Thursday, October 13, 2016

Toward a More Perfect Union

“Scene at the Signing of the Constitution” by Howard Chandler Christy (1940)

In the preamble to The Constitution of the United States of America, the reasons for establishing the document are set forth.  One of those reasons is “to form a more perfect Union.”

This particular justification is often subordinate to those lofty ideals of insuring “domestic Tranquility” or promoting “the general Welfare.”  However, as the Constitution indicates in the Preamble, “We the people of the United States” want to do all these things “in Order to form a more perfect Union.”

It seems that “a more perfect Union” was a very important purpose of our Constitution.  Contrast that with more recent political efforts; those activities we’ve seen in the last 100 years.

In the decade from 1935 to 1945, German citizens worked to form “a more perfect race.”  Those efforts to achieve a Master Race for Germany didn’t work out well for a large group of people.

In 21st century America, we are working to form “a more perfect society.”  It seems that the current generation of Americans is less concerned with forming perfect governing systems than with forming perfect groups of people.

I think our Founders would be appalled.

Forming a more perfect system of governance has a singular benefit not shared by the other efforts: It results in a system that can be sustained in the absence of human intervention.

Contrast that with forming a more perfect society.  For that purpose, we must have a group of people dedicated to the definition and adjustment of the society.  We must embed a permanent group of Social Justice Warriors to ensure the perfect society is properly maintained.

Take a look at American academia.  In our current academic system (at the post-secondary level) we have university administrators who dedicate themselves to setting the right mix of “diversity” in the student body.  That might be a student population 60% female, 20% black male, and 20% Oriental, Hispanic, and other male students.

Those percentages would need to be tweaked from time to time, and the monitoring and administration of the system would be a full time job for the diversity experts.  Deciding on the definition of perfection and maintaining it requires a lot of work!

Imagine that this college initiative becomes so successful that we need to implement those percentages in our popular institutions.  Government agencies, entertainment industries, media organizations, etc. would all be encouraged (forced?) to set up employment pools that match the look of the “perfect society.”  The all-encompassing need for perfection would trump any other organizational purpose.

This is a seductive goal, and dominates American culture.

The dark side of the proposition is that it fosters the requirement for a governing class of people.  It would require administrators to mete out the punishments and rewards associated with achieving societal perfection.  Those activities would need to be directed by an authoritarian oligarchy.

There would be no room for democratic adjustments.  The systems put in place would sustain and promote the power and authority of the governing oligarchy.  In fact, it might appear that the quest for a “perfect society” is simply a tool for maintaining control by the oligarchy.

Our Founders showed an elevated sense of enlightenment when they chose to seek out “a more perfect Union.”  They understood that human nature is attracted to the creation of societal perfection, and the unintended consequences can be dire.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Malicious Extrapolation

Filmmaker Ken Burns delivers the Stanford commencement address. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The current Republican Party nominee for President is characterized as having extremely negative personal characteristics.  We hear repeatedly that Donald Trump hates women, Mexicans, and disabled people.

The technique used to create these characterizations is called Malicious Extrapolation.  Here’s how it is employed:

--Donald Trump criticizes his political adversary, who happens to be female.  Donald Trump hates women!

--Donald Trump accuses District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of having a conflict of interest as he presides over a civil fraud lawsuit against Trump University.  (The judge is Hispanic.)  Donald Trump hates Mexicans!

--Donald Trump makes fun of a journalist who is critical of him.  The journalist has a physical disability.  Donald Trump hates people with disabilities!

In each case, a particular incident is extrapolated to become an expression of extreme prejudice toward a particular identity group.  Coincidentally, in these examples, each identity group is aligned with the Democratic Party.

Let’s put all this in context.

Kristen Wiig is an entertainer known for her sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”  She has portrayed several characters, one of whom is “Dooneese.”  Dooneese appears to have various physical impairments, but never has Kristen Wiig been accused of mocking people with disabilities.  Instead, our culture seeks out Donald Trump.

Malicious extrapolation is wildly successful in the realm of political theater.  Two public figures recently demonstrated how malicious extrapolation became a transformational event in their personal lives.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.  She aligns with the liberal wing of the bench, but tries to maintain an air of impartial objectivity.

That broke down in July of 2016.  NY Times reporter Adam Liptak wrote an article describing her as thinking she would move to New Zealand if Donald Trump were to become president.

Her remarks, while heartfelt, were impolitic.  Members of the judiciary are expected to avoid taking sides in political campaigns.  Justice Ginsburg was overcome by the impact of malicious extrapolation.  It transformed her.

Another example comes from documentary film maker Ken Burns.  He is well respected in his field, and took the opportunity of a speaking engagement at Stanford University to illustrate the transformative power of malicious extrapolation.

Mr. Burns (pictured above) was asked to speak at the graduation ceremony for the class of 1916.  He began his remarks with information on his work over the past few decades, but felt obligated to display his extreme prejudice against Donald Trump.

His remarks were well-received by the attendees.  Nonetheless, his comments were well outside the norms for a graduation speech.  Malicious extrapolation moved him to inappropriately lash out against a fellow American.

Malicious Extrapolation helps diminish and isolate its targeted victims, but as Mr. Burns and Justice Ginsberg have learned, it also causes people to mistrust the authority figures that use the technique or come under its spell.

This week another example came from a blog by Scott Shackford at  Mr. Shackford describes how various reporters have styled the content of a speech by Donald Trump as being anti-military.

The actual transcript of the speech doesn’t support this notion, but those reporters chose to portray Mr. Trump’s remarks in that fashion.  They practiced malicious extrapolation.

Political Religious Movements tend to use this technique to a greater degree than other entities.  It serves them as the vehicle for instilling hatred against a particular identity group.  Our cultural leaders simply repeat the malicious extrapolation over and over until it becomes Truth.

Malicious Extrapolation: It just works.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Stupid Party

San Bernardino County Sheriff's office image of vehicle driven by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik on 12/2/2015.

Use your browser to search for “The Stupid Party” and you will get over 90,000 results.  The vast majority of the hits link the phrase “The Stupid Party” to the Republican Party in America.

Many Americans don’t understand why this is the case.  A traditional political party in America considered “stupid?"

To bring clarification, we must understand the concept of a “Political-Religious Movement.”  These are organizations that begin either as religious or political entities, but evolve into something more.  A political party acquires a religious fervor, or a religion acquires territory and authority over the people within that territory.

Either way, the resulting structure takes on increased power over what it would have were it simply a political or religious organization.  Examples that come to mind are the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization.  They are identified by two central tenets of a Political-Religious Movement: They possess a unifying dedication to a particular ideal, and they manifest a consuming hatred toward a particular identity group.  The Irish Republican Army had the ideal of an independent Ireland and a hatred for British people.  The Palestine Liberation Organization has an ideal of restoring the Palestinian homeland and a hatred for Jewish people.

Political-Religious Movements appear with startling frequency in cultures around the world.  They range from the trivial to the genocidal.  (Yes, genocidal!)

At the trivial end of the spectrum is the “Soup Nazi.”  Jerry Seinfeld created the character, and he brings entertainment value to the early stages of Political-Religious Movements.  Most of us know a person who has a position within a group that uses his or her position to acquire extraordinary power.  It might be the person in charge of a Girl Scout Cookie program or someone at a local PTA.  These people enhance power by bringing a religious quality to their efforts.  The program takes on a set of heightened ideals and the members of the opposing team or outside group become demonized.  The central tenets of a Political-Religious Movement are there.

At the other end of the spectrum is a world leader who acquires influence over millions of people.  National Socialism in Germany during the 1930s began as a political party but evolved into a Political-Religious Movement with devastating consequences.  The ideal of a perfect human race was matched with a hatred for the Jewish people, and millions of Jews in Europe were put to death.

Political-Religious Movements dominate world cultures.  We see them in the governments of Syria and North Korea.  We see them in the drug cartels of Mexico.  They are the driving force for street gangs in our major cities.  They appear in cults of one form or another.

But with Political-Religious Movements so common, why aren’t they recognized and studied?  Why do we not see the terminology in our popular lexicon?

One reason is that increased understanding removes the mystique from the underlying organizations.

ISIS is one organization that benefits from this mystique.  Imagine that we come to understand ISIS as a Political-Religious Movement.  Suddenly the media attention associated with the “disenfranchisement” of Muslims becomes inappropriate.  People no longer view ISIS as a type of religion.  It certainly started as a religious organization, but when it achieved power and authority with the acquisition of territory and property in the Middle East, it evolved into a Political-Religious Movement.  It maintains the Koran as its source of idealism, but its hatred of “nonbelievers” secures its status as a Political-Religious Movement.

While National Socialism started as a political party, ISIS began as a religion.  They each started at opposite ends of the spectrum, but are now emblematic of Political-Religious Movements.  If we simply classify them as such, they take their place alongside the Pathet Lao, the Khmer Rouge, and the multitude of Political-Religious Movements throughout history.

Political-Religious Movements focus our attention on one other significant issue.  They abundantly display the attractor that is associated with Political-Religious Movements.  That attraction comes from The Hate.  We are drawn to it.

This is the most interesting factor of all.  The common idea is to associate those drawn to Political-Religious Movements as being from a minority, being disadvantaged, having a difficult childhood or having nowhere else to go.  That is absolutely incorrect.

It is simple human nature.  Human beings are drawn to The Hate.

It is a common feeling.  We like to know that a particular identity group can be singled out for hate.  Maybe it’s “The One Percent” or (as with those associated with Black Lives Matter) people in law enforcement.  Maybe it’s the hierarchy of the Catholic Church!

If we are taught to hate a particular identity group, it makes us feel good.  It is “Othering.” We are not a part of that other group.  We are a part of the accepted group.  We like that.

And that is why it is important to understand Political-Religious Movements: They exploit human nature.  They increase their power and authority by appealing to our human instincts.

I believe the human attraction to The Hate is linked to a Left-Brain / Right-Brain analysis.  If your Left Brain is dominant, you tend to be more accepting, more amenable to ideas that are repeatedly taught to you.  Right-Brain people tend to be more inquisitive and will look for outside validation rather than automatic acceptance.

How does all of this relate to the title of this post?

Here in America, we have our Democratic Party becoming more than a political party.  It is working to fashion a sense of idealism around the notion that it is the political party that wants to bring an end to human suffering.  The call to “End Suffering” takes on a religious quality – similar to a desire to perfect the human race.  It becomes the touchstone of a new Political-Religious Movement: Our Democratic Party in America.

But idealism is not enough. The Democratic Party fosters a hatred for Republicans. You know the characteristic refrain: Republicans are racist, homophobic bigots.  Republicans want to destroy the environment, harm our children, turn the economy into a catastrophe, shred the Constitution, etc.

The idea of being dedicated to end suffering, along with a visceral hatred for Republicans, has allowed the Democratic Party to evolve into a Political-Religious Movement in a very short period of time.

What does the Republican Party do about this?

Those crickets you hear chirping are the reason the Republican Party is characterized as “The Stupid Party.”