Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Slow Decline of Rampant Individualism

Sorry, but its really not always about you.

A kind of false differentiation has existed within the Western thought-stream for the past several hundred years, that which divides the rights of the individual from the rights of the community at large. While this differentiation began essentially as a response to the authoritarian rule of kings, it has reached its apotheosis in the late 20th Century and into the first decade of the 21st. Beyond the insistence of various groups pushing for laws to further expand such rights, the advent of personal electronics, especially the so-called smart phone, has placed even greater autonomy into the hands of the individual.

But there has always been a tension between the needs (read: rights) of the one versus the needs (read: rights) of the many, and today that tension has expanded to include the issue of privacy. That the issue has been pushed to the fore by these very technologies is no surprise. Given that such technology, while on the one hand intended to connect people with greater frequency and intimacy, also intrudes into the realm of businesses and governments due to their ubiquity and utility, not surprisingly creates a dynamic wherein the very concept of privacy is being challenged on a near daily basis. Whether in the form of the government tracking individuals, corporations tracking buying habits, family tracking their children, hackers invading every open portal, our right to have privacy is increasingly decimated by our own individualism as exercised by our choices for communication.

Therein lies the irony, however. Pure individualism has always been a myth - no one succeeds at the game of life purely solo - there are always people helping each of us along the way. From our parents and siblings, our teachers and doctors, our laws and our institutions, we are in fact creatures of community. There is no such thing as a self-made man, to use the overblown phrase. You needed parents just to come into existence. You need many others just to reach the age of maturity. And when you start that great business that you take so much pride as being "your baby", try being successful with no employees, no suppliers, and, oh yes, no customers. No one succeeds alone - not even Warren Buffett.

To communicate with another means giving up, at least temporarily, your purist ideals of individualism - communication requires us to be both sender and receiver, which immediately implies the interaction of another. With each step into broadening that communication - today exemplified by so-called social media - we merge our autonomy with the expanding community, whether we intend it or not. And it is the merging which puts the concept of individual rights increasingly under the microscope. Where do my so-called rights intrude upon, even endanger, the rights of the community? We seem to believe that rampant use of controlled drugs like cocaine and heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, are a danger to the community, but hold the opposite view when it comes to the possession of weapons, especially guns. One is a right, the other is a danger. Yet more people die every day from guns than from illegal drugs. This is but one such failure of logic that is slowly disintegrating the concept of the right of the individual over the rights of the community.

The use of the word "disintegrating" is telling here: it means, of course, to dis integrate, to cause a thing to loosen its bonds and fall apart from it's original state. There is an additional irony involved, as well - a Constitution is a document that binds individuals together into a community, a Nation. That certain rights are granted to individuals by this document does not give carte blanc to the individual, it merely tells the State that it must not hold all rights solely to itself. We are quick to remind the State when it oversteps it's own limits, but too slow to remind ourselves when our individual liberties overstep the bounds of the community. The respect for each must travel in both directions, else the document loses its power and legitimacy.

It increasingly appears that the cult of individualism is slowly declining, just as the cult of aristocracy once did. All social and political movements have their natural life-cycle, which includes their demise, when they no longer serve the people's needs, or when they endanger the present and future viability of society at large. Today we are faced with a number of such dangers: global climate change (whether one accepts it or not, the truth is that nature bats last, and if we fail to recognize this truth, it is we who pay the price), a severely damaged public education system, far too many guns (it is a red herring to argue that guns don't kill, people do - that is true - people do, and most often, with guns. If one claims to support the right to life, then it is inconsistent to also support the right to universal gun ownership,) global terror movements (some of which we do indeed bear responsibility for, if not for their creation, then surely for their appeal to the disenfranchised, which our own policies continue to support,) and more. And our belief that we can solve each and every one of these problems without ever having to change our underlying rationale for the focus of rights versus responsibilities is going to be tested in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Rome fell for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important was Rome's own belief in it's supremacy and immortality. The West today finds itself in a similar conundrum: barbarians at the gate (and across the entire Empire,) increasing in-fighting between political factions, and a hubris that makes Rome's look positively quaint by comparison. As long as we continue to believe it is all about us, and what we want, we risk the same outcome as Rome. And as long as we continue to believe it is all about the individual, that risk will continue to grow as close to home as it is across the globe. We have to find the way from me, to us. And them from us, to all. Unlike the false premise of globalism as has been shoved down the throats of people by the actions and goals of corporations and governments, real globalism will have a decidedly different face. I strongly suspect it will be a very diverse face indeed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Major Fail: Fear Over Reason

Logic is no recourse over fear, especially in America.

About the only thing Americans seem to love more than guns is righteousness, usually, their own. We don't exactly despise logic and reason, we usually don't even give it room at the table. It takes too many steps to get them into the conversation, so how can we expect them to even get an invitation to the party? Righteous indignation and rationalization is quick, it's easy, and permits shouting as the primary tool to defend it's primacy as the first tool of discourse - though discourse is seldom the outcome. "I feel this way, and therefore I am right." Likewise, "I have a right to free speech," has become the de-facto excuse for unreasonableness, invective, and opposition, regardless of the position one is taking on a topic. All too often of late, the right to be unreasonable is its own excuse. It seldom if ever matters that a position might be worth re-thinking - that, it seems, is a sign of weakness, of "flip-flopping." And heaven forbid we re-think anything - we are Americans - we don't have to reconsider our points of view!

But history - remember that little inconvenience? - has a way of operating according to the law of reconsideration - not always positively, certainly, but there it is. The path toward democracy, whenever and wherever it has developed, has followed various approaches through a thicket of reconsiderations. Who should lead; how will we permit ourselves to be led; how will we make change when change is needed; who will determine the course of said changes; how will we measure the success of such changes? All such questions require conversation among reasonable people if they are to produce a reasonable - positive for the majority of citizens that will be impacted by such changes - results. Not that we as a Nation have always had reasonable conversations, clearly we have gotten mired in unreasonableness many times. But the best changes have occurred when we have been the most reasonable, used our better angels to keep us focused on the problem rather than on the opposition-as-the-problem.

America today seems locked into the more unreasonable demons of our nature, not just across our political divides, but within and across all of our communities. The depth and breadth of this unreasoning is breathtaking, and may bode ill for the Republic itself. Ideology, always the worst of all our demons, has become hardened into cement in some quarters, a phenomenon that has often preceded great upheavals in our Nation. The question we all should be asking ourselves today is, are my beliefs based on any real information? Are they likely to serve not merely myself, but the community around me? It is more critical than ever, I feel, that we permit ourselves and those around us the right to reconsider - our beliefs, our positions, our alliances, our attitudes. Just because we have a right to do something does not mean we should take that as a directive to do whatever we think we want to do, if by the doing of that we cause great suffering to the community that we live in.

There is a law which supersedes even the great Constitution of The United States of America, and it is worth keeping in mind today: what goes around, comes around. It can be put in many ways - karma, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, give respect and you will get respect, etc. Our grandparents knew this law. Its time we all started to remember it, as well.

Why Should Romney Care About You?

You aren't rich, you aren't the owner of a team, and you wouldn't leave your dog atop your car.
It's easy to say that the other guy is a liar, when your aim is to make everyone believe a lie. NewSpeak, as George Orwell so aptly painted it, is designed to replace truth with lies in such a manner that the receiver of said lie must feel stupid, and perhaps slightly afraid, to even question its veracity. And no one has so excelled at this practice than the new breed of republicans, launched, un-ironically, by the current low fella on the Republican Primary totem pole, Newt Gingrich, who introduced the world back in the nineties to a new brand of dirty tricks and double dealing that is only now finding it's true metier. And no one has better grasped the utility and necessity of such machinations, nor had the fiscal wherewithal to so thoroughly flood the mental landscape of America with the perfect storm of NewSpeak as has Mitt Romney.

It doesn't matter if something is completely untrue - just shake that etch-a-sketch and do a quick re-write, a quick change of clothes, and presto! Mormon rationalization makes the lie so much more righteous. Make no mistake - while Mitt's stooges are already trying to plant the seeds of "the other side will attack Mitt's religion," - the guy behind the curtain knows exactly what he's doing. Straw dogs are better than scarecrows at getting a dirty trick planted deep into the American psyche, and that is precisely what Mitt's folks are doing. Because simultaneous with his camp crying foul at a foul that has not even happened, they have not once decried the lies that have been told by the Far Wrong thousands of times about his opponent's own religion. And when that issue again raises its ugly head, Mitt should not be surprised if that point is brought straight up without a chaser. watch his lips try to say the opposite of what his mind is aching to lie about when that happens - that will be the "tell."

Funny thing about wealth - it makes one believe they are above the petty and the trivial aspects of life as lived by the masses, and thus can do what they like without having to apologize. Donald the Trumpish is a good example, but he's more a clown about it, and when others laugh at him, he snickers back. But Mitt is in a very different class, one where he would never consider laughing at himself, nor even getting it when others laugh at him. he's too insulated from "real life." He doesn't have to worry about over-self-revelation. But he should worry about one thing above all else - the little people he stepped on along the way. And you'd better believe he stepped on a lot of people, some who've already raised their head above the wall to speak to their neighbors. But the real numbers will begin to raise their voices throughout what appears will be a very hot summer in America. Let's see how above the fray he remains. Because I'm willing to bet some are even from his own party.

Which would really be embarrassing.