Shut Up and Listen

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”  — Isaac Asimov

imageShut up and sing.  Or write.  Or play.  Or any other occupation…

That’s a favorite phrase among a certain kind of folks nowadays.  Of course, what those folks really mean is “shut up…if you don’t agree with me.”

Now, there’s a belief out there that it is conservatives that embody that drive.  And, to a certain extent, there is a strong element of that among the more vocal and rabid “conservatives”.  But, just as much, the same belief and impulse holds true on the left.  Liberals can point to talk radio hosts and TV talking-heads, but conservatives can point just as much to college campuses and, well, more TV talking-heads.  And me?  I point to (pretty much) all of them.

And, no, it is NOT worthwhile to get into the tit-for-tat bullshit of “Well, they did it first!’

“No, THEY did it first!”

“Well, you’re a poopy-pants!”

“No, YOU’RE a poopy-pants!”

Is it any wonder why the most hated professions in the world are politicians and reporters*?  Even lawyers rank above them, for pete’s sake…

*To which I will add media talking-heads & “political-pundits”.

Let’s put this argument to rest right now: art, and especially writing, has always played a political role…and it always will.  Most often — and worse, to those who hate & fear voices that do not toe their particular line — that role has been to argue against the problems and abuses of the day, according to the artist’s personal perceptions and opinions.

Shit, Shakespeare’s Richard II is one of the most overtly political plays ever written.  Virgil’s Aeneid was written as pure political propaganda.  The Canterbury Tales had true political significance…Twain…Dickens…Fitzgerald…Wolfe…  And that’s just a handful of names, limited for reasons of word-count and space.  Hell, if I get into the poets, I could spend a good three seconds of thought and add another hundred names.

But, you know what?  Everyone deserves that freedom to express themselves.  Not just writers and singers and artists: athletes, and plumbers, and engineers, and astrophysicists….well, maybe not astrophysicists, those folks are freakin’ weird.  The point is: if you have an opinion, and sincerely held beliefs, it is not just your right, it is arguably your duty, to behave accordingly.  And it is manifestly NOT someone else’s job or right or duty to tell you to “shut up”.*

*And, before you ask (or yell): I fully realize that at-work and at-home are two different things.  I am trying to stay high-level and general in this post; I do not want to get into the briar patch complexity of when and where you are “allowed” to express yourself…

Once again, if you don’t like the message, don’t read, or listen, or watch.  It’s that simple.  Honestly, there are plenty of messages out there that I do not like, and therefore do not “consume”.  In the end, Person A cannot compel someone else to toe a specific line of belief or action.  But, just the same, Person B cannot compel someone else to agree with, or partake in, their beliefs or actions.

It really is that simple…and it really does go both ways.

No, the “command” to shut up and write (or sing, or play, or whatever) is one of the stupidest and most futile things imaginable.  If you don’t like the message, don’t read…or listen, or whatever.

Or, and let’s just try this on for size, YOU could shut up and try to at least envision another point of view.  You could try to understand, maybe even to learn.

Or you could live a bubble where the only voices you hear are those that agree with you.

What a miserable world — and life — that would be…and, sadly, pretty much IS right now.

Do you know what we call people who are utterly convinced that their every thought and opinion is 100% sanctified, righteous and correct?


And politicians.

But I repeat myself.

This Is Not Us

Sometimes I just can’t help myself…sometimes my love of history, and my life experiences, overcome my libertarian, ignore-DC-at-all-costs leanings.

The US has always been strongly and openly patriotic.  We have always — well, mostly always — been very supportive and appreciative of our military.  I usually keep my associations with that part of life private, but even I wrote about it once, in this post.

But, even with our propensity for open patriotism and the close (although declining) relationship between the civilian and military spheres, we have never really gone for outright militarism.  We have celebrated those who fought and bled and died, but never have we celebrated the tools of war.  Never have we valued and celebrated the power and lethality of our military over its humanity.  Instead we have valued and celebrated our friends and relatives, our neighbors and peers, who bear the burdens of those weapons, rather than the weapons themselves.

We are not Russia.  We are not North Korea.  When a nation — when a society — turns to celebration and glorification of its power, rather than of its people, a line is crossed.1  A line, and a crossing, from which there is no stepping back…

Now, it turns out, Mr Trump wants to have a parade.  He wants to have not a parade like those we have known in the past, but rather the opposite.  He wants to glorify the tools and weapons of war in ways the US has never done.

Look, I’m not a partisan of either stripe.  I neither hate nor love Trump…I just want a government that freaking works.  But, the nice thing about neither hating nor loving the man is that I get to call things the way I see ‘em.  And the way I see this “parade” idea is that it’s damned well insane.

When the soldiers of WWII came home, this is the kind of parade we threw:


When Bush senior arranged a celebratory parade after the Gulf War — one aimed to also celebrate and acknowledge those who fought in Vietnam — it looked like this:


What we do NOT do are parades like this:

nintchdbpict000322444369 Военный парад на Красной площади 7 ноября 1990 года

Or like this:

Report-North-Koreas-military-parade-to-include-fighter-jets-artillery 468a168249305b39b42bf3ae03846bd31


If a parade we must have, then let’s do it right.  Let’s do a parade that celebrates the right thing…the thing in our military that really matters:


An Off-Topic Squirrel Moment

Aside from the lunacy of Alabama’s recent special election, I don’t comment on politics much.  Hey, as I’ve said before, you and I might disagree — or we might be totally simpatico — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a meaningful conversation.  It certainly doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  Not to trot out an old (vastly maligned) saying, but “some of my best friends are…”  You get the idea.

But you know who I’ve decided I respect?  Political writers and bloggers.  To dive into the cesspool of domestic politics every single day?  To write about it…hell, to even acknowledge it, every single day?  Worse, to do so voluntarily?!

Yeah, there ain’t enough shampoo in the world to wash that particular stink out of your hair.

But, and this is the big but, I love to read about politics, and to explore the backstabbing and shenanigans as much as the next guy.  Err, maybe more than the next guy: that history degree in the Roman Republic ain’t because I liked Catullus’ poetry…

It is, quite honestly, the politics that draw me into history.  It was, especially, the cut-and-thrust of international politics.  That there is some fascinating stuff, especially if you have a basic understanding of the cultures involved.  Unfortunately, far too few people seem interested in that part of it.  Far too few want to understand before they (try to) judge.

Countries like Russia, China and Iran — just to name three of the biggest players in the news right now — make easy “villains” in the kabuki theater of the US’s worldview.  Unfortunately, that is simplistic thinking of the worst sort.  That is thinking that gives rise to stuff like the (satirical) map I added to this post.the-world-according-to-americans

Thankfully, for those who want to learn and understand, that thinking lasts only until you actually get to know the histories of the others, the outsiders (from your perspective).  Until you look at things from other perspectives.  Until you switch off prejudices and judgments and try to understand.

Oh, even when you do so, the world is still full of adversaries and allies (well, confluences of interests, anyway)…but it’s nice to understand that your adversaries are neither insane nor maniacally evil.*  Historically speaking, Russia and China have valid reasons for why they are the way they are, both politically and culturally.  Hell, if we had their history, we’d have some of our own issues, too.**

*Both sides of the current US domestic political insanity could learn THIS damned lesson.

**Yes, I know — we DO have our own issues, but I’m staying off domestic politics in this.

And Iran? Let’s be honest: in spite of the last forty or so years, Iran is pretty much the oldest continual civilization in the world (the Persians).  It once was a beacon of science and art and learning…and will be again.  That is something I very much believe.  That is also why I have been so interested in the recent, nascent protests taking place there…they give me (and others) hope for the future.

Sadly, until you understand that history — the history of the Persian people as much as the various states that fall under that name —  Iran will be little more than mullahs and violence and threat.  Once you learn, there is so much more there…

Just like understanding the Russians: a country that has suffered violent invasion and slaughter for most of its history.  Hey, it’s not paranoia if everyone really is out to get you…

Just like China: a country that, in living memory, really was carved up and dominated by outside powers as private, colonial fiefdoms…

And that interplay, the “great game” between nations on the world stage, is just as fascinating now as it was centuries, or millenia, ago.

You Chose…

I wrote a post last Tuesday titled “Choose.”  It was a post that came purely out of my own particular brand of socio-political cynicism.  Actually, it was a post where that cynicism shaded decidedly into the darkness of pure pessimism.  It was a post attacking Alabama for inflicting upon the rest of us the noxious disease that is Roy Moore.

I’m sorry, Alabama.  I wronged you.

Like some of the alcohol-fueled revelries of my younger days, you flirted and danced and rubbed yourself all over that one person you knew was completely wrong for you.  You may even have swapped some bodily fluids…

But, in the end, you did the right thing.

In the end, you said “No more.”  {pun fully intended!}

Look, the rest of us know it was a tough time for you.  We know you got a little drunk, did a few things you don’t want to talk about.  We’ve all been there.  Chalk it up to experience, take a couple aspirin, and please — please! — learn from that hangover and find someone you can actually take home to your family without worrying about your little sister.

There is a ton of pontificating out there about the AL special election as a “sign”, as the first rushing tide of a “wave election”.  Or as a sign that nothing has changed.  Pick your poison, based on which side you favor…or read ‘em all and just laugh, if (like me) you’ve had it with both sides.

Folks, this was one very singular, very special circumstance of an election — the very definition of an “outlyer” — and neither party/side should be looking at the results with anything resembling contentment or happiness.*

*The rest of us normal folks?  We can be as happy as we damned well want: we don’t have to live with the rantings of a curacek** who believes liberty and rights belong only to those who look and think exactly like him.

**In Czech slang, curacek means “little dick”.  Hey, it seems to fit…

For the Ds: your guy managed roughly 50%…running against a bigoted, repressive, (alleged) pedophile who doesn’t believe in the US Constitution, nor in the rights enshrined therein, and who wanted to institute a theocracy that would’ve had even the Taliban shaking their heads about “religious extremists”.  Had the Alabama Rs put up literally anyone else, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  Offer a quiet smile, take your win and move along.

For the Rs: yes, you “win” by not having Roy Moore as a running mate for literally every single election next November (and don’t get me wrong — that’s a big win), but AL is, to put it mildly, the reddest state in the nation.  If you want to still hold any vestige of power at this time next year, you should probably figure out that the rest of the US is most decidedly NOT Alabama…and that many folks, the results of the vote aside, ARE gonna remember your support of Moore.

It’s important to remember, however, that in the end, we are all better off with the way things turned out…at least for now.

One of the key lessons from these past few weeks, at least from my perspective, applies to all of us: the one to whom you choose to give your vote, who you choose to represent you, matters.  Don’t — as so many of us have done — fall into the trap of voting against someone.  Don’t vote from fear, or from anger, or from hate.

Vote for someone; vote for a candidate you can respect and admire.  A candidate that represents you.  I don’t care if you are R or D, or I, or anything else…vote for something.

To be defined only by what we are against leads inevitably to moral compromises and political absolutes that end only in the kind of bitter, antagonistic divisions that bring down nations and societies.

To be defined by what you are for is the only way this whole thing will actually work.

Not to go all existentialist on you, but you — as an individual — are defined by what you do, and by the stands you take.  Think about that…think about that, and stand for something.