Monday, January 25, 2010

"Life isn't fair." But it can be.

Possibly the most infuriating phrase I've ever heard—the most ridiculously stupid, dismissive argument in the world—is "life isn't fair." I've heard it all my life, from when I was a four-year-old wanting a Barbie doll, to now, when I suggest a fairer socioeconomic system. No, life is not fair; but there is absolutely no point whatsoever in saying that phrase. In fact, I don't believe I've ever said it seriously to another person since I was a child, reiterating my parents' poor excuse for wisdom.*

Of course I'm not suggesting that wanting a Barbie is in any way similar to wanting a fairer socioeconomic system. My point is simply that the phrase gets nowhere. You see, I think life should be fair, and can be much fairer than it is today.

If I wanted a Barbie, and my parents said no, I would say "that's not fair." The question in their minds, at that point, should not have been "does it matter if it's fair?" because it does matter if it's fair; but rather, "is she it really not fair to deprive her of a Barbie?" Given the situation—the fact that my parents couldn't afford to keep buying me Barbies, and the fact that they didn't want me to be influenced by such a disgustingly misogynistic toy in the first place—I would say that it was entirely fair to deprive me of a Barbie. In suggesting that they were being unfair, I was posing an ethical question about what fairness was. By saying that life was not fair (instead of saying that my request wasn't fair), they were suggesting that my need for a Barbie was legitimate, and that in a perfectly fair world I would receive such a toy.

Now, to be serious. Regardless of whether wanting a Barbie is fair, being deprived of a Barbie is not something that could have a severe negative impact on my life. But because we grow up hearing, "life isn't fair" from our parents, and we legitimise the phrase by repeating it over and over again until we feel we own it, we start to apply the philosophy to some very serious situations. For example, people who work three full-time jobs and barely have enough money for food. Apparently, some time in our lives, we decided that starvation is the equivalent to being deprived of a toy. Or at least, it is the equivalent as far as we care. Nowhere did we question the evolution of this phrase from simple childhood banter to politics; from plastic merchandise to food and shelter.

I remember arguing (online, of course) with a conservative person about welfare and socialism. He whined about people taking away (and I quote): "...MY hard-earned money, that I deserve every penny of..." (emphasis his). When I suggested that there may be people who need some of his money more than he, he said, "life isn't fair." Ignoring (hard though it may be) his insane hypocrisy, and simply focusing on his last statement, we see that he was entirely okay with allowing things to continue the way they were, where people starved. Yes, he thought that somehow, the people who were starving weren't working as hard as he was, or didn't deserve every penny that he did. But in addition, he thought that it was okay for people to starve. Regardless. And this is the problem we have to deal with to create a fair society.

We must get rid of the idea that some people aren't deserving of life and the basic things that would sustain their life, regardless of whether they're working or not. By simply being a living, breathing human being, they deserve to live and to survive.

I have written other times, and will write again, about how actually when a human is faced with starvation, they are incapable of being lazy. But that is not my point at this time. My point is that even if people can be lazy, we cannot be psychopaths and let them die. If it is within our power to keep them alive, then we cannot claim that it's all up to them, it's their "choice."

Yes, life can be much fairer. But we must be willing to make it fairer, instead of leaving it the way it is now, with a dismissive shrug and a stupid cliché. Because that is true, dangerous laziness.
*I love my parents dearly, and I think they'll agree nowadays that the "life's not fair" cliché is really unhelpful.

Look inward, and nowhere else

Years ago, I stopped referring to myself as a liberal. This was because I started to see what the term really meant—not according to conservatives—but according to radicals, and according to me. I won't go into detail about all of the qualities that liberals have that I don't, because that's not what this post is about. This post is about a specific liberal quality that drives me absolutely up the wall.

Do not play the blame game. As a recent post articulated on the liberal site that I belong to, Care2:
...We want to fix something that we perceive as terribly wrong. When this happens we look immediately to find someone to blame. But in doing so, we sidestep taking responsibility.

Really? As I stay up-to-date with the current events of this world, I see people in power, politicians and corporate executives, fucking over people and communities. I do not see it because I am attempting to put blame on someone besides myself. I see their actions first, and realise that those actions have an effect. And that effect is bigger than the effect my actions would have, simply because I am not as powerful an individual as a politician, and my community isn't as powerful as an entire government or corporation.

This isn't the first time I have heard this type bullshit from liberals. Liberals are not as individualistic as conservatives, but they still have some very individualistic beliefs. The view about blame is very similar to another view that I despise, which is far more "spiritual" in nature: You must fix yourself before you can help anybody else in the world. As if the two aren't connected. As if helping others doesn't also help fix you as well.

Everybody, especially everybody who has been born into privilege, does have a certain amount of responsibility. But a lot of our responsibilities lie in the fact that we allow a corrupt system to continue. That is not the same as making a system even more corrupt.

If activists are trying to stop an organisation from polluting the air, it is because they are blaming that corporation for polluting the air. Should the activists instead leave that organisation alone and allow it to continue polluting, all because they don't want to place any blame on anybody but themselves?

Basically, my point is that it is possible to blame more than one person or group of people for a problem. But it is a good idea to put things into perspective, and understand who is most responsible for causing what problem. In other words, in order to find a solution to anything, it is important to understand cause and effect. If you refuse to blame anyone for causing the problems of this world, regardless of whether or not they actually did, you are ignoring a crucial step towards remedying those problems.

Stupid philosophical arguments

The following is an excerpt from The Barefoot Bum:
Anarchism is a curious topic. Its linguistic roots mean literally "no rule". But by these roots no self-described anarchist can impose a definition of anarchism...

Taken to the logical extreme of its roots in a non-vacuous sense, anarchism would entail absolutely no coercion whatsoever...

Locking your front door or physically hanging onto your wallet is coercive: you are using physical force to prevent a person from doing what he wants to do.

(Bold emphasis mine)

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

1. "No rule" means "no imposition/coercion." The Barefoot Bum concludes that "no rule" means "no imposition." This step in his argument is already false. "No rule" means exactly that—no rulers. Generally, most anarchists are more specific in saying that anarchism means "no government" or "no state." Most, including me, will stop at that.

No government doesn't even mean no governance; governance is the act of administering policy and decisions. If an anarchist society were divided up into syndicates (as it probably would be, since this is the most practical application of anarchism), each syndicate might elect a representative who would then speak to the representatives of other syndicates. The leadership could be rotational, the decision-making could be through consensus, but whoever carries out a decision, even if it is agreed upon by all, is practicing governance.

2. "No coercion" means you cannot lock your doors or keep your wallet/shirt. As I have already demonstrated that the "no imposition/coersion" assumption is false, I don't really need to go on, but I will anyway. Even if "no rule" did mean "no coercion," it wouldn't necessarily be logical to push the argument even further down the slippery slope to "no locked doors/ no personal belongings."

The Barefoot Bum uses the argument that someone (George) cannot hang on to his own shirt*, because if someone else (Sue) wants the shirt, George would have to use physical force to keep Sue from taking it. But by that same logic, Sue would be using physical force to take George's shirt, if he doesn't want her to. By The Barefoot Bum's own arguments, both parties are using coercion, simply depending on what either person wants. These wants cancel each other out, once again rendering The Barefoot Bum's argument moot.

In the real world, including the anarchist world, the desires of the person who wears the shirt are more important than the desires of the person who wants to take the shirt (assuming everyone has enough clothing, which they would in a libertarian socialist society). Anarchism does not prohibit possession (not to be confused with private property), nor should it, even if there were no form of governance in that society. Forcing somebody to do something they don't want to do, which would have an adverse affect on them physiologically/psychologically, is very different from e.g. forcing a toddler to share his toy. Yet both are technically forms of coercion. One form of coercion (the form The Barefoot Bum was talking about) cancels itself out easily using simple logic. The other doesn't.

What I hate about these slippery-slope arguments is that they are so abstract and philosophical, they have no bearing on the real world except that they distract people from it, and convince people with poor reasoning skills that the argument made is actually valid. As I explained to The Barefoot Bum, a similar argument could be made about socialism:
Socialism is about equality. Therefore, it's about 100% equality. Therefore, nobody can have or do anything that anybody else can't have or do. If anybody is in a wheelchair, everybody has to be in a wheelchair. If anybody is blind, all have to cover their eyes. And if there are any women in a socialist society, all men have to make themselves bleed for five days out of the month.

I have seen that argument made seriously by right-Libertarians, and I can tell you, it's a poor argument. Simply the fact that it's made by right-Libertarians should point to that obvious fact.

Here's another one:
Monarchy means "rule of one." Therefore, only one person can rule. Therefore, if anybody but the monarch has any influence whatsoever on a policy, that policy must be scrapped. If the monarch chooses to change a policy based on his/her popularity or what the populace thinks about him/her in general, that policy cannot be changed. But then it has to be changed, because it was indirectly influenced by the populace.


Perhaps this is why I hate philosophy, in the "I have a degree in Philosophy" sense. Don't get me wrong, my closest friends in college were philosophy majors. But a lot of it is plain intellectual masturbation (sorry, guys).

One (especially a philosopher) can take any idea or even political philosophy and render it useless if one has enough wanking time. I'm personally surprised that The Barefoot Bum didn't just say something to the tune of:
Anarchism literally means 'no rule.' But what does 'rule' mean? And what does 'no' mean? Isn't 'no' the ultimate negative statement? Should any system based on such a negative exist? Could it? And what does 'it' mean? I don't know. Who am 'I?' What am 'I?' Who am I to claim to know what 'I' am...perhaps somebody else know more what it is like to be 'me' than 'I' do...?

...And so forth. I used to have these existential debates inside my head when I was eight.
* I chose to use a shirt instead of a wallet in the example so as not to bring money into the equation.

No conspiracy needed

People these days are obsessed with conspiracy theories. From the global warming "hoax" and 9/11, to UFOs, the New World Order and the "socialist agenda," loud people on the internet love to get their panties in a knot about whether or not some ginormous cover-up is happening. It's as if a conspiracy is the most terrifying and disturbing thing that anyone can imagine.

Damn socialist

Well, I've got news for you. The real world is seriously fucked up, and massive conspiracies are (at least mostly) not to blame. Who needs secrecy when our entire global socio-economic system is set up to benefit those in power already? What I am appalled by is how blatantly obvious some governments and organisations are about all the horrific shit they're up to. Murdering over one hundred thousand people in Iraq wasn't a cover-up. It was just labeled "war," and was therefore justified in our sick, twisted minds.

There's no cover-up involving world hunger; it is well-documented that empires raped and pillaged the land and the people of the Third World long ago, and forced them to focus on cash cropping (now called "exports-based agriculture") instead of feeding themselves. The IMF and World Bank proudly boast their monstrous policies as "aiding" poor countries, by offering them loans that they couldn't possibly pay back on conditions (such as the privatisation of public sectors) that destroy entire economies.

Some of this pride is also passed on to the public. The cries against "socialism," the hatred of those less fortunate, and the reverence of individualistic greed (disguised as "personal responsibility" and "rational self-interest") are all endorsed by the masses, most of whom would benefit greatly from socialist, pro-poor policies. We have been taught very well how to hate ourselves.

More terrifying than any conspiracy, more devastating than any government cover-up, is the fact that we are aware of the horrors that those in power create, and we passively perpetuate that status quo.

Perhaps we should focus on promoting public awareness of things that are already technically known.

A question for climate change deniers

Just a question for deniers, since the science is already out there - What empirical "proof" would you need to convince you that global warming is getting worse, and is anthropogenic? Would the sky have to burst into flames? Perhaps we find a gigantic cauldron in middle of the US? Or, okay, how about this:

  • Severe drought in Africa and Australia?

  • Acidification of the oceans due to absorption of CO2?

  • Hundreds of millions of climate refugees?

  • Extinctions of species due to severe climate variation?

  • Increased spread of tropical diseases and insects?

I know, I know, you can counter my evidence with the fact that "Wisconsin is really friggin' cold right now." I suggest that all those of you who actually think that is an argument against antrhopogenic climate change leave RIGHT NOW, so that people who actually understand science (at least from a primary-school level) can continue this conversation.

Why I unsubscribed from the Huffington Post

I found the Huffington Post through one of my favourite teachers from high school. He posts there occasionally and I enjoy what he has to say. He is thoughtful, articulate (of course—he was my English teacher), and a true progressive. For some strange reason, I assumed that the HuffPost was truly progressive too.

I enjoyed reading other writers as well, including celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson. I was okay with navigating around Deepak Chopra's woo-woo crap, as long as the political posts were good. I decided to subscribe to the politics section there.

My first warning sign was when I was surfing the site and came across a post where you could—I kid you not—rate which celebrities had the best boobies. This struck me as the same form of cynicism that led PETA (People for the Exploitation of Tits and Ass) to put naked women in their ad campaigns. I'm sure it increased HuffPost's male misogynist readership exponentially.

TwiHards for nudity
This was in a Huffington Post article

This BS continued. More celebrity gossip (Fergie: I'm Bisexual, Husband Josh Is "Well Endowed") and grossly anti-feminist eye candy (Eva Mendes Is Unbuttoned, Braless!) continued to spew forth from the website's pages. And I continued to my version of ignoring it (quietly stewing and gagging). But then, on the politics page, came this article:

A Marred Holiday for One Arab American Vet

Sounds like the harrowing story of yet another Arab-American getting shit for his ethnicity due to the Fort Hood shootings, right? Well, not quite. This man felt so guilty for what Al Qaeda did on 9/11 that he started helping assist in interrogations. I had trouble feeling sorry for him:
One day Rajai's team went into a house and was greeted by an old man and his two sons. "The man was so nice. He served us tea and no topic was off limits. We discussed politics and shared family pictures," Rajai [Hakki] recalls. As they left the house, a commander came and ordered them to go back and arrest the two sons because this was a "target house". Rajai had no option but to obey orders. He returned and placed bags over the sons' heads and led them away, as their father looked on in silence.

"That kind of thing was always tough," Hakki told the Huffington Post.

Really? Tough? Bagging human beings for torture is tough?! So I assume he can handle working at Guantanamo Bay then?
Hakki recently returned from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he'd spent five months working for a contractor as an Arabic translator.

Oh, nice. He's got quite a resume there. Anyway, that wasn't the worst part. I scrolled down to look at some of the comments:
Rajai...You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. You are a true, brave American. Just because you come from the Middle East and your family practices Islam, doesn't make you responsible for any of the deeds carried out by those who have hijacked your religion. You make us all proud.


Maybe we need to take a lesson from the Chinese American Buddhist monks in the Los Angeles area who subscribe to the philosophy that we are ALL ONE people when they describe themselves as Americans.


Stand proud brave American. You are judged for your actions not the actions of others.
Peace and prosperity to you.

Actually, that comment was quite fitting for how I feel. He is judged by his own actions. So I wrote a comment. It was censored and deleted. I assumed it was probably because I put the f-word in there (their policy is against "excessive swearing"), so I tried again:
Wow...that's some serious moderation there.

What I was saying before was that I'm frankly shocked that this article is not about one of the many regular Arab-American soldiers out there. It's about a man who participates in "interrogation," a euphemism for torture.

This man is not responsible for what happened on 9/11—nor should he feel that he is–but he is responsible for his own actions in response to 9/11. I have never seen another article at the Huffington Post that paints an interrogator as a patriot, and never seen so many comments that commend an interrogator for being a "brave American." If such an article had been posted in the past, the people here would be pissed.

My next comment was in response to another comment, and went like this:
And by the way, I can't think of any other industrialised country in the world where people actually put that much pride in where they happened to be born. Americans are "all one people?" How about humans? Wow, moving to New Zealand has really opened my eyes to the culture of self-congratulation in the United States.

That one passed moderation. The previous comment didn't. Why? Because I was offering a dissenting opinion of the actual topic of the article? It appears that arguing with another commenter is fine, as long as I don't argue with the point of the article.

I have seen the Huffington Post move more and more towards the mainstream, and it's making me feel ill. I have lost all respect for the site, and I invite others to comment or send them messages regarding their recent move toward the right...and their apparent transformation into a tabloid. And now they're censoring dissenting views?! Needless to say, I have unsubscribed, and I hope others will too.

Note: I later learned that my second comment was in fact posted; for some reason there was a 20 second delay, which usually does not happen. So no, HuffPost does not censor as much as I thought they did.