Sunday, June 28, 2015

And Man Created God

Maybe they should simply all read "Obey." (Photo from al-Jazeera.)
I've written (and joked) about my confusion over the idea that with all of the things that have gone down in American history that God would decide that extending the institution of marriage to same-sex couples would be the thing that finally triggers him to snap, so I'm going to try and approach this from a different angle this time.

When I encounter the idea that the United States has done nothing worse in it's history than sanction same-sex relationships, the only workable explanation that I can come up with is that people don't keep their Bibles close at hand during History classes. It's difficult to think that a careful reading of history wouldn't turn up a never-ending series of things that God would take issue with.

In the end, I think, what's really at work is that people derive their understanding of morality less from religion than religion derives its understanding of morality from people. Whether or not deities are real, and are factors in human affairs, the religions that revere them are human institutions, and driven by the emotions and biases of their constituents. For a stone-age people living in a harsh desert where all hands were needed, sexual activity that didn't increase the size or health of the tribe was a luxury they couldn't afford. But even though the necessity of controlling people's sex lives has gone away, the virtue of a circumscribed sexuality hasn't. It's unlikely it ever will.

Friday, June 26, 2015

#Satirical

As for me, I’m sick and tired of people dividing Americans. And I’m done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans. We are not Indian-Americans, Irish – Americans, African– Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans – we are all Americans.

While I’m at it, here’s another thing you aren’t allowed to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. We cannot allow people to immigrate to this country so that they can use our freedoms to undermine our freedoms. That’s exactly what has happened in Europe, where they have 2nd and 3rd generations of immigrants who refuse to embrace the values and culture of the countries they have moved into. We must not let that happen here.

It is not unreasonable to demand that if you immigrate to America, you must do so legally, and you must be ready and willing to embrace our values, learn English, and roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wednesday, 24 June, 2015
For many Indian-Americans, Governor Jindal's statement was seen as a clear attempt to repudiate his Indian heritage - to deny that Indians were "his people," as it were. This sparked a number of tweets marked by the hashtag: #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite, initiated by Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. I, for my part, am unsurprised. One of the legacies of the United States' racial history is that many whites and non-whites alike expect a certain loyalty to one's ethnic identity. At an extreme, this can mean that rather than a person owning their identity, their identity owns them.

Most of the tweets were somewhere between repurposed ethic jokes and open mockery of the Governor. But one, that I plucked from the BBC's story on the teapot tempest, is actually a stellar example of what political satire looks like at its best.
Excellently played, sir. Excellently played.
"#BobbyJindalIsSoWhite you can't see him in this selfie."

In 32 characters after the hashtag, including spaces, Prasanto Roy managed to place his finger exactly on so many of the issues that Governor Jindal stepped into. On one level, it's an obvious play on color - the White House is, after all, white. But it's once you go past that point that the tweet really shines. Although explaining a joke tends to be considered a sign that it isn't a very good one, I would like to unpack this.

The "core voter" of the Republican party is considered to be older, living in a rural area of the nation and white. They tend to consider themselves the "default" American, the standard against which everyone should be judged and from which others are considered to be "different." In order to win a Republican primary, one has to appeal to those voters, and Governor Jindal's announcement speech can be thought of as a direct overture to them, holding them and their way of life up as the language, values and culture that everyone wanting to enter the nation should emulate. While he doesn't specifically call out White rural culture in the way, ask yourself if you could see Governor Jindal telling a crowd of Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans or inner-city African-Americans, that anyone seeking entry to the United States must embrace their values.

From the standpoint of a contender in a Republican primary contest, his statements are more or less a requirement to be taken seriously. As are the ones about how President Obama has made a mess of things, how the "big government crowd" opposes what's right and good, how the modern United States is completely color-blind (to the degree that it is only "hyphenated-Americans" who care about race, not themselves) or how Christianity created the nation.

But when November comes around, those same statements would be liabilities. It's easy to tell a subset of the populace that there are millions more just like them, hidden away somewhere, just waiting for someone willing to impose their values on the remainder of the public to come along. It's a lot harder to run a national campaign as if all you needed to do was stake out an ideological position to make enough votes to win materialize. Especially when you're running state-to-state, rather than in the nation as a whole. And so the better job that Governor Jindal does projecting his own "whiteness" to rural white Republicans in an effort to say that he's one of them, the greater the chance that he alienates the remainder of the coalition that he would need to win. And the harder it becomes to see him in the White House. While advancing to the general election demands a certain amount of "whiteness," too white, and one can't win it.

Which is perfectly encapsulated in one brilliant tweet and accompanying picture.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Problem of Evil

It doesn't seem likely that the Mississippians who cherish their Confederate past are going to be quick to renounce it, however. As [Greg] Stewart[, executive director of the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential library] explains, to do so means turning their backs on their ancestors.

"Implicit in the argument that the flag represents evil is for me to have to say, yeah, you're right, my people were evil," he says. "And that's just not true."
Will Confederate flag backlash strike Mississippi next?
This goes back to the point that I was making a few days ago. As long as the Dixie flag represents beloved prior generations of the families of people who grew up in the South, it's going to be impossible to get them to be at peace with giving it up.

Another interesting piece of the issue is the general conservative aversion to moral relativity. So one's Confederate ancestors cannot have been good people by their standards, but bad people by our standards. (Although it is worth noting that this isn't universal - there are plenty of people who fall back on the argument that "It was a different time then.") The Confederates have to be righteous, upstanding, moral and tolerant people in 2015 as much as 1865. Which is where most of the rhetoric that slaves willingly fought under Confederate banners came from.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Making Meaning

One day I was walking towards the Howard Street El platform in Chicago, headed home, when a Black woman of about my own age approached me and offered me literature for a job training program. When I told her that I wasn't interested, she became insistent, and it wasn't until I showed her my company-issued ID card that she would leave me alone.

While annoying, the young recruiter's actions were not unexpected. I was a Black male in my twenties, walking along in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, dressed casually and not obviously a student. To her, this marked me as very likely unemployed, even though, as it turned out, I was on my way home from work. But what's important in this circumstance is that she wasn't acting on any sort of personal understanding, but a shared one. My appearance had entered the public lexicon as indicative of an unemployed young adult. And even though that wasn't the only reasonable assumption, it was likely one that would enter most people's minds.

Similarly, "the Dixie flag" (otherwise known as the battle standard of the Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee, or with slightly different shades of color as  the Confederate Navy Ensign), has entered the public lexicon as a symbol of white supremacy and racism. And while those are not the only reasonable definitions of that flag, they are effectively universally understood. While any given person can claim that white supremacy and racism are not parts of their personal definition of the flag, the fact remains that just about everyone who has even a passing familiarity with it knows that broader definition.

And while one can argue the appropriateness of being defined by the public lexicon in a way that one finds personally unflattering or inaccurate, it's harder to argue that a given definition is singularly inappropriate. The adult who wears a Dixie flag on their shirt may be expressing a desire to return to only the broadly acceptable parts of a bygone (and likely fictional) past, but unless they were raised under a rock by wolves, they also know that they are risking presenting themselves as a wannabe Confederate, white supremacist or other disreputable character. This isn't to say that they want people to make that particular inference - only that it's hard to argue ignorance of the fact that it comes with the territory and that there are other symbols that lack all of the same baggage.

Perhaps it's fitting that supporters of the Dixie flag have taken on another Lost Cause - that of convincing the populace at large that the public lexicon shouldn't apply to them in the same way that it applies to everyone else in the country. The fact that something has a particular meaning for us does not mean that everyone else is obligated to subscribe to that same meaning. But the fact that the public lexicon attaches a given meaning to something does obligate us, as individuals, to engage with that meaning, whether we wish it or not.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Flagged

There is a part of campaigning that I must confess to not understand, and it's that part where black-and-white questions are used to foster some sort of sense of group belonging. I think. I honestly have no idea. It seems that if you're polling Democrats that:
  1. Most of them will agree with the idea that the flag should come down.
  2. Republican candidates for President won't really care what they think.
So while there may be other reasons for pushing polls like this, it seems that the primary idea is to remind people that they're Democrats. In case they forget, or something.

What strikes me as odd about these things is that they wouldn't have struck me as the best way to drive political engagement. But I doubt that they're simply random - one would think that these messages have been carefully calibrated to get people involved. Being, however, outside of the target demographic, they don't really do anything for me.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Did You Look Under The Bed?

I’m quoting at length here, from this ABC News article, because I want to make sure that I’m retaining the context of the reporting.

[Joey] Meek[, a childhood friend] recalled how Roof, 21, spoke about how he wanted segregation reinstated.

“He didn’t agree with some things and somebody had to do something about it,” Meek said of Roof.

“He said that he thought that blacks the blacks in general as a race was bringing down the white race,” Meek said.

Meek, who did not bring his claims to police before Thursday morning, said that he has known Roof for at least seven years and that his friend had dropped out of high school in ninth grade and been working at a landscaping company recently.

Roof stayed with Meek and his mother, Kim Konzuy, for part of last week but he was not staying with them in the days leading up to the Wednesday evening shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. They said that there was nothing particularly unusual about his behavior in recent days.

“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person. He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock,” Meek said.

Meek said that Roof did have a confederate flag on his license plate, though Meek said that many people in the area have that and they believe it is not related to racism or slavery.
Friend of Accused SC Shooter Claims He ‘Wanted to Start a Race War’
I’m not the first person to make note of the fact that our desire to make racists out to be monsters allows them to walk among us unnoticed. This interview with Joey Meek really shouldn’t point out anything that we don’t already know - that when you affix the label “racist” to a handful of specific behaviors, such as using the word nigger, making other racial slurs or targeting specific individuals because if their perceived race, you can miss the fact that someone who openly says that “the blacks in general as a race was bringing down the white race” or that he “Wanted to Start a Race War” might have some racially-motivated animosities. And my point isn’t call out Meek and the other people who were reported to have known Roof and understood that he was planning to spark a race war is stupid or willfully ignorant. It’s that they understand racists to be people with fangs, horns and tail, instead of just a bad haircut. And there’s a reason for that.

“Who your people are” is a really big deal in the United States, if not for humanity in general - and often a much bigger deal than it really ought to be. And in the South, this is very evident. While the Civil War was a quite some time ago, it’s not Battle of Hastings long ago - the last surviving confirmed veteran of the war died in the mid-1950s. Go back four or five generations from my own age cohort, and you’re there, if you didn’t overshoot entirely. People don’t want to believe that great-grandpa Joe or great-great-grandfather Henry were among the greatest villains of history because that often casts them as villains, too. And so “the confederate flag,” which was a military emblem, rather than the standard of the Confederate States of America as a nation-state, morphs from being something that people fought under and a sign of violence and battle, to a marker of “heritage.” And it stops being about the economics of the former Confederate states reliance on forced labor and becomes a matter of the “tyranny” of Washington D.C. Because your people being descended from people who fought bravely for the cause of freedom plays a lot better than them being descended from people who treasonously took up arms against the duly elected government of their own nation.

The smartest thing to do would be to let go of the idea that the actions of people long dead should be a source of pride or shame in the present. The fact that someone is the descendent of a Confederate, a Nazi, an Islamist or a United States Marine should be completely immaterial when compared to what that person is doing in the here and now. But just because it’s a smart course of action doesn’t make it an easy one. We are, as someone once told me, always looking for reasons to throw someone else overboard to make sure that we stay afloat, and if we can’t find a sin of yours to hang you for, those of your forebears will do nicely. Such is always the way in cultures of scarcity.

Racism needs to be just another trait of a person, rather than a marker of the worst sort of Evil. We don’t have to laud it any more than we laud laziness or a lack of self-control, but our drive to expunge it from our society by making it monstrous isn’t working - instead we’re simply creating reasons for people not to see it when it walks among them. Groups of people have many traits in common with individuals, and one of these is it’s hard to change (or even simply deemphasize) something that you can’t bear to see in yourself. And the more we push to make monsters out of people who make moral judgments based on skin tone, the more the people around them will look for virtual monsterhood and overlook everything else.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pick a Color

Teal. This guy's definitely teal.
This is what happens when the American penchant for collective blaming crosses paths with our need to see ourselves (and those like us) as Good People. If we presume that some of the laws defining a person's racial identity persisted into the 1990's, it's actually entirely possible that Dylann Roof isn't actually "White." According to the Virginia state Racial Integrity Act of 1924, anyone with a known ancestor who was not white was considered "Colored" under the law. Of course, that law is no longer on the books, but it seems that a lot of people are nostalgic for those times, or just didn't get the memo.

There is nothing special about being White that disqualifies one from being a multiple murderer or targeting people unlike oneself. By the same token, the fact that the modern United States is, overall, a reasonable enlightened place doesn't mean that it can't be home to certain people who are enamored of some of the more unsavory aspects of our national history.

But perhaps more importantly, there is nothing about what Dylann Roof has done that all White people need feel responsible for. I get the idea that White Supremacy is still alive and well in the United States, and that part of the reason for that is that White people who benefit from the status quo aren't working all that hard to change it. But there is also a fairly large population of people who spend some time being homeless in the United States. And part of the reason for this is that I spend my time doing any number of things other than working all that hard to change it. People tend to place their time and energy into the things that THEY consider problems. Other people's problems don't always make the grade - that's the way life goes. Playing the blame game doesn't bring anyone back from the dead.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gun Shields

"It took Obama exactly four minutes to politicise the massacre of nine innocent people in a church," wrote Breitbart's John Nolte. "He's just awful."

He went on to say the best way to have prevented this attack was to have armed parishioners.

He pointed to a South Carolina law prohibiting concealed weapons in churches. "Good reason for mass-shooters to believe a South Carolina church would be filled with helpless, unarmed people," he tweeted.
Charleston church shooting: Obama's 'hopeless' push for gun control
Despite the fact that I'm both socially liberal and a terrible shot, I don't share the Left's general fear of/distaste for firearms. I'm simply disinterested in taking the time to learn how to shoot one well enough to be useful with it. And I have enough respect for guns to know better than to simply carry one around unskilled.

But even though I recognize the utility of firearms, I'm always surprised at the "conservative" reaction to firearms violence - namely that the presence of a small subset of people in our society who feel that the ability to use personal violence to solve their problems is best countered by everyone else in our society being ready, willing and able to use personal violence to solve their problems. Nolte's "solution" to events like the shootings in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church seems less like a serious policy prescription and more like a really tone-deaf advertisement for Smith and Wesson (who, I might add, likely have the good sense to stay FAR away from such insinuations).

But, let's humor Mr. Nolte for a moment, and assume that the nine people shot were packing heat along with their Bibles. Would it have really made a huge difference? In late 2009, a man named Maurice Clemmons walked into a Forza Coffee Co. in Lakewood, Washington, and gunned down four police officers, all of whom were wearing bullet-proof vests. One survived long enough to shoot back at Clemmons as he fled the scene, striking him in the abdomen, but not killing him. (Clemmons didn't bleed to death, either - instead he was shot dead by a Seattle Police Department officer a couple of days later.) So we have four people who deal with violent situations as part of their day jobs, who are wearing body armor and carry firearms and are specifically trained in how to use them, with between eight and fourteen years of experience in law enforcement. None of them survived an encounter with one guy. Given this, why on Earth would anyone think that everyone in the Emanuel AME Bible study group being armed would have been anything more than people wasting their money? Without regular, focused training, it's unlikely that any of them would have the presence of mind to draw their weapon from concealment, aim and fire accurately in the sudden chaos unfolding around them. While I'm not going to claim that Dylann Roof would have walked (or run) away from the scene unscathed, and I freely admit that one of his targets may have landed a lucky shot and killed him, smart money says that the presence of nine more guns in that room simply would have meant that Roof would have left with a backup piece or three.

Being the sort of person who understands the difference between an automatic pistol and an automatic rifle, can explain the technical distinction between a clip and a magazine, knows what point-blank range is and geeks out over advanced firearms technology, I've encountered a fair amount of people who are gun owners in my day. And while serious gun owners are as varied a bunch as any other group of people, the ones I've known have had one thing in common - they do not in the least subscribe to the idea that the simple fact of having a gun on one's person equals being prepared to defend oneself in a lethal force situation.

It doesn't take rocket scientist to understand the political motivations behind Nolte's remarks - his criticism of President Obama brought out people who were so eager to pile on, some couldn't be bothered to read the remarks that Nolte was criticizing. But I think that it requires someone smarter than I am to comprehend how the simple act of carrying a gun armors everyday citizens against gun violence, when it doesn't work that way for soldiers or police officers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ownership Society

For me, the Rachel Dolezal controversy reminds me of one of the things that had tended to separate me from many of the other Black people I've encountered over the years - the idea of ownership of Black identity.

I never really learned to have a sense of ownership of being Black, because it was merely a physical characteristic, like having a nose or ten fingers. Therefore, there was nothing about it to possess. But for a lot of people I met, especially during my freshman year of college, being Black was something that set them apart from others. It created a level of specialness, and therefore was something to be protected, and kept away from the undeserving.

On the one hand, I understood it, but on the other, it struck me as strange. I didn't see what was so precious about being Black that it needed to be withheld from other people - or retained by me. If someone else wanted to be Black, why did I care? (The care with which White people had once guarded Whiteness made more sense to me - there was money on the line.) In the end, it was something that I argued over with people when I was in college, but once I moved into the adult working world, it stopped mattering - mainly because people indulge in fewer Random Acts of Activism as they age, and I moved in more diverse circles.

But, of course, there is a difference between out-of-sight-out-of-mind and nonexistent. And the concept is still important to a lot of people. And so the role of gatekeeper remains. It would be interesting to see how long it persists.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Unchumping

Several years ago, in an online forum, someone asked a very interesting question: If there was one word you could expunge from the English language, what would it be? I came to the posting as the lively debate, having already been going for more than a week, was winding down, so I didn't jump in. But in the intervening time, I've occasionally thought about what word I would remove from the language. From the beginning, my choices were in the area of "deserving" or "entitled," but I eventually settled on the word "chump."

Chump: noun \ˈchəmp\
: a person who is easy to trick : a stupid or foolish person
Of course, the dictionary can never capture all of the nuance and breadth of a word's everyday usage, and so the definition above doesn't really speak to the particular understanding of what it means to be a chump that I would like to do away with. Namely, the idea that to be a chump is to not receive something that someone else has received. Consider the experiment, most notable talked about by Frans de Waal, in which for the same task one Capuchin monkey is given a slice of cucumber, while the other receives a grape. The reaction of the first Capuchin is both amusing and depressing, and of course it points to the impossibility of the change I would like to see. The limited view of fairness that posits that we are owed what those like us receive is much broader that humanity.

I was listening to Marketplace last week, during their short series on affordable housing in Marin County, California. From the moment that they mentioned that there were people who were against the affordable housing project, I suspected that at least one person would frame the situation as protecting themselves from being "the chump," and the good people of Marin County did not disappoint. (I have to admit that I especially liked the sound bite of the woman who complained that affordable housing in their neighborhood "volunteered them for the ghetto." If anyone ever manages to connect that back to the speaker by name, she's going to be a long time living it down.)
It was a “financial stretch,” [Justin Kai, member of the Marinwood Community Services District Board of Directors] says, but they loved their home’s big backyard and access to good quality schools.

“I made great sacrifices to be here,” he says. “I think it’s selfish to expect that someone else should be able to acquire (it) for little or next to nothing.”
Of course, the people living in the "low-income" (this is Marin County, California, we're talking about, after all) housing wouldn't have access to a house of their own and a big backyard. They'd be living in an apartment building, and sharing the space around it. So of the things that Mr. Kai made "great sacrifices" for, the only thing he'd really be sharing are good quality schools that his own child is still too young to attend.

But Mr. Kai is repeating a common mantra in the United States - what other people get must necessarily come at some direct, and unfair, cost to me. And when we allow that to happen, we become chumps. Something that we are rarely slow to remind each other of. And as "chump" has become a pejorative, we begin to place more and more effort into not seeing ourselves as same. The result is a constant vigilance for what other people are receiving, so that we don't miss our opportunity to complain about how unfair our own lot has become.

In the end, the problem with "chump" is that it makes compassion for others seem like a unwarranted punishment of the self. And so people start to demand a veto over the relief from life's vagaries that others receive, regardless of what they may have for themselves. When one begrudges one's life the costs that were required to attain it, it's easy to see others not paying as much as an injury, rather than simply part and parcel of the fact that life is a variable.

As much as I would like to do away with the term, I understand that it wouldn't do any good. We'd simply invent another to take its place. As corrosive as the concept might be, there's no way to Newspeak it out of existence. So the one option that we have left to us is compassion. For ourselves. A letting go of the idea that allowing people to receive what others choose to give them is to somehow admit that we are without worth or value. It's a much deeper thing than changing our vocabulary.

Does Not Equal Causality

Debate foul: Posing a question, but not answering it.
As I've noted before, when I was younger my father taught me that in activism motivating people is considered more important than educating them. This picture, which came to me via my Google+ stream, strikes me as an example of that. is interesting, but when you actually read the research on child poverty in Finland, these aren't the reasons cited. Instead you have things like "Studies of intergenerational persistence in Finland suggest that, compared to non-Nordic countries, Finland has relatively low persistence of income between generations," or "The difference between the Nordic countries, Finland included, and the United States, is particularly pronounced among sons of the most disadvantaged fathers," things that likely have little or nothing to do with a "Youth Parliament."

I'm all in favor of reducing the child poverty rate in the United States. But things like this, which are designed to make progressives feel good, while being unrelated to the actual factors involved, are not helpful. (It's also slightly inaccurate in its implications. Finland does not pay a basic income to minors. Instead the parents of children are overrepresented in transfer payments, representing income for minors, but which is different than direct cash payments to minors. So the picture of the girl holding dollars [which I'm pretty sure are not commonly used in Finland] likely comes from the person who assembled this collage misinterpreting the statement.)

What drives child poverty in Finland isn't really any different from what drives it in the United States: raising children on a single income and/or with a low level of educational attainment. But there's nothing in the picture about helping parents to find work or become better educated. And nothing about the stratification of marriage that tends to mean that low-income people find themselves establishing households with other low-income people.

When I look at the United States what I see is a nation that still behaves, in some ways, as if it were the 1950s. And it's the failure of social institutions to adapt to the reality they currently find themselves in that drives social problems. While I'm not going to hold up The Brady Bunch as a documentary, it's interesting in that it represents what the United States, at times, still seems to want to see itself as. Mike Brady was able to support a stay-at-home wife, six children and a live-in housekeeper in his salary. Under those circumstances, single parenting, lack of child care or Carol's level of education simply aren't issues. But that's not the world we currently live in. And adopting the policies that Finland has is not likely to change that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Blended

This image is from an e-mail I received from Microsoft to inform me of "Updates to our terms of use and privacy statement‏." Which is welcome. Most people don't spend enough time looking over the Terms of Use and Privacy Statements of the services they use.

But it was the image that stood out for me. A mixed-race couple with their mixed-race son, being a family. To a degree, this is nothing new. It's been going on basically forever, and for about the past 50 years or so, television has given us mixed couples to varying degrees. But I've always been of the opinion that advertising, and other direct messages from business, was where it was at. When you start seeing mixed couples in advertising, then you would know that it was well on its way to no longer being an issue. Unlike television, where an advertiser can always claim a lack of creative control, an advertisement basically says: we're okay with this - and we're okay with associating our brand with this. And despite the common idea that corporations dictate people's lives to them, a company that ignores the emotions and biases of its customer base can find its fortunes changing quickly.

The first advertisement I saw with a clearly mixed couple in it was for the Washington State Lottery, not long after I moved to the Seattle area. A young White man had bought a handful of lottery tickets for his Asian girlfriend - and then proceeded to scratch off the covers over the numbers, hoping he'd purchased a winner. Since then, I've noted a slow trickle of other ads with mixed couples, maybe one or two a year.

We're still a long way from being a "color-blind" society. I'll be very impressed if we ever manage to truly get to that point. But we're making progress. One carefully crafted message at a time.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Need To Know Basis

Look, we told you all you need to know, okay?
Having made the mistake of going to a political fundraiser back in the day (although it seemed like a good idea, and a bargain, at the time), I've been on Democratic mailing lists for longer than I care to remember. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the Democrats, but eventually, the constant drone of political messages blends into a background hum of attempted emotional manipulation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sets out to hit a number of emotional triggers: the implication that "a millionaire like Jeb Bush" (as opposed to a millionaire like Hillary Clinton) is out of touch with the problems of regular Americans, and willing to contribute to them. The references to respected careers, like "construction workers, nurses, teachers" and "hard working Americans, and designed to play on people's sympathies and visions of themselves. And, of course, the ubiquitous "just plain wrong." When I read this, it seems so obvious that it strikes me as odd that anyone actually takes any of it at face value. (And perhaps no-one does. Maybe there's an inside narrative that I'm not hip to.)

Now, in this particular instance I'm not taking a position on whether or not the retirement age should be 70, or 17. Mainly because as far as that particular question is concerned, I'm a Low Information Voter. And, to a degree, it seems that's exactly who this mailing targets. There's no obvious source of more information to allow a reader to come to any more informed a conclusion than they already have. Granted, I didn't click on any of the mailing's many links, but I suspect that none of them would have taken me to a detailed analysis of the Social Security system or its funding.

Politics is often an emotional game. And I'll admit that I'm a better observer than player of same. But it seems to me that the emotion thrives because the discourse is starved of information.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Will to Life

Alfred Skogberg of Suicide Zero has faith in the Swedish government’s ability to do exactly that. He argues that individuals do not choose to commit suicide. Instead, suicides are “psychological accidents.” As such, they should be regarded as just as unacceptable and preventable as road or workplace accidents.
Nathalie Rothschild. Is It Possible to Eliminate Suicide?
I do not know if Mr. Skogberg arrived at his conclusion as a result of researching suicide, or out of the general sense that one encounters that the desire to live as long a life as possible is a universal trait of humanity. But I find his assertion that suicide is not a choice to be interesting, especially in light of movements for physician-assisted suicide once a person realizes they are nearing the end of their life - or simply the end of their tolerable life.

Which brings up an interesting question. To what degree is a person's life a thing; something that can be possessed, used or even discarded as the owner sees fit? In the end, when I read articles on both suicide prevention and suicide rights, the argument in play seems to center around this idea. For people who feel that suicide is never a rational choice, but indicative of some underlying problem that should be corrected, or at least mitigated, there is often an undercurrent of a person's life being a greater thing than the person themselves. Conversely, for those people who see suicide as a reasonable choice under certain circumstances, one's live is no different than any other thing that one owns.

I think that it will be interesting to see if Sweden is capable of completely eradicating suicide from their society. It strikes me as a very tall order, simply because, as one critic points out: “People [...] kill themselves because they feel bad.” Creating an entire nation in which no-one ever feels bad enough that death becomes and answer strikes me as completely infeasible. But then again, audacious plans often appear that way.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Road Gear