Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Online Blackout Day [SOPA STRIKE]


Don't Let U.S. Media Megacorporations
(or Government)
Kill Online Freedom of Speech

This is the only public post that will be visible on my Facebook or blog pages for Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012, in protest of unconstitutional online domain-blocking/censorship legislation. If you have not already seen and signed the petition linked above, please read and consider it now - and/or contact your Congressperson via this link here - because the Internet that you are used to seeing in all its activity here and elsewhere will not exist if either SOPA or PIPA pass into law as massive media conglomerates are pressuring.

I have studied arts/entertainment law - "anti-piracy" being the supposed basis for this legislation - and this law (under either docket name) has no teeth to curb /actual/ IP piracy/theft on a global scale (since it is focused on "U.S. aimed" websites), but a good deal of threat to harass and quash all manner of nonprofit fair-use: demo covers and karaoke videos, fan and tribute videos, socially-shared news articles/excerpts, fan fiction, obscure films/clips that are out of commercial distribution - and practically any material, be it entertainment or factual information, that either media companies or governmental entities do not want distributed to the general American public. It denies due process absolutely, indefinitely, and without recourse for injury; it claims the right to punish entire domains (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, etc.) for even single "alleged" user infractions of copyright/IP law by blocking them, rerouting their online traffic, and freezing their financial transactions - and this controversy is being swept under the carpet by the mainstream and primetime broadcast media whose parent companies are behind the proposed legislation.

These media megacorporations are counting on people's loyalty and ignorance to maintain their commercial profits (and increase their gain from legal settlements) despite this gross betrayal and evasion of public dialogue. Ultimately it is a stupid attempt to kill the very goose that lays their golden eggs in this peer-to-peer and intentionally-communal online age....even assuming a short-term gain in profits due to scaring away all non-profit usage/sharing of material, the forecast is that - as people are (hopefully) not idiots, they will eventually refrain from consuming for-profit-only entertainment as they realize that it has treated them all as potential criminals rather than as loyal or supportive audiences at all.

I believe in the right of all artists to be duly recognized and earn compensation for their creative work. I do /not/ believe in the right of corporations or government entities to censor creative or political expression merely because it does not give them instant money and/or support them unconditionally. The "marketplace of ideas," ironically, is one of the least-free and least-respected aspects of civilization in this capitalist society, because of the modern demand that all activity be directly translatable into financial gain or loss as a "property" - a concept which in itself goes against the grain of both nature and the entire course of pre-Industrial creative and technological history. These present demands of entrenched media-monopolists go too far, and what is at stake is freedom of speech itself - political /and/ creative; entrepreneurial, educational, and social. And that is a fundamental freedom that we as a nation and as humans cannot afford to lose, regardless of anyone's profit-driven paranoia.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Stockupocalyptic musings and the fall of civilization (*already in progress)

[Original private blogpost dated 8/3/11 at 2:51 am]

I don't think I've ever in this life had a more existentially, cosmically depressing experience as shopping at Borders this past Saturday - the same store that I'd been so glad about when it opened in my hometown, so close and convenient and comprehensive in its offerings and possibilities, now with its shelves and bins being picked over and falling into disorder, no point seen in reorganizing them or even putting things back in their stated category for the benefit of other scavengers. Not quite anarchy overall, but something slower and sadder and less energetic - picking through the carcass for what is worth buying at last, for the last. One sees how others value things - or not: the clearance prices placed, the discounts announced on the signage on the gradually-entropic shelves, what is ransacked or decimated and what still remains to be chosen or left, to survive or be "liquidated." Which, at this moment of writing, strikes me as a hint of Arrakis...except that that fictional culture has far more of a sense of its own values and priorities than this one does.

The music bins - no point in looking thoroughly for anything by alphabet or genre...the space where the soundtracks A through L might generally be is filled with random DVDs, and the letters are scattered here and there amidst the other side of that shelving. I'm slightly curious about a few things, perhaps - hmm, Season 4 music of Doctor Who? - Season Two of Merlin on DVD? - but as an investment for which one must yet pay? The ends of the sections are the most stable, I suppose - I see Tom Waits maintaining his place in what would be the W-to-Zs - but the system is breaking down inexorably, the cafe closed forever, no raison d'etre for the polite unspoken rituals of browsing, and long-gone as well, it seems, are the old headphones by which one might aurally sample and taste before committing oneself to buy. I cannot guess at music at a time like this - not even certain of the John Rutter w/ Cambridge Singers CD in the "Christmas in July" bins. At a buck apiece or less (1.00/CDs, 0.50/audiocassettes) in the backroom of the local thrift store, I may indulge in all sort of eclectic acquisitions, but this is serious commerce still, even in its downfall.

One sees in the DVDs how some relative value is still imposed despite the general discount: the archaic, truly-obscure or market-oversaturated ones are at 9.99, those with slightly more prestige (ah, but I already own The Prestige since the local Blockbuster's clearance sale earlier this year, and got it for 5.99...) are at 14.99, and those which are generally-renowned "classics" or popular newer releases are as high as 26.99 listed - that for Doctor Zhivago, though I believe The King's Speech is 5.00 more because it is both a Best Picture and of recent make (and thus current popularity for its cast).

I peruse them, murmuring to myself, and select a few: ones that make sense for now, ones that I know will be good whether I've seen them before or know them only by clips and/or repute. It takes me a minute or so of slightly invective-laced self-debate before I finally add on one of the two remaining copies of what I tend to refer to as "the most depressing movie ever made" - which I haven't actually ever yet seen in full...previously to this, for the record, The Hunger was holder of that particular title, and is still at least the runner-up for its scenes of inexorable and graphic decay. I think that decay is a theme. It is also an enemy.

And this is a scene of war. People may or may not recognize it as such, as they move through the stacks, if they even come. I remember the midnight release party here for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - yes, I came to that; I even came in costume, and had preordered my copy online. Contents and circumstances: the one a celebration of anticipation and shared sense of community, and this an apologetic funeral, without positive outlooks or even community to bind to. This could have been a center of intelligent life in my hometown still - it could have stayed relevant, it could have made itself more vital, more connected. Is it the fault of bad business planning alone that sunk it? - or the inexpensive ease of buying online and going right to what one wants and/or the search engine suggests, without the niggling hand of regional taxation demanding an automatic share? - or the migration of some critical mass of readers to e-books as the next big thing, however sparse in their selection compared to the total realm of publishing? Physical publishing will suffer as a species - that much has been written on the wall, because without a certain preponderance of physical places to browse and select what might catch one's fancy, paper-publishing houses will bet only on the most sure horses when it comes to stocking shelves. Print-on-demand and self-publishing, although still a definite sector, will be driven almost entirely through social media, even if the traditional book tours and signings still happen in actual physical bookstores. Brick-and-mortar music stores no longer stand on their own recognizance - book sections in larger stores, as we know, are restricted by what the retailer approves of. Specialty books are likely to retreat to specialty stores for their guaranteed effective niches, though accessibility and cultural demographics are likely to be problematic. The one thing that that large and comprehensive bookstores have, which social media assiduously prevents and libraries possess only by virtue of community tolerance and valuation, is the possibility of encountering and tasting - without searching specifically for it - material that challenges and opens one's existing experience and worldview. The element of chance, of change, of random (or serendipitous) exploration. A bookstore that serves only the already-likeminded is no different than a Facebook feed showing only the posts and the ads that you and your 'friends' like - homogeneity breeds homogeneity. 'People who bought this book also tended to buy these books'...peer recommendations, in the absence of being able to randomly dowse and scan through books unprohibitedly on one's own. Does it make any difference to you? - that completely depends on what kind of a reader and what kind of a person you are. If you don't appreciate that experience in the first place, then you're probably not going to miss it. But the most intelligent and thoughtful readers are those who are open to exploration, and it is the breadth of content available for exploration that tends to breed and sustain that kind of circumspection and discerning openmindedness. Just as with the deliberate reduction of language and therefore the available range/nuance of thought and emotion in Orwell's 1984, the deliberate or inadvertant narrowing of ambient exposure to literature (as with all media) inevitably has an effect upon one's mentality and the possible range of acceptable truths - whether factual or fictional in vehicle. Is this a covert strategy to heighten the inertia of intolerant and/or ignorant minds? - are there darker currents at play here? I would tend not to doubt it - but then, I am a pattern-seer and analytical by nature, and therefore I do see more possible meanings than most people will allow themselves to entertain without linking themselves to a single diehard theory. Afterall, there can be many meanings happening at once, all of them concurrently valid and bundled in a running braid.

Does that mean that all of my purchases were ultra-deep and pointedly intellectual? Not by half, actually, though all of them have their 'investment value' in my eyes. I already have a sizeable library amassed when it comes to significant literature, and copious quantities also of literature that others might not find quite so significant. But I collect on the basis of what I myself find, not what others think of it. "Browsing and dowsing" is my way of finding new books, along with following the trails of homage and reference and themes between otherwise-separate works and authors and genres and disciplines. Search engines can only assist one so far in that - the process with me is necessarily both active and intuitive, as opposed to the encouraged/enabled trend to be a passive recipient of technically-targeted in-network advertising based on one's gathered preferences, with deliberate searching for an already-known object or keyword being the most consciously active task. Mental self-reinforcement is not just a base psychological tendency or defense-reaction, but the way that commerce and consumption are increasingly engineered, to deliver advertising as effectively as possible to those apparently primed to accept it. Be a sheep to any sector or demographic profile and you'll have your comfy reassuring niche of community and concerns; be diverse, unpredictable and irreducible, on the other hand, and you'll have no stable place to lay your head...not that I'd entrust my head to an ad-generator anyhow, mind you...

But this is the future that I see, increasingly bereft of the elements of actual mental stimulation, as niche marketing - with or without a popular mainstream of "bestsellers" to refer to - erases the field of recreational literary exploration for all but actively intrepid readers. Genres will become closed enclaves unto themselves again without aisles to wander and real books to peruse as one chooses - eventually, the very concept of a "bestseller" is likely to become irrelevant to the general population, for good or ill, and mainstream popular fame to be found only once a book or story reaches the point of film production or television series, at which point its advertising exposure just might take it out of target-demographic categories...then again, that depends on the TV/cable stations and their angles, and on the targeting of in-theatre (or not) film trailers to likely audiences, and on the insularity of social networks, and all the other such factors of calculation and closed community.

But what does it matter to a civilization anyhow, whether its structures of shared communication, mental language and cultural self-reference break apart into Balkanized factions serviced by all the obliging and dedicated mechanisms of post-physical self-segregation? What does it matter whether we have have any shared cultural watershed at all, so long as each "community" can have what it wants and only what it wants automatically delivered to its members' eyes and ears and minds? Debates over what can be said and taught in public schools will go on; the much-feared exposure of young minds to diverse points of view will go on, at least in such colleges that offer the so-called "liberal arts" (so called because they used to be areas of study deemed useful and necessary to free persons - those not enslaved or indentured/apprenticed to a limited trade or menial role in life)...but outside of those places and wherever they can be avoided, the terminal specialization and decentralization of modern culture goes on, even with the illusions of greater "community" granted by nominally being on the same social networks, video-sharing sites and other online mega-applications. We are all more connected than ever, but we are more deeply separated; we are globally visible and yet unseen unless sought for.

As with books, films, music, art - creative releases of any kind - so with us, each in our own shelves and categories as they all move farther and farther apart...and who will come to look for us (for any good reason) or follow our trails of connection and theme, except for the purpose of trying to sell us something? This, to borrow words I've found (also by roaming serendipity) and found useful, is a war between curiosity and ignorance - and those who are not curious will be aided and abetted in their ignorance, be it innocent or willful, even if all things and all knowledge are available at one's fingertips.

It is also and at the same time a war between meaningful structure and anarchic chaos, with the seeming paradox of being rooted in the most complex structures and algorithms imaginable - so much in the way of technical order and calculations that there is no meaning left between the lines - even with the recent effort to restore some sense of context to otherwise-literal Boolean search engines. "The center cannot hold" - there is no center, there is no meaning or consensus to appeal to, no heart or other vital center of debate and hammering out of truth by common understandings and foundations. The town square, as some call it, does not exist in any functional sense online, no matter how many comment threads and online petitions and polls one may take part in. Even with factual news and Snopes at hand, online truth is a highly relativistic concept. Meaning, there is no generally-accepted meaning - and nowhere that it can be argued to general resolution.

The idea of "agreeing to disagree," one might say, is a rule that has been so far enforced upon the very workings of the Internet, since it provides only the framework for others to add both content and their own self-designated centers of interaction. And the only alterations from that are hardly in the direction of facilitating greater confrontation but rather that of quashing dissent and/or blocking out controversial matter. Rather like large-chain bookstores/retailers stocking only books that agree with their own ideological or social slant - not that Borders has been immune to that, as in the post-9/11 leadup to war it took public pressure and actual customer ordering of copies to get them (locally at least) to stock Iraq Under Siege as any hint of balance to the flagwaving, warmongering and military idol-worship of other books prominently displayed en masse in their stores.

This self-segregation cannot be wholly undone, nor would it be wise to break all online barriers of intentional community indiscriminately. Those who do wish to subvert it with any effectiveness must pick their battles and tactics carefully, rather than just coming in as partycrashers, which is bound to bolster defensiveness and rouse claims of victimhood from their adversaries. Just as all social media is a tool to find those who are likeminded to one's interests and views, it can also be used to preserve connections with whose who are just in moderate disagreement, so that there is at least the chance for conversation and some degree of focused argument on issues that arise. In the greater picture, though, I see the widening divisions of worldview as being too great to overcome by rational online discourse - that is, ideological perspectives will tend to remain self-insulated and always have a safe place to reinforce themselves, both online and off, until direct confrontation is inevitable in the physical realm of actual consequences. And for some, I think it will be a relief to come to that point of open conflict...there's something like a longing for Armageddon there, to finally, finally have it out, knowing completely who stands for what and having the battle-lines completely drawn - and not just have it be the proverbial tempest in a teacup of forum/comment-thread argument. All this self-specialization is fermenting the extremes, making opinions more diehard, facts more malleable to desires, reality more than ever a social construct and arguably quite often a shared delusion in whole or in part. But whose interpretation is actually "the truth" - or even which delusions are simply more true than others - is something that cannot and will not be played out until this ferment of self-segregation has reached a breaking point in offline reality - when the social fabric is too frayed, the feelings too strong, the chasms too wide for us to co-exist without conflict's revelation.

Not that all this fatalistic train of thought is passing through my mind as I browse and ponder and select...mainly just the melancholy, the sense of mourning - feeling the loss of the real connections, whether or not they'd been well-used while we had them in their heyday. It will be a bit harder from now on for us to discover what we need - even though it has never been easier to find what we want.

I scan through world history and snap up a book on Greek explorations and wanderings of the Homeric hero-era; skim an ancient biography that catches my eye but by both certain passages and its original date of publication is both incomprehensive and prejudiced...still somewhat intrigued - we'll see if it's still there when I go back for one last foray. "Once more unto the breach"- a little short of sacking cities, and a mercy to take what one can. The libraries and what they hold must be valued now - they are the best place to find without seeking, and their sharing nature itself is a challenge and a goad to this jealous, proprietary, multi-insular world. And without the flood of variety in physical book-publishing to choose from, selection and retention in public library collections is likely to become a more pointed and contentious issue. How do we choose what is worth having on hand? -how do we choose what we will support and will even endorse as truth or as creative treasure? These are the decisions we're faced with more acutely now, with unprecedented profusion of works and yet so little means to gather and hold them, and so much implicit pressure to pare everything down. My private library's like an ark and always has been - always this sense of gathering against some coming tide of knowledge's devaluation, preparing for needs not yet fully understood, trying to understand as deeply as possible all the best and the worst within humanity - and the possibilities to which it may be and has been led. Classics and popular fiction, fantasy and fact and lore, all having in them something worthwhile or else I would not keep them by me...and even some of my own ideological adversaries' "scriptures," acquired in one way or another without direct contact or purchase, because one must know one's enemies rather than ignoring them, even though it is so easy to ignore many sides of reality if one wishes. Spiritual positivists, for example, often exhort one to avoid negativity in all possible forms and media, as if it were some kind of a mental toxin...perhaps it may be, to some, but this is also the excuse for their own kind of cultural self-insulation - the idea that willful ignorance/avoidance of all negativity or conflict is bliss. It's not just crooked wingnuts who censor and skew their awareness of reality...

There are 2012 calendars for sale already - why am I surprised at this when I notice them on hand? Everything seasonal is produced at least half a year early now - just like the bins of Christmas music and holiday-themed DVDs, these must have been moved in out of the wings when the dissolution was announced. I fall into a veritable daze of deliberation as I peruse them, flipping through them and debating what is the best choice for me, the right imagery and focus for my surroundings and my framing of longterm time - which is, after all, why I keep a wall calendar in my bedroom. There is no perfect choice: I vacillate between several in my short list, but none of them combine enough of what I want in aesthetic effect with enough absence of what tends to irk me in the way of perceivable slant or didactic pressure. The one I consider longest, though, is a quasi-apocalyptic Christo-Pagan calendar with Celtic-style illuminations and a pointed emphasis on protecting and reconnecting with the Earth for the sake of our own survival through these times. The main reason that I leave it unbought (by myself, though I do think it a good idea) is that it is a bit heavy-handed in both messages and well as that I have several of my own calendar ideas that need to be put out into reality themselves. I'm a creator by nature, not just a consumer - whatever I take in from the rest of the world always spurs me to make more of what is mine in vision. I select a leatherbound 2012 dayplanner instead; the wall calendar question is put off so far as purchasing goes, and I make a mental note to get started designing (and carry through firmly) the projects I already have in mind.

The magazine section has the most frenetic sense of being timebound and urgent, as well as the most friction of disparate subjects - Renaissance Fairs, Gothic style, health and fitness, motorcycles, tattoos (and scantily-clad pinups therewith), writers' resources and advice. Since I hardly ever buy magazines at newsstand prices, the only reason I'd buy one at the moment would be for current professional usefulness or for some collectible value...neither purpose finds fit material though, despite my wandering the few rows of the section with what would otherwise - i.e., without the rather-transparent distress were I not wearing sunglasses - be my typical "wonders of modern civilization" look, which probably gets its best cinematic demonstration from Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000. As it is, this would be my "horrors of post-modern civilization (or what passes for it)" look, newly discovered for the occasion and in evidence more-or-less since I arrived, though at its peak of intensity both here and previously while noting the disarray of the music section. I skim quickly through a horror film mag, gleaning what is worth gleaning from its interviews...if there were something in this transient genre that showed some lasting worth, perhaps I'd bite, but I feel no sufficient impulse to take any one of these home. There's nothing I need here - the prices are too high for what value I place on them right now. And so this process of evaluation, its episodes laid out in rambling order, draws to its close.

At least for now, as I leave with several heavy-laden bags and this continuing strange sense of existential shock throughout the day's remainder. I do intend to return and see what's left before the close, what better deals I might find to justify a few more acquisitions. We are all scavengers, though some of us scavenge with more of a conscious purpose here - acutely conscious, on my part. I think too much: it's the one complaint that others most tend to have against me, that I am always thinking, always analyzing, never content to just sit back and enjoy a mindless entertainment mindlessly. But there is quite enough to think about in this situation, and around it and after the fact of the experience, and with all that's been said and being said now - no, this is not just all in my head.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who stands on the moral high ground now?

Just a word meanwhile, to everyone who voted for Proposition 8 and and all its sibling ballot measures without being confused by the legal wording:

Shame on you. Shame on you .

You may feel that you don't deserve that term -- but you do. You may think that you were doing God's work (or something of the sort) -- but you weren't. You may think that you were defending society, but you were only helping in the attempt to drag it backwards, to make it less fair and not more -- less virtuous and not more. Resting on the laurels of your heterosexuality (for honestly, what self-respecting queers would vote against the happiness and wellbeing of those like themselves?), you thought yourselves entitled to pass judgement against the rights of others.

Now, in a courtroom trial it requires a unanimous vote to convict for a crime, and in an impeachment it takes two-thirds of the Senate to get a President out of office. But in California you dare to think that a simple and deliberately-misinformed majority represents the will of the people in curtailing the advancement of rights for an entire swath of citizens?

Shame. You have earned it. Let it sink in a bit -- you have been the agents, the pawns at best, of hate and fear and intolerance against people who have done you no harm, posed you no threat. The government was never going to force gay weddings into your churches (separation of church and state, remember that?), or take away any legal right you ever possessed, or even say that you weren't still "normal" and the cultural default way of living that most people assume. You were never at any risk of losing anything, yet you claimed the tenuous right to take away the short-lived rights of others, who are different from you in no other way but the composition of their relationships. How dare you argue that your prejudices are not prejudices, that your bigotry is not really bigotry, and that you shouldn't be socially criticised or thought "uncool" for taking action that deprives others of rights that you yourselves take for granted. Beliefs and personal dislikes and squidginesses are one thing, people -- but to vote your prejudices into law over others' lives?

You are wrong and you were wrong. You are bigots, regardless of all claimed shades of gray, to the extent that you cast your vote against another's domestic happiness and stability, another's well-being, another's dignity which they had fully earned on their own account, owing nothing to your good will or mere toleration of their existence.

You may have done it out of ingrained ignorance, or fear of some inevitable progression of moral decay, or some personal experience that made you willing to condemn all similar people for the actions of one person. Or maybe you're just old and set in your ways as to what the world ought to be like, and no one can budge you from claiming to know what's best for everyone. You may have done it because your pastor told you to, or because of those nice wholesome television commercials that only spoke of "defending" marriage, rather than defensively and selfishly withholding it -- which is all that this was ever intended to accomplish. You have done nothing praiseworthy, nothing honourable, nothing deserving of respect; rather, you have set your actions down on the dark side of history. And you deserve to feel guilty about it.

You could have kept your opinions in the realm of opinion, your social attitudes in the realm of agreement to disagree, behaving like decent mature people who can tolerate the existence of things in the world that you don't necessarily support or feel comfortable with. After all, you yourselves may very well be merely civilly tolerated by others who disagree with you. But when some smooth-talking, God-&-tradition-invoking PACs came your way telling you that it was okay to be prejudiced, that you shouldn't feel ashamed of wanting other people kept away from what you have -- why did you believe them, unless you had the sin of bigotry inside of you already?

Yes, the sin of it, and perhaps even the awareness of that sin. Knowing that what you felt did not deserve the dignity of being made into law, but still longing to be reassured, coddled, pandered to, made to feel comfortably righteous in your self-righteousness...afterall, it's never morally abhorrent to judge any minority's rights, because if they were really justified then they'd have the majority on their side already. Wouldn't they? Shouldn't everyone have to wait for their equal treatment under the law until it can no longer disturb popular sensibilities?

Now try applying that to some minority situation that doesn't conveniently have sexuality involved to make social puritanism sound so appealing. Where do you think you land on that one, except right on your own doorstep with some zealot claiming that the law of the land ought to uphold his personal discomfort with your existence or presence in society?

See, people, this is why your so-called moral victory is a stinking offense against every ideal that this nation was formally built upon, and a crime against humanity itself. Were it not for the enabling anonymity of the modern ballot, you would be laid visibly open to the social criticism and moral disgust that your actions warrant. You cannot hide in your slim majority and consider it to be justification of your narrowmindedness.

If you think you were acting to the glory of God -- think again: after all, are we not judged as we judge others? Are we not to be known by the fruit of our actions? And, if indeed believing in the reality of Jesus Christ, do we not encounter him, as he said himself, in the least -- and the least-accepted -- of our fellow humans?

We are morally defined by how we deal with those we do not choose to encounter or live among: "your neighbour" is the 'other,' whether stranger or familiar and close, who tests the reality of so-called "Christian charity." And those who deserve the highest respect in this debacle are the people who, regardless of what personal reservations they themselves might hold inside, nonetheless chose the moral high ground -- the path of enlarging others' legal and social rights -- because they know it is the right thing to do. Not because it is comfortable, not because they have anything to gain or defend for their own worldly benefit, but because it is virtuous to want our civil rights to be equal for all citizens, with no preemptive discrimination, no categorical prejudice to sully the honour of society itself.

As a nation, we have been struggling over the past two centuries and more to confirm, as best we can in every era and social consciousness, a more-perfect union, a more noble and comprehensive demonstration of the founding proposition of the United States: that all of us are created equal. Not some of us; not just landowners, or white males, or the male half of the population, or those who can afford to pay a poll tax -- and not just the majority, however vast they may be in number, who happen to be oriented to mate and form romantic attachments with the opposite sex. Gender-conforming heterosexuals are not the only ones who can sire or bear children; they are not the only ones who can raise children responsibly; they are also far more likely to abuse, neglect or molest their children than those for whom parenting is a conscious choice rather than taking procreation for granted as the natural way of things. And, lest it be conveniently forgotten or glossed over by any calculating con-artists ever again, they are not the only ones who can love sincerely, selflessly and "'til death do you part."

[Additional scriptural thought for those, religiously-motivated or not, who rely on the majority opinion of society as if it were some royal or divine vindication/mandate for themselves...]

So you've done something wrong in the belief that it was something right. Assuming that you haven't yet gotten outraged by my presumptuous invective and decided to comment-spam me with religious tracts...what are you supposed to do now, seeing as the the ballots have been counted and the results assumed (for the time being) as legally-binding? Can you undo the harm that you've done to others by your intolerance?

To which my answer is "yes -- but not in secret." This ballot issue was not just some online survey, after all: it had real results to real people, and no one can simply recant their actions in private when those actions have made for the perpetuation of public injustice. The lies that have been told and believed about gsy marriage need to be debunked and defused; the fear that has been exploited in people's hearts needs to be quelled and rejected. If you have been part of the misinformation campaign against marriage equality, dig deep and wide for the truth and take the risk of speaking out against the lies. If you have taught your children that homosexuals are living immorally and don't deserve any civility or respect in society, or that it's right that they be prevented from marrying and having families, then at very least have the decency to admit that you've spoken without really knowing what you're talking about, and that you might be wrong in judging others' personal lives. And if you have friends, family, acquaintances -- your neighbours, in short -- who are distanced from you (politely or not and knowingly or not) because you voted against them.....ask them for forgiveness. Have the courage to admit that you were wrong, and try to find the paths to work for what's right.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More on the idea of legally abolishing "marriage"

Or, "How to Content a Bigot"....


(Comment: "A secular marriage ceremony followed by a religious one, if desired, would not upset me. However, it should be called "marriage" regardless of the gender of the partners. [...]")

Date: November 17th, 2008 09:58 pm (local)

Thank you. I am so bloody tired of people thinking that all the problems of this area will be solved by removing the word "marriage" from civil law and leaving it to the churches -- we have civil marriage as an option anyhow, and it is currently under no religion's dictates just because it uses the word "marriage."

There's apparently a lot of people who don't understand the distinction between "secular" and "religious"....that in itself could use a good deal more public clarification.

(Comment from OP of entry (not same as above): "You'd be surprised. In discussion, I have found some hard core bigots to be quite content with this solution. I've also found zealots to be happy, too. I am not saying their reaction is typical because I haven't talked to enough of them but don't assume.")

Date: November 18th, 2008 07:20 am (local)

In which case they're content because they're still keeping "marriage" publically away from somebody else -- afterall, they can still use the term among themselves as much as they want, since they get both levels according to both (their) church and state. Not that I care overly to please them, of course, when they're not even an injured/oppressed party in the least.

The only way in which default civil unions could ever work out as an equitable solution is if enough openminded faiths and philosophical denominations (of all kinds, especially non-traditional and pagan and even atheist) got into the "marriage business" enough to make the distinction a moot point (as it really should be) so far as social interaction -- thereby reinstating the understanding of civil marriage by default, and taking away the assumed superiority of the religious interpretation. But then, why take so long to arrive at the same place in terms of implicit communication?

As I've said, most heterosexual people (and people in general) just understand "marriage" as being exactly what it looks like, and "gay marriage" as being the logical expansion of "(regular) marriage." They may have a problem with that or not, but I'm pretty sure that they would have a hard time with the linguistics of getting civil-unionated, civilly unionized, civilly united (as opposed to uncivilly?), or whatever else they've have to call it without having the option of (religiously defined) marriage as well to define themselves. If they didn't have that to fall back on, you can bet they'd be hopping mad at all the bending over backwards just to avoid saying "marriage." (And so should anyone be, to have that dangled on a string above their heads.)

These people you've talked to just haven't actually had to look at the situation from the other side where they didn't have an upper hand to pride themselves on. Kinda ignoring that whole supposed 'Golden Rule' thing, you know.

(Comment: "In which case they're content because they're still keeping "marriage" publically away from somebody else."
Yup. They are happy because their church would forbid it and they like that. However, there are plenty of churches which don't forbid it, which they don't seem to mind so much.

Don't forget that extreme dominionists are torn. They want to take over the government and, at the same time, have the government out of their lives. The idea of the government getting out of church matters is something that appeals to them, when it suits.

And to me. I don't think the government should be recognizing marriages in the first place, as I do see it as a church institution.

Again, I can't speak statistically from my few conversations but from what I've seen, I would say you are going to have to wait for a whole generation to die off before you will successfully get the majority of society to accept same-sex marriage recognized by the government.

It's the old who keep being the most stubborn. They will never get beyond "Marriage is between a man and a woman." Those I've talked to are not smart, they are not sophisticated, they are not tolerant, they cannot reason why this should be other than "It's always been that way." Don't bother to quote history; they don't read beyond ten word bullet lines. Don't bother to bring up our Constitution; they don't understand it in the first place.

I have tried every line of reasoning, argument, and emotional appeal that I can think of or have ever heard of. They just keep repeating, like parrots, "It's always been that way." So, IMHO, there needs to be a different solution; this one seems to work for most people and it satisfies me because it does grant equal rights from the government. Working on further progress would not need to stop but it would be a huge step in the right direction.

Date: November 19th, 2008 03:42 am (local)

Yes, old people are stubborn, and hardening of the brain in any case is not favourable to the progress of civil rights. I hope that a lot of those stubborn old people die off, leave the voting population, 'meet their Maker,' and have a chance to realize just how wrong they've been.

Seeing as I know that marriage is not primarily a religious institution, though, I really don't see any reason to cobble a compromise by eliminating the (existing) institution of civil marriage. Not only because it's giving the ignorantly stubborn what they want, but because it is a step backwards in terminology that will be cited as a precedent to block -- not continue -- the progress of recognizing marriage on an equal footing for all. "Marriage" will continue to be a term of contention in common language until it is made quite clear in the most-public spheres of discourse that marriage did not begin under the aegis of religion, and that no religion has the right to control it in the secular/civil sphere. Religions may formalize the compatibility or recognition of marriages (whether voluntary or arranged), but only among the Moonies and the Mormons, I think, has religion ever been used as the primary motivation for marriage in general. And the functional purposes that marriage serves -- formalization of an intimate sexual/emotional connection, mutual support through life and the potential rearing of children -- are neither religious in their inherent nature nor limited in their validity to heterosexual couples. As for property rights and the transfer of wealth, that's socioeconomic; the imperative to have children and continue the family (species), that's instinctual and animal. Won't get me any points from Creationists, but (to quote Galileo) "it still moves."

Which is why I don't, can't and won't buy the argument that "marriage" should be left to the various religions to define -- they don't own it in the first place, any of them or all of them; they just happen to have built up a lot of rules and rituals and mythology and cultural assumptions about it and around it. Accept theological claims to own marriage as literally valid, and we're forced to either play by religious rules or jump out of their way and make an anything-but-"marriage" detour -- but they're wrong, is the thing, and I'm not going to support letting them define any of the terms unilaterally when they are not actually entitled to.

As it's said, "He who defines the terms wins the argument" -- which means that the only way to make same-sex marriage legally recognized and fully accepted in general society is by the pro-equality side successfully reframing and clarifying what exactly "marriage" actually means and doesn't mean for civilization. We won't win over everyone through logic, of course, but as long as enough people can be persuaded by the unrelenting barragement of non-paranoid truth and reason, I don't give a hang about conciliating the diehard bigots. Sooner or later, they'll have to suck it up and deal with reality.


If this particular thread continues any further, I'll add on the rest of it here (as I have been doing), as it's an interesting sociological topic. If it doesn't, then no matter -- I'm sure that any real live bigot who wanders by this blog -- it's happened before -- will give me some entertainment by vomiting up some verbose allcaps-laden religious tractage, or (if slightly less fanatical and more rational) a foundationless appeal to sheer tradition and/or biology as sufficient reason to petrify and/or regress the status quo.

Yes, I actually do know I'm right on this. My mind is not going to change or capitulate away from demanding marriage equality by name, because that would be going backwards, and backwards is the wrong way to go. Which isn't to say that people aren't free to argue with me nonetheless -- it just means I'm just not going to give in to them.


Marriage equality and the betterment of society

To preface this rather long collection, I suppose I should say where I've been posting all this stuff. Two online "communities" are foremost -- AlterNet and Dark Christianity -- though that's by volume rather than by catalyst, seeing as there's been a great deal of personal posting going on about Proposition 8+ and the possible solutions to the same-sex marriage issue, and my stance has been the same throughout and before this season of issue campaigning .

One opinion that I keep seeing around in progressive and secularist circles is that "government ought to get out of the 'marriage' business" -- either completely or partially (leaving "civil union" as the universal default in that case) -- and therefore the legal church vs. state issue will be solved.

AS IF that weren't capitulating to the religious right-to-centrist claim that "marriage" is primarily a "sacred" religious institution (as is only evidenced by traditional religious ceremonial texts, of course...) and that same-sex couples have no basis on which to approach its awesome dignity or claim its majestic automatically-revered social status.

Personally I am dismayed to see how many otherwise-rational people are, in this case, too-rational to see how such a withdrawal would be taken and used as justification for the cultural conservative position, whether in just letting the term "marriage" be reserved for heterosexual couples only or in abolishing the governmental recognition of "marriage" by name entirely.

Below are some of my comments on recent online entries/articles regarding the entire subject.

Regarding the suggestion of "civil unions" as the sole legal contract, leaving "marriage" to the province of religious/optional ceremony:

Date: November 17th, 2008 12:00 am (local)
I'm against all terminological capitulation -- marriage = marriage, whatever its composition

If they want "matrimony" to themselves they can have it, but "marriage" is too apt and comprehensive a word to be disbarred from describing all relationships of its type.

I have come across this argument time and time again as if it were the solution to the same-sex marriage issue, but it in no way redresses the persistent lack of legal or social equality between heterosexual and homosexual marriages -- by reserving the term "marriage" only to religiously-sanctioned unions, the social segregation of privilege is preserved with or without direct governmental interference.

We have had the secular institution of civil marriage for a long time now as an alternative to religiously-formal marriage (as they also have in Europe as you cite, though they treat it as the default there), and it is specifically civil marriage that should continue to be progressively enlarged (as it has been) under that name, rather than allow religions to define "marriage" by their terms only.

It must also be understood and vocally stated against all allegations (since this was an exploited point of paranoia), that even if same-sex marriage is legalized, the state will never force a religion to perform weddings that are in violation of its own code of morality.

The crux of the matter is, no religion or consortium of religions should have the power to keep civil marriage narrowed to their preferred requirements. They have always seen it as inferior to religiously-solemnized marriage anyhow, so they are in no position to be defending its allegedly-sacred status now just to keep it out of others' hands.

(A comment that there are churches that do perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, and that they are not all against an equal definition of marriage)

November 18th, 2008 01:14 am (local)

While that is always good to know, the fact is that the culturally-conservative sects will consider it a victory for them personally -- and a cultural mandate against further legitimization/"normalization" of homosexuality -- if the use of the word "marriage" falls into the category of religious usage. And I'm not in favour of letting them have any victory without an actual and accurate fight on the matter.

(.....even though at the same time, they will also see it as a threat by the government against societal respect/favour for religious tradition, if the government formally eliminates "marriages" in favour of universal "civil unions." Anti-equality apologists do want "marriage" to be respected as an institution within society overall -- but they also want to constrain it to their own definitions only. By the essence of church-state separation, they logically can't have their cake and eat it too -- but they are certainly filled with passionate intensity in the attempt.)

(A comment that the "civil unions only" idea is intended to "take the terminology out of the realm of public policy" and instead let people decide what "marriage" means to them personally.)

Date: November 17th, 2008 09:52 pm (local)

My point is that marriage as a social (not religious) concept is so deeply ingrained into peoples' awareness that it is precisely what they respect as the manifestation of a committed relationship -- and anything that is denoted as "other" or "less" than that simply does not get the basic civic respect and recognition. That's the way that most people think, when they're not the sort of people who think about these issues a lot.

Civil marriage is under no obligation to be in compliance with specifically religious laws. Religious institutions are under no obligation to celebrate weddings according to any/all civil marriage statutes. So my stance is and will continue to be that cultural conservatives seeking to disallow civil marriage to same-sex couples have no excuse, since they are under no threat whatsoever of having their marriages affected. But if all marriages are converted into default civil unions, than that is a direct threat to the concept of marriage, and one that will be reacted to with far more substantiation than the current paranoia that allowing civil marriages to gays will force recognition of any/all possible sexual unions onto religious institutions that resist them on moral grounds.

There's no need to turn the language into pretzels to remove/avoid the "M-word" in civil law -- the most important thing is to publically debunk and fight the outright lies that have been spread by the anti-equality front.

(A comment that people will tend to refer to themselves as "married" regardless of the legal terminology of their mutually-committed status)

Date: November 18th, 2008 03:26 am (local)

I think that committed same-sex couples should refer to themselves as married in every social venue and situation, regardless of their legal status, until the word itself ceases to shock as an item of contention. If there is such thing as "common-law marriage" for heterosexual couples, just imagine how broad that application ought to be, even without any benefit of ceremony.

Of course it will shock some people for a while because they haven't had any real exposure to the concept being demonstrated casually, but that, imo, is as much of a growing pain as with learning to ride a bicycle or swim (or deal civilly with strangers, for that matter). All things that can be learned once the process is initiated...the obstacle in a lot of places is that they've never had even that first shock of "damn, gays are human beings minding their own business, and they ain't out to get us after all!"

The terms "marriage" and "husband"/"wife" have been kept tactfully off the table for a long time in favour of "domestic partnership," "civil union" and "partner" -- and I think that that kind of legalistic forbearance and self-restraint on the part of gays and lesbians has been ill-repaid by society at large: people have been allowed to live largely in ignorance of the reality of (essentially) marriages and families that are just as intrinsically valid as their own -- the only difference being that they haven't been legally recognized as such. Society hasn't been challenged enough, in short, and it does need to be challenged and pushed off from the pool-edge of its own assumptions, before it will ever be reasonably "comfortable" with the idea of civil marriage equality.

We've all had shocks and reluctancies in our lives that we've had to get over. People will survive having their social assumptions dismantled...but it has to be done articulately, logically and casually, not tiptoed around as if gay couples deserved to be pushed back into the conspicuous linguistic closet.


Regarding "Why the Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban Won" (The Nation, via AlterNet):

(Another comment -- as if it were a new idea -- suggesting universal "civil union" as avoidance of the "marriage" controversy in secular law....actually, this is the first comment I responded to out of this whole slew, with a reply slightly elaborated from one I'd made on a friend's LJ when he brought up the suggestion.....which sums up my position in general fairly comprehensively.)

It's not that new, and it capitulates too much...
Posted on Nov 12, 2008 11:59 PM

I've heard that argument many times before from the progressive side of things -- but how do you explain it to the rest of the world to whom "marriage" is considered an all-round concept entitlement that cannot be taken away from them?

We have had had the concept of civil marriage for decades now, in which time it has constantly been looked down upon as inadequate and unsanctified compared to a "church marriage" (that is, a proper wedding ceremony in any established tradition). And now all of a sudden it's civil marriage that has to be protected and set on a pedestal?

No (I say) -- traditional religions have had their way already and will continue to have it insofar as judging who can or cannot have a 'church wedding' according to their own rules, but that does not mean that they get to claim exclusive common right to the word "marriage" itself -- nor should they be capitulated to by avoiding the word in civil and legal usage. "Civil union" is a sterile and bloodless term, that I can't imagine satisfying anyone who enters into a relationship for the sake of human intimacy and emotional connection.

For those of us who aren't hung up on their religions as perfect and absolute, it is understood relatively well that marriage is not a religious institution atall but a social concept, and that there is a cachet to it, a status that "civil union," "domestic partnership," etc. simply cannot achieve because they so scrupulously omit the central notion that it is a romantic union, an intimate and personal (not a business) partnership -- i.e., what can only be best described as marriage.

That's why (apart from the 1000+ federal rights still being withheld to any same-sex marriages in the United States...) this is a situation fully warranting the debunking of all "separate but equal" claims: nothing but marriage receives the social status or even basic civil courtesy as marriage...therefore, regardless of the self-satisfaction some legislators may feel in balancing tolerance with tradition, refusing use of the legal term "marriage" to committed same-sex couples is a tacit permission for society to continue discrimination against them -- to consider them and their real & existing families to be in a state of comparative illegitimacy despite the legal tightrope created for them to exist on.

The law cannot mandate full acceptance of same-sex marriages in peoples' hearts and minds, but it has a constitutionally-implicit responsibility to prevent categorical injustice and discrimination from being perpetuated. And that's what this basically is about, seeing as "gay marriage" can in no way be counted as a "threat" to the stability or "sanctity" of anyone's heterosexual marriage. Sanctity of marriage (or the lack thereof) is a matter of each marriage in its own right, and depends entirely upon the sincerity and merit of the partners involved., I am not in favour of conceding the word "marriage" to the cultural-conservative religions who have the narrowest view of it. People with heterosexual marriages to "protect" should just take care of what they have, instead of trying to keep it away from others. They don't deserve to get a veto over others' personal lives -- even just in the use of language, let alone to be enshrined in law.


(A comment that the author does not want his children to be taught that homosexuality is normal and morally equivalent to heterosexuality, nor for traditional (heterosexual) marriage to cease being normative.)

So you're worried about not being "normal"...?
Posted by on Nov 13, 2008 12:59 AM

Okay, that right there in itself bespeaks some serious insecurity.

People who know already that they're not normative don't waste their time and energy trying to define others as the deviant ones.

If your main concern is that your children might learn that heterosexual marriage is not the only one true way, then I say you're obsessed with holding onto the privilege that you enjoy by virtue (okay, there's actually no "virtue" required in this...) of being born as a member of the majority sexual orientation. You are not going to cease being the majority in that, and you are in no personal danger whatsoever from the existence of same-sex marriages in the same world as yours, but nonetheless you feel compelled to defend your majority privilege by the paranoid method of trying to deny other people the same rights that you enjoy -- the pursuit of this happiness: to have a marriage and raise a family (or not) with a person with whom you are emotionally and sexually compatible and share mutual affection. Anything else would be either false pretense or coercion (thus grounds for invalidating the marriage contract) -- which is why saying that gays already have all the marriage rights they need or deserve is a total crock.

Life may not be fair, but those who refuse to try to make it more fair are on the side of unfairness -- never as blameless and neutral as they like to believe.

(Comment: I support civil unions but not marriage
"I believe gays should be treated like human beings and with full rights. I do have a problem calling it marriage. Call me old fashion but I and many others who are not bigots just old fashion. I and many others would support gays having rights and obligations of a marriage contract if they would give up the marriage word.")

Okay, I'm calling you old-fashioned and enabling /of/ bigots, then...
Posted on Nov 13, 2008 12:38 AM

I myself (and many others) have a problem with people calling it "Please-anything-but-marriage." Marriage is a contract that has far more to do with social definition (i.e., two people having made a lasting romantic commitment to each other, with or without raising children) than it does with any form of religious affiliation.

To say that gay people are permitted to have their private lives but not an accurate way to describe their most sacred personal commitments is a hollow tolerance, because it scrupulously avoids the emotional reality of their relationships and families.

The vast majority of people do not instinctively understand "partner" or "civil union" as having the same weight or emotional content as "husband," "wife, "spouse" or "marriage." They are bloodless and sexuality-drained terms, made to appease and tiptoe around people like you who are, so to speak, 'moderately prejudiced.'

And that deliberate avoidance of traditional terminology means that there's a mental loophole where people can say, "Well, these two gays may be having some sort of longterm relationship-thing, but since it isn't really marriage, I don't have to treat it with any real civility or seriousness" -- and some employers have already said, "Well, since 'civil union' isn't federally recognized, I don't even have to give these people any marriage-&-family-type employment benefits if I can weasel out of it legally myself."

My point is, you may think that you're being fair and equitable in tolerating gays their humanity but demanding a distinction of language -- but language makes a real difference in how people are treated in everyday society, and even a 'separate but equal' attitude like yours still enables discrimination and prejudice against gay couples, retaining the assumption of illegitimacy over both them and any children they may have or be raising from previous marriage. It lets people keep their prejudices intact, even though they may grudgingly accept the letter of the law when required to.

For a certain kind of interpersonal relationship that is emotionally intense, intimate and intended to last through storms and strife as best it can, the only right and fitting term is marriage. And it belongs, in my view, to anyone of sound mind, free will and legal majority who has the guts to vow their love and commitment and honour it truthfully. "Calling it marriage" doesn't grant it some dignity or reality that it lacked before, but rather recognizes what is already there. To categorically deny that recognition of reality is inherently unjust...and it does nothing to preserve the dignity or assumed sanctity of "traditional" marriage either.


And yes, I am of course aware that the man whom I voted for, and who is now thankfully our President-Elect, happens to make that very same distinction of supporting marriage equality in everything but name. While I know that he spoke out against Proposition 8, and that he is definitely not a person who will as President stand against the legislative progression of GLBT rights, I would still prefer to have him fully and completely on the bright side of history, rather than condoning discrimination of any degree or denotation under the guise of tradition.

If he seriously does believe that there is something inherently sacred in heterosexual marriage to which nothing else can compare and therefore cannot deserve the same name, then he's wrong -- simple as that, though for many reasons -- and I think that every civil and respectful effort should be made to communicate to him how important it is that he not continue to sit on that particular fence once in office -- that, despite the understood need for him not to be pushing for social legislation from above like his predecessor (and grassroots are essential to social legitimacy, I know), he not equivocate on the need for marriage equality itself, without any linguistic compromise or moral assumption that he would not accept for himself over his own marriage and family.

And so should any legislator, judge and public official carefully consider whether they themselves could live under the same restrictions that they would enact or even passively allow over others' lives -- in the absence of any wrongdoing, harm or actual crime, for which we have laws and statutes enough.

I understand that the struggle for equality belongs to those who want the victory to have and to hold and to live by -- but all allies are valuable and should not be categorically alienated (or alienate themselves) on account of not being directly in the line of fire. A progressive social consensus must be built that broadens people's minds instead of merely berating them for their ignorance -- and "faith-based initiatives" can and should be a great part of this, to reclaim the moral language for the moral high ground instead of chaining it to the forces of social repression. In this struggle, the "Religious Left" cannot be neutral and equivocational, much less consider marriage equality and GLBT human rights to be a relative non-issue. These are issues that are intimately tied to the problems of poverty, addiction, crime, despair and abuse. The ways that one is criticized and pressured and abused and held down and rulebound specifically on account of one's sexual orientation and/or gender identity can make all the difference between a productive and fulfilling life and a frustrated and wasted existence. And that, overall, should be a matter of national concern on the secular level as well, as much so as any localized regional or industrial affliction of economic deprivation and blocked opportunity.

If there is one thing that this new administration promises, it is the opportunity for Americans to get past their differences and work together -- and never before so openly -- for the common good and the general welfare of this nation. I believe that marriage equality is a greater good than marriage restriction, and even without any personal stake in the matter at all, I would argue that it is good because it gives people more ways to participate fully in society, more hope to better their lives and live productively, and more positive motivation to see themselves as connected to the rest of the communities in which they live. It is good because the happiness and self-respect that it gives far outweighs any imaginable harm or even emotional injury that it does to anyone else. And it is right because it redresses centuries of insult and injury (whipping, imprisonment, mutilation, execution...) that have been done to people who but for their intrinsic sexual differences could have been fully-respected members of their societies.

I think that most of this country understands by now that "gays" cannot be simply 'treated' or 'mainstreamed' or 'assimilated' out of visibility anymore (much as some might still devoutly wish it...). Differences between persons are not going to just disappear to make some people less uncomfortable with them. The next step forward, though, is recognizing there is no "straight vs,. gay" difference between people's emotional needs and capabilities -- to love, to marry, to be faithful and devoted, to have and/or raise children with the same affection and responsibility and attention to the examples that they set. We already have the reality being lived out every day -- all it needs is the social and legal realization.


Friday, November 14, 2008

And here's the payoff....

November 4th, 2008
Election '08 final results
11/4/08 10:16 pm CST

YES!!!!!!! FINALLY!!!!!

Tags: , ,


Just sharing my Election Night reactions about....(recent comment)
11/5/08 04:51 am

[In response to L--- :]

Yes, god yes.....I was watching the Indecision 2008 coverage w/ Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and when they suddenly flashed to a full-screen "President-Elect" photo of Obama I thought for a second that they might be joking despite the already-established lead, just jumping the gun as a tweak to Stephen's wounded-conservative act -- and then clicked back to the broadcast stations and saw that Obama had clinched it, absolutely clinched it in real life, and that all this was really happening here and now.

Yeah, I teared up too....after all this sh** and stealing and obstructionism and outright lies, finally the best man won -- and with a clear Congressional majority, moreover, so that there's no one left to blame for blocking the legislation that will take us forward as a nation -- or to use as an excuse for not daring to put it wholeheartedly forward (Barney Frank, I'm lookin' at you...).

Some of my flisters online voted for third-party candidates (there's only one that I know voted for McCain), and to them with all their doubts of the major parties I can just say this, but firmly and certainly: this is the end of the federal two-party duopoly, because there's no longer going to be the oppressive GOP ruling party and the compromised Dem opposition party forced into bed together. Having a Democratic federal majority opens up the field to demand more of governmental representation, and to let more players and parties have their say. The main needful thing, as I've been saying all along, was to first break the back of the arrogant incumbency and get some rational feet in the door. This victory may have come under the Democratic Party's banner, but it is above all a victory of the people, by the people and for the people, formed of a communicative coalition rather than a mouthpiece-monolith.

So even for those who didn't vote for Obama 'cause he wasn't progressive enough -- this is what we have been needing to change the tide of our times.

Much-belated reply.....(in response to a comment on this post)
11/14/08 01:45 am (local)

I'm not saying that the nominal duopoly is going to go away, but that the party system is going to be much shaken and ripped loose of the traditional assumptions. Republicans are going to have to find a way to make themselves popularly relevant (and honest) enough to gain national power again, now that their major demagogic tactics are being been exposed and broadcasted so widely -- and Democrats are going to have to define themselves proactively instead of reactively, seeing as they now bear the unstrangleheld responsibility of being the party in power. There is going to have to be a lot more "reaching across the aisle" by Republicans if they want to have their concerns taken seriously, instead of just being able to block-by-monolithic-bloc the legislation that they don't agree with, and that means that previously-assumed agendas are going to face a greater challenge of communication and consensus-building.

I think that this will lead to a lot more identification around issues rather than on the basis of parties per se, and that this identification around articulate issues will definitely open the door to more third- (and fourth-, and fifth-...) party political involvement at the higher levels of government. I think it's clear, watching the political re-landscaping of Obama's campaign, that the dominant theme of his administration is not going to be party loyalty (and stirring up resentment against the opposition) but actual meritocracy and intelligent qualification for one's position and/or authority. And that does mean a fairer playing-field being made for all politicians who have heretofore been shut out of the federal tier of activity due to the bipartisan feud.

Election '08: The final countdown

November 4, 2008
11/4/08 02:39 am

Okay, this is rather current status message on Facebook, as of last night, is as follows:

Kagen is hoping that civilization will prevail over lies and humanity move forward tomorrow -- voting for Obama as if my future depended on it. (10 hours ago)

I had no idea whatsoever until I heard it on the The Daily Show that Obama had, in his 'closing argument' speech just the other day, used the climactic clause "work like our future depends on it."

I know that it does...I wish I'd been able to get more done, more said in terms of getting out the word of what I see and know to be true about this campaign and this moment in time. I don't see how people can actually still be undecided at this point, and if they are...well, let's just hope they can't make up their minds to get to the polls. And I can only pity those who are so vision-impaired by the wool (or milfy hockey-mom, or religious dogma) over their eyes that they can't see what this country really needs and deserves after eight years of the Bush regime, financial elitism and regressive culture-warfare.

Yes, I am an idealist, and I think that this nation is heavily populated this election year with idealists like me, who are aware of our domestic and global society's problems and have long been waiting for a chance to be actively part of the solution -- in a way that doesn't just involve shopping and maintaining consumer confidence, mind you.

This is the most participatory I have seen American democracy in my lifetime, and I'm damn glad of it. Creating a better world and a better future together? -- yes, emphatically yes. I want the grassroots to rise and topple the trickle-downs and fact-twisting gladhanders and smiling, smiling villains who have no regard for truth or decency. Not to mention to quell and humble the torch-and-pitchfork-wielding crowds of the late-stage McCain-Palin campaign rallies, an accumulation of real live vitriol and hatred that outstrips anything ever rhetorically thundered from the pulpit by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The difference in energy between rallies (not to mention the national conventions) has been immense -- and the dominant vibe of the Republican events, like it or not, has been hate and meanspiritedness, and the communal hope not of achieving some positive dream but of crushing down the dreams and aspirations of others in order to defend the status quo as permanently as possible. I have been feeling this all along and it makes me more certain than ever that this is a pivotal moment for the United States, in which we must decide what sort of a nation we want to be: one of social principles or one of self-defensive materialism -- one of humanism and cooperation or one of militaristic paranoia -- one of truth and responsibility or one of sanctioned deception and the ends used and warped to justify the basest means (let alone all the ends that a "President Palin" would seek under sanctimonious cover...). This is our chance to regain the high road and salvage our honour among nations, and to be again (and possibly as never before) "government of the people, by the people and for the people."

And so no, I'm not putting this under a cut despite its length and politicality*, because I want people to take this election seriously and not just as another day, same-old, whatever, business as usual, see-ya-when-it's-all-over. I know this is a crucial point in history, and I'm not going to downplay its significance and potential consequences. Hell, they've got Christian-cultural-conservative "prayer warriors" fixing their invocations on defeat for Obama / victory for Palin-And-McCain-Too -- so why not pull out all the stops on our wills and put them where our hopes are?

Or, to coin a phrase, put your mana where your mouth is, my fellow Americans -- and be sure that you've exercised your civic power and voted by this day's end. Even if you don't get a free coffee or ice cream scoop out of it.

[*Whether out of their own personal burnout or to de-stress from known political differences, several people on my LiveJournal flist had started/circulated a 'no politics' picture meme just a day or so before E-Day.....I, however, was not in a mood to avoid the issues and keep my opinions unvoiced.]

Pre-election cameos, satire and greatness

Obama being on The Daily Show and McCain being on SNL are completely different things...
11/2/08 03:25 am
[Expansion of Facebook status and comment]

To be precise, it's the difference between "laughing with" and "laughing at"....McCain may have been being a good sport in his own opinion, but the humour of his opening "infomercial" and Weekend Update piece was of the "it's funny because it's true" variety -- which made it both funny and disturbing at the same time, because of the known lack of distance between parody and demonstrated reality.

Having the man himself (i.e., not an impersonator) come on TV to exaggerate himself only reminds how little room there is to exaggerate -- which certainly produces a negative impression for his campaign. McCain hasn't the operative wit to bely or knowingly tweak his alotted lines, much less the underlying reality to make it clear that they are comedic material. As per my going theory that serious conservatives are incapable of performing or grasping satire (and in general, the more extremist people are in their beliefs, the worse their wit)...

And, need I say it, Obama does have a grasp of this, and can be humorous without making himself ridiculous. Big difference there -- perhaps even bigger than McCain's lack of online-literacy. Fundamentally, it's a pretty big deficit if a presidential candidate (or a president) doesn't have the instincts to detect and understand, much less proactively create, the political satire that is bound to surround him in intelligent citizens' minds (such as the Current Resident when he was having his ass handed to him on a polished platter by Stephen Colbert...) .

McCain complains about how he's portrayed by the media -- he apparently doesn't see that there's grains of truth in it that are both significant and sticking to him. To quote the old dishwashing liquid commercial..."You're soaking in it." How is he going to prove that he isn't what people think he is, when his actions reiterate it over and over again? How do you refute satire or serious accusation, when both of them are dependent for their ultimate success on there being something in it that's true? It's not just a matter of "balanced coverage" or "equal time" in the journalistic media -- if the facts and the reality of things are speaking loud and clearly enough, are we supposed to blame reality for not "being fair" to the disadvantaged party? How very PC, to cry foul on account of being "popularity-challenged" in the midst of the culture war that one is vehemently waging.

Seriously...the McCain-Palin campaign has mounted an unprecedented degree of defensiveness and hostility against the acknowledgement of reality, doing everything possible to demonize the opposition and distract voters away from all the facts and valid comparisons/contracts involved in this campaign. Such as badmouthing "community organizer" as a fluff job without responsibility, or equivocating between Reverend Wright's fiery sermonizing (as if Obama himself endorsed or still tolerated it) and Sarah Palin's accustomed religious culture of exorcizing and xenophobic prayer warfare (which she does both tolerate and endorse, despite the campaign's attempts to downplay its persistence in her life and politics). Or the ongoing conflation of reinstated social responsibility with "socialism" -- they really mean Communism, of course, but using that word directly both plays into Godwin's Law and invokes both the spectre of McCarthyism and its logical refutation. The war of words over "selfishness," with a campaign that claims "Country First" as its slogan actually pulling at the strings of the basest material self-centeredness. The hypocrisy of "marriage protection" rhetoric coming from supporters of a man who betrayed and divorced his wife for a blonde trophy-heiress, while the most solid demonstration of "family values" in action is coming from the candidate who (anathema to fundies and dogmatic Catholics alike) believes in the preservation of
Roe v. Wade against strategic underminings and effectively-negating restrictions.

[more serious]

There is a grassroots culture war going on, though -- between those who want to cling to what's materially theirs and impose laws to preserve what they're personally comfortable with, and those who desire the chance to work together and create a better future together despite their personal differences. In my opinion, the most potent thing that Obama is offering the American people is the opportunity to be co-creators of a better and sustainable 'American Dream', one that is not imposed from above or trickled down from the fickle tables of the rich, but involves a revival of cooperation and community activism, delivering power back into the hands of the people -- and reminding them that it was theirs to begin with all along. After the shock of 9/11 and the ramming-through of an autocratic federal regime, I believe that people -- thinking people -- are tired of having the government thinking for them, operating top-down and in opacity.

Bringing to mind the famous "Ask not what your country can do for you...ask what you can do for your country," it seems that despite all the accusations of forcibly redistributing wealth, what Obama is actually aiming for is the enablement and inspiration of all citizens to work together for the common good regardless of wealth or class, while McCain hides behind his Kennedyesque slogan with a core message to cling on even more bitterly to whatever bolsters one's ego and assuages the emptiness of an undeveloped self. "Selfish" is different from selfhood -- it's the attempt to surround and protect and envalue oneself by external means when one lacks internal character. People who have selfhood do not need to be selfish in order to cushion their world or make much of themselves, because they know that what is inside of them is enough and needs no inflation/insulation. If Ayn Rand hadn't been such a kneejerk anti-Communist and deified "selfishness" as a virtue by that name, we might be having a far more intelligent national conversation about the nature of individual character and self-reliance that was the valuable part of her philosophy. But as it is, selfishness has come to be extolled and excused beyond all rational need, and unchided supercapitalism has made luxuries, appearances, entertainment technology and brand-name status items more respected and deemed popularly necessary than decent food and water and lodging -- which in any truly civilized society would be considered the baseline that all citizens deserve. So I am no fan of this selfishness that laces the current sociopolitical discourse: the "I me mine" has achieved grotesque stature over "Live simply that others may simply live." The etymological meanings of "conservative" and "liberal" have long borne witness to this split between those who want to preserve their own values and socioeconomic privilege (even if they actually lack the sort of privilege that is being preserved...) and those who want to give everyone a fairer chance to make their way in life -- with relative degrees on both sides of wanting to control the social values and the freedom of choice involved in others' actions. And at this time, in this place, the pendulum has swung too far to the side of untrammeled greed and acquisitiveness, combined with a lowerclass-blaming double standard -- the worst aspects of conservatism -- and it is in dire need of a counterswing, into an administration and a society that does not put the Economy ahead of the populace, and where "Country First" is not allowed to be a flagwaving euphemism for "people last."

[/more serious]

Anyhow....with all those IQ quiz ads floating around with references to the candidates' statistical intelligence, I think it makes sense to consider the other forms of intelligence that come into play (or fall short) when one's under the pressure of the campaign trail and the potential weight of executive authority. So let me close with this favourite passage of mine from Dune:

"Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It
depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The
person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is
in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a
strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in
his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move
within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will
destroy a man."

--from "Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan

And then there's this.....

"Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-El, to save the planet Earth." [2]

Yep......he's got it.


Political Animal Husbandry

[reprise from LiveJournal post of April 29, 2008 (has previous comments)]

Okay, I'm pissed. Every election season where there's anything major at stake, it seems that the lion's share of electoral power is given to those who frankly barely deserve it. And I'm not even talking about the "superdelegates."

No, it's that lumpen and easily-led-by-the-nose mass known as the "average American," the "regular Joe," etc. -- the "God-fearing," "churchgoing" resident of the "Heartland" -- who is usually also described/labeled/led by the terms 'swing voter,' 'conservative' or 'moderate' -- which in my observation of politics thus far seems to mean just "moderately prejudiced and intent on preserving the status quo for their imagined benefit/self-protection."

Yeah, I'm a bit of an elitist, one could (and probably will) say -- I believe that people who lack political literacy, cultural literacy, literal literacy and/or accurate (not merely party-spoonfed) issues exposure/knowledge have no business being part of deciding this nation's direction. I do not believe that the uneducated populace can be trusted with the privilege of voting, and this has nothing to do with technical grades and levels of education but with the desire -- or lack thereof -- to eliminate ignorance from one's mind and life. Those who do not try to educate themselves on the issues at hand, and who do not seek out to the best of their ability what there is to be known about candidates and their actual stances and the longterm effects thereof if implemented, are nothing more in my estimation than pawns of party loyalty or cultural/familial tradition.

I do not like the current two-party political system and the antagonistic dualism that it breeds -- but it must be said that of the two parties I detest far more that one which commands the most fervent nominal loyalty, the "my party right or wrong" attitude that barely if ever considers a thought or practical observation that was not bred within its chosen intellectual hothouse of self-validating systems. At the moment I am quite in accord with John Stuart Mill's statement on the subject -- that is, that although it cannot be proven that all conservatives are stupid, it can be easily observed that "most stupid people are conservative." The reason why (this is me talking now) is that they are led by their most base and basic fears -- their concerns for apparent personal financial gain (rather than the less-visible fabric of the general welfare), for security, and for social conformity of 'creeding and breeding' and all that surrounds it. These are lower-level needs, as per Maslow et al, and if it is true (as some delight in airing about) that a conservative is a liberal who's gotten mugged, then is that not a blatant regression into fear and not an advancement in actual awareness? Post-traumatic paranoia, that's all it is -- hardly something to chortle smugly about.

As for moderates...well, as I said -- "moderately prejudiced." Moderately afraid of the unknown and unwilling to deal with its existence as real and equally-valid life; moderately clutching onto their privileges of class, race, dominant culture and/or universally-assumed religious faith; moderately suspicious of those not like themselves, and moderately without the cultural education or overview to see people as conscious individuals rather than as threatening cloned units of the designated Other.

(Which still doesn't entirely account for the existence of Log Cabin Republicans, but that's far more about class+wealth than it is about actual sexuality...)

Does nobody see that the oft-cited "beer test" of potential Presidential popularity is all about reassuring the least-educated social stratum of voters of one's normalcy (itself a statistical illusion) and implied non-superiority -- pandering to their fears and worries, condescending to their folkways, with no relevance whatsoever to the actual tasks of clear-sighted national and international leadership? I don't trust a candidate who's too comfortable with the touted "red-blooded American" in bar, bowling alley or shooting range, and who deprecates too much the professional and intellectual types upon whose intelligence and advice hris prospective presidency will actually rely -- let alone hris own intelligence. It's in the same league as baby-kissing, except that babies can't vote (and don't own guns or drink beer...). Personally, I'd rather see a politician act natural for hrimself, for good or ill, than put on a gladhanding show in the sticks -- and were the right to vote dependent upon one's being a member of the informed citizenry (rather than the indoctrinated, unexposed or otherwise "unwashed" masses), then there'd be far less of a created need for this sort of appealing to the lowest common denominator. An American President, by the known details of hris job and its scope, is not primarily a bowling nor drinking buddy to the American Everyman (Everyperson?) why should hse be compelled to pretend that that's where hris heart and ambition truly lies?

Of course......were the Electoral College abolished, there would probably be less of a created need to go kissing ass in Middle America, seeing as the impact of high-population (and more culturally diverse) areas is muffled and that of sparsely-settled (and more culturally isolated/insulated) ones inflated to satisfy the old paranoia (again) of maintaining individual states' rights. The whole circus of voting goes on as it does because of old compromises that simultaneously elevate and disempower the average "common man" voter, and that discourage citizens from having an actual array of candidates among which they can choose by their consciences and have some chance of satisfaction in the result (as per multi-party instant-runoff voting). That's another thing that needs changing, and will probably be easier to implement than my own "elitist" idea of only letting people vote who have some real idea what they're voting about. I'm in favour of a literacy requirement and preferably a Constitution Test requirement before one can vote in any elections that affect the national level of politics and lawmaking. And more than that, I'm in favour of requiring that anyone who votes must maintain or seek current exposure to articulate political opinions besides those of their nominal party or philosophy.

Even and especially if you can't stand what stands in opposition to your own beliefs (and particularly on the most controversial and emotional of issues), you owe it to yourself as a 'political animal' to keep abreast of it and be able to explain, understand and refute it (if need remain) intelligently and civilly rather than out of a kneejerk aversive reaction. This is the essence of an educated political citizenry, and essential to cultivate in any nation that would not be prey to demogoguery and mob rule of the majority over all their fellows. Whatever group or party would stand against such mental exposure is afraid of losing its hold over the faithful -- and I use the religious term intentionally, as it's the same basic issue. No one's opinion can be considered anything more than an opinion, nor should it be given any more power than that in the sphere of political action, unless it is an opinion formed and firmed of actual considered alternatives.

And if you don't like that, then you can just keep your opinions out of the voting booth and off the national stage. If you want political influence, then you have to trade in your ignorance and cultural wouldn't that be refreshing to have as the rules of the game?