I want a pistol in my hand

23 04 2013

All day long a post fermenting, only to end up boiling away to nothing.

Is Islam uniquely violent? That Christ died on the cross and Muhammed took up the sword—does that matter in some fundamental way?*

It does, I suppose, if you want it to. If not, then not.

This isn’t a slam against Christianity or Islam or belief (in anything. . . ); it is an observation of the condition of belief.

We construct our beliefs, believe because we want to believe, have to believe, believe how we want to believe. Or not.

We deprecate this and emphasize that, as is our preference, driven by yet other preferences.

I don’t mean to be a lazy relativist, even as this reads as lazy relativism. That is not my preference. No, it is just that beliefs arise from narratives, and the more complicated the narrative, the more beliefs can arise, and the more complicated the beliefs about the beliefs, the greater the likelihood that the beliefs and the beliefs about the beliefs can and will justify anything.

Hitchens said “religion poisons everything.”

Perhaps. But it is not the only source of poison. It is not the primary source. For if, as Hitchens believed, there is no God, and religion a construct of humans, then would it not be more accurate to say that the source of the source is the problem?

I’m tired and my thoughts are fading, and I do not wish to excuse ideologies and religions that celebrate or even excuse violence, but it seems rather too convenient for those who profess belief in Narrative C (of which some streams has in the past celebrated or excused violence) to claim that Narrative I (of which some streams currently celebrates or excuses violence) is inherently violent, while the former, only contingently or mistakenly so.

Shorter version: double-reverse No True Scotsman!

Be glad that my brain is flat, or else I’d ramble on trying to puzzle out if this means we are all Scotsmen or if there are no Scotsmen or how does one come to construct a Scotsman. . . .

*By way of Sullivan and Dreher





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Twisting round to make me think you’re straight down the line

14 08 2012

Let’s play pundit!

C’mon, it’s easy: Just take a stray thought (either your own or one you overheard standing in line for coffee or maybe from that always-wise taxi-driver) and expand it into a Theory of Everything, alternate wrinkling your brow with raising your eyebrows, slip in a cliche or two to assure your audience that you’re not straying too far from the reservation [see what I did there?]—and don’t forget at some point to say, “Look, . . .” And if you can, work in a hand gesture to emphasize your insights; it also helps to sell your sincerity.

Here we go:

“I think one angle which has been neglected is the question of comfort. Mitt Romney is a famously disciplined man, so is it any surprise that he would choose another man with a reputation for discipline? Ryan has, rightly or wrongly, the reputation of a man willing to do the heavy-lifting on arcane budget matters and to make the tough decisions. He’s also known for his punishing workout routine.

“Ryan also knows how to stay on message—a terrifically important factor to the machine that is the Romney campaign. Romney has to know that his running mate will reinforce his message, not step all over it, or, as President Obama once said about Joe Biden, ‘get out over his skis’.

“Romney could have chosen someone who contrasted with his image, someone like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie’s blunt talk would have served him well in the traditional attack-dog role assigned to vice presidents, and I think not a few journalists following the campaign would look forward to the jousts between the let-‘er-rip vice-presidential candidates.

“But it is precisely that let’s-wing-it approach to politics which likely put Romney off Christie. And, let’s face it, that Christie is overweight could be seen by Romney as evidence for a general laxity. Could you see these two men sitting down together—well, not over a beer [ha ha!]—to shoot the breeze? You can just see Romney cringe as Christie lets loose with a few choice words.

“Tim Pawlenty, I don’t think, was ever a serious contender. He ran a terrible campaign and quit far too quickly. I think Romney appreciates ambition and boldness, and Pawlently is conspicuously lacking in both.

“I have to say, I’m a bit mystified why he didn’t choose Rob Portman. Ohio is crucial to victory in November, and having Portman on the ticket might have made all the difference. Maybe a chemistry thing.

“Speaking of chemistry, could anyone really see Bobby Jindal running alongside Mitt Romney? Sure, a fine family man, but he’s been shrinking ever since his disastrous Scarecrow-sounding response to the president’s State of the Union speech. And Louisiana, hm, Romney is definitely not a laissez-les-bons-temps rouler kind of guy.

“And the women, well, the women I’m sorry to say were probably never considered due to the Palin factor. Nikki Haley is a first-term governor, as is Susan Martinez in New Mexico, and Kelly Ayotte has been in the Senate for less than two years. These women might be serious contenders in 2016, but putting one of these women on the ticket would draw comparisons the Romney campaign would prefer to avoid.

“It’s also not clear how comfortable Romney is with women. He has four, excuse me, five sons, worked in private equity—a very male, and, I should point out, a very white field—and as an elder in the Mormon Church hasn’t had a lot of exposure to women in powerful positions. Sure, his lieutenant governor in Massachusetts was a woman, but how much interaction has he had with women as equals?

“I mean, look at this campaign staff. It’s all men—all white men. Look, I’m not saying he wouldn’t have chosen a Hispanic candidate if that person was head and shoulders above everyone else, but Romney is clearly most comfortable with people most like himself.

“Paul Ryan is a lot like Mitt Romney. Intense, ambitious, disciplined. A religious man, a family man, and hey, with a nice head of hair [ha ha!] There may be a downside to having someone who seems to reinforce some of Romney’s more robotic tendencies than to soften them, but Ryan’s sincerity likely resonates with Romney’s own straight-arrow demeanor and, who knows, his earnestness may come across as endearing to undecided voters.

“None of this is to discount the policy implications of the pick, of course, or whether any of this will pan out in November, but I do think this pick tells us something about Romney and what kind of people he would surround himself if he does win the presidency.”

~~~

See how easy that was? Plausible, sober, and completely without recourse to any research whatsoever! I have no idea who his closest advisers are, and I know for a fact that there are some women high up in his campaign, but why bother with the labors of an internet search when I can just pull this stuff out of my navel? (Or, to be honest, from a shoot-the-shit conversation with T.)

Now, I did run a search for his campaign staff before I wrote the piece and found a handy sheet documenting his various staffers and advisers, but I didn’t look at it until just now. Whaddya know, there are a number of women in key positions (chief of staff to the exec director Kelli Harrison, deputy campaign manager Kelly Packer Gage, senior adviser Beth Myers, among others)—but hey, why let a few facts get in the way of punditry?

Besides, a really good pundit knows how to spin away inconvenient truths, noting that “it is well-known that his closest adviser is Bob White, and let’s not forget his campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, who’s been with Romney since the ’08 campaign. It’s not that women don’t have a role, but, with the exception of Myers, they’re all more organizational than strategic.”

Again, I have no idea if any of that is true. If I were a real political reporter and not just a Sabbath gasbag I would talk to people in and around the campaign, closely observe the candidate when he’s with his staff to see who he consults, see who’s quoted in the newspaper and who gives interviews, and then and only then, and based on a general background knowledge of what is expected roles of various staffers and advisers in any campaign, would I venture any suggestions as to the possible meanings of the Ryan pick.

But that’s too much like real work, and the evidence might get in the way of my narrative—and as a pundit, you should never let anything get in the way of your narrative.

That’s how the pros do it.





Mayan Campaing Mashup 2012: Mitt’s unwit

12 01 2012

Shocking news: I am not a fan of Mitt Romney.

I’m not at all clear why he’s running for president, other than that he wants to be president, and I don’t think he’d be any good at the job.

I also think that for all his professionalism as a campaigner, he doesn’t really understand what the presidency requires.

Matt Yglesias has a nice take on this:

Of course there is envy in America, but there’s also spite. And I think you see some of it in Romney’s reply. He has a lot of money, personally. That money is very useful to him in a number of ways. It lets him consume more goods and services. It offers him security against the ups and downs in life. It lets him be assured that his kids will have a leg up in life. But over and above that, Romney seems to revel in the idea of being better than the lower orders of society and resists the leveling impulse even though it would in concrete terms leave him with plenty of money.

I don’t know if he’s spiteful or not, but  statements about envy and [the out-of-context] “I like being able to fire people” make it difficult to conclude otherwise.

Narrative, man, narrative! You do not want to feed your weaknesses: it doesn’t turn the weakness into strength, but strengthens the weakness. Tch tch tch.

Anyway, this gives me another chance to pull out a much-used Rousseau quote:

[I]f one sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height of greatness and fortune while the mob grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former prize the things they enjoy only to the extent that the others are deprived of them; and because, without changing their position, they would cease to be happy, if only the people ceased to be miserable.

This is not the impression you want to leave with would-be voters.

h/t  James Fallows





Vas ist dis “thoughtlessness”?

17 05 2011

Have I been thoughtless?

Perhaps, but mostly busy, lazy, and sick; actually, it would be more accurate to state that “busy, lazy, and sick” are the proximate causes for my thoughtlessness.

Anyway.

What do I mean by thoughtlessness (anyway)?

Let’s start with what I don’t mean: I don’t mean stupid (as in lacking analytic and intellectual ability) or ignorant (as in lacking knowledge) or even the general not-bothering-to-think (although there is something to this). Nor do I mean this to be the result of (c)overt propangandistic attempts to alter interpretations of events or peoples’ own experiences of those events.

Nope, I mean something more structural, as in a way of being (and thus also thinking—or not thinking, as it were) which encompasses and conditions all of us. There is rarely any sort of intent behind this version of thoughtlessness (although there are at times (c)overt attempts to justify intentional thoughtlessness) and thus it is rarely malicious, and while its effects may nonetheless be pernicious, it may, at some levels, even be beneficial.

Finally, thoughtlessness is not restricted to modern thought. I think it’s a feature of consciously totalizing systems of thought, by which I mean systems of thought which actively seek to rewrite, suppress, or surpass any preexisting narratives and to corral any innovations or questions into forms recognized by that system. I’m not sure how much I’ll be considering those other systems—I’m thinking at this point specifically of medieval Christianity—but as I have an inkling of modern thought as way to overcome the upheavals of said Christianity, there’s likely to be some engagement.

Regardless, I’m interested in the thoughtlessness of modernity, so that’s what I’ll be lookin’ at.

Okay, you say, but you haven’t yet said what it is.

The one word answer is: negation. Other brief definitions: a plowing-under, erasure, diminution, trivialization, limitation, . . . you get the gist. The slightly longer answer is that in modern thought there are some matters worth thinking about and others not, that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to think about those matters worth thinking about, and that if you think about worthless things in inappropriate ways you will have a hard time getting along in life.

Again, no conspiracy; just a sense of “this is how things are”.

None of this is particularly new. Critics of modernity from both the pre- and (alleged) post- positions have long pointed out what is lost in the movement from one way of being to another. The Catholic Church, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Strauss are among the more prominent critics, and some versions of anthropology are given over to a recovery from/protection against the predations of modernity.

Although I, too, am a critic—not so much prominent as obscure—I’m not terribly interested in trying to return to some sort of pre-modern ontology or in continuing my lament of How Shitty Everything Is. No, I am actively trying to move beyond the lament and it seems to me that such movement requires trying to make sense of where we are now.

There is so much which makes sense and does not make sense at the same time, so much which is simultaneously thought-ful and thought-less—how can this be?

I am curious.