Dec 18

Hate is Intoxicating

Hate is intoxicating. You may say, “no it’s just toxic”. But that isn’t all there is to hatred. People genuinely get a powerful tension release from outbursts of hatred. They ride a gush of hormones and other stimulating neurological chemicals, and they feel good for awhile. As with being very drunk or very stoned, the IQ drops for a time. Cognition becomes truncated, it becomes constricted by the tunnel vision of a desire to perpetuate the release, the excitement.

It’s a kind of structured rage; the structure requires fuel, which is provided by rhetoric, cherry-picked factoids, outright fabrications, a Rube Goldberg machine of rationales that requires the hater to narrow focus, to filter out what doesn’t feed the fire of bigotry and conspiracy-theory induced rage. That requirement includes not just the exclusion of facts, but also the exclusion of certain feelings. How else did people who, at home, actually like children feel empowered to say, over and over, “Those children were separated from their parents because their parents broke the law.” Within the framework of structured rage, they’re able to filter out empathy for those particular children; they can block away obvious realization that these children are being punished for a crime they themselves did not commit.

We’ve always known this, just not quite consciously. It’s the theme of endless movies and plays and tv episodes. “I was blinded by my feelings,” Roger says. …”You, Helen, can’t see what your anger has done to you–to you and to your family…”… “Jim, put down that rope, this town won’t be ruled by mob mentality…” The warnings are there, all through our culture. We do know, on some level. We need to see it on a more conscious level. If we could look at our basest feelings squarely we could get some kind of leverage to control them. We could push back against that inner sumo wrestler that keeps shoving us out of the ring. That pushback starts with philosophy’s most ancient maxim: Know thyself. And that requires a level of self honesty that has to be worked at.

It’s tough to see your own emotional intoxication, especially considering the feedback loop. If you’re seething inside and need a release, need a scapegoat to target–immigrants, for example, or just “liberals”–and you go to a rally, or simply talk to other people with the same addiction to this intoxication, perhaps in a bar or at a football game,  you and they will unconsciously conspire to sustain the flow of intoxication provided by structured rage. You bounce it off one another, faster and faster, more and more narrowly, each confirming the other, in an intoxicating feedback loop. The more people who surround you, repeating the same biases, the more firmly self-serving lies take root inside you.

Demagogues, like our current President, and the new, neo-fascist leader of Brazil, instinctively know how to foment this feedback loop of bias and rage. So do schoolyard bullies. They all know instinctively how to feed the fire. Why is that? Trump isn’t smart enough to have analyzed the process. It seems to be in his nature to know. The word instinct might be more than just an expression, when it comes back to stoking structured rage. Ancient proto-humans might have had to work up their own feedback loop of anger to survive predation from other tribes. Some obsolete primeval wiring could have gotten Trump elected president; it might be making Alex Jones and his ilk wealthy. Some of our ugliest impulses might well be instinctive.

The core meaning of civilization could the imperative to separate from “lizard-brain” guidance; to recenter ourselves in something higher: in  conscious wisdom, restraint, empathy, and a drive to real justice…

Nov 18

Has Humanity Become Too Vile to Deserve Survival?

“An animal rescue group is outraged after its president said he recovered a dolphin shot to death at a beach in Southern California. Peter Wallerstein, president of Marine Animal Rescue based out of El Segundo, California, told ABC News he spotted the freshly-killed dolphin in the surf on Manhattan Beach on Nov. 8.Wallerstein said he pulled the animal -– known as a common dolphin — out of the water. When he saw the hole in its side, he brought the animal to an animal rehab center where the bullet was removed.

“Usually officials with the Los Angeles Natural History Museum will pick up a dead animal for a necropsy, according to Wallerstein. But since this seemed to be case in which the dolphin was purposefully killed, he wanted it to be analyzed immediately.” Wallerstein called the incident “barbaric” and a “senseless act of aggression.” He noted that he’s seen sea lions who have been shot over the years, but this is the first dolphin killing he has come across. It’s possible other dolphins in the area have been shot, but if they float further out to sea instead of towards shore, they wouldn’t be noticed.

“We don’t know if it’s the only one,” said Wallerstein. “There could be others being shot out there, too.”


Nov 18

What have they done to the Earth?

“What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn

“And tied her with fences and dragged her down

“I hear a very gentle sound …With your ear down to the ground

“We want the world and we want it… We want the world and we want it… Now” –Jim Morrison

Nov 18

Or they might eat your Children

My son, who works with a company that helps people who’ve been scammed online, tells me that the scammer’s favorite target is: “…old people with dementia and write or say things that sound techy but make zero sense. They just empty their accounts and use their credit and name for all sorts of shit and then send them emails explaining that there is nothing to worry about because ‘a double opt in crypto CD has been initiated and the account is in the process of receiving a gold level business upgrade, after which funds will be reinstated with 150% interest regarding opsec’ and other nonsense.”

My son, people who rip off elderly people who are naive or who suffer from early dementia might as well be breaking in their house and beating them to get their money. It does as much harm in the long run.

There is, in the human brain, an area which–if not supervised by a conscience–switches on, and dehumanizes select people. This exists because of primeval survival instinct. You are less likely to kill an enemy who wants to club you and take your food and possibly eat your children, if you do not dehumanize them first. So we have this thing. Most people are not aware that it switches on. So they become psychopaths for the time this dehumanization thing is switched on. Nazis at concentration camps would feed the poor starving birds as little children starved right behind them. Selective repression of empathy. With some scammers– they’re real psychopaths. Others fall into psychopathy conveniently.

Until human being 1.0 is gone, and 2.0 takes over, we have to stop these people falling into the dehumanization state and be tough about it.

Or they might eat your children.

Nov 18

Why Aliens WOULDN’T Invade Earth…

As a science-fiction writer, a guy who’s written–mostly from a skeptical viewpoint–about UFOs, and a person with a general interest in the cosmos, I sometimes wonder how things would play out if we were visited by extraterrestrials. Would they be benevolent? Or would it be like the pre-Columbian tribes facing sickness and enslavement from Columbus and Cortez? Would it be like “Independence Day”–an all out war? An invasion?

For the first time, it occurred to me today that they probably would not invade us. Invasion presumably takes a great deal of energy and commitment of resources. If they use some form of money, it’d take that too. It might take a punishingly large amount of energy, personnel, resources, and sheer risk to cross the vast stretch of interstellar light years with the aim of prosecuting an invasion of Earth. Even if they have some faster-than-light or wormhole traversing system, some subspace warpdrive that can get them and their resources here rather handily, they’d still be taking a major risk. They’d have to think about our bacteria, or viruses, which might be enough to defeat them unless they have some universal immunity biotech developed. Even if they have sufficient protection–invasion condoms, so to speak–they would have to have a lot of confidence that their weapons outstripped ours. Maybe they would be more powerfully weaponized, but a race that’s gotten to the moon and back is pretty flexible and resourceful and quick-witted. We might come up with something effective. And nuclear weapons, while crude, might actually be powerful enough to be an interstellar deterrent.

But there’s another consideration–do we have anything they want that badly? The chances are, their own biology is singular to their world. Probably our atmosphere would not suit them; probably our (rather damaged) biosphere would not be suitable either. They would likely have a whole different set of biological needs. They’d be better served to alter some suitable raw lifeless planet to fit their needs. If they flourish in methane, they’d seek a methane rich planet and modify it for their purposes. So much easier than an invasion.

The final consideration is, if they’re smart enough to get here they’re intelligent enough to know that we are worthy of study; they’d know that–even if we’re more primitive than they in some respects–we may have something to offer that would repay them more than an invasion would…

Finally, we come to the conclusion–it just wouldn’t pay to invade Earth…

Nov 18

Am I Treasonous for Suggesting USA Should be Sanctioned?

Does it sound treasonous? That I think it may be necessary for the EU and Canada and Australia and Mexico, say, to levy sanctions against the USA because of Trump’s policies? Financial sanctions will hurt us all, me too. Prices will go up, our economy may founder. His dropping out of the Paris Climate Agreement, his trashing the agreement with Iran, which puts our allies in danger, his plan to drop the Nuclear treaty, his failure to support NATO, his willingness to kowtow to Russia’s needs–all of that puts our allies at risk.

If financial pressure is put on the Trump administration, he may well be forced to back off. One thing Trump understands…is losing money. The financial fallout for America might well make even more Americans feel that the Trump era needs to be over with. Some, of course, will only dig in their heels. But when bankers and oil companies start to lose money, pressure is brought to bear. And Trump could be forced by the big money people to moderate, to backtrack on some things, even to resign.

Is it treasonous for me to take that tack? I’m loyal to the USA. But I’m also loyal to the planet Earth. I think that if Trump is thwarted, this way, then both the USA and the Earth end up winning.

Nov 18

Ah, the Complexity of Stupidity

Stupidity, especially considered as a factor in politics, is surprisingly complex. Note these simple statistics, from CNBC, regarding the states which score the lowest in education:

41. New Mexico Total score: 36.11
42. Oklahoma Total score: 35.58
43. Tennessee Total score: 35.52
44. Nevada Total score: 32.84
45. Kentucky Total score: 31.80
46. Alabama Total score: 31.33
47. Arkansas Total score: 27.18
48. Louisiana Total score: 22.96
49. West Virginia Total score: 21.71
50. Mississippi Total score: 21.06

These states are known for their racism and their support of right wing extremism and…Donald Trump. The people of Kentucky are on the least educated list and they keep re-electing Mitch McConnell despite his willingness to take away services that help them enormously. You’ll see many a MAGA hat in those states. So theoretically, the explanation for much of the support for people like Trump and McConnell, is raw ignorance. And of course we associate ignorance with stupidity. But here’s the first complexity–sometimes stupidity vanishes if the real facts are impressed on the apparently stupid. Were they to become educated to the fact that they’ll get more services, more help getting their kids into college, from progressives, and that history shows that government investment in subsidizing, in infrastructure, in schools, ends up driving the economy–many of them would change their minds. “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated,” Trump said during his campaign. From USAToday: “Trump did well across the board in Nevada, garnering 45.9% of the vote, but he did even better among voters with a high school education or less. Fifty-seven percent of those voters supported him, according to entrance polls…”

There’s another factor that affects intelligence, or the lack of it, in political choices. Emotion. Less educated people haven’t learned critical thinking, haven’t had a chance to exercise the moderation of emotion that education supports, and many of them tend to fall headlong under the sway of irrational emotion-based reactions. Demagogues like Trump and Newt Gingrich and the congressional right-wing extremists in the GOP know all about the emotional factor, and they exploit it. I myself have felt my ability to think undermined by moments of high emotion. Everyone reasonably educated knows this, just as they know your IQ will plummet while you’re sucking down four or five alcoholic beverages. (That I have personally experienced, too.)

What a demagogue also instinctively knows, is that in evocation of fear of foreigners, in evocation of race-based anger, in painting terrifying pictures of crime, they’re inducing in their excited listeners a kind of catharsis, a good feeling that comes from bringing anger to quench fear; that feeling is amplified by the us-against-them illusion,  otherwise known as the mob mentality. What results is a sort of high. Look at Hitler’s followers; look at the followers of Mussolini. Look at Trump rallies. The demagogue knows that people brought to that excited, angry, us-against-them state are easier to manipulate. Because, for awhile, they’re stupider. Ideology imprinted into them in these suggestive states tends to linger–the brain supports whatever induces pleasure.

More specifically, Trump followers were already misled into thinking that Planned Parenthood clinics exist to kill children, that gays want to turn their children into homosexual whores, that an evil Satanic conspiracy controls “big government”, that immigrants have taken the best jobs–and these treasured fantasies have made them quietly, bubblingly angry all the time. Trigger the release of that anger and they feel that pleasurable rush–and that good feeling is not something these folks want to give up. So they’re motivated to be selective about the information they’ll accept. Despite evidences that Trump, for example, is brutal with women, despite evidence that he’s incompetent and he cheats people in business, despite evidence that he’s a liar–lately they’ve been saying “we don’t care” if he lies–and despite evidence that he’s broken the laws of the land. Emotion blurs the import of all that negative data about Trump. Obviously emotion can be good–empathy is emotionally based. And there is even a time for directed anger. But often, blind emotion simply makes us stupid.

Then there’s another complexity–simple mental laziness. It’s so much more comfortable to be mentally lazy, to go for that big, fat, simple explanation–”Jews caused all our problems”–rather than do the work needed to get and confirm the facts that would debunk that monstrous lie. Mental laziness can feel good just as taking a nap does. It’s so easy to follow a link to some clickbait website–maybe it’ll be called The Eagle’s Angry Scream  or simply Infowars–to shore up your comfortable biases by gorging on every possible aspersion against Democrats and gays and Muslims and people of color. Or where you can simply get endless endorsement of that old saw, the trickle-down theory.

There is, you see, such a thing as selective intelligence. People unconsciously or even deliberately ignore data that doesn’t fit into their comfortable worldview. They “select it out”. Even clever people do it: Silicon Valley, awash with clever people, cultivates a deliberate mental blind spot, they cling to the idea that technology has no responsibility attached to it.

I really suspect that if education in the United States was fairly high across the board, Trump would not have been elected, and conscienceless  puppets of the oil industry like McConnell would not be elected either. But–there are complexities. And it’s all one mesh, that holds people in place, like a Chinese finger trap, clasping them, gripping them…made up of  many different strands.

There are so many ways to be stupid.

Nov 18

The Spectrum of Curmudgeons


Some curmudgeons are digging moats
and filling them with gators,
Some curmudgeons are passing gas
in crowded elevators;
Some curmudgeons are kinda nice
– don’t get on their wrong side–
Some curmudgeons are ladies
rocking a big ol double wide;
Some curmudgeons are laughin’
at this technology,
but they write on facebook
about taxonomy;
some curmudgeons are right-wing,
some are pissed-off old commies–
some curmudgeons hate em all,
and some are lovin’ mommies;
Some curmudgeons wave a cane
but they do it while they dance,
some curmudgeons swear by prayin’–
they ain’t gonna take a chance;
some curmudgeons jeer at churches,
they sneer at all that stuff;
they’ll chase those mormons with their belts,
and if they catch ‘em they get rough;
Some curmudgeons make tater salads;
and bring em to the church,
some curmudgeons sing cowboy ballads
from a horse n’ saddle perch;
Some curmudgeons will spit fire–
they target your neurosis–
some curmudgeons spit only spittle
laced with halitosis;
some curmudgeons growl at kids,
then let them pet their baby kitty;
some curmudgeons have twenty kids–
(they deserve our pity);
Some curmudgeons hate pollution–
some pollute like the Marlboro Man–
some curmudgeons yell at the neighbors
but help them when they can;
The point is there’s a spectrum–
let a zillion curmudgeons bloom:
we know the bastards when we see em:
we’ll plant roses at their tombs…

Nov 18

Racists Have Murdered Again and Biblical Misinterpretation Helped

Anti-Semites have been abusing the Bible for centuries, and they still do. The Pittsburgh synagogue murderer and his ilk quoted Jesus, in John 8:44, supposedly saying, “Jews are the children of Satan”. But ol’ Jeebus didn’t say that. He said that the group with whom he was having a disagreement, were sons of the devil. Not all Jews. Basically he was saying, You guys here are assholes.

The text of John 8:44, presented here in the New International translation, is very interesting because, as Will Durant observed about many stories of Jesus, and much of what he’s quoted as saying, it has the ring of truth in a purely historical sense. It has verisimilitude. It plays out like real life does. One of many indications that Jesus–while not a supernatural miracle working redeemer–was a real person. Notice that Jesus has to duck out to keep from getting pelted with stones.

Dispute Over Whose Children Jesus’ Opponents Are

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.
38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.2”
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would3 do what Abraham did.
40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.
41 You are doing the works of your own father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.
43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.
44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!
46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?
47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
Jesus’ Claims About Himself
48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.
50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.
51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.
53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.
55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Oct 18

Why Conservatives are a Necessary Component of a Vital Society

This short essay originally appeared in Tangent magazine. I don’t mean we need conservatives like Mitch McConnell and his unconstitutional actions on SCOTUS picks; I don’t mean Trump or his acolytes in congress. I mean decent conservatives, like Eisenhower, back in the day, or, say, a Mitt Romney. I myself am a progressive. See what you think:

“What do you mean by conservatives being necessary? Necessarily in charge?”

No. It might be difficult to convince liberals that conservatives are necessary at all. There are, after all, shades of liberals, and progressives. “The moderate Democrats are bad enough,” I hear someone say. I understand—I’m a liberal. I understand their reluctance. They can see “the arc of history.” From the point of view of a progressive, conservatives are arguably on the wrong side of history.

It’s true that colony Tories who resisted the American Revolution were conservatives opposed to change; they were loyal to the monarchy. And despite the unsupported, vastly debunked libertarian claim that “the Civil War was not about slavery,” it definitely was, and opposition to abolition was a conservative impulse. Don’t buy that? How about opposition to the female vote? Opposition to suffrage? Certainly that was a conservative opposition. Conservatives opposed the Chinese-American vote. And they opposed the League of Nations and the UN. And they opposed the New Deal, and the WPA. And they were and are in opposition—often violent opposition—to unions. And conservatives opposed integration. (Yes, Southern Democrats were up to their ears in anti-integration fights—but those were an exception, Southern Democrats acting conservatively.) Much that was opposed by conservatives—Social Security, Medicare—became treasured American institutions, which many conservatives will be grateful for in their old age. There was, too, the conservative support for crushing Democratically elected Latin American leaders who wanted to nationalize some industries…

But of course it was not always so simple. In Asia, the Vietnam war was a mess, but two Democrats, JFK and Johnson, first got us into Vietnam—though one might argue they were trying to please business interests which meant pleasing Conservatives—and Bill Clinton, a slightly left of center Democrat, signed the repeal of Glass-Steagal, a free-market move setting the stage for economic disaster. “Those people weren’t progressive enough,” a liberal would say. Maybe so.

Still—while many conservatives and business leaders (who were mostly conservatives) opposed environmental laws, it was Nixon who ushered them in.

Yet modern conservatives are generally opposed to significant (and badly needed) environmental regulations. Modern conservative polticians block money for veterans, try to eliminate food stamps and social security, refuse funding for desperately needed infrastructure projects, are opposed to a minimum wage, are opposed to subsidized health care, are opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment for women, are opposed to Planned Parenthood, believe the free market will ease problems it won’t ease, wish to gut vital social programs and unions in favor of the discredited “trickle down economics” notion, are trying to sell national parklands to gigantic private business interests, and on the whole, it does seem to many of us, that Conservatives are, as in the now trite expression, “on the wrong side of history” most of the time. The conservative impulse, the classic reactionary knee-jerking, seems to us to want to drown the baby of the future in the bathwater of the past.

And yet…and yet…

Every democracy genuinely needs conservatives. And not so we can have someone to argue with. We need them for their perspective; we need them for their call for individual hard work, which is always a good thing in itself, when people can find it; we need them for the reluctance at least some of them show to get engaged in wars that squander blood and treasure. And we need them to be skeptical of our schemes.

We need them to push back.

I can imagine conservatives reading this and reacting with, “You’re being patronizing, you’re finding a niche for us instead of giving our way a real shot.”

Herbert Hoover gave it a real shot—how did that work out? George W. Bush’s real shot with it got us into the Iraq war and massive national debt, amongst other messes.

And after all—I am philosophically a progressive. I’m a pragmatic progressive—but I really do believe in the value of the progressive arc of history.

Yet what disaster if we had no conservatives! Every political point of view, every social philosophy, is capable of excess. A mother was at risk, not long ago, of having her kids taken away from her because she let the kids play alone in a park. The kids were 6 and 10. Child Protection took them in for awhile. (And this has happened to other parents, in other areas.) Conservatives were among the first to come to her defense, and they were right to do it. You have to leave some things to parents, and governmental protectiveness can extend from the big things, where it should be, to the small personal things, where it’s excessive.

Government does well to protect us from environmental toxins; it does well to protect national parks, and wildlife habitats; it does well to protect us from invasion; from violations of Civil Rights laws and violations of the best labor laws. Local government does well to supply ordinances protecting us from wildfires. Privatization is not effective in the long run and most of us are glad for public fire departments and police and utilities. Government does well to closely oversee companies that put us at risk from poor maintenance of oil or gas pipelines. There are big overarching issues we need help with.

But we don’t need them telling us we can’t send our 10 and 6 year old children together to a park.

Conservatives are right to argue that a strong family unit is good for people, good for society. We can disagree on what that is in some cases—gay couples are just as likely to make good parents. But when Republicans decried the break-up of the family unit in African American communities, going back some years, they were called racist for it. In time the African-American community itself realized they were right: perhaps because of innate social stresses, too many families were being abandoned by men who should’ve been good fathers. Michelle Obama and many black organizations have acknowledged the problem and worked to reverse the trend. It was conservatives who first called us out on it.

An opinion piece in The New York Times said, “Republicans were right to blow the whistle on broken school systems, for education in inner-city schools is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Democrats, in cahoots with teachers’ unions and protective of a dysfunctional system, were long part of the problem…Bravo to Republicans for protesting that teachers’ unions were sometimes protecting disastrous teachers…”

Unions are overall a good thing—I could provide the statistics to show it. However, any institution can be excessive. I’m grateful to the Writer’s Guild of America and have walked the picket line with that union. But unions that bloat, that become over protective, that regard themselves as immune from corruption investigations, might be the very embodiment of liberal excess. I’ve seen some clear examples of union greed. Conservative pushback on unions helps keep them in line. Some conservatives go too far with respect to unions—Chris Christie!—but we need that conservative impulse, in ourselves and on the part of conservatives, to moderate unions, to put pressure on them to stay honest and fair. Conservative skepticism about unions helps us keep unions honed and fair.

I don’t think liberals like me can be trusted to run the country alone—I think we tend to be defensive about our institutions, just as conservatives are defensive about theirs. I think we need that pressure, that push-back, to moderate us. When we are inspired by what we believe is right, we’ll push back on their push-back. Hence we supported the successful effort to legalize gay marriage despite Republican opposition. But on other issues, the conservatives hold a mirror up, a special lens, and challenge us to look into the mirror and through the glass…and see things as they do. Sometimes we see they’re right, or partly right. And we eventually modify our position. Because the dynamics of debate leads to new ideas, to insights.

Then there’s the question of democracy—America is not made up of liberals, though there are a lot of them, and a lot of moderate Democrats. There are also a good many conservatives, and we liberals fall into some kind of argumentative quivering mass, chasing our tales with political correctness arguments, without conservatives to help us focus on what matters.

This website, Tangent Online, relates to the science-fiction field, and so do I. From time to time the sf field has been storm-lashed by political controversies, essentially conservative vs. liberal and vice versa. Going back, it cuts both ways: back in the day, Donald Wollheim and Fred Pohl and Judith Merril and others were slagged by conservative sf writers and editors for leaning left. Now the pendulum has swung way, way the other direction and certain reasonable conservatives amongst science fiction writers and critics are sometimes being over scrutinized, even punished, for outspokenness and some fairly normal speech tropes—most recently, Dave Truesdale was actually ejected from the Worldcon for having declared on a short story panel, in the space of a few minutes, that science fiction was being unfairly truncated by politics, and free speech gagged by political correctness emanating from the left. I listened to a tape of the remarks and could find nothing that broke any convention rules. Some defending the convention fall back on claims that his use of the term “pearl clutchers” is sexist, is hateful to women. But in my experience the term does not apply to women, particularly—it’s about people who are making a drama of nothing, probably just to get attention. Underlying the con committee’s action was, I suspect, emotional fallout from the “Sad Puppies” Hugo Award controversy. But people shouldn’t let emotions dictate their interpretation of the rules.

Lawrence Person reports that a few years back those with a political agenda “forced WisCon… to disinvite Elizabeth Moon as Guest of Honor (something that’s almost never done in the field) over the ‘crime’ of penning an essay mildly critical of Islam and the planned Ground Zero Mosque.” I was shocked to hear about that. Disinviting her for that reason is absurd.

Excessive lefty sensitivity led to fist-shaking condemnation of the Red Sonja cover art for an issue of the SFWA Bulletin—rather foolishly under-dressed, in terms of war preparation, the red-maned woman warrior was posing a trifle luridly but was also showing tough defiance, and while one can recognize a cheesecake aspect, the image is more to do with old-time science-fiction/fantasy pulp tradition combined with recognition of the power of a deadly warrior who just happens to be a woman. Are we supposed to assume that men (and gay women) can never publicly appreciate full-body female pulchritude? The outrage was more lurid than the image—it was lurid over-reacting, the kind of thing that the left is sometimes blighted by. By all means, progressives, we should call the right-wing on its real sexism—as just two examples, its dismissal of a woman’s right to get paid the same as a man for the same job and its attempts to undermine women’s reproductive health concerns. But this outrage at the Red Sonja cover just makes us look foolish. It also slanders women who like to dress in a mildly provocative way. Will these same people start picketing costume events at cons where fan women (and sometimes men!) dress as Red Sonja types, or, perhaps, Wonder Woman?

If I see a guy passing out actual KKK literature at a convention, I’ll be the first to denounce him; if I see a man actually sexually harassing a woman at a con, grabbing her ass and drooling on her, (I’m reliably informed there were some real cases at Dragoncon a couple years ago) I’ll denounce that guy and even call for his arrest. But PC policing is likely to be inaccurate; it’s like a purblind referee at a ballgame, shouting foul ball when it struck inside the line. PC excess suppresses free speech and free expression; it chills conversation, it creates needless gulfs between people. And what we lose, in science fiction—in the stories sometimes, in the conversations at fan venues—is the valuable perspective of conservatives, and people who are more culturally traditional. We don’t need to agree with their conclusions, but we can benefit, at least in terms of mental flexibility, by their perspective. And without a contrary viewpoint, discussion becomes flaccid, dull, and eventually narrow-minded.

So—we need conservatives, in science fiction and in the nation. But do conservatives need liberals? “We don’t need liberals—there are shades of Conservatives, we have more liberal and less liberal conservatives and that’s enough!”

But conservatives need to be opposed. Just as liberals need to be opposed. Just as children need to be opposed at times. We’re all children, pushing and shoving, trying to define our territory, not fully understanding our world, learning as we grow up together.

Perhaps it’s like yin and yang, completing one another in the circle; we’re the yin to their yang, they’re the yin to our yang, and so on. Or perhaps it’s Hegellian—thesis, antithesis, leading to synthesis. We’re constantly synthesizing and re-synthesizing our society. Alloys are often stronger metals. And the USA is stronger as an alloy.

New York Times quote and data from:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/opinion/kristof-where-the-gop-gets-it-right.html