When the Levee Breaks

2

I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.

Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.

I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.

One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.

Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:

  • The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
  • There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
  • There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.

There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.

Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.

What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?  

Good Bad Times

People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.

This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.

But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.

We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.

There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.

FeatImage-Bonham2

One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.

The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.

If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.

Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.

As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.

Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.

The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.

“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.

R.214 LED ZEP PAGE VIOLIN BOW

In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?

There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.

There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”

Stairway to heaven

If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.

If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?

On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.

In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.

Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.

The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.

Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy?  Why am I so cynical these days?

How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.

ramble on

American Politics: An Illegible Mess!

Americans are very fortunate. Our rights, privileges and entitlements are massive in comparison to what citizens of other countries enjoy. We may not be able to afford it, but we are very happy to have it? Just imagine a life without something you maybe never think about; the freedom of information. No one now living in America can comprehend living life without such a basic right. But citizens whom reside in many 1st world countries are living such an existence every day. Life and government in places like Italy, China or Russia are oh so different. Government corruption is so pervasive in those places that I’m not sure it can be stopped and the citizens there have no rights to know of the details.

Does government corruption exist in America? Absolutely. There is and there always will be some level of corruption in American government for at least one very good reason…power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton 1887). But, the biggest difference here is that with our Freedom of Information Act, we have the ability to uncover most if not all of what occurs in our government so long as we know the right questions to ask. Couple our right to all non-privileged information with the advent and widespread use of pocket communications devices with video/audio recording capabilities, social media mania, mass media and the occasional whistle blower and you end up with a place which presents big problems for people who tend to abuse power for illegal or unauthorized purposes. Just ask Edward Snowden, he’d be happy to let you listen to an NSA wiretap and show you surveillance photos of you stealing a box of crayons from Lucy May’s lunchbox in 1973 then later bragging about it to your brother on your Midland hand held walkie-talkies while playing army in the back yard.

If you are able to expose corruption, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will listen nor does it mean that people will care. It just means that the information is usually available for anyone who wants to know. Mass media, in particular, news and political journalism, presents its own set of problems. Blogging, what I am doing right now, essentially rose in popularity out of two things…access and popularity of social media together with a desire to present both unfiltered or alternatively biased news and information. Much of the motivation to blog was brought about by the widespread abuse of bias in mass media. When we read something in a newspaper or watch it on the Nightly News broadcast, we once assumed we were learning facts. But in reality, Walter Cronkite is dead and so is non-biased news reporting.

The end result is multifaceted. On one hand we have a large demographic of people who only watch or listen to liberal media, a large demographic who only watch and listen to conservative media, a large demographic who are repulsed by both, and a large demographic who couldn’t care less because it is ALL seen to have no credibility or in some cases they just don’t really care at all. In my opinion, the divisiveness we see in Washington DC is a direct by-product of what our mass media has unintentionally created. In a narcissistic way, mass media conglomerates decided years ago that they were smarter than the average Joe and they could use that intelligence to embed ideas into their stories or frame a particular story in a certain way in order to push the American consciousness toward whatever agenda they supported.

The problem is that Joe was a lot smarter than was expected and Joe’s political perspectives, if they were naturally opposite from those propagated by media bias, became much more serious and perhaps a bit extreme. But Jane, in reaction to Joe’s spirited contempt for opposing political views, became more protective of her own political views in order to promote her own agenda. Now, instead of having a broad centrist political ideology in America as we once did, we have two teams fighting for their lives for a collective of ideas in which we may only agree with half. The few remaining centrists are so hamstrung by focused ideological positions that they have little influence and no voice. Probably half or more of the die-hard conservatives or die-hard liberals really subscribe to ALL of the platform of either party. The rest of them only support the party vigorously because they want their party to win, regardless of their more centrist leanings.

Journalists in general can be divided into a few small groups: the independents and bloggers (few, heroic and frequently marginalized), the slaves (numerous, exploited and paid per article to have a particular opinion), and the great mouthpieces of the system hired or appointed to important positions by the parties and the lobbies (newspaper editors, editors in chief, famous names, or academics who are well-known in their field). Although we have this wonderful power over our government, The Freedom of Information Act, how that information is framed and presented to us is determined by whether that actor/hero/offender is a friend or foe of the media giant who is providing the information. We don’t get the whole story and decide for ourselves if it is good or bad, we get only bits and pieces of the story that appear to be either wholesome, moronic or demonic, depending upon how the media wants us to view it.

Who decides whether we will get the CNN version of Hillary Clinton or the FOX News version? I ask this because the two versions are rife with differences and anomalies you wouldn’t otherwise hear about from the other side. It is, of course, we ourselves who decide what we listen to but it’s the decision itself that bothers me. Why are we forced to watch biased news? We as Americans are forced to make a deliberate decision to have our news filtered to our own ideological standards. If news weren’t biased, then we wouldn’t have to watch the version which most appeals to our sense of right and wrong. If this weren’t happening, would we really be so disagreeable in the political spectrum? Could we then expect our politicians to actually accomplish things in Washington as we once did?

Our un-governed and unlimited 1st Amendment has worked to completely eradicate the role of “statesmen” from the American vernacular. George Washington himself could not have survived the onslaught of media bias in today’s political environment. Abe Lincoln would likely have been pinned a radical tea-party wacko and closeted girly-man for his rumored sleepovers with his BFF. Perhaps the brilliant statesman known the world over would never have emerged at all because he’d have been too busy poling voters and defending his awkward man-scaping. How many would-be statesmen have we sent to Washington that will never realize their potential – our potential – because of sleazy political correspondents whose sole purpose in life is to ruin the career of a candidate who represents a certain political party? It’s a sad reality when we would so quickly deny ourselves of a great leader just because he liked to wear onesies and wake up next to a bearded assistant.

Americans are being manipulated by the parties, the banks and by industry and these all use the media to distort reality. America has become one enormous reality show of three hundred million people that listen to fairy stories, and fantastic tales in such massive doses and for so long that they have transformed the country into a gigantic “Truman Show” in which truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. The more the system decomposes, the more the media becomes the last ferocious rampart (in fact, there is no further line of defense) losing every scrap of restraint and shame.

We witness the in-fighting and feigned hate in political dialogue, especially at election time, and I say to myself that it is incredible that anyone could accomplish a single goal. The ferocity with which the disagreements are carried can only result in a complete inability to listen to anyone who disagrees. And the worst part is that most of it is staged anyway. The majority of those guys who are beating each other up on stage are having dinner together to discuss strategy afterwards. They’re just pandering to the vocal majority of each of their particular groups. In reality, they just want to keep you entertained long enough to get another 4 years. In Washington, you’re either at the table or on the table. Strong public support gets you a seat at the table so you can feast on the carcasses of the once principled and incorruptible.

The moral of my blog today is that America has many items which should be on a to-do list. But in order to check them off that list, our system of collaboration (House of Representatives and Senate) requires that we hold the hands of others as we grasp the pencil to write. If one is left hand dominant and the other is right hand dominant, the pencil remains unmoved or scratches an illegible mess on the paper. Both hands must find balance and each must allow the other to have its moments. The incredible system we have never allows for an all-out win…never. Such a feat is impossible and for good reasons. You must accept each win with some concessions for the opposing force or you must accept abject failure. The American system of government, as I understand it, does not allow for tyrannical dominance, even if the views of the tyrant are pure or even best.

On that to-do list, first and foremost, should be the creation of some 1st Amendment don’ts for mass media and some sweeping election reform. There are some limits to free speech…you can’t yell “fire” in a movie theater unless there is a fire. So, let’s also make political comments free from annotation. Until we can erase media bias as a go-to lexicon for American political commentary, we will continue to propagate divisiveness and political radicalism. The term “spin” should be a dirty word. Both sides do it and both sides are wrong. Its manipulation plain and simple and it should be illegal because the fabric of a strong government rests on an educated public, not bamboozled bobble-head dolls.

Am I crazy or did our American forefathers study thousands of years of civilized society and politics in order to invent something original, lasting and as close to perfect as could be possible only to allow modern politicians, in an attempt to make it more perfect, try to change it into quasi-versions of other failed political and economic systems from fallen or bankrupt governments all over the industrialized world? I mean, what part of “almost perfect” don’t you get? Nothing is perfect except one thing and I promise you He/She/It will not have anything to do with running our government.

So everyone please forget the idea of sweeping change, it is an impossibility in the democratic system of government. Expectation is everything. Instead, look for a scaled and reciprocal approach which will have the ability to be hung and flown on a pole. Then democratically choose the pole. Otherwise, we can begin creating bronze plaques that read, “On this the 14th day of October in the year of our Lord 2014, NOTHING HAPPENED”.