Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Obama faith

Obama progressives have a lot riding (everything?) on one proposition:

"Obama is doing the best he can (or close to it) under the circumstances." 

The scenario is something like this:

There's a prison that has one guy in charge. It's this person's job to kill at least one prisoner a day and torture five a day. If he doesn't, he'll lose his job and have to go back to being a lawyer. Now, he took this job, the progressive speculates, because he thinks he can do it with less brutality than the other candidates would have. He doesn't want to do the bad things, and by doing less of them than a hypothetical alternative (a Republican!), he's actually doing a good thing. He'll find ways to torture less, perhaps. He'll pretend he's executed someone but without anyone seeing, he'll sneak them out an escape tunnel while presenting a fake corpse to the bosses. He'll make the most of that space between the bad things he has to do and the good things he can do without getting caught.

You can never finally disprove this.  The believer can always get around demonstrable evil, even things they agree are evil (though they'll try to talk down the level of evil to kinda bad or mistakes), because they've started with their conclusion that Obama is good and all examples to the contrary have a ready-made irrefutable but baseless explanation.   

Most Obama progs I know personally are non-religionists (contradiction in terms? yes, I'm getting to that) so let me back up and use methodology they're familiar with. Here's a hypothesis:

"Obama is just like any other power-haver. Obama does not do anything that will hurt his chances to hold onto power, anything that will hurt his chances for reelection and if reelected, will not do anything to hurt his chances at a (Bill) Clintonian ride off into the bestseller, speechgiving ex-prez sunset. This means he will continue the drug war that incarcerates millions, expand Presidential power, expand the military-industrial complex, expand government control of the internet, etc."

He will do the bad things. He has done them. There is no reason whatsoever to suspect that he's doing them against his will. There is no evidence at all pointing in that direction. He has not done anything, even your favorite thing that you think he's done, that cannot be best explained as having been calculated to increase his own hold on power. In other words, he'd like to kill two prisoners a day and torture six. He does not have bosses per se. He has cohorts and he has rivals. Most people he works with fall into both categories.

Here's another hypothesis: "No matter what happens, I know God loves me. God tests me sometimes, is all. Wife has cancer? The Lord works in mysterious ways. Won the lottery? God loves me. Bitten by a rabid donkey while trying to save a small child? Oh, God, you silly guy. What is up with you, man? Ha, I'll understand when I get to heaven. God loves everyone, as proven by..." nothing, of course.  When good things happen, God gets credit. When bad things happen, God gets excuses. Evidence is not a factor.

Finally: "Whenever Obama does the good things, it's because he's good. Whenever he does the bad things, he's acting against his own will."

God doesn't want to hurt anyone. Obama doesn't want to hurt anyone.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Shock value + the right arguments + production quality + badassness + brilliant music = best anti-imperialist media I know of. Lowkey. Please share.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

human condition-ing

I keep reading versions of this (I paraphrase): "if the state disappears tomorrow, a bunch of gangs will compete to fill the vacuum and we'll end up where we started."

This is true whether you believe that human biology has us rigged to hurt each other at fairly constant rates wherever and whenever (violence is hard-wired) or if you believe that good parenting results in relatively less violent adults and offers hope, however slight, for long-term improvement in the human condition. Either way, current humans are violent and the sudden disappearance of what we call states would not dramatically change the human condition.

In the meantime, it's worth making the case against state violence and its perceived legitimacy -- its normalcy, its acceptability, the wide recognition it receives as either an overall positive or a necessary evil -- because the state is always an excuse for violence and because the more people think about justifications for state violence, the more likely they are to reject them.

The sudden disappearance of states is also a not-gunna-actually-happen hypothetical. Which is important because you don't have to actually worry about it, other than as an intellectual exercise. I don't mean states won't disappear some day, just that it won't be a handful of anarchists taking them apart in a series of coups in our current violent culture, for example, and then having to face an orgy of violence and think "what have we done!". So it makes no sense to talk like members of a committee planning a group action and expecting to reach a set of goals. "Hey guys, what do you think will happen when we set up our anarchy?" There is no downside to arguing against the state. These arguments are not actually going to unleash chaos.

I guess if you really think violence is unalterably hard-wired, you still have problems with a stateless world and with even arguing towards a distant one. Fine. Maybe you're Freud painting the superego as a good cop to the violent id in all of us. The state keeps us in check.

But no, I say, violence makes people more violent. Freud's superego, a product of parental violence, makes people more violent. Freud was horribly wrong.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stoic folly

At its best, stoicism turns a sharp blade into a blunt instrument,
surface area extended, force undiminished,
a new flavor of pain
a muscled beast called life still beating the shit out of you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

God's omnipotence solved

Apparently Jeremy Lin has a Tebow-like ability to kiss God's ass. And God doth grant him favors in an inconsequential zero-sum game wherein to love a Lin is to hate his enemy. God hates Kobe precisely as much as he loves Lin. Now about those drone victims, is the problem that they're adulating an imposter divinity's rear or that God is busy watching the Knicks?

If I were a religionist, I'd urge an end to these omnipotence rumors. Do you know what kind of dick it makes you, big G, if you can but don't stop the bad things from happening? 

Forget that. God is bound and gagged. Lucifer's got him. He wants to help the little people but can't. 

"But why should I worship him if he can't help me?," asks the self-righteous gooddoer. Well, that's what the end times are about. God's gunna kick Lucifer's ass, and then he'll be able to save you. You'll be glad you bet on him then.     

Friday, February 3, 2012


Evil does not exist on its own. It's simply a word used by humans to indicate some sort of harm. I don't know how anything can be "deeply evil." Sounds metaphysical. "Very harmful" maybe.

I equate evil with victimization. Evil is the strong punching the weak, an adult spanking a child, an adult scolding a child, an adult manipulating a child with praise, drones ending lives, bosses using employees' economic dependence to control them, teachers using systems of reward and punishment such as grades, detentions, and "good job!" stickers to push kids down paths they wouldn't choose on their own, propaganda systematically diminishing opportunities for acting in one's own best interests (not talking about voting); evil is a human or a human system halting, retarding, redirecting the autonomy of another human without an obvious net benefit to the one acted upon.* (For example, if you push someone out of a car's way and they fall to the ground with some minor scrapes, you're replacing a greater loss of autonomy with a lesser one.  A non-evil exception.)

On the other hand, if you look inside the human body for evil, things get a lot murkier, for me anyway. The Alice Miller view, which I subscribe to, locates hate in repressed trauma. Example: Adults beat Stalin badly. Stalin the child, unable to confront the life-threatening horror of the truth, takes on the role of his parents in order to survive.  "I'm bad, my parents are right" can be allowed into consciousness. "My parents want to kill me" cannot. The pain of Stalin the child disappears from consciousness but remains in the body.  The repressed anger is an internalized conflict, internalized evil. Millions die.  If we could look inside Stalin, what we'd find is a miserable bastard fighting for psychic survival.  Which is not to say he wasn't evil. Of course. The point is that he was evil. The evil was in him. It just wasn't the work of a rational agent.

Non-sociopaths follow the same processes, more or less. Here's a hypothetical: A man is walking down the street. He sees someone his size punching someone much smaller. A number of forces compete to determine his action. Fear that he might get hurt himself. Fear that if he doesn't help, he'll feel like a coward or moral failure. Does he feel genuine empathy with the victim and want to fight off the bully with a similar intensity he'd want to fight off his own victimizer? Whatever he does, he'll always end up taking the least unpleasureable path. Even empathy works this way. It pushes him in the direction of using his body to prevent victimization, an admirable but dangerous move. The empathic person feels good if he intervenes in this case, bad if he doesn't. He's selfish. Every action is selfish in this broad sense. Selfishness is not the problem. Bad selfishness is the problem.

Stalin was acting bad-selfishly. The forces that won the competition to determine his actions were not empathic or rational. If you could talk to Stalin and give him the best explanation possible for why he's evil and why he should stop murdering people, anything that would make him confront the horrible truth is at a severe disadvantage. It would be recast in terms of the narrative he has spent his whole life constructing to protect himself.

I was a socially conservative Catholic until I was 20. Two things changed me. I read the Bible** and took a class called Philosophy of God with a Hegelian Catholic professor. I had something of an epiphany. Cognitive dissonance won. I just couldn't believe the old stuff anymore. My defenses were worn down by ideas. The struggle to believe things my judgment rejected was too much. These days I'm more principled and politically less of a dick, arguably. So where do I get credit? For reading the Bible? Taking that class? I did those things to try to re-affirm my harmful beliefs. It just didn't work out.  

Now even if you take the view that most or many or the most important choices are basically like cake versus salad, the thing I know I shouldn't do and the thing I know I should, where I'm a rational subject weighing the naughty against the nice, the complexity of each human life would make it impossible to determine what sort of free choice was involved in the myriad actions in each human life. Which forces were aligned against which, and how powerful they were, what sort of knowledge, this DNA and that environment, how each choice affects the dynamics of future choices. All these factors would change each new cake versus salad choice. All that matters is what real people do, not what a good person would have done in a situation.

Fortunately, these apparent challenges from a basically relativist perspective are not a problem as long as you focus on evil acts. Shredded limbs, rape, and torture are atrocious to anyone whose body has not been put through hell. We all have the same DNA. This is the anchor. The role of choice in Obama's actions is irrelevant and impossible to determine anyway. But we know he's responsible for killing. We know this is evil because our bodies tell us and we listen. We know that he wants to control and dominate and subjugate, etc. To hell with that mass-murderer. I mean the real Obama, not the caricature who's deviously surveying the same world we are and choosing evil.

*Take out the word human and there's a definition of violence. Violence happens when a force halts, retards, redirects the autonomy of another force.     

**Some sects raise kids on the Bible. The kids get used to the crazy. Catholicism raises kids to think God loves them as long as they're obedient and to think Jesus is groovy. They don't emphasize the Bible. You have to be really smart to twist the Bible into a love-y message so it needs to be left to experts.