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March 22, 2005

Please Answer the Below Questions

Despite appearances, I have essentially no interest in politics. Or at least, I don't care about "politics" as it's generally defined. By generally defined, I mean what the Washington Post, etc. considers to be politics. This is two things:

1. Micro-level political maneuvering. Who's going to be appointed Assistant Undersecretary of State for Russo-Polynesian Affairs? What's the whip count on H.RES. 2831, the Keeping America's Puppies Strong And Healthy Act? What member of the cabinet was allowed to use the Toilet of the President of the United States (TOT-POTUS) at Camp David last week, thus indicating that he/she is particularly favored by the President?

2. Macro-level sociological wankery. When politicians and political funders want to give the impression they're Serious People who Think Big Thoughts, they hire somebody to do this. That somebody goes away for a while and then comes back with a book titled Whither Eurosclerosis? Then the politician endorses it in an interview with Newsweek. Then the Newsweek reporter is overcome by being the presence of such a great man, and ejaculates all over himself.

I guess #1 can be interesting if you live in Washington and are of a certain class, just like it's interesting if you live in Hollywood to talk about who Miramax is going to hire as their next Vice President for Period Dramas. But everyone else in America just cares about whether there are any good movies to see this weekend.

Likewise, #2 is fascinating if you're a tenured professor at Stanford who's terrified of humanity and prefers to deal with sweeping abstractions. And it's useful if you're a politician and want to get Newsweek reporters to ejaculate all over themselves. But other humans are focused on more mundane topics, such as "I hope I don't die tomorrow" and "what's for dinner?"

So, no normal person cares about either of these things. Neither has anything to do with the way normal people experience being alive.

Nevertheless, I think it's very very very very very very (very) important to pay attention to politics. #1 and #2 aren't inherently interesting, but taken together they have a huge impact on whether we live or die. And I think everyone can agree that living or dying is EXTREMELY interesting. If you have the mindset that politics has that level of importance—that it has an impact on whether or not the plane you're on tomorrow will be hit by a ground-to-air missile and you'll be torn in two, tossing your own beloved intestines into the air at 29,000 feet—it makes politics much more compelling.

Furthermore, politics is also a small subset of human psychology. And I believe almost everyone is interested in human psychology. And whether everyone is or not, I am.

As an example of this, I don't have much interest in proving the Bush administration lied about Iraq and WMD. Proving that politicians lie is like proving the sky is blue. However, I AM interested in what proportion of Bush administration lying is conscious deception of others, and what proportion is self-deception.

So, here's a short, almost exhaustive list of what I'm interested in:

1. Are politicians (in America and elsewhere) going to kill me?

2. Are politicians going to kill people I care about?

3. How can we work together to prevent politicians from killing us?

4. What does politics tell us about human psychology generally?

5. How can we use the answer from question #4 to answer question #3?

What are the answers to these questions? I don't know, please tell me.

Posted at March 22, 2005 09:14 AM | TrackBack

Answers to

1) If you get in their way, yes; if you're one of the not wealthy, eventually yes.

2) If the people you care about fit in the categories above, yes.

3) Pool resources for group rates on a bus ticket to Canada or boat passage to Sweden.

4) Venality trumps all.

5) We can't.

Posted by: cavanaghjam at March 22, 2005 10:41 AM

It's reached the point where I expect to be killed by politicians either by malice or gross negligence.

I'm convinced America isn't on a slippery slope but is free-falling in a flat spin. Consequently, my interests are starting to shift away from preventing our collective demise to addressing the question of how to improve our quality of life before smashing into the ground at terminal velocity.

How this ties into why I read your musings, I'm not exactly sure. In addition to your humor (a fairly rare characteristic in the blogosphere) I suspect your appeal lies in the various manifestations of your laissez-faire, come what may attitude. You seem to understand politics in and of itself can't save us. Then again, maybe I'm projecting.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at March 22, 2005 10:57 AM

What am I interested in? Well, it's kind of depressing, because I used to make fun of people who scream "What about the CHILDREN? Won't somebody think of the CHILDREN?", but now that I have a small child I find myself thinking about him with depressing frequency. Not, indeed, the right-wing fuckwit fantasies where I am constantly worried about gay married couples kidnapping him, forcefully adopting him, and teaching him to recognize non-primary colors such as "periwinkle" and "coral". Instead, there are more disturbing thoughts like "If somebody tried to harm him, I don't think my lazy pacifist ass would hesitate to kill" and "Gee, I hope I'm able to feed him when the economy melts down".

That sort of thing does keep me in a more or less constant state of rage, but I do note with interest and a certain amount of hope that I am not alone in this. A strong majority of the country has a very low opinion of Congress, and regardless of what his tiny brain believes, Bush is not very popular. Historically it has taken the country a very long time to change course (think of how many decades the Progressives took to make any difference, or for that matter how long it took for the modern Conservative movement to hit its stride) but it does happen. The broad disapproval of the Republican leadership is a good start, and I hope it leads somewhere good before it is too late.

Posted by: Ted at March 22, 2005 11:19 AM


My evaluation of our circumstances is that—if things take a turn for the very bad here—neither Canada nor Sweden will be safe. As Milan Kundera once said, "There is no escape for anyone anywhere."

And you may be right that there's nothing much anyone can do. However, I find my day to day life is much more enjoyable if I assume that I can make some difference, and act on that assumption. If my assumption is right, then great. If not, at least I was happier while waiting for doom to arrive.

Arvin Hill,

As I say, I agree we may be on our way to a societal face-plant. But do you, like me, find that assuming you can do something about it improves your quality of life? Not only does it help me, it's really the only thing that does.


One thing that gives me hope is that the bad possibilities we face now are planet-wide. Even the very rich will not be able to escape them, and the more intelligent very rich understand this. Hence George Soros, etc. So we may have more wind at our back than we think.

Or, not. But I enjoy believing it.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 22, 2005 11:32 AM

On the other hand, George Soros seems like a pretty decent guy, and he knows what it's like to be poor. So maybe his recognition of today's problems is mostly empathy and not just self-interest.

Sure, the very rich will get hit a bit if the world has a major economic meltdown. But historically they have always survived better than everyone else, and didn't have to eat their young as some of the lower strata did. The Great Depression was a bad time for much of the world, but the rich did fine. Even a major planetary catastrophe brought on by global warming will probably not matter much to them since they will simply leave their beach houses and go to Aspen instead.

But it's nice that George Soros and others are trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately it seems as though most of the political movements in this country, from the American Revolution on down, don't succeed unless at least some of the very rich get involved. The health insurance debacle is unlikely to change until the CEOs of the largest businesses notice how much they are spending on benefits and demand relief from Congress. Alternative energy research won't really kick in until it becomes economically sensible for large corporations. And so on. So yes, this is the kind of wind at the back that we need.

Posted by: Ted at March 22, 2005 11:44 AM

As I say, I agree we may be on our way to a societal face-plant. But do you, like me, find that assuming you can do something about it improves your quality of life? Not only does it help me, it's really the only thing that does.

Yes, Jonathan, I emphatically agree.

It seems to me what's missing from the prevailing liberal perspective is the long view. After twenty-five years of a sustained conservative assault on the very foundations of constitutional democracy, the American psyche has undergone many a devastating permutation.

We need to begin thinking in terms of generational change. When confining our energies to the political arena, we're basically focused on short-term battles. We have to think further down the road than simply who is president and who controls Congress and what bills are pending. Those things are extremely important, but not in lieu of working on social change.

In other words, it's probably too late for us, but not our children and the coming generations if we give them something to work with.

For a social movement to develop at all, it's going to require more than astute blogging. Geographical alliances based on shared principles must be cultivated. This would seem to be the logical extension of online activism, but we're not there yet.

I'm an introvert who has largely resisted ground level activism at the community level. As a Red Stater in one of the most wretchedly conservative districts in Texas, it is a dangerous proposition. People around here equate "turning my kid into a liberal" with "turning my kid into a crack whore." But, alas, this is the task I - and others - are faced with, and much depends our success.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at March 22, 2005 12:53 PM

No one can possibly think George Soros is a good guy, could they? Did he not make his billions betting on the devaluation of foreign currencies? Didn't this result in the collapse of several east Asian economies?

Do not get me wrong, if he is willing to support organizations that oppose the current military junta in Washington, I am all for it. But let's not get carried away with how wonderful he is.

Posted by: Alain at March 22, 2005 01:28 PM


Fair enough. I too will bond with those who do not want to "dance around wearing our pancreas on his head."

By the way, I read your site because it is informed and funny. Thanks. Please keep doing what you do.

Posted by: Alain at March 22, 2005 02:08 PM

Am interested in divesting every last university, city, and the whole U.S. of A,, from Israel--

--Before they kill off every last Palestinian in Palestine.

Posted by: Helping Palestine get free at last. at March 22, 2005 05:26 PM

Today I am like the guy upthread interested in my kids and what their life quality will be like. I was thinking (and they were too) that they'd go to college in the US. The story today about the native american pre-teen who shot up his school kind of terrified me.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at March 23, 2005 01:11 AM

What I'm interested in - well, my bachelor's degree was in political science, my doctorate in psychology, I was formerly active in the affairs of a local Unitarian Universalist congregation [now I attend mass at least weekly with my spouse, a lifelong Catholic], and I am currently enrolled in massage therapy training.

As I think about your questions, I think I'd like to know more about what you mean by "politician" - which relates to what is meant by "power", and what is meant by "command and control" and "influence."

What are people like? Well, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that people have both divine and demonic tendencies - and makes a tripartite classification of motives (enlightment and compassion vs. power and domination vs. oblivion and destruction, roughly). Ernest Becker, in his books "Escape from Evil" and "Denial of Death", concludes that the terror of the situation - our evident mortality - drives us to seek refuge in beliefs about heaven and hell, or a worker's paradise of the future, or a thousand year reich, or some such. Because such beliefs are built on sand, it makes us VERY uncomfortable when someone disagrees with them - and to deal with that discomfort, we resort to mass murder. This seems consistent with my own observations.

The solution is found in the central scene of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: The gradual growth of a person's soul is promoted by guided self-observation - a process unfortunately thwarted by man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia. "Wearing enough hats" is a polysemic phrase in the discourse there - it refers both to distraction by the trivial, and the actual or imaginal assuming of different roles in a variety of contexts, which promotes the process of guided self-observation.

This relates to your question #2 - "people you care about". I'd suggest question 2a could be - how to widen this circle - your blood relatives, fellow alumni of university X, co-religionists, fellow Monty Python fans, maybe all the way to persons of a different skin color and language whose way of life is entirely different from yours (Africans being killed wholesale by fellow Africans, e.g.)

May the Creative Forces of the Universe, if any, have mercy on our souls, if any.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at March 23, 2005 06:09 AM

There are a fair number of people here who ought to be reading (and quoting) Ayn Rand.

But then, Rand isn't all that popular. But if we are going to talk about politicians passing laws that eventually fuck up a system which will lead to the destruction of you or me, then we have to be talking about Atlas Shrugged.

All that we are witnessing is nothing but a slow, slow, slow skid into a dark age. No big deal, its the nature of the beast. Took Rome something like five centuries to fall, and it had help from outsiders. Today, of course, there are no outsiders. So the process should take somewhat longer.

What we are all going to be saying fifty years from now, when we are in our old age, is that things made a lot more sense when we were young. We'll talk about when politicians cared about what the people believed, and when the justice system wasn't corrupt, and when democracy meant something and wasn't just the facade for a plutocracy.

But really, none of these things will mean much. Hard as it may be to believe, people will still be eating and having children, albeit in a more oppressed condition, with less education and less options with which to pursue happiness. But they won't really notice, because they won't know what it was like when we were children, they will only know what it was like when they were children. Humans are very adaptive.

As for Canada, we'll try to hold out as long as we can. Sweden is a better bet.

Posted by: at March 23, 2005 08:17 AM

Scrolling makes me forget lots of stuff. Especially questions. Political questions about killing politicians I think. I'd support that I guess. I mean, for sport only right? Anyway I read you because you use fonts nicely. And something else I forgot too, but it was a good thing.

Posted by: EdB at March 23, 2005 12:00 PM

The only politics that matter is how we treat one another. Our representative system is a way for us to make our great social project into something larger than ourselves, to act with our own personalities at a much much bigger scale.

The problem is that the communication system between the individuals of the polis and the big institution of the state has gotten hijacked by a collection of rich people and their institutional inventions.

So I'm interested in seeing through power structures, finding the crucial cracks in the system, and anticipating possible collapses so that those I care about -- which is pretty much every human being and just about no institution -- can be ready when the shit comes down.

It seems to me that resource wars, wasteful materialism, and imperial hubris are the biggest threats to my life and that of a lot of other people nowadays. Instead of raising my fist in frustation against the baseball that's already way up in the air, I'm more interested in raising my baseball glove to catch society as it falls through the descending part of the parabola. Stilted metaphor? Yes! But you know what I mean?

So rather than just cheering for the collapse of the petro-economy, I want to help people prepare for it. Rather than watching Republicrats squabble over irrelevancies, I'd rather help create better new institutions to replace them. That is the politics that matters.

Posted by: oily messter at March 23, 2005 01:24 PM

I'm interested in learning about life and politics from fellow human beings, not politicians.

It's all about the workers. As a skilled tradesperson, I know certain things about my particular field (typography), that those who haven't spent 25 years in the craft do not know. I happily pass that information on to others whenever I can. That idea of shared skills and knowledge applies to activism as well.

I am fairly consistent in being anti-imperialist when it comes to U.S. wars abroad. But each intervention has different consequences. So I try going to those affected. For instance, when it became clear the U.S. would attack Iraq in 1990, I set out to meet Iraqis, to meet people who'd traveled to Iraq, to meet Arabs and Muslims and discuss Iraq with them. It's basic grassroots stuff -- human to human contact that floats my boat. Once I educated myself about what was going on, I acted in whatever way possible to change whatever I could change.

Your blog makes me laugh, but it also helps me learn about things I don't understand. Like economics and social security which would normally bore the heck out of me. Your blog helps it makes sense and approach the level of being interesting. Heh.

Posted by: Ravenmn at March 23, 2005 09:35 PM

I grew up in DC. I've expected all my life that eventually someone would drop some weapon on me. So yes, the politicians will kill me, eventually, by upsetting someone who hates them enough to take me out along the way. Give it time.

On the whole, this is a comfortingly fatalist philosophy, I find.

Posted by: j at March 25, 2005 09:19 PM

I just found you, so maybe I don't count so much, but I can't sleep so here goes.

A. I'm interested in getting them (them= (1) the powers that be, (2) society in general) to leave us alone. (us= people with ideas/preferences/habits/needs that fall outside the mainstream (or what passes for it), and people who support those who do). While they're at it, it'd be nice if they'd also quit with the massacre of our economic landscape, of the environment in which we live, and of these scads of people they're directly bulldozing. But lemme focus on the first part.

B. I'm interested in finding a way to survive in the world while they don't leave us alone, since ("A" not withstanding) I don't believe they ever will.

C. I'm interested in finding a little relief in the process of failing "B", which for me at least, seems unfortunately inevitable.

How this relates to why I'm reading you:

Your turns of phrase and content behind them are brilliant/witty/hysterical/pick your favorite adulatory adjective, but I mean it. Getting to laugh, especially with evil, maniacal laughter, provides a great deal of the relief sought in "C" above.

Your brain seems to be in a good place politically, so

1. I feel comfortable reading you,
2. I can laugh at your humor without feeling sick, and
3. I may learn something, which I don't get to do as often as I'd like, since I'm mainly ducking and shielding my head from the "them" in "A".

Thank you for being here.

Posted by: pig at April 12, 2005 04:37 AM
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