Friday, July 24, 2015

Where respectful and sane conversation goes to die

Lately I've been engaging in a brutal form of masochism by way of participating in the 'comments' sections of stories. Below is just a sampling of the 'logic' that pervades those forums, from the discussion on Shooting in Lafayette, Lousiana Theater Leaves 2 Victims and Gunman Dead:

You forget you are living in Obama's America.... Keep your family safe.
Go prepared...

Exactly! There was absolutely no gun violence prior to Obama taking office, and the minute he leaves the entire country will go back to a state of peace, harmony and non-violence.

You aren't a free thinker. Exactly the opposite. The same kind of opposite as Jenner, the mentally ill kind.

Care to explain why you think this is so? Are you saying that gun violence is to be blamed on Obama?
If you're going to call someone 'mentally ill', at least have something with which to substantiate the claim.

Certainly, gun violence and all violence in America is Obamas fault. And yours, if you voted the pushead into office. The slaughter of babies body parts for billions of dollars of profit is his and your fault. You are awash in baby blood and guts. You ask if I care to explain to you why you're Batshit crazy and the answer is NO. You're batshit crazy .

Needless to say, after a while just trying to have a respectful and sane conversation in these forums is like throwing pebbles into the fog; all you can do is watch them disappear into the murk of irrationality.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Trump support: angry populism as therapeutic entertainment?

With the news a few days ago that NASCAR is cutting ties with Donald Trump, and therefore will not have the Trump National Doral Miami resort host its end-of-season awards ceremony, I would hope for their own sake that supporters of the Republican Party are realizing that it takes more than expressions of populist anger to connect with otherwise undecided voters.

Granted, Trump's stone age rhetoric regarding illegal immigrants plays well with the "Guns n' God" rump of the GOP. A cursory read of the comments sections of or, for example, reveal an angry horde of Archie Bunkers prostrating themselves before The Donald as if He is Lord and Savior of the Republican Party's future. This wave of support is based not on any sound policies but merely a perceived sense of Donald Christ "telling it like it is". The level of thought in said forums seems to be that they favor Trump because they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore!

Problem is, Trump has offered very little in the way of a platform, other than calling out Mexican "rapists" and recommending a wall being built along the U.S./Mexican border. A June 16 New York Times article provided a rundown of all the ways in which Trump is either vague or self-contradicting. I guess for His followers, ramped-up nativism is enough, and from the rabid comments posted in the above-noted forums, they will hear no arguments to the contrary.

All this makes me wonder why some people become engaged with politics or throw their support so fervently behind a given candidate on such grounds.

Not that it's really any of my business, but are they politically active (either directly or via online commentary) out of a sincere desire to improve life for their children, their community and the nation in general, or is it a form of therapeutic entertainment in which they get to gnash their teeth in the name of hating liberals? How much depth can there be to one's loyalty to a party or candidate if it is predicated on the extent to which it allows them to loosen the release valve on their anger?

To satisfy my own curiosity, I waded into some of the discussions on with what I thought were some reasonable questions - all it did was unleash a steady tide of vitriol masking itself as 'patriotism', whatever that word actually means. (I would have given the forums my two cents if I hadn't gotten myself banned last week, which I think was due to my suggestion that a collateral blessing of the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage was that God could legally wed His boyfriend in any state He chooses. Apparently the moderators couldn't see through the surface layer of anti-comedy to the core of non-sacriligious logic within.)

What Trump is tapping into is a simple desire for a culture war (against Mexicans, liberals, gays, etc.), as opposed to any notion of improving the economy, the overall quality of life, and the institution of democracy itself.

Surely most GOP supporters realize that an attention-seeking blowhard like Trump will not lead their party to the White House. Similar to a polarizing element like the Tea Party, Trump may inspire admiration among the Republican's hardened rightward crust but will do nothing but further marginalize a party already seen as outmoded and irrelevant to a younger generation.

Whether Trump and his supporters like it or not, there is a new America out there, and if they insist on living in some mythical version of the old one, they'll consign themselves to sitting out the next term of office.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kumbaya, without apologies

The song was originally a simple appeal to God to come and help those in need but, more recently, it is also cited or alluded to in satirical or cynical ways that suggest false moralizing, hypocrisy, or naively optimistic views of the world and human nature.
-Kumbaya article, Wikipedia

I've already talked about the 'thought-terminating cliché' in a recent post, so reintroducing it here so soon makes me feel like some college freshman who can't help but impose his or her newfound highfalutin lingo from Sociology 101 on the family at Thanksgiving dinner, as if their kin were provincial simpletons in sorry need of enlightenment. Perhaps the family finds it all amusing in an endearing sort of way, even if it is a little much. After all, by degrees the child's well-intentioned desire to change the world will give way to a stoic sense of fulfillment in simply minding the shop.

However, the pejorative use of the word 'Kumbaya', which has become the default usage, is something that has been under my skin for some time precisely because it is now word-as-weapon, to be used in shooting down discussions that dare to veer into progressive territory, thus eliminating a solution rooted in hope and good will from the conversation. "Oh, let's all just join hands and have a 'Kumbaya' moment," as they say. In our culture there is no real comeback to such a statement because it emanates from deep within the rigid firmament of North American thought, and thus any attempt at a retort would seem like decadent whimsy at best. If someone cuts you off in mid-sentence with "Don't get all Kumbaya on us," the tendency is to shut down, particularly if this occurs during a group conversation.

Thought-terminating cliché.

Conversational bullying.

Call it what you will.

My own sense of why the 'Kumbaya' paradigm exists in this part of the world is that the United States as well as Canada both forged their respective identities during a time of massive land expansion and economy-growing. We each had our nations to build and populate, and so any activity or worldview running counter to that imperative would have seemed suspect or even treasonous.

And so, although most of us no longer work in the very  labor-intensive industries that built North America, I think the lingering aroma of the frontier mentality still permeates our thinking, even if we're not consciously aware of it. The idea of constant growth for its own sake is orthodoxy to us, even though constant growth tends to be a toxic phenomenon in any natural system. To offer this suggestion in the U.S., for example, would be considered by many as evidence that you somehow "hate America", as if generating private profits is the only reason America exists, full stop. (There is more to America than profits, isn't there?)

In these parts politicians are expected to exhalt 'public-private partnerships' (P3s) for major projects, though in many cases even marginal private involvement can reduce or eradicate the level of accountability demanded of the participating government body. And even though the value of P3s is much more dubious than proponents would have you believe, it is important for our politicians to be seen as beckoning the business sector into the public house like a harlot in the doorway. We have an economy to build, so how could there possibly be any other way?

It's like there's an old, red-faced farmer in our collective head, animating us out a fear that he'll scream at us to quit goofing off and get back to work if we dare pause to contemplate a reality not based on relentless field-clearing and tree-felling. Moreover, a term like 'Kumbaya', in the now-conventional usage, serves as lead hand for this mythological farmer, as it goes a long way towards squelching expressions of unconventional thought.

I think there's everything to be gained if people learn to stand-up to 'Kumbaya' (and other thought-terminating clichés) and tell the person uttering it to perch and rotate. The old ideas are leading us down blind alleys, and so we need to hear more from those who have the wherewithal to transcend Joe Sixpack's taunts and sneers.