the hell”. However in saying that, I think that a discussion regarding the horrible rigidity within our legal system does in fact need to take place, especially in the context of the individual choice to take ones own life.

The sole underlying reason behind my pursuit of understanding the law, history, and politics can be summed in my own personal desire to help reduce the inherent suffering for people within the world that I could possibly influence. It is my belief that “suffering” in the broadest sense of the word, can in fact be lessened for people via the decisions of a democratically created set of laws that are influenced by other academic realms, particularly the natural sciences and history. For many people the concept of religion serves this same purpose of providing individuals with the time-tested techniques for living a better and less horrible life (many other people believe that the pursuit of capital and wealth can solve all of these problems, and while I disagree with that sentiment I am going to ignore that argument for the purpose of this post).

The religious path, in my opinion, can in fact produce many of the same results as the democratic solution for suffering reduction. However the religious path is also inherently flawed by both its institutional rigidity and the impossibility of performing a “quality control” assessment on its procedure. A further travesty therefore is created when the religious path leaches into the democratic legislative process. When a law is created in order to mirror the morality of an individual or group that believes that their ideology exists as the undeniable and unambiguous “truth”, then the entire point of the democratic process is therefore nothing more than a veneer for continuing the status quo.

This defense of keeping religious zealotry out of the democratic legislative process can (and frankly should) be applied to any of the plethora of issues facing society today. However I think that it is particularly important to use in justifying the need to allow assisted suicide inside of the United States.

The arguments against allowing the procedure are valid and numerous. How do we set up the necessary regulatory framework to support a system that prevents the nasty pseudoscience of eugenics? By what standard do we judge people as having “suffered enough” to justify allowing them to die? How do we judge someone’s ability to consent to death, when such a thought is so antithetical to reason that someone considering it could be seen as inherently incapable of making such a decision?

While those questions, as well as the myriad of other tangential issues raised by legalized end-of-life services, are important (and essential), they are still short-sighted in their framing of the original problem that assisted suicide is meant to solve. When a society is built literally on the principle that suffering should be alleviated via democratically created law, it seems unnecessarily cruel to require someone to prolong their life when they are suffering from a excruciating and debilitating pain or illness. A country cannot collectively decide that human rights include the right to be free from torture while at the same time denying someone the ability to remove themselves (even permanently) from a tortuous situation where no other solution exists.

We will never know what went through Tony Scott’s head when he made the decision to jump off of that bridge. Suicide, even when facing a fatal illness still seems like an illogical decision that someone makes without sufficient reasoning. However based on what little we do know about what Scott was facing I still wonder about how I would respond to his situation. Cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and the accompanying side effects and stress of treating a malignant tumor are tortuous situations in their own right, and even undergoing that journey does not guarantee that someone will not eventually experience degenerative effects of the disease on their body. Who are we to say that jumping to ones death when being diagnosed with such a horrible immediate future is not a rational choice?

The arguments against allowing assisted suicide are based on the manichaean world of spiritual morality, especially the belief that life exists as a gift from god that which we mere humans are simply not allowed to reject whenever we feel like it. Again this is a completely valid belief, but it is not only inadequate as a defense against allowing people to end their lives in a place where religious beliefs are not supposed to exist as the basis for our laws, it is also way to inflexible to work as an enforceable law inside of modern society. Despite the understandable reservations that people might have with the government bureaucracy and the judicial system, we as a country are capable of addressing and even solving the complex problems inherent with human interactions. Every day decisions concerning custody arrangements for children, the division of property after a divorce or death, and the proper sentencing for a criminal offender are carefully discussed and decided on by capable individuals based on laws designed by (hopefully) properly deliberating legislatures. Our systems of governing do have the capacity to make (or assist in) life and death decisions, and to pretend otherwise is frankly disingenuous. An incalculable number of government organizations perform actions that are at least partially as important as end of life care every single day.

Despite whatever hysterical (and politically motivated) shrieks come from the right about “death panels”, and whatever the flawed leadership of the Catholic Church has to say about this issue, we should as a society embrace the “right” to end one’s life when they choose to do so. We can in fact legislate something establishing the nuanced idea of when it is “appropriate” to die, and the benefit to society (and individual lives) far outweighs whatever consequences come as a result of allowing these procedures to occur.

Someday I might be faced with a life-threatening disease or injury that will require me to consider whether or not my life is worth living. I hope like hell that I fight against the urge to die and instead persevere against the odds and triumph over the pain and suffering. However I also take solace in perhaps knowing that the option to peacefully end my life exists, and I hope that such a choice is available for me. Denying others with that choice in the meantime seems just heartless, if not bordering on sadistic.

If you are interested in this subject, you should check out this unforgettable Frontline documentary on “suicide tourism”.


Vice Presidential Politics And The Myth Of American Individualism

A few weeks ago Mark Shriver appeared on the Colbert Report to promote his new book concerning the accomplishments and life of his Father, former Ambassador and Vice-Presidential candidate Sargent Shriver. If you take the time to check out the specific programs that Shriver either established or headed, you quickly become aware that this was a person who understood what “civic duty” meant. From the excellent article “The Good Works of Sargent Shriver”:

  • His pivotal role in getting John F. Kennedy elected President in 1960;
  • Leading JFK’s “talent hunt,” staffing the cabinet and the upper levels of the Administration;
  • Founding and leading the Peace Corps;
  • Launching Head Start, Legal Services for the Poor, VISTA, and many other programs critical to the War on Poverty;
  • Presiding over the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam;
  • Helping his wife to found the Special Olympics;
  • Cultivating a generation of public servants who will continue to exert a powerful influence on American history for years to come.

I bolded the middle bullet point that the author included because I feel that it specifically highlights the difference in consensus thinking between the previous generation of policy makers and today’s cynical politicians. Those domestic assistance programs do not represent “handouts” or “statism”, nor do they “breed a culture of dependence”. Rather what Sargent Shriver recognized was that all individuals, regardless of their class, require similar forms of support in the pursuit of their own individual aspirations.

One must first accept an essential and inherent equality within all people, a concept which is as egalitarian as it is throughly American. After that it becomes evident that their exists in this society, some rather obvious advantages that only some people receive as a matter of luck, happenstance, or heredity. By requiring the community to provide access to those advantages to all people in society (and funding them in a progressive manner), we actually facilitate the creation of a true meritocracy from which we can all benefit. No individual from the upper class would intentionally deprive their family access to education, legal assistance, nutrition, and shelter out of some desire to strengthen their “individual spirit”. Rather Shriver just sought to extend those same benefits in order to aid in the development of people (who already had considerable raw talent) to do good things for themselves, their families, and for their country.

Unfortunately today’s sorry reality forces us to contrast this optimistic, and yet entirely proven, concept of limited and yet effective government assistance with the insane visions of people who used to be justifiably called demagogues and frauds. Our current Republican candidate for Vice President rejects all of the assertions and successes of fellow Catholic Sargent Shriver, and instead believes that there is a different “path to prosperity”. From the essential Ryan Lizza article on the congressman:

In a 2005 speech to a group of Rand devotees called the Atlas Society, Ryan said that Rand was required reading for his office staff and interns. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he told the group. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” To me he was careful to point out that he rejects Rand’s atheism (Ed’s note, this allows Ryan to make an exception regarding concept of the individual in order to maintain his stance that women should not have access to contraception or abortion services)

….

When I pointed out to Ryan that government spending programs were at the heart of his home town’s recovery, he didn’t disagree. But he insisted that he has been misunderstood. “Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature,” he said. “As if we’re some bizarre individualists who are hardcore libertarians. It’s a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy.” He added, “Of course we believe in government. We think government should do what it does really well, but that it has limits, and obviously within those limits are things like infrastructure, interstate highways, and airports.” But independent assessments make clear that Ryan’s budget plan, in order to achieve its goals, would drastically reduce the parts of the budget that fund exactly the kinds of projects and research now helping Janesville.

The insanity of course goes beyond just Congressman Ryan and his teenage ramblings about “collectivism” (while collecting a government salary and benefit package). Mitt Romney himself has hilariously carried the famous “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” metaphor into this election despite his own prep-school and tax-payer financed background. The big lie concerning individual capability and drive being the sole tools necessary for success are now mainstream ideas. The immense power of the government is reserved for those who already have the means to thrive, and the rest of us just have to deal with that fact.

The upper class tells us that our failure to succeed is our own fault, and that any assistance we receive from the government (that we all equally control) is the source of “dependency”. Meanwhile professional test preparation, private tutoring, legacy hiring, and tax free blind trust funds, remain as the inaccessible yet completely essential tools of maintaining control over opportunity and success in this country. We have been duped, and the success of the scam is all around us.


Wrath And Sadism Are American Values In The 21st Century

Someday historians will speak about 21st century American society and attempt to bracket it under some easily digestible sub-headline for inclusion into a high school textbook. The years of 2001-2008 will be easy to define as the era concerned with the “global war on terror”. It is perhaps too early to define our present era, but more than likely the writers will focus on economic instability as our most central concern. However whatever those hypothetical writers and editors decide to do however will undoubtedly gloss over the most disturbing fact of American life: that we are now a people that are either desensitized to suffering, or actually encourage it as a matter of principle.

I’m not saying to provide yet another “reason” behind mass acts of violence, or to even comment on our seemingly endless appetite for suffering in the criminal justice system or in war. Rather I feel as though our appetite for wanton acts of violence against others is now so commonplace that we do not even notice it. We might conceptualize ourself as inheritors of the enlightenment and defenders of individual corporal sovereignty, but in reality we are such a brutish and malicious society that news confirming this fact barely provokes our shared attention anymore.

Over at Foreign Policy Blaine Harden actually has to spend three pages detailing to American readers why North Korea is not just an endless source of amusement for lazy comedians, but is actually the most miserable place in the world to live. The details of the massive North Korean prison system are atrocious, but frankly your average American is probably more likely to associate the country with “Team America” rather than whatever Harden has to report. Even the idea of a mass famine in the region, a situation that once spurred the celebrity obsessed culture of the 1980’s to come together and lobby for international relief (for a similar situation in Ethiopia), has so far failed to pique our shared interest. In the midst of the suffering in that country, we have chosen to dismiss their leadership as “comical”.

Over the weekend someone asked John McCain to comment on Dick Cheney’s expressed belief that Sarah Palin was not a good choice for VP slot on the 2008 Republican Ballot. McCain’s response was simply to say:

“Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.”

Glenn Greenwald recognizes the insanity of “respecting” someone who should by all accounts be before a tribunal in the Hague right now:

Isn’t it amazing that the first sentence there (“I respect the vice president”) can precede the next one (“He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not”) without any notice or controversy? I realize insincere expressions of respect are rote ritualism among American political elites, but still, McCain’s statement amounts to this pronouncement: Dick Cheney authorized torture — he is a torturer — and I respect him. How can that be an acceptable sentiment to express?

It is an acceptable sentiment because of our bi-partisan acquiescence to evil. Our supposedly strong sense of “accountability” is easily (and often) extended to criminal offenders from certain economic backgrounds or races via our extremely harsh criminal justice system. However when someone with responsibility and power decides to violate the social contract or any larger ideal of morality, we provide that person with immunity for a variety of disgustingly putrid reasons (“civility” remains as the most ironically terrible excuse for failing to prosecute these people). Right now several of the most senior members of past Presidential administrations cannot travel to foreign countries out of fear of being indicted for war crimes, yet here in this country there are those who wish to pay massive sums of money for the privilege of hearing those same individuals speak about the issues of the day.

We extend this feeling of wrath to our neighbors as well. When George Zimmerman wanted the world to know that he did not lose any sleep over killing an unarmed child, there were television cameras waiting for him to express this disgusting message. Instead of focusing on the dumbass law that facilitated this tragedy, we first defamed the victim and then used the incident to buy more guns. We have now so effectively disguised our bloodlust as “fear”, that someone could LEGALLY shoot a door to door steak salesman in “self-defense”:

Rainey fell to the ground, screaming, ‘You shot me,’ in what Roop described as an “antagonistic” manner, according to the report.

In response to that “antagonistic” surprise at being shot Roop shot Rainey again, this time in the back of the head because Roop “feared” for his life.

But the insanity is not limited to sociopaths in Florida, rather we have a system of government that actually allows for sadists to write and pass laws in our name. Given the high tolerance for vicious bloodletting, we should not be suspired when a nationally prominent congressman publicly endorses something as abhorrent as dog fighting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7CT6Zz6EkQ&feature=player_embedded

And why would someone actually support such an indefensible position (and do so for the entirety of his career)? Well according to Representative King:

“It is wrong to rate animals above human beings”

UPDATE: His “clarification” is even worse

This sort of callous disregard for the anguish of other people or for other living beings is not something that people are born with. Rather this is an element of our shared culture that has been developing for a while. We are no longer shocked by those who embrace what is by all objective calculations a simply evil ethos. We live in a country where death and destruction is common place and yet so completely removed from the trivial list of our daily concerns that it barely deserves a comment.

So if I had to recommend a subtitle for this chapter in American history it would be this:

The 21st Century America: When Torture And Premeditated Murder Became Mundane