Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The more you know...

This might surprise some that have read my earlier blog posts without knowing me very well personally; I am married. I've been married for about 4 months now and it suits me just fine. Prior to our marriage my wife and I had known each other, been friends, been dating, living together, broken up, friends again, dating again, etc, over the course of about ten years. We decided to get married in a less traditional fashion by running away to Maui for a week and sealing the deal on the beach at sunset. This of course paints an image of all manner of romantic as well as terrifically irresponsible behavior most typically attributed to newlyweds and/or the average human astride the derailed train of crazy called love. It was, however fun and interesting, a largely relaxed and even somewhat restrained week. We were not two people diving head-first into untested waters; we were two people that knew quite well what we were getting into and were well prepared for it. Or so we thought.

Any time that you learn something new about a close friend it can be disconcerting, and moreover the question becomes, 'why didn't I know this before?' Sadly, the answer to that question isn't simple. It has roots in everything from the psychological phenomenon of projection, to the most basic instincts we have to avoid possible confrontation. My wife and I had almost never broached the topic of politics as anything more than passing commentary. We had never discussed our reasoning or judgment regarding specific political ideologies or even that we had an interest in political debate. What we found is that while our comparative opinions and ideologies were very similar, the paths of reasoning we took to formulate those positions were quite distinct.

This brings me to the segue I was intending all along. Which is the topic of our discussion today, and is also an expansion on the theme of an earlier post. Every person is imbued with specific prejudices that inform our ability to be objective or to formulate well-reasoned opinions. The current presidential primary race provides a perfect example of this.

In the example of Barrack Obama we see a figure that exemplifies an almost diametric opposite of our current President. President Bush is often bumbling, finds it difficult to express himself without feeding his critics with more and more sound bytes to ridicule, is the product of a rich dynastic family, was barely able to make it through school, and was a failed business man even with significant financial support from outside sources. Barrack Obama is the product of a broken home, raised with a strong multicultural background, an African father, a mother from the midwest, and a step-father from Indonesia, he graduated with honors from Harvard Law, was made the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, and he is a powerfully evocative and eloquent speaker. But, while these things, if looked at objectively, paint a picture of an intelligent, well-rounded, and competent person, many are so unaware of their innate prejudice, or are so willing to operate purely based on that context, that they find ways to view these things in a negative light.

Those with xenophobic tendencies see him as a threat to their 'pure' view of America. Cynics, like myself, find his speeches and oratory grating or believe him to be intellectually dishonest because he sounds too good to be true. Many try to characterize his academic accomplishments as nothing more than affirmative action or luck.

Then there are those that base their positive judgments not on an objective view of his personal, political, or legislative record, but based purely on a projected image of their hopes and desires for a mirror opposite of the last 50-100 years of United States politics. They're willing to forgo all reason purely on the basis that since he portrays himself as different, that he must then automatically be better.

I, myself, am not immune to these prejudices. I too long for someone different. I too desire to hope and to see my vision of this country become a reality. I too, also, want to see the rancor and division of Washington politics dissolve into an informed discussion regarding realistic solutions. The issue at hand, however, is whether or not Barrack Obama is actually the best person to make that happen, or if he's simply the easiest to project that hope upon.

The only way that we will ever be able to operate on anything other than faith when it comes time to step into the voting booth, is if we take steps to divorce ourselves from our prejudices. The only way that we'll ever move past the venom and bile that can be found in any ideological discussion is if we reduce the factors regarding these types of choices to the most fundamental. And the only way that we'll ever see our vision of our future come to be, is if we all work together , not to visualize it, not to expound on the virtues of our dreams, but to sit down, and determine in an objective manner, what those dreams are going to cost, and what compromises will need to be made to see them come about.

That is something that I would dearly love to see happen. My words are the only weapons I have to fight this war against reason. And for all of my hope, and emotional projection, I see only an endless horizon of people willing to ignore my words because they don't already fit their predetermined world-view. The only correlation that I've been able to draw regarding a person's ability to operate objectively is this; the more well-rounded an education a person receives, the more likely they are to be able to demonstrate the ability to formulate an opinion that is based on the basic principles or fundamental facts regarding any topic, and eschew value judgments based largely, or even purely, on their spiritual or emotional prejudices. The first step of course is to recognize that you have these affixed influences, and to actually acknowledge them as part of who you are.

And that is why, the more you know...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Of space and dreams

We are battered by soliloquies of song and sonnet and psalm proselytizing, advocating, marketing fear as a commodity, amassing a supply that far exceeds demand proving only to devalue all emotion and delivered with fervor unmatched by whispered pleas for justice or reason. These profiteers and prophets feed on the stew of madness while brewing larger and stronger batches of hatred and xenophobia as a layer cake iced with nationalism, and seasoned with blood.

Offering tears of solace in one glass and the blood and wrath of vengeance in another they approach us as saviors, asking only for our consent to be saved from the bogeyman, the unknown, the other, the very threats they've worked so hard to make real. We are asked to suspend our cynicism and distrust of power and their misappropriation, misinterpretation, misapplication, peculation, of our rights and offer in trade the irrational, aberrant, injudicious, incongruous concept of both trust and fear based on faith in their word.

Our modern McCarthyistic marauders against reason, thought, debate, dissent, and dialogue, are starting to face the inevitable swing of the public opinion pendulum for their sophistry and praetorian adherence to profligate methods. All people have fears, concerns, hopes, dreams, desires, phobias, doubts, and needs. The longer and more stridently you scream that the sky is falling, it's falling, it's falling, the longer and more determinedly you prove yourself and your claims false. We live our lives from day to day, from week to week, and from year to year, within our spaces, and in search of our dreams. Fear is a fleeting thing. A gnat purposefully and perpetually on a cyclic flight searching ever to feast on the core of our being. But in order for it to succeed, for it to win, we must surrender our will to believe in ourselves, and in our own ability to prevail. And even if every last man and woman but one succumbs, it takes but one voice to begin a chorus that reminds us all of the substance of who we are, and the strength of our purpose, and that fear is nothing more than one more emotion to be felt and acknowledged like any other in the effort to understand not only ourselves, but each other and the world around us.

Checking in

I'm posting this now as an open letter to the people that I have neglected. I have neglected them not only in the social sense, but in the real sense in that they deserve better than I have offered them. The fault for this is entirely my own. I have no real excuse for my reticence other than the most basic level of building expectation of fear. The longer communication languishes, the farther apart the lines of any given conversation are drawn, the more difficult it is for those lines to come back together. It is observable in physics as in an oiled downward slope. The farther an object falls the more velocity and inertia it has, therefore the more energy it will take to stop let alone reverse direction. So, after even a relatively short period of time, one may begin to wonder is it too late? Is this trend reversible at all? Do I have the energy to get it back where it was? If I fail and it gets dropped again is it going to crush me?

These are the thoughts I have while considering whether or not to pursue communication at times. The truly sad part is that I'm not the only person that I'm hurting, and often it's my own fear that is unsubstantiated and merely fabricated by my innate tendency towards isolationism.

This is something I will always fight. There will be times that see more success than others. There are times I will crawl into my shell for fear of the image I see of myself in others' eyes, and there will be times where I shed my shroud and proclaim myself to the world.

This is not meant as a personal appeal. This is merely an apology. An admission of acceptance. I accept that I have failed some of the people that I have cared the most about for purely puerile and selfish reasons. I accept that no amount of apology or appeal to sentiment can make up for the, in some cases, years of distance and silence. I also accept that in many cases the lines have ceased to exist and are not capable of being redrawn as they were.

But today, I am willing to make the effort. Today I will seek to draw these lines together once more. The paradox is this; the more distant and removed you become from the world, the smaller and more restrictive your world becomes. My horizons are resting lightly on my shoulders. Tunnel vision is only a restriction to those that know that there is more to see. I have seen much, and known many, and yet have allowed my eyes to go blind.

I want to see again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Little Thing Called Politics

Everyone in this mad and distracting world of ours chooses positions and perspectives with which to relate to their fellow man. Something as simple as a food preference, 'you like fried bananas too?!’ can lead to sharing and communication that opens the door to new perspectives and shared experience. Simple moments like this can also lead to perceived differences that generate gaping clefts and insurmountable roadblocks to interpersonal understanding.

In no aspect of society are petty grievances or misunderstandings more divisive than in politics. That in a supposedly 'enlightened' culture we debate the relative merits to voters of a y chromosome, or the color of someone’s skin, or their weight, or their youth or their age, leads me to feel as though I've missed something fundamental in my judgment and to lose that much more faith in humanity. A particularly apt quote from Robert Heinlein comes to mind, "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity. Or better yet, a quote from respected statesman and political figure Sir Winston Churchill, "The best argument against democracy is a five minute talk with the average voter."

How would you choose someone for an executive office of your company? Would you trust what they've written on their resume? Would you factor in their appearance or their strength in rhetoric? Would you not expect to receive evidence of their accomplishments and their character? Would you not question their motivation for becoming an executive officer? Would you take into account their previous work performance? Or would you be swayed by the fact that they eat the same food you do? Maybe that they play an instrument that you like? Perhaps the fact that they seem like someone you could be friends with? How then would you choose a President of your country? Should we hold our political leaders to a lesser standard and operate, as Stephen Colbert would describe, by our gut? A quote fitting this is from one of the greatest orators and politicians in recorded history. Cicero described this by saying, "Men decide far more problems by hate, love, lust, rage, sorrow, joy, hope, fear, illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, authority, any legal standard, judicial precedent, or statute."

Some would likely think that there's no more unlikely source of apt and insightful political commentary than could be found in children's literature. A perfect counter argument to that notion is Theodor Seuss Geisel's The Butter Battle Book. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote The Butter Battle Book in 1984. At the time the book was written as a cautionary tale regarding the cold war and the arms race that ensued between the United States and Russia. But there is a more fundamental message at the core of this tale about the Zooks and the Yooks. That message resonates today in the current United States elections for presidential candidates. And it is quite simply this; people, at the most fundamental level, are petty. We are willing to find the smallest, most inconsequential detail about someone and make an empirical conclusion regarding their character or their worth, while at the same time completely disregarding any and all evidence to the contrary. Where so many people would agree that there is a creator who influenced or brought about the existence of all living things, and would even agree on many if not all of the fundamental aspects of that divinity, they instead choose to draw lines in the sand about menial and torturous details to the point of hatred and bloodshed. Where so many people would agree that there are problems that need addressed, and that those problems may have more than one solution, they would instead prefer to trade invective and bile regarding strict ideological approaches to them.

We have had, as a race, over two thousand years to read, digest, and ultimately grow from the teachings of such great philosophers and political and legal minds as Marcus Tullius Cicero, who has such wisdom attributed to him as "He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason", and " I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity." Yet as if a culture in it's infancy we act as though there is no historical precedent for the problems we face. We make decisions and judgments based not upon verifiable fact or reason, but upon emotionally biased contexts as how something makes us feel. And in no arena of human thought are we more impeded by this than in politics.

I am no exception. I am moved by speeches by powerful orators that manage to use a considerable amount of words to say nothing, and yet am cynical in the face of someone offering determinable solutions. I hold an innate personal bias against members or representatives of either political party or of any religious affiliation. I also truly and desperately want to believe that there are actual choices available to be made in this election that will have a noticeable and positive impact on the lives of every citizen of the United States and even the world.

And then I actually go to the effort of educating myself as to the positions and accomplishments of the candidates. Or I engage in conversation with an avid supporter of one candidate or another hoping to be convinced by virtue of the same reasoning that they have been. I want someone to follow; I want something to believe in. Sadly, once again, I cannot say that anyone offers the answers I seek. Not a single candidate has demonstrated that they have integrity, accomplishment, and economic or social understanding to inspire my support. And that's regardless of hairstyle, skin color, gender, age, religious affiliation, wit, conviction, or oration. I have chosen to educate myself. And so educated, find once again that Neverland is a fairytale. Santa Claus is a myth. The frog-prince is a folk-tale. And politicians are politicians are politicians. We all have to wake up some day.