Why Politics Are So Divisive

Ask your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, or your kid what America’s biggest problem is, and you’ll hear that politics have become too divisive.

The exacerbation of this division is a recent development; though stark political divisions have always been around, these divisions have never been so pervasive, in every conversation from politics, to education, to mass-shootings: never have the adherents of opposing political opinions been so intransigent, emotional, prejudiced, irrational…

This modern political division probably began in the late-1960’s when ABC ran a series of debates between William Buckley and Gore Vidal, two ideologues on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Their arguing made for great television, and the networks realized the money potential of giving ideologues screen time. (The documentary, Best Of Enemies, about the Buckley-Vidal debates and the impact the debates have had on political discourse, is on Netflix.)

Maybe I can argue that these ideological divisions were tense before these debates, that this is why the debates were so successful, because these divisions were already in the heads of the public. Or, that the Buckley-Vidal debates didn’t have as large of an impact as the documentary suggests, that current political divisions parallel the growth of the Federal Government – as population size grows so does the number of opinions, and with stakes being higher at the national level, the major parties (or factions within them) cling to ideological fundamentals to resist broad changes at the national level.

Regardless the inception of the division, the division is here, and it is pervasive. Even if someone sabotaged Fox News and MSNBC and both these Manipulators of Opinion were excised from existence, we’d still have headlines like:

“Bernie Sanders’ Fiction-filled Campaign” – Washington Post

“Watch Tommy Chong’s Pro-Sanders Video” – The LA Times

“Ted Cruz’s New Anti-Choice Group Is Headed By a Guy Who Thinks Abortion Caused the Drought” – Mother Jones

“For Hillary Clinton, Feminism Means ‘Blame Men First’, and to Disagree is ‘Misogyny'” – The National Review

 

Even if we disregard the blatantly-subjective headlines, major media still front-page stories catered to specific sets of opinions:

“US Warships Sail Close to Island Claimed by China” – The Wall Street Journal

“Labor Leaders Fear Trump’s Appeal With Rank and File” – The NY Times

It seems reasonable to think that without the Buckley-Vidal debates, chances are our politics and media would be just as divisive, as an inevitable outcome of mass-communication technology: everybody loves to hear their own opinions being affirmed (Confirmation Bias), and with so many media outlets now able to reach millions, media are more able to cater to specific opinions without alienating their readerships.

Viewed this way, divisive political discourse wouldn’t disappear by castrating talking-heads, demagogues, and party-fringes, because… The Internet – we choose to have our biases confirmed, and it’s easy for us to do so.

 

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Small Little Hierarchies

I have myself working food for the winter, until my outdoor job starts up again. I cook food in the morning, drive it to a corporate cafeteria, and serve it to hundreds of people on their lunch-breaks. I have a tremendous dislike for this job. Not just the serving food at insurance headquarters and Bailout Bank corporate-parks, but the owner of the fast-casual restaurant I work for runs the restaurant as a labor mill – productivity isn’t high enough, make the employees do more but don’t give them raises, $9.00/hr is plenty for them to run themselves sick over grills and rice pots and mashing avocados.

Most of the people I work with are Mexican, both legally in the US and illegally in the US, and the rest are middle-aged white people who spite authority and social greed and don’t understand why the owner of the restaurant, who owns a dozen other restaurants, needs to make the GM work 70 hours a week because he’s refusing to give anybody a minute of overtime.

We’ll call the owner Gary.

Which brings me to a reason I don’t like hierarchy – people shouldn’t hold authority over other people. But if you want to survive, you have to live with the authority others have to determine your value as a human, because there is no way for you to be self-sustaining – you are fully dependent on the system, and you need that hourly-wage.

The corporate cafeterias we serve are all managed by a single company, which we’ll call Quantico. The regional manager is a maybe-27-year-old blonde woman. We were setting up the line in a cafeteria, getting ready to serve, when she walked in and was greeted by my boss, Gary, the owner of the dozen fast-food restaurants.

We’ll call this woman Maggie. Maggie is a good-looking woman in a pantsuit and a business hair-bun, holding a binder of Important Documents. She picks up a conversation with Gary, saying, “I’ve been running all over trying to find more tickets for you guys but none of the stores have any. I went to OfficeMax, Giant Eagle, Wal-Mart – I swear I’ve never hated shopping so much.”

To which my co-worker Bill chimes in, “Oh, sure, I doubt you ever hate shopping.”

Maggie looks from Gary to Bill, blinks at Bill with her mouth slack…

And just picture this for a moment, because Bill’s close to 40, rents a shitty duplex where homeless addicts piss in alleys with gunshots somewhere down the street; drives a 1995 Mazda, works two part-time jobs at $9/hour, and has no desire to marry or to Get A Real Job. And Bill, who has never met Maggie, the Regional Manager for Quantico (and technically our boss), has just made a blatantly misogynistic remark to her. This decimates all norms of our social hierarchy – for this, I appreciate Bill, marginalizing the authority this woman is supposed to have over him.

Bill was a high school baseball-star. He got caught smoking pot in high school, but the teacher let him go. He’s had numerous girlfriends over the years, proud to have dated the high school prom-queen. He was arrested once for drunk-driving. He used to sell landscaping equipment with great commission, but quit after 10 years because he was bored of it. He has several of his dad’s old guns, and lived on unemployment for a while. Bill lives a simple life, no aspirations to make more money than he needs. He’s also active in his church, which is how he knows our General Manager, which is how he got the job – neighbor helping neighbor, an important part of Bill’s All-American, Anti-Authority character.

We’re serving food at another cafeteria for a large insurance company. The lunch rush is over and the line has slowed down. Two young woman walk in. They both have blonde hair, are in shape, and look to be about 22 or 23 years old. The one who is a bit taller does the talking, and has a deeper voice. They’re sharing a meal, and the taller one places the order, does the questioning about “What’s that stuff, there?”. The shorter one stays quiet, holding her own arms or hands or leaning on the counter, staying right next to the taller girl.

The taller girl is wearing an Oktoberfest Munchen shirt. I’m excited. I ask her about it; I’ve been to Munich, but never to the festival. How was it? She tells me all about it, it was amazing. Her name’s Sara. And this is great – because here are two young women with affection between them, excitement because they’re new to each other. And their faces are clear and bright to be alive, because they go to Europe and to music festivals and road trips to national parks; because they are happy to be alive and to experience and explore and have in-depth conversations with spontaneous strangers sitting in GreyHound bus stations because it’s raining while they wait for the bus to Arizona. They are free and beautiful people.

The couple gets their food and walks away towards the cafeteria tables. Bill says something to our other co-worker, and they share to each other how excellent it would be to get between those Two Hot Lesbians – Damn, that was excellent, I can only imagine what I’d do them.

Bill and my other co-worker keep glancing over at the couple, and the two Hot Lesbians are quiet at a table by themselves, and the table is cordoned off in the middle of the cafeteria, and there is a large marquee sign above them, and they are insecure and timid and looking only at their Insurance Corporation lunch.

 

Trying To Find Simplicity As A Father

(Post 2/2)

… What it all amounts to, the mania produced beneath The Main Road, is the desire to explore the side-routes, to Pioneer the Alleys (Post 1/2).

But I’d decided, exactly four years ago camping in a bush along the Beautiful Foreign Coast of LA, that to pursue a Beat life is to travel a side-road already paved. That no one needs another Beatnik – we already know what lies that way, much better to get back on the Main Road, work the horse-power to an eager steam and plow the pick-up down the next exit where the road hasn’t been cleared. That hitchhiking alleys (Please, someone, please, start a hitchhiking blog, real-time posting account of the Beauty that’s still there) and blowing my heart into gutters on drink and madness and molly wasn’t going to change anything – it’s all been done.

What I choose was Ego, Will-Power – to Push Through the mindless Main Road traffic and barge down a new path. What I decided was to affect my will on the world – I choose against a beautiful, simple heart.

Which now sounds greasy. Unpleasant. Egotistic, disgusting, personally disappointing. I don’t like it. I don’t like having to work full-time jobs. I don’t like having to deal with credit scores, rent, utility bills, debt collectors. I absolutely love having a wife and child. And it isn’t distaste for the responsibility, it’s the distaste of having to Impose myself in the name of that responsibility.

What I need is openness. I want to spill all I have onto tables full of friends. I want to engage the world by disengaging from it. I don’t need a return to drinking, a return to abuse of substance and self – even as Ken Kesey (Merry Prankster Pioneer of LSD) put it, We Need To Go Beyond Acid. I don’t need intoxication to let my will be free.

But I can’t do it right now. We have nothing. We have car payments and rent and debt and a god damn credit score; I have to finish my degree. I have to work full-time. I have to crush my heart to the demands of capital – I have to assert my will on the world and my will only wants to be free.

We’re going to have a small house in the woods. I’m going to wander trails barefoot with my children. I’m going to read about the Universe and ponder on a fishing boat. I am going to be simple. I am going to want nothing: we are going to have everything we need, the bare necessities, and we won’t have to worry about money or jobs or car payments or credit. Because I am going to publish novels. I am going to write us into simplicity, and we are going to abandon the Main Road and open our Blessed Exit to all those Alley Souls maddened in the Main Road traffic.

And I’m going to hitchhike again.

 

Ginsberg’s Howl and A Beatnik Baby Crib

I read my kid Howl as a bedtime story. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything Beat, and about twelve lines into Howl I remembered why: Beat literature makes me sad.

Because –

“… angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz…”

Because I used to drink turpentine in burning alleys right through to dusk behind warehouses and consumer cathedrals painted naked with despair. Because anything Beat brings it back and it makes me sad. Because I cashed in my chips for a discounted dream, because I had once been sick with longing, ecstasy, drink, drugs, paranoia, hunger and the heat of hitchhiking, that romantic pursuit of life virility and I had found what I was looking for.

And then, head between my legs, I cowered home to Write A Novel and instead got depressed, months drunk between couch cushions, but then the saving grace – I fell in love, into the Straight and Narrow constriction where there is no chaos to create the only life that’ll quench my soul.

Responsibility, the specter of death demanding the immersion of heart into Ego. I am A Family Man.

But I can still write, and fiction will be my soul’s sanctuary, and my house in the hills, farm of children and couch surfers, acid dropped into the bonfire Saturday night and passing-through vagabonds picking our fruit and whatever wayward poets our time may or probably won’t produce (pessimistic outlooking), door’s open to all the alley souls unfit for the main road.

What it all amounts to, the mania produced beneath The Main Road, is the desire to explore the side-routes, to Pioneer the Alleys — Next Post.

Dancing Science With Art

Science and Art, two opposites competing to be the way towards truth. Science (Logic) tells us what a tree is and is not, and Art (Reason) will tell us what a tree can be, as part of a vast whole. Science will always argue its own truth over art, and science is not wrong – its entire purpose is to define and to establish the boundaries of a what a thing is and is not. And because of this, science will never be able to agree with Art and imagination, these things which know the Universe to be vast and without borders; undefinable, subjective. Therefor, Science always defining what a thing is and is not, and, because Science cannot define what is boundless and without definition, we therefor will always have a need for Art.

Bernie Sanders and Religion

Most people want security, personal and economic safety. They don’t want to struggle, they don’t want to suffer, they don’t want to have to risk their well-being. What most people want is certainty and order.

For this, people turn to religion. God(s) will give you security, will save you and take care of you, in the end. People flock to preachers and pastors and priests and pulpits, and the organization gives them order; it is right to do this, wrong to do that, and these things will make you happy; do not suffer, because the Higher Being, the Great Thing Above You, is going to take care of you – as long as you abide this order.

Most people inherently desire a Higher Power, a thing within which to give themselves – a thing within which to negate their will: my life is in God’s hands; this is comforting, it is an assurance that all will go well, that you will enjoy Order. If there is a Higher Power, a Benevolent Greater Will, then all one must do is accept that Order and they will be spared the suffering inherent of uncertainty. To have uncertainty is to need to exert your will, is to need to struggle so that you may create certainty. Struggle not, suffer not, this Higher Power will give you Order and Certainty. You in the pew have been saved.

And if another does not accept the order of this Higher Power? Well, then they must be converted, they must be taught to accept this Higher Power, because it is for their own good.

Most people wish for this, to be rid of the need to struggle; most people wish to be enclosed by the arms of a Greater Power that will protect, and save, and secure.

Thus, we have organized religion. And…

Those without televangelists and Ordained Hierarchy turn to bureaucrats and Almighty Government – the Higher Power will be had, life will remain in a top-down structure.

This is one of the reasons I refuse to vote for Bernie Sanders:

Because we are only humans with critically-limited intellect. No one knows what is “The Best” way to run a society; for all you know, Libertarianism works best, or Stalinism, or Corporatism, or Anarcho-Syndicalism. Because can’t be a Singular Order.

Rational arguments can be made for any Higher Power, any type of government, and all arguments have their rational adherents. But it becomes extremely difficult to make these arguments rationally on massive scales.

Because even if you use the Democracy Argument – Well, we’re a Democracy and Democracy means the majority wins – you are arguing for the oppression of a minority. Even if 70% of the population agrees with a policy, if there is a 5% minority which vehemently disagrees (larger than the LGBT population which was oppressed by DOMA), then you have a large population of people which is being oppressed.

It is just as absurd to force the order of Socialism, or Capitalism, or  Anarchy on a massive population, as it is to force the order of Catholicism, Judaism, or Scientology on a massive population.

It is absurd to force the Order of a Higher Power on a massive population (especially a population so diverse as America’s) because the universe contains Uncertainty, Disorder, Subjectivity: one person’s Heaven is another person’s Hell; because there is no singular Order, and there are myriad possibilities.

And we need to be free to pursue these subjective Higher Powers.

Let New York and New Jersey go for Democratic Socialism, let Nevada and New Mexico have Anarcho-Syndicalism; Ohio can have Corporatism, and Tennessee can go Libertarian, and West Virginia can go Tribal or something weird like that.

There are other arguments against a massive Higher Power, such as States As Laboratories, or that nothing good comes out of Massive Power over the Masses, and the argument that, out of three levels of government, only the Federal level is restricted by enumerated powers…

But, perhaps those arguments should have their own posts.

I’ll finish with a pictorial comparison:

…I don’t want your Higher Power.

Weekly Pig-Trough

I went on vacation, mental GreyHound to the inward Death Valley. I hadn’t intended on it, I have never intended on it, but all intentions piled and it keeps happening – peaks and troughs, strikes and gutters, ups and downs.

I spent the week feverish, sleepless, constant state of Go!

And by Thursday I couldn’t write: typed a couple of pages at night, then went idle-minded. So I drank wine and read a book. And then I had trouble writing on Friday night, so I finished the wine, waited for my wife to come home (after midnight) from work with a six-pack, stayed up to drink with wife. Hung-over on Saturday: lump of shit. Drank another wine bottle Saturday evening. Hung-over on Sunday: lump of shit.

I’ll concede I still got some work done this weekend.

I haven’t been depressed, I simply hit a wall. I spent all week working all day, home to toddler, get toddler in bed, write 2 hours, read, sleep. If wife’s not working that day, I come home from a 10 hour shift, write write write, shower, eat, say hello to wife, and if things are right the Hello goes on a few hours, and then it’s midnight and I have to be up at four.

Go go go, put everything out, and by the weekend there’s nothing left in me. So, what do I do? I consume, consume, consume, and don’t move a god damn muscle.

Will-power is a battery – if you’re going to exert it, you’re going to recharge it.

But I can’t keep doing this, and it’s been going on for a while now. I’m 27; I have a wife and a toddler: I can’t keep doing this shit.

I can’t hit the wall and turn to drunk indolence and junk food and TV. I don’t have the time, I don’t want that behavior to be a part of my life because it disgusts me, and is wildly hypocritical, and not the behavior I want my kid to grow around.

I’m going to fix this. I can change the pattern, damn all for if it’s been undulating for years, I’m going to go up, and not come down. The battery will recharge some way other.

All I need to do is to Push Through. I’m going to get to the rough edge towards the end of next week, but I’m going to Push Through. If I’m tired, I’ll sleep. Then I’ll write, and if writing isn’t going well take a god damn walk and leave the booze to be.

I’m going to want to crash, and crawl on the couch, or back in bed, but I’m going to Push Through.

It needs to happen.

Fuck relaxing.

A Note On Feeling Alive

What we do, how we live, how we spend our days – it all means nothing in the context of now, but means everything fifty years later: what you do now is the foundation of the rest of your life.

So stop caring what’s on TV, what’s trending, who’s popular, how much the new I-phone costs. Work. Explore. Befriend strangers. Move. Move ceaselessly, because when the day comes to die and finally rest, you’ll know you’re one of the few who was ever truly alive.