The Two Evils (Part One)

August 18, 2011

It seems that every Presidential election has been chalked up by many as “choosing the lesser of two evils.” Why is that, really? It’s too easy to blame it on the nature of politics or corruption by the media or corporate interests. It’s impossible to have a candidate that a majority of Americans would consider the ideal candidate—our country is far too diverse. But it seems that we can’t even find a candidate who the majority of people would agree is “good enough.”

There’s always the fringes to blame. Certainly the current litter of Republican candidates for 2012 shows the fringe’s influence. As last week’s debate in Iowa showed, every single participating candidate claims they would sooner watch our entire infrastructure collapse before they allowed a single tax to go up a dime. Nearly all of them believe that their personal religious values should become federal law, and many of them support permanently amending the Constitution to conform to their short-term political agendas. They are candidates who are promising to hand the entire country over to their constituency of just 26% of the population.

On the Democratic side, liberals complain of the opposite problem—tradition assures that President Obama will seek a second term without a primary battle, and even if he did have to survive a primary, there is no reason to believe that the competition would be any different than it was in 2008, when the Democratic candidate pool was so homogenous it came down to little more than whoever had the most celebrity status. While Republicans are being forced to choose between bible-thumping social engineers and neo-anarchist tax hawks, liberals who want to vote for gay marriage, expanded welfare, or corporate regulation are given no choice at all.

What happened? How did our only choices become ideologues and bureaucrats?

Read part two here

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Did 9/11 cause the economic crisis?

August 11, 2011

There have been plenty of arguments that 9/11 led to the wars, or that our fear of terrorists led to us to vote opportunist politicians into office, but I get tired of people blaming the government for all our problems.

Wars and politics aside, I wonder if we allowed subprime mortgages, Bernie Madoff, predatory lending, and corrupt banks to survive because of 9/11.

The terrorist attacks were a tragedy, to be sure, but a tragedy which ushered back to life an era of fear and suspense, the greatest sales tools known to man. It was a sales opportunity like no other, in that nobody knew what they were afraid of. It was Muslims who carried out the attacks, but there are too many Muslims within our ranks to turn them into enemies. What’s worse, it was too difficult to convince Muslims to disavow their faith. It was easy to fear communists—if one did know of a communist, if you could convince them to wave an American flag and vote in November you’d have a moral victory giving you a sense of safety for a while. We tried to get the Muslims to disavow themselves, but got a resounding “fuck you, we didn’t do it.” Then it was us waspy Americans who were left with a decision—profess our hatred for all Muslims, or decide they weren’t the enemy. Some chose the former, but for the most part, too many Americans had a friend named Ahmed for the culture war to really develop teeth.

So instead, we blamed a lack of privacy. It wasn’t a rational decision, and we didn’t come to that decision ourselves—we were given it, by people who knew how to make privacy profitable. The enemy became anyone and everyone who wanted our information. We guarded our credit cards, stopped answering our phones, and refused to give anyone our social security numbers. We paid for people to purge our names from the internet. We protested social websites who posted our information every time we clicked ‘post.’ We blocked advertising companies and market researchers from finding out where we shopped and what we bought.

For many industries, it was a dream come true. If they could dangle a carrot in front of us just long enough to let them into our lives, they could eat us away from the inside, and nobody would ever find out because we wouldn’t let anyone else in to see what they were doing. Credit card companies started charging enormous rates and fees. Mortgage lenders sold us houses we couldn’t afford. Stock brokers put our money into fake assets, and nobody saw any of it happening because we wouldn’t allow anyone to check them out. The giant corporations actually got us to fight on their behalf, getting us to revolt against any effort to investigate their records, lest some unknown enemy get a hold of the bank account number they set up for you and use it to fly a plane into a building.

That’s my theory, anyway.


A recap of the fallout over the Debt Ceiling debate

August 8, 2011

The overall consensus seems to be that we’re suddenly slipping back into a recession because everybody in Washington is more interested in making other people look bad than actually governing… and in response to that criticism today, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney blamed Obama, Obama blamed the Tea Party, the Tea Party blamed Congress, the Democrat-led Senate blamed the House of Representatives, and the Republican-led House blamed Democrats.

Great. We feel much better now.


About Not the Debt Ceiling

July 29, 2011

It was my fullest intention to write this week about the debt ceiling. I was going to answer all your questions about what it was, what it meant, what the stakes were. I had real-life anecdotes that put it into terms that non-politically savvy people could understand. I had an essay prepared on why liberals didn’t need to worry about the debt ceiling so much, and an essay to conservatives on why raising the debt ceiling was in their own best interests.

But instead I’m going to write an essay on why I’m not going to write about the debt ceiling.

As vogue as politics have become in the last few years, the population of people who actually care is still relatively small, and I accept that. There were segments on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the Late Late Show that exposed the fact that nobody really even knows what the debt ceiling is. It seemed to me that it was perfect fodder, then, for me, as my personal goal is to provide what I consider agenda-free education on current events and such. Could there be a more perfect topic than one that all of us are thinking about but nobody understood?

I started conducting research. What did people want to know about the debt ceiling? What were their misconceptions? What were they afraid of that the didn’t have to be? What weren’t they afraid of that they should be? What I learned over two weeks of discussions is that nobody really cared what the debt ceiling was.

http://a.abc.com/media/_global/swf/embed/2.6.9/SFP_Walt.swfOn some level, people seem to believe that the debt ceiling is a completely fabricated term. It seems to fall in the same category as Y2K, or the Clinton Impeachment, or the outrage over Janet Jackson’s nipple, or that weirdo in California who said the world was ending. The politicians spend all their resources making a big deal out of something, but the consensus among most people is that no matter what happens, whether the debt ceiling passes or whether it doesn’t, when August 3rd rolls around, life will just go on as if nothing had happened.

And that’s as good of a reason as any why we should stop thinking that just because we’re a democracy, the average person somehow has any clue what’s really going on. It’s not their fault, though. Just as Hollywood movies have to blow something up or spend millions of dollars in computer effects to keep an audience’s attention, news media and politicians have been ramping up the rhetoric for so long that we just assume that everything from Washington is just the latest overblown faux-crisis. Even the Washington insiders are exploiting this jaded view of themselves—this week, Republicans literally referred to Harry Reid’s proposal to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as “gimmicky.”

That’s not to say that people don’t have opinions about the debt ceiling. Boy, are there opinions. I even had this crazy idea of addressing those opinions, contributing to the discourse, dispelling some myths, but as I took a serious look at the substance of what people had to say about the debt ceiling, it was very clear that they still didn’t care about the actual issue of raising the debt ceiling. They care about the battle between liberals and conservatives, and the higher the stakes, the more intense the battle. But the opinions themselves are almost entirely just political mad libs, where they just pulled out their arguments about health care reform, or tax cuts for the rich, or the ACLU, and swapped out the nouns with “debt ceiling” and “default.”

I’m not saying they don’t care whether we raise the debt ceiling. They care. They really, really care. But very few people are willing to admit that they had never heard of the debt ceiling until earlier this year, and even now they don’t know what it is. Think back to when Clinton was impeached. Everybody made a really big deal about that. People took sides, and from how they put it, they saw the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal or the subsequent hearings (depending on which side you were on) as the bellwether of the end of our society. Then Clinton was impeached, and everybody was shocked and stunned that he got to keep on being President. Why? Because at no point did anybody really care what “impeachment” meant. They never made any effort to find out. It was just the latest noun in their word salad of political outrage.

It’s no wonder, then, that people don’t take the current debate over raising the debt ceiling seriously. Most people can’t differentiate between the current debate and the other 10 things a year that they’re told is the worst thing ever to happen in the history of America. They don’t care what the debt ceiling is, because they’ve got other things to care about, and it didn’t seem to hurt them any that they didn’t really understand Y2K or impeachment or so-called armageddon.

And so if I were to spend an entire week publishing online a survey of the debt ceiling and its history, who would read it? How would it prove to be a constructive use of my time?

I don’t have a problem, by the way, with people thinking they have better things to worry about. Ultimately, that’s the smartest stand to take, because if Speaker Boehner and President Obama are as powerless as they appear to be, there’s certainly nothing that any of us can do. However, there are also plenty of people who take one side or another and take it very, very seriously. They believe that nothing less than the permanent integrity of our nation rests in this decision, that the unprecedented move of defaulting on our debts would cause an irreversible, worldwide catastrophe, that if our government cannot raise the debt ceiling, they will officially be the worst government in the history of democracy. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not, but what’s important here is that they don’t care whether they’re right. They don’t even care what they’re talking about. And their reckless abuse of ignorance is patently obvious to everyone.

Their willing ignorance is what has led 65% of Americans (that figure is based on nothing) not to care, but more importantly, it is what has empowered politicians to have these fights at all. If politicians thought that nobody would care, they wouldn’t bother trying to earn political points on these issues and they’d just do their jobs, but if they thought that Americans would actually attempt to educate themselves and make rational decisions based on the facts they were presented, they wouldn’t take these hardline stances and they would govern with open minds and nuance, which would inevitably lead to agreement and compromise. But the Darwinian nature of a two-year political cycle has long sifted out the governors of nuance and they have been replaced by the politicians best able to exploit their willfully ignorant base, whether it’s the no-taxes moral majority of the right or the black man of hope versus the feminist icon of empowerment on the left.

If there is any one thing that Americans should truly be afraid of, one thing that ultimately does cause visible permanent damage to our national well-being, the willfully ignorant angry mobs who spit in the face of facts and reason are it.


Welcome Back!

June 28, 2011

 

TVMAfter an “indefinite hiatus,” The Vigilante Mind is back. For those of you who have never heard of TVM, welcome and enjoy.

You’ll see on this page a handful of older essays, and some old segments will be posted as well. In August, the TVM podcast will be revived in its new home on YouTube.

Over the next few weeks we’ll also be posting introductions to the Vigilante Mind segments, with an explanation of what each segment’s all about. To begin with, TVM will be posted just one segment at a time. If more subscribers hop on and resources permit, we’ll return to full 30-minute episodes sometime down the road.

If you have any questions or comments, offer them below, or email us at VigilanteMind@gmail.com. And once again, welcome!


26%

May 31, 2011

I saw an interesting poll on Facebook… I know, that has to be the single worst place to look to for insight, but there was something very revealing on it… the poll question was to answer the following mathematical equation:

10 + 10 x 0 = ?

Now, the answer is 10, but about a third of people answered 0. It’s a perfectly understandable mistake… tons of people know that anything times zero is zero, but they forget that multiplication is always done before addition, so it’s actually 10+(10×0). What makes it worse is that a calculator will give you the wrong answer. But the correct answer is 10.

What I thought was revealing was the comments by the people who got it wrong, who noticed that 70% of the people polled gave the correct answer, 10. Overwhelmingly (actually, unanimously among people who commented), they pointed to it as proof that 70% of people are stupid, commenting with things like “what’s wrong with the world” and “this is pathetic” and “how sad that people don’t know basic math.” They truly believed that they were the mere 30% who knew correct math, and it never occurred to them that the majority of people may be onto something.

I only mention it because it’s such a pure instance of a lot of “debate” that has been in the news lately, and I think it explains a lot. A solid minority of people (I’ve pegged it at 26%) honestly, truly believe that they have all the right answers, and the fact that a vast majority of people disagree with them only proves that a vast majority of people are wrong. It’s the only solution.

I actually think those people have always been around, but they haven’t had a forum until the internet came around. When we got our information through schools and newspapers, there were people who took a greater world view and determined what was true and what wasn’t. Now a minority of people can access other people who share that minority, and band together. Even on the internet, they’re just 26% of people, but if they spend all their time on websites that cater to their world view (and 26% of people is still hundreds of millions of people in the English-speaking world alone), it looks to them like they are a massive force to be reckoned with.

It may even look like that to the other 70% or so of us, and lead us to conclude ourselves that humanity is in trouble, but if we continue to be aggressive in demanding intellect and reason in everything we see, and ignore the anti-intellectualist resistance force who attack us as elitist or naïve, we still have numbers that they never will. They may have never been as vocal and as powerful as they are today, but they’ve always been just 26%.

http://failbook.failblog.org/2011/05/31/funny-facebook-fails-x/


Why I Celebrate Death

May 3, 2011

Back in college, a kid got into a fight with me because I said I was against world peace. It seemed that he wasn’t quite 100% behind peace either if there was someone who disagreed with him.

I seem to be getting into fights again, because I really feel uncomfortable with all the people taking a stand, saying that Bin Laden’s death was absolutely a bad thing, that it is always wrong to want someone to die. The fight would usually start with me being conflicted, which would somehow evolve into me practically dancing on Bin Laden’s grave.

I am happy he’s dead. I’m happy he’s dead much in the way he’s happy he’s dead. Ten years ago, he started a fight that we didn’t want to be in, and the logical conclusion to that fight was us killing him. He continued to plot attacks against the west, but he didn’t really seem to have much direction in his attacks. He evaded capture, but he wasn’t in some underground bunker as we envisioned him, but instead in a million-dollar compound that he had built right in the middle of a tourist town. There’s a picture of his compound online where you can see store signs just outside written in English. I have no doubt that he loved knowing there were Westerners just outside his door, oblivious to his existence.

Because that was the metaphor for this entire battle between Al-Qaeda and the West. Obliviousness. Bush wasn’t far off when he said “they hate us for our freedom.” Where he made his mistake was that they weren’t jealous of our freedom— they hated that we were completely oblivious of what the rest of the world had to pay so that we could be free. Here we were, the world’s lone superpower, rich beyond belief because we strolled in and declared ourselves the winners of World War I after it had bankrupted the rest of Europe. And what was the reward for the side we took? Europe divided out the entire world in their name. You can imagine that some of the European installments sounded familiar to Bin Laden: Iraq. Israel. Syria. Lebanon.

The same thing happened in World War II. Then, as the Middle East started falling apart, the U.S. started shouldering in and taking a bit for themselves. In the world where Bin Laden grew up, Arabs worked their entire lives pulling oil out of the territory that they lived in and handed that oil to an American company, who sold it for profits that the Arabs would only share if they were themselves Westernized. Bin Laden himself worked for America, and you can bet that was where the seed was sown. America didn’t care about him. America didn’t care about his people. America was so powerful that they could just walk in and take whatever they wanted. No war needed; they could buy entire countries.

So of course Americans were against war. Of course they didn’t want any bloodshed. Because war and bloodshed were the only hope that people like Bin Laden had, and America didn’t need it anymore.

Of course, the Bin Laden family didn’t walk away with nothing. They were, and are, filthy rich and incredibly popular. Nonetheless, 99% of Americans neither knew nor cared who they were. Imagine that for an up and coming megalomaniac— from where he stood, Americans owed him everything and gave him nothing.

So he took to terrorism. Most of his projects were good enough to be on the news for a few days, maybe even a month. Then, on 9/11, everything went his way. Suddenly, his name was known by every single person on the planet. Can you imagine what a rush that would be? He knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans got to him, but it didn’t matter anymore. He was a hero and a messiah.

He probably never guessed he would last another 10 years. There seems to be some indication that he was even getting a bit lazy—maybe he was growing impatient himself? He wouldn’t give up, and he would continue to try to cause more terrorist attacks, but he had already completed his masterpiece. (From a completely historical perspective, one of my favorite interviews of all time was Osama Bin Laden talking to Al-Jazeera about the attack, discussing it as you’d expect Matthew McConaughey to discuss the making of his most recent film.)

Then, on Sunday, the time came. The helicopters descended. I’m sure that if Bin Laden could do it over again, he wouldn’t have gone down shooting random bullets into the air while using his wife as a human shield, but otherwise, it was an end fitting for a martyr.

The Muslim world is celebrating Bin Laden’s death, whether they hated him or loved him. In the Middle-Eastern Muslim culture, death is not the horrible tragedy that it is here. It’s the triumphant end to a great story. It’s the climax to the film. For Bin Laden to have died of kidney complications—THAT would have been tragic.

Here, we celebrate his death for a similar reason. It’s the end of the story. The funny thing is, both sides think they won. And both sides are at least partially right. But for us it’s the final narrative to the 9/11 saga. There are a few of us who feel that our own deaths have been avenged, but I’m reluctant to believe that for most of us, we’ve been losing much sleep over him still being alive. Mostly, it’s just been that sense of knowing that the story was unfinished (and, if the story is unfinished, it means by default that we, the protagonists, have lost).

Which brings me back to the people who have taken today as an opportunity to be angry that we celebrate Bin Laden’s death. I don’t doubt that your feelings are sincere, and I know for a fact that many of you feel very, very strongly about it. But the question is: why? What’s wrong with Bin Laden dying? What makes you so angry?

The general line seems to be that it’s only the bad guys who solve their problems by killing the other side. What did you think was going to happen? Were we going to capture Bin Laden and try him in a fair court? Was Bin Laden going to come to our point of view? Were we going to come to his? Were we just never going to have resolution? This idea, that we were somehow the pure, enlightened souls who had finally realized that war is bad and death is wrong, is exactly what Osama Bin Laden hated about this country. We are somehow capable of strolling through our lives, honestly believing that oppression, aggression, and violence are not the backbone of our existence. It was this obliviousness that made us target number one, and why he wanted us to be the evil ones who martyred him.

And that was part of our punishment. What transpired Sunday night was not retribution for 9/11. It was Act III of the story. From the moment the twin towers went down, it was our burden to find Bin Laden and kill him. Believe it or not, very few of us wanted to be the ones who solved things through murder. We would have loved for the end of the story to be that Bin Laden was found guilty by his peers and lived out the rest of his days atoning for his deeds. Of course we would.

And that’s just how naive we are. We think that we get to make that choice. We should have got to come out the good guys in this, because gosh, we’re always the good guys. We’re the peaceful ones, who solve things through justice and democracy.

No, we aren’t, and as long as you reap the benefits of our aggression, you don’t get to live in that reality. Face the facts: we are not better than that. We are not always the good guys, and we don’t get to suddenly say that we are. If we were the good guys, 9/11 never would have happened. It’s terrible, but it’s true. Are we to blame for 9/11? God, no. We may take some blame for the state the Middle East is in, but Osama Bin Laden takes full blame, and full credit, for the destruction 2001. And we, in turn, were left with no choice but to take all the credit, and all the blame, for killing him in return. Because that’s the burden we bear for our prosperity, and price we pay for our freedom.