Wednesday, July 23, 2014

let's focus on villainy avoidance, not proper victimly behavior

(Originally posted on facebook, i.e., for a general audience. Posted here with minor changes.)

If someone broke into my house, I'd try to get them to leave. If they didn't seem like much of a threat, I'd probably give them a chance to leave on their own before using force. If they gave me a good reason to let them stay, maybe I'd let them. If they gave me a good reason to give them some of my things, maybe I'd give them some. But if they insisted on taking my things by force without providing a reason I find acceptable, I'd use proportional force to try to get them to leave. If they posed a real physical threat to my family, I'd use any means necessary to stop them, up to and including lethal force. Now let's say I end up killing an intruder in my house, having exhausted other reasonable options. How would you judge me?

Taking it further, say a group of armed thugs enters my house and I simply can't kick them out. They set up in the living room and gradually take over more and more space. They take whatever they want. We barely have enough to survive. We deserve a better life than this. I have time to think about it, to premeditate my response. Now let's say I kill as many of them as I can, because it seems to be the least bad option left. Maybe you're a nice person who feels pity for those I killed. And you might think that now I'm as bad as them. Admittedly, I'd have degraded myself in the process, in some way sunk to their level. But if your first response is to talk about MY ethical failings in this situation, you've misread the context entirely. I did not create the (hypothetical) situation, I responded to it. I didn't deal myself this hand, they did.

The more rockets, the more money, the more F-16s, the more bought media coverage, the more power. The more power, the wider the range of choices. Rendered powerless, on the other hand, you can either submit or fight back. The option of living a decent, peaceful life has been taken off the table. I neither condone nor condemn -- I will not judge -- the one who responds to the invasion of her home or her land with lethal force. It's not even an ethical question, as ethics involves deciding between two or more reasonable options.


Another example. A menacing villain with a weapon gives you a choice -- he kills two innocents or your lover. A classic dilemma (that comes in various iterations), sure, but not an ethical one.

In the scenario, you're the good guy, a hero with his hands tied. This is just assumed. How do you stop the bad guy from doing the bad thing? What's the ethical thing to do? What do you do, well-meaning villain stopper? The answer is simple -- make sure you're not the one holding the gun, forcing bullshit ethical dilemmas on someone else. If you're doing that, stop. If you're not, you don't have an ethical dilemma. A decent ethics is one that works to avoid shitty hypotheticals. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

double talk

When a mafia boss orders a free man killed, it's called putting a hit out on that person, and is frowned upon.

When a judge orders a caged man killed, it's called an execution, and cheered as justice. In fact, there's nothing more just than killing someone. Stormborn said it, and we knew it was true.

When a child acts counter to parental expectations (desires, goals, intentions, etc.), it's called being bad.

When a parent acts counter to child expectations, it's for the child's own good. It is good, and don't dare ask why.

When a person continues to pursue a goal in spite of having already failed at least once, it's called either stubbornness or persistence, depending on the speaker/judge's biases. What matters is not the ambitious one's chances of success, but whether the judge wants her to continue, for whatever reason. The judge's motives remain mostly hidden, though, as the positive/negative element is meant to be about the act as such, as some kind of object. By implication, it's good or bad, period, whereas, in fact, it can only be good or bad from the speaker's point of view.

A woman who has sex with many men is a whore. A whore is the opposite of a player, a person who also frequently has sex but who, thanks to belonging to the right a priori category, is a priori good.

When power gets what it wants, it's called good.

When neurons get what they want, it's called good. 

Two men raising a happy child is covered by an umbrella called profane. A man and a woman raising a miserable child is covered by an umbrella called sacred. The judgment comes before. How else to condemn happiness?

A black man in a hoodie with a gun is called thug. A black man in the right uniform with a gun is called hero, unless he's acting, knowingly or not, outside the expectations, at whatever point in spacetime, of the ones who get to decide what's good. At that point, he will be considered, at worst, a bad apple.

A man who blows up a civilian-filled building and himself for a cause he's fully committed to, but not under the orders of big local power, is called a coward.

A man who blows up a civilian-filled building for a cause he may or may not be committed to -- for reasons, to be frank, often of personal finance and video-game-ish fun -- on the orders of big local power, is called a freedom protector and is covered by an umbrella called brave. The judgment comes before.

A nihonjin in France calls the French people she sees gaijin. To the nihonjin, the furansujin is a foreigner in her own country. Big local power's double talk can cross borders.

Americans are the good guys even in countries they've invaded.

And so on.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

heroes and whores

From "The Angry Bartender":
Said at my bar tonight... Actually no...
I feel I need to set this one up and is too long, so it's more of a story than a "shit said"...
I think a lot of people don't understand that some people just want to go to a bar, and are content sitting alone.
I love my friends, the close ones are truly like family to me. But a lot of them have jobs with "normal" hours... And I'm content just sitting at a bar after work for a beer or 5 watching ESPN or on this page with my phone.
A lot of people don't get that.
They go out because they "need" interaction. Maybe they're an extrovert... Maybe their self-esteem is so low they need assurance they exist.
I had these two types next to each other tonight. A man watching the hockey match, in his jersey. A woman, trying to get his attention, in a Marilyn Monroe T-shirt. He was being polite, responding to her as much as he could, but never really taking his eyes off the TV.
Well, after a few attempts to get him to assure her that she exists she got mad, and said,
"I don't get why men wear jerseys, it's like that player owns you, their name is on your back. You're their bitch."
Without taking his eyes off the TV, he says, (this isn't word for word... But as close as I could remember it.)
"Well, it's not that. It's hard to explain to someone like you, but let me try. It's support, for your team and favorite player usually... Sort of like the Marilyn Monroe picture on your shirt... You wish you were like them. At the end of the day, I'll cheer and remember better times in my younger days when I could still compete, and maybe in the back of my mind... I'll remember it different than it was. Maybe after a few beers or shots... I'll think I could have been as good as those guys on TV. I'm really not though, but it makes me happy. Just like you... You probably walk around quoting Marilyn Monroe as a roll model... But at the end of the day, like you, she wasn't worth quoting... She was just a whore that wanted attention and friendship."
I stopped in my tracks. Anyone in ear shot just stared at them. She looked at me and said, "Are you just going to let him say that without doing anything?!?"
... So I bought him a beer and did a shot with him.
The takeaway:

Put yourself on display for money and adulation in the role of warrior/athlete/dominator who many people will, as a result, be more likely to want to have sex with --> you are a hero (warning: does not apply to non-hetero men)

Put yourself on display for money and adulation in the role of physically attractive person who many people will, as a result, be more likely to want to have sex with --> you are a whore
(warning: does not apply to hetero men)

It's almost as if the language is rigged as a win-win for hetero men!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

mixed race kids dilemmas

Phwewww! Thank god a rich white guy stepped in to save us from symbolic racism. I was getting worried. Without rich white guys like Steve Ballmer, we might have to look systemic racism in the face. As you were.

Speaking of which, a post about the racism and misogyny Asian-Americans deal with (h/t Broadsnark).  

On the other hand, there's the racism non-purebred-nihonjins deal with in Japan:
Did I tell you about the time I was at a hospital with my girl, then one year old, talking with some nice-seeming folks kind enough to not assume I wanted to, and could only, speak English? A rare treat. It was heaven until they asked about my girl's origins, whereupon I said she was a nihonjin. Hahaha, I laugh in retrospect, now getting it. One said, with great confusion, like, "so the mom is Japanese?" And I said, no, the kid was born in Japan, she speaks Japanese, she eats Japanese food, etc., she's Japanese. And another said, "oh, so she's half?" Hey, did I tell you it's completely OK, as in, there's not even any other word for it, to refer to a person with a parent of impure lineage as "half"?

So, with the kids, 3 and 5, about to be swallowed up or, rather, planted, by the Japanese education system, like those trees that line streets round here designed by city halls, bound in concrete, limbs regularly pruned, standing at a distance fixed by authorities, leaves escaping with great effort only to be pruned yet again on authority's whim, the wife and I have been contemplating a move to the U.S., where un- (or, home) schooling would be more doable.

A move to the U.S. and good odds of emasculation for the half-Asian boy and, I assume, greater odds of rape for the girl *shudders*.

Or stay here for a lifetime of halfdom and dedication to the spirit of trying hard and faking smiles 50 hours a week if you're lucky, because that's what good robots do. And more ass-grabs, shittier employment opportunities for the girl. But slightly less rape. I think. Yes, I'd like to bubble-wrap them up forever.  No, not a great option, or instinct but maybe not the worst instinct either.

From the collapse of the empire and its trusty Asian sidekicks riding shotgun to Japan's impending demographic nightmare and reactionary isolationism to the desperate, awkward hope that my kids don't end up like most kids in the world, the ones I got my ipad from, for example, or even the hope they don't end up like 99% of the kids in the richest country that's ever been, brains overrun by profit-seeking memes, this is an impossible calculus. Hoping to make the least terrible decision. No pressure. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

intentional insanity, symbolic lines in the sand, racist word things

This and this.

Symbolic cleansing is the main theme, a classic. We wash our hands and the stink comes off. We go to penance and unload our sins. We say sorry and win a new blank slate on which to screw up all over again. They form a commission and get their official seal of approval. Bernie Madoff pays the penitential price, and his contemporaries are purified; the impurity having been removed, by opaque inference, those remaining are deemed uninfected.

A good field goal kicker has a short memory. An MMA fighter on a losing streak is 100% sure he's going to win the next one. He's cleansed himself of his loss and regained his confidence insanity. He's 100% sure, you see. 100%. Once fight has been chosen over flight, self-delusion has enormous evolutionary advantages.

So of course I'm glad to know Donald Sterling is suffering. Did you know rich people suffer too? True story. And I did enjoy when the younger Stark girl killed that guy in the tavern. Get me to a priestery, I need a soul cleansing.

But Sterling's axing was a ritual reinvigoration, confirmation, celebration of the delusional purity, as always, of the inside. Revenge feels good. Smiting feels good. This is how every couple's quarrel plays out, the badness of the other vindicating the righteousness of the self. "You're wrong/bad because..." is at the same time "I'm right/good because." This is the basis of the two-party scam, you might have recognized. Somewhere Floyd and Greenwald are still telling each other what a bad, bad boy the other has been.

Back to our villain, this Sterling. All of the actors responsible for the purification ritual in question, previously aiders and abettors -- owners, media, players -- now get to pat themselves on their stylishly attired backs for their brave anti-racism. Can racism be overcome by "good" rich dudes punishing "bad" rich dudes for symbolic trespass after the former let slide decades of well-known economic-effect-having racism? Does it matter that most of those involved looked around first, being in the business of self-censorship, to check if their gut reaction that, 'hey, isn't this the kind of thing I'm supposed to get mad about?,' was the group, i.e., correct, reaction?

And of course, there are still well over 2 million humans incarcerated in the U.S. (to satisfy purity yearnings!) on demonstrably racist grounds. Outsiders by "race" are socio-economically, systemically, at an enormous disadvantage, to put it somewhat weakly. As far as the official civic religion goes, these facts, impacting millions of lives for the worse, are irrelevant. Nobody cares. Or, care, and you're a nobody. Nobody (with power) cared (enough to risk anything) when Donald Sterling screwed over poor non-whites. They only cared when his (fucking) mouth made (fucking) racist word things. The treasured belief that "we are not racist" can only be challenged by super-explicitly racist word things. Seems the problem is that most brains cannot translate systemic racism into coherent symbols with sufficient epistemic confidence to present a challenge to the "America not racist" narrative.        

Thursday, March 20, 2014

i'd only ever consider trusting a politician who actively sabotages his political career

Lesser evilists like to argue that Obama is .1%, or whatever, less harmful, than a hypothetical Republican. As in criminal law, one can speak of both the act and the intent regarding the exercize of power. (I use this distinction for argument's sake only, for reasons I hope will become clear later.) The .1% claim deals, in theory, with the largely quantifiable results of actual policies. In other words, the acts and their effects. I'd be the first to accept that, given the non-uniformity of history slices, effects vary from one administration to the next. Maybe Reagan was worse than Clinton. Maybe Bush was worse than Obama. In a set where nothing is of equal value to anything else, some are less bad than others.

I'm fine having the (f)act debate with lesser evilists on the conditions that, if I show that Obama has been worse, they'll stop supporting him as a matter of political strategy whereas if they show Obama has had less bad effects than a hypothetical alternative and that supporting people like him is the best strategy for non-oppression in the short- and/or long-term, I'll change my tune. We can talk about incarceration statistics, deportation statistics, war budget, etc. We can ignore what these actors intended, as it has no bearing on strategy. This is a conversation to be had with Chomsky, for example, who thinks voting Democrat is a good idea in spite of his recognition that Democrats want the same thing as Republicans -- to stay in power by serving power.

On the other hand, there's the question of intent. Whereas Chomsky understands that politicians act on political, not ethical motivations, there is a far more common kind of lesser evilist -- the one who argues that the .1% less evil gap results directly from Obama being a decent guy. The argument, depending on the apologetic context, ranges from "decent guy in comparison to those evil Republicans" to "decent, even heroic, guy, period," though it's essentially the latter. All of this is unconscious and unanalyzed. Upon criticism, the committed apologist uses that post hoc rationalization machine we call consciousness to clean everything up, reinventing his own arguments as coherent, using blurry-eyed vision to plug a dam that's cracked through and through.

"Obama as not just less evil but actually a decent guy" rests on splitting Obama into politician Obama -- the one who does what he has to and yes, makes mistakes (he isn't perfect!) -- and ethical, well-intentioned Obama. Outcomes the Obamapologist likes are attributed to Obama's good intentions, that is, to ethical Obama. Outcomes he doesn't like are pinned on political Obama. (This is also, not at all coincidentally, the way small children cope with tyrannical parental behavior.)

Let me propose as a way to distinguish whether or not your favorite politician is acting on political calculation or on humanitarian intentions. It's a simple test: Did the politician act, non-accidentally, in a way that hurt his political career? This is only the first condition for the possibility of a politician acting as a not-politician. It is a condition I'm unaware of Obama having met. And given what is known about the American political system as currently constituted -- that non-power-accruing "intentions" are punished so consistently and devastatingly at so many junctures in the politicians' rise to a position of federal power that it's impossible for anyone to get away with them at that level -- the default best explanation is always political calculation at the exclusion of any other calculation. If Obama's time in office ends up leading to the end of the drug war or the military industrial complex, that will almost certainly have been a product of Obama the shrewd political actor, and not Obama the guy who actually gives a shit about things like not destroying countless lives (considering that he has established, time and again, with his actions, that he does not give such a shit). This is also why you shouldn't "give credit" to political actors (where of course ethics/good intentions are implied), as some like to do.

It's possible, one might argue, for an act to be both political and ethical. A politician might, for example, use diplomatic means to secure the release of hostages. He might go along with a popular push against legislating sexuality. The politically savvy move can be the ethically decent move. But it's not ethical, intentionally, if it's first political, which, given the context, it always is.

Finally, given that no one knows what their intentions are outside simplistic, distorted representations in consciousness coming from godknowswhere and given that all intentions self-present, finally, as good, the most reliable way to talk about intentions where actions repeat (i.e. non-accidentally) is to assume that the action is the intention or that the actor is insane, or both.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

the price of freedom: infinity times a lot of something?

Why are some non-government humans happy (or at least OK) with government humans spying on them in spite of the absence of evidence of terrorism prevention by such means? Even if the government prevented say, 50 deaths a year (as far as anybody knows, it doesn't!), the return on investment would be miniscule in comparison to the return on other ways of spending money (and freedom!), or not taxing. "TERRORISM!" -- not the thing itself but the word and what it invokes -- is scarier for some than a million traffic accidents covered in spiders, because "1 terrorism" > "1 spider-covered traffic accident". By how much? Infinity, approximately. Math doesn't matter here. There's a term for this: scope neglect. It's only part of the answer, but worth mentioning.