Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goebbels was right

The Newspaper of Record (there is some question as to whether that old nickname is even viable any longer) has printed a story about Governor Rick Scott (R-Florida) and his sinking approval numbers now that the public has gotten a good, hard look at his policies and methods. The implication is that those who elected the Tea Party candidate may not have known exactly what it is they were asking for. I think their focus is too narrow. This isn't a problem specific to Florida, nor is it a phenomenon that is recent. The Tea Party is simply an outgrowth of something that's been endemic to the American electorate for some time and has only increased as sources of misinformation have proliferated on the Interwebs: stupidity.

People are stupid. Always have been, always will be. Tell them something in a firm tone of voice and they're likely to initially believe it. Repeat that something over and over and they'll believe it even in the face of completely contrary evidence. Continue to repeat it and they'll often create spurious evidence in their own minds to reassure themselves that it's true. If they've been trained to distrust most institutions (or not had their interests served by said institutions and, thus, become frustrated with and opposed to them), all the better.

Most Tea Partiers that I've met, read, or listened to have not the first clue what they really want. They have a utopian notion of government/democracy/civil society that has been planted in their mind or that they have self-created and they're now attempting to pursue that with all the vigor of the righteous oppressed. The idea that Scott or people like him (such as Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin)) are now plummeting in popularity because those who elected them have fallen for the bait-and-switch is preposterous. Those people handed the bait to Scott and Walker and told them to run with it until they found themselves in front of a touchscreen. Any momentary consideration of the effects of policies that begin with "get government out of our lives" would have led any mildly intelligent person to conclude that that might not be the best thing for a bunch of voters depending on things like Social Security and Medicare.

But most voters don't stop for that momentary consideration because they're not trained to think. They're trained to believe. And the first thing they'd like to believe is whatever someone tells them in a firm tone of voice. It certainly doesn't hurt if you happen to be reasonably attractive and are only spouting the same kind of misinformation that people have been lapping up for the past quarter-century, as well. Cue Sarah Palin...

Most Tea Partiers worship at the altar of the Blessed Reagan. The GOP and other right-wing sources have been spewing the line about Reagan being the greatest president since... well, since the so-called Founding Fathers really, because they can't say "greatest since Calvin Coolidge" because the latter led the country right into the Great Depression (despite occasional attempts by Republicans to lay the blame at the feet of FDR, who didn't take office until 3 years later.) They really can't say "greatest since Abraham Lincoln", either, since he committed the twin awful sins of both enforcing the rule of the federal government and espousing equality for those black people... No, they really have a tough time finding paragons of Republicanism to hearken back to other than Reagan (Nixon? Creator of the EPA and scion of Watergate?) so they just like to go ahead and name Reagan the greatest since, well, forever because they've been taught that he was the shining example of everything true Republicans/right-wingers should stand for: small government and low (or zero) taxes.

Of course, they seem to forget the fact that following the hallowed Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (Google it), which created a tax cut of $264 billion and dropped the country into one of the most brutal recessions it had ever experienced, Reagan proceeded to raise taxes 11 times, beginning with the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (Google it), which not only raised taxes but did so in a manner that didn't touch the top 5% of "earners" that Reagan and current politicians, both Republican and Democrat, so slavishly step-and-fetch for. Instead, it raised FICA taxes; that chunk that comes out of every one of your paychecks. Focus the cuts and spread the costs is, was, and shall always be the mantra of both the ruling class and the elected officials that serve them. Why? Because they can get away with it so long as idiots like those that make up the Tea Party and most of the electorate believe otherwise.

The Tea Party is a manifestation of the Republican Southern Strategy, writ large. The aforementioned Nixon used the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to divide the southern states against the Democratic party whose president (Johnson) had signed the Act. Of course, those same Democrats had been using that strategy to stay in power since Reconstruction, since it was the Republicans who had violated the "sovereign rights" of the southern states in the 19th century. The only way to keep rich white people in control of those states was to make poor white people think their lives were hard because of the poor black people. That's how you distract people long enough to convince them that voting for policies completely inimical to themselves and their wallets is somehow the right thing to do. That same strategy is at the root of the Tea Party phenomenon. The target is no longer solely poor black people since that kind of talk isn't acceptable in public any longer. Now it's just even poorer white people somehow getting rich (but staying poorer) from that evil faceless entity known as the Government, which has gotten out of control and exists only to keep the regular Poor White Man down. Don't worry. It only sounds stupid because it is. People accept this as a form of common wisdom because it's easier to believe that other, regular people are cheating the system, rather than that the system is designed and continually modified to be a way of keeping people in their place.

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." - Josef Goebbels. Would I dare to invoke Godwin's Law when talking about the Tea Party and the herd instinct amongst the American electorate? I sure would. After all, the historical similarities are self-evident and simply one more example of our electoral system being constructed on that most durable of political substances: bullshit.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Are you happy?"

Said question was put to me a while back by a friend. He's not a close friend, so it's not a topic that I would generally venture into with him. I don't mind communicating personal things to people, but this is a topic that could take some time and I'd be concerned about being soporific. The other half of that assessment is, yes, there are things that I will only talk about with a select few.

The topic came up because I had mentioned to him that a couple people I knew seemed genuinely happy in recent times. They had gotten over some significant hurdles and had reached that point of almost-nirvana; the "life is good/beautiful/perfect" moment. He said he'd known moments like that and then turned the question back to me.

"Are you happy?"

It struck me then that I'm not sure what that means anymore.

It's been so long since I've had one of those "life is good" moments; wherein I'd been content with the route my life was taking, my immediate surroundings, whom I was with, what I was doing, and could genuinely appreciate the positive side of almost everything, that I honestly don't know what it feels like any longer. I can't remember what it felt like in the past. I'm slowly beginning to question whether I've ever been there. Certainly, there are always the self-pitying reflections when times are difficult (as they are now, somewhat), when one becomes convinced that there's no way out of the turmoil and wonders if there ever truly was. There are sincere moments of regret for all of the woulda, coulda, shoulda moments that might have shifted the course just enough to bring at least some joy into the otherwise presumably bleak and Road-like outlook. One's perception is always colored by what's happening right now, so now would probably not be the most advisable time to sit back and wonder if happiness had ever truly been present. It certainly doesn't feel that way now, so how can memories have ever been better? But perhaps I'm thinking too much in the realm of absolutes.

Are there good times? Absolutely. I had a pretty good time last night, in fact. It's easy to be distracted from the overarching sensation by friends and experiences. Copious amounts of alcohol don't hurt, either. Life is not solely a path of misery and never has been. If ever that situation comes about, one can usually be sure that life is either going to take a dramatic change quite soon or be finished equally quickly. I can remember many good moments from the past 20 years. What I can't remember is that feeling of contentment and surety that says "life is good."

My answer to him was: "Probably not." (Evasive much?) So, he turned it back again: "What would make you happy?"

That stumped me for a bit. Again, I feel like I'm operating at a loss here because the sensation is seemingly beyond me. But I could think of several things that would make me happier and I listed off a few and quickly remembered that all of them are circumstances that are either largely beyond my control or situations in which my vote is not the only one that counts. Despite earnest lifetime effort, I cannot simply control all of the people around me and get them to shut up and do what I tell them to do. In a couple scenarios, doing so would at least mildly defeat the purpose, anyway.

He pointed out one scenario and said: "Why don't you pursue that if it would make you happier?"

Two reasons: 1) That was one of those that isn't solely up to me. If there were something out there that didn't resemble fly fishing from a B-52 (for all you non-Cold War kids: here), I surely would have attempted it by now. 2) Since it's not just up to me, it necessarily involves the happiness of people other than me. Diminishing someone else's in favor of mine is something that I may never be able to do.

My parents essentially instilled in me the idea that my personal happiness was secondary to all else. If someone else wanted to do something (usually them) that impinged on my life, then I was simply required to suck it up and accept it. It's a perspective that I still employ on a regular basis in my relationships with others. It's more important to me that my friends are happy than that I am so, as I've vaguely averred to before. It's also contrary to MA's approach, in which the nature of Stoicism is defined by not subsuming oneself in "destructive" emotions, but instead working through everything with reason. Reason, of course, can't account for everything and there's certainly room to question whether the human condition can survive a "pure" Stoic approach in the same way that aspirational Buddhism almost demands a transcendence beyond the consciousness of the human state. There's not really a classical philosophical approach to the idea of dispensing with "constructive" emotions except, perhaps, nihilism, but one wonders if that's a proper summation of the inability to feel genuine happiness any longer.

As noted, this isn't a topic of which I would go into great detail with most people, largely because I'd have to explain a lot of it and/or not be certain that the imposed upon would understand what the hell I was saying in the first place without jumping to any number of conclusions that would invariably be wrong and/or annoying. In my life, I think I've come across all of three people who could always seem to understand what I was saying as I was saying it. That's an incredibly comforting thing. The first is someone whom I haven't seen in almost 20 years and haven't talked to in about half that time. The second is someone that I barely talk to anymore, as she's enormously involved in her own life (as she probably should be.) The third is someone that has become close relatively recently and I still hesitate to impinge (that word again...) upon her because, once again, why douse someone else's day (and presumed happiness) with my own dire proclamations? "Let every action aim solely at the common good..."

So, I suppose I occasionally ramble on about these topics here so that people can choose when to stop while I attempt to gain some perspective on them alone. Effective? I don't know yet.