Who’s Your Daddy?

January 21, 2009

A: Don’t you believe in democracy? Would you rather live in a totalitarian country?

B: I would rather live in a country whose citizens are capable of intelligent discourse. But I don’t believe any such country exists.

A: Perhaps. But haven’t you heard the quote that democracy might not be the best government, but it is better than any of the alternatives?

B: Winston Churchill. I believe the exact quote is “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”

A: Thank you. Exactly. Democracy has flaws, of course. But it is the best that we have.

B: I prefer to look at politics in cynical and reductionist terms.

A: Why am I not surprised?

B: Because you know me too well. Bear with me a moment. Humans are primates. Primates are social hierarchical animals. Animals in social hierarchies usually defer to other animals in positions of power and influence. The most obvious example of this is the family. Children, who are young and ignorant and helpless, have no choice but to defer to their parents, who are the most powerful and influential beings in their lives.

A: Did your mother love you?

B: Cheap shot.

A: I take what I can get.

B: Get this: the president of the United States is often referred to as the most powerful man alive. Being the most powerful man alive, he exists at the pinnacle of a social hierarchy, and he has people — Secret Service agents — who are sworn to sacrifice their lives, if called upon to do so, in order to save his.

A: Power has its privileges.

B: Indeed it does. And we, as citizens, are also called upon to heed his words and to support him and the decisions that he makes.

A: We don’t have to support the decisions that he makes: we can disagree with him.

B: But beyond that, we can do nothing.

A: We can vote him out of office.

B: And so the cycle begins again. Let me put it in stark terms: in America, every four years, we are given the freedom to choose the alpha male. And after we make our choice the only thing we can do is watch what he does.

A: You make it sound like we are just passive participants in the political process.

B: Prove to me that we aren’t.

A: But don’t you hope for a change?

B: Hope is not an action and change is but a buzzword. And hoping for a thing does not make it so.

A: I hope that one day you can be happy.

B: So do I. But at times I do not believe it is possible for self-conscious primates to be happy. Maybe that’s why we created religion.

A: Which often takes the form of a political hierarchy.

B: Such as the Catholic Church.

A: Right. And the Pope?

B: The father of the church.

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In the Shadow of Joy

January 19, 2009

The feeling I have when surrounded by Obamaphiles reminds me of my adolescent experience in a pentecostal church: discomforting. Long ago I realized that Barack Obama is a salesman peddling a product: Barack Obama. Naturally, this makes me a pariah — an alien sensation! — among many.

Enthusiasm and euphoria, especially of a religious nature, is immune to inquiry and analysis. Being high is justification enough. So because I am loathe to ruin their buzz, among Obamaphiles I smile and remain silent.

When I want to voice my opinion, I remind myself of the Taoist maxim: Spare speech and let things be. And I comfort myself with In Tenebris #2 by Thomas Hardy.


WHEN the clouds’ swoln bosoms echo back the shouts of the many and strong
That things are all as they best may be, save a few to be right ere long,
And my eyes have not the vision in them to discern what to these is so clear,
The blot seems straightway in me alone; one better he were not here.

The stout upstanders say, All’s well with us; ruers have nought to rue!
And what the potent say so oft, can it fail to be somewhat true?
Breezily go they, breezily come; their dust smokes around their career,
Till I think I am one born out of due time, who has no calling here.

Their dawns bring lusty joys, it seems; their evenings all that is sweet;
Our times are blessed times, they cry: Life shapes it as is most meet,
And nothing is much the matter; there are many smiles to a tear;
Then what is the matter is I, I say. Why should such a one be here?…

Let him in whose ears the low-voiced Best is killed by the clash of the First,
Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst,
Who feels that delight is a delicate growth cramped by crookedness, custom and fear,
Get him up and be gone as one shaped awry; he disturbs the order here.


Cynics and gadflys have always been pariahs and outcasts.

Hmm. Maybe I should start a commune.


Metonymy

January 9, 2009

Because I am a closeted masochist, I like to read financial news. That’s how I keep in touch with the end of the world:

The U.S. lost more jobs in 2008 than in any year since 1945 as employers fired another 524,000 people in December, indicating a free-fall in the economy . . . “Consumers are now going to get more and more scared at the prospect of losing their job,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight (Source)

I direct your attention to the use of “Consumers.” This is a figure of speech, known as metonymy, in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated.

That an economist should characterize people as consumers — instead of citizens — should hardly be a surprise: one of the pillars of the American empire is consumerism. We, the plebeians, of the United States of America are merely the vehicles for that most important of commodities: money.

Don’t get me wrong, I love money: It keeps me from being hungry and cold.

But I fear it also keeps me from being human.


On Hunger

January 7, 2009

A: Were you raised by wolves? Where is your sense of human decency, your sense of compassion?

B: I suckled compassionately at my mother’s breast.

A: Only because you had yet to develop teeth.

B: Ouch.

A: I hope you feel the sting that I begin to feel as I watch your nihilism — which you used to wear only as a mask or cloak — seem to seep into your skin and into your blood and to taint all of your observations with hopelessness and bitter grief.

B: I didn’t design the universe. I merely comment on its manifestations.

A: Cowardice.

B: Is it cowardly to state the truth?

A: No it is not. But it is cowardly to throw up your hands and to say “It’s no use. Abandon hope. The future is preordained and we’re all doomed.”

B: But we are all doomed, when, in a few billion years the sun begins to expand . . .

A: Yes, yes, yes. Death is inevitable. But how you choose to spend your time while alive is not.

B: I disagree. I spend my life securing food and shelter, and seeking someone to embrace at night.

A: Now you sound less like a nihilist and more like a human being.

B: I’ve never claimed to be more than a human being. Or more than an animal. You claim that I can live my life doing whatever I want —

A: That’s not what I said.

B: Or, more accurately, that I can engage in activities of my own choosing.

A: More or less. What I actually meant is that you can choose your attitude. That you can live with a sense of hope or with a sense of despair.

B: But I cannot live without a sense of hunger.

A: Bite me.

B: Is that a figure of speech?

A: Are you into cannibalism?

B: I don’t know. Pass the salt.


Appliances

January 6, 2009

I used to be excited about appliances. When I was a kid, I thought programming in BASIC on the TRS-80 was magic!
 
first-pc

Today, after thirty years of using them, my attitude toward appliances has somewhat matured, due, in part, to failing eyesight, carpal tunnel syndrome, and boredom.

Today, my favorite appliance is:
toaster
Unfortunately, this attitude does not make me a likely candidate for Drone of the Month.


Yesterday I Nuked Zimbabwe

January 5, 2009

When I’m not reading Nietzsche, or listening to Bach, or exercising, or droning at Microsoft, I play video games. It’s a guilty admission for a 36 year old man to make — I really should be spending my leisure time having more sex — but I’ve been playing video games since I was a child. I love video games: they are a far more stimulating way to kill time than passively watching television. But they have one thing in common with television: they are often unabashedly, unselfconsciously, and brutally violent.

Yesterday, I was playing Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution on my Xbox 360. In the game, you lead a nation state across the centuries from infancy to world domination. There are many different ways to achieve victory: cultural, scientific, or hegemonic. The hegemonic victory involves capturing the state capitals of all four of your rivals. (Guess which type of victory I favor.) As you advance your nation, you can eventually discover nuclear power and then build the Manhattan Project and be rewarded with one nuclear warhead.

I used my warhead to nuke Zimbabwe, the capital of my final rival. (It’s easier to capture a capital that has been reduced to radioactive ashes. Carpet bombing is much more tedious.)

As I watched the warhead lift from the capital of Madrid — I played the game as Queen Isabella of Spain — and as it arced gently over the sphere of the world intent on obliteration, I was reminded, yet again, of a simple truth: Humans are violent. Inherently and indelibly violent. Don’t be fooled. Television does not cause violence any more than video games cause it. Or any more than reading The Iliad causes it. Violence is in our nature.

After all, we eat. And chewing is neither peaceful nor pleasant, especially for that being eaten.