Lacking All Conviction

things fall apart; the center cannot hold

Category: The View From Ten Thousand Feet

The view from the Canadian suburbs.

by rabbithasbrains

Every friend who engages me in a politically-tinged discussion, irrespective of where they sit on the sociopolitical landscape, walks away with the impression that I disagree with them about everything. I don’t, of course, but my actual views (where they exist) are obscured by the little fetish I make of understanding and sympathizing with differing political arguments, which is to say arguments about all the meaningful choices that we collectively bargain as a society. By extension, when anyone starts a sentence with some analogue of “I just don’t understand how they can actually believe…” I straighten the sleeves of my shirt and enthusiastically start to lay out the arguments and assumptions that go into whatever bat-shit-crazy, but earnestly held (I’m looking at you Ron Paul), belief that they (the friend) are censuring. The odd thing is that where I start with a simple explanation, if I keep at it long enough I actually start to believe what I’m saying; little pointy-words like “freedom,” quickly bifurcate into separate meanings depending on which side of the argument you happen to be defending. “Freedom from poverty,” magnanimous as it sounds, is a head-scratchingly vacuous grouping of words to someone who regards (cherishes, even) “freedom” as an individual’s liberty to pursue a given opportunity without prejudice. Enter the contemporary political landscape of the United States.

The occasional glimpses I get of Fox News (always) and MSNBC (occasionally) leave me disheartened and frustrated; the rhetorical style, slick and emotionally charged as it is, never seems to foster any meaningful exchanges — not a unique observation, I know. But the point is that I engaged in these dialogues out of a yearning to listen and feel heard and somehow it often gets swapped out, mid conversation, for hurt feelings and a reinforcement of some calcified worldview. On occasion, however, mid-defense of a random bat-shit-crazy-Ron-Paulism I suddenly see some connective thread linking our differing values and one of those just-look-at-our-shared-humanity moments passes with a brief, barely noticed, pause and I ask them (again, the friend) “does that reasoning make sense to you?”  Sometimes it does.

Spastic Tactician Tells You How It Is

by spastictactician

My brain works differently than yours. Tourette Syndrome is a son of a bitch. OCD too. I’ve got a conscious mind that I can’t trust to do the things I would like it to, and a subconscious that trolls me constantly. I grew up so damned confused all the time, that I had to develop some coping mechanisms, some hacks to bypass the broken parts of my mind. Chief amongst these techniques is a near constant meta-filtering of my thoughts and ideas. Each thing that pops into my head goes through a three point check:

  1. Is this my thought, or just some random bullshit my jackass of a brain conjured to fuck with me?
  2. Do I want or need this thought?
  3. Based on what I know and believe, does this idea have merit?

Everybody does the third check, to some degree or other.

Most thoughtful people do the second check most of the time.

Not many people would even consider the first one possible, let alone necessary.

The upshot of having a tiresome, involved process in place to evaluate every single thought I have, is that I have become rather good at thinking carefully about what I say or do. Whereas most people can blame their errors on failure to put enough thought into their decisions, I can only blame poor judgement, poor information or faulty beliefs. This leads me to a clearer understanding of where and why I go wrong. I don’t get to chalk up my foul-ups to something I can avoid by thinking before I act next time. If I don’t change something fundamental about what I know or believe, I’m going to make the same mistake over and over again. In short, I make plenty of mistakes, but very few careless mistakes. This sets me apart.

All that to let you know that I see through your bullshit. I am really very good at taking a statement, idea or philosophy, breaking it down to its roots, examining it for flaws, and reassembling it without those flaws. This leaves most statements, ideas and philosophies without the punch the author hoped for. We are so used to exaggerating, adding emphasis, cherry picking, lobbying or lying in order to score points for our side, that we abhor an argument without real knockout power. We just don’t see it stacking up against all the competing BS out there. The common belief is that one can only fight bullshit with an ever larger pile of bullshit of one’s own. I find it very rare to see any truly honest social or political commentary. It is almost all dishonest posturing. And this is why change for the better is not forthcoming.

When those in power are faced with angry masses who won’t keep their arguments intellectually honest, they find it exceedingly easy to publicly dismiss those arguments. The slightest untruth, exaggeration or logical fallacy can derail rather powerful ideology by giving the targets the ammunition they need to punch it full of holes. Once the holes start appearing, the people you hoped to convince get to sit back and watch the whole thing collapse, then turn to each other and guffaw through mouthfuls of champagne, or brandy or whatever you drink in the back of a gold plated Bentley. (Bentley? This isn’t a Bentley, It’s a Rolls. If you can’t get your facts straight, how can we possibly put any credence into what you have to say? Hawhaw. <sip>) The bad guys see what you are doing and they are better at it than you. Choose different methods.

So I rant. I pick apart weak arguments. I find the places the holes will appear and I implore the authors to fill the gaps…without resorting to hyperbole. This almost always leads me to disagreements with people whose ideas I mostly agree with. I come across as a neo con or, at the very least, less than liberal, but, truth be told, I’d be ecstatic living in a world built on the honest of the hippie ideals (but not the patchouli…Please not the patchouli).

You want change? Real, earth rattling, ass saving, hubris delivering change? Start with an argument that is predicated on a good idea, then surround it with truth. Now stop and really think about it. Don’t make a mistake in what you say or do because you didn’t think about it. Then, if you fail, adjust the poor judgement, clarify the shoddy information, or change the faulty belief that let you down. At this stage in history, this should be more than enough to piss people off and stir them to action (or at least to share a link on Facebook).

Ready? Go.


by eataTREE

I admit that I was wildly overoptimistic about it all.

I really couldn’t help it, though. Consider my background: raised in an isolated outpost on civilization’s northern frontier where everyone’s an engineer or a civil servant or a university professor, I came of age with the Internet, a new and magical thing that seemed poised to transform us into our best promise of what the future could be. It really seemed like for the first time in human history universal enlightenment and prosperity was within our reach, a technological post-civilization that would reward us for the beauty of our ideas and that would spread through the world leaving no one behind at last. And so I came to New York, and, flush with the glow of new dot-com employment and the promise of untold riches, I applied for my American passport in the lobby of the biggest and most gleaming building in that big and gleaming city. It was July of 2001 and as I looked up at the towering solidity of the World Trade Center it really did seem like I was helping to build, finally, the shiny future we’d all been promised.

I remember telling my father, in the aftermath of the destruction of the WTC by terrorists and the first economic shock of what would be many to come, that as a young adult in the 1990s I’d somehow got it into my head that peace and prosperity is the natural human condition. How, I asked him in stark disbelief at my own naiveté, could I have possibly ever have held such a silly idea? I guess I held a lot of silly ideas: the previous decade has been a painful exercise in serial disillusionment. The future I thought I was building was merely the final stage in the ascendancy of a new global elite: a billionaire class to whom state power is increasingly irrelevant and for whom the welfare of mankind is no particular priority next to the maintenance of their new controlling share of the world’s money and power. And our new masters, whom I helped steal the store in the name of the Future, have no interest in the old structures and institutions of our society that existed to promote the public welfare and broad prosperity: they have no need of such things, as they are not interested in those ends.

The only thing now clear is that the current order will not hold. I fear that we are witnessing the fall of the American empire of the 20th century; Western civilization will persist in some places in some forms, but it has passed the peak of its influence and a new and, I fear, dimmer age begins. I was there when it all began to end: this is my story.


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