Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

Unique to Death

Check out this “Generic Millennial Ad” a friend of mine passed along:

Pretty funny, right? And accurate. “You’re so special . . . just like everybody else.”

Hold that thought for a moment.

Back to the ad: While I do think it’s a bit unfair to target Millennials as if they’re the first narcissistic generation in American history (I mean, you’ve heard of Boomers, right?), the ad, joke though it may be, raises some interesting questions about individuality.

I am generally to the right-of-center when it comes to things like the role of government in our daily lives. And much like the Founding Fathers who enshrined the primacy of the individual in the Bill of Rights, my belief, based on experience and observation, is that the government which governs best is that which governs least. Generally.

But we all grow up. We all change. And we all re-examine our beliefs. If you are not doing this, then you’re stagnation. What I thought was axiomatic at 20 doesn’t ring quite as true at 36.

Most of us generally go through phases in our thinking, from incoherence to ideological purity to a more pragmatic approach that discards that which does not work. Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman made more sense to me then than they do now.

Oh, I think Rand’s warnings against collectivism are as vital as ever. But to claim that all altruism, charity, and religion are soft, weak, and destructive struck me as incorrect and harmful then, and it does even more now.

And Friedman . . . I think we’ve seen where profit-over-all, society be damned has got us. If you still trust big business and think they’re always working for our best interests in an unfettered, purely voluntary free-market where competition reigns supreme, please pass me some of what you’re sipping on.

The point is, people change. So back to the ad.

Individualism is the best, according to American tradition. Go out on your own. Leave home. Make your fortune. Self-reliance.

I agree with this. Self-reliance is paradoxically one of the best things for a society, at least if you want it to be relatively free. Otherwise, we need a huge nanny state to provide for all of our needs, and who wants that?

About 65,000,000 people, actually.

Here’s the thing: Being unique, special individuals in charge of our own destinies with not a care for the world at large may have lead us into this quandary of depression, atomization, isolation, and eventual loss of moral confidence as a nation.

What are we, anyway? Continue reading “Unique to Death”

Beige Evil

Nobody sets out to be evil. And nobody thinks that they’re evil. But would we even recognize evil when we see it?

I’m not just talking cartoonish, Pennywise the dancing clown evil, but the more insidious kind that often comes wrapped in the mantle of goodness and virtue.

I’m no Hannah Arendt scholar, but she is the philosopher who coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” In interviewing the architects of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews and other undesirables, she was shocked to discover that these people weren’t the garishly sinister figures she expected. Instead, they were ordinary, nondescript, and even kind of boring.

Weird, right? But then again, so few set out to be the villain. Other people use that term. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” might have been a stupid thing to say after 9/11, but it actually describes how people see themselves.

(Now, taken out of context and as a blanket generalization, ignoring questions of who or what is actually right and good, the statement is obnoxiously relativistic, but I digress.)

Evil seeks to come in two main varieties: cartoon evil and beige evil. The former is rare and easier to detect. The latter is, sadly, far more common.

Cartoon Evil is big, bold, and knows it’s causing–and reveling in–mayhem and bloodshed. Think ISIS. Of course, they think they’re doing Allah’s work or whatever, but they totally enjoy the killing and the torture and the rape. Hey, they’re just doing what their Prophet says, so why not have fun?!

The thing is, most functioning human beings recognize ISIS for the evil that they are. They’re an easy one. Both the Nazis and the various horrific communist regimes (Russia, China, Venezuela, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, and so on) are a bit trickier to classify because they cloaked themselves in a mantle of faux-sophistication and academic-sounding justification. But they’re still evil.

Beige Evil, on the other hand, is creepier. It worms its way into you to eat you from within. And Beige Evil is usually pushed on you from without. Comedian George Carlin commented that when fascism comes to America, it’ll be in “Nike sneakers and smiley shirts.” He was on to something. Continue reading “Beige Evil”

Everyone Has A 9/11 Story

Sixteen years after the worst terrorist attack on American soil, and the world is still as dangerous and violent as ever. So few problems have been solved. So many seem to pop up by the day.

It’s almost as if violence and bloodshed, hatred and division, are indelible parts of the human condition. Who knew?

I was going to write about some negative aspects of 9/11, things people have said to me, and so forth. But then I realized, why dwell on the negative? Today we commemorate one of the most negative days in American history. I’d rather not add to it.

That’s why these kinds of commemorations–even dumb blog posts–are important. A whole generation born after 9/11 or too young to remember is now entering adulthood. It’d be tragic if these stories were lost, the event downplayed, or worse, trivialized and forgotten.

Remember the fallen and the survivors, remember the heroes, and remember our enemies. Just remember.

And listen. Everyone has a 9/11 story the way our ancestors had Civil War stories and Jim Crow stories and Depression stories and Pearl Harbor stories and civil rights stories and Vietnam stories. We all need an ear to listen, not for our own vanity, but so we never forget.

It’s cathartic. The rituals and reverence ensure that we take certain things seriously, which in the world of snark and smirking detachment we’re all occupying is more vital than ever.

So what’s my 9/11 story? Continue reading “Everyone Has A 9/11 Story”

The Center

No one wants to be “extreme.”

It feels icky and will get you disinvited from all the cool kids’ parties. Besides, these days reasonable conversation about important issues seems impossible.

One of the biggest problems is the logical fallacy that supporting X’s right to do something equals support for X and opposition to Y.

 

This is how unintelligent people see things. Unintelligent people, or dishonest ones.

You can see the left/right polarities in politics, philosophy, economics, and in many, many other field–even the arts.

Reaction against constant politicization is completely rational. Jamming politics down everyone’s throats is tiring and it prevents any meaningful solutions from being formed.

Someone has to be right, right? Someone has proposals that’ll work better than others, don’t they?

Enter the centrists.

A new trend is to describe oneself as centrist, meaning–according to what I call the nü-centrists–“one who looks at things from both sides.”

“Centrism is NOT agreement with parts of both sides!” I’ve been told.

“Centrism isn’t being a moderate!” they say.

Except…it kind of is.

You see, as with most things, it doesn’t matter what YOU wish a word meant, it matters what the word actually means and how the society views the term.

In other words, the term “centrist” is horrible branding. It has way too much baggage and means in the majority of people’s minds exactly the opposite of what the nü-centrists want it to mean. Continue reading “The Center”

Must We Politics?

Must politics ruin everything?

Must politics infect even our art?

Must blog posts have bad grammar?

These thoughts came to me recently (well, maybe not the grammar one) as I witnessed author Jon Del Arroz on Twitter going back-and-forth with other authors about the seeming impossibility of keeping politics out of fiction. Jon, clearly, thinks that it is possible to write politics-free fiction, and that it is, in fact, easy to do. This is part of the impetus behind the Pulp Revolution, after all:

Just don’t write politics into it.

 

Author Jon Del Arroz
Jon Del Arroz

On the other side is the view that it’s impossible because political viewpoints form who the author is, and that such a fundamental part of the writer–or artist in general–is always going to seep through:

Politics are a part of the author, and every work is a piece of the author’s soul.

I have a problem with this second position, for four main reasons:

  1. Hypocrisy on the part of those who make this argument. These are the same people who try to tell us that, in our politicians, character doesn’t matter and that personal beliefs, whether philosophy or faith, need to be kept out of politics. Yet it’s “impossible” to separate personal values and beliefs from something with arguably far fewer consequences like art? Do we pick and choose based on some arbitrary metric? How does this even make sense?
  2. The conflation of contemporary politics with universal themes about humanity. Much of what passes as contemporary political philosophy is meaningless gibberish. Deconstruction, critical theory, tax policy, post-modernism, and the reduction of every single facet of human interaction into the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy has as much to do with the human experience and the intellectual life as your bowel movement has to do with high art (unless you’re a Dadaist, I guess, then have at it).
  3. It demonstrates a lack of skill. This one is short but sweet: a good writer can write from the perspective of anyone, and make the reader believe it…without the character sounding like a mouthpiece for the author.
  4. The conflation of politics with values. This is the big one. Values might determine what political affiliation–if any–you gravitate towards. But when we talk “values,” we usually aren’t talking “I’m a Republican!” or “I’m a Democrat!” Or at least we shouldn’t be.

I am a firm believer that one can enjoy art despite its creator’s politics. Don’t like Nazis? No one does! But just because Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favorite doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy The Nibelungenlied.

What’s that, you say? You’re not a Che-worshipping, Lenin-loving murderous Marxist? Well guess what: You can still listen to–and enjoy!–Rage Against the Machine (though those dudes will still hate you).

You get the idea.

But far more interesting is the “power lifts as values” issue. Let’s explore this a bit further. Continue reading “Must We Politics?”

Axiometry, Part IV: “The Right Side of History.”

On the right side of history

Yes indeed, here we are! Axiometry! Looking at commonly used sayings, axioms, and bits of conventional wisdom to see if there really is any wisdom in them . . . or if they’re just full of wis.

. . .

Okay, that one was a bit of a stretch, I know.

Today’s subject is a relatively new one, or one that we hear incessantly, especially in the incessantly obnoxious world of politics. I am, of course, talking about the expression–the very idea–of being on the right side of history.

Blech.

Okay, I kind of tipped my hand there, but let’s be fair: As always, I’ll be subjecting this cultural shibboleth to the same low-budget quasi-legalistic analysis that I test all of my axioms with. Hence the completely made-up neologism Axiometry,

(Technically it’s a portmanteau, I guess, but who cares).

Here we go! Continue reading “Axiometry, Part IV: “The Right Side of History.””