Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Illusion of Authorship

I've been thinking recently about the idea of Determinism, and its conclusion that there is little or no actual Free Will in human thought and decision making. After a few hours of working the ideas around in my mind and on the page, I have come to a simple question. If Free Will is an illusion, what point does it serve to perceive it? Why would evolution drive humanity to create a complex enough brain to have a subjective feeling of authorship that isn't actually there? This is different from the Table Visual Illusion. There is a reason why the two shapes in the illusion are presented as tables. In the real world, the distance between the leading and trailing edges of the "long" table would be longer than the distance between the right and left edges of the "short" table, were you to actually measure them. And it is this reality that creates the illusion.

But the illusion of free will is not the misapplication of reality into a sphere where it doesn't belong. Sam Harris describes it as simply the human mind being mistaken as to the nature of its own experience. So... what's the point? What advantage is there to the default perception of one's experience being completely incorrect?

While I'm not sure that the answer is actually important, I do find it to be a compelling question, and one that would go a long way towards explaining the experience of consciousness, as I suspect that the two phenomena are related.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Before I Kill You, Mr. Chavez

This is awesome. President Hugo Chavez, while "thinking out loud," speculated that the United States had developed a secret technology that it was using to give Leftist South American leaders cancer. No, really. The BBC (and Chinese state television) says so.

What's great about this is that the United States has, in the mind of Hugo Chavez, completely crossed the line into cartoon villainy. We have super-advanced super-secret technology (check!), are implacably evil (check!) but can't seem to figure out how to do in the opposition (and check!). The only thing that's missing is the call from the Oval Office to gloat over how this evil plan is so utterly foolproof that soon the entire world will bow down before us! Haha! Haha! Bwahahahahahahahahaha! (Ahem... er, sorry.) After all, if we could secretly target world leaders for cancer, one would think that we'd come up with something that metastasized rapidly, and was more or less inoperable by the time you actually realized it was there. Or do the Scott Evil thing and just have someone shoot him. It's not like Chavez doesn't have other enemies or even criminals in Venezuela.

In a way, though, I'm kind of hoping that he's right. Not only would it be awesome to see President Obama kicking back with a monocle in one eye and stroking his white cat, but I've always wanted to sign up to be a henchman.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Time To Come Clean, Representative Paul

Well, damn.

There's a thing about buses. No matter how nice they are, the view from underneath them always sucks.

I get, Representative Paul, that the nasty newsletters of the Paleolibertarian days are a thing of the past. And I get that, in modern terms, the 1980s and early 90s are ancient history concurrent with the construction of the Pyramids at Giza. And I understand that in a republic, all segments of the voting public, no matter how repulsive, are entitled to representation. And on the flip side of that, I understand that when faced with political irrelevance, that it can make sense to reach out to those voters that are too toxic for the mainstream parties to openly associate themselves with.

But if you're going to publish a newsletter that traffics in "Confederacy- and Jim Crow-sympathizing, race-baiting and sometimes just plain racist" rhetoric, while also preaching a political philosophy that promotes personal responsibility, you have to know that at some point, you're going to have to own the words that you allowed to be published in your name, just like any of the rest of us would. People more familiar with you and with Paleolibertarianism have been quick to point out that it was likely people such as Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell who wrote the words that you're now on the hotseat for. Be that as it may, however, the buck, Representative Paul, stops with you. Being irritated with CNN, and their spinning of the story for their own purposes, doesn't change that. Neither does appearing on Fox News to talk about all of the things that you've done for African-Americans. It merely comes off as the political version of "some of my best friends are Black," which African-Americans are taught from childhood is the surest sign of someone who can't be trusted.

Like a number of other people, I had a reason to root for you in the primaries, despite not being a Republican myself. While I don't consider government to be an Evil in and of itself, I do think that it tends to become involved in too many things that are are better left alone, and to drag us into enterprises that we would have done well to stay away from. And don't get me started on the obnoxious alliance between Big Government and Big Business that has come to regard the public as useful only to the degree that it serves the interests of corporations. But as it stands, I need my credibility in the eyes of my family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and myself more than I need to help you tilt at windmills.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Home For The Holidays

Ferries crisscrossing Puget Sound on a busy Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Boxed Happiness

"The debate between faith and reason is a false one. [...] We need both, of course. Only then can we lead fully rounded lives. And, yes, happier ones, too."
Eric Weiner "A Quest To Seek The Sublime In The Spiritual" Tuesday, 20 December, 2011
Why "of course?" As far as I'm concerned, I need faith like a fish needs a miniature castle with a plastic chest of "sunken treasure." I don't consider myself incompletely rounded or imperfectly happy. And, more to the point, after reading this article, I don't understand why "Questing," in an attempt to sincerely believe something that I currently consider to be mythical, will engender that consideration in me. We hear so much about the fact that "Surveys show religious people are happier than the secular," for one major reason - there are religious, spiritual (or whatever else you want to call them) people, like Mr. Weiner, who presume that it's a direct causal relationship, and as such, it legitimizes their belief structure and inculcates them against charges of delusion or lack of evidence. As his closing shows, there is a belief that a certain amount of happiness is locked up within faith as though it were a strongbox, and that only by making ourselves embrace the divine can we get at it. One would expect that of all people, "a former NPR correspondent" would understand that correlation does not equal causality. Were an ironclad study to find that religious people were an inch taller than the secular, you'd still be considered a fool to even consider the idea that finding faith would make you grow.

Despite the fact that many atheists have a habit of regarding other's faiths as being born of either primitive delusion or outright lies, they generally (but not always) do concede the point when they encounter genuinely happy people - even if they're convinced that such happiness is anchored on shaky ground. But as Mr. Weiner, perhaps unintentionally, points out, the faithful often have no such restriction, feeling free to denigrate the happiness of others as incomplete at best and illusory at worst, thinking that they can know the inner life of another simply through determining if that person has faith. And although it's common for people who seek out certain experiences to claim that "you just haven't lived until you've done [blank]," were they to sincerely claim that they only way to inner completeness and true happiness was the One True Path that they had determined, we'd normally find them insufferable, regardless of their sincerity or the genuineness of their concern.

I'm glad that when Mr. Weiner unlocked faith, he found happiness inside - far be it from me to ever begrudge someone else their joy. And I realize that for some people, finding religion does bring them happiness that they didn't have before. But that does not preclude the rest of us from finding extra happiness elsewhere, or (horrors!) even going our entire lives without needing it. Until someone can demonstrate a causal relationship, "truth is what works," as Weiner tells us that William James put it. And for me, what works is a life where each can seek their own path to a fully rounded, happy life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

There's One In Every Crowd

Ah, yes.

Where would we be without the ever-present stereotype of the smug, urban, coast-living, pseudo-sophisticated, latte drinking atheist who lives for nothing more than to look down his nose at those cursed with the poor intellect to have faith in the divine. Thanks, Mr. Weiner. We really needed that.

But, of course, many stereotypes have a basis in truth, and it's not difficult to find a smug atheist who can't seem to go a day without reminding himself of how smart he is by putting down the beliefs of others. But you know what? It's not that hard to find believers who are of the opinion that faith and belief isn't enough. (Given the fact that if you profess to have no faith in any sort of divinity, you're liable to be outnumbered somewhere in the area of 10 or 20 to 1, in fact, it's pretty damn easy.) They have to be a dick to everyone who doesn't think like themselves. And it manifests itself in a myriad of ways, from the thinly disguised contempt that's passed off as concern or pity, to the opinion that anyone who claims a workable ethical code without recourse to the divine must either be lying or insane, to barely supressed glee at the thought of a vengeful, petty deity punishing someone - not for having done injury to others, but simply failing to be properly obsequious.

My point here isn't to get into the cataloging of sins. Given that there are always more than enough sins to go around, it's always a pointless exercise. It's merely to point out a simple fact of human nature. There are people who are secure enough in what they believe (or don't beleive) as the case may be that they aren't threatened by the fact that others believe differently. And there are people who aren't. Sure, you can make the point that what some people believe is dangerous to the well-being of others. And plenty of people on both sides of the debate make just that point. But if you're confronted with someone who genuinely believes that your beliefs justify you being injured, maimed or killed, it's going to take more than being even a grade-A dick to change their mind. And as for the people who just can't seem to get your facts straight? Have them send you an e-mail. That way they become just another of the millions of people who are wrong on the Internet every day.

In case I haven't already dropped a heavy enough anvil on your head, the world is full of dicks who can't stand to let others believe something different (or, if you must, wrong). Constantly pointing out the same set of dicks as a cheap way of making a point isn't helpful, even if you're convinced that all you're doing is pointing out your own dickery.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Democracy Constrained

Now - let's make one thing clear from the start. Rachel Maddow is supposed to be an intelligent and thoughtful person, so I don't know that she actually said this. Perhaps she did, but when I searched for it, I couldn't find an actual record of her saying it. After all, on the Internet, not only does anyone not know that you're a dog, but it's also easy to pass off unsourced statements as Gospel truth. So I'm going to leave Ms. Maddow out of this, and simply deal with the quote itself, as I was actually able to source someone saying it.
Here’s the funny things about rights — they’re not supposed to be voted on.
Iowa State Representative Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines).
In any event, here, perhaps, is a better way of putting it:
Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote.
Marvin Simkin.
Well, then that raises one rather important question. How does one protect rights, whatever one has decided that those rights are, in a democracy (either a direct democracy or a republic) when the entire structure of the system is set up to allow people to vote? You fall back on a certain baseline level of what is effectively authoritarianism.

In the United States, the governing authority is the Constitution. And despite common opinion to the contrary, some of its provisions and amendments are directly anti-democratic. Let's take the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Let's re-write the beginning, slightly:
The lawfully seated legislative representatives of the people of the United States shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Okay, so “the lawfully seated legislative representatives of the people of the United States” is a rather long-winded way of saying “Congress,” but isn't that what the Congress is? Without having gone through the exercise of amending the Constitution again, even a unanimous vote of Congress may not enact any measure into law that conflicts with the accepted understanding of the current text. (And given the fact that the “accepted understanding” is defined by the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, you can see why there is often so much drama around the nominating and confirmation processes.)

The problem is that the text of the Constitution was, for the most part, composed and enacted some time back. Its most recent Amendment is 40 years old. Modern hot-button topics, like effectively enshrining certain Christian religious values into law, may have been around a long time, but the specific forms that they take today, like the fights over abortion and same-sex marriage are fairly recent developments. So, basically, they aren't specifically covered. And things that aren't covered ARE subject to being legislated, with a 50% +1 vote (well, depending on the specific rules in place, but you get the idea).

And that brings us back to the critically important idea of the (current) accepted understanding of the current text. Back in 1967, when the Supreme court decided Loving v. Virginia, Justice Potter Stewart noted that “it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor.” Now, in the closing days of 2011, are we moving closer to an understanding that “it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the sexual orientation of the actor?” Some suspect that there might be, hence the ridiculous theatrics around a “Defense of Marriage” Amendment. (Although the Amendment idea was ostensibly floated specifically to head off such a reading of the Constitution, it's pretty clear that it was designed mainly to throw a bone to religious conservatives who, in the words of Ellen Willis “feel that their faith is trivialized and their true selves compromised by a society that will not give [their] religious imperatives special weight.”)

Given the structure of our government and our population, Constitutional amendments designed to enshrine controversial values are unlikely to get anywhere. Even if they do make it out of Congress and out to the states, the proper minority of state legislative votes will likely be incredibly difficult to assemble. As a result, a certain level of krytocracy (rule by the Judiciary) is likely to result. And it becomes the values and rights that a majority of those Justices believe in, and can plausibly justify within the structure of the Constitution, that become inoculated against the votes of the 99%.

Footnote — No, Simkin was NOT quoting Benjamin Franklin - there is no record of Franklin ever having said or written such a thing. Which makes sense. After all, Benjamin Franklin was supposed to be an intelligent and thoughtful person, and the version of the quote attributed to him: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote,” while it may be dear to libertarian gun-rights advocates, is merely a recipe for an anarchy in which any aggrieved minority takes up arms when it loses an electoral contest.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Guess It Beats "Mission Accomplished"

We've handily defeated the Iraqi Army in a rout, taken Baghdad and made it look easy. Bring the troops home now?

We've dismantled the Iraqi government and consigned Baathists to unemployment or insurgency. Bring the troops home now?
We've scoured the country for Weapons of Mass Destruction and found exactly jack squat. Bring the troops home now?
We've captured ex-President Saddam Hussein and allowed the new government to hastily execute him. Bring the troops home now?
We have a new President here in the United States, who thought this whole enterprise was a bad idea to begin with. Bring the troops home now?
We've propped up a government that barely has the support of the people and can't manage to secure basic services or security. Bring the troops home now?
We've established a diplomatic presence in Iraq that's roughly half the size of Liechtenstein (no, really). Bring the troops home now?
Well, while we're there, the Iraqi government now insists that we be subject to the same laws that its own police and military are, while we operate on their soil.
Victory! Tell the troops to start packing.

Monday, December 12, 2011

They Proclaimed the Emperor Had No Clothes

Perhaps it's just the side of me that's sensitive to the ways in which we disrespect one another, but when many people say (or write) those words I detect an undercurrent of judgment - "That Emperor thinks that he's such hot stuff, but he's too stupid to realize that he's naked! And people won't be honest with him because they're afraid of being executed! What a jerk!" Of course, attribution is always a dangerous game, and so it's quite likely that many people don't mean to critique "power" in the way that I take them to.

For myself, when I read the tale, I come away with a different feeling. Once closer to this Hillary Price Rhymes With Orange cartoon. I feel for the character of the Emperor because he's never portrayed as an evil man, just vain and more sadly, insecure. The two quick-witted swindlers realized that and played the Emperor, and those around him, like fiddles. Fairy tales can get away with things that would never fly in any other medium of storytelling, and the populating of an entire capital city with people who deep down suspect that they're actually frauds seems like one of those things. But I wonder if it isn't more true that we know.

This came up in the context of my asking what Occupy Wall Street had done to make people hate them so, and while I'm not sure their crime is pointing out the Emperor's nakedness, I do think that OWS had taken on the role of the boy in the crowd and threatened people with fraudulence, even if they didn't intend to do so. When you're attempting to rouse a populace to rebellion, your primary target is always their sense of Hope. People do not lay their lives on the line lightly, and if you're going to motivate them to risk everything they have, it's easier once you've convinced them that not only do they have nothing, but they have scant chance of ever getting anything. In this, I think that OWS misses the mark, and that in seeking to undermine people's hopes, they are instead, for some people, undermining their sense of Legitimacy, always a much more dangerous proposition.

I do not know that Occupy Wall Street set out to tell people that they are not as capable as they believe themselves - that instead, they are simply the beneficiaries of a wicked system of governance that masquerades as enlightened, and that in a "just" world, it would be they who lived lives of quiet desperation. Or if they are poor, that their lack of skills, brains or resources will condemn them to remain that way for life. The Emperor's chief failing was that he feared to be revealed as someone "unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid." And even at the end of the story, he feared to be called out as having been gulled through his own insecurities. Better, he and his nobles reasoned, to keep up the charade, even once the townsfolk, having lost their fear of the "magnificent fabrics'" powers to label them fools, proclaimed the truth.

Of course the simple answer, accept yourself for yourself, no matter who that turns out to be, is so facile as to be worthless. Were it so easy, many more people would have done it by now. Accept others for themselves, no matter who they turn out to be doesn't seem to be any more workable. So I am unsure of the solution to the potential problem that I have identified. Perhaps there isn't one. It's something that has escaped most of mankind of millenia - it's possible that it's simply my own hubris that leads me to think that I could find one. But, I'm a fool that way. And I'm okay with that, so I'll keep looking. And I if do it right, I'll learn to have no fear of what I find.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why You Hatin'?

In the name of full disclosure, I have to admit that when people speak of Occupy Wall Street (or Occupy anywhere else for that matter) as if it were the second coming of Democracy and Enlightenment, I simply roll my eyes. I'm of the opinion that mass protests are the last resort of the politically powerless, and I don't see many of the OWS protesters falling into that category. (Now, if you recall the big pro-immigration from Latin America rallies of some years back - there were a lot of people who, because non-citizens don't get a vote, were effectively politically powerless within the current system.) Perhaps more importantly, I don't see myself as politically powerless, so I'd rather go vote than camp out somewhere.

Before you start - you're correct. My one vote doesn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things. But, by the same token, standing my sorry ass out in the cold with a sign by myself wouldn't make a difference either. Both voting and protests benefit from numbers.

But I really, really, REALLY don't get the Occupy Wall Street Hate Machine that's sprung up. Okay, so there are some yahoos out there holding signs extolling the virtues of getting high. And I'm not sure that all of these guys really understand the distinction between "civil disobedience" and "only laws that I agree with should apply to me." But is that really a reason to hate on these guys like they killed an infant child?

We seem to be turning into a culture that erroneously believes that there is a single, self-evident Truth out there and that you can measure a person's morality by how well they hew to it. But things are rarely as self-evident as we like to think they are.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- A guy who, for the most part, was perfectly willing to buy and sell his fellow men and force them to work for him.
A lot of this is a side-effect of the simple fact that many of us can't tell the difference between our own aesthetic judgments and objective facts. In English "I consider that fair" and "that's fair" are considered synonymous phrasings, even though if you parse them literally, they're really quite different. I'm also of the suspicion that many of us base our world-views on the idea that our aesthetic judgments ARE objective facts, and when someone comes along who clearly rejects those judgments, the possibility that they may be correct in doing so quickly morphs from a difference of experience to an existential threat.

It's past time that we came to the understanding that in a nation of 300+ million people, with origins on literally every part of the planet, we're not going to find a one-size fits all answer to things. Many of the judgments that we make and apply to things - like generous, fair, just, funny, beautiful or moral are quite subjective, and different people are going to see them differently.

Seeing the Light

We've all heard about how incandescent light-bulbs are energy-inefficient, mainly because they turn a significant amount of electricity into heat, rather than light. (Which is why you could use one to power and Easy-Bake Oven.) Compact fluorescent lights were supposed to be more energy-efficient and longer-lasting. So even though they cost more than regular lightbulbs, you'd make the investment back over time with the savings to one's electric bill. Being cheap, I figured I'd give it a try. Verdict thus far? Bogus. The compact fluorescents aren't as long-lasting as the incandescent bulbs.

Most of this is just anecdotal - I'm starting to re-replace compact fluorescent bulbs. But thus far, it looks like the potential 7-year lifespan that was advertised for the compact fluorescents isn't going to be realized. But I do have one controlled experiment, as it were - the dining room table. The fixture above the table holds three bulbs. When we moved in, all three sockets had incandescent bulbs in them. (In fact, every light socket in the apartment had an incandescent bulb.) When bulb one went out, I replaced it with a compact fluorescent. The same with bulb two. Last week, bulb one went out again. Bulb three, the last of the incandescent bulbs, is still shining. It was a similar situation in one of the bedrooms, where the bulbs are two to a fixture - I just replaced the second incandescent bulb in the fixture when the fluorescent bulb that had replaced the first one went out.

I'm hoping that I just wound up with a bad batch of light bulbs, and that normally, compact florescents will last as long as advertised. The environmental movement has enough problems without fluorescent light bulbs simply being a more expensive way to light your home.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Show Me the Money

At the behest of our local public radio station, I spent some time monkeying around with the League of Education Voters budget calculator for Washington state.

It's a simple enough little widget. You have to plug a 1.7 billion dollar hole in the Washington state budget buy clicking a series of check boxes to either cut some program or another or raise tax revenue. As with most things, there's an easy way, and a hard way. The easy way to win this particular budget battle is to simply select the option for the "Income tax for high earners, paired with reduced property tax rates," option and hey presto! problem solved. And the best thing about it is that unless you're pulling down somewhere in the area of 200 grand a year (or double that between you and a spouse) not only does it not cost you a thing, but your property taxes might even go down! Brilliant!

But it's not my personal cup of tea, so I instead jacked up sales taxes to raise about the first billion dollars, moved closer to the goal by eliminating a sales tax exemption on trade-ins and then went hunting through state programs to make up the rest. And that's when things became dicey. Mainly because with any situation like this, in the end, the only question that matters is "Who pays?" And as far as I'm concerned, the best answer is always "All of us." Of course, because of the ways that government programs are structured, "all of us" is easier said than done. In the end, I think I created a plan designed to elicit howls of "outrage" from people along all points of the political spectrum, which means that it would never make it out of committee.

It was an interesting exercise, even if it felt somewhat skewed to the left (no surprises there). I suspect that everyone should try something like this, if only for the general overview of the sorts of things that money is being spent on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Oh, Now I Get It

Tout comprendre rend très-indulgent.
"To know all is to forgive all."
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein. Corinne, Book 18, chapter 5.
Otherwise (mis)translated as "to understand all is to forgive all" or "to understand everything is to forgive everything" has become something of a pejorative in American discourse, with many people taking it to mean that if you understand why someone did something you must also excuse their behavior. Politically (and in other contexts) it manifests itself as the idea that anyone who can understand a position well enough to articulate it to others must be a de-facto supporter of said position. (Some academics are spared this, but it tends to be common in the public.) The sad side effect of this is that ignorance becomes a virtue when dealing with people one disagrees with. Although given the human tendency to want to be around like-minded people, perhaps it's more accurate to say that it lends legitimacy to the long-standing idea of virtuous ignorance.

Personally, I don't get it. Having recently had something of an epiphany that gives me a better understanding of libertarian/anarcho-capitalist economic and social policy thought, I find it much easier to compare and contrast with other philosophies that I understand.

But I guess in the eyes of a partisan, this simply makes me too wishy-washy to be reliable.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Man With A Plan

I wonder: Did Herman Cain really think that he could have won the Republican nomination for President? Before he started climbing in the polls and making the other candidates play his game due to his 9-9-9 plan (which he had to start amending almost immediately), he had been widely regarded as a somewhere between a novelty candidate and a huckster, his eccentricities portrayed as bizarre and off-putting rather than folksy or endearing. About the best thing that people had to say about him was that he was a political unknown who was either promoting his book or angling for a job as a pundit.

He was, in effect, simply another version of Sarah Palin.

But then suddenly, he started to take off. Although "take off" might be too strong a term - "took his turn as the alternative to Mitt Romney" is perhaps a more accurate description. (If you've had anything nasty to say about "liberals" or President Obama that has seen print or been posted on YouTube watch the polls - you might be next.) To hear people tell it, Cain planned it that way. But I'm starting to think he had a different plan.

If you want everyone in the nation to be deeply interested in your business, it's hard to beat running for President. Dating a Kardashian might get you there (regardless of your gender), but then again, that sort of obvious public-attention whoring might just have the opposite effect, as people do their best to avoid your mug staring at them from every gossip magazine in a five-county radius. But suffice it to say that if you run for President, that time that you kyped a Butterfinger bar from the corner store when you were 7 will become the focus of intense national interest. And while Herman Cain actually managed to put on a remarkably good clown act (one worthy, perhaps, of an Academy Award), it's unlikely that he was really so oblivious as to think that his past "indiscretions" would stay a secret forever. But it also occurs to me that perhaps it was unlikely that he was really so oblivious as to think that he had a better-than-even shot at the Republican nomination.

And that's where the clever bit comes in. Cain may just have been bright enough to realize that his past coming to light would give him an "out," once it became clear that he was going to be unable to win the nomination - an escape hatch, as it were. This spared him the fate that has befallen other presidential candidates before him - unlikely to win, but without a graceful means to exit the race. I'm not sure that he would have intended it to get this far out of control - but just because a plan works doesn't always mean it works 100%. Of course, this is all conjecture on my part, and it assumes both that Herman Cain is crazy like a fox and unserious about his Presidential aspirations all along. But stranger things have happened.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

State of Denial

I found out recently from my aunt that my great-aunt, my late paternal grandmother's sister, had died. Cause of death - a knife in a lung. She'd held on for three weeks before succumbing to the wound. I'd met my great-aunt at family reunions and the like, but these were the few and far between events of my childhood, the most recent being when I was in high school if not sooner. Every one of them had been populated by strangers, as I could never remember the members of my extended family, and I didn't have enough in common with them to form bonds that would bolster my memory. So my great-aunt, like her husband, my father's uncle, were little more than a name that occasionally came up in conversation.

One thing that was never associated with those names was domestic violence. And I, being a bit to old to still be a n00b, know full well that my father's uncle didn't just go from being a mild-mannered guy to a murderer at the drop of a hat. My aunt confirmed my suspicions that this was a story that had been going on for a while. It was the sort of open secret that everyone in my father's generation knew about - it was only those of us in the under-50 set who were in the dark about it. My aunt also confirmed the other simple conclusion that I'd come to - that my great-aunt had gone to her death believing that somehow, she'd be able to change the man she was convinced loved her, despite the abuse. And that her, my father, my other aunts and uncles, any number of family members, they'd close their eyes to the possibility that this could happen, and did so until it finally intruded on them.

But it's easy to see denial in others. Much harder to see it in oneself. And so I find myself asking: when do I see unreality, hear unreality or speak unreality? What part of my life looks over my shoulder and mocks me, because I refuse to acknowledge its presence? And what am I risking in doing so? I find it difficult to credit the idea that I might be going to my grave because I can't bring myself to see the world as it really is, but my great-aunt didn't believe it, either. How does one come to see what you've structured your life around not seeing?