Tag Archives: Culture

A Positive Agenda, 2012 to 2022

During Spring cleaning, I recently came across a surprising artifact from ten years ago: a 20-page letter-sized mailer from Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

This is interesting to me for a number of reasons. I save campaign literature for a reference file, in recent years, but this was before all that and I completely forgot about it. I must have shoved it into the end of a shelf, for whatever reason, shortly after I moved into this apartment. It is quite a campaign piece. Well designed, but just big! Again, 20 pages! Whatever small fortune they spent on creative, and even printing, mailing these things was a bundle.

I think this is also an interesting historic artifact, already, and maybe a useful centerpiece for the latest in my usual musings on an unworkable political system.

Shortly before stumbling upon this brochure, I was thinking about how every election is now pitched by both parties as an emergency scramble to defend our values, our rights, our basic safety from destruction. This is intolerable, but among the various reasons that it continues nonetheless, what positive vision is there, these days?

Despite its title, “The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security” feels like the product of a well-established tradition, perhaps even a peak of the tradition’s refinement just before decadence and rot.

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Perspective on Groupthink

A recent thread by Kamil Galeev is so amazingly good. People are familiar with the concept of “groupthink,” yet Galeev essentially proposes that this is not so much an error into which people can fall, as it is the normal human default, from which exceptions are possible but very challenging, and that there are reasons which explain why this is the case.

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The Empire never ended

“The Empire never ended” is a phrase which recurs throughout Philip K. Dick’s surreal testament/novel VALIS. Like the novel itself, the phrase has stuck with me; in the novel it refers primarily to the Roman Empire and discontinuity with the flow of time, but I at any rate also inferred a broader reference to futility and fatalism.

Whether or to what extent that was the author’s intent, it occurred to me this week that both significances are compatible with the actual persistence of the Roman Empire in the 21st century.

This struck me especially when I looked at a Wikipedia page, about the French parliament, which displayed an ornamented fasces labeled “Emblem of the French Republic.” Now, Wikipedia’s entry for the fasces itself traces this back through Roman civilization to Greek and Etruscan origins, which I will presume is historically sound. But that doesn’t exactly falsify the sense of such continuity, across millennia, as to suggest that the Empire never ended.

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How and When Do Phenomena Become Reality

I’m thinking a bit about how things become real to our culture, and what seems like a process. If there is anything here I’m only at the beginning of working it out.

What set me thinking about this, now, is the “discovery” last weekend that Russia was committing evil acts, abominable acts, war crimes, in Ukraine. Here are just a few things which preceded that early April “discovery.”

  • February 28: “Kharkiv under intense shelling by Russian artillery now. Civilian objects are targeted. Preliminary reports indicate dozens of casualties.”
  • March 1: US Secretary of State Blinken says that Russian strikes “are hitting schools, hospitals & residential buildings. Civilian buses, cars, and even ambulances have been shelled. Russia is doing this every day—across Ukraine.”
  • March 3: Video verified by The New York Times shows the bombardment of Chernihiv, Ukraine, near apartments, pharmacies and a hospital.
  • March 6: Russian forces fired mortar shells at hundreds of Ukrainian civilians as they fled.
  • March 7: Red Cross says an evacuation route out of Mariupol in Ukraine was mined.
  • March 9: WHO reports at least 18 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine since the start of the invasion; also on March 9, Russian forces bombed a maternity and children’s hospital.

I could go on, easily. On March 23, the US government formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. Also of course back in February Russia launched an unprovoked and unjustifiable military invasion of Ukraine—no pretexts, no puppets, just over the border with guns in hand—which is pretty much the most essential war crime of all.

But last weekend all kinds of people were shocked to discover that Russia was committing evil acts, abominable acts, war crimes.

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The Thing that outlived midcentury conformism

The Fantastic Four including Ben Grimm, aka “The Thing,” have been around for a little more than 60 years now. I have no more than a very limited idea what has gone on with the character during the most recent third of that.

But something occurred to me yesterday, which seems interesting enough to note. Did the original concept of The Thing, as a character tortured by his transformation into a monster, rely on a conformist culture which is now very obsolete—and has the character concept evolved in response?

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New Wild West

Apparently The Prophet Jewel’s vision from 21 years ago is now officially here.

So we write to our congressmen
With bleeding pens of the sorrow within
And in return they just send
Tickets to the latest Tom Hanks show

Welcome to the new Wild West
Each man for himself
Civilized steeples
And lonely people
Welcome to the new

As for me
I’ve been petty and unkind
But I know my own mind
And since it seems clear
There’s no one leading us here

The only thing left it appears
Is to task ourselves to be better each time
Then those before us

History is what happens while you’re making plans

Yesterday on Twitter, someone posted in a thread that: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” While attributed in this case and quite frequently to Franklin Roosevelt, I’m not surprised to find this morning that the attribution appears spurious. I have not spent all that many years personally engaged in politics, but bumbling seems much more typical than something happening as a result of planned activity.*

That seems to apply to… a lot, actually, as the past year has been demonstrating in big ways.

It isn’t just that no one seems to have a credible theory of the case. Republican elites probably come closest, with their states-and-courts strategy for hollowing out democracy—while abhorrent it’s a strategy and it’s working—but even they seem to have a tiger by the tail. This looks like a disciplined, functioning strategy in comparison with most other political activity, much of which is ritual people just repeat because humans are that way. Calls, postcards, zingers online, letters to the editor; dance the ghost dance, shake the magic gourds, chant the word “bipartisan” again and again and again and again.

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Rule of (Brandolini’s) Law

Brandolini’s Law: the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it (Alberto Brandolini, 2013).

This is one example of the problems that I just don’t think America can realistically contain with policy at this point.

The frequent heading of “disinformation” does not quite get to the scale of what’s in motion, in my opinion. In the big picture, the disruptors* are engaged in mythmaking. I don’t think any lesser word conveys the full scope of various related efforts to delegitimize negative facts and create deeply held contrary convictions. The mystery-funded Cyber Ninjas “audit” in Arizona “is a new kind of political ritual, whose purpose exists beyond reason or consensus or fact.” Its purpose is, it seems obvious, to further the myth of a stolen election.

This is not completely new, though. Similar origins produced the “birther” lie in response to Obama’s election, and while I don’t recall many Republicans disputing Bill Clinton’s election per se back in the 1990s, they were at work weaving the fundamental myth that all Democrats are inherently an Other who cannot legitimately govern “real Americans.”

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Nonbinary Generation

I’m 42 years old and not really with-it, or hip, or anything like that. Yet it does seem like a grassroots conceptual revolution has gotten underway in a relatively short time, when it comes to sex and gender. The rise of nonbinary identification seems like it is gathering pace especially rapidly.

Personally I can definitely describe myself as gendernonconforming, which is a pretty broad category given what rigid expectations of gender norms still prevail in our culture. There is no obvious reason why nail polish, my most public demonstration of this, is so much associated with a specific sex only, but it is. (The only comments on my nails to date have all been positive, but not everywhere is Lakewood.) Nonbinary might also be applicable, but the term feels so new that I wonder if I understand properly.

Recently I caught up with a Generation X friend who has two gendernonconforming children, the older of whom identifies as nonbinary and has adopted they/them pronouns. It was only during our conversation that I realized how recently I have had any real awareness of nonbinary status as more than an abstract concept. I heard another acquaintance mention one of his children identifying as nonbinary, some time in 2018 or 2019. So, maybe three years. A lot has happened during the past three years, but that’s still not a long time compared with four decades.

A few thoughts about this for whatever they’re worth.

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The Republican Cartel

This is as good a summary of any of the majority of what I post here these days:

Just so. Yet, our institutions, our narratives, our culture all expect a legitimate political party in that space, and can’t seem to adapt. (Most adults just don’t seem to respond to information which challenges their beliefs, at all, and often don’t even respond to experiences which challenge them.)

Journalism can’t seem to communicate that Republicans are pursuing a coordinated nationwide campaign to “get rid of the ballots,” literally. Coverage refuses to see any large pattern, and consistently describes individual actions of disenfranchisement as e.g. “hardball” or “playing rough.” Apparently that’s all that Jim Crow ever was? Actually impossible to pass “literacy tests” and other schemes which outright blocked African Americans from voting were simply “playing rough,” huh.

Of course, once it’s normalized for a candidate to “win” despite inarguably getting fewer votes than an opposing candidate … a culture has begun down a very dangerous slippery slope. Once this happens, and is accepted as legitimate, what frontier or limit is there to preserve democracy?