Cruelty is wrong

Cruelty is a line for me. It’s a one-strike-you’re out policy. We will not be friends.

Cruelty is a moral stain. Something we need to outgrow from childhood to become a member of society. As a form of sadism, it does basic disrespect to the natural rights of persons and flouts the core ideals of democracy. Cruelty is antisocial behavior, and will not be tolerated.

I will speak up for those being crueled. And speak out against those crueling.

War of the Worldviews: Hierarchy vs Fairness

This is the dominant Manichaean struggle of our age, and perhaps every age before it: shall we structure our society with a strict hierarchical system of highs and lows, with power concentrated at the top? Or shall we have an egalitarian society where truth, justice, and fairness rule the day?

There are a lot of stories, myths, and narratives centered on this question: hierarchy or fairness? Cultural wars and actual wars have been waged — numerous times throughout history.

We are fighting a new incarnation of that war now in our nation, as civil unrest spreads following yet another extrajudicial murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for a jaw-dropping 8 minutes and 46 seconds: 2 minutes and 53 seconds beyond the point where Floyd lost consciousness and 1 minute and 54 seconds past the point fellow officers checked to confirm he had no pulse.

That is a staggeringly long time.

There is simply no credibility to the typical excuse that Chauvin somehow feared for his life — from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone, unconscious, and then lifeless George Floyd. Arrested over an allegedly counterfit $20 bill. Meanwhile Congress appropriates hundreds of billions and even trillions for big business and last I heard, no arrests had been made. Curious.

It starts in childhood

Psychologists like Alice Miller and Darcia Narvaez attribute this troubling mentality — this mentality that exhibits complete disregard for human life — as originating in our child-raising “techniques.” At one time corporal punishment for youth was the rule and not the exception; not uncoincidentally, the Hitler Youth of Germany had been largely raised under the “advice” of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Shreber who advocated beating babies from a young age so the importance of obedience would be drilled into them early on.

It wasn’t until much later we learned that traumatized and neglected children display severe lesions affecting up to the 30 percent of the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions. In other words, “traditional” child-rearing in the fundamentalist religion style of “spare the rod, spoil the child” produces emotionally crippled adults — who tend to enact the revenge fantasies of their internal repressed rage as adults later in life. They simply need be provided with an “authorized” scapegoat.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Miller goes on to suggest the psychological survival mechanism of denial employed by abused children to survive their situation leads them to develop the kind of emotional blindness in adulthood that will turn the other way when witnessing violations of another person’s humanity — or may even be induced to carry them out. We’re all familiar with the Adolf Eichmann “defense” of why he should be exonerated for behaving like a robotic killer: “I was just following orders.”

Teaching children to be obedient or be emotionally abandoned — whether through physical abuse or emotional abuse or both — is the key to unlocking this mystery of the appeal of hierarchy and authoritarianism which is seeing a resurgence not just in the United States but around the world — especially in Europe as well. Miller calls it “poisonous pedagogy” — not just parents but many other forms of authority indoctrinate youth in this vicious cycle and benefit from the creation of obedient individuals by amassing and maintaining power.

The kicker is we are not supposed to recognize this process — and if we do, we most certainly are not supposed to speak up about it. We are supposed to remain unaware that our deference to authority is merely a construct; a thin veneer over the insecurity of power that hopes desperately to continue wielding absurd moral authority over the masses. This collective and complicitous denial keeps us all locked in the dance of abuser and abused — essentially pretending it isn’t happening all around us including in our own homes.

The Founders advocated fairness

For all the right wing enjoys brandishing the Constitution as fundamental law, they tend to often miss the forest for the trees — that the founding fathers wrote extensively on their views and consideration in constructing a new nation towards the end of the 18th century, and that those views were decidedly against the arbitrary rule of kings and the strict striations of class as seen in the empires of Europe. They sought to get away from the cult of personality paradigm of the divine right of kings, believing that the rule of law should hold sway and that men ought to govern themselves through a political process with enough checks and balances to ensure no single branch or individual could wield too much power over others.

James Madison especially was a big believer in the “wisdom of crowds” to arrive at a better, more morally appropriate solution to legislation and problem solving. Moreover they were extremely uncomfortable with the role of slavery at the founding of the nation, despite being simultaneously apiece with the times and not entirely living up to those professed ideals.

Nevertheless, the role of ideals is to move us forward towards better times; to continually improve our individual and collective characters to get closer to living them out. Taking the ideals of fairness and equality as the guiding north star of a new nation and falling short is, in my humble opinion, still leagues farther along than giving in to the indulgent impulse towards supremacy and hierarchy and calling it a day. It’s the essence of progressivism as a vehicle for a narrative of self-growth — as opposed to the narrative hierarchy offers, which is static; dead; inert. There can be no change, no dynamism to a system which defines a priori everyone’s place in society.

Hierarchy is the politics of death.

Mass death is actually a bad thing for the economy

This past week we had a serious, unironic “debate” about whether or not senicide is a reasonable “plan” for handling the coronavirus crisis. This under the pretense that the other course of action — following the advice of medical professionals and epidemiologists to stay home and socially distance ourselves to curb the spread of covid-19 — is tantamount to shutting down the economy, which is tantamount to killing more people than the virus will.

Meanwhile, Congress passed a $2 trillion relief package, one quarter of which will go to the billionaire class with precious little oversight as to how it can be spent — and still apparently no one seems to have the slightest bit of confidence that the world’s richest economy can possibly weather the storms of depressed consumer demand for even several weeks much less the potentially many months this pandemic will rage across the planet. Perhaps this reveals that The Economy simply isn’t as robust as we tell ourselves it is during better times.

Dead Men Pay No Taxes

The proposed Sophie’s Choice between weeks or months of physical separation and allowing many people to die all around us is a false frame.

Millions of people dying is bad for The Economy in a very similar way to how having ICE eject millions of people from the economy is bad for The Economy. Insofar as economies require a labor force, and insofar as governments require revenue from taxation to pay for the infrastructure upon which The Economy rests, having millions of people depart from them is not a pathway to improving the economy — it is the opposite.

However, perhaps The Economy itself has become a contested concept. There may be a class-based and/or ideologically-based difference of opinion on what this concept means. Perhaps there is now:

  • the economy: the traditionally-held view of economies as markets in which individuals labor and contribute value, and trade assets in mutually beneficial ways to allocate resources efficiently
  • The Economy: a sort of shell game played by the right-wing authoritarian cohort in which the Plebes are starved of infrastructure and resources to the point of being mired inside an Eternal Present — in which we lurch from crisis to crisis — that brokers no hope for the future and no actual policy being made, other than the “policies” which continue to print money from the Federal Treasury for the purposes of propping up the precariously fragile billionaire class whose claims of meritocratic supremacy are stretched thinner and thinner each time the shells are moved yet again

Starving the Beast kills it: Feature or bug?

On paper, “Starving the Beast” is passed off as deeply held ideological libertarianism regarding the fundamental goodness of small government. In practice, starving beasts tend to die of preventable causes — and if governments are to retain the kind of power needed to be a check and balance on a growing hypercapitalist economy, they must indeed grow as well.

But beyond the general case, our specific circumstances of global pandemic lead us to a reasonable question: if laissez-faire capitalism and the free hand of the market is supposedly both sufficient to solve all human problems and vastly superior than the socialist hand of government at doing these things, then why are we in such a pickle? Why hasn’t the Invisible Hand managed to come up with its own solution to the mass death we are currently experiencing?

Or is the answer we might hear one that is too grim to bear — having been provided a clue this week in the grumbling of sacrificing the old to save the young — that a certain part of the political spectrum believe this is the market working as intended. That mass death is an acceptable “negative externality” of laissez-faire capitalism and that we bleeding-heart liberals ought to suck it up and grow thicker skin, rather than demand that governments step in to prevent preventable human atrocity.

Not only am I afraid of the answer — I’m afraid we’ll never get a straight answer in the world of political ketman we seem to have blundered into. In this world, right-wing elites including numerous elected officials continue to give lip service to a democracy that has been systematically hollowed out since the redoubling of the conservative movement in the 1970s to present, to currently resemble a geopolitical reality closer to that of modern Russia than to anything James Madison or Alexander Hamilton would have recognized.

It is technically possible that psychologically speaking, they themselves are actually unaware of this seismic shift in ideological views from that of democratic power and Constitutional authority to one of authoritarian rule and total technocratic control — but I think it’s more likely they’re simply not saying it out loud.

Funny how you never see any Libertarians volunteering to…

fund or maintain civic necessities such as:

  • clean water delivery
  • sewage removal
  • electricity generation and delivery
  • garbage and recycling removal
  • public safety
    • police forces
    • fire protection
    • emergency response
    • flood control
  • a justice system
    • courts
    • jails
  • transportation
    • road planning and construction
    • bridge planning and construction
    • street lights
    • traffic lights
    • driver licensing
    • airports
    • railroads
    • subways
    • buses
    • parking
    • snow plowing
  • mail service
  • sidewalks
  • parks and recreation
  • schools
  • libraries
  • property and county records
  • land surveys
  • research and development
  • public health
    • hospitals
    • pollution control and remediation
    • food supply testing
  • legislation

Design guru Don Norman’s shortlist of everything wrong with the internet

When usability pioneers have All the Feels about the nature of our creeping technological dystopia, how we got here, and what we might need to do to right the ship, it’s wise to pay attention. Don Norman’s preaching resonated with my choir, and they’ve asked me to sing a summary song of our people in bulleted list format:

  • What seemed like a virtuous thing at the time — building the internet with an ethos of trust and openness — has led to a travesty via lack of security, because no one took bad actors into account.
  • Google, Facebook, et al didn’t have the advertising business model in mind a priori, but sort of stumbled into it and got carried away giving advertisers what they wanted — more information about users — without really taking into consideration the boundary violations of appropriating people’s information. (see Shoshana Zuboff’s definitive new book on Surveillance Capitalism for a lot more on this topic)
  • Tech companies have mined the psychological sciences for techniques that — especially at scale — border on mass manipulation of fundamental human drives to be informed and to belong. Beyond the creepy Orwellian slant of information appropriation and emotional manipulation, the loss of productivity and mental focus from years of constant interruptions takes a toll on society at large.
  • We sign an interminable series of EULAs, ToS’s and other lengthy legalese-ridden agreements just to access the now basic utilities that enable our lives. Experts refer to these as “contracts of adhesion” or “click-wrap,” as a way of connoting the “obvious lack of meaningful consent.” (Zuboff)
  • The “bubble effect” — the internet allows one to surround oneself completely with like-minded opinions and avoid ever being exposed to alternative points of view. This has existential implications for being able to inhabit a shared reality, as well as a deleterious effect on public discourse, civility, and the democratic process itself.
  • The extreme commercialization of almost all of our information sources is problematic, especially in the age of the “Milton Friedman-ification” of the economic world and the skewing of values away from communities and individuals, towards a myopic view of shareholder value and all the attendant perverse incentives that accompany this philosophical business shift over the past 50 years. He notes that the original public-spiritedness of new communication technologies has historically been co-opted by corporate lobbyists via regulatory capture — a subject Tim Wu explores in-depth in his excellent 2011 book, “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.

Is it all bleak, Don?! His answer is clear: “yes, maybe, no.” He demurs on positing a definitive answer to all of these issues, but he doesn’t really mince words about a “hunch” that it may in fact involve burning it all down and starting over again.

Pointing to evolution, Norman notes that we cannot eke radical innovation out of incremental changes — and that when radical change does happen it is often imposed unexpectedly from the outside in the form of catastrophic events. Perhaps if we can’t manage to Marie Kondo our way to a more joyful internet, we’ll have to pray for Armageddon soon…?! 😱

The New Deal –> Raw Deal

In the 1930s and 40s we had the New Deal. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, setting legal limits on the maximum number of hours worked and the minimum wages allowed.

Republicans fought it then, claiming it would be essentially socialist, and an economic enemy to business and growth. However, it was the very opposite of that — the war and post-ware years were ones of productivity and prosperity, widely and broadly. A strong middle class was formed, changing the life and culture of America forever.

In the mid-1970s this growth engine finally began to falter, and since the 80s, we’ve instead had the Raw Deal. An ever-escalating version of a Libertarian’s wet dream: deregulation of numerous industries including finance (leading to the housing crash of 2007-8) and energy (leading to Enron), a steadily less progressive tax system (down from a whopping 94% in 1944 down to 28% under Reagan), and endless waves of cuts to social programs designed to level the opportunity playing field.

The thing is, when people feel hopeful, they work harder.

When there is hopelessness, there is less urgency to work hard to maintain the conditions and systems that make one feel so hopeless. If you know the game is rigged, how futile does it seem to keep playing?

Libertarians lament about the size of the pie, which is as good a modern version of “let them eat cake” while the plebes swill McD’s and pay through the nose for health care as any.

Theory: Libertarians are the Narcissists of the Far-Right

I’ve been reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and reminded of the quintessential liberal definition of the term:

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
(emphasis mine)

It seems to me that Libertarian proponents tend to make a systematic error in portraying liberty as only commensurate with the first part of Mill’s description: essentially interpreting it as, “I should be able to do whatever I want, and have no constraints placed upon my person by the government whatsoever.”

This misses completely the essential boundary established by the second part: that doing what one wants has limits attached, and that those limits are a proscription on engaging in activities which either harm others, or deprive others of their own rights in pursuit of liberty.

Harm

Being fixated with avoiding taxation, the Libertarian will proclaim that the government is coercing him out of his hard-earned monies — but this fails to recognize the real harm being done to the lower classes by the deprivation of funds to support the basic level of public goods required to preserve life at a subsistence level as well as social mobility: the essence of the American dream.

In short, Libertarian dogma tends to be singularly focused on the self-interest of the upper classes without any attendant regard to the rights of others that may be trampled on by either class oppression or the capturing and consolidation of political power in the hands of the wealthy. It fails systematically to recognize the perspective of the “other side,” i.e. those who are harmed by the enactment of the Libertarian ideology — much as a narcissist lacks empathy — and with it, the capability of seeing others’ perspectives.

The Libertarian narcissist Venn diagram is practically a circle.

Palmer Luckey and Peter Thiel: Welfare queens

Luckey and Thiel are a particularly toxic breed of billionaire welfare queen, who outwardly revile government with every chance they get while having both sucked at its teat to make their fortunes, and currently making a luxe living on taxpayer largesse.

Thiel’s Paypal and Facebook-induced riches rode the coattails of the DARPA-created internet, while Luckey had his an exit to internet giant Facebook. Now Thiel helms creepy-AF data mining company Palantir, whose tentacles are wrapped all the way around the intelligence community’s various agencies, while Luckey’s Thiel-funded new startup Anduril is bidding for lucrative defense contracts to build Trump’s border wall.

If we’re lucky, Luckey will create some sort of VR seasteading community that sucks them both right in and traps them in a sort of Libertarian Matrix forever.