To Resist

Back in February of 2014 I wrote a post entitled To Dissent. I encourage you to go read it, but I want to quote the final paragraph of that post:

The times are always tumultuous for dissent, now more than ever. But if we are to regain the balance between the government and the people, if we are to take charge of the destiny of our societies and our species, if we are to make a better life for ourselves and our children, if we are to proactively look towards the future instead of reactively running from it, if we are to continue to rise to the challenges provided to us as intelligent, sentient beings, then we must on occasion stand and make ourselves heard, even if our legs are shaking – especially when our legs are shaking – because to not do so is to disregard and dishonor the great gifts bestowed upon us by those who have courageously done so in the past.

Hannah Arendt is perhaps most famous for her discussion of what she termed the ‘banality of evil.’ In studying how the atrocities perpetuated by Germany under control of the Nazis came about, she reached the conclusion that great evil can only come about through the compliance of the people; that the truly bad can only happen when good people put their heads down and, whether from fear, or tiredness, or dismay allow it to unfold unchecked.

And we are seeing it now. Many people are looking at the great disaster that will undoubtedly be the Trump presidency and are throwing up their hands in despair. President Obama and Hillary Clinton are urging a peaceful transition of power. Our representatives in Congress and the Senate are already discussing how they will seek to work peacefully with the other side. The news media is already acquiescing to the new normal of managed information and propaganda. The future is looking darker than many of us have ever seen it; darker than the Bush years, or even Reagan . There indeed may be no way to climb out of the hole this time, when it it all said and done and we find ourselves in the brave new world of runaway climate change. So why bother?

Here is why we bother: We bother because it is our duty to do so. We bother because it is our duty to our children and future generations to do so. We bother because it is our duty to those who bothered before us to do so. We bother because it is our duty to the freedom and rights of all people to do so.  We bother because it is our duty as sentient beings to do so. And in the end, we bother because it is our duty to ourselves to do so.

It is very hard to stand and be the nail that will be hammered down. But the great labor leaders of the past did it. Those who marched for women’s suffrage did it. Those who fought to end Jim Crow did it. Those who fought for civil rights did it. Those who occupied Wall Street did it. Many, many people in history have done it when it needed to be done. Are we no less?

So my message to you now is to not despair, but to resist. In any way you can, no matter how small you can. Resist. When those enabled by Trump come to take people away, resist. When those enabled by Trump come for the public land, resist. When those enabled by Trump come for the environment, resist. When those enabled by Trump come for your civil rights, or the rights of others, resist. When those enabled by Trump come for a woman’s right to chose, resist. When those enabled by Trump come for your right to vote, resist.When those enabled by Trump come for your right to speak freely, resist. And when those around you try to bury their heads in the sand and expect the same from you in the name of peace, resist. Especially when that happens, resist. Because great evil can only occur when we all give in to it. So don’t. Be on the right side of history. Resist.

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Climbing out of the rabbit hole

As always in a democracy, there are issues we can agree on, and there are issues we cannot agree on. I can agree, for example, that the establishment has done a poor job of protecting the middle class. I can also agree that it has done a poor job of allowing minorities to enter it. What I cannot agree on is that the person gleefully supported by David Duke and white supremacists is the right person to fix it. I will never agree with that. Ever.
 
Donald Trump may indeed enact policies that help the middle class. But it will be a middle class devoid of color, where anyone not white, straight, or Christian will be manifestly unwelcome and unsafe. The Mad Men crew are now in charge. In the first 100 days, they will work tirelessly to eradicate the memory of Obama from history, salt the earth, and make sure that it never rises again. That is the future now. That is our reality now.
 
It is not when times are easy that you find out who you are and what you are made of. It is when times are so hard that you are forced to leave all your baggage behind in order to climb out of the pit of despair and emerge anew: cold, shaking, tired, uncertain as to the future, but knowing that you are at least alive. That at least there is that.
 
We are about to find out just how deep the rabbit hole is in America. I fear that it is very deep indeed. But I intend to climb my way back out of it. I have faith that a number of like-minded people will make it back out, too. And when we find each other again, cold, shaking, tired, and uncertain of the future, know that we will still be alive. There will always be that.

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Eden is gone. Get over it.

There was once a period of time on this planet that was perfect for growth and prosperity for the human race. For over ten thousand years, the earth’s temperature hovered around a relatively narrow band. The climate was relatively stable. This stability allowed people to reasonably predict when it was good to grow food, and how much needed to be stored until the next growing season. This allowed humans to settle and invest in agriculture. This led to civilization. Seemingly infinite resources promoted an ideology of endless growth. Endless growth resulted in a massive population explosion and the creation of a global village. It is what has allowed the human race to set up shop on nearly every corner of planet earth. As the cradle of humanity, earth was as close to Eden as reality and human nature allowed.

And what an Eden it was! It was a place that promised infinite expansion, where even the stars seemed to be reasonably within grasp. It was a place where dreams were made, where we could all fantasize of one day finding ourselves living in shining houses on the hill, powered by cheap energy and cheap A.I., where we would one day be carted everywhere by robot cars and robot attendants, both virtual and real. A place where Star Trek was just around the corner, and so on.

That earth no longer exists. We have used it up. Our infinite resources were not infinite after all. We have hit the proverbial brick wall. Over a billion people currently rely on glacial water that will be melted and gone by the end of this century. Over a billion people rely on ocean stocks that are on the verge of collapse. Over a billion people will be forced to relocate to escape rising oceans and expanding desert during the course of this century. They will not be happily greeted by the billions more who already live where they will want to migrate to. Walls can be built, but the wave of human refugees will eventually swamp them. The arbitrary borders between countries that have been drawn over the centuries will be discovered to be, indeed, arbitrary, and indefensible.

Nor can we go back. The door to Eden has closed and locked behind us. The period of stability it afforded us is over. During the course of the industrial era, we have pushed the earth’s temperature outside of the box it has stayed within for millennia. The climate is irrevocably changing, and will continue to change for millennia more, perhaps faster than we can adapt. The old rules of infinite expansion that allowed humanity to grow to its current level have irrevocably changed. We now inhabit a planet of declining ice and fresh water, of declining food and food production, of declining habitable land, of declining biodiversity, of declining cheap energy, of declining capital and resources. The old formulas, based on never ending growth, no longer work in this world, nor do the economies devised around them. We can try to imagine new ones, and perhaps we will, but formulas devised to manage contraction do not promote boundless dreams. They promote practicality and a worldview that there will always be less tomorrow. There is no room for dreams of robot cars and cheap A.I. in that world. It is not the world of Star Trek. It is the world of Soylent Green. It is the world of crushingly hard work, tiredness, and survival.

Of course we will continue on in denial. We will create treaties promising to roll back the clock. We will collectively commit ourselves to somehow getting back to Eden. We will not let go of our dreams easily. We have no choice. People committed to a better tomorrow will not easily replace that with commitment to a better afterlife instead. A civilization predicated on endless growth cannot be turned on a dime. Trillions of dollars of infrastructure designed for one purpose cannot instantaneously be repurposed for another, nor can it be rapidly replaced. It is the result of centuries of accumulated purpose, and even with a singular, concentrated effort will take decades to change, during which we will travel ever further from Eden. But we shouldn’t abandon the effort! Just because we have forever left Eden behind does not mean we have to commit ourselves to traveling to Hell. We can still make a serviceable life somewhere in between. But let’s be realistic: Eden is forever gone. Get over it. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is deeply in denial.

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A Veteran’s Thoughts on Colin Kaepernick

Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station has his usual eloquent take on the so-called Colin Kaepernick incident , in which he describes, in somewhat great length, his opinion on whether Kaepernick should stand (or not) during the playing of the National Anthem. As a veteran myself, I would like to add my opinion, which is this:

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter not because I don’t care if he stands or not. It doesn’t matter because, as a veteran, on this my opinion is irrelevant.

Note that I did not state my opinion as a person, a man, a citizen, as an American, or any other classification. In those areas I definitely have an opinion on whether or not Colin Kaepernick should stand during the playing of the National Anthem. But as a veteran, my opinion is irrelevant. And it is irrelevant because of this simple fact: I did not serve in the military so that Colin Kaepernick should have to stand during the National Anthem. I served in the military so that Colin Kaepernick should be able to do whatever the hell he wants during the National Anthem.

There is a quote, often mistakenly attributed to Voltaire, but actually written by late 19th century writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her book The Friends of Voltaire. You may be familiar with it. It is often associated with the freedom of speech. It is this:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

In order to serve in the military, I had to take an oath. Part of that oath was to defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution has a rather famous amendment, known as the First Amendment. The First Amendment states this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As a member of the military, I was sworn to protect that. It didn’t matter whether I agreed with it or not. But I was prepared to die to defend it. And thus why my opinion, as a veteran, is irrelevant.

If Mr. Kaepernick wishes to stand during the National Anthem, that is his right. If he wishes to sit, that is his right. If he wishes to do jumping jacks during the National Anthem, that is his right. If he wants to use it as a venue for protest, that is especially his right. It is his right as an American citizen, granted to him by the Constitution of the United States. It is a right bought and paid for by the lives and sacrifice of many, many people who swore an oath to protect it. And by executing that right to sit during the National Anthem, he does not dishonor their service and sacrifice. He does not dishonor my service and sacrifice. Indeed, by choosing to exercise his First Amendment right, he validates it. So sit away, Mr. Kaepernick, if you feel compelled to do so. To be forced to do otherwise was not worth dying for.

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And we are still two nations

So, the verdict is out on Tamir Rice. What more is there to write than what I have already written: here, and here, and on, and on

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The communists are not who you think

I find it interesting that many people accuse Bernie Sanders of being a communist when he is merely advocating the expansion of many of the ‘socialist’ programs that these same people take for granted—Social Security, Medicare, reduced college tuition—while at the same time these people seemingly have little problem with the policies they should really be associating with communism: the intrusion of the security state into their private lives; the merger of corporatism and government; the expansion of the gulag called the prison system; the harassment, roundup, detainment, and expulsion of the political underclass; the utilization of terror and fear to promote policy. All in the name of freedom and the flag, of course.

All autocratic regimes have certain characteristics in common, whether the underlying philosophy is based on communism, dictatorship, aristocracy, technocratic rule, fascism, or any other system where a ruling elite seeks to impose and perpetuate its will on the masses. The one thing these regimes fear above all is change, and the natural enemies of the state are those who seek to change it, whether they exist within the state or outside of it. This, of course, is anathema to true democracy and democratic government, which require that the regime bend to the will of the people.

Thus, if we examine what the accusation of communism really means, it is not the living arrangement where a government executes policies designed to improve the general welfare of its people, but the arrangement where a government considers its people to be public enemy number one. It is an arrangement where a government feels the need to overtly and covertly spy on its people to ferret out those who challenge it; it is an arrangement where the government harasses and detains those who speak up; it is an arrangement where a government seeks to divide the people into those who are with it, and those who are against it; it is an arrangement where a government holds itself outside the rule of law; it is an arrangement where a government promotes fear instead of calm; indeed, an arrangement of fear and repression.

When has Bernie Sanders stated that he would advocate for any of the above? Obviously he has not. But those who accuse of him being a communist have. When Donald Trump states that “we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago” what he is promoting is a policy of fear and repression. When Ted Cruz advocates utilizing militias to round up and detain immigrants, he is promoting divisive policies designed to enlist citizens to harass an underclass with no power to fight back. When Jeb Bush advocates utilizing the Justice Department to crack down on divisive free speech, he is promoting policies by which the government attacks those who seek to change it. And while they would vehemently deny that they are communists, these are certainly policies very much aligned with the autocratic side of communism. If they want to know who the real ‘communists’ are, they should look no further than themselves.

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The problem with Donald Trump

The problem with Donald Trump is not one of economics and hate. The problem is about legitimacy and trust.

The reason that Trump has risen so high in the polls is that he speaks to the lack of legitimacy with which many people hold the establishment. And why should they hold the establishment to be legitimate? After all, many of these are people who have lost their jobs to government-sponsored globalization, who have lost their homes and retirements to government-backed thievery by the banks, who have seen their futures redirected to a wealthy few through government-backed policies of upward redistribution, and whose every interaction with the government, from law enforcement to the labor department is anything but pleasant. Stoke this daily with hate radio, and you can see why people are primed for a change.

Is Trump unpleasant? Sure. Is he a fascist? Possibly. Would he take America somewhere it does not want to go? Almost certainly. But from the aggrieved perspective of those systematically disenfranchised by the establishment, how could he be worse than what they currently deal with on a daily basis? Hence the desire for change.

It is highly unlikely that Trump will win the presidency. But that does not mean the anger and despair he represents will go away. Trump is the canary in the coal mine; something that the establishment should take very seriously if it does not want to see trust in the government further, and perhaps irrevocably, eroded.

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