Light That Bonfire And Get Those Vanities Ready…

What the hell is happening to us?

I’ve mentioned before my belief that what will finally destroy the US, as a nation and as a culture, is our descent into the madness of defining political opponents as enemies. I didn’t think, at the time I wrote that post, that I also had to spell out the corollary that defining speech and points-of-view with which you disagree as dangerous is just as bad…

But that’s where we’re at.

What in the hell ever happened to the concept of defending other folks’ right to say things you may not personally like? Are we really going to keep going down the path of listing as dangerous and evil those words and opinions with which we don’t happen to agree?*

Yeah, that civil war I expect ain’t a decade off, it’s right around the damned corner. We’re pretty much fucked.

The worst part about writing this post is that I despise the asswagon who spawned it. Alex Jones is a tool, let’s get that out in the open right from the get-go. He is that rare blend of lunatic, asshole and fool all rolled into one. He is, when you get right down to it, everything that’s wrong with humanity in one unpleasant package of uselessness.

But that doesn’t make right the various social networks’ silencing of him, and voices like his. Look, I ignored InfoWars and the other idiocy of Jones’ ilk from Day One because it was pretty obvious just how unhinged those folks truly were. So did many, many other people. A free marketplace-of-ideas means folks are free to say and write pretty much whatever they want, but it also means the rest of us are just as free to ignore whatever we want. If something is stupid, or foolish, or demented, or just plain vile, then the answer is simple: DON’T READ IT!

But that’s not enough, not anymore. No, nowadays the only answer, apparently, is to actively silence the writers and ideas that used to be — quite successfully — ignored and marginalized by normal folks.

Are we really so terrified of the ranting inanity of people like Alex Jones that we have to eliminate their very words? That’s not just stupid, it’s more dangerous than he could ever even try to be.

AE7F8FFD-E231-461B-A5C0-1ADF51AD8B7BApple and Facebook and Twitter and Google and the other players in the modern tech game did not create the divisions and dangers that threaten everything about the US today, but they are making them worse. Oh, they’re not sitting there like liberal Blofelds, stroking cats and planning to fuck with the weather…no, what they’re doing is much worse than that: they’re acting out of cowardice and pure, short-sighted greed.

They don’t want to be criticized. They don’t want to be protested. They want only to siphon every penny they can, and control every bit of data they can, with no interference or trouble. They want to be the robber-barons that they truly are with no discontent, and certainly with no interference or disagreement. And they want all of that without disturbing their self-images as the torch-bearers of tolerance and progressivism that will save humanity from itself.

The decision to shut down various voices — whether loony ones like Jones, or the everyday voices of conservatives and libertarians that have been silenced by the social platforms — simply allows people like Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey to avoid criticism or protest for “hosting” such voices, while simultaneously playing into their personal echo-chamber-dominated, rose-tinted view of themselves as “protectors and champions.”

I can’t cuss enough to show my derision for that particular sentiment, by the way. I can take care of — and think for — myself, thank you very much, Mr Cook.

There are moves afoot to silence voices on all kinds of topics…from global warming, to immigration, to various social and economic philosophies, the go-to response has become to silence, rather than to dispute. To silence, rather than to debate and educate. What we are growing is a New Orthodoxy, one that is never to be questioned, let alone disagreed with…for the “good of all,” of course.

9770B227-EFB4-480A-BE6F-110305CA6236We’re watching a modern, electronic auto-da-fe of which Savonarola would be very, very proud…

*I can’t even imagine not reading ideas and thoughts and opinions that are not just different, but are diametrically opposed. The friction between viewpoints really is the only way to pull aside the layers of bullshit and confirmation bias and get at something resembling the truth.  Just to give a bit of an idea, here is my regular morning reading list: The Drudge Report, The Guardian (both US and UK versions), Fox News, BBC News, The Washington Post, The Nation, Reason, The Hill, The Cipher Brief, The National Review, and the Real Clear “family” of sites…

Schadenfreude

63E1C0B4-DAD6-4E75-8161-E847AB9361C0Okay, so, I hate Facebook. This should not come as a surprise to anyone — I’ve been pretty open about my opinion of the whole damned platform ever since I started this blog.

I’ve hated Facebook since they first got going, and I hate them even more now. Hell, when a supposedly “secret” memo from a top executive leaked a few weeks ago — you know, the one where he said ethics, morality and the law mean nothing in the face of Facebook’s “greater mission” to “connect people” — it did nothing but confirm my disdain for the company, and anyone who works for them.

Yeah, yeah, I know…I say I hate the company, but I have a Facebook page linked to this blog. But…well…look, cognitive dissonance and I are old, old friends, okay? I created that page as a “should-do/must-do,” not a “want to do.” Hell, all anyone has to do is take a look at my timeline and check out my complete lack of connections or activity to see that.

So, when I saw the story the other day about the nosedive in Facebook stock…well…I know it’s petty, but I have to admit to a certain (large) amount of satisfaction in the corporate and financial pain associated with that. The simple fact of the matter is that Facebook creeps me the hell out. The amount of data they collect, and the invasive tactics and techniques that they employ to collect that data  — up to and including outright spying — are things I find pretty damned repugnant. And the smug, self-righteous disdain with which they treat any concern or complaint about those tactics and techniques is even worse…

Worse yet, I should add, is the “addiction” they intentionally inculcate in so many of their users. Even moderate users waste hour upon hour scanning their timelines in order to read and “like” posts. Hours on end spent staring at a screen, searching for the tiniest update from people with whom they have only the barest connection. Hours spent sending updates on great-aunts and great-grandchildren no one else knows. Hours spent looking at stupid memes and watching cat videos. Hours spent, when you get right down to it, trading true connections and real links for arm’s-length, electronic simulacra. Hours spent not reading or studying or doing something worthwhile.686681D3-5141-4C0D-9373-68DABF4668CF

Oh, and cat videos, for fuck’s sake…

Oh yeah, creepy as hell.

You have to wonder if the DARPA folks back in the 70’s would’ve been better off just getting drunk and skipping work that day they came up with the “internet”…

I’m hoping that, when the markets open on Monday, there will be yet more tankage for the one company in the entire universe that can make freaking Google look all restrained and innocent and pure.

In hockey, there are teams I don’t like, and I want to seem them lose. Well, life (in this case) most definitely imitates sports: I want to see companies I don’t like lose, too. I don’t want to see regulation or government control — neither of which would do a damned thing — I just want to see them go down in well-deserved financial flames.

Hey…I said it was petty, that doesn’t mean I think it’s bad!

What Slouches Towards Bethlehem

I spent some time reading the news over the last few days…

I think I need to repogram my browser’s ad blocker to be a news blocker, too. Just one day on a news aggregation site — just one day — read like some freaking end-times prophecy. Honestly, we’re gonna have to name this the “Yeats Era”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Remember that civil war that I said was coming? Yeah, apparently I’m not alone in that cynicism. Rasmussen did a poll on the topic (here’s a link to their article on it) and found that almost a third of the US thinks a civil war is pretty damned likely…

11260C46-9429-4BEF-907D-D8D0AFF3A5CCWonderful. I don’t know if a poll like that is enough to turn cynicism into self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don’t particularly like where the odds are going on this one.

I understand the passion of protestors, and the deeply held beliefs on both sides. But both sides have crossed the lines that help us to function as a stable, rational society. Both sides are pushing us into confrontation and vitriol and hate that, honestly, has only one end.

When your opponent becomes an adversary that’s survivable. It ain’t great, not in any nation that was to find some form of cohesion, but it’s not Armageddon. When your adversary becomes an enemy, however…

Enemies are nefarious, they’re evil. Enemies cannot be overcome, they must be utterly defeated. Enemies must be killed and all vestiges stamped out.

The fringes of American politics are already well past the stage where any who disagree are enemies. The main body, so far, has resisted following the whackjobs into that particular madness. From the mainstream left to the mainstream right, we have been stuck at the adversary stage for several decades…and that’s something that has helped to keep us together as a nation.

Unfortunately, the numbers of those who are willing to hold back from insanity are shrinking. Ten years ago, it was maybe 10-15% of the political spectrum that was fixated on enemies and conflict. Nowadays? Now, it’s more like 50-60%.

How long until people are killed for “believing the wrong thing”? How long until people are killed for who they vote for? Or what policies they support? Once we cross that line, that path to civil war is unstoppable. Plain and simple, the descent into rage and blood will come.

Is there a way to step back? A way to stop this before we fall into that “watering the Tree of Liberty” thing?

The writer in me says, well, of course there is. There has to be a choice…it’s the only way to give your protagonist agency, and to have a plot worth following.

But the historian in me?

The historian in me is looking for somewhere to hide.

By the way, do you have any idea at all how much I regret NOT heading up to Yellowstone again this summer? I could have hidden away from all this shit…I could have lived in happy ignorance.57FC8202-0BB6-40F7-89AB-6BE185F1ECC6

Hey, look, make fun of ostriches all you want, but there’s something to be said for the occasional insertion of one’s cranium into a convenient hole.

Antagonism vs. Aspiration

Oh, what the hell…it’s “news” right now, so why not jump on the bandwagon?

The NFL anthem controversy.

Again.

Crap, will this thing never go away? It is, perhaps, the stupidest and most pointless “controversy” on the face of the planet right now. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence someone sits, there are bigger things to worry about than this.

Now, first off, one thing needs to be said — it doesn’t matter on which side of the kneel-or-stand debate you are, Trump’s comment the other day was the most moronic, asinine and stupid thing in the world:

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

No. Just no. Actually, not just no — hell no.

Leaving aside the NFL crap — I’ll get to that in a moment — any act of respect or honor, just like any act of faith or gratitude, must be heartfelt and self-initiated to have any worth whatsoever. That is why, by the way, I don’t like the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance in schools. For such a thing to have any meaning, just like standing for the anthem, a student/kid/person must willingly choose to participate. Anything else is just empty symbolism.

Okay, that being said…what about the NFL?

I wrote once before about this, when it was picking up steam. My point then — as a guy who has played team sports all his life — was that the “kneelers” were being selfishly individual in what is, honestly, a sport where team has to be everything. I thought teams should act, one way or the other, as a team. The decision belongs in the locker room, and especially with the team leaders.

Of course, that was a year ago. I thought then that this whole thing would soon die out. How naive.

The whole issue has, sadly, become conflated with the current cultural and political divide tearing us apart as a nation. And that is just stupid. Must everything be about “beating” the other side?

Sadly, I know the answer to that.

*sigh*

It is important to note that, in spite of all the rhetoric and vituperation — on BOTH sides — this is not an argument about patriotism. This is not an argument about love of country, nor is it about who is a “better” American. There is no such thing as a better American. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are any more or less American or patriotic than the other, and anyone who thinks they are “better” — anyone who wants to use patriotism as a weapon — is helping only to bring us down.

What this whole thing is about is money, and the currency of power.

From the NFL’s point of view, it’s quite simple: this is purely a question of marketing. Roughly forty percent of their fan base was upset, for one reason or another, with the anthem protests. No business can afford to offend that large a portion of their customers. The league had to do something…unfortunately, they screwed the pooch from day one by trying to play to both sides. They didn’t “solve the problem” in the first place, which irked the first 40%, and now they have backtracked on their “promise” to allow the players to choose, which alienates another 40%.

Congratulations, NFL, for once again kicking yourself in the balls.

The league does, by the way, have every legal right to dictate the players stand during the anthem. That is a fact, whether you “like” the protests or not. It is a workplace environment, and the employer can dictate workplace rules. And, no, those rules do not apply to the league’s customers (the fans). Anyone arguing that the new rule applies to fans as well is just putting up a pointless strawman.

The NBA, by the way, requires their players to stand, on pain of suspension, yet there is no brouhaha surrounding that league…

Now, for the player’s point of view. I can understand the impulse and reasoning…understand, at least, those players who actually have considered and heartfelt positions.  Players like Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. He knelt, but that was just the beginning for him. He went on to sit down with Denver police officers. He participated in ride-alongs. He took part in some of their training scenarios on shooting and violence. He articulated what he saw as problems, and worked with others to come up with solutions. That is legitimate, respectable and honorable. That is the kind of thing we need more of if we are to solve, well, anything.

Unfortunately, Marshall’s attitude and actions are not the rule. Many of the “protestors” had/have no clear message, and instead offer only the vaguest generalities and broad-brush attacks on others. These folks are just as guilty of politicization and divisiveness and useless antagonism — and are as worthy of scorn — as those who want to turn overt, ostentatious “patriotism” into a political weapon.

Others have no plan or goal, other than one of protest for the sake of protest. For that group, kneeling WAS the message, rather than a tactic to bring attention to any particular problem. This is the group — players, reporters and fans — who are most virulently up in arms right now about the new rule. They are not talking not about the ostensible reasons for the protests in the first place — racism and policing — but are talking only about…protesting.

Folks, if the tactic becomes the message, you are doing something wrong.

On a personal level, I should probably say a couple of things. First off, as much as the league screwed up in their initial handling of this issue (and in all subsequent efforts to “handle” it), the players screwed up just as badly. There was no plan, there was nowhere to go, there was just…protest. When this thing first came to a head, then was the time for a real message. Then they had the real spotlight and soapbox, then was the inflection point for action. Now? Now, positions are so bitterly entrenched that neither side can even hear the other. Decisions and judgments have been made, and the bitter reality of political “teams” has taken over.

Secondly — leaving aside the team-versus-individual dynamic of football — I was not a fan of the kneeling. To me, on a personal level, the flag is a symbol. Not a symbol of the US as it is, and not a symbol exclusively of the military and those who have sacrificed, but a symbol of aspiration. It is a symbol of what the nation could be. It is something to rally around as a higher ideal, something to unify us and give the common identity and purpose we need to make things better.

The US is far from perfect, in any sense. Culturally, socially, politically, economically, and yes racially, we still have a lot of ground to cover. But we cannot even begin to cover that ground if we cannot agree on a common identity…and the flag is, to me, the symbol of that identity, and of the aspiration to be better.

That being said, I may not have liked the protests, but I do not question the hearts of those who protested, nor their motives. I am a white man, I only know the realities and problems of racism through conversations with minority friends. I have no personal experience. Now, I’m not going to even try to tackle racism in this post, but I have heard and learned enough from those friends to understand…a bit.

In the end, it is that message that matters. It is neither the protests, nor the politics and bile currently taking hold, that matter. The answer is not to kneel, nor to attack the kneelers. The answer is for every player to be a Brandon Marshall…and for every fan to be a Brandon Marshall. The answer is to understand, and to aspire for more.