Archive | December, 2011

The pale blue dot and revolutions

30 Dec

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m just writing. Help me work this out will you? I don’t have anything I’m trying to prove, or some preconceived end conclusion that I’m trying to build an argument for. I’m just writing.

All my life I’ve wanted a cause. I’ve wanted something to belong to, some type of mission or quest with companions who would risk their lives for me and vice versa. I guess that’s why I’m such a sucker for revolution stories and stories that feature a strong bond between two or more people. Books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Harry Potter series, and now The Hunger Games. Stories like these feature a small band of people, willing to sacrifice their lives for one-another while fighting for some common cause, even if that cause is each other. I can’t think of anything more intimate.

Nothing would make me happier than to have that kind of bond with someone, though I’m feeling I’m drifting into the topic for a different post. Back on course.

I guess I’m having trouble finding a cause, or more importantly, difficulty determining if there even exists such a worthy cause for me to find in the first place. I keep thinking of Carl Sagan’s “Pale blue dot”. I want to focus on a few words, but for those of you who haven’t heard it, or forget, here it is in full:

The words that strike me most in this context are:

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

 

I remember these lines and then think of some hypothetical cause I could be fighting for. What’s the point? Am I not just fighting over a corner of a pixel like everyone else? Some might counter that I’m fighting for a better world for myself and future generations, yet some part of me says that this will never happen. People have been fighting for a better world for their children since the dawn of time. Their children just grow up into adults who commit the same atrocities on their fellow human beings, thus keeping us in a constant state of “fighting for a better tomorrow”, like a hamster in a wheel.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s overly cynical. I want desperately to believe in something like that. I want a cause, something I can feel sure about. Something to give me direction, a purpose.

I hope that my salvation lies somewhere within the knowledge that this is the only life I have, and that maybe that is something worth fighting for.

But I haven’t quite worked that out yet…

Merry Christmas or Happy holidays?

22 Dec

Merry Christmas or Happy holidays? This is debate that flairs up every November-December in America.

On the side of “Happy Holidays” you have people and businesses who are trying to appeal to the greatest number of customers. On the side of those who take offense to “Happy holidays” and prefer “Merry Christmas”, you have Christians who feel that “Happy Holidays” is an attack on their beliefs. Some on the “Merry Christmas” side have even gone so far as to call for a boycott of businesses that say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.” I’m not sure about your locale, but you can often find people driving around with the following “Keep Christ in Christmas” car magnets.

It should come as no surprise that I feel that the “Merry Christmas” crowd is acting like a bunch of angry children. Let’s examine the rationale behind why a person might say “Happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas” :

The idea behind “Happy holidays” is simple. There are several holidays celebrated  in the month of December. Since it is not easy to tell just by looking at someone what their religion is, it is a polite way of saying “I wish you well in whichever of the several holidays you will be observing.” It’s nice, it covers everybody, and doesn’t discriminate.

Now, for the “Merry Christmas” people who take offense to “Happy Holidays” their reasoning is some flavor of the following reasons:

I celebrate Christmas, therefore my holiday is the only holiday that really matters.

This is my country, founded on my religion, and everyone else should bow down to the superiority of MY holiday.

You can have your little Hanukkah, or Solstice, or whatever, but normal people like ME celebrate CHRISTmas!

To say “Happy Holidays” is to spit in the face of that majority’s cultural tradition! It’s an attack on my religious freedom [read as: freedom to oppress, marginalize, and belittle those of different faiths]!”

Now someone who takes offense to “Happy Holidays”  might not hold every aspect of the above self-righteous rage, but their reasoning ultimately stems from one of the above mentioned examples.

When someone takes offense to “Happy Holidays” or any other attempt to include others of differing viewpoints in the seasonal celebrations, they truly are acting like a spoiled child throwing a temper-tantrum. I’m sorry if you feel uncomfortable by the existence of people with differing views. I’m sorry if you can’t stand the thought that your holiday might not be superior to, and deserving deference from, all the other holidays going on during this season.

Grow up.

What will it take?

17 Dec

Wow, NDAA and SOPA in one week. 220 years to the day after the ratification of the bill of rights, the NDAA passed congress and is now on it’s way to the white house where Obama has said that he will NOT veto the bill. What’s the big deal? Indefinate detention of Americans SUSPECTED of being terrorists. Suspected, not “proven guilty in a court of law.” If the government doesn’t like you, all they have to do is say the “suspect” you of being a terrorist and you’re GONE!

It’s ok, I wasn’t using my basic human rights anyways.

Meanwhile, SOPA has been being rushed through congress, despite many of the legislators not understanding what it is they are passing. The bill would essentially break the internet. Copyright holders would be able to go to Internet Service Providers (whoever you get your internet from) and demand that they censor websites they don’t like. If the ISP doesn’t censor it, they can sue them. This would remove some websites from your computer’s address book, meaning not everyone’s address book was the same. (Thus, in layman’s terms, “breaking the internet”)

Claims could be filled against anyone who uses copyrighted content in any way. Think of it this way:

It is the equivalent of copyrighting letters in the alphabet and then suing people who use those letters in writing a sentence. Think of everything on the internet that references something else, be it to comment on it, or to redesign it to express another idea. All of that would be illegal if SOPA passed.

It looked like the bill might be postponed until 2012, which is what the major media outlets are reporting, but the people in favor of the bill have quietly agreed to meet on the 21st to push it through.

I see all this and I’m beyond outraged. I’m not even shocked or surprised. THIS is why I want to leave this country so badly. It’s stuff like this.

I went to go copy the URLs to these stories and post them on facebook so my friends could see what was going on right under their noses, but then I stopped. What’s the point? Nobody is going to do anything about it. Some of my like minded friends might chime in with their outrage, but it’s ultimately just a circle-jerk.

People don’t want to hear about it. It’s not immediately affecting them, so don’t bother. But what will it take?

You have no rights. You have no freedom. Your future and childrens’ futures are being stolen from you in plain view for all to see.

What will it take for people to do something? For them to stand up and fight back? Thousands already have. The Occupy Wall Street movement has been speaking out against this immoral system of disfranchisement and thievery for months, but everyone is trying their damnedest to sweep them under the rug, to paint them as fringe with no clear agenda.

What would it take for the rest of the population to wake up?

10% unemployment obviously isn’t enough. Would 20% do it? 40%? Do we need to reach the same levels as Spain and other countries currently facing financial collapse?

The bill of rights has effectively been repealed by post 9/11 legislation and yet we do nothing. What would it take? Would people need to be round up in camps? It has happened before, but there seems to be this notion that it can’t happen again. It won’t happen again. That happens somewhere else.

I’m reminded of Hartley’s famous line: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” While this may be true for a great many things, it is not true of political oppression. There is no comfortable distance seperating us from the horrors of the past. Surprisingly enough, MTV seems to understand this:

Sadly, history shows us that a people will not wake up to the danger of what is happening until it is too late.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Raising awareness is not the same as working to solve a problem.

5 Dec

So many campaigns nowadays focus on raising awareness. An awareness campaign can focus on anything from disease, legal/political injustice, environmental problems, and so on. As much as people who work to raise awareness like to think they’re helping, it doesn’t really do anything. It’s the equivalent of offering to pray for someone who’s in a bad spot. You get to feel like you’re helping without actually putting forth any constructive effort.

Why does awareness raising not have any real effect? At the heart of the awareness raising strategy is the idea that if we make enough people aware of a problem then hopefully some of them will actually get up and do something. The problem with this way of thinking is that this is seldom the case. All too often people fall victim to the bystander effect.

The bystander effect or Genovese syndrome is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present. The probability of help has in the past been thought to be inversely related to the number of bystanders; in other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. The mere presence of other bystanders greatly decreases intervention. This happens because as the number of bystanders increases, any given bystander is less likely to interpret the incident as a problem, and less likely to assume responsibility for taking action.

So in essence, say you have a huge concert to raise awareness about an issue. Are you actually going to do anything to solve the problem? No, nor is anyone else who goes to that concert. They’ll all be thinking the same thing you are “I paid my money, and I’m sure someone in this crowd will do something.” Very few, if any, will. You’re money is also going to pay for the cost of having the concert. If you really want your money to do some good, pick a charity with a low overhead.

A fund raising concert is one thing, but unfortunately “raising awareness” is nothing but a giant circle-jerk of people who are hoping others will actual get started on working to solve a problem.

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