Positive Imagination Vectors Wanted

“My friends, nothing important is lost when others gain, when homeostasis occurs among humanity and compassion and opportunity are celebrated for all.”

I have been thinking about this line of thought in different ways over the past few weeks. Clearly, and depressingly, many people are opposed to the cause of achieving greater justice or equality. What is also sad and perplexing is that many many more seem just indifferent. Why? The extreme vast majority would really only stand to gain from the reforms or systemic changes that are being discussed in this wave of protesting.

But it is a similar pattern when I look back at the environmental movement, or pushes to curtail wealth inequality or whatever. I dislike lumping people in simplistic ways but it seems to be especially prominent among “conservatives” – as if what they want to preserve/conserve is the status quo, and in standing on that hill to die, they fail to have the perspective that the status quo is also a boot on their own damned neck.

The status quo so often really only benefits those at the very top. Yet the people at the very bottom protesting their plight find indifference, if not opposition, from so many in the middle. It’s as though they are suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome.

Is it something like inertia? If the oppression you experience is fairly bearable day to day, or is far enough removed from ones immediate present experience that it is hard to really imagine, there could be fear that any change may be for the worse. Many lack imagination for the positive but have an overactive one for the negative. Have we spent so much more time in fictional dystopias than fictional utopias that we have atrophied in our ability to even recognize the potential of positive change?

On the one hand Pascal’s Wager was never a very convincing argument to put your faith in something, but on the other hand, it seems rather useful to consider, “what do you stand to lose, really?”

Does a bit of increased cost or reduced convenience as a downside really outweigh all the potential benefits “going green” at a societal level? When we talk about universal health care as a policy, and the absolutely huge potential is dramatically overshadowed by some potential pitfalls of the implementation details, what is really going on there? If we fix some racially oppressive systems, improve the social services available to our communities, and reduce their capacity to harm and do violence, do the theoretical downsides really tip the scales compared to what we stand to gain?

Cruelty is the means

I have studied a bit about the sociology of cruelty, or the various ways humans come to act very inhumanely. From a couple books by Jaques Ellul, to various famous psych experiments, to recently some podcasts and a book by Douglas Rushkof. All recommended, but if you want a quick intro into an aspect in action in the present this article is worth a read. It has important implications for some current political happenings, but also some good general insight about humanity without being to long.

“Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.”

Adam Serwer

It is somewhat dated at this point, a lot has happened in Trumps circus in 9 months, but there is some fresh cruel, and overtly bigoted, remarks by the #RacistInCheif on twitter today, and I was especially reminded of this as I read some of the responses to his posts from his supporters. Spoiler, they seem to very much confirm the hypothesis that the cruelty is the point. In a way that is.

One clarification I would like to offer. I don’t think this is arguing for a people-are-just-bad-deep-down perspective. Rather, I think it speaks to the deep seated need for unity and community, in that we want or need it so much we are willing, even glad, to be cruel if that happens to be the price. In other words cruelty isn’t the point, ultimately, for trumps followers. It is the point for him as it happens to be the tool he is good at using that also serves his purpose of unifying his base of support.

If you are reading this, and still support Trump or his ilk, especially if you bristle at the above quote, I would genuinely like to hear from you. I worry I might have a significant blind spot in understanding you as a person. Frankly, I am also scared that I don’t misunderstand, but that you may have been sucked in by the appeal of community regardless of the fact that is centered on cruelty. I’m willing to have the discussion with an open mind if you are.

Non-representative Democracy

Not that I am particularly proud of where I am from, because I feel like that is a mostly a silly thing to be proud of, but given recent news around the congressmen in the district where I live, Steve King, I am somewhat tempted to be ashamed to be from Iowa, but I am not. Yes, the congressmen in the district where I live is a notorious racist, and has been for a long time, and continues to be re-elected. And yes, Iowa’s electoral votes ALL went to a surprisingly similar political figure, Trump,  However, living here the vast majority of my life, I can say with some confidence that though racism is a problem here (as it is most places in the US), these racist representatives do NOT represent the majority of the population that I have ever encountered here.

The problem is the electoral systems we have in place – not the electorate.

Under our current voting system, it is very easy for a polarizing candidate who has strong support from a minority of the population (but little support outside that minority) to get a plurality [different than majority] of votes in a party primary, then a plurality of votes in the general and thus win the election. In short, this system is a great recipe for electing someone like Steve King … or Trump.

*Trump didn’t even get a plurality but a minority – the electoral collage system is also a broke one*

NOTE:
• In majority, one candidate gets more than half of the votes.
• In plurality, the winner is the candidate with the highest number of votes, though they still may have got less than half the number of votes.

People know this (at least to some degree) which gives rise to a highly toxic phenomenon: strategic voting. Instead of voting for the candidate they approve of, people often vote against the greater-of-two-evils. When voters are casting their ballots not based on who they like, but based on how they think everyone else will vote I find it ridiculous to believe that the eventual winner deserves to be called a representative.

The best fix I can see is not better educated voters, or more turnout. Neither of which would hurt, obviously, but nor can they overcome the inherent flaws of the election systems in place. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) or other similar systems, however, by offering more choices and achieving a majority rather than a plurality will tend towards representatives who more accurately represent the population.

The whole point of RCV is to maximize the number of voters who get an official they voted FOR – not necessarily their first choice, but at least one of their choices. In offering more choices, but not throwing your vote in the trash if it turned out to be for a non-viable candidate it largely eliminates spoiler candidates and voting-against strategies, and thus the resulting winner should be much more deserving of the title of Representative.

But wait, King got re-elected multiple times! Even recently after many many racist comments. Are you sure it’s not the voters? I still think it is the system. It’s mostly a guess on my part, but I think a good proportion of votes cast for King were votes against the democrat who was chosen by the standard primary voting system, and even then it was close enough that if the third party votes had have fallen back to a second choice as in RCV then the democrat may very well have won. On the other hand, imagine if, because of RCV, other candidates would have been encouraged to run without the fear of being ‘spoilers’. It’s hard to say if it would have been a landslide loss for King, and maybe it is just hopeful thinking, but I suspect that would have been the case.

King was the incumbent though, and they have an advantage for many reasons. Term limits are an oft touted solution to the problem of the current election systems favoring incumbents, but it seems RCV would possibly address the incumbent advantage problem in a different way, without the downside of removing candidates who have valuable experience and actually represent the majority of their constituents.

Corrupt Systems

Pollution is a sort of easy to see example of a corruption problem. Costs are diffused benefits are concentrated.

“There’s an old-fashioned word for this: corruption. In corrupt systems, a few bad actors cost everyone else billions in order to bring in millions – the savings a factory can realize from dumping pollution in the water supply are much smaller than the costs we all bear from being poisoned by effluent. But the costs are widely diffused while the gains are tightly concentrated, so the beneficiaries of corruption can always outspend their victims to stay clear.” – Cory Doctorow

Social media or the internet business model is corrupt in this way too. http://locusmag.com/2018/07/cory-doctorow-zucks-empire-of-oily-rags/

Plastic pollution fits well. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/more-recycling-wont-solve-plastic-pollution/

Examples could also be found in banking, and campaign finance, and industrial farming, and …

Do these corrupt systems need to be created or driven by evil people? I don’t think so, it’s just that a little bit of negligence can go a long way, and that is part of what makes them so scary. Ordinary nice people, who maybe don’t tend to see the big picture well (which might be most people?) can be cogs in this machine, and even passionate drivers of it. They do just fine with sleeping at night in spite of it all, and usually can find some reasonable justifications if bits of the corruption do start to become apparent to them. So there is no conspiracy, in the traditional sense, behind so much of the nefarious forces that influence our lives, just the cold inhumane machine of corrupt systems.

Now, if only there were a better mechanism to keep those forces in check rather than the vastly corruptible government systems…

Please “Waste” Your Vote

I really lean more toward Christian Anarchism than anything else ideologically speaking, but because of practicality I plan to vote for the Libertarian ticket this time ’round.

I suppose because of my tendency to “like” third party candidates posts on social networks I’ve been seeing stuff about Lincoln being a third party candidate. It’s a marketing thing – “was their vote wasted?!”. Wellll, marketing is just lying most of the time, and that is the case here mostly too. He kinda-sorta was, but not really in a meaningful sense. The Whigs were imploding well before that election over the slavery issue, so in that presidential election it was more that a new dominant second party was completing the replacement of a previously entrenched one.

A take away though is that political parties can and do die!

My read is that the Libertarian party is poised to begin replacing the Republican party. It seems to be one important part of the Republican side – fiscally conservative, and a big draw of the Democratic side – socially liberal. It also excludes a number of things, crony capitalism(R), moralizing(R), surveillance(D+R) and nanny(D) state, and warmongering/world policing(R+D).

This, among other reasons, makes it ignorant and shortsighted to think your vote can only count or matter if it is for the potential winner. A significant percentage (which is far less than a winning percentage) to one third party or to all of them combined might be all it takes to trigger an exodus of otherwise leaning Democrats and Republicans. If not that, it stands that it would still probably change the conversation next time round. Even a chance at that matters some at least.

With the recent presidential debate dominating the news I can’t help but wonder how different it could all be. Gary Johnson was within a few percentage points or less of being included in the debates according to current rules! That is so close! His inclusion would have changed the whole thing, and thus all the ensuing conversation, so dramatically – And I have to assume for the better since I can’t imagine it being a lot worse. A few more people in the poll sample, I mean I am guessing, but probably not more than a dozen or two at most, and he is in. Still the myth persists that a third party vote is a wasted one?

Getting Okay With Being Unproductive

Kids kill productivity. I used to be able to get so much done in a weekend. Not that I took advantage of that a lot, but I could if I wanted! Now, home projects tend to stretch out for weeks or months. Yesterday I was majorly inhibited on a deck/landscaping project and just now, while writing this, my littlest one keeps trying to touch the computer… I was like 3 sentences in and had to take a break because he was getting upset that I kept pushing his hand away. I only started because I thought he was busy with something else for a while. It is exhausting being a parent in so many little ways that are hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been trough it, and been through it recently I think, because, at least our parents all seem to have forgotten somehow. Yet another way I pledge to try to do better than them.

Okay, so little guys insisted on hanging out with me, like a jerk, so I tried to split the screen and put YouTube videos on, but since I am not great at doing two things at once, the SmarterEveryDay videos that I had hoped would merely distract him – and they did for a little bit – sucked me in as well. Meanwhile he got bored and began annoying me by chanting something that sounded like “cheese”… seriously?! I am amazed I get anything done at all sometimes. It’s a six-minute video for the love of peanut butter!

Another writing break to get some lunch ready because it has been two hours since they all had a snack and starvation panic attacks are setting in. I’ll be back.

So, where was I. Right, productivity. Just gone. At least in terms I used to think about it. The irony is I do more now than I used to, but is all stuff I tend to not qualify as “productive”; stuff that generally falls into the category of keeping children provided for. Needy little boogie vandals! Note to self. I need to clean the walls in their room.

Maintenance. Maintenance. Maintenance.

Just when you thought you were done – nope more maintenance. Unproductive. I don’t think I am alone in this way of thinking. Typically I don’t think janitors and babysitters are thought of as “productive” members of the workforce.

At various times I get a little depressed about this. Being productive is satisfying in a way. Being unproductive when you’d like to be productive, when there are so many things you would like to accomplish, even if it is just so you can just relax for a while, is so… frustrating!

Another break.

This time breaking up a fight, finding that they have removed most of the stuff from a shelf in the closet. I guess the floor seemed like a better place? Maybe they thought there was a neat picture on the wall behind all that stuff? I decide it’s not worth the fight to get them to clean that up at the moment because it is time to get little mister shit pants ready for a nap. If only I didn’t have to hunt down that confounded stuffed animal at every nap/bedtime.

I am not making this up for effect or something. I didn’t sit down to write with the thought I would be interrupted. In hindsight, of course, I should have expected this. I think most parents will attest that this seems about right. Just a normal day-in-the-life. My wife left me alone with them for less than 48 hours! How in the world single parents stay sane is mostly incomprehensible to me. I figure you’d have to just let a lot of the tasks of keeping children provided for slide. Provided for, but less so. It’s not their fault if that is the case. Simple math. You can only do so much. Even trading sanity, sleep, or personal hygiene is only going to buy you small bits in the Sisyphean effort of child rearing.

Does having two parents present really help? I mean it should theoretically halve the burden, right? Maybe it does in some ways, but in terms of productivity? Nah, at least not in my experience. Kids are around? Then productivity is in serious jeopardy. It’s not like you take shifts with the kids. At least most of the time that isn’t how it works out, and probably wouldn’t be healthy if it did.

Even when they aren’t actively demanding your attention – like when they’re asleep – they hinder things. Have some home improvement project you were hoping to make progress on while they aren’t pestering you? Maybe if it is a quite thing, sure, but most home improvement stuff isn’t. Just need to run to the store? well, you can’t just leave them home sleeping. Coin toss for which parent gets to leave the house tonight! But don’t forget you have to weigh this plan of temporary escape against the risk that the noise of the starting car or opening garage door might wake the gremlins from their slumber. Forget it, lets just use paper towels for toilet paper.

Okay, enough of my whining/commiserating. That wasn’t what I set out to write about.

What I wanted to write about is how I am starting to be able to be okay with it all. This has to do with a realignment of perspective. Life in the big picture isn’t about being “productive”. Not to sound too much like some cliché flowery poster or something, but life is about love(1). And, since love only makes sense in terms of relationship life is also about relationships. Boil it right down, and kids, while they might be just the worst helpers(2) anyone could hope for, and are a huge productivity dampers by way of the relationship they impose on you, cannot be hindering your life. (No matter how much it feels like they are sucking the life out of you sometimes). They reduce “productivity” not life. “productivity” is not a valid synonym for life. A productive existence does not necessarily equate with an accomplished life, and these two might even negatively correlate given how relationships, messy as they tend to be, reduce productivity.

Maybe this is obvious to most people? Regardless, it is a simple truth. It is easy enough to say I believe it. On the other hand, letting it be true deeper down, and actually letting relationships have priority over productivity – this is going to continue to be a struggle.

One thing I have been trying out that is maybe helping with this some for me is incorporating the idea of a Sabbath into my schedule. And I don’t mean the drag the whole family to church services and activities for the day(3) that many people call by the same word, but more like the biblical idea of a Sabbath. One day where I intend to be entirely unproductive. The idea behind it is rest, spiritual rest more than physical rest as I understand it, so for me it isn’t about avoiding things that take energy, but about putting aside whatever to-do list I might have and focusing instead on resting, relaxing, and just enjoying life instead of working. Giving myself a break from the need and drive to be productive.

I think my wife thought this meant I just wanted to be lazy and go off by myself for one day a week since as an introverted person that is a common way I re-energize, however even as an introvert there is a certain amount of rest to be found in relationships when there isn’t any productive work I am supposed to be doing. For example, when I am not being emotionally worn down by the frustrations of trying to be productive with kids around I find I can more easily enjoy them. Even apart from Sabbath days I am attempting to see the ways that relationship interrupt productivity as less of something to be frustrated by and more like the primary thing life is about intersecting into that which is merely auxiliary to life.

1. I won’t bother to make a case for this statement, just read the bible or something. However, if you don’t agree then my conclusion won’t make any sense.

2. I cringe inside every time people at the store say to me “looks like you have a lot of helpers today”

3. Dragging my family to a church service would be almost the opposite of what Sabbath is meant to be. It is only one of the many reasons I think “church” is dumb.

4. Why WordPress doesn’t have flippin footnotes as a built-in feature by now!

A Fresh Angle on Justice

I have been contemplating the theological idea of penal substitutionary atonement. It’s the one often preached as ‘Jesus took your punishment for sin and died on the cross in your place’ or some similar variant. As I understand it, it goes hand in hand with the concept that each person has a sin debt that must be paid. There are lots of legal or economic metaphors for the sin debt and how Jesus effectively takes care of that for us. But whatever the metaphor, in my mind, the doctrine has held some merit because God being perfectly just meant sin couldn’t merely be forgiven.

Over the past few years and recently in reading on the topic more I have started to get a new perspective on the idea of justice though. Whereas I had seen justice as sort of opposite of mercy in very rationalistic terms – mercy being not getting what you deserve,  and justice being getting what you deserve – I have started to embrace the more emotional aspects of these words which changes their meanings dramatically. ‘Do the crime do the time’ used to make more sense to me than it does now.  Jail and even kids time outs may still serve some purpose, but I have pretty much given up on it being about serving the purpose of justice.  And letting people just get away with whatever bad behavior doesn’t equate to mercy in my mind.

This quote struck a chord in me,  ‘If we want to understand the concept of justice as the writers of the Old Testament did, then we must see it as a “setting things right again”.’ how did I miss this? It’s all over the place in scripture, and even just common sense says Justice has more to do with restoration than punishment.  And mercy! Mercy isn’t leniency, it isn’t neglecting punishment, it’s about being compassionate. Compassion meaning to truly see through the eyes of another. Jesus had mercy on sinners not because he was denying their sin, but precisely because he did see.

In light of this, the dichotomy between a “God of justice” in the Old Testament and a “God of mercy” in the New mostly disappears. The supposed split in his character dissolves. God has always been compassionate and loving, he has always been mercifully seeking justice. Jesus reveals who God is and who God has always been. Justice is about mercy. Justice comes through mercy and always has.

For me I feel like the penal substitutionary atonement doctrine has gotten in my way. I don’t know if I am ready to say it is altogether inaccurate, but I am pretty sure it is overemphasized and often oversimplified in ways that, at the least, paints an inaccurate and incomplete picture.

Vaccines

Apparently there is some sort of flu ‘epidemic’ going on. I am pretty skeptical of the buzz on this. The cynical part of me wonders about the fear mongering and who might be profiting from it. No doubt someone stands to make quite a bit of money from all the vaccinations that are being pushed so aggressively through so many channels. That in itself isn’t reason to buy into some conspiracy theory, but, just saying, it is worth keeping in mind.

Because of all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) running rampant numerous people have recently asked me about, or lectured me about, my stance on vaccinations. Before I get to what I think, it is worth saying that I’d be grateful to not be judged as stupid, crazy, or uninformed. I hate how people on either side of the issue tend to judge those with a differing opinion as such. Doctors or people with some element of accredited biological education tend to be some of the worst. In my experience these sorts of people seem to be some of the most blind to their own biases. Natural health type people can be just as blindly opinionated though. The truth I see is that there are virtual mountains of information to sift through on the issue and plenty of missing research to boot. That being the case I honestly have a hard time understanding the polarization. Given that my wife and I lead a normal life with plenty of other things to worry about I think we have made a reasonable effort to look at the data we have come across and listen to authorities on both sides objectively, and we’ll continue to evaluate new information on the topic as it comes to us. While our stance isn’t firmly planted, at this point it isn’t likely to move drastically. I suppose this is true generally for lots of stances we have, but I digress…

My take, briefly summarized, is that vaccines aren’t bad. However, they do have at least a small degree of short term risk. They also have potentially numerous long term risks including side effects ranging from developing more allergies to impaired mental function. Those long term risks seem to grow with more vaccinations concentrated at younger ages, so with our kids we tend towards a delayed and more spread out schedule tailored to our particular risk environments. Our kids didn’t conceivably need a Hepatitis shot at birth for example.  Even discounting the risk factors and granting some efficacy, at least in the short term, there is some evidence that vaccines aren’t the best way to build long term immunity, especially for particular types of viruses, and there is also some evidence to support the theory that vaccines aren’t the best way to develop the immune system as a whole. In general this leads us to avoid vaccinations for less threatening illnesses. That is all pretty softly stated and subjective – meaning I have no solid recommendations for what anyone else ought to do. Sorry, and you’re welcome.

Soul Mate Thoughts

The idea seems to be prevalent. Sometimes it is tied to destiny explicitly. Sometimes it is less overtly tied to deterministic philosophies and there is talk of true love or chemistry. Either way the consideration that conscious human decision can or should play a role in who ones soul mate will be appears to be rejected, and the sense I get is that it would somehow be less romantic if it were. I think this is fundamentally flawed.

Some logically minded people who aren’t as taken in by the emotional appeal of a love that is ‘meant to be’ throw the baby out with the bath water though. I have been one of them. Saying things like, “there isn’t ‘the one’ out there for me, just some better ones and some worse ones.” And thinking what suckers and dupes all the people are who buy into this Disney-fied idea of romance are.

Being married for a while now has changed my thinking on this, however. And I am not just saying what I am about to say to win points with my wife (though I’ll take what I can get). I am saying it for the benefit of those out there who were like me – who see or feel there is a major flaw in the popular contemporary concept of romantic love, but can’t quite put your finger on it.

I now am convinced that a soul mate is a real thing. My wife is ‘the one’ for me.

Not that I want to ruin the romantic appeal of those truths, but there is a caveat, and that is that it wasn’t always true. It has become true. I guess you could say it is still becoming more and more true. I chose her. She chose me. Now that those choices have been made the deal is sealed. We are soul mates. It is epic in it’s profound simplicity, right?!

This is nothing new. This is as far as I can tell the biblical idea of marriage. It wasn’t something I had missed exactly, just like lots of truth though, it is something that sinks in deeper the more you encounter it throughout life.

Why is it then that many prefer the version that nullifies the role of human volition? Of the two, the sort of love and union that involves mutual decisions of otherwise free souls to commit to binding themselves to each other feels more significant to me. My best guess is that the appeal of destined love is one of security or permanence. Theoretically, you can’t ever chose to reject the soul mate you never had the option of choosing in the first place. The big problem here is that we never have certainty about fates assignments. We always have the option to abandon one who we thought was our soul mate for someone who has come along and seems like a better candidate for the position. In much the same way we can just as easily encounter falling out of love as we can falling into it.

Hating on Pragmatic Idealism

One rarely knows what is good for us and what is bad. Therefore if we knowingly put ourselves in the hands of Almighty, whatever happens must be deemed good. And I try literally to follow that precept. – Gandhi

As one who has often been labeled as an idealist, where the implication was clear that it is a negative attribute, this quote resonated with me. It’s not not because the assessment isn’t true, I am pretty idealistic, it’s that the judgement is both hypocritical and arrogant.

That comes off as overly defensive maybe, but allow me unpack it. The underlying assumption and attitude is that it is better to be pragmatic. So, when I say that the critique of idealism is hypocritical I mean that the brand of pragmatism that criticizes idealism is itself an ideal. If by ideal we mean that which is the best way of doing things, or determining what are the best things to do, then pragmatism is simply a particular one that says we ought to determine our actions based on what (we guess) will produce the best outcome. Pragmatism seems to be a peculiar sub-species of utilitarianism. Unfortunately as part of being ‘realistic’ they often attempt to bypass meaningful debate by labeling so called idealists as having their heads in the clouds, or up their butts or something.

The arrogance of the pragmatist lies in the assumption that we have either sufficient knowledge or reliable methodologies for concluding what is ‘best’. There are clues for that sort of thing. Patterns of cause and effect. I don’t mean to say wisdom isn’t important. Being pragmatic isn’t all bad. It can be a highly beneficial thing when given the proper role or emphasis. It becomes bad when we are willing to sacrifice principles on its behalf. I think this happens to often. However, I don’t see people jumping at the chance to cave on issues they care about. Rather than consciously capitulating, I notice people making the sacrifice in the name of pragmatics preemptively by avoiding or refusing to see any given issue as one where principles apply.