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Topics - Lord J Esq

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 :!:

Etymology, the study of the origin of words and the history of their meaning, is my favorite hobby. In the course of reading, writing, or just going about my daily business, I often find myself coming across a word that I'd like to look up. I love looking up words, even ones I know. There is such clarity simply in reviewing definitions. Dictionary.com and Wiktionary, together, are an outstanding resource that between them (plus the occasional Urban Dictionary visit for new slang) cover basically everything in English, and cover it well.

But there's more to words than just their definitions, and oftentimes I find even greater insight by looking at their etymologies. Dictionaries list this information too. Etymology not only clarifies words for me; it often sheds light on entire subjects.

For instance, the etymological root of the word happiness means "luck." In contrast, the word gladness has its roots in the concept of "smooth," and, even farther back, "shine." So, once upon a time, one who had encountered favor and good fortune might be called "happy." And "glad" might be said of someone positively shining with good emotion. Today we use these two words as synonyms (and there's nothing wrong with that), but, once upon a time, they referred to distinct ideas.

How about the word mana? That stuff we use to cast magic spells in video games. Where does that come from? In fact it's a very new addition to English, having come into usage via academia in the 20th century, where it was soon taken up in fantasy. But originally it comes from Polynesia:

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Mana is a foundation of the Polynesian worldview, a spiritual quality with a supernatural origin and a sacred, impersonal force. To have mana implies influence, authority, and efficacy—the ability to perform in a given situation. The quality of mana is not limited to individuals: Peoples, governments, places and inanimate objects may also possess mana, and its possessors are accorded respect.

When I discovered this, just a few months ago actually, it was like digging up buried treasure. It was an incredibly exciting find! In fantasy, mana is rather degenerate: It's just a green bar that lets you cast certain spells. It doesn't mean anything. Occasionally there's some hand-wavy line about "the energy of the planet" or "the favor of the gods," but really it means nothing. So if you're someone who likes digging a little deeper, imagine how fascinating it can be to start connecting the idea of spellcasting to the idea of efficacy and influence. When you stop and think about what magic actually is, a discovery like this is pay dirt!

We even got a taste of the power of etymology in Chrono Trigger:

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Ayla's word. "La" mean fire. "Vos" mean big.

Now, there's nothing particularly sophisticated about that, the way mana originally referred to a highly developed concept. But this is the deepest explanation we get of Lavos until near the end of the game, and there's a certain profundity to its simplicity.

Some people don't get it. There's even a GameFAQs thread of people being angry at Ayla for making up such a "dumb" name. And that's okay. Etymological insight isn't mandatory. You don't need to know the full family history of a word to get the gist of it, or to use it in daily conversation. And, if you don't understand what you're really seeing, there's no value in looking at "happy" and knowing that it once meant "lucky."

For me, however, it's deeply enlightening to understand we came to use a word the way we use it here in the present day. If I asked you to think of the meaning of the word city, you'd probably imagine an assemblage of buildings and bustle. Ironically, the original meaning was almost opposite to that: It ultimately comes from a proto-Indoeuropean root kei, meaning, as a verb, "to lie" or "to rest," and, as a noun, "bed" or "couch." So the earliest concept of a city was that of a homestead or a resting place.

This brings us to one of my favorite subtopics in etymology: cognates. Cognates are etymological cousins: They may have very different meanings, but they share the same root. For instance, happiness is a cognate of hapless (which better retains the original meaning). Glad counts among its cognates the word glass, which very much fits the descriptions of "smooth" and "shine." And city has, for one of its many cognates, the word cemetery. A different kind of resting place!

Cognates aren't just about shining light on a given word by contrasting it with another word whose contemporary meaning is closer to the etymological root. They also of course don't come only in pairs. I like to think of them as insights into themselves and each other, and to the etymological roots bearing them. They can be fascinating, like pray and precarious, both with a root meaning "made by entreaty." And cognates can be incredibly amusing, like peace and pectin (the gelatin), with a root referring to the idea of binding and holding fast.

You don't have to look very far to find cognates. Most words have several cognates in English alone, let alone in other languages. They're one of the great bonuses of etymological research.

Getting back to etymology, I'll close by saying that etymologies are diverse, and endlessly fascinating.

Some etymologies are very rich and fruitful, with many words always changing. (Change isn't one of them; its etymology has been the same throughout its known history, coming from a root kambos meaning the same thing.)

Some etymologies are infuriating, like harem, whose root means "to bar the door."

Some etymologies are hilarious, like preposterous, which means "pulled out of one's ass."

Some etymologies are not especially straightforward, like noon. It comes from nones, which originally meant “nine,” as in the ninth hour of the day. But that’s according to the seven canonical hours, of which nones was fifth. In modern time, that’s three o’clock in the afternoon. In other words, 12 used to be 9 in that it was 5 out of 7, which was actually 3.

Some etymologies are judgmental. The word muse comes from a root meaning "snout," as in "to stand with one's nose turned up in the air" (i.e., wasting time by pondering). It's a cognate to muzzle and possibly to nose.

Some etymologies are uncertain. The root of religious is a very old one and a definitive etymology is uncertain, but the modern consensus is that it is cognate to words such as ligament, with the original meaning being “to tie down” or “fasten” in the sense of obligating humans to the authority of the gods. Yet, we don't know for sure.

And some etymologies are completely unknown, lost to history.


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By chance I saw this video on YouTube today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIZCJA5Z3d0

  • Live performance of a Chrono medley this summer!
  • In Florida.
  • It's a benefit designed to help out the orchestra that will be performing it.
  • The orchestra has suffered due to slashed public arts spending. (It's FL, after all.)
  • They're also doing a kickstarter if you can't go to Florida.

The person doing the arrangement is a prolific YouTuber who's done video game arrangements for many games! I've heard her work before; it's not bad!

This is a great opportunity to support not only the arts but a fellow fan who has been able to succeed with their fan-based art.

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Carpe diem, my fellow Compendiumites! It's December 11, 2011. There are just 21 days left in the year. Three weeks! The Holiday Season is full upon us and spirits are at their highest. What do you hope for before the year is out, and what do you hope for in the year ahead?

Me, I hope to do some decisive work on my book, get my philosophy project launched, and immerse myself in new places. I suppose, in one form or another, that's what I've been hoping for--and working at--ever since I joined the Compendium eight years ago. My, but how the times and customs have changed since then. Yet the legacy of the Chrono series endures.

It's my favorite time of the year.

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General Discussion / My Objection to the Objection to the Privileged
« on: December 01, 2011, 06:49:49 am »
This topic didn't seem to be a fit for other threads, so I'm creating this specialized thread for it. I wrote this for another venue, but am posting it at the Compendium mainly because I think several of you would benefit from reading it.

~~~

One of the ideas in contemporary progressivism which has gained considerable popularity is the notion of privilege, a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to one group of people to the exclusion of other groups. I based that wording on the dictionary definition, because I know there will be those who object to everything that follows on the grounds that they don’t like my exact definition. I can’t satisfy people who decide in advance they want to agree with something, and then look after the fact for places to base their disagreement, but, for everyone else, a crisp denotation surely won’t hurt. However, regardless of my wording, when I say “privilege” you probably know what I mean.

Privilege is not the counterpart to the idea of underprivilege. The ambiguity results from the use of the same root word for two related but distinct concepts. Being underprivileged means that a person lacks some combination of the basic material needs of life and the civil liberties and economic opportunities necessary to lead a free and fulfilling life. There is nothing wrong with being “privileged” when we are talking about not being underprivileged.

Rather, privilege in the sense people usually mean it refers to the injustice which results when people are unaware of an injustice because they are privileged not to be subject to the prejudice which breeds it.

This form of privilege also is not an inherently bad thing. You can think of it as “not being the target of discrimination.” That is a state we should all aspire to enjoy! Rather than being inherently bad, privilege causes bad things. It causes bad things because, when people act out of the ignorance that comes with privilege, they often contribute to the injustice at hand. For example, if, as a result of male privilege, a male disparages the efforts of feminist to achieve sexual equality, then his privilege has caused him to support the continuance of sexism in the world.

The concept of privilege is an important one. We are all privileged in various ways, and would do well to identify it in ourselves and guard against the bias that ordinarily comes with it. It is also important to apprise others when they are behaving inappropriately as a result of privilege, or even when they are not behaving inappropriately but simply display the bias of privilege in their thinking.

If this were the end of it, there would be nothing amiss. But too many people abuse the concept of privilege, and turn it into a cudgel which itself creates more injustice. Worse, these people are usually the victims of privilege.

This is where the rocky road begins.

Consider the following assertion from Sparky, a gay male, posted in his objection to the privileged on Womanist Musings in 2010:

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If you are privileged, then you don't understand

That’s his opening paragraph. Right here is the crux of a fallacy which Sparky eventually develops into a dreadful conclusion. Now, to be sure, it isn’t the case that if you are privileged, you do understand. You might understand, but privilege has an obscuring effect on understanding, especially to the ill-informed, and the result is that being privileged makes it harder for a person to understand the nature of the injustice in question. (Privilege can also help a person to understand that injustice, which I will address later.)

Sparky could have made the perfect argument by saying that privilege can make it harder to understand the relevant injustice. But he didn’t. He said you don’t understand, period. And, lest you claim I am picking nits, he reiterated his point in no uncertain terms:

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Being privileged makes you ignorant. Not only does it make you ignorant - it makes you IRREVERSIBLY ignorant. When you are privileged, there are some things you simply cannot understand - no matter how much research, how much effort and how much work you put into this. The mere presence of privilege makes it impossible to understand some of the aspects of marginalisation. No matter how much of an ally you are - it doesn't mean you are not privileged and it certainly doesn't mean you are immune to privileged ignorance.

There is no room for doubt, here. Sparky thinks that privilege creates an insurmountable ignorance—and there are enough people who share his view that it has begun to corrupt the progressive movement’s efforts at social justice.

I remember this same problem from about ten years ago. I was in college at the time, and in those days it was the concept of diversity that was being abused. Prominent progressives were openly calling for discrimination against certain groups of people to benefit other groups—usually in terms of skin color. It was untenable. The dream of a more just society was falling prey to an escalation of the social strife that mars our present day...and all for the sake of fighting bigotry with more bigotry. The conservatives caught wind of this and used it to argue against progressive policies, and they enjoyed some success.

Eventually the diversity bigots abandoned ship, only to regroup years later as the privilege bigots. I think they are made up of many of the same people, and in any case they follow the same tradition of needlessly and destructively pitting groups of people against one another in the name of social progress. Whatever label they choose to wear, these people are enemies of progressivism, and they are not the ones who are achieving a more just society.

It would be uncontroversial to raise that accusation of a privileged person, but, in this climate, to stand on the political left and accuse the oppressed and downtrodden of bigotry is firecracker stuff. It will get you exiled from many liberal circles on the spot. Most people don’t dare touch it. Yet the problem is growing more serious, and the fact remains that bigotry is never acceptable, even from the victims of earlier bigotry.

Seriously, bigotry is never acceptable. That is just not how we move toward a better society. I find it embarrassing and outrageous that people who claim to cherish the pursuit of a better world would seek to dehumanize the privileged. It might be different if there were some legitimate socioeconomic structures underneath “the privileged.” For instance, the “1 percent” control much of the country’s wealth and effectively live in a different world, above the law. Christian fundamentalists actively seek to destroy our way of life as we know it. We can say some very critical things about these groups of people because the members of those groups share enough in common that some carefully constructed generalizations will accurately describe essentially all of the members of the group. But males? White people? English-speakers? Straights? The able-bodied? Skinny folks? Christians? You can’t take such broad divisions of humanity and derive a lot of useful information about them.

“Privilege” doesn’t tell you much about a generic privileged person, except that they are privileged not to be subject to a given prejudice and the injustice which follows from it. “Privilege” does not tell you if that person is stupid, or malicious, or, more to the point, an incapable ally. Some privileged people, sometimes even by the very fact of their privilege, can understand that injustice as well as those who suffer from it directly—for they are spared from the assault of the discrimination and have a better opportunity to collect themselves, whereas the victims of prejudice may have to spend much more of their time and energy just to get by. Thus, privilege brings more than just a predisposition to ignorance. It brings an opportunity to organize. As such, the privileged can do as much or more to put a stop to the injustice than those who are not privileged. With the right combination of passion, awareness, intelligence, and zeal, a privileged person can equal any non-privileged person in understanding and combating the prejudice at hand.

In other words, there is no meaningful difference between the privileged and the non-privileged when it comes to the pursuit of the justice. Situational factors, by far, dominate the question of whether a given person can come to understand and oppose the injustice in our society.

Perhaps it is my scientific outlook on the world which makes this so obvious to me. If somebody declares that I cannot know a thing, I naturally seek to understand what causes that obstruction, and, if I so desire, I will make the effort to clear that obstruction. There are relatively few physical phenomena in the world that we are capable of identifying but incapable of understanding. So, then, when Sparky says that privilege means a person has no way of coming to understand a related injustice, what is his basis for such an audacious claim?

Anecdotes. That’s his basis.

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I had a moment of panic. I checked my reflection in a nearby shop window to see if I had somehow sprouted rainbows or some other clear sign of gayness, tucked my hair into my jacket and hurried back to the office to come to my senses - and to wallow in shame at succumbing to the instinct to hide yet again.

I discussed this with my friend, a straight ally. And he told me how foolish I was and how silly gay people were to hide. He told me at great length how he thought homophobia would end tomorrow if all closeted gay people were to come out and reminded me repeatedly that I had sworn not to hide anymore and how stupid it was to be scared all the time.

That “straight ally” of his was dismissive of Sparky’s panic attack at the thought of being a member of a persecuted class of society, and Sparky was right to be upset with him and had every reason to call him out on it.

He also gave another anecdote:

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In another incident, I was discussing various marginalisations and was told, "you're ok, gay people can hide." In one simple sentence, the whole destructive and toxic element of the closet was glossed over and ignored - even lauded as a good thing. The endless lies and acting, the repression and self-hate, the legacy of trying to "change" gays were all happily brushed away.

This other person was dismissive in the same way, but to the opposite extreme. And, again, Sparky was right to be upset and to criticize.

And that’s it. That’s his whole stated basis for “being privileged makes you irreversibly ignorant.” Those two people have done it in for all straight allies of queer folk. Well, of course, those are just two examples he picked. There are probably more. But, even with 100 examples, the fallacy remains. You can’t just pick out examples of people who fit your claim.

It would have been so easy, and so appropriate, for Sparky to point out that privilege often promotes this kind of ignorance. Many privileged people, probably even the vast majority of them the vast majority of the time, are ignorant of the ill-effects of the injustice to which they are privileged not to be subject. Yet Sparky was adamant that privilege not only always causes ignorance, but that the ignorance is innately inescapable.

The distinction here may be subtle at first glance, but it’s damning. This is a person who has declared his unwillingness to listen. This is a hateful person who prejudicially dismisses the value and contributions of a group of people. He doesn’t want “allies,” unless their only role is to defer to him. He feels that he is alone and that no one who has not shared his suffering can truly be with him. Once again I am not even being deductive. He says it himself:

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My point is that this ignorance is important and no matter how much of a friend you are, how intense an ally or how hard you try - that ignorance will remain. And that's not a bad thing, but it means that you will always be an outsider and never truly get it
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Listen more than you talk and follow, do not lead.

This is the exasperation of someone who expects no help from his “allies,” someone who was offended enough at them that he condemned all queer allies. This is the embitterment of an individual who has been wronged badly enough that he expects to be wronged again by anyone who isn’t in his own shoes. This is somebody who has been broken.

I regret to single him out, because it isn’t about Sparky in particular. It is about the entirety of this group of individuals who have become bigots against the privileged. It is about the needlessness and wastefulness of fomenting enmity and antipathy between groups of people who should be helping each other to achieve a common goal, justice. And it is is about my personal opposition to bigotry no matter where it comes from.

The truth of the matter is that there is no reason that a privileged person cannot come to understand the injustice from which their privilege shields them. The only exclusion we can possibly make is that there is no substitute for the emotional context of personally experiencing an injustice. Only those who are in some way subject to the injustice can know what that feels like. But the injustice itself is a knowable quantity, as are the interests of the people caught up in it.

Sparky blames the privileged for a lot, but his real enemy is something he apparently doesn’t realize. Most “allies” are not worth much—most people are not worth much—when it comes to opposing an entrenched social prejudice. The prejudice runs so deeply, and many humans are so quick to embrace ignorance, that the majority even of those who recognize the problem don’t really understand it. And that includes the victims themselves, the non-privileged. Suffering does not inherently convey understanding. It conveys experience, and that certainly helps, but it flatly is not true that experience of a thing necessarily conveys an understanding of that thing—any more than it is true that not experiencing a thing necessarily denies an understanding of it. These absolutes do not account for the variables which determine comprehension.

So throw them away.

Fortunately for me—and hopefully for you—my pursuit of social justice does not depend on the permission of the victims of injustice, or anyone else for that matter. I pursue what I pursue out of my own ethical convictions. Some of the victims of prejudice are as wretched as the perpetrators of it, and as hateful and ignorant, Sparky included. The victims of injustice can be nasty people as readily as anyone else, and non-privilege by itself does not grant you a single virtue of character. No, my pursuit of justice is not for the victims-turned-bigots, but for all people, including them.

To many people, even among those who are not bigots, it is so very emotionally satisfying to blame privileged people not just for being poor allies, but for the very prejudice itself. I recognize that this blame has to be transferable if many of you are going to take me seriously. “If we can’t blame the privileged, then who?” I will tell you who: Blame the people not who are predisposed to ignorance, but who embrace it even when they are given the opportunity to do otherwise. Blame the people who actually take pleasure in oppressing other groups, or who are so beholden to their ignorance that they cannot help but do evil works and cause suffering. Do not blame those who are fortunate enough not to be the victims of a given prejudice, simply because they are fortunate enough not to be the victims of a given prejudice—and do not dismiss the means and desire among some of those people to help fight against the prejudice.

The purpose of this essay is to give voice, perspective, and instruction to those who are feeling increasingly uncomfortable at the unacceptable behavior of those who wield privileged people’s status as a cudgel against them. I write it not just for the benefit of privileged people, but for that of non-privileged people as well, for we are all both privileged and non-privileged in some way or another. Take me. I may be a male—very privileged indeed—but I’m also a humanist—despised and repressed by the religious majority. I may be white—very privileged indeed—but I’m poor—and poverty is grueling. I may be straight—very privileged indeed—but I like fat people and would prefer to be fatter myself—even when many folks consider fat people to be something less than human. I may be well-educated—very privileged indeed—but I also have a physical disability that limits the use of my leg—which I get to remember every time I walk down a ramp or down a set of stairs. Some injustices I know more personally than others...but I am interested in eradicating them all.

However, do not think it acceptable to use this criticism of privilege bigots as a shield to defend your own inappropriate behaviors and thoughts. If you are privileged, you must always be vigilant against the ignorance to which you are predisposed, and it is extremely difficult to achieve anything productive by criticizing people who already have so much going against them. I write this essay for the very specific purpose of dividing the privilege bigots and their hurtful goals apart from the efforts of other people, privileged and not privileged, to oppose the injustices which torment our world. It is not to become your excuse to be insensitive or self-righteous.

That said, I conclude with an affirmation: It is okay to be privileged. Indeed, that is the status we are pursuing for all people. Privilege does not make you ignorant. It predisposes you to ignorance, and you must be on guard against that risk. Privilege does not make you an outsider. It gives you the special opportunity and perhaps even responsibility to use your state of relief from the prejudice at hand to oppose that prejudice through your privileged means. Privilege does not make you a bad person. It makes you a fortunate one.

Privilege does not deny you the right to be an ally to any cause of your choosing, even if some of the people in that cause refuse to accept you.

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General Discussion / Questioning Convention
« on: October 08, 2011, 11:30:44 pm »
Our society gives a lot of currency to the notion of “questioning conventional wisdom,” but in practice I find it really rather uncommon that people actually do so. Convention may simply be too hard to question if you’re not aware of it. This thread is an occasion for questioning convention, and thereby hopefully expanding our horizons.

I think it would be helpful if we boldfaced the convention being questioned, to make the conventions themselves more distinctive amid the discussion.

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General Discussion / Ask a Master of Human Character
« on: September 27, 2011, 03:33:52 pm »
I've taken and taken from the Compendium. Now I offer a doubling of our season of harvest! All that I have learned, I will share. You need only find the right words.

This is a Q&A thread. You may ask me any question on human character. I will give you my straight answer, time and energy permitting. While I will permit others to offer their own answers if they should feel stirred to do so, this thread's main purpose is for me to return in finer form my own answers to you. This is your thread, my gift to you, so I invite everything you care to divulge, and I won't be harsh toward you.

It is what you make of it. I know that it's quite rare for someone to come along and legitimately claim mastery at such a craft as human character. I should expect that your amusement and curiosity will inspire more questions than your esteem for me, and that is how things ought to be!

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General Discussion / What About the Rest of US?
« on: September 21, 2011, 06:58:32 am »
Note: I thought I had previously created a new thread when I wrote about the Tea Party going fascist, but it seems I did not. If I did, then kindly merge this with that thread.)

I have gone on the record now saying that the Tea Party has turned fascist—sympathizing with the terrorist who slaughtered people at a youth camp in Norway, and literally applauding Governor Perry’s record of over 200 executions in the State of Texas, to name just two of their many outrageous stances—and due to economic stagnation is closer than ever to grasping real power. I will emphasize here that the two major shortfalls holding the Tea Party back from becoming the kind of civil threat where the public will literally have to start taking sides are, first, the party’s lack of central organization and charismatic leadership, and, second, national unpopularity owing largely to the fact that American standards of living are still high enough for most people that they do not yet support the radicalism the Tea Party projects.

But what about the rest of us? There’s something more going on here.

Modern conservatism in America is dying. It doesn’t work. It ruins the economy and it makes individuals miserable. It enforces a warped view of reality under which many people groan. But America itself, as a whole nation, is having problems that are nearly as serious.

National cynicism has been building my whole lifetime and has not been higher than it is today. This nation isn’t moving toward anything. We’re running around in circles putting out the fires of the moment. We can’t seem to achieve anything grand. Individually the land is still rife with success stories, but our national ethos has degraded to the point where “the American people” are having an identity crisis. What is the nation all about? What are we for? Why can’t we get the big stuff done?

Our superpower has faded. We are not surpassing our parents. We’re mired in an endless war on terrorism. Many of us are hooked on popular fads and prescription drugs, with no inner reservoir of richness to anchor us and guide our aspirations. Much of our national infrastructure, both civil and social, is not working correctly.

And the government! Oh, don’t even mention the government. The government doesn’t seem to be able to do anything about our fading star. As the Tea Party grows in clout, and Democratic acquiescence persists, our government becomes more dysfunctional at a time when we sorely need strong political intervention. People expect the government not to work. The traditional media continue to paint a picture that government can’t do anything right, and the conservative propaganda machine insists that government is actively out to get us. These anti-government media narratives render invisible the significant legislative gains of the 111th Congress as well as the very good executive governance coming out of the Obama Administration, whose agencies are doing a lot of good work that goes almost completely unreported and unappreciated. But in other ways the government genuinely is dysfunctional. Corporations and banks are wielding increasingly naked power over the legislative process. Income disparities are rising. The rich have fully recovered from the recession even as the nation as a whole continues to suffer. Civil inequality persists, and is getting worse in some ways. People have less and less say over the direction of their socioeconomic environment, and elections are becoming a farcical choice between incompetence and evil.

The Tea Party is flourishing for two reasons. First, it’s full of stalwart conservatives who absolutely refuse to abandon their sinking ship. Second, the Tea Party offers religion and an epic battle between good and evil. Even if that narrative is a lie weaved of curses and blight, it’s an appealing offer to a nation filled with people who are looking for some grand passage into the future. (Whether that future is in this world or the “next” one doesn’t seem to matter to some folks.)

The hope and change that Obama won his election on promising to us have yet to be made real in the minds of the American people. People want reform. They want it badly. My point is, it’s not just the Tea Party that’s getting agitated. It’s the entire country. The plutocrats don’t seem to realize yet (or do realize, but think they can handle the fact) that this public is itching to rally around major reform, and will do so the instant that a credible movement arises. I’m talking about the kind of “major” reform where people’s excitement and zeal become so powerful that they will support stupid reforms as easily as good ones. This nation is poised to enter into a period of civil unrest and extremism. It’s looking more likely that we will get some kind of radical federal government before the decade is out. The question is: What kind of radical?

(An economic recovery would fizzle most of this restless energy out right away, without major reforms, lulling Americans back into their complacency and kicking the can of national economic sustainability down the road. But the Tea Party is hellbent on blocking anything that might improve economic conditions. They’ve already shown that they are not the type to offer concessions from a position of power. We have yet to see if they are the type to offer positions from a position of weakness. If the President maintains his new hard edge, we will find out in the next few months what fruit it might yield.)

But here’s the problem: Materially, the American way of life is pretty good even still. The recession has not broken the backs of more than a handful of people. For most it is merely an annoyance, a tightening of the belt and a reminder that we’re not going anywhere, let alone to a grand future. For most people, marginally lower credit card interest rates and slightly less outrageous health insurance premiums won’t make much of a difference. For that matter, neither will new bridges, faster Internet connections, cleaner air, and more “Made in America” labels on the stuff we buy. People say they want reform but they don’t really know what kind of reform. All they really know is that what we have now is not satisfying. They don’t realize that most of the problem is in their own heads.

This is exacerbated by the evolution of our mass media, which has become misanthropic and ubiquitous. Rather than using their power for good, the media seem to prefer to feed upon a demoralized and apathetic public. This also seems to be true of our large corporations in general. It doesn’t matter how neurotically the people in the advertisements are smiling about Product X. Few who buy it gets such a boost of happiness and relief. Our cereal box mascots are smiling at our kids like a bunch of asylum escapees, but when’s the last time they awoke an optimistic imaginative streak in any child?

Our society is still struggling with the grip of fundamentalist religion and has not yet achieved a secular cultural institution that provides a higher ideal quality of life (contrast with material quality of life) to the population at large. Religion is distracting us, distracting us, distracting us, but it doesn’t work and is long since obsolete, and today even right-wing fundamentalists are starting to identify paradoxically as deists—acknowledging their “personal relationship” with a god who created all things dull and ugly but is nowhere to be found to help clean up and provide solace and consolation to a wayward flock in these trying times.

What it all means for the political sphere is that the public is searching for an identity but only possesses enough self-awareness to express that as a desire for fundamental, major reform. We could use some fundamental, major reform, but not the kind that the public are yearning for, because they’re not yearning for anything other than anything but what we have now—and that’s dangerous. With the Tea Party around, it’s ten times more dangerous.

I think we will need to borrow a line from the Tea Party and adjust it slightly. We need to take back not our country, but our economy, and particularly our media—because the media are the enforcers who keep things the way they are. We need to get some fucking sane business practices back into the private sector, and reward entrepreneurship again rather than parasitic mega-corporations who refuse to be held accountable to any democratic authority. We need to drown out the people who set our national mood with stronger and more optimistic voices—voices that don’t preach religion but, rather, teach the appreciation of all the good things we already have, and encourage the pursuit of so much more that is just within our grasp.

Without extreme and widespread material suffering, there can be no grassroots genesis to a healthy uprising—if there ever could be such a thing as a “healthy” uprising. If there is an uprising, it will come from either the Tea Party crazies or else from people in my generation and the one below mine who resent their glorious heritage being squandered by the prevailing regime. Yet the people in my generation and the one below mine, though they seem to have internalized all the same Disney claptrap I did about being nice and all that, have also shown a dispiriting eagerness to sell out for their own personal advancement when there are bucks to be had.

If nothing else, my philosophy project is arriving on the scene just as it is most needed.

8
General Discussion / Trivia of the Day
« on: September 21, 2011, 12:51:43 am »
The premise of this thread is simple: Every day, a new trivia! Preferably it will be an interesting and chin-stroking kind of trivia, rather than something picky like "The correct term is trivium if we're talking about just one." Anyone is welcome to participate, and there can be more (or less) than one trivia in a day. But don't overdo it. If you have a bunch, save 'em in a list and spread 'em out over a few days.

Let's start with something brilliant!

Helium, the second element in the Periodic Table, is so named because we detected it in the Sun before we discovered it here on Earth. During a solar eclipse, in fact, in the summer of 1868. A French astronomer and an English one happened to be observing the eclipse from different locations, and they both drew the same conclusion about a mysterious new spectral signature they were able to detect.

The Italians, not to be outclassed, were the first to discover helium on Earth, in 1882 when a physicist was studying lava flows from Mount Vesuvius. But it took good Scottish know-how (and cabers and girders and haggis!) to isolate helium into a pure form.

Today, the Federal Helium Reserve (yes!) has since sold most of its dwindling holdings to the private sector, including foreign interests, and the global supply continues to be consumed far faster than it can be replaced by radioactive decay in the Earth's interior. Because helium is very light, it rises in air and achieves Earth escape velocity far more easily than the molecules which comprise air. Because helium is so stable, it won't combine with other widely available elements or molecules. It floats freely in the air. Eventually, all liberated helium on the Earth escapes into space. It is likely that we will deplete the available helium supply in this century, and it will disappear from civilian use.

9
General Discussion / Kinks to Work Out
« on: September 08, 2011, 08:08:58 pm »
As I prepare to launch a philosophy project over two years in the making, to share a philosophy well over a decade in the making, I find myself with a few pertinent questions that need answering. One of these explains why I would post what follows here in this thread at a place like the Compendium, where I usually do not share many details of my personal affairs and efforts.

I’ve been around the Compendium since the start. I’m User ID No. 3. I’ve seen every era of the Compendium, people come and go, conversations bloom like flowers in the summer, and much else besides. This place has been a backdrop in my life for nearly eight years.

I could very easily talk about all the good the Compendium has done for me. I’ve made meaningful friendships with some folks—several of which continue today. There are new people like Syna whom I would like to get to know better. And, not least, I’m actually in a romantic friendship with someone whom I originally met through the Compendium. (And if you know who she is I’d appreciate you not share it here, since she values her privacy.) Even with people whom I did not befriend, I have had illuminating and enriching discussions, as they have shared with me not only their opinions but their perspective. Such generosity is invaluable in my quest to learn more about this eccentric species to which I happen to belong. It is not just a quest of discovery, but of self-discovery too.

I could also talk about the good I have done for the Compendium, helping to get the series analysis ball rolling in the beginning—not as a charity but because I loved discussing it—or helping various individuals to understand their own selves better, and to better comprehend the world we live in.

But I wouldn’t. The people who ought to know, already know.

Instead I care to dwell on a question raised by the negative encounters I’ve had here. Not so much with the mooks, who are forgettable, but with the people who have some substance to them. You know...the interesting folks. The folks who, even if we can’t be friends, have something meaningful to contribute. That rabble—past and present—has disliked me for a deliciously wide variety of reasons. I’ve been the recipient of some very colorful barbs, the latest of which is tushantin’s judgment that a 13-year-old orphan is “better” than I am. It may very well be true, and either way it made me smile. Some people are at their artistic best when they’re engaged in throwing tomatoes. Daniel Krispin called me many things over the years, but my favorite was “rhetorician.” Coming from him, that was beautiful. I remember the time Ramsus went on his shortlived spree of using foul and angry language to tell off anyone at the forums who rubbed him wrong. He gave me such a shellacking in such a short space! And let’s not forget ZeaLitY, previously a good friend, who later on was ready to ban me from the Compendium because if I so much as looked in his direction he took it personally. Hopefully his urge to do so has passed, else I may not be able to reply to whatever comments follow this!

These sorts of experiences are not as unpleasant as they might seem, because the people on the other end are interesting people, and they had their reasons to think I’m full of horse hokum. I’ve enjoyed my discussions with the lot of them, and I respect each of them. It’s also worth pointing out that I give them their reasons to be pissed off at me. Each of them shares in common the fact that if I would have just shut up and behaved myself and I would be genteelly adored, or at least tacitly ignored.

That’s where the philosophy project comes in, and my pertinent question. It’s a question to myself, but I surely won’t complain if others have interest enough to chime in. The question is: How should I interact with people like that?

A philosophy with integrity must apply to everyone. The philosophy I have been building is not for me to impose. It is for people to choose for themselves because they identify with it. At the very least, it is for people to dismantle and add piecemeal to their own views—chagrining as that thought is to me, and as disrespectful as it is to a philosophy built to encompass everything. This philosophy, ideally I would share it with everyone capable of comprehending it directly. That rules out mooks and the stupid, but my remaining target audience is still very large. And I don’t get along with all of these people.

Part of that is me, myself—my own personal style. I am assertive, forceful, and quick to dismiss those who don’t ooze their human potential. I can turn that off when I need to, and be a good Josh. I usually prefer not. Strangers deserve courtesy and friends have earned respect, but mere acquaintances are in between, and it’s not really appropriate to mollycoddle them. Even when I do, it feels like a loss.

Yet there is a structural problem, too, which transcends my own part in this. My philosophy prescribes many changes for the world. People don’t like change. They react defensively to the prospect of it. But it’s worse than that: The real world is a very brutal place, and most people who are not the victims of that brutality have lulled themselves into a sense of complacency. When confronted with the “claim” that the world is still a brutal place...they think of such a notion as an exaggeration. They don’t understand how it could be.

I posted in Google+ recently about the Tea Party, and I got a reply from a stranger who basically agreed with what I had said, but didn’t like the tone. She thought it was too reminiscent of the political theater that poisons our democratic climate. Why? Because she didn’t understand how the Tea Party could be that bad. Oh, that’s not what she said. But that’s what she meant, even if she didn’t realize it. If I say “the Tea Party is fascist,” there are two possibilities. Either it’s true, which would be extraordinary, or I’m just exaggerating to shock people, which would be much more likely. Except...I know which possibility is actually correct in this case. She didn’t.

There are many people who are amenable to my philosophy because it’s a good philosophy with a lot of self-evident truth to it, right off the bat. But then there’s stuff which requires people to actually change their frame of mind, and all of a sudden it becomes a bridge too far. And then there’s me, the presenter, who doesn’t do a good job of diplomatic relations in the first place. I’ve got an audience in waiting but I don’t know how to best give them the hard truths without repulsing them. I’m still working on that.

And then there’s the other side of the coin. For better or worse, the kind of person I am is one who has little patience for fools. I expect people to aspire to their best, to rise up and pursue their potential. When that doesn’t happen, I lose interest. One important reason I’m not on better terms with some folk around here is that I don’t want to be. There’s not enough “in it” for me. I shouldn’t have to be, and can’t be, everything to everyone, and if a good philosophy has room for me as surely as it does for everyone else, then it’s fair for me to not want to spend much of my time on the people who aren’t willing to do more to better themselves.

What I want to figure out is a way to proceed to resolve these concerns without compromising my philosophy and without compromising myself. Currently I don’t have a coherent answer. It would be dishonest of me to put on a nice, buttery face for everybody. I respect people who honor their human heritage. For others I have hope, but I am clearly not the best person to encourage them along. And of course I still suffer from the usual package of cultural and temperamental biases and blind spots—fewer than most people, but enough yet that it warrants consideration.

Any thoughts?

10
General Discussion / September 11 Attacks 10th Anniversary
« on: September 07, 2011, 01:40:54 am »
We already have a September 11 thread, but nightmare975 keeps it locked most of the time, and the 10th anniversary perhaps warrants its own venue for discussion. I know that, despite all those slogans of "never forget," ten years--though arbitrary--is probably the last time that the public at large will closely and keenly reflect upon that day. I think that will be true for me too, and I think it appropriate. Life, after all, goes on.

I recount my experiences from that day in nightmare's thread. The Los Angeles Times has published a lengthy collection of other people's reminiscences. You can listen to the last moments of somebody who was trapped inside the tower when it fell, or reflect upon the imagery of someone whose last choice was to jump to death rather than be burned to death.

The last ten years have been a lost decade economically, and politically. We are no better off here, nor are the parts of the world we invaded. That doesn't change the fact that ten years ago religious extremists committed an act of war against us. We were not up to the challenge. We did not have just leaders, nor was the public wise.

I myself, and every American whom I have ever heard recount that day, felt as though it was an earth-shattering event. We are perhaps spoiled in that regard, for other nations live with greater uncertainty and closer violence on a regular basis. Osama bin Laden's attack was the most dramatically impressive terrorist attack against the United States in its history, and the deadliest, but it was relatively small on its own merits. We, ourselves, stirred the destructive goliath who went on to undermine our own liberties, whip up religious zeal, and wreck two countries.

A historic day, not only for what transpired then but for what came after. We are still at war against terror, but our enemy is ill-defined and we ourselves are in disarray. The leading activists of the right wing would have us attack indiscriminately and bring destruction upon us all. The leading activists of left wing would have us appease an implacable enemy and therein invite our own doom. We are a nation in turmoil. Ten years later the site is still not rebuilt. Our economic straits are worse. Our actions in the Middle East have helped unravel our power over the globe.

Many of you wish we could all just get along together and live as a single humanity. That's a noble sentiment, but it denies the simple reality that there are those in our own country, and those afar, who have no intention of ever letting that come to pass. What then?

September 11, 2001 was one of those days when the nation stood still. A small disaster in the grand scheme of things--especially compared with tsunamis, famines, and civil wars--but one whose symbolic power etched itself into the psyche of Americans. I really appreciated the feeling of sincere cooperativeness which prevailed immediately thereafter, and I'm sorry it didn't last.

In that long and interminable struggle, a significant victory looms near on the horizon: We'll soon be able to once again wear our shoes through airport security. Terrorists, your days are numbered.

11
General Discussion / Ban the Veil
« on: April 11, 2011, 03:45:34 pm »
The Trouble When Republicans Are Right for the Wrong Reasons

Conservatives are wrong about almost everything. Sometimes, however, they're right about an issue, but for the wrong reasons. Either way, conservatives suck up all the political oxygen out of any issue they open their mouths to talk about.

That's not a problem when they are flat-out wrong, as we can stake out our own position without difficulty. However, when the conservatives are right on an issue but wrong on the underlying reasons, the only way we can also be right is to stake out the same position as they have and then have a debate about why.

A lot of people don't have the stomach for this kind of conflict. I understand why. It “feels” wrong, like oily compromise. It deprives us of the opportunity to make our more colorful, “night versus day” arguments. It leaves the impression that we're enabling and legitimizing the same gross Republicans who broadly deserve to be locked up rather than holding public office, dominating the media, or running our biggest companies. Any of the reactionaries among us, who are automatically against anything right-wingers are for, would go into conniptions if we chided them to stake out an ideological position that begins by agreeing with conservatives.

This is one of our biggest blind spots as a political movement. When the Republicans happen to be right about an issue, but for the wrong reasons, we have to seize the ideological ground from beneath them and make it our own—not run away and stake out a different position that is inevitably unjust.


Sexual Equality: Some Liberals Are For It Just to Zing Conservatives

Most liberals claim to be for sexual equality. Sexism is one of the core strategic ideologies of the GOP, and how irresistible for us to wage holy war against our favorite enemies by proclaiming ourselves feminist champions!

If only that passion were sincere. I've learned over the years that a lot of folks care more about carrying on their precious, endless war with the GOP than they do about earning meaningful social gains for a better, more just world. Usually this insincerity is impossible to spot, because the Republicans are totally wrong on the issues, leaving us to be effortlessly right. They're against abortion, birth control, and family planning? Well, we're for 'em! They're against sexual integration in our government institutions and the private sector? Well, we're for it! They're against equal pay, equal treatment, equal representation, and equal power? Well, we're for it all!

Modern conservatism in the United States is conspicuous for just how much pride it takes in its utopian ideal of a world where females are once again the property of males. Rarely is a Western political movement so gleeful about being so evil.


Right for the Wrong Reason: Islamist Extremism

But here's a curiosity: Conservative extremists are likely to be Christian fundamentalists, and conservative leaders have harnessed right-wing energy by building up America's next great war. It used to be that our official mortal enemy was Soviet Russia. Now, it's Islamic terrorism. These right-wing loonies want to have another Great Crusade. That's the kind of special crazy that can never be outsourced overseas. There'll always be work for bigots.

This is a big problem, because Islamic terrorism actually is a threat. No, we're not looking at Shariah law in Oklahoma anytime soon, but we can relate all too well to the plight of millions of people living under Islam's own brand of right-wing religious fundamentalism. And, ultimately, Islamic radicalism does pose a threat to Western liberal values, and our way of life. Terrorism itself is not a threat to us, but the economic and cultural rise of fundamentalist nations and of fundamentalist populations within Western nations places a lot of stress on our liberal ideals.

Nobody disputes this when the religion in question is Christianity. But when the religion is Islam, suddenly it becomes next to impossible to have a reasonable discussion. That's because of our own incompetence and unwillingness to agree with conservatives when they're right for the wrong reasons.

Conservatives hate Islam because they're Christian bigots. They are enthralled by a primitive tribal xenophobia that would look more at home in the twelfth century. They don't actually care about radical Islam per se; Islam just so happens to have a strong radical constituency at this point in time. That makes it the ideal Evil Empire. The framing is somewhat self-fulfilling. We created a lot of new Islamic radicals in the past decade by going on adventures in foreign lands without any strategic commitment to the wellbeing of the people we were invading. (We also share a lot of responsibility for creating modern Islamic fundamentalism in the first place, back in the 20th century when Islamic fundamentalism was strategically preferable to Arab nationalism.)

Liberals should be against religious fundamentalism, in every religion. But conservatives are sucking up all the oxygen with their bigotry against Islam. As a result, our progressive movement is sluggish, inconsistent, and weak in its opposition to the same religious abuses in Islam that we would oppose so fervently in Christianity. We've also seen some truly disgusting apologists on our side who would rather sacrifice the female half the population to religious fanatics than agree with a Republican that those fanatics are a despicable enemy.


The Veil

Conservatives in America are outrageously sexist. Consequently, our opposition to their sexism is nearly constant. Only occasionally can we see the insincerity of many liberals who call themselves feminist. We see it in “liberals” who oppose elective abortions in the second and third trimesters. We see it in “liberals” who insult Sarah Palin because she's a female. We see it in “liberals” who resent female firefighters and submariners.

And we see it in “liberals” who try to justify the veil, Islam's prescription for the immodesty of a female who would dare show her head in public.

Here's a question that will be very difficult for some of you. Do you support or oppose France's new law banning the veil in public? It just went into effect. From the BBC article:

Quote
Anyone caught breaking the law will be liable to a fine of 150 euros (£133; $217) and a citizenship course.

People forcing women to wear the veil face a much larger fine and a prison sentence of up to two years.

(...)

The French government says the face-covering veil undermines the basic standards required for living in a shared society and also relegates its wearers to an inferior status incompatible with French notions of equality.

Pretty bold, huh? That's exactly the position we are obliged to take if we're serious about promoting sexual equality.

The act itself is outlawed with a modest fine and a course in citizenship. Forcing people to commit the act is a serious criminal offense punishable by imprisonment. And the reason for outlawing the veil is that forcing females to conceal their faces erases their human identity and renders them as sex objects, an abuse of ethics which has no place in modern society.

Anything else is spin and apologetics. Anything else is making excuses for why we should enslave females. It is that simple. Those of you who want to flap your gums about why that's wrong can do so in the comments. There are some really pert arguments to be made about religious freedom and freedom of speech and all that good stuff! It's easy to veil bigotry in the garb of justice—if not quite as easy as it is to veil human beings in the garb of religious tyranny.

This essay is not addressed to those people. It is addressed to the rest of you who might actually be tempted to buy their bunk, or who have never given the matter much thought.

The freedom of religion is a sham. Any time a religion has to invoke its autonomy from the law in order to defend its practices, you know we're in trouble.

Even the freedom of speech, possibly our most cherished liberty, is less important than the universal human right to have an identity. No face, no identity. The veil is specifically intended to obscure female humans from public view. Officially, this is to protect weak males from the allure of female sexual power, but truthfully it is meant to subjugate the entire female half of the population and prevent it from gaining power over the male half, thereby protecting society—the institutions and cultures those males have developed and now control—from radical change away from radical injustice.

The veil is a crime against humanity. It should be banned. It doesn't matter that some people don't agree. It doesn't matter that many conservatives do agree. It doesn't matter that religious freedom of expression will be marginally constrained. It doesn't even matter that some people choose to wear the veil freely, and would be deeply offended by being forced to remove it. The veil, even among willing participants, promotes a “veil culture,” and with it comes the whole nine yards of why and how we should set apart females from males. That's sexism, and actively promotes the dehumanization of half our species. No individual freedom is superior to that megalithic sellout of human rights.

The veil should be banned here in the United States, too, and everywhere else. If you don't agree, and aren't sure why, you have some soul-searching to do. I encourage you to do it.


Right for the Right Reasons

When conservatives are right for the wrong reasons, we have to be right for the right reasons. We can't go off to some other realm of ideological space and start making asses out of ourselves. We have to take the ground out from under the conservatives and promote justice.

So...

The veil has got to go. Now the challenge becomes securing a ban here in the United States, enforcing the ban as an act of humanism, and opposing any tendency on the part of conservative Christian radicals to usurp it as a weapon against Muslims or Islam itself.

Realistically, I don't expect that to happen. There are many issues higher up on people's lists of progressive priorities, and there aren't many people in America who live under the yoke of a veil. The suffering is not yet obvious enough to make people uncomfortable. Ever the pragmatists that political activists are, there are bigger fires to fight, bigger fish to fry. However, you should add the ban somewhere on your list of ideological goals. And you should support and encourage your fellow liberals who are working toward this.


A Personal Note on Religion, Me, and You

The West is primarily from a Christian heritage. That's unmistakably obvious to people like me who were raised with something different. I've always looked on as something of an outsider to the obliviousness with which Christian zeal has delegitimized the right wing and undermined the left wing. Christian fundamentalism is a bigger threat to us than Islamic fundamentalism. Religious thinking dominates our laws and our social psyche. Clearly, we're not going to be free of its harmful grip anytime soon.

I'm a secularist who was never Christian. It's easy for me to write an essay like this. There are no sacred cows. I don't like any religion.

Those of you who do come from a religious background, or are presently religious, have a much harder row to hoe. You have to undertake a voyage of self-discovery, grappling with your protective fondness for religious freedom in the face of a religious freedom that is being used to hurt millions of people. And, worse, you have to do so in an atmosphere of superficially agreeing with Republicans who arrive at their positions out of bigotry.

The veil is a special case of low-hanging fruit, clearly wrong and clearly indefensible the moment you put to bed any notion that “religion” is right in a way that secular law can never be. This means the veil is an easy place to begin grappling with the issues of religious evil. Banning the veil in public is no challenge to the continued existence of Islam. Religions have a way of enduring no matter what.

Nor is it unheard of to put restraints on religious freedom. We also ban religious murder, even though it is justified in holy scripture and many people believe in it. We ban female genital mutilation, too. Thankfully, at least religious murder and genital mutilation are not active areas of debate. But the veil is. You can help to change that by understanding for yourself and explaining to others that to deprive a person of their identity, on the basis of their sex, may not be as bad as murder, but it's not much better either.

Once liberals become comfortable criticizing and opposing the abuses of Islam—and of all the other religions, from Hinduism to Buddhism—then we can edge that much closer to a peaceful assimilation of Islamic culture into Western society.


Exemptions on the Ban, and a Pep Talk

It's important to remember that the evil of the veil is not the veil itself, but the intention of it. We veil ourselves all the time, in various ways, for many reasons, with no harm done to our human identity. The French ban reflects that with specific exemptions. From the BBC article:

Quote
The ban on face coverings - which does not explicitly mention Islamic veils, but exempts various other forms - has angered some Muslims and libertarians.

These exemptions include:

Quote
Motorcycle helmets
Face-masks for health reasons
Face-covering for sporting or professional activities
Sunglasses, hats etc which do not completely hide the face
Masks used in "traditional activities", such as carnivals or religious processions

It all seems very appropriate. Let's hope the French people make sure it stays that way and doesn't morph into another cudgel of religious tribal conflict. And let's take an opportunity to remember our own power to subvert bigotry. Like any law restricting freedom in some way, the potential for abuse is high. However, that doesn't mean failure is inevitable. When we can finally pass a law like this, or if Christian conservatives in this country beat us to creating a ban, we have considerable power to interpret that law humanistically, and to encourage our peers and officeholders to do the same. Even the most bigoted laws, in their inception, can find a humanistic redemption in the long run. Once such law is the United States Constitution, which lives on today as the great engine of freedom in our country despite its origins as a facility for rich white male Christians.


The Most Important Epilogue

The most important part deserves the final word.

Please remember that religious indoctrination is often a lifelong process, beginning in childhood when the individual has no way to defend themselves. It rises to the level of brainwashing, and can break the human will in those who resist it without the power to escape it. It frequently shuts down outside education and the teaching of critical thinking skills. It renders people's minds as putty.

Many of those people who do choose to wear the veil, and are proud of it, are victims who do not even realize their own victimization. Never assume that a choice made freely is one made independently. Always please lend your greatest concern to those people so deeply beaten that they have learned to love their chains.

12
General Discussion / The Chrono Compendium Poets Bakery
« on: April 08, 2011, 02:13:51 am »
A number of people have asked for it, but no one has created the thread yet. Well, here it is! Post your own poems, or other people's poems that have affected you, and share criticism, praise, and other human passions.

13
General Discussion / Secret of Mana Character Popularity Poll
« on: March 26, 2011, 11:56:32 pm »
Hopefully this can get some nice discussion started about one of Square's other great RPGs in the triumvirate of history's greatest RPGs. My own selections to follow once I've looked at my own poll! (Hah!)

14
General Discussion / Thoughts on the Loughner Shootings
« on: January 16, 2011, 03:25:15 am »
I don't really think this deserves its own thread, given the low level of activity on General Discussion in past months, but I couldn't find a suitable existing thread to put it in. It is a copy of my recent conclusions on the Loughner shootings in Arizona. I have slightly edited it from the original form.

~~~
A week later, I have some conclusive thoughts on the shootings in Arizona. Developments in the news have borne out what I expected. This was not simply murder, but terrorism—a premeditated assassination attempt that claimed the lives of numerous victims. The terrorist is a right-winger, a conservative farther to the right even than the Tea Party fringe. He is also mentally ill, and apparently got worse over the years. With treatment, perhaps even he will not understand why he did what he did. There may not be a “why”; even though his action was premeditated, it may have been truly insane.

I see two elements to this story worth talking about, not counting the considerable good luck and medical professionalism that prevented several more fatalities, and (contrary to early news reports which I incorrectly repeated here) probably ended up saving the life—although perhaps not the lifestyle or career—of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The first of these is the issue of mental healthcare in this country, and the second is right-wing extremism.

I've had several mentally ill friends over the years. I have mentally ill family members. I have met numerous mentally ill people. Below the degree of outright illness, I have known a greater number of people who deal with, or used to deal with, mental disturbances that affect their quality of life, both material and ideal. Below that, almost everybody has troubling mental issues of one kind or another, now and then, or oftener; a part and parcel of being human.

We, as a society, stigmatize mental issues in this country. We use more deeply associative verbiage—“be” rather than “have”—to characterize mentally distressed people, and we pass judgment on their character more readily and more negatively than we do in the case of non-mental health issues. We are uncomfortable around both mentally distressed people and subjects of conversation regarding the same. We ignore, neglect, and deny. We also distract and divert, partly in the form of glamorizing popular depictions of mental issues that have almost no connection with the realities. That romanticized vision has become interwoven with the popular morality of our day.

In short we have immunized ourselves against the concept of mental illness, which is preposterous given that we have done so little to protect ourselves against the reality of it.

The implications for our society are far-reaching, even revolutionary. It's not simply that we don't have a robust enough mental healthcare system—although we certainly don't. It's that our society turns out mentally sick people, and then leaves them mostly to fend for themselves. It's better, in a way, than it was in the past, when effective medicine was less advanced, and when the peasantry was correspondingly larger than today and thus the material suffering of most sick people was much greater. But by most other measures, we're doing it all wrong. We're raising children to be predisposed to mental issues, we're ignoring the problem and thereby preventing ourselves from staging a social confrontation against the scourge, and we're drastically underfunding the mental healthcare apparatus.

People should be raised to recognize troubling thoughts and behavior in themselves and others, and to report that to psychologists. Psychologists should be able to investigate the possibility until they can make a satisfactory determination. If the individual in question is found to be mentally unwell, they should have access to the full services of the medical community, as needed and within reason, to achieve a satisfactory recovery, or else the best sustained satisfactory treatment, or else a legitimate suicide. In the classroom and in the workplace, authorities should provide accommodations, again within reason, to promote the individual's wellbeing, or at least to not actively antagonize. If they're not able to sustain themselves, then society needs to pay for them to have a decent material quality of life. And this should all be so thoroughly integrated in our society that it is unremarkable.

And that's just the treatment. For prevention, we would have to completely change the way society works. We would have to teach people how to communicate, honestly and pertinently. We would have to disestablish cultural norms and social institutions which trap people in high-stress or low-expression situations. We would have to make progress on social injustice, drug abuse, and class warfare. We would have to discourage religious fundamentalism. We would have to discourage attention deficiencies and overstimulation in our mass media. It goes on and on, just how much we would have to do, just to prevent a substantial majority of nurture's contributions to mental health problems.

As things stand now, my prescriptions are so implausible as to be useless. The best I can hope for within the present system is better education of mental issues, more social acceptance, and more public funding. Even that pathetic wishlist is improbable to the point of being impractical.

People like Jared Loughner, who have a sustained chronic illness and no ability to seek out or accept the informal social support of friends, family, and colleagues, will likely become progressively more destructive until they end up dead, homeless, or in prison. Right now I can quickly think of half a dozen people I have known for whom such a fate seems distinctly possible. Sometimes it isn't even a question of ability to afford paying for healthcare, or of having enough friends, but of whether the individual has the institutional support necessary to persuade them to seek out help even if they don't want to do so or don't understand that they need to do so. Sometimes that's what it takes; sometimes money isn't enough and friends aren't enough. Sometimes it takes a social welfare net.

Today, the system is geared toward medicating mentally ill people into a state of docility. Normalcy on top of that is merely a welcome plus. There aren't enough psychologists available, nor enough largesse on the part of health insurers to allow people to see psychologists, for things to be any other way, and the state of mental drugs is still young and relatively crude.

I suppose it's worth pondering the point at which individual self-control ought to be superseded by the state. I'm in favor of rather exuberant commitment policies for short-term interventions, and comparatively reluctant policies for long-term commitment. Self-control is a key measure of ideal quality of life. I think it can be legitimately interrupted for a short while in certain cases of existential importance—as serious mental illness always is—but it must not be withheld from the arc of a person's life. Better, perhaps, to let people who are that far gone destroy themselves in a fashion that is not harmful to others, or else humanely euthanize them. When it comes to the penalization of mentally ill criminals who committed crimes in large part because of their mental illness, do not be distracted by the crime from noticing that their quality of life was often miserable before any illegalities occurred.

What I really want to talk about, though, especially given my tentative comments a week ago, is the question of the right-wing hate speech.

I should mention that I watched some of his Internet videos. They generally fall into two categories: The first is a series of videos consisting of bad logical arguments written in text wherein he states that if one thing is true, therefore another thing is true. He then declares the one to be true, and, thus, “proves” the other to be true. The general tone of these is to establish his rejection of conceptual reality as we know it. He takes issue with fundamentals the calendar system, the currency system, grammar, and more. He goes into painfully little depth, asserting magnificent ideas such as controlling religion, but never explaining how or for what end. The second category is a series of videos consisting of him acting out his political philosophy in an obviously disturbed manner, such as this video of him burning a flag in the desert.

By these videos alone, the dominance of his mental illness is evident when it comes to any actions he would have taken. Nevertheless, the fact that he rejected the government and planned the assassination of his congressional representative tells us that, whatever his mental state, he is not apolitical nor were his murders apolitical.

I point this out because many conservatives, as an early line of defense, rejected that Loughner has any politics at all. I've seen words like “lunatic,” “insane,” “crazy,” and so forth. Derogatory connotations aside, those words are all apt of him, but they do not count for a damn in disproving the political nature of his actions a week ago—nor can such nature be disproved, for the evidence supporting it is too overwhelming.

Thus I come to my conclusion rather early in the discussion: I conclude that, while conservative politics and rhetoric did not make Loughner mentally ill in the first place, they did provide him with a murderous outlet for his disturbed thoughts. In the question of whether the conservative movement is somehow responsible for Loughner's actions, I deem the answer “yes,” albeit indirectly. I reject overtly obvious scapegoats, such as Sarah Palin's website with crosshairs over Rep. Giffords, as having had anything to do with the shootings. Rather, there are two primary recipients of blame here:

First is the right-wing propaganda machine in general, which is breathtakingly hateful in its language and unequivocally obstinate in its framing. This does indict many conservative public figures (including Palin), but not for specific actions so much as their strategy of scoring political victories by framing politics as war and stopping just short of calling for armed revolution.

Second, and more importantly, is the conservative movement itself, which has degenerated into a state of intellectual derangement. Many of conservatism's ideological causes are fantastically irrelevant to the present state of our society, becoming relevant only because conservatives force the controversy into the public debate, and are fraught with logical and scientific absurdities. How could people care about such nonsense? When it comes to legitimate controversies, the conservative point of view is often just as absurd, which is perhaps even worse. It is the modern conservative movement which encompasses both the most outrageous and the most dangerous ideas in politics today, as expressed by its share of domestic terrorism: 100 percent. I'm not even talking about the dominant stuff, the Christian fascism and the class warfare. I'm talking about the even crazier stuff, secretly whispered on the fringes. Stuff that doesn't make any sense, and doesn't need to. It is in this context that Loughner's affiliation with conservatism is most obvious, and it is in this context that my conclusion is most strongly enforced: A crazy political movement will attract crazy people.

Someone as far right as Loughner isn't simply anti-liberal, but anti-government altogether. To the extent he was informed by vitriolic right-wing rhetoric, it was probably the substance more than the style which appealed to him. In other words, if he carried out this attack because of something he heard from the media, I expect that what he heard would have been more along the lines of “This country will be destroyed if we don't cut spending,” rather than “We need to take out any politician who opposes spending cuts.” It would be his own thinking to generate the imperative of violent action. All of this sets him apart from your rank-and-file Tea Partier, most of whom are complacent sheep who love to feel self-important and morally superior but aren't particularly passionate about what they actually believe in so long as it comes from their accepted conservative authorities—demonstrable by the inconsistency of their acceptance of political pragmatism from Republicans and from Democrats, given how much of governance nowadays is pragmatic. Loughner, in contrast, was as infuriated at the sight of President Bush as you might expect him to have been at the sight of President Obama. He is truly worthy of the “far”-right label, and I would sooner compare him to the Unabomber than Sean Hannity. He is dedicated and passionate, because he has his own reasons to be, which are suggested as a consequence of mental illness by his increasing estrangement with reality and desire to retreat into the world of dreams. Politics became the target of his disordered thinking, and conservative ideology became his outlet. How? Whatever the specifics, we know it is not flattering for conservatism.

As it turns out, the specifics of his right-wing affiliations are still a public mystery. We do know he advocated a return to a currency system based on gold and silver, which is a classic far-right position. We know he compared a woman who had an abortion to a terrorist, again textbook conservative. (He is also extremely sexist in general, and increasingly so, which is probably more likely an artifact of his mental illness than of his politics, despite the fact that the farther right you go the more strongly misogynistic political ideology becomes.) We know he believes the government is a fraud and “unconstitutional,” both indicative of far-right positions. We know he subscribes to the belief that the government uses grammar to control people's minds, which initially I didn't realize was a far-right view, but, as documented by the New York Times, likely came from a specific far-right website.

The confounding factor is that his conservatism seems to be absolute, which is uncommon. Extreme conservatives tend to go radical in one of three directions: economic conservatism, social conservatism, and anarchical conservatism—not all three at once. But Loughner's views suggest ultraconservatism across the board. This further lends itself to the culpability of the conservative movement as a whole.

Before moving on, I think you should take a look at some of these documentations of right-wing derangement. I collected these links over the course of the week so that you may appreciate my next argument with fewer distractions from the presumptions I make, whose accuracy is borne out in these links. Notice that each one comes from a different source.

http://www.dailykos.com/tv/w/002793/
http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/markos-moulitas/137367-violence-from-the-right
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/11/AR2011011105685.html
http://www.seattlepi.com/national/1110ap_us_congresswoman_shot_palin.html
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/nothing-to-see-here-folks.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10shooter.html?_r=2&hp=&pagewanted=all

I want to talk about what this terrorist attack portends for the country. In that regard, the most important outcome by far is the reaction of liberals and conservatives to his terrorist attack.

As the right becomes more dangerous and violent, the left comes under increasing provocation. Eventually, as more of our public figures are killed, maimed, silenced, sued, and harassed, the left's reaction will itself become more extreme. If terrorist acts like the Tuscon shootings became commonplace, you would see a comparable radicalization on the left, and domestic tranquility would drop to nadirs not seen since the Vietnam era or possibly even the Depression. As it stands, the left is still highly factionalized, disorganized, and complacent. Thus, there has not been a coherent or dangerous counterstroke to the Tuscon shootings. There has been simply verbal outrage, and accusations of right-wing complicity (which are quite appropriate, but perhaps not sufficient). Thus, from the standpoint of the agency of the left, the shootings pose no threat to our national wellbeing.

From the right, it is another story. What I have been looking for is a sign of “We've become radical enough; let's not go any further for a while.” With the decay of the conservative movement, and the evaporation of its intellectual underpinnings, conservative politics have become more and more ridiculous. Yet from within the movement there has been no successful effort—nor even an apparent effort—to arouse some shame. Shameless, is what modern conservatism is. Totally self-absorbed, totally preposterous. Right away after these shootings occurred it was apparent that a conservative impetus on Loughner's part was highly likely. What, then, were the reactions of rank-and-file conservatives?

The most dominant reaction was a sanctimonious call for solemnity and solidarity, which tends to dominate any tragic event, no matter how inappropriate it may be. Quite a few people on the message boards I visited—and for this purpose I ventured into the halls of several right-wing websites, such as Free Republic and Fox News—insisted that any “political” debate in the aftermath of the attack was inappropriate and demanded that we focus on the loss inflicted by this “senseless” violence. For many people, this kind of a reaction is genuine, and I duly note that, but for some it is a shield to deflect responsibility. (Who remembers the cry of Republicans over the years that it was inappropriate to have a given debate at a given time because some tragedy was on? Remember Hurricane Katrina? “Now is not the time to point fingers.” Well, fuckers, when is the time? Oh, that's right: Never. After the tragedy has cooled, the news cycle will move on, and the opportunity for public accountability is lost. When questioned, later on, these same people will reply, “We need to move on from this.”) Thus, this type of reaction, though largely apolitical, does have a political component, and that component does not speak well of conservatives, as it shows no attempt to take responsibility and moderate the rhetoric going forward.

The second most common reaction I encountered from conservatives was for people to implicitly accept the political dimension of the attack by choosing to acknowledge the accusation against conservative hate speech, but to explicitly reject culpability in one of four ways:

The first of these I mentioned above, and has been the most common of the four: People making this rejection claimed that Loughner is apolitical and that there was therefore no political motive (and thus no conservative culpability) to his actions. (Many of the people issuing this rejection demonstrated their defensiveness and insecurity by taking the time to claim that the left has been particularly odious in its own hate speech, even going so far as to try to politicize the attack.)

The second rejection is that Loughner is actually a liberal. This line of reasoning depends upon his history of smoking pot (which apparently only liberals do), the relative conservativeness of Representative Giffords when compared to the House Democratic Caucus as a whole, the presence of books with a liberal message (alongside books with a conservative one, conveniently ignored) in his online list of favorite books, and a diary written by a Daily Kos member who said that Giffords was “dead to [him]” after she voted for a different Democrat other than Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House when the new Congress began earlier this month. Of all the rejections made by conservatives, this one is probably the most hateful and provocative, and bodes the poorest for the future of political discourse in America.

The third is conceptually like the second. People making this rejection ignored the issue of their own culpability in favor of a tu quoque argument: People on both sides of the political spectrum are crazy like this. Well, that's true in the binary sense, but not in the relative sense. There is no parity of any sort between left-wing and right-wing radicalism in this country today.

The fourth rejection, and least common is that Loughner is indeed a conservative, but is a loner who acted entirely by himself and is completely outside the will and prompting of any conservative institution or organization. This simple denial of culpability is perhaps the most telling of all: Conservatives are aware of their hate speech, but deny that it has any ramifications. To actually believe that, politics would have to be a game for them. For some, when you get down to it, it is a game. That is irresponsibility in the extreme. For others it is not a game, and the hypocrisy disgusts.

The third most common reaction among conservatives (the first two being a call for solemnity and a rejection of culpability), and the last of the common reactions that I observed, was to characterize the terrorist attack as a reprisal against liberal abuses. This kind of reaction, despite explicit words of condemnation of the attack, implicitly condones it. It is not a rejection, but an admission, of sorts, coupled with a defiant “You deserved it!” This view was particularly common on the Fox News website.

I was honestly hoping, although not particularly expecting, for public figures in the Republican Party to make some kind of an admission of guilt, not for the shooting but for the atmosphere of virulent rhetoric in our national political discourse. But there was no such admission, not a one. Instead, I learned that something called The Civility Project, meant to encourage governors and members of Congress (in both parties) to sign a short pledge to conduct themselves more civilly in political discourse, was shutting down due to violent threats from conservatives and lack of interest—with only three members of Congress signing it.

Thus, as I see it, the reaction from the right is one of guiltlessness and aggression. They continue to have no shame, and apparently have every intention of becoming even more egregious in their behavior.

How much more serious will things get? I think that depends on whether the Tea Party enjoys further electoral success, and whether the conservative base, which is ever so elderly, dies out before it can kindle a new era of sustainable right-wing terrorism in this country.

I am moved, in this occasion, to call for a new anti-sedition law which empowers the government to arrest and charge right-wing leaders with sedition—primarily in the media and the militias rather than in elected office, although not necessarily to the exclusion thereof. It would also provide for the dismantling of seditious organizations like Fox News and sedition charges for its overseers. The law would not apply specifically to right-wingers, but the practical effect would be almost exclusively limited to that side of the spectrum. We have not, nor can we win the political debate, nor have we nor could we even so much as restore civility. It will take further terrorist acts, and possibly a counterstroke, before domestic social forces rein in the right wing. The only way to preempt that is to nip it in the bud before doing so actually would spark an insurrection.

Given the extraordinary nature of the law, it would require an explicit expiration date, and no doubt would make domestic tranquility worse in the short term. Nevertheless, we have never seen more clearly the road on which the Tea Party and the dying conservative movement are taking us, than we saw it last weekend, when one conservative was insane enough to actually try to act on conservative principles.

15
General Discussion / So, I Had This Interesting Dream...
« on: September 06, 2010, 11:12:19 pm »
No, not me. Not at the moment, anyhow. Rather, this is the thread you can post in when those words apply to you. This topic is Sajainta Approved and endorsed over The Other Leading Topic by four out of five Radical Dreamers.

Remember, the dreams we have when we are asleep are not like the ones we have when we are awake, with some exceptions in instances of heavy fixation. When we wish for our dreams to come true, that's the waking ones we're usually talking about. The world would be an interesting place if it were the other kind.

*is eagerly awaiting Dream VR*

Anyhow, this is the place to write about your sleeping dreams.

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