Cognitive Liberalance

At the library* over the weekend I saw a car that was plastered with bumper stickers ticking off every box in the liberal catechism–separation of church and state, gay rights, pro-choice, anti-war, etc., all of them conveyed in that smug, preachy, self-congratulatory tone that helps you understand (if you needed any help) why ‘liberal’ became a term of derision.

The best example of the tone I’m talking about was the pro-gay rights one, which read, “I’m straight but not narrow.” I’m sure the gays are thrilled to know they have such a broad-minded fellow standing behind them. I don’t recall the exact wording of any of the others, except for this: “anti-abortion and pro-war: make up your mind!”

Of course, this sticker, noting the contradictory positions of those poor dumb Republicans, sat mere inches away from an Obama sticker, apparently oblivious to the irony. I was tempted to wait for the guy to return to his car so I could suggest another sticker that said, “anti-war and pro-Democrat: get your head out of your ass!”

*Where else, except maybe in the parking lot of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s?


Frisk Me

A dinner table conversation last night that began in praise of the NYC police commissar’s “stop and frisk” policy morphed into a discussion of government security measures in general and whether they actually protect us from black people crime or black people with towels on their heads terrorism or, rather, simply act as pretexts for the repression of officially unapproved activities that have nothing to do with either crime or terrorism. What follows are statements that were made in defense of police state policies. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I’ve Got Nothing to Hide said, “I wouldn’t mind being frisked…as long as they weren’t giving me cavity searches or something like that. I don’t like being spied on by the government, and I see how such a program could be abused, but honestly, I don’t really care if a few potheads get thrown in jail…If it prevents my kids from getting shot or bombed, I’m all for it.”

Translation: I’m pretty sure shopping will never be outlawed. And: Please please PLEASE keep me and my children safe!

Government is Wasteful and Inefficient said, “I’m not afraid of the government. The government is totally inept.”

Translation: What I really mean is that I’m sure the government couldn’t possibly be inept enough to mistake me for a troublemaker.

Security is Freedom said, “You’d feel differently if something happened to you.”

Translation: I’ve never been stopped and harassed by thuggish cops for merely walking down the street while wearing the wrong skin color.

Government Persecution is a Thing of the Past said, “I don’t buy into this right-wing fear of the government. It’s not the 1950s anymore.”

Translation: I haven’t seen any famous Hollywood people dragged up in front of a congressional committee, so clearly that type of thing doesn’t happen anymore; and anyone who thinks otherwise must be a paranoid birther.

Nothing too surprising here: A handful of largely apolitical, reflexively conservative middle-class whites who don’t feel threatened by the state security apparatus. Obviously, the problem is in assuming that since it’s not happening to you, it must not be happening to anybody; or, worse, it’s in putting security over freedom—that is, your security over everyone else’s freedom.

It’s not like eating babies is evil. We live in a cannibalistic society.

I watched the episode of Frontline last night about antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A couple of things jumped out at me, both reactions to Pfizer’s decision to stop doing R&D on antibiotics because (yep) they’re not as profitable as drugs for treating high cholesterol, which may or may not have anything to do with whether somebody is going to suffer a heart attack, and pills that allow late-middle aged men whose hearts may not be healthy enough for sexual activity to chase their wives around with four-hour erections (wives who, for the most part, were probably blissfully unaware that their husbands’ inability to get a hard-on was a problem).

The first statement was from a research scientist who said about the decision (I’m paraphrasing): “It’s not like it was evil. We live in a capitalistic society.” The second was from a Pfizer VP, who said (paraphrasing again), “It wasn’t a ruthless decision. I’m sure society would want us to still be doing what we do twenty years from now, and we have an obligation to our shareholders.”

Yes, because “society” surely wants you to keep making drugs of questionable utility so that your shareholders can continue to live off the proceeds of their investments while people are dying in droves from formerly treatable infections. But the first one is even better. I can just imagine the outrage from the flag-waving crowd if it was a Stalinist defending the gulag system because “we live in a communist society.” Or how about a 21st-century American defending the murder of children with killer remote control airplanes because “we live in a war-making society.”

War Is Not the Answer (Usually)

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this kind of thing—and I’m not, really—but I’ll admit that every time I see or hear a liberal plumping for war I think, ‘I thought you guys were supposed to be against using violence to solve problems,’ until I remember, ‘Oh, yeah, liberals are just conservatives who love food stamps and public schools,’ and then everything comes back into focus again. And I’m not even talking about members of the professional pundit class, who are paid to toe the line of whatever party they happen to be, directly or indirectly, affiliated with. I’m talking about your regular Joe Arugula, the kind of guy who can be counted on to mouth all of the usual pieties about gay marriage and the minimum wage, and who no doubt voted for Obomba in part because he wasn’t going to drag us into some unnecessary war like that evil terrible Bush, droning on (no pun intended, of course) about chemical weapons and the Geneva conventions, and referring to Assad as a “bad guy” and suggesting that maybe, instead of firing a bunch of missiles into a country full of people, which might wind up killing a few innocent bystanders, they “bring back” the James Bond style assassination.* I guess it’s too much to expect that these people consider that a government that dumped millions of gallons of poison on one country (Agent Orange) and supported the use of nerve gas against another (Saddam, Iran), not to even mention the depleted uranium used a few years ago in Iraq, might not actually care about chemical weapons and might just being using them as a pretext to do something they’ve wanted to do all along for entirely different reasons.

*Paraphrasing a coworker who said all of the preceding this morning while talking to a neighbor in my cubicle subdivision here.

It is a weakness for dick that will be our undoing

God damn it, I do not think that you glorify on public television homosexuality. The reason you don’t glorify it John anymore than you glorify, uh, uh, uh, whores. Now we all know people who have whores and we all know that people are just, uh, do that, we all have weaknesses and so forth and so on, but God damn it, what do you think that does to kids? What do you think that does to 11 and 12 year old boys when they see that? …

I don’t want to see this country go that way. You know there are countries – You ever see what happened, you know what happened to the Greeks. Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that, so was Socrates.

Tricky Dick (source)

I have to say, I wish we had a president nowadays as entertaining as Dick Nixon. I can’t imagine Obama saying anything half this funny, even if the humor was unintended. Even W., who was always good for a laugh or two, never really said anything this ridiculous—it was just his inability to string three words together without stammering like a moron.

Good thing we have Fox News and its viewership, then. I had the pleasure, over the weekend, of witnessing a conversation about how the public schools are now teaching about homosexuality and giving kids the impression that it’s perfectly normal for Kenny to have two dads, and, according to someone on Fox News, that this was being driven by a de-population agenda. (This last bit was followed by a shrug, as if to say: “Not sure if it’s true, but sounds plausible enough to me.”) So apparently Nixon’s fear of the society-destroying homo is alive and well in America.

I read a post on some blog recently that laid out the theory that most mainstream opponents of gay marriage aren’t motivated by a fear and loathing of homosexuals per se, but by resentment over the threat of losing one of their few remaining social privileges. I agree with the first part but I’m not sure about the second.

Yes, most of these people don’t care that there are men out there fucking other men—as long as we’re talking about a minority and their behavior, though maybe tolerated, is not really accepted. The fear is that once you start teaching it in the schools (tomorrow in sex ed class: the gay option) or “glorifying it on public television,” you’re basically opening up the flood gates and next thing you know the whole country is one giant bath house and no more children and, eventually, because children are the future, no more America. And all because you just couldn’t keep your hands off the dick.

The Ultimate Bore

I first discovered David Brooks 12 or 13 years ago in the shitter where I worked. I went to take a dump and noticed that somebody had left a copy of The Weekly Standard on the toilet paper dispenser, so I opened it up and leafed through it and started reading what seemed to be a satirical essay about exburbanite drones living in cookie-cutter developments and filling the void of their purposeless existences with riding mowers and fancy outdoor cooking equipment. I say “seemed to be” because I recall that the tone of the piece had an edge of mockery to it—albeit an extremely slight edge—and the title, “Bobos in Paradise,” when “paradise” consisted of suburban subdivisions and office parks, just had to be irony. Except, as I kept reading, it became increasingly clear that the author wasn’t really ridiculing these “Bobos” at all, but rather applauding them for their conformity to late 20th-century upper-middle class values (that is, for being obedient corporate automatons and purchasers of stuff).

If I had only known who David Brooks was at the time, I could have spared myself the effort and confusion. For David Brooks, respect for the authority of existing institutions is the supreme virtue, and suspicion—or god forbid, cynicism—towards them is the ultimate vice. So no big surprise then that David doesn’t like the actions of our latest leaker, whose selfish individualism has put us all in danger by revealing (something that was already known, but never mind) to the citizens of a “free country” that their government is spying on them (or compiling shitloads of data that could later be used to justify spying on them). You see, a society isn’t corrupted by the selfish behavior of those who control its major institutions, it’s corrupted by the distrust and (“corrosive”) cynicism of those who are getting shafted by them. You’re not suffering because Jesus is indifferent to your pain; it’s because your faith in Him is weak.

My favorite part, though, is the first paragraph wherein Brooks refers to Snowden as “the ultimate unmediated man.” This is because “he could not successfully work his way through the institution of high school” and because he “failed to navigate his way through community college.” Wasn’t there a time when being independent-minded was considered an indispensable trait in this country? Even if largely a myth, at least it was something to aspire to. Now we have schoolmarm David Brooks telling us that the measure of success is our willingness to submit to the yoke. No wonder I couldn’t figure out whether “Bobos” was meant to be a satire—like everything written by Brooks, it was a satire of itself.

Are we morally obligated to become activists?

In the comments to Pied Cow’s post about the annoying condescension of “radical” anti-war pundits, High Arka writes:

The only honest answer for those of us on this side of the sword is that we’re guilty, rich cowards, playing the same terrible game as the others, only not winning as much treasure.

To which I responded:

This strikes me as an attempt at one-upsmanship on the moral purity scale. Were the pre-2003 residents of Iraq guilty of supporting Saddam’s evil regime? I’m sure George, Donald, and Dick thought so. I guess we’re all complicit on some level because we haven’t overthrown the government in Washington, but I don’t feel particularly guilty about the possibility that Obama might decide to send the drones after some guy on the kill list without asking for my opinion first.

Even though I disagree with Arka’s conclusion, I still think it raises a good question: Are Americans who don’t actively resist the US government (by not paying taxes, moving to another country, etc.) moral cowards who are complicit in its crimes?

Like I said, I tend to disagree with this, for two reasons (implied in the passage above): 1) Because we don’t pay taxes voluntarily and the government does what it does regardless of whether we consent, and 2) I don’t think the average American is morally obligated to pay for Dick Cheney’s crimes.

Thinking Inside the Box

Apparently some of our leading lights have decided that “creativity” is as important as intelligence. That means, of course, that they have to devise more and better ways to quantify it, like everything else, because you can’t mine for a resource until you figure out where to start drilling, and schoolchildren are nothing if not little reservoirs of potential value to be tapped at the whims of “society, business and education.”

One of the test-makers made “an interesting discovery” while testing their test, though:

Elementary school kids scored better on it than high school kids did. “I think the expression that many people use is that the schools have a tendency to suck the creativity out of kids over time,” he says.

And that’s a problem — a problem that will require enormous creativity to solve.

I’m not sure if it demonstrates “enormous creativity” or not, but here’s a thought: If you’re looking for more creative kids, and more school tends to result in less creative kids, how about less school? Not likely to happen, I know. Something tells me it would be resisted as an example of “premature closure.” Instead, they’ll probably start teaching courses in creativity and bludgeon it out of them by the time they’re in third grade.