Saturday, September 22, 2012

eery parallels between bible faith and obama faith

The following is surely too simple, too progressive, too Hegelian, too half-assed. Only the first and last of these are long-standing problems of mine, I hope. But I was thinking on lesser evilism and Obama-ism and taxonomizing some stages whereby a person who believes in things like Obama's human decency that have been exposed as contradictory retreats from their original position only to set up a new line of defense elsewhere and I saw an easy crossover to religious belief.

Here's the bones:

1. true belief
2. external circumstances as excuse
3. OK, OK, it's not perfect (it's complicated)
4. holding onto a very tiny thread
5. freedom

Here's the meat (just a little; half an ass, remember?):

What is the Bible? 
The Bible is the Word of God, 100% pure truth and goodness.

conservative Christians
The authors of the Bible did the best they possibly could given the level of human knowledge at the time. Let's be realistic, it couldn't have been written better given those conditions.

liberal Christians
OK, the sexism and racism (and certain other things I'm not quite prepared to describe with complete honesty) are a little disturbing. Things have been brought to my attention that I can't explain away with context. Some real head scratchers in there. But...(apology, apology).

Unitarian Universalist
The Bible is loaded with stories of rape and genocide carried out by the protagonists. On the other hand, though I consider myself an atheist, it's not like I can just stop going to Church.


Who is Obama?
Democrat fundamentalist
Obama is perfect.

Obama is doing the best he possibly can considering the obstacles, particularly the evil Republicans, corporations; it's the system, man. He needs to give in a little here so he can get the big victories there. Under the circumstances, this is the best anyone could possibly do.

somewhat disappointed pragmatist
Obama isn't perfect. There are things I can't explain away with context though I won't call them by their name. He has made mistakes. I wish he'd cut defense spending more [sic], for example, or take a less hawkish approach to Iran and its nuclear weapons program [sic]. But...(apology, apology).

Obama is a war criminal who is completely owned by Wall Street, just a terrible human being, but he's not quite as bad as the other guy. Yes, he's 99.9% as bad, but that .1% difference demands my nose-holding vote. Though I consider myself an anarchist, it's not like I can just stop going to the voting booth.*


*I'm not entirely convinced of my own point here. And for the record that no one's keeping, I'm quite pro-Noam in general because I see 99% of his arrogance being directed at the worst of the worst.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

moral outrage part II

Agency, as I understand it, is phenomenological. It's the body as experienced, or what a normal person might call "subjective" (a term best avoided, I think, because it's set against "objective" in an unfortunate Cartesian legacy dichotomy). The agent is me, right now, and the way I choose how to be, a competition for self-perpetuation in my body between different patterns of world.

To place demands on other humans to act in a way that conforms to certain rational patterns, call them principles, developed in my mind in order to make me feel better, is something I'm surely OK with but, epistemologically, it takes some serious leaping.  

When I select someone as a target for my moral outrage, an Obama, say, it's, first of all, because they caused someone harm and secondly, because from my perspective, it could have easily not happened. If the harmer had simply been me, it wouldn't have.

I assume that Obama and I have most of the same hardwiring and are genetically both capable of drone bombing or blogging against drone bombing. He chose drone bombing. Because he's evil? I chose the other thing. Because I'm good?

There's only pain and pleasure and the causing of these by highly embrained animals. Forces that self-perpetuated in me failed to do so in him and vice versa. Where was "I" when all this was happening?

to be continued, hopefully...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

moral outrage

As a rule, beliefs that feel good deserve the most skepticism. Humans will always believe the best story their cognitive dissonance can handle.

Victim's rage feels good. I don't mean victimization feels good, of course, I mean a response to it that doesn't accept blame feels good. Screaming, punching, reading blog rants, what have you.  

Whether one is actually a victim or not in the broadest sense has little or nothing to do with the feeling of rage at having been victimized. The (further) destruction of Afghanistan in response to 9/11 was a case of victim's rage, even as that rage ignored the broader context in which America is the greatest victimizer of its time. The point being that the feeling is essentially the same whether you've actually been victimized or not. If the technology were available, I suspect it would look the same, or almost, on a brainscan.

Victim's rage is a lashing out at the thing that caused pain. The concept of agency is a way to justify this rage, to put the victim in the right on some cosmic or metaphysical level. Agency is an act of imagination.

"He knew what he was doing. He hurt me because he wanted me to suffer. He chose to do it." This is eerily similar to the evildoing Muslims haunting American dreams. "They hate us for our freedoms. They want us to suffer for no good reason." The evil victimizer who wants you to suffer can be hated. The hurricane that destroyed your house cannot. Convenient.

At the very least, I think agency as an intellectual construct should be seen as secondary, as a justification.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Obama as the GM of Team America

Maybe not the perfect analogy but...

The Red Sox have a huge revenue stream and decided to use it to sign a bunch of big-name vets to lengthy contracts. What are we supposed to do with this money, just let it sit there, they thought?

The U.S. has an enormous military and decides how to spend their weapons. What are we supposed to with all this destructive power, just let it sit there, they thought?

The Red Sox regretted some of those contracts. Carl Crawford was the biggest mistake. They ended up dumping Crawford on the Dodgers and absorbing a lot of his salary. They took a loss but at least they got out. Whoops, try again next year.

So I'm thinking Obama sees Iran as a 34 year-old future Hall of Famer who wants a $200 million dollar, 8-year deal. Intriguing, but the price isn't right.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chris Rock's lesser evilism

How many mistakes can you pack into 26 words? Not as many as Chris Rock.
If you vote against Obama because he can't get stuff done, it's kind of like saying, "this guy can't cure cancer. I'm gonna vote for cancer." 
The my hero fallacy: Rock assumes that Obama is trying to do good things (like fix America!) but gosh darn it, it's hard. I explained here the common, almost universal mistake of seeing politicians as one's own protagonist. In short, the salesman isn't trying to give you a good deal, he's trying to give himself a good deal so he's not failing when he rips you off. The advertiser isn't trying to help you lead a fulfilling life, so he's not failing when you buy something it's not in your interests to buy. The cheetah isn't failing to do a good job of letting all the gazelles run free and so on.

Strawman: No principled Obama critic (the ones Rock is going after here) is concerned about Obama's imperfection. The charge is that he regularly does terrible things like murdering by drone and torturing whistleblowers. The charge is that he is actively evil. The strawman relies on the my hero fallacy.

Obama's passivity: Every bad thing Obama seems to have done was actually done by Republicans. They're cancer. He's fighting them, sometimes unsuccessfully. If you start with the assumption that Obama is the protagonist, this hero-with-his-hands-tied theory may be the best way to make sense of Obama's actions. So work back and re-examine that premise because Obama went out of his way to become the most powerful man in the world and once in office, has gone out of his way to punish whistleblowers, Gitmo detainees, first responders to his own drone attacks, etc. And not just because Republicans will call him a pussy if he doesn't, which would be far beyond bad enough. No, the Obama administration has been the leading edge of the sword more often than not. Did Republicans push him to declare the right to kill anyone on the planet at any time for any reason whatsoever? I could browse Glenn Greenwald's archives and post dozens more examples but you shouldn't need more than that one.


So that was my first take to this quote, which I think captures lesser evilism as well as it can be captured and, so, deserves scrutiny. I left it unposted for a few days because it was only 95% done and I was busy. Second take:

A lot of expats in Japan will go out of their way, in trying to show how racist and regressive the Japanese government is, to compare it to the U.S. government, with the latter as the example of how things should be. Readers of this blog (hey, you three!) don't  need me to explain the problem with making the U.S. your ideal on anti-racism issues. But it's just easier, or for whatever reason more appealing, to think dichotomously. Forget Obama's 11 dimensional chess, how about some 2+ dimensional chess? How about starting with principles and then seeing whose actions match up with them? Japan is racist as hell. The U.S. is racist as hell. Fuck both of them. Hitler's evil in no way mitigated Stalin's evil.

OK, here's this, my pithiest and best response. The Republicans are cancer. Got it. Agreed. This does not mean the Democrats are anti-cancer. The Democrats are not even 99% cancer, as last stage lesser evilism contends (before dying). The Democrats are AIDS.