Archive for the 'on Society' Category

Binary Pablum For The Masses


The smoke and mirrors tactics of the 2016 presidential campaign continue with the relentless repetition of empty mantras such as “Make America Great Again”, “Lock Them Up”, and “Fake News”. Venom is being spewed across the country, part and parcel of the same strategy of puerile name-calling, disruption, and confusion as we witnessed in the last election 

This is the fundamental strategy of the non-stop Trump campaign that continues to create and manipulate ressentiment and foment a collapse of civility and faith in government. It is all shuck and jive with some of the mainstream press unwittingly complicit in Trump’s strategy simply by repeating his vile utterances. The press cannot ignore even a bloviating President, of course. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Joker in Chief deliberately deploys a maelstrom of contradiction with which the entire civilized world must struggle, and that of course, is the intent. Keep all the rhetorical balls in the air. Keep everyone guessing. When did America stop being great? What isn’t great about America? There aren’t any answers forthcoming because there is no truth to appeal to and none is demanded by his True Believers. It’s true because their Dear Leader says it’s true.

How this came to pass and why it has been so effective are the $64 questions of our time. One answer to consider is a longing by so many people for a world where everything is rendered as simplistic binaries. No subtleties, everything is black and white. A very large proportion of the mainstream public does not want shades of grey, they want certainty. It’s a longing, if not a desperation, for an “Us against Them”, “Right and Wrong” world. Good guys vs. bad guys. They want it to be like Tom Mix riding to the rescue, blasting the bad guys, and riding away on his white horse with the fair maiden holding on behind him. Destroy the Taliban. Destroy al Qaeda. No big deal! And, while you are at it, why not take down the United Nations? Take all those freeloaders off Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and food stamps. No DREAMERS, no foreigners. Up or down, left or right. With us or against us. Never mind consequences or complexities and nuance. Don’t stop to think that you will be hurting yourself. It’s only a matter of “bada bing”, drop a few small nukes here and there and everything will be back to the way we imagine it. We’ll be “Great Again!”

Trump gives his base a comforting, simplistic conception of the world, a peculiar form of indecipherable clarity. No questions need be asked, he has their backs. He says whatever comes to mind and it’s swallowed whole. “Lock her up!” None of it is realizable, of course, it’s just out there like a gigantic public Binkey. A warm bowl of Mom’s chicken soup, binary pablum for the masses.


The use of simplistic binary rhetoric has been the modus operandi of Populist leaders throughout history. Hitler and Mussolini were masters of the tactic to rally and control their true believers by pointing at designated illegitimate members of their society. Today’s undocumented Dreamers and refugees are yesterday’s Jews of the Third Reich. We have a President, a Silvio Berlusconi with bad hair, who will say whatever it takes to maintain the delusions. It’s the confusion and the illusions he creates that hold his polity. What kind of destructive mentality emboldens a person holding the highest office and the highest level of responsibility in our society to publicly denounce people like James Comey as an “untruthful slimeball”? What kind of gall does it take for a five-time draft dodger to insult and threaten Robert Mueller, a retired military officer who has served this country honorably?

What will emerge out of the chaos being spewed out across this country and across the world stage remains to be seen.  And I don’t doubt Putin is having a good laugh at our expense. 

Deconstructing Democracy

Here is how it’s done. Deny and Destroy reality then, moving right along, construct a new reality that suits your purposes. Hitler was a Grand Master of the technique as he constructed the Third Reich, the “Deutschland über alles” meme that is neither symbolically nor emotionally different from, “Make America Great Again”. Mussolini was not far behind in his similar accomplishments. Be the populist who gives the audience the binary world they so desperately want: Right or Wrong, Us or Them, Populists recognize the reality that their audience, their followers, don’t just want things to be simple, they are desperate for it! They want to believe because something is better than nothing, better than a complicated nuanced truth. The repetition of simplistic meaningless slogans, “Lock Her Up”, and “Make America Great Again”, binds them to you. Outright lies also bind your followers to an identity they can understand, embrace, and chant. It is these methods with their racist subtexts that inspire and normalize behavior thus far regarded as socially unacceptable.

Be sure to order ball caps and paraphernalia with your vacuous slogans prominently displayed. Identify groups of “others” and isolate them with racist subtext and degrading inference. Vilify and reject those groups as being illegitimate members of your society taking what is rightfully yours including jobs you won’t take. Demean immigrants and the countries they come from. Openly suggest your women and children are not safe with undocumented criminals lurking in the bushes. Create an energetic, irrational, but useful, distrust of “fake news”. Your sympathetic news outlets will repeat and validate the rant spreading it far and wide.

Once you have sufficiently vilified the “others” the next step is to attack familiar and foundational institutions. Call into question the integrity of the FBI, the CIA, public education, even the military as you undermine public faith and confidence in government itself. Also, mock and alienate foreign countries and their leaders. Use obfuscation and emotion to create mass cognitive dissonance to divert attention from what you and your colleagues are really up to. Keep repeating the lies. Discard the rules of civil discourse. Keep stirring the pot. Everything is in flux, dangerous, and vulnerable.

This is what we as a country have come to – not a celebration of Democracy but the destruction of Democracy. We are in the midst of an ongoing massive case of political propaganda that exploits “ressentiment”, a French word  that “expresses a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration and anger”, an anger and ressentiment that can thus be easily directed and exploited.

My dictionary describes a demagogue as someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator in a society enlisting them to attack and resist those they are conditioned to believe are responsible for whatever reality they have been forced to live in. Demagogues don’t even spare children. With an ongoing all out attack on public education and children in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, nothing is safe, no one and nothing is sacred. Repeat after me the demagogue says, “USA, USA”, shouts the crowd until they are hoarse. Perhaps even delirious. It’s mind numbing manufactured cognitive dissonance and that, my friends, is the point. That is always the aim and purpose of deliberate manufactured anarchy out of which social control has historically emerged.

This is not Democracy. This is the destruction of Democracy.

What’s Justice Got To Do With It?

The problem with lawyers can be expressed in three words – Truth, Justice, and Winning. Simple sounding words alright but words that govern a great deal of what transpires in this American society in the guise of civility. The three words and their opposites follow us through life like a pack of hounds. Winning has become all in this competitive American society. Whatever it takes to win is the battle cry. Children are conditioned almost from birth to compete at whatever activity they engage in and to achieve it at whatever cost. We have popular sayings to characterize both poles of the dynamic – winners and losers. Champs and chumps. And as the memorable Vince Lombardi put it, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

When lawyers convene in a courtroom the word Winning looms like a scimitar. Forget about Justice – it’s all about winning. If lawyers don’t win they will soon be out of work not unlike coaches of losing professional sports teams. In fact, court trials are not unlike sports events as each side competes for the same trophy – not always Justice but, always and ever, Winning. Are there two or more truths in these matters? Truth is irrelevant.

What this Sophistry does is reduce Justice to a very low status. Seeking Winning over Justice naturally demeans the legal processes and, even, worse destroys public belief and faith in the fairness of civil justice and civilized recourse. This is why we must have ACLU lawyers and the other exceptions who fight bravely and intelligently for social justice and a manifestation of Truth. On the other hand, those who vigorously oppose the ACLU and its lawyers are just as interested in defending a vision of society that does not necessarily include Truth or Justice but generally advantage and venality. Of course the irony is that those hired to oppose the ACLU are also lawyers.

According to social philosophers, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, “reality is socially constructed”, thus we find ourselves in courtrooms confronted with conflicting realities as constructed by the opposing sides. These combating realities are presented as Truth, so help us God. It is not as much legal philosophy being played out as it is a pathology. What we are witnessing is sociopathic behavior which destroys the social contract that has kept this country on a more-or-less even keel since the end of the “Great Depression”. I was recently informed by a lawyer that there is no Social Contract. I took it he meant that it’s, “everyone for themselves, it’s all “dog-eat-dog”. This is the socially constructed reality being played out in courtrooms today.

As the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt so elegantly put it, “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and to impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs.” Absent Truth, the “real state of affairs” is rendered irrelevant. There cannot be Justice in this, and in the end the most serious moral flaw in the adversarial legal system is the making of Truth simply another victim. What kind of a world will we then have if the liars prevail?

A Piece of History – Roosevelt

When I was six years old I was taken by my mother to the Springfield, Massachusetts railway station. The station had a high overpass across which the passenger trains passed. On the street below was an enormous crowd packed elbow to elbow and stretching back for several blocks practically vibrating with anticipation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had confronted the “Great Depression” and created the “New Deal”, was loved by working people like my parents, who had suffered through the 1929 – 1939, “Great Depression”. At the rampart of the overpass the great man, by then afflicted with polio, appeared, he waved and was greeted by the crowd with the most tumultuous expression of respect I have ever experienced. There was no ressentiment, no anger only respect and gratitude for a better future. This was the America that defined my basic understanding of our social contract, my social reality. This was the America I grew up in. This was the country I joined the military to serve. It was a very different country from what we have become today, a country with a President, Masha Greene writing in the New Yorker, describes as a “foul mouthed vulgarian”. During Roosevelt’s terms of office programs such as Social Security, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the National Labor Relations Act were created and implemented. Today all of these are under attack. To what end are ordinary working class people being manipulated to demand curtailing social programs that they and their families have benefitted from for generations? What kind of world do these Trump supporters imagine they are being led to? Are they ready to accept levels of poverty not seen since the dust bowl era, the soup lines of the depression? And, as jobs are shipped to low wage countries health care becomes out of reach for our own working class poor. All of this is happening while the accumulated wealth of a minuscule number of individuals grows even more enormous, becoming, “Rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”. What kind of society denies sustenance and health care to the disadvantaged and displaced by a political and economic system that denies them meaningful work? What ends are being served shipping entire factories abroad leaving thousands of Americans unemployed? To what ends are the foundation stones of an American belief system being attacked and destroyed? What of the common welfare of its’ citizens and taxpayers? Can a commons of any sort rise out of the rubble of playing every group of Americans against others? In the past, this kind of antisocial destruction has been an invitation to violence some of which we are already experiencing. The answer to all of these questions cannot be evermore attempts at social control, government propaganda, lies, or the kinds of police violence we have seen before and after this past election. We have not seen the end of groups like “Antifa” arising out of the ruins. People have understood the costs of social divisiveness as far into the past as one cares to look, as far back as the 6th B.C. when Aesop coined the phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall.” We are now divided. We must ask and demand answers to the question, Where is all of this going? “Where are you taking us?” The government cannot keep on locking up and silencing protesters. Plainly, todays’ Republican populist politics of destruction is evolving towards levels of social and economic inequity not felt since the Great Depression. Perhaps that’s the “Great America” Trump, the Republican Party, and the billionaires who sponsor them envision. Could be.

Moral Obligation

What is all the current public angst about? The screaming, the waving of “MAGA” signs, the eruption of open racism and xenophobia? It seems as though, since the rise of Trump, society is being ripped apart at the seams. It is on the ideals of moral consideration that, over centuries, civil societies have been built and upon the abandonment of those that societies ultimately have destroyed themselves. By any measure we seem to have become a society on its way to becoming devoid of moral consideration over any sort of operational advantage, financial, political, legal, or otherwise. Consequently, when looking back at the idea of such obligation one wonders, if moral obligation can even be a part of our current political and social discourse. We presently have a president who, with his physical posturing, defiant simplistic and infantile rhetoric, and unhinged “Tweets”, has more in common with Mussolini than any other American president. This is a president whose power and ascension to office was borne on the back of resentment and his ability to manipulate it. This is a president whose complete lack of morals has been revealed in one salacious tell-all after another. I believe one can rightly ask if the president, his family and staff, and his Congressional accomplices have even heard of moral obligation. This question must be asked because there doesn’t seem to be a trace of such consideration. It is clear that their actions, motives, and behaviors have been put through a wash and rinse cycle eliminating all moral engagement. What we are witnessing is a complete lack of moral obligation an absence of moral consideration of the effects of their actions on the lives and welfare of others. It is as though these people live in a moral vacuum. This is, in its effects, sociopathic, the consequences of which are consequential. This is, in effect, sociopathic. The inevitable question then arises: Will this society ever consider the moral dimensions of behavior in matters such as politics, social welfare, or war in places where there is no demonstrable national interest aside from the business of war the cost of which when measured in national treasure and the lives of young men and women is immense. According to an international organization that monitors wars around the globe, the United States has killed something on the order of 2 million people post 9/11. Young men and women who could be making positive contributions to the betterment of this country right here, at home, are being used to make profit for the war industry. The F-35 fighter alone has cost in excess of $406 billion to date! The proposed military budget for 2018 is another $406 billion! Imagine what that money would do for public education, civil infrastructure, medical research and care, and so many other socially valuable activities. Our national fortune is being squandered not to make life better, here on this continent, in this country, where needs are demonstrably great and infrastructure is in disrepair and crumbling. It goes beyond the exercise in dribble-down economics because the dribble inevitably disappears as manufacturing jobs are shipped to countries where lower wages prevail. What then when the population of unemployed Americans reaches a critical mass? What then when social services are diminished and disappear? What then when there is no one left able to purchase the goods made overseas? That then is the definition and expression of a zero sum game. The question of moral obligation and engagement goes even further and deeper than the commercialization of war as billionaires and millionaires are currently sponsoring a war on public education. Everyone is an educational expert once their fortune exceeds some arbitrary amount. The most vocal of the self-appointed school reform zealots have zero qualifications as educators yet they exercise sufficient influence to destroy public schools. Where is the moral consideration in this? Public education is a foundational institution that has served this country since 1635 when the Boston Latin School in Massachusetts opened it doors. To attack public education for the purpose of profit goes beyond greed which is only one motive. What the self- anointed reformers are really after are children educated to be compliant and manipulable. Will this then be the death of democracy in this country? Could it be that Hayek was right, that we are on “The Road to Serfdom”? Can that possibly be inevitable?

Nuclear War Made Personal

This happened and it points out quite candidly how small the world is and how nuclear weapons would destroy so much of a world we cherish and places we don’t even know about. I believe this also clearly illustrates how we affect those world, the worlds we don’t know about. At bottom, this short story is about our shared humanity and how the past catches up with us in unexpected ways.

I have mentioned before that I worked in Poland for five years beginning almost immediately after the fall of Communism. I worked as a management consultant to Westernize and computerize a large Polish enterprise that had been bought by a group of American investors. (Which is itself another story for another time.)

< n.b. > I graduated in mathematics from Alliance College in 1960 from which I entered the United States Air Force. Alliance College was a school underwritten by the Polish National Alliance. I took the Polish as my language requirement and I grew up in a community where Polish was spoken by my Mother and in many places and circumstances. In the Air Force, I was assigned to the Strategic Air Command and served as a Launch Control Officer operating an Atlas F – ICBM silo near Salina, Kansas.

On my first trip, I arrived in Warsaw very late and was met at the airport by a driver from the company who spoke no English. My Polish language skills had languished quite a bit but I was able to have a simple conversation as we drove from Warsaw to Torun the site of the factory. I was taken to a hotel and after checking in went to my room, opened the window, and fell into bed having been mostly awake since leaving New Mexico. As I was falling asleep I heard the unmistakable sound of heavy artillery. Looking out the window and to the West, I could see that each “boom” was accompanied by a flash. I eventually fell asleep.

Room service woke me in time for breakfast (sniadanie) in the hotel’s dining room where I was met by a great gentleman, a professor at The University of Torun and a former fellow at the Brookings Institute. After breakfast, we were taken by a company driver along the historic Vistula River to the factory. As we were driving, I asked the Professor why the cannon fire during the night. He explained this is a now Polish military base having formerly been a Soviet medium-range missile facility.

I didn’t say another word because there was only one Soviet medium-range missile facility in Poland, it was in the North West, and this was then, at one time, one of my targets. This beautiful medieval city would not be here had we launched against that Soviet base. It was a chilling experience. I never mentioned this to my hosts, of course, but the thought was always with me – nuclear war made concrete and personal.

Porcupines And The Social Contract

Porcupines and the Social Contract

Sometime back there was an image on the internet of a snake that had swallowed a porcupine. I didn’t click on the image to see the video of the event as the photo was sufficiently vivid. That image came back to me after seeing photos online of Trump and members of Congress beaming into the camera having reached a happy compromise over the debt limit in order to facilitate hurricane aid to the affected states. The Republican Speaker of the House did his best to make it seem like a good time was being had by all. The Republican party, I think, swallowed a porcupine when they climbed onto the Trump bandwagon and they know it. The daily damage and destruction inflicted on the American social contract by the Trump administration has revealed a number of people who are now realizing they too have swallowed a porcupine.

Not long after hurricanes struck Puerto Rico, the President explained that Puerto Rico is an island way out in the ocean, thus making aid difficult. Despite begging from elected officials, prevarication characterized the presidential response to the emergency and attendant tragedy. Puerto Rico was still engaged in an ongoing humanitarian emergency weeks later as well as a verbal duel with the president, who visited the island and demonstrated his concern for the people by throwing packages of paper towels to them. Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the government and its partners were providing only 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people. As if the Puerto Rico tragedy were not enough, just a week or so later a gunman, firing from a hotel room 39 floors above street level in Las Vegas, shot and killed 59 people and injured more than 500 who were attending an outdoor concert. The President’s response?  It’s “premature” to discuss guns.

In some respects the porcupine seems to be going down easily. The President is eagerly joined by Congressional Republicans on certain issues. Speaker Paul Ryan in discussing the Republican sponsored tax cuts, explained that the middle class would somehow benefit from those cuts that were mainly for the wealthy. Middle class people would pay more to fund the cuts. Oh, yes, of course. So far the proposal has been stalled and new, sweeter proposals offered. This is the same Paul Ryan who led the Republican assault on Social Security and public education which should also give people a clue to just how destructive his party and this President are intending to be to American society and our limping democracy. The assault on public education, by the way, is the same strategy employed by demagogues and dictators throughout history; control education to control the minds of children and young adults so they become easier to manipulate as a general public. Control information with falsehood or distortion to control the public in general. And, let’s privatize public education to make a profit while we are at it.


What we have here is an untethered reality, a president who believes whatever he says is real and true. It is true, of course, that people can believe and not believe the same thing simultaneously. It’s a form of solipsism, the idea that anything outside your own mind doesn’t exist so you can inhabit your own reality simultaneously with inhabiting the outside social world shared with others. This self-defined world is fueled by what is sometimes referred to as “existential fatigue” which has been defined as a personal search for meaning and purpose in a world increasingly bankrupt of both. It isn’t a complicated matter for the people who voted for Trump who know his  background of financial cheating, child molestation, self-admitted sexual assault complete with comments on how to approach that. Yes, good church-going, self-defined “Christians” remain supportive of the President and his agenda. What to make of this? A remarkable fluidity of perception, loose commitment to a social contract, and a fungible belief system. Now, while the porcupine is getting a lot of attention it’s the snakes facilitating the porcupine that we have to watch out for. And the snakes had better understand that once swallowed, the Porcupine has only one path out.

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