What are we fighting for?

Editor’s Note:  I wrote this back about 3 months or so, ago.  I was going to add a paragraph or two about my Dad, which I might do as an extended piece, but I thought I would get it posted now, as it has spent far too much time on my “To Do” list.

 

 

As the debate about health care continues, with President Trump and many of his supporters leading the way to repeal the ACA despite the lack of a real plan of action to replace or repair what is left, I find myself considering what it is we hope to accomplish with our country, our government.  What do we consider important at the national level, as a nation?  To what use do we put that blunt instrument that is our federal government?  That our government has grown large and unwieldy, straining under its own massive weight is no surprise to us.  We know it is fat, and growing larger.  We know that is too large, too heavy to support.  The Fed has grown in size and weight, but accomplishes less and less despite its increase in size and resources.  Both corporations and private citizens have attached themselves to that bloated mass, feeding off its excess like a tick to a mangy dog.  And those very fat, very happy ticks, they don’t want anything to change with their host.  No, even if the overall health and state of the union should falter, do not change anything lest their meal ticket become endangered.

This piece isn’t an analysis of the government, however.  It isn’t here to discuss the wasted resources and corporate whore mongering that goes on in our nation’s capital.  This essay is here to ask a basic question of ourselves.  What is it do we want our government to do for us?  What freedom and pursuit of happiness are we defending with our military?  What justice do we purport to provide to those of our nation that are too broke to pursue our self-evident truths?  In a nation as rich as ours, in a land as large as ours, truly our government should be responsible for very few things at the Federal level.  It is rarely the best tool for the job.  Help keep the common law consistent.  Help keep our perspective on infrastructure.  Facilitate communication among the States and their people as a whole, these things a Federal Government can do.  I would suggest to you that central to all of these things is the People.  Whatsoever our government does, it should be in the most benefit to her people, to the support of the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness.  But what good is life, if we cannot enjoy it?  What good is liberty, if we cannot live it.  How can we have happiness if we are not healthy enough to pursue it?  People are the life’s blood of this country, the means be which everything is accomplished.  If our People are not healthy, how can our nation succeed?  We can educate ourselves, feed ourselves, defend ourselves- but only if we are healthy enough to do so.  In the past, collectively we have agreed that things like education, warfare, defense and trade are things we should spend our wealth on.  They are things that we considered integral to our nation, enough so to put into the Federal Government’s hands.  Why then, do we not consider our health such an asset, one worthy of our collective effort?  What else is worth fighting for if we don’t have our health?

 

No Longer Economically Viable

There was this Michael Douglas movie back in the early 90’s- Falling Down, where an out of work defense worker spirals downward after he is let go by his company.  In their words, his skill set and position were no longer economically viable for the company to continue employing him.  In the 20 years since that film was made, in one variation or another, this has become an increasingly heard line.  Computers, AI, automation, efficiency, downsizing, up sizing, globalization – whatever the term, the reality for many is that their job is longer there, and probably won’t be in any human form as this trend continues.  As we continue to innovate and upgrade our technological capabilities, we have been able to downgrade our workforce.  We can do more with less, a lot less, and in many cases, those less no longer have to be human.  What happens when even many of our skilled trades no longer need to be staffed by a human agent?  What happens to our workforce, our population, our economy?  Corporations don’t have to pay robots and networks, and the increase in profits that they realize from the improved efficiency and lower labor costs will eventually be overtaken by the reality that their customer base is no longer employed.  Sure, as science, technology and society progress, there will be new vocations, new disciplines that will employ some people, but that come close to employing our growing population?  I don’t think so.  I think we will need to answer these questions, and sooner rather than later.  At a time when the United States cannot even bring itself to admit that their government and economy are anything but pure democracy and capitalism will now need to answer questions that make such things passe’ in comparison.  I am still young enough that, one way or another, I may live to see the answer to the question as completely relevant…

A Day to Remember

I remember being in 8th grade History, taught by a very smart man, Mr. Derrig.  He was explaining to us that Columbus did not actually discover America.  It was a bit of a defining moment to me, as I remember experiencing a great deal of anger over learning that.  Even as I was experiencing the anger at what I viewed as a betrayal of me by the educational system, there was a detached part of me that was observing my reaction and noting that I was unusually frustrated by this new knowledge.  You see, even when I was younger I constantly reviewed information given to me with suspicion.  I can’t tell you precisely where that cynicism came from, but rest assured, if I noticed something not quite right, or out of the ordinary about what I was learning, I pointed it out.  It wasn’t that I was trying to rebel against the system, I enjoyed learning and loved my teachers, I was just naturally seeking out the cracks in the system.

The anger over the Columbus lie was, in part, because it forced in me a natural distrust of everything I had previously been told.  I years and years of teaching were suddenly being invalidated, then how could I trust anything else.  This was exacerbated by the fact that we still celebrated Columbus Day.  So here we are, knowing that Columbus didn’t discover America and yet we are honoring a day in which we claim exactly that.  At 13 years old, I wasn’t really handling that cognitive dissonance with aplomb.

Fast forward to today and Columbus Day has a pretty large group of detractors, if the media coverage is any indication.  It turns out that the leader of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria might not have been quite the upstanding guy I learned about in my earlier years.  Certainly all the atrocities he is accused of is something I wasn’t taught about all the way through high school.  I learned a bit about the disease and the colonization, but no mention of the oppression, slavery and rape the accompanied him.  No doubt this would enrage most people today, but back then, it wasn’t quite so uncommon.  I am definitely not opposed to doing away with Columbus Day in favor of something else, but I’d like to bring up a few points before we jump on any particular bandwagon.

  1. Columbus was seeking to get rich, he wasn’t this romanticized explorer.  –  Well, true, but exploring costs a great deal of money.  Finding people to give you their money out of the kindness of their hearts is pretty damn hard, especially since he didn’t have access to things like Kickstarter or Patreon.  Exploration was a risky investment, done only at the behest of the very rich.  The successful became famous and hopefully, very wealthy, the unsuccessful are dead and broke.  You can imagine which occurred more often…
  2. Columbus was a bastard.  – Yes, yes he was.  He was also a product of his times and a leader of bastards.  That doesn’t excuse his actions, it merely explains them, and that explanation needs to be acknowledged if we’re going to push for change in the name of “truth and fairness”.
  3. Native Americans were here first.  We should be honoring them.- True enough, certainly before Columbus.  With that said, although we are honoring Columbus, we’re also honoring the supposed values for which he stood.  Bravery, adventure, exploration, growth, leadership, etc.  In short, positive attributes we want to instill in our culture.  If you pay attention to the majority of those pushing for a Native American day vs. Columbus Day, you would think that Columbus was a wretched monster and the Natives were Noble Savages.  The problem with that is that it trades one set of lies for another.  The Native Americans were as complex as any European society, and that includes all the usual negative attributes associated with them.  They may not have been as technologically adept in many areas, but they were no strangers to warfare, slavery, competition for resources and more.

In the past couple of decades, as our ability to democratize knowledge and its access has grown, our temptation to “fix” history has increased.  We rename landmarks now that we find the name offensive.  We re-write history to reflect how we think it really was, but we also sanitize it so as not to offend our current sensibilities.  In doing so, we perpetuate a new set of lies.  Ones that ignore what our history was like before the current changes.  If we erase our frame of reference, abolish our understanding of the choices we made, how can we purport to be anymore intellectually honest or ethical, than we were before?  I don’t believe that is positive change, real growth, if we elect to ignore the lessons and circumstances of our past in favor of writing a new one.

 

If only all classes were like this…

I came across this website last night while following up on some other reading.  His approach made me laugh, made sense and made it worth it sharing.  I’m buying his book on Amazon and hopefully others will take the time to read through what he has to say.  You don’t have to agree with everything he says, but the fundamentals are there and easy on the eyes.  Check out his explanation of the Trans Pacific Partnership specifically, and economics in general.

By George!

So I donated to George’s production efforts.  When I was going through High School History, there were a few moments that really struck me about the last century of American History.  Racism and the civil rights movement, Joseph McCarthy and his horrible crusades against those he deemed his enemies, and the internment of Japanese Americans.  There were some other moments, as well, but the common theme running through these is that they never should have happened.  Americans were persecuted publically, and the collective population let it happen.  Time and time again.  I am sure there are many people today that would say that such things would never happen now, that we’ve moved beyond that… I disagree.  Social Media allows us to mount campaigns far more effectively, far more widespread, and just as brutal, than ever before.  And what used to take weeks of news coverage to slant people’s opinions is now done in hours by the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  It has a shorter half life in the public consciousness than those witch hunts of previous generations, but thanks to the Internet’s resilient nature, these things may never disappear into history.

I believe that is why we need reminders such as this.  I don’t want to “dig up old wounds”, I just want to make sure we understand why they can happen again.

 

http://igg.me/p/george-takei-s-legacy-project/x/10852066

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/george-takei-s-legacy-project/x/10852066#/story

Why History?

Dave posted recently on one of the purposes of history.  Or rather, he pondered a little bit on the purposes and then went on to use history as a means of illustrating some observations he was making.  He looked at history, made note of some useful contexts related to what he was thinking about, and then used those historical points to explain himself.   I thought that worked out pretty well.  History is a great tool for understanding many things, it provides much needed context.  In today’s world, where context is ignored or manipulated in so many things, I have a very hard time of coming up with something more valuable than that.

When I was younger, around 9 or 10, history reinforced in me skepticism and mistrust of what I was taught.  Although I would not realize it for for another 15 or 20 years, I had a huge trust issue with anything resembling authority.  Not like James Dean, or your typical teenager, but more along the embodiment of, “Trust, but verify.”  Facts at face value were only the starting point, they had to be checked.  Context and subtext had to be explored, reasoning followed, motivations understood.  History was my lens, and my mechanism, for all of my social interactions with people.  Suffice to say, when I learned that Columbus did not actually discover America, as we had been taught since I was a wee lad of five, it was enough to send me into a fit of righteous indignation.  I laugh about it now, but I remember with a great deal of clarity, the feelings of anger and betrayal at realizing the teachers that I trusted would lie to me like that, especially since I could see no reason for doing so.  At that age I lacked perspective and the ability to distinguish subtleties, but still-  trust, but verify.

Temujin Teaches 21st Century Diplomacy

A long time ago, on a continent some drive from here, there lived a guy with a bad mustache and a great mind for international relations.  He also had some fairly forward thinking ideas on resource management.  One of his better ones, to his mind, was the idea that since he needed more space to walk his horses, and the world had more land than it knew what to do with, so why not go out and make it part of his kingdom?  Now, the Americans wouldn’t go on to coin the term Manifest Destiny for hundreds of years, so you can see how ahead of his time this Temujin was. Downright brilliant, he’d say.

Now, as you can imagine, there were some other guys around, several of them with equally bad mustaches, who didn’t think too much of his genius and decided that resistance to annexation was a good idea.  After all, these guys had horses and dogs to walk, too.

You can see what a challenge this was to Temujin.  He was, after all, just a guy trying to live the dream, one small country at a time and all that.  The times being what they were, though, he decided for an enlightened approach.  So he sent out a messenger to tell the other men with bad mustaches that it would be best if they surrender.  For the good of the children, you see.  Naturally, they didn’t quite see it his way and politely refused.  The messenger, having delivered his message of peace, kindly returned to his lord, in pieces.  One could even say he was beside himself.  I guess he was no relation of Kissenger’s.

Naturally, Temujin viewed this act as a bit of downer.  Turns out the messenger was his 3rd wife’s nephew on her brother’s side, or so I’m told.  Very sad.  The challenge, as his Khanliness surmised, wasn’t the issue of how to respond to this action, but how to prevent this response in the future.  As I said, the world was full of land that it didn’t need and Temujin foresaw this becoming a regular issue as time, and his forces, marched on.  As I said before, a great mind.

So he leveled the city and killed everything related to it– Every man, woman, child and animal.  He then told all other men with mustaches that he would do the same to them and their cities should they refuse his generous offer of subjugation.  It seems the Khan did not believe in collective bargaining…and thus he became the first union buster, as well.  Very forward thinking.

Fast forward a little while and you can see how the Khan’s philosophy has shaped foreign relations today.  Every act demands a greater act of retaliation.  An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, but an eye for a whole man’s family and maybe he’ll think twice before going after the other eye.  It just makes sense, doesn’t it?  I’m sure you can see how this has worked out, especially given several examples from American history of the past 30 years or so.  Reagan and Libya, Bush and Iraq, Bush 2 w/ Afghanistan and Iraq, and now… Obama and Syria.

Tomorrow I want to expand on an alternative method.  I’m sure you’ll see that it isn’t an officially recognized method of diplomacy as taught by the Genghis Khan School for Diplomacy and So Can You!, but I think it might have a bit of merit.

 

Letting the past go

When I was a teenager it was a common practice to assume that nobody ever changed.  What I mean by this is, if somebody had stated an opinion on something a year ago, it was common knowledge that they still felt that way today.  Growth, evolution of thought and philosophy was not a big part of our world then.  I find that interesting because the crowd I ran with contained some very bright people.  Very flawed, each fighting our own demons, but bloody bright.

As time marched on, I personally was forced to move beyond my past.  I had to learn to let go of anger, of the depression that had gripped me since I was a kid.  In order to find some semblance of life, I had to change a lot of who I was on the inside.  Part of that change led me to an acceptance of change in others, to an understanding that they didn’t have to hold to the same beliefs for years or decades.  Mistakes are made, lessons are learned and people can grab on to new ideas and let go of those that are holding them back.  This concept in action didn’t really stand out to me, it was just a reflection of my own internal struggles to accept who I was.  I counted it as a normal part of life; a benefit of maturity, perhaps.  I think I was wrong…

For much of my life, I have observed that my country is deeply obsessed with the past.  You see that in politics, film, literature, the press and people themselves.  Terms such as “Golden Age”, “Gilded Age”, “Classic”, “Retro”,”Timeless” and “Back in the day” all refer to events far removed from the present.  But even more, they are substantive terms, words with weight to them, as if, somehow, what they represent should in some way be more valuable and significant than recent events.

Our politics demands that we review every spoken word and action of our representatives, yea even unto birth.  Should we find discrepancies that indicate change from a decade or two ago, their entire works are often challenged.  A flexible, intelligent mind is portrayed as weak and unable to hold conviction.  Our current authors are constantly held to a higher standard set forth by those long dead.  Great literary works cast a palpable shadow of today’s author, rendering them less than their talents deserve, especially if they have achieved commercial success.  Many of our actors face type cast roles, forever defined by their first crowning achievement.  More so, they find themselves unable to comment on serious public matters without facing considerable backlash from the public- ironic considering they often act as the face of American gravitas,  highlighting in their works that which is important to us internally.

Our nation is a nation of rebels, dissidents and failures- and of opportunists.  We came to a new country, forsake all that we knew, in order to reinvent ourselves and lift ourselves beyond our pasts.  We achieved that, as a people and as a nation, by freeing ourselves from our pasts, of learning from history, letting it guide us as we made decisions, but we refused to let our history define our future.  My how times have changed….