Tag Archives: politics

Welcome to Oceania

Romney Etch-A-Sketch

Mr. Etch-A-Sketch, the Master Debator

These are Orwellian times. They are doubleplusungood for language, politics, memory, and sanity. Lies stand unashamedly as lies, passing for truths. The existence of videotape is somehow of no consequence. We see and hear it for ourselves but then misremember it. We are blackwhite in the Newspeak sense– willing to know that facts are revisable and experiences are unreliable. You say it’s black? Looks black to me. No wait, you say it’s white? Right. Clearly it’s white. You’ve always said it was white.

One candidate is being held to account for the unfulfilled promises of a wholly obstructed presidency; the other won’t be accountable for the last five minutes. Seriously. What he said five minutes ago – he no longer believes it. Didn’t mean it. Never happened.

Early on, he expressed concern for the poor but later moved on to claim a lack of concern. When it played poorly in the press, he grew concerned again. Passionately against abortion and outspoken in his belief that life begins at conception, this candidate nonetheless supported the “morning after” pill and vowed to “preserve and protect” a woman’s right to an abortion. He has said that he feels “very deeply about the need to respect and tolerate people of different social or sexual orientation,” but holds that “marriage should be preserved as an institution for one man and one woman.” These last two statements were actually made within the same perfect sentence: one that encapsulates the essence of man who will say anything and then stand by it.

Mr. Contradiction Man, the King of Doublespeak, is running for the Presidency of Oceania. How many of us are willing to live there with him?

47%? 30%? Let’s make it 100%!

King George III and George Washington

According to Mitt Romney, 47% of Americans believe that the government should take care of them in some way. Paul Ryan, the numbers guy, says it’s 30%. They say it like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. The number should be closer to 100%.

Let me explain: We had a revolution quite some time ago which freed us from the tyranny of a kingdom and established a democracy. Whereas a king rules by right of inheritance, a president is elected through the will of the people. A king stands above all others; a president is first among equals.

A king typically inherits his right to rule through a line of ancestry that connects him to a figure recognized as important to the establishment of the country.  His power is legitimized by his biological connection to the birth of the people and of the culture, and his authority is conceived in paternal terms. The country is his; it belongs to him and he may do with its land, its people, and its army as he sees fit. He is, however, obliged to see to it that his lands are farmed, his people are fed, and his armies are supplied.

Did these responsibilities of government just fade away when we replaced a king with a president? Clearly we are still subsidizing our farmers and supplying our armies, so what happened to the other piece of it?

Remember this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .”

Was this not what Jefferson was talking about? How can one be entitled to life but not medicine? Liberty but not food? A shot at happiness but not the benefit of shelter?  Don’t these things all go together? I believe that Jefferson thought his language was broad and inclusive: Let’s see, he reasoned; what three words can I use to represent all “unalienable Rights”? Oh, yes! I’ll say, “among these,” and cite the big ones! “Life,” for crying out loud! How much more inclusive can I be?

Conservatives deride an American sense of “entitlement” (oh, the irony!), where people think they deserve government assistance for which they should not have to work or pay. They think a lot of us are stupid, irresponsible, and lazy. The truth is, we are all raised to believe that life is meaningless without work – which includes raising children – and that we are useless without it. Most of us want to make an honest living. That, it’s patently obvious, is not always possible.

It has always been the job of the government to see to it that people’s basic needs are met. From chiefs to kings to parliaments, the primary charge is to keep the peace and provide the food – the latter being necessary for the former. As long as there has been government, that has been the case.

Democracy didn’t change that; capitalism did.

Agnorant in America

GOP debate

“Agnorant.” I love this word because it so completely encapsulates the essence of what it means to be a Republican today:  That special combination of arrogance and ignorance that stands behind everything from American Exceptionalism to Snooky and The Situation. That way of plowing straight ahead through life with perfect conviction that you are always right in the face of constant proof that you are utterly wrong.

Agnorance: Perfect composure as you offer your opinion on something you know nothing about.  Perfect faith that you know what is right for everyone and damn it, there should be a law.   Perfect confidence in your own genius, which only you can see.  Perfect blindness with regard to your own faults, mistakes, and history.  Perfect command of the three facts that you know.

Every Republican on stage at a debate stands there as an icon of agnorance.  Their histories hold only heroic deeds and good intentions; they forgive themselves their own mistakes without even acknowledging their occurrence.   They all know what is best for America despite the fact that none of them knows that people didn’t coexist with dinosaurs.

They bought themselves a reality show to satisfy their narcissism; does that make us voyeurs?

I feel dirty, America.

Mormon Mitt

Joseph Smith Translate the Book of Mormon by Looking into his Hat

Joseph Smith Translates the Book of Mormon by Looking into his Hat

I know I’m going to be out of line here, especially for an anthropologist, but why is talking about the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon off limits? I have a problem with this.

First of all, there’s the tithing thing. I’m not comfortable with the idea that 10% of the President’s income would wind up in the hands of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That’s the people’s money. That’s my money. I’d sooner see him spend it on another private jet than have him hand it over to a church. Any church. Something feels vaguely unconstitutional about it.

Second, anyone who believes in the literal truth of any religion is  intellectually challenged in a manner that should disqualify him from seeking higher office.  I’m sorry,  but it has to be said: The miraculous foundations of every deist faith are patently ridiculous.  This is easily explained by the fact that these things date to a time before the advent of science and technology, when humans beings were still in the intellectual Dark Ages.  First they thought that the sun was pulled across the sky by an immortal charioteer; later, they were certain that a man had parted a river to allow his people to escape their captors.  Still later, a virgin gave birth to the child of God, who then went on to turn water into wine.

Yeah, sure.  Tell me another one.  That’s what passed for knowledge in those days, before the scientific revolution.  Before anyone was aware of the facts of reproduction, at least as far as the ovum was concerned.  Back when people believed in alchemy and were busily trying to turn lead into gold.  Back when being left-handed or epileptic was the work of the Devil, for crying out loud!

The Mormons are a special case because their faith dates to the 19th century, long after our intellectual awakening; they have no excuse for their ignorance.  In the 1820s, an established con artist claimed to have received a series of revelations including the “fact” that Jesus Christ traveled to the New World after his resurrection, where he ministered to the Native Americans — who, by the way, were a lost tribe of the Jews who migrated there several hundred years before the birth of Christ.  Never mind the fact that people have been present on this continent for a minimum of 10,000 years.  And while the Old and New Testaments at least contain elements of history and records of real places, the Book of Mormon has a cast of characters acting in locales that do not actually exist.  Joseph Smith wasn’t big on fact-checking the crap that came out of his hat.

It’s one thing to be a religious literalist, but it’s another thing entirely to base your politics on it.  Politics cannot be faith-based; they must be reality-based. This does, of course, disqualify the entire Republican field at the moment. Mr. Romney, however, has the special distinction of membership in a Church that baptizes Holocaust victims and tells its people that they can themselves become gods.  God himself, by the way, is an alien man from another planet.

As an anthropologist, I want to say that all religions are valid, legitimate and deserving of respect, but they do not represent a reality on which everyone can agree.  They are composed of metaphors, allegories, histories, and outright fictions intended to bind a people together in a specific time and place, and they are not applicable outside of their own particular temporal, cultural, and geographic boundaries.  They are best understood as products of and exclusive to the cultures that create them. They have no place in the politics of a modern, multicultural nation.  You might as well go put your face in a hat.


the fifty-state exit strategy

Conservatives argue that, according to the Constitution, the federal government has very limited powers; most decisions are reserved for the states.  Grover Norquist summed up the ethos of the movement when he said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Let’s assume we do this; if we asphyxiate the federal government, then what happens next?  Fifty states make fifty different sets of laws about everything they possibly can.  Taxes, property rights, voter registration, gun laws, medical insurance, abortion, religion, you name it.  If you don’t like the laws where you are, then go somewhere else.  If you can.  Suddenly you ’re living in the American Balkans. Your personal and economic security are dependent variables; the place is thick with borders and your status changes as soon as you cross one, which naturally makes crossing them difficult.  So what do you do?  You flee to the EU. I hope they’re ready for us.