Sunday, September 28, 2008

Staying Sane

The first presidential debates have come and gone, and I finally got around to watching the Couric interview of Sarah Palin. And I think I have an answer of how I stay sane.

After a recent political diatribe (the one where I pointed out that Americans seem to think that having a Commander-In-Chief you can have a beer with is a good idea, until you realize that except for the one guy you want to have a beer with, everyone around you is bat-sh*t crazy. Statistically, you're more likely to get Mr. BSC than Mr. Good Buddy), one of the people in my gaming group asked how I stay sane in a world that seems to have tossed it's critical thinking and BS-detecting skills. 

I finally have an answer. 

It came to me while watching the debate. Perhaps it was fatigue, perhaps it was that my head exploded so many times recently that I just couldn't take the risk of picking a side. Whatever it was, I watched the debate from about as objective a perspective as I ever have. From the perspective of "who did a better job of outlining their position," I give both sides a C+. I clearly think Obama is a better choice, but that's because of what my core values are. Which is to say I'd rather not be distracted with God, Guns, and Gays, or flag-waving (although only Obama had The Pin on, I noticed), and the Republicans, bless their little hearts, are masters of that. Not that the Demos don't do it too, it's just that the Republicans have gotten in so much practice over the past eight years. 

What I tried to do was notice what both candidates were saying that was specious and appealing to the voter who would rather drink crappy beer because to drink something with a fancy name would make him look like a fag to his buddies. For Obama, it was "W Bad. McCain Just Like W." Which is not true, but is an extremely viable campaign strategy (unless you were Kerry). For McCain, it was "This guy's barely out of college!" A particularly interesting argument given who he chose for his running mate. 

True to form, the papers came out with all sorts of letters from both sides spouting the same illogical and irrational crap that the parties spew at us. While I still think there's a larger logical disconnect from the right (and you'd expect that, seeing as a large chunk of their base thinks that dinosaurs were used as draft animals by humans, not a demographic you can expect to have a pleasant argument with), it's on both sides. 

I also saw the Couric interview with Sarah Palin, and it did nothing to make me more alarmed (although, to be quite honest I'm already extremely alarmed). Palin spouted the talking points pretty well for the most part, and that's all she'll do over the next six weeks. We can always hope for a meltdown, and there were times when she clearly was so far outside of her knowledge base that she looked like she was in a debate for student body president when she'd thought it was a beauty contest, but in general she is performing more or less to form. Yet the left trots out this interview as proof that she would be so incompetent as to make W look like Lincoln. Newsflash: we were aware of this already. 

One hiLARious moment: Sputtering about Couric bringing up Palin's comment that she had foreign policy experience because she could see Russia out of her window (which she can't, unless she lives on Attu), Palin sputtered for a while, then finally looked exasperated and said, and I quote, "Reporters." The look on Couric's face on the next cut to her was priceless. 

I could, without question, see President Palin in talks with the Chinese, start off my mentioning how much they had contributed to world culture, and boy does she love that lemon chicken stuff. That, and frankly it's all I need at this point, is enough for me to avoid McCain. There's a lack of experience, and there's a complete lack of experience. It's not like this is an either/or thing. On the Cooley Experience Gauge, Palin scores a 4, Obama a 40, McCain a 60. On the demonstration of critical thinking gauge, it's more like 0-80-60. I know which one *I'd* like to see running things. 

But I'm digressing, mostly because it's part of how I stay sane. 

And that's just it. In a country where being just like everyone else, otherwise called "mediocrity," is one of the biggest virtues, I've clearly lost. I suspect that most people reading this blog were among the smartest people in their class, but (prior to college, anyway), among the most despised people among their peers. Smart people in this country are *feared* by the masses. With good reason - smart people figured out you could get people to give you money for a piece of paper that was completely worthless, or at least worth considerably less than they claimed it was. Smart people expect them to, you know, *think*. They don't like thinking. They like memorizing pro baseball stats, but that's not thinking. Thinking is hard work. It's something you should be *paid* to do. It's why we spend our weekends doing physical things, because we would rather not spend our free time with tedious thinking. 

If you go by test results and general grades in my education, I'm a very smart man. I try to understand the world around me, and when my belief system fails I don't just patch it up and move forward, I try to find the truth and rebuild my belief system. Were God to reveal himself to me (in a good way), and tell me exactly how the world worked, I'd believe in God, but I'd still get into an argument with Hir. Or Hem. Yet when others *tell* me I'm smart, my first reaction is to duck. To suggest that many people are smart. To keep from looking like I'm vain about being smart. It's much better in our culture to know you are good looking to know you are smart. Our presidential politics this year are not about smart, which Obama clearly wins, but on experienced, which is somehow different, but certainly not elitist. So I hide my intelligence when it's pointed out to me. 

And it's all because I know, deep down, that people fear people that are smarter than them. Because the smarter people will win if they are allowed to do whatever they want. Because being smart doesn't mean being ethical. Most people, were they smart, would like to think they'd be ethical, but given actual practice I suspect most of them would take as much advantage of it as they could. Sharks are smart, and we don't need more sharks. 

Also, as should be clear from my posts, smart people are terrified that really ignorant and close-minded people could end up in charge of things. We live in fear pretty much 24/7.

So how do I keep sane? Several ways. The main way is to disconnect from the process. If McCain had selected, say, Lieberman as his running mate, I'd probably figure that whoever took office would be better, and this would be really easy. Palin turns that on it's head, and I'm forced to consider immigrating should McCain win and then die in office (although I suspect that Palin would suddenly find herself the object of some sort of scandal and be forced to resign, all at the behest of the Republican Party. Being smart also means being a cynic). Still, I'd much rather live in a country where the Supreme Court hadn't decided that W won in 2000 - if for no other reason that I'd believe I lived in a country where national elections weren't rigged, as no matter who wins we are in serious trouble, much more serious that we're being told. Scary thought, that.

The other ways I stay sane are to stick my head in the sand and play World of Warcraft. Play wargames that are increasingly complex, because when I'm doing that I'm not thinking of what a hole we've dug for ourselves. This blog gives me a certain amount of catharsis, and some of my friends are like-minded and I can blow off steam with them, although much of the time they'll believe all the propaganda about fired librarians and victim-funded rape kits (although no matter *how* you slice that one, it's a despicable practice) that Palin has had showered on her. Because the left grabs onto these things and runs with them, even when they ignore all of the facts, just like the right does. When Jon Stewart talked about the rape kit claim, which I found incredible, I found a handful of sites that were either playing apologist or trying to straighten out the record. That requires me to think - is the argument just trying to rules lawyer it's way out of trouble, or do they have a valid point? As with most things, the answer is complex. 

And there is really the problem, isn't it. The electoral system is set up to reward those who are physically attractive (usually - McCain is an anomaly mostly because the field for the Republicans was *so* weak, made weaker by association with W), and who are persuasive speakers. Not speakers with good ideas, but ideas that sound good. Kerry may have had good ideas, but no one was awake long enough to hear them. 

Then, once elected, they are expected to have a completely different set of skills. I, for one, would *love* to see a President who was a trained engineer, a problem solver. Instead, we get salesmen. We get demagogues. We get fear-mongers and people selected so that the dinosaur farmers will bother to vote. 

We get a mess. And we get it at a time when we can least afford a mess. We are where the Soviet Union was 20 years ago, no longer able to function economically, unable to trust our leaders, in a country where a quarter of the population still thinks that secession to support a lifestyle based on the bondage of other human beings who happened to look different was a good idea that failed. Every world power fails, it happens every time. Talk to someone who grew up in post-war Britain, a country that once controlled land around the world and was eventually reduced to getting unhappy when the people who lived close to a bunch of rocks in the South Atlantic figured that maybe proximity was a better argument for ownership than history. 

America is, astonishingly because it happened so *fast*, on the edge of that fate. We will no longer be the chosen currency for international trade. English will no longer be the lingua franca of the industrialized world. Our grandchildren will look to China as the land of opportunity, learn Mandarin as their second language like kids in Germany learn English today. 

In other words, I stay sane by learning from history and applying it to our situation. And our situation is grim. There is a burgeoning demand for near-future dystopian sci-fi, and it all looks much more plausible to me than the sort where humanity has managed to spread out among the stars, much less to different planets. 

On the bright side, eventually we'll more or less drown in our own excess, so who's in charge at that point won't matter so much. When the entire world looks like a Chinese urban center and there aren't enough air filtration masks to go around, when there *is* no potable water to drink that won't shorten our lifespans, none of this will matter. Regardless of who wins this election. 

Sanity is looking less and less attractive all the time. 


Bill Chapman said...

You wrote "English will no longer be the lingua franca of the industrialized world. Our grandchildren will look to China as the land of opportunity, learn Mandarin as their second language like kids in Germany learn English today". It is remarkably difficult to predict the linguistic future. Learning languages is certainly a good thing, but a neglected question is: which language should I learn? I hope you’ll allow me to make the case for learning Esperanto, the growing planned international language. It has its speaker population scattered over the globe.

Take a look at

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Dug, you're not really that smart.

1. Assaulting the foundations of the electoral process with a battery of sleaze-ball lawyers is not "justice". Correctly applying constitutional law to a renegade state supreme court, is.

2. The war of Northern aggression was fought for many reasons, not just slavery. Those who now recall the secession and say it was a just cause refer not to the "slavery lifestyle" but solid constitutional principles. Read a book. I only wish as many as 25% of the population were intelligent and learned enough to see that the constitution was greatly eroded by the war between the states.

3. The irony surrounding Sarah Palin is in the fact that the left is so hysterical about her. I guess it's ok to cynically pick an inexperienced candidate on the basis of hollow identity politics if it's for the office of president, just not vice-president.

With Obama, you don't have to wait for the president to die to get a hollow suit.

Dug said...

I'm hesitant to reply to someone who isn't willing to give their actual identity in a blog, but you raise some interesting questions.

First, the electoral process in 2000 was a mess in Florida. Under any measure. 2004, despite less initial controversy, was worse because so many votes could not be verified. We should be worried about fair elections in this country before we worry about who won, and that is my point.

Second, I'm aware that the War of Northern Aggression (I suspect you give away your geographic location and/or where you were raised) was fought for many reasons, not all of them slavery. However, it is undeniable that the "goose question" and the status of new territories being opened up at that time (such as Kansas) were the issue that drove the South to secede. In hindsight, that's a pretty sad statement, although the North certainly wasn't fighting the war to end slavery as much as restore the union. See, I've read books.

And I think that no matter how much the Constitution was eroded in the second half of the nineteenth century, the last eight years haven't seen it in terribly good health either.

Finally, I think the left is hysterically laughing at Palin. Obama was chosen via the primary system, with all of its flaws. Palin was chosen at the last minute, unvetted, by back-room pols who I'm fairly certain are regretting their choice. There are always rumors floating around, but certainly quite a few that the Republicans are more than a little at a loss as to whether they can replace her before the debate later this week. And if you were reading carefully, you'd note that I haven't been on the leading edge of mocking her, in fact I've given her the benefit of the doubt and fact-check the things that do come up about her, such as firing a librarian and charging victims for rape kits.

As for Obama, I believe that he is on the inexperienced side but almost all of his experience prior to national office was geared toward public service and I do *not* think it's anywhere near as bad as the Republican Party suggests. I'd rather have inexperience but an ability to think critically and coolly than someone who has changed as many positions as McCain has. Didn't the Republicans call Kerry a "waffler" in 2004? How is McCain different? He isn't. He's a long-term senator with a voting record a mile long and, like the Bible, you can use his votes to put just about anything in his mouth.

You'll also notice that I've been critical of Obama as well. I don't believe that anyone is going to be able to get us out of the incredible mess we're in within a four year period, but I'd sure rather have someone other than a member of the party that put us there. Because it sure looks to me that it's a party more interested in getting power than using it for the common good. I'm not saying the Dems are much better, but they at least don't snooker their constituents into thinking that they're all about Gods, Guns, and Gays when they're really about making the world safe for American corporations to do business however they choose.

I'd love to hear a response, but at least put your name down when you do it. If you aren't willing to stand behind your comments, I won't leave them up in the future, because then you're just another crank. There's nothing preventing you from including your name in the comment.