Archive for the ‘maybe too heavy for this joint’ Category

It would be nice if this meant the end of conventional liberal politics, but it would have been nice if the Libyan bombings or drone strikes or the massive transfers to banks had been the end of conventional liberal politics. It would be nice, but conventional liberals will continue to vote for Democratic politicians. They will feel smarter than Republicans, I guess, because at least they know their guy’s a crook, while the Republicans are delusional.

Assuming that’s true, and I don’t assume that, liberals ought to at least wonder what their vote has earned them, exactly. Obama has done just about everything Bush has done, but in a different style. The War on Terror continues. Domestic surveillance has been expanded. So have drone strikes—against American citizens. A dumb war has been waged, this time in Libya. Obama’s healthcare plan was dug up from the Heritage Foundation archives, negotiated with insurance companies, and can be seen as an enlargement of Bush’s Medicare Part D. On abortion, he’s been rendered impotent by Republican state legislatures and, like every Democrat of his generation, he’s scared to bring it up. Unions have been smoked. Gay marriage is about the only notable near achievement, though it took him till his second election run to endorse the long-standing liberal position. Everything else, crap.

Before the 2008 election, liberals said that if they could just get more Democrats, they could accomplish all these wonderful things. They got majorities in Congress plus the presidency, and found themselves stymied at every turn by a minority of supposedly moronic Republicans.

Liberal Democrats might want to rethink a couple of premises: a) that these Republicans are dumb b) that Obama meant well, but was foiled by those morons.

Consider the possibility that Obama has gotten the job done, the job he wanted done. His friends got jobs and money. You lost both, but he did wink and nod in the direction of gay marriage.

One thing I’ve read on Facebook today regards the sadness of certain committed liberals: all those young people will be disenchanted, they won’t vote, and oh, God, then what? Dude, you should all consider disenchantment. Your last twelve years (at least!) of organizing and voting and believing have delivered you precisely this: just about all of George W. Bush’s programs have been promoted and expanded by the head of the Democratic Party. That means he has saddled you with this junk just as much as George W. Bush saddled his party with this junk. Both parties are saddled. If you continue to vote for that party, you will continue to wear that saddle.

You have, really, three options. One is to keep on being the horsey. You could protest, but that would probably require you to remember how impotently people protested the Iraq War or Wall Street. I recommend withdrawal. Try out a garden, Voltaire style. You can have, really, a full and wonderful life. You will never again regret your vote.

We are characterized by our economic activity: consider the way children’s education is discussed on the news. Marx and Rand (influential if not exactly great thinkers) both saw us as vessels of productivity. The exploitation of that productivity was Marx’s concern; the reward of (some) productivity was Rand’s.

The constant talk of men and money—of men as money—makes aspects of Kierkegaard’s view of the individual attractive. It is important, first, to recognize that K writes from a Christian perspective that is largely alien to me as a secular Jew, probably alien to all non-Christians, and a large percentage of people who call themselves Christian because well, hey, Jesus.

K starts from the idea that the relationship between each of us and God is the most important relationship of our lives. Everything else is less than secondary: it is of no importance. Abstractions about race and politics mean jack: “The race, mankind, differs from an animal race not merely by its general superiority as a race, but by the human characteristic that every single individual within the race (not merely distinguished individuals but every individual) is more than the race.” He writes in reaction to thinkers like Hegel, who introduced the concept of the “World-Historical Man” and developed to a high degree the idea of all history as a kind of process in which the rest of us are either abstracted out of identity or made into bit cogs of the machine.

Such wide-reaching systematizing and mechanizing is anathema to K.  To counter it, he counsels a break with crowds and conventional political participation. These sorts of relationships, regardless of cause, build the system at the cost of the individual: “… every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd, and so flees in cowardice from being an individual … such a man contributes his share of cowardliness to the cowardliness which we know as the crowd.” You know what he means if you have ever felt a sense of diminishment of self in crowds, whether at theme parks or football games. The mediation of a TV screen elevates the sense that crowds are alien—non-human—events at which the Gator chomp is performed uselessly. But I hadn’t thought of cowardice before, and now I imagine the crowd as a many-eyed blob of cowards who can’t play ball—can’t do—while the pathetic rest of us look to add our own eyes to the blobby mass.

K contrasts my vision with, natch, the example of Christ, who “repelled people absolutely, would not found a party, did not permit balloting, but would be what He is, the Truth, which relates itself to the individual.” This sort of withdrawal is heckled constantly by regular voters, but it has my full sympathy. It does not mean a lack of involvement with the world. (Whatever else, Jesus went to that temple. He had his say.) It means the involvement is qualified first by the individual relationship with God and second by the individual’s confidence in himself, a willingness to draw a contrast between himself and the crowd, a strength to flip off the system, the way everybody does it.

I do not have the God-relationship K described. I can never have it. Someday, maybe I’ll figure what I might have to replace it. Right now, though, it’s that second qualification that interests me most. It has the veneer of cliché: stand out, etc. But everybody knows that you can’t be an individual by going to business school. You can’t by buying commenting on blogs or listening to underground bands either. You have to find less comfort in your economic and political choices. You have to worry less about finding people to agree with.

To be this sort of individual requires a kind of constant reevaluation of your position in the world, your relationships with others. It’s an integrity to which I must constantly aspire.

I have relatives who are born again Southern Baptists. I have others who are Lubavitcher Jews. At times, their beliefs made life hard for the rest of us. Our beliefs probably made life hard for them. We learned something, over time: on religion, maintain silence.

This is not an American value. Quite the opposite. We are counseled regularly to talk, to share, to discuss, to argue, to confess. These are ways to heal. These are ways to maintain a society and to become happy.

That’s unfortunate, because this counsel is often wrong.

In religion, for instance, talking brings no good. The continual humiliation of missionaries and haranguing by missionaries generates daily tension and mockery on campuses across the country. The regular misinterpretations of religions’ holy books has led to wrong conclusions.  Modest believers must have it quite hard. Non-believers must deal with a different sort of foolishness.

An honest, curious question can be welcome, but the questions are rarely honest and rarely provoked by curiosity.

It’s voting day, and no one will shut up. No one has shut up for many months now. People are not curious about others’ beliefs. They do not wonder about the roots of alternative thoughts. They think those roots are godless or God-drenched or otherwise pernicious. They are on their crusades.

I’ve been on one myself. It has been limited in both scope and effectiveness. It hasn’t been any more honest or pure or than anyone else’s. It’s been motivated mostly by a general malice toward the system, a malice I’ve felt most of my life. I’ve voted a couple of times. Afterward, I’ve always felt dirty.

Anyway, I’ve mocked the vote and the aspirations of voters every which way. Among them, indirectly (always indirectly: I never talk directly this way to anyone), I’ve mocked a professor whom I’ve always loved and respected, a professor who has been kind and helpful and encouraging to me at every turn. She believes very much in her vote and everything that implies. After a recent Facebook post of mine, she called me “smug” (indirectly, of course).
It probably was smug. There’s enough smugness to go around—everybody feels certain they’re correct and everybody’s talking about it.

But it isn’t worth a shekel.

The constant talking about voting is quite the same as constant talking about religion, especially with friends and relatives. People who care about each other nearly lose their relationships over belief systems. The rhetoric can only escalate.

I give that up. I’d rather have friends than be correct.

Among stupid shit about which I will proceed to get bitter and mean about precisely because Rebecca Solnit’s upset that non-voters like me might get bitter and mean, I present Rebecca Solnit’s article, Leftsplaining. It’s too bad. I liked her essay about Mansplaining a great deal, though I might have to re-read the thing and see if it’s built upon this many anecdotes and loose comparisons.

Libsplaining (n.)–1. That explanation which drips of condescension whereby a liberal carefully explains to you what an amoral jagoff you are for not believing what he or she believes or for not doing what he or she does. 2. An automatic response triggered by criticism of the liberal candidate for high office.

So this is one of those articles you can expect around presidential election time, which asks (and libsplains!) why supposed leftists* get mad and bitter and pure (!) at guys like Barack Obama or any politician. The reason is because we’re mad and bitter and pure, apparently. We think drone strikes make him a lousy person to support, even if he does come out for gay marriage just in time for election season. What a bunch of assholes! Mitt Romney would continue the drone strikes and would pander to conservative Christians rather than homosexuals. Don’t I feel like a useless dick now? Don’t I care about my gay friends? Or would I rather care about the “cultivation of [my] own moral superiority”?

Listen, Rebecca, don’t write an essay in which you explain your moral superiority by comparing the act of voting to marching with Dr. King or in which your political opinion is mocked to activists’ parades and suggest–at the same fucking time–that other people are cultivating their moral superiority. Don’t say that a person who argues against voting is actually “suppressing the vote.” You think you’re freaking moral by voting for Barack Obama? As moral as Dr. King or Gandhi or even the marchers who followed them? You are as moral as them when you perform similar actions: organizing, marching, taking your life in your own hands to achieve human dignity. Voting is not the equivalent of any of that. Voting is consent to what is. That’s all it is ever taken as: approval of the candidate and the system which made that candidate possible. If you want that, go for it. And I do understand why minorities pushed and still push for the right to vote. For large numbers of desperate people, they want a power. Any power will do, and if that power is to approve, they’ll take it. I don’t get mad at them.

I do get mad at people who make idiotic equivalencies, as Solnit does between her voting and activist groups doing what they can to survive and get ahead. When Solnit is an activist, good for her, if that’s what she wants to do. When Solnit’s arguing all this just to tell me to shut up till November and be nice so she can vote for Obama without hearing about Obama’s dickness, she can eat it.

“Pure,” by the way, is a nice mocking word. Libsplainers think they’re acknowledging shades of grey in themselves and the world of moral behavior which their adversaries cannot or will not. Frankly, they seem to be cultivating their  moral superiority. I’m not sure any adult thinks of himself as “pure.” I surely don’t think I’m “pure” for refusing to vote. I think I’m reserving time for activities which I believe will be more productive and which may or may not be pure.

That “suppressing the vote” comment kills me. The current liberal shtick involves vote suppression. Now it’s not just Republicans with voter ID laws**. Apparently, I, by saying that I don’t want anything to do with Obama, am suppressing someone’s vote. Imagine: the power of my arguments combined with the arguments of supposed leftists everywhere is “suppressing the vote.” Yet, the Wife’s going to vote for Obama. Ask her if I’m suppressing her, much less anybody else. Is that too anecdotal a piece of evidence? Is it more or less anecdotal than the mean old Berkeley professor who didn’t care much for Solnit’s praise of a politician? If my speech or even the collected speech of all jaded supposed leftists everywhere against Obama suppresses the vote, we’ve set a low freaking bar. Maybe liberals have reached the end of this suppression line.

Liberals aren’t suppressed, okay? Not by anyone on “the Left.” “The Left” is not “punish[ing] those who do choose to participate” nor is “The Left” “punishing them for often minor differences.” “The Left” has about as much power to punish in this country as anyone with a mouth. Actually, less power than some mouths. The next time an anarchist has as much open column space as Rebecca Solnit will be the first. Really, “The Left” has as much power as the crumpled receipt from the grocery on my desk. If you can’t get people like me to vote, it’s not because I’m bitter or mean or pure. It’s because I’ve got more important things to do and cooler people to approve.

*Can this left-right thing ever be killed? Must I be a leftist because I hate drone strikes and often favor poor people to rich people? Must I be a leftist because I hate war?

**Which are stupid.

While large numbers of friends discuss their plans to change the world by casting a ballot, the Wife and I have modestly begun to learn a new skill. We make pasta from scratch.

A pasta machine requires two people for use: one will turn the handle and feed the dough, while the other will catch the cut noodles. In our case, this doesn’t develop teamwork and intimacy* so much as it resets them in a new, fun context. Can I say that in English? Yes. We’re playing with an adult Play-Doh Playhouse. It’s fun and, eventually, delicious.

I’m wary of telling people what they should do with their time. The answer is often the doctor’s code: Do no harm. But I do think people should consider what is productive of their time, the ways in which they can and cannot change the world. There is our world, Earth, and there is our world, which includes friends, families, lovers, neighbors, anyone within our reach. How much more effectively can you spend your time than with them than on the internet, looking for the latest political outrage against decency and telling everyone to vote lest be burn in the sad gas of a stranger’s stupidity?

George Carlin was only half-right. Masturbation probably is more productive (and more pleasurable) than any vote. But even better is to spend that time and all the time leading up to it making good food.

*We’ve got those in spades.

The writer’s challenge is not to describe but to describe in a new way. So love, loss, and regret are among our oldest feelings. They are also bottomless. The fact that so much popular fiction describes them in the same ways they have been described in the past (with details, like “the internet” or “Obama,” substituted for “the phone” or “King George”) suggests that a large number of people believe that good writing involves perverse skill with mad libs. It is perverse because these people have no sense of fun. Plumb the depths. Find what you think is the bottom and dig. Bring back what you find.

Dave Mustaine is the most talented American heavy metal guitarist of all time.

Dave Mustaine doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

This is not a left wing/right wing debate. I am no Democrat. I’m no democrat either. The problem for Mustaine is a problem for any follower of modern politics. The more you follow and the more you read, the stupider you become. That’s because almost everything you follow and read is propaganda of the most pathetic sort. In otherwise normal conversations, you end up spouting the opinions of thousands or millions. The more you follow and read, the less critical analysis you apply to what you follow and read. Because there is such a surplus to follow and read, you never have the time, capacity, and real information with which you can form a critique. You end up parroting another fool’s critique, which is, in fact, propaganda.

So here’s Dave Mustaine spouting off about Obama’s birthplace and gun control in precisely the manner and nearly the language of various right-wing callers to radio talk shows who spout off in precisely the manner and nearly the language of those radio talk show hosts who spout off in precisely the manner and nearly the language of pundits … keep following that line through TV ads to politicians to “think tank” “scholarship.”

Mustaine is an easy target, particularly for liberals who listen to classic rock or jazz or fucking Metallica, but those liberals might wonder about all those graphs and pictures of Obama laughing with children as though he couldn’t kill one and as though he has improved their lives and yours by a factor of ten thousand, even though he’s doing just about all the shit Bush did and even a little more.

But  dig that second paragraph again. When we grew up, we were told to read, because reading would bring knowledge, and that knowledge would bring power. Hey, man, Dave Mustaine can read. He probably reads a lot. So do you. Do you think reading what he’s reading has helped him understand the world? Or has it shaped his world so tightly and weirdly that he ends up sounding like a fool when he talks to someone who hasn’t read the same stuff he’s read? Has reading all those newspapers and speech transcripts shaped you in similar fashion?

Literacy does grant power, but that power is limited, particularly in these dumb times. As noted everywhere, we live in a land of ridiculous surplus super-sized everything. So many people write books and papers and blogposts and so much of all that is an echo of others’ writing and speech, half-heard and remembered.

Know that, and know this: reading helps you understand and makes sense of words, but not necessarily the world.