Archive | February, 2011

Online petitions and small scale protests

25 Feb

Back in high school I was very politically active. A starry-eyed firebrand I’d join in protests, wage road sign wars, and eagerly engage in political debates with other high-school students. I later realized the party I would have at one point died for was just as fucked up in its own right as the party I loathed with every fiber of my being, but that’s besides the point. I just wanted to start off by saying I’ve been there, I used to be one of the people I’m about to discuss.

Everyday on my way home from work I pass by the South Carolina state capital building, and almost everyday there is a small group of anti-war protesters huddled around some signs. They look even more beleaguered in the cold, freezing their butts of waving around their little signs.

Seriously, what’s the point? Stop it.

Wait, hold your rage and comments for two seconds and hear me out. I fully 100% support what they support. I think the wars in Iraq are a horrible waste of lives and money.

But seriously, what’s the point of protesting here in South Carolina, the angry redneck conservative capital of the US. This was, after all, the first state to declare war on the US and secede. It’s conservative heaven.

I know the standard response (I was one of them once, remember?). It goes something like “Well, we’re out here doing this even though it seems pointless because it is important to let people know that there are people who will stand up against such things.” I can see the merit in that argument, but I’m not sure it’s actually that effective in reality. In reality I get the feeling that people look at you like just a group of idiots whooping and hollering in the cold with your stupid signs.

A small group of people standing around with signs never really does anything. A large group, yes, but a small group just seems to accent how fringe you are to the rest of the people in the community. Also, keep in mind this IS South Carolina. You have no chance in hell of changing anyone’s mind. They are, and forever will be, stuck with their heads so far up their asses they’ll never see the light of day or reason. If you were in a swing state, sure, but here? Fuck no.

Also, online petitions….to put it bluntly they are pointless. Absolutely pointless. “Click here to save the _____________” You’re little electronic signature doesn’t do shit. If you want to actually support a cause, get off your ass, leave your house, and go volunteer. Clicking a button on the computer is a worthless gesture.

The only time petitions actually work is when they are signed by a large group of people, in person, on a local scale. The only power a petition has is the threat of losing all the below signed names as voters. This only really has an effect in a small arena where every vote is important. Online petitions lose this power because A) There is no real way to confirm that the person signing is an actual person and not just some dick signing it over and over again, B) Even if they are a real person, the internet is global, not local, and so the vast majority of people who sign do not have enough collective voting power to threaten the politicians who are the recipients of such petitions. C) You can erase an entire petition by simply clicking “delete”.

“Oh but GP, it shows how many people support/oppose an idea!” I’ve got some bad news for you: the politicians don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter how many people support/oppose something. It’s not about them and it’s not about the issues. It never has been, that’s just the guise everything operates under. Local petitions threaten local politicians and their access to local money, that’s the only reason they work. Global petitions don’t have any teeth with which to threaten a politician’s money supply and so they’re pointless. *delete*

Libertarians and conservatives…

24 Feb

Earlier today I got a nasty comment from someone bashing me and my blog without attempting to put forth and real ideas or counter arguments so I deleted it. What struck me afterwards was that the person called themselves a libertarian and in the post they were bashing me for I was decrying big government’s involvement in people’s personal lives. This really puzzled me because the supposed difference between libertarians and conservatives is that libertarians don’t want big government controlling what you do with your body, who you marry, and when you have children while conservatives will gleefully enforce their version of morality on the rest of the population through big government.

Politically I consider myself a liberal with libertarian leanings. As a general rule I do not like big government dictating what its citizens can do. I’m pro gun, pro choice, pro gay marriage, pro drugs, and against the death penalty. However, I do recognize that community is important and that there is a need for government to provide things that support the public good like schools, healthcare, a fire department, libraries, highways, food/water/building/car safety, etc. I recognize that the “free market” is not a perfect system for producing a happy, healthy society. The pure libertarian idea of a free market is too idealistic and makes various assumptions about the players in the market that are unrealistic. America was very libertarian at the turn of the 20th century and the problems we had with robber barons, monopolies, tycoons, tainted food, snake oil salesmen, etc led to the development of protective regulatory agencies.

I also recognize that big government is a tool for ensuring legal equality. Oppressed and disenfranchised minorities in a small community can appeal to bigger government for protection. A small town of racist white supremacists in the south cannot oppress and deny blacks the right to vote because such rights are on a bigger scale than the small southern town. Big government at a federal level incorporates so many diverse people from different parts of the country that it dilutes out discrimination that would be practiced on a smaller homogeneous scale.

So I guess you can call me libertarian lite.

What really puzzles me about the other libertarians I see is just how easily they associate with conservatives. Many of the libertarians I know you would not know they were libertarians and not conservative unless you asked them. They post very conservative posts up on facebook or their blogs, they like very conservative speakers and authors, and they watch Fox “news.”

Why do I never see them railing against anti-gay marriage laws, or abortion laws, the jailing of journalists, or bills like the Patriot Act that strip us of our personal liberties guaranteed in the Constitution? The only explaination I can think of is pretty sickening:

Money is more important than social equality.

If they were concerned with the social equality of all people they’d stay well away from conservatives. I’d see them hanging out with liberals but grumbling when economics came up. Instead they’re hanging out with conservatives and staying silent when social issues come up.

What is your “better world”?

23 Feb

Everyone, be they liberal or conservative, want a better world for their children, they just disagree on how to go about achieving that. At least that’s what everyone says, but I feel there is a fundamental semantics issue here. What exactly does one mean by “a better world”? That saying assumes we both want the same thing in the end and that we just differ on the paths, but I think that is a wrong assumption to make.

What do I mean by a “better world” coming from my liberal atheist point of view? Well my better world would be a world where people don’t tolerate corrupt politicians who lie to them, where war truly is the last resort and not the first option. In my perfect world people’s lives would not be dictated by their neighbor’s religion. The government would not institutionalize bigotry, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, or impose religious doctrine. My perfect world would be a place where race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious preference, etc would not matter. Sure if people wanted to take pride in some aspect of their identity that would be fine, but discriminating against someone for that identity would not be tolerated. My perfect world would be a world in which people were guaranteed the things needed to survive, like food, water, shelter, clean air, and medical attention, but where the safety net was not so comfortable as to encourage living off of it. My perfect world would be a world where people were able to speak their minds without censorship. My perfect world would be a world where the government did not try to control your body, be it what drugs you put into it, or when you decide to start a family. In my perfect world the government would work towards improving the lives of its citizens through a strong public education system and strong environmental protection. In my perfect world the rich would not be punished for being rich, but the poor would not be left to die either.

Those are some of the things I have in mind when I think of a “better world”.

Yet when I listen to conservatives, their “better world” seems so….evil to me. I know it’s not nice to paint it like that, but it just honestly does feel like the antithesis to everything I hold to be good and right.

The trickiest part is how they will often use the same words I do when trying to describe a better world, but by observing their actions and how they vote, I’ve come to understand that there is at the very best a serious semantics issue.

I will put this bluntly. Based off of my observations their “better world” appears as follows:

A place world where only landowners have the right to vote, a world where everyone is assigned strict gender roles and forced to conform to them, a world where white men dominate and control every aspect of society, a world where the power of big government is used to police your bedroom and your body. A “better world” where minorities and women know their place, serving white men; a world where the government is the tool of the rich and powerful and where the poor are left to starve off and die for lack of medical attention, shelter, food and water. A world where public education is non-existent and where all the taxpayer’s money is spent buying bigger guns with which to kill people different from the white men. A world of order, control, and conformity, not diversity, change, and uncertainty.  A world where superstition and religion reign supreme, where the existence of fact is denied. A world rife with sexual repression and discrimination. A world where the environment existed solely to be exploited for profit until it was destroyed.

I’ve acquired this impression of conservatives after having watched them fight tooth and nail against promoting equality among the sexes, races, and genders. Throughout history they have always stood against anything that gave power to people other than straight rich white protestant men. They always vote to cut funding for schools and art and to use that money to make bombs. They fight any legislation that would prevent businesses from raping the environment that we all must live in. They fight against anything that would give aid and comfort to the poor who desperately need it, yet they will die defending the richest millionaires in the country. They always seem to fight against immigrants and anyone who is not white. They fight to enforce and institutionalize discrimination, they fight to enable big government to tell you who to love, who to have sex with, when to have children, where to go to church, what to read/watch/listen to in the media, and what to put into your body. They do all this while chanting “personal liberties” with a straight face. They claim to love democracy and yet they cheer people like Joyce Kaufman when they say “If ballots don’t work, bullets will!” and people like Ann Coulter when they say “We need to put more journalists in jail!” A better world would be one where people resorted to murder if they lost an election; where freedom of speech was non-existent and journalists who disagreed with you were thrown in jail??? Sure Kaufman and Coulter are just two people, but they do not exist in a vacuum. Their ideas have sway with a large group of people in the conservative party.

It just feels evil to me, pure evil. I’m not saying that conservatives are evil, I know plenty who are honest genuinely nice people, but I’m very puzzled as to why they think this would be a “better world”. I feel like I’d end up trying to argue axioms with them like suffering is bad.

Conservatives and cognitive dissonance

22 Feb

Long ago I came to the conclusion that by in large many conservatives have no problem with cognitive dissonance. It’s like hypocrisy is the new black.

Some examples?

Conservatives love to claim they’re all about personal liberty and defending the constitution. You would expect that following that they would be staunch opponents of anyone who sought to violate the constitution…right? That would make logical sense.

Well the other Saturday Ann Coulter, the darling of the right, spoke at CPAC, a huge right wing convention where she said “there should be more jailed journalists.” Now, one would expect a crowd of staunch personal liberty/constitution supporters to have shouted her off stage. Right? That would make sense. After all, jailing journalists is antithetical to the first amendment freedom of speech and just reeks of a totalitarian regime where personal liberty doesn’t exist. But you guessed it, and like you can see from the video, they gave her a roaring applause.

Or how about the conservative stance on personal liberty and how it relates to abortion, healthcare, and the death penalty? When liberals wanted a public option to create more competition in the market of healthcare (another thing conservatives claim to be all in favor of) the right went ballistic. They invented out of whole cloth the idea that the government would be making people’s health decisions for them, and boy how their blood did boil. They stood there with their stupid signs screaming about government intervention in their private health and then would turn around and tell you with s a straight face that they wanted big government to control women’s bodies and what a healthcare procedures a woman would have access to.

Abortion is one of their favorite topics. Ignoring the obvious hypocrisy of wanting big government to control women, they want to force the woman to have an unwanted child. They froth at the mouth about making the woman have the child, but they’re nowhere to be found when she finally does have the baby. They’re exactly like the dead beat boyfriends or rapists who got the women pregnant in the first place. When it comes time to be financially responsible for the upbringing of this child, they skip town.

Instead, the unwanted child grows up in a broken and unloving home where they inevitably turn to a life of crime. The conservatives then spend even more money on the prison system to jail the criminals they fought so hard to make sure were born. If they do anything really bad, the conservatives then want big government to step in and execute a private citizen. They’ve now gone full circle from wanting small government and life to wanting big government and death.  Just keep in mind, hypocrisy is the new black.

Responsibility

14 Feb

Ever since I got a full time job and my own apartment, I have been thinking a lot about responsibility. I don’t mean the usual crap that your parents tell you about responsibility when you get a pet, I mean like how scary it is to have it and why so many people of avoid it.

At my job I am responsible for a lot of things, mainly innovations and troubleshooting. My biggest fear is that I will somehow forget to do something and it will hurt the business. The really scary part is that I work with the admin program and our server, which is like the beating heart of the business. I have to tripple check before I touch a button that could accidentally delete a medical record and get us sued.

It is my job to know everything about everything. When I suggest we try a new program or messages of doing something, I have to know every aspect of what I am suggesting and how it might affect the business. It is a lot of pressure. There are times in the day when I am stuck. I can’t do my job all by myself, sometimes I have to work with other people and their computers. Unfortunately sometimes they are not cooperative.

When my boss asks why something is not done I feel bad saying it is because I am waiting on someone else. I feel like that is an excuse, a way of shrugging off responsibility. When I read the book Atlas Shrugged, a constant theme was people avoiding responsibility. They always had an excuse for why something wasn’t done. I really do not want to be like that but there are times when I really can’t do something because of someone else. What are you supposed to do in those situations? What are you supposed to do when something is honestly not your fault? Is responsibility taking the blame even though you there was nothing you could do?

I get the feeling responsibility of something that can only hurt you. When you are responsible for something and it goes well no one says anything because that is what was supposed to happen; however, if something goes wrong your screwed. This is why people try to avoid responsibility. But if everyone avoids responsibility nothing gets done, just like in Atlas Shrugged.

I guess in those situations I usually just take the blame even though there was nothing I could possibly do. My job requires that I go into uncharted territory, I don’t have all the answers and I admit that. I try my best, yet sometimes some things still go wrong. I can be working very hard and something I never considered will screw me.

It is really frustrating to know you’re doing your best and yet to still have unexpected things go wrong. I love my job and the people I work with but sometimes the responsibility can be very scary. If I fuck up it is not only my livelihood that is at risk but the livelihood of others as well…

My first apartment

13 Feb

Regular readers will have noticed that my blog has been silent for two weeks. My apologies about that, but I’ve been moving into my first apartment. This was a day that I honestly thought would never come. I’ve been yearning for this for years. I’ve always wanted the space and freedom that comes with your own apartment. On top of that I’m paying my own rent, which is a massive boost to my self-respect. My parents still like to take me out for dinner from time to time, but other than that I’m paying my own bills. I know that in time I’m going to hate paying my own bills, but right now I still have that “finally independent” high so don’t ruin it for me.

Here are some pics of the place. Warning, it’s a mess and I’m still unpacking it. When I’m done I’ll put up some finished pics:

My kitchen, I swear it’s clean now:

Luckily the apartment I got has a sun room so the living room was extra big. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of medieval decorations, but my tastes have changed a bit and I didn’t want to decorate my entire apartment like a castle. I also figured that since I was paying for the apartment, I didn’t need necessarily have the “bed room” be the bedroom and the “sun room” the sun room. It is my space, I can do whatever I want with it. I decided to put my bed in the “sun room” with an antique Japanese divider sectioning off the place. This way I can turn the “bed room” into my craft room and put up all the decorations that I had collected over the years but didn’t want to put in the main living area.

My art room:

Other way in the craft room

Over the years I’ve been collecting a lot of books. I’ve always had boxes and boxes of books in anticipation of finally getting an apartment and having some place to put them:

(I was a good foot off the ground on top of that pile)

And so now that I have a place of my own and bookcases to hold all my books, this wall is my pride and joy:

As I’m typing this I reminded of the other reason why I love having my own place…quiet. (My grandmother has the TV up really loud in the next room and it’s very hard to concentrate)

Anyways, I’ve been off line for two weeks because the cable company still has not hooked up my internet… once that’s done my place will really feel like home. I know there is work and bills to worry about, but damn being an independent adult is amazing.

There is only us

1 Feb

This might seem like a no-brainer for many people, but it was something I slowly came to understand when I was a kid growing up.

My parents don’t really get the internet. My grandmother doesn’t even know how to turn a computer on. My father rarely uses the computer. Whenever he does it is just to check bank statements or e-mail. My mother also doesn’t understand the computer, much less the internet. She mainly uses the computer for typing up letters in word, for checking e-mail and facebook, and to play bejeweled. For both of them the computer is simply a tool, like a telephone. I can understand where they’re coming from; they spent the majority of their lives in a computerless world, even more of that time without the internet. The one thing they haven’t grasped about the internet is perhaps its greatest power: the ability to answer questions.

Both of my parents don’t understand how to use google to find the answer to a question they have. “What are some good chicken recipes?” “What movies are playing at the theatre tonight?” “How do I do fix X,Y,Z?” They’re both used to finding these answers elsewhere.

Where am I going with this? Well when talking to my grandmother, or my parents, I wondered how I would explain the internet. What IS the internet?

The first analogy that came to mind was a university, which leads me to the point of this post.

What is a university? The campus? The buildings? The books? A university is none of that, it’s the faculty and students that make up the university. If all the people left, the cold empty buildings would not be a university. If you get a degree from a university, what that degree signifies is that the people who make up that university deem you as having achieved a certain level of knowledge and ability. The buildings just serve as a meeting place.

The internet is the same way, only more pronounced because it lacks a physical location. It exists in the digital realm that we access through our computers. Or at least we create the notion of this digital realm by linking up millions of computers and servers where the actual content physically exists, just as the “university” realm exists through the connection and interaction of ideas and concepts that physically reside as chemical an neurological interactions within the brains of those who collectively are “the university.”

But what I’m trying to get is more than just this notion of creating realms of information through the transmission of ideas. What I slowly started to understand while growing up was that we are all there is. The lines on a map are not physical boundaries between countries, they exist purely because we created them. The system of calendars and years are setup by us. Only we mark the passing of time. Sure the earth completes one full rotation in about 24 hours, and one full orbit in 365 of those rotations, but it is we who arbitrarily picked a beginning and end to each year. On midnight of December 31st, the other animals on the planet have no idea that one year is ending and another beginning. For all they know, it’s just another night, and tomorrow is just another day.

I first came across this concept when I started studying history more in-depth. While we talk of “historical periods” like the Roman empire, or the middle ages, or the renaissance, there is no clear delineation between the start and end of these periods. Bells did not ring, the sun did not stop, and a voice from the heavens did not announce “You are now in a new historical era!” The only thing that separates us now from the middle ages are a lot of revolutions of the earth.

What is society? What are laws? If you are at a stoplight, in the middle of nowhere, and there is not a single person around, there is nothing inherently wrong about driving through that red light. It is only wrong because we say it is wrong. (Because doing it in a populated area could get someone killed) But if you drive through that light out in the middle of nowhere, nobody is going to make a mark by your name.

There is a saying “All knowledge is human knowledge.” For a while this bugged me. “Well that’s stupid, a squirrel has the knowledge of how to gather nuts for the winter,” but that’s not what it is addressing. It’s more of an existential statement. This whole post is about an existential realization I had growing up.

We are all there is. We make the rules, we alone are solely responsible for our actions and for creating meaning in our lives. There is no safety net or wall we can lean against. We’re completely vulnerable to error.

Which brings me full circle back to computers. I feel that more and more we are trying to make life like a computer program. If a computer were self-aware, it would not have the existential problem that humans do. A computer must obey laws (the coding of a program) in order to function. That coding is created by external entities, us. Our own version of coding that we attempt to enforce are social mores.

For me, one of the most stand out examples of this was when I went to Disney world with my now ex-girlfriend. We were going out to a late night fireworks show and it was a bit chilly. I wanted to pack one of the hotel blankets in my backpack to keep us warm. She protested. This made her very uncomfortable and she tried to explain to me that I can’t take the hotel blanket from the room. Why not? You just can’t. (coding) I explained to her that nobody was going to know, that I was going to return the blanket when I was done, and that if anything happened to it, that I would personally pay for its replacement. She grudgingly dropped the issue, I took the blanket, and we were warm. The whole incident really stuck with me. Why is it such a big deal to break the computer codes? We are the masters that wrote them in the first place. They exist because we say they exist.

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