Archives for posts with tag: America

There’s a common conservative trope in America that responds to any demand for gun reform after a mass shooting with a disappointment in “the left” for making the tragedy “political.” In the most considerate light, this is the assertion that one ought to focus instead on processing grief rather than… what? What are politics? I mean… what am politics? I did a whole bit with my title; I should probably refer back to it for some degree of continuity. So what am politics?

Politics am the process by which a system functions and is successfully navigated. Think of office politics: if I want this report submitted, I know I have to get it in before noon because Pam in accounting has liquid lunches every day and is too sauced later in the afternoon to get any meaningful work done. If I want that promotion, I need to laugh at Scott’s jokes because he is the boss and has a fragile ego and holds a grudge. You have to recognize the power dynamics at play, understand everyone’s role and the eccentricities that inform their behaviour within that role, and perform your own role accordingly in order to meet your own needs within that system.

Politics!

Government isn’t politics; it’s an institution of politics for the functionality of the society that it governs. If I want any hope of a clean energy deal, I have to give Joe Manchin a rusty trombone in order to get it. This is no different than getting Pam to process your TPS reports quicker by buying her a nice vodka cran, if tasting slightly worse. It doesn’t even necessarily matter what the goals are; politics can just as easily gum up a system as it can loosen it. An obstructionist can use all sorts of political tools and rhetoric to achieve the self-interested goals of whatever lobby group is paying for their motivation: that’s also politics. It’s just that the system that it’s sustaining is plutocratic rather than serving the needs of the demos. Systems are legion and intersect in all sorts of ways.

My first example was an office because I specifically wanted to distance politics from government to make it clear that politics exists anywhere. Politics exists across the whole spectrum of governments, and if you think about the vast differences between a democracy and an autocracy, and the different maneuvers that would be required to function within each of them (e.g. how one goes about satisfying the needs of the many compared to satisfying the needs of the one), it’s obvious that politics can be everywhere, even when it’s defined by only its most overt form. Remember, it’s the process by which we function within a specific system. It doesn’t matter what the system is, whether a workplace, a nation, or a relationship, politics is there. When you successfully answer whether those pants make her ass look fat, you’ll likely be congratulated by being told that you provided a satisfactorily diplomatic response: a distinctly political term.

In short, dismissing gun reform by saying, “it’s easy to go to politics” is by definition, politics. If you are carefully considering your words in order to maintain the functionality that serves you within the system you’re navigating, you’re doing a politics. The far more interesting question is, I think, what is political?

What am political?

When something is political, it means that it is attached to a particular system’s functionality. Laughing at Scott’s jokes is a political act. It is conforming to a persona of flirtatiousness in order to succeed within a business dominated by men informed by a lecherous patriarchal worldview. This is why they say that the personal is political: our individual actions either conform to or rebel against the systems within which we function as our means of navigating them (see code-switching as another example). In Scott’s instance, we have to navigate the system of interpersonal relationships wherein we behave in a particular way to avoid ostracization, the system of a workplace wherein we need to perform in a certain way in order to pay for food and rent, and the system of patriarchy wherein I actually don’t have to worry about this part because I’ve been a dude this whole time.

It would actually be a much shorter list if we try to think of things that are not political. Come to think of it, even an act of God like Hurricane Katrina is still political because it showcased the failures and successes of a variety of systems. Similarly with Covid-19, it too stress-tested the functionality of our various systems. These supra-human events are just as political as, say, the Civil Rights movement because if we are paying attention, we can use politics to adjust our systems accordingly to prevent future failures. Or, alternatively, condemn the system as a whole if we see its successes as abhorrent when the veil is ripped away. Anything can be political if it highlights the (dis)functionality of a systemic response, so our short list is a list of zero. Who knew.

Remember when Kanye cared about black people?

All this boils down to a belief that guns, and all the deaths that inevitably accompany them, transcend literal acts of God in that they cannot be politicized. Right? Something that is embedded in the United States constitution, itself another institution of politics, would defy all reason if we approached it politically. It’s seemingly okay to politicize mental health, and I would genuinely love to see massive increases in expenditures to bolster social supports for those with mental illness, but somehow I don’t think that that governmental response is in the cards either. It would be fun to call the Republican bluff and table legislation that did exactly this to see how Republicans find a way to weasel their way out of it, but Democrats have their own systems they’re trying to protect.

A belief that guns are inevitable does not want the system to change; mass shootings are indeed emblematic of its success. Guns mean freedom! All those dead children are the broken eggs intrinsically linked to this omelet of ambiguous “freedom.” Unadulterated “freedom to” with no regard to “freedom from,” this is what the success of that system looks like. Those who use politics in order to hide the abhorrence of that success using the denunciation of “politics” to do so are the vilest of hypocrite.

The war in Afghanistan began with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power, and ended with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power. Sisyphus rolled his Katamari Damacy boulder up the mountain, and it rolled right back down again. The absurdity of the war is obvious on its face, but there is a desperation to find meaning within it that would make Camus blush. Though it’s somewhat old news by now, during the American withdrawal, there was all sorts of noise about how Western forces were abandoning their Afghan comrades to the brutality of the Taliban.

I am not trying to diminish the severity of what the Taliban has done and will continue to do with those dissenting under its rule. My glibness comes as a result of the crocodile tears shed over the bodies of those slain during the withdrawal from the war that ignore the over a hundred thousand bodies that accumulated preceding it. Losing a war is bloody; that’s the reality of war. If you don’t like it, maybe question the war itself rather than the means of its end.

The realities of war

The tears come from the bipartisan desire to create meaning in a pointless war: if there are good Afghans to save, it means that the war produced good Afghans worth saving. Nobody would have given a shit about them otherwise; the West would be much more inclined toward taking refugees if there was a heartfelt belief that we need to create a safe haven for those fleeing violence and persecution. The sad irony is that those whose freedom from the Taliban was being demanded were those who had aligned themselves with the invaders, cementing the linking of a “good” Afghan with their complicity in the war.

Another central tenet that the war in Afghanistan was meaningful is the women’s liberation that the war provided. Some women were able to go to school, and therefore 20 years of death, torture, and war crimes are vindicated. Those women are worse off now than they were before; again, no argument, but finding miniscule acts of success to justify what is otherwise 20 years of pointless war is incredibly ignorant. In actuality, using war to generate feminism is more likely to produce a nation of incels who see feminism as cancer than an Islamic Feminine Mystique.

Thanks, Betty Friedan!

Using feminism as justification for the war in Afghanistan, and gesturing loosely toward the mostly urban women who benefited, pointedly ignores the majority of women who live in rural settings where most of the war took place. Afghan women were certainly not benefitting from the war when they and their families were dying from it. The quick rise of the Taliban points to a nation hungry for incel-logic; Afghanistan may actually be worse off than it was 20 years ago from the perspective of democratic and liberal reformation due to the brutality used allegedly in its name. Sisyphus’s boulder fell back down the mountain and into a ravine. The West tried to viciously impose liberal secularism in Iran with the Shah, and he too was violently overthrown by a virulently religious fundamentalist group. Any positive regard held for Western ideals is just as dead as all the rest of them.

The war made Afghanistan worse, and for what? The bipartisan narrative adopted in much of the media paints the picture of a blundering but ultimately benevolent force trying so hard to do good but occasionally failing in simple but horrific ways. Like if Rocky Balboa knocked out Apollo Creed in the first round, but because his eyes were all bruised up and he couldn’t see, he wandered into the crowd and begun striking civilians at random. At home we’re watching and thinking, no! Rocky! If only Mickey had cut you so you could see! We are helpless as Rocky bludgeons old women and children in his missteps. Then, after the crowd boos too loudly for too long, we lament Rocky leaving, shaking our heads at the blows he receives on his way out the door. Meanwhile, Apollo Creed has gotten up and dusted himself off, and being the only one left standing in the ring, claims victory.

YO AMERICAAAAAAAA!

We could still love Rocky after such a blunder. It’s forgivable. But that’s not how war works. The better analogy would be if Rocky was at a bus stop where Apollo Creed was reading a newspaper, and Rocky was like, “I heard you hate women!” and then pulled out a gun and shot him. Then he wandered away from the bus stop to a nearby wedding reception and shot up the guests. And he did so with eyes wide open.

The West knew what was going on in Afghanistan. They’re actively preventing themselves from being held accountable to international law. We’ve had whistleblowers point out the war’s criminality to us repeatedly and they’re all being punished for it by both American political parties. And for what? For what? For literally no reason. Terrorism didn’t go away; Al-Qaeda evolved into ISIS-K. Afghanistan is fully red pilled. America wanted war instead of justice, the rest of the West went along with it, and this is what we’re left with.

Cartoons make the villains easy to spot!

I’ve purposefully avoided talking about the military-industrial complex and how the reason for the war is obviously all the money that was made by the defense contractors and weapons manufacturers. It’s not that I disagree, it’s that we don’t have a smoking gun pointing to that level of Machiavellianism, and I want to be as convincing as possible. The war is provably pointless in a way that ought to make us reflect on why it ever happened in the first place. When there is no justification for a war, it’s a lot easier to compare it to straight-up murder. The war in Afghanistan was criminal. Those who participated in it are criminals. Anyone saying otherwise is covering up a crime.

While maybe not surprising to long-term readers who have been following since I wrote an article defending communism, I am now writing an article about how maybe we could all use a little less freedom. George W. Bush was right: we hate your freedoms, and we’re coming to take them away. Sorry America, but the terrorists just had the better argument. Blame the free market of ideas, and then marvel at the irony.

The thing is, freedom is actually a paradoxical ideology. Universal freedom is necessarily contradictory. The current “debate” about masking during a pandemic is case-in-point. If you are free to disregard masks and parade around mouth-breathing your aerosol droplets all over me, my freedom to avoid getting sick from Covid is reduced. There are millions of examples you can come up with: my freedom to be verbally abusive limits your freedom from verbal abuse. If you are free to make puns, it renders my freedom to live in a world without puns sadly utopian. If you believe yourself free to cheat on your monogamous partner and your excuse is, “I thought this was America!”, you will quickly discover that people aren’t super thrilled when your alleged freedom impinges on their own.

Kill me.

Am I entitled to mature and well-developed humour? Maybe not. Am I entitled to health? This point becomes harder to argue against. Am I entitled to health that is not being actively damaged by the choices of others? It would probably be a good idea to have a society that adopts that mentality, yeah. The issue is that the debate never focuses on the issues impacted by the free actions of others, and the freedoms they might be reducing in turn. It typically focuses on ‘freedom’ as an abstract, unexamined concept that just has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that most people find appealing. Even those denouncing the demands of those freedom-loving anti-maskers won’t condemn the concept of freedom itself, but you heard it here first: freedom the way most people imagine it is a masturbatory fantasy.

Freedom advocates would argue that freedom should not exist completely deregulated, but that the only reasonable regulations are negative ones: you can’t murder, for example, but you shouldn’t be compelled to act in any particular way. Hence, you can’t make me put on a mask, you commie! However, the limits on negative regulation are arbitrary. Being forbidden from making puns is a negative regulation, but I have yet to come across a libertarian seriously making this argument despite its expansive merit. The distinction between negative and positive impositions on freedom is completely meaningless, and doesn’t address my original point that all the actions we take are going to be affecting those around us in ways that may well reduce their freedom. While this is a small case of conjecture, I can speculate that the ‘true believers’ would say that those who are negatively impacted by their free actions should just suck it up; they should content themselves with having less freedom than others. Sounds completely reasonable and not at all systemically oppressive.

Those kids should be free to do whatever they want, and if she doesn’t like it, she has the freedom to start her *own* school!

Freedom is a pretty great idea. I like being able to do things, but I also recognize that I am one individual among many with equal entitlement to the things that I ought to be entitled to. I want to be healthy, but I have to recognize that everyone else wants to be healthy too. I want to live in a world without puns, but I have to recognize that other people have the wrong sense of humour, and I just have to live with their wrongness. If I begin to act in a way that limits the puns of others using my own freedom to coerce their behaviour, I am limiting their freedom to make awful “jokes.” I would appreciate the same consideration when I make delightful and well-timed fart jokes from the plebeians that simply don’t understand the nuance!

When we recognize the needs of others as equally requiring consideration, we recognize that we must be responsible to those needs and our freedom must be curtailed. If we disregard the needs of others, we are not actually advocating for universal freedom, we are demanding selfish preference. Freedom is not generalizable, but the great thing about responsibility is that it is! Everyone is capable of shouldering equal amounts of responsibility to their neighbour. An argument could be made that some parties may be more responsible than others (more polluting nations are more responsible for reining in their carbon emissions to address climate change, for example), but aspirational responsibility is not as contradictory as aspirational freedom.

I may have lived long enough to see myself become the villain, here

Viktor Frankl is quoted as saying that America needs a Statue of Responsibility to temper its Statue of Liberty, and his worries are coming to deadly fruition today. Politicians and pundits that espouse and proselytize freedom can only be pandering to the selfish ego of their followers, by the very nature of the ideology they are spouting. The purposeful disregard and neglect of one’s neighbour is the disregard and neglect of their freedom. I guess the point is you’re not supposed to give a shit about your neighbour because your freedom is the only freedom that matters.

Let’s instead work toward a universal responsibility. It’s not particularly difficult because it’s something that can be adopted in every action. We can be responsible to others as individuals; it can be foisted upon our politicians and other macro-level actors sure, and adopted by corporations and those on the mezzo level too. Everyone can be responsible. The less we focus on a pointless concept like freedom, the more we can focus on taking care of one another. I think the world would be much better off, and we’d probably have fewer Covid cases too.