...And I'll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it... -- Bob Dylan

Monday, November 19, 2012

But WE Can Give them Stuff, Too!

            Let’s take a walk through the theater of the absurd.  Thanks to deranged folks at Fox News like Bill O’Reilly, it’s not a very long or arduous walk.
            We’ll start last summer, when President Obama, citing the repeated failure of Congress to pass something like the very reasonable and patriotic DREAM Act, instituted a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Under DACA, children of people who came to the US without documentation can avoid the threat of deportation as long as they meet certain requirements such as staying in school, staying out of trouble with the law, etc.  Conservatives cried “foul,” and claimed that Obama was “pandering” to Latinos for political purposes, apparently hoping that nobody in their audience would notice that pandering to anti-immigrant white people looks equally undignified. 
            Fast forward.  The DACA program is a (limited) success, the sky didn’t fall, and Obama wins the November election.  Enter O’Reilly, who grabbed headlines on election night lamenting that “it’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff.  They want things.”  (Read Jesse Hagopian's wonderful take on this, please!)  It doesn’t take a Poly Sci major – though it might take some elementary level of self-awareness – to recognize that people in O’Rielly’s “traditional” America (read: straight, white, middle-class English-speaking Americans) want stuff too.  Stuff like tax cuts, less spending on social programs, big defense contracts, property rights (to protect property they own at least in part because of their historical status,) and lots of tough-on-crime kinda stuff so they can feel oh-so-secure in their suburban enclaves.  Mostly, perhaps, they want to feel like the stuff they want is somehow more legitimate than the stuff other people want – stuff like a government that protects them from excessive exploitation in the labor market, and guarantees some basic necessities for living in a country that “enjoys” the widest gap in wealth and income disparities in the developed world.  That kind of “stuff” is – in their minds – illegitimate, and they can only get it by getting powerful politicians to pander to their needs.
            So far, I’m not sure this fits the definition of absurd – just the painful ironies of our incredibly immature political dialog.  But what strikes me as truly absurd was the reminder I saw yesterday about what Bill O’Rielly’s preferred candidate in this election said at the Republican National Convention only two months before.  Mitt Romney told the delegates – and the TV cameras, to be sure – “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet…” He said to jeers. “My promise… is to help you and your family.” How, Mr. O’Reilly, is a Presidential candidate promising to “help you and your family” different from people wanting “stuff?”
            The absurdity of this is the expanse of the hypocrisy; but I’m wondering – again – if it’s not something more.  I’m wondering again about this Jungian meme: do conservatives really hate liberals so much simply because they (liberals) remind them (conservatives) of themselves?  Even when they have to go to the extent to re-invent liberals in order to provide a straw man for them to hate?  Mr. Romney’s own admission is that liberals care about things other than themselves, things like oceans and planetary health; and his remarks also make it clear that conservatives are actually proud to not care about such things.  (At least in the “privacy” of their own conventions.)  By this logic, we can understand Mr. O’Reilly’s outrage as probably actually directed at his own allies: Mr. Romney and the many other Republicans who lost this election promising to deliver “things” to all those hard-working, middle-class (read: white) Americans.
            And so now we’re hearing that Republicans, praise the Lord, are “softening” their hard-line stance on immigration reform.  That’s a huge bet – that they can actually convince the very people they’ve been so dismissive of all these years that Republicans can give them stuff, too. 
            Let’s call it liberal envy.   And don’t worry, Bill O’Reilly, I’m sure there’s a therapist that can help you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Arrogant Storm

It's been a year and a half since my last post (a portion of which was published in Orion magazine -- how 'bout that?) and tonight I'm surfacing just after election 2012.  So the story that I could perhaps stick to could be that I've simply taken time off from blogging during this god-awful election season; and this god-awful election season really is about a year and a half in length.  So I'd better write quick before the next one starts -- if my goal is indeed to write about politics but in a manner completely separate from the two-party circus.

Truthfully, though, I've been prompted to write because I've been thinking about memes.  Sorry, the truth often isn't as funny or as interesting as the stories well tell ourselves.

I've been thinking about memes for the last week or so, after seeing a post on facebook by a friend of a friend.  The friend posted something about hurricane Sandy and possible links to climate change, and the friend of this friend commented on it by saying something like "it's pretty arrogant to believe that we humans can cause these kinds of storms."

On one level I can't resist the temptation to call bullshit when I see it -- though I did resist adding my comments to the thread.  So I've been prompted to write simply to respond to this nonsense -- believing that it is arrogant to suspect that human-induced climate change could contribute to stronger storms.  I suppose it is arrogant if one has absolutely no idea that climatologists around the world have been warning for the last couple of decades that yes, we humans are altering the atmosphere in a way that will probably lead to warming, and yes, this trend could likely contribute to more frequent and intense storms, and if one has no idea that the vast majority of scientists who study the weather all agree with this warning, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged global action to minimize these effects, and most every government on the planet has made some kind of explicit commitment to at least try to curtail emissions that could contribute to global warming.  Yes, if one has no idea about any of these things, then I suppose it would be rather arrogant to simply assume that because there's been a few more nasty storms this year than most that we humans must be behind them in some way, shape, or form.  As if nature is somehow incapable of whipping up a few nasty storms on her own.

But what if one does know about these things?  What if we actually pay attention to what the scientific method is revealing?  Is that arrogant?  Or is it arrogant to choose to ignore the science? Is it arrogant to know that human civilization is annually pumping some 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the global concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has been steadily increasing at a perhaps unprecedented rate and still believe that our emissions can't possibly have any effect on the actions of the very atmosphere we're demonstrably changing?

Arrogance is a complex thing.  It is arrogance, after all, that got us into this mess -- the arrogance that just because there's coal and oil and other burnable substances in the ground and we have technology to extract them then we should do so with utmost haste and assume there will be no negative consequences for this -- ever.  And when some people are faced with at least the prospect that our arrogance has caught up with us, then they respond to this by claiming that it is arrogant to stop being arrogant.

Are people really that dumb?  Or delusional?  This reminds me of Jungian psychology, on a political/social plane.  We're pointing to our own shadows as the cause of our distress while remaining totally oblivious that it is our shadows of which we are afraid.  What we fear most is ourselves.

My reaction to this facebook comment also stirred something on another level, which is why I've been thinking about memes.  I know that the subject comment was not the first time I've heard or read somewhere somebody saying something about it being arrogant to believe that anthropogenic climate change is a real danger.  I'm quite sure I've heard it before, several times.  Yet I don't know where that thought originated.  I'm willing to bet that some Rush Limbaugh-like character made some brief reference to it one day awhile back, without actually putting forth a coherent argument in favor of it (since no possible coherent argument could be made in defense of something so silly -- even by Rush Limbaugh.)  But a brief mention of an idea like this -- an idea that is logically ludicrous but carries a powerful emotional wallop -- just might be enough to make it stick in many people's minds.  And then they start repeating it, perhaps without even remembering where they first heard it, on facebook and in conversation etc, etc.  Next thing you know, we have a meme, and we have people everywhere believing something so utterly senseless yet so powerful.  Nobody wants to be arrogant, even though arrogance is a defining characteristic of post-industrial human beings.  And since nobody wants to be (consciously) arrogant, we slap and quiet ourselves next time we worry out loud that our actions have consequences that we -- or our ancestors -- did not foresee.