So we’re openly supporting brutal dictatorships with a hint of glee. Okay.

Look, we all know that the title “Leader of the Free World” that we use for President is hyperbolic (I sure hope we know that) and not really true. It’s still symbolically important however, so it’s probably important that if you hold this title that you not go and support a brutal dictatorship that is imprisoning and killing rival members. You know, like Saudi Arabia.

I get it, the US has a long history of choosing to be on the wrong side of history, especially in our alliance with Saudi Arabia. So any elected official – for better or for worse – has to be careful with what they say about such a brutal regime. But Trump is just diving in headfirst (like Pete Rose) into some Saudi lovin’. It’s one thing to give a vague response to what’s going on, it’s entirely another to refer to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman with the same affection and admiration that a nun would show to the Rosary, or that a New Englander would show to a Dunkin Donuts owned by Bill Belichick and managed by Tom Brady (right now, people in New England are Googling hard to see if this actually exists).

See, and this is where it gets really complicated, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) may actually help his country with what he did. Many of the people arrested actually were corrupt and actually are a hinderance on modernizing Saudi Arabia. MBS wants to bring his country, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the 21st century (or as 21st century as a radical Wahhabist nation can be). So his actions may not be all bad, but they could be and could be very destabilizing, signaling to hardliners that MBS might try to modernize too much, which could lead to some nasty revolts. It’s honestly a major gamble; on one hand, this could pacify Saudi Arabia within the next 10 years, which would cease the exporting of terrorist ideology. On the other hand, this could exacerbate the situation and destabilize the region even further. Hooray modern foreign affairs!

At the same time…

Trump is also just being honest. In the past a president might have commented on how MBS is going about this all wrong, but wouldn’t have done anything about it (and may not have even commented on it). Trump’s tweet is at least brutal honesty, that we don’t care how much the Sauds run their nation with an iron fist, as long as they give us that black gold we’ll be good.

And yet…

As president of the United States and already threatening Jeff Sessions’ job as Attorney General unless he goes after Hillary Clinton, supporting a similar move overseas really, really, really looks bad here. He’s already talked about how he wants to go after his political rivals here, so supporting another world leader doing is…concerning. And that’s just me making an attempt at a polite British understatement; it’s actually disturbing. It’s very disturbing. He’s made comments about going after political opponents, about wanting to go after the Democrats, about going after Clinton, and going after whomever based on the idea of “draining the swamp.” And here he is supporting that exact action overseas, possibly wondering, “Now why can’t I do that?” (The Constitution, but that means exactly what to him?).

So this is the world we live in. As cliche as it is, multiple philosophers (and yes, Plato) have pointed out that Republics, especially large ones, tend toward dictatorships because eventually the system gets clogged up and the people want a demagogue. Trump certainly isn’t the end of our Republic (it’s been dying for a while), but he’s certainly a necessary step along the way.

On the Prayer of Gun Control

Nothing like another mass shooting in America to bring us all together…to agree that we’re totally divided. In our highly politicized time we want you to politicize everything, including emotions and platitudes. It’s a pretty sad statement that bodies can’t cool off, family members can’t even know if they’ve lost someone, and people can’t mourn before we turn to the inevitability of politicizing an event. In terms of gun control, that goes for both sides, with some lashing out with the irrational emotional response of “BAN ALL THE GUNS!” while others lash out with the equally irrational response of “THEY’RE GOING TO BAN ALL THE GUNS!” All the while, nothing ever actually happens.

Thus, some people offer up “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and family members. But now, even that is controversial. To be fair, even within the Christian tradition the platitude “thoughts and prayers” can sometimes ring empty. James 2:15-16 says, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” I guess James was one of the first people to say, “Your thoughts and prayers really don’t mean much without action.” But the level of public shaming and disdain people hold toward those who say “thoughts and prayers” is honestly absurd.
In many ways, it’s nothing more than virtue signaling for both sides. One side gets to feel pious for offering thoughts and prayers while doing nothing, and the other side gets to feel morally superior for pointing out that one side isn’t doing anything…which really doesn’t do anything. In the end, both sides are engaging in nothing more than moral masturbation, fulfilling their own requirements to feel morally valid, while not really doing anything about stopping gun violence. Absolutely fantastic!
We also have to ask what can be done. There’s a better chance of Donald Trump setting aside time for a national viewing of the infamous and mythical “Pee Tape” and resigning afterwards than there is for Congress to ban guns or pass any significant gun control measures. Under President Clinton, who had a Democratic majority his first term, there wasn’t any significant gun legislation passed that limited people’s rights. If it didn’t happen then, it won’t happen now. For God’s sake, we can’t get Congress to ban bumper stocks; what makes you think they’d have enough votes to overturn or amend the 2nd Amendment?
With the above in mind, can we cease with the emotional outbursts? Can we stop with the “TAKE ALL THE GUNS” and the “WE’RE GOING TO LOSE ALL THE GUNS” rhetoric and start working toward an actual change? Can we allow people to express their thoughts and prayers without getting mad at them, but offering to work with them on a solution? After all, for the average person such mass violence seems unstoppable, so they feel there isn’t much more than can offer than thoughts and prayers; and for them, there’s an honest belief that through prayer people will receive some sort of peace. 

Agree or disagree, but chastising those people only feeds into the view that liberals are smug and deserve what they get under Trump. So, can we cut the bullshit and actually find ways to curb violence? Yes, Pandora’s Box has been opened and we can never eradicate gun violence completely in this nation because we can never eradicate guns, but we can pass sensible gun legislation that doesn’t violate the 2nd Amendment, but at least helps curb gun violence? I think that’d at least be a start in the right direction.
 

When those drunk on greed write the law, you get the current GOP tax plan

The GOP tax plan, the one that I really, really, really hope gets shot to shit through committee and debate, has to be one of the dumbest pieces of legislation put forth in the past ten years. Let me pull this back a bit.

The GOP tax plan is the equivalent of if a rancid piece of shit and rotting fish left out in the Texas sun…wait, that’s not pulling back.

To put this very bluntly to those who support the tax plan – if you don’t want socialism in the near future you should probably speak to your representative to have it shut down. This is a very “Let them eat cake” moment in GOP history. The briefest of run downs on the plan is as follows: If you’re already super rich, this thing is amazing for you (short term; longterm probably not, because guillotines are usually hazardous to any retirement planning), but if you’re not rich and essentially live paycheck to paycheck, like 80% of all Americans, you’re about to notice life get harder.

You’ll now pay taxes on interest paid to student loans, get double-taxed in states with income taxes (right now the federal tax offsets the state tax, which will no longer be the case), potentially pay more in taxes if you happen to be really poor, and see absolutely no guarantee that you’ll have an increase in wages. The sales pitch here is that by lowering corporate taxes and personal taxes on the wealthy, that money will flow into wages and new jobs. The reality as we’ve seen time and time again is that money will be used for reinvestment and to bolster profits, which increases stock value. Why hire more people when you don’t need new people? After all, its demand that creates jobs, not tax breaks. The real job creators are consumers, not CEOs or business owners, but the taxes are aimed at the so-called job creators (business owners).

There’s no way a single Republican or economist with half a functioning brain cell could ever look at this plan and go, “Of course this will help the economy” and mean it without being ironic. What they mean is that it will help them and the wealthy, which will in turn cause the wealthy to donate more money to them, which will in turn help keep them in power. The Republicans figured this out a while ago and have been winning the fundraising game; the Democrats have attempted it since 1992 (when they got off the populist train), but are so inept and awkward that they’ve never really been able to capitalize on fundraising. Point being, both parties, but especially the GOP, want to lower taxes not to help the economy, but to win the favor of the wealthy who will take some of that newly earned money and give it back to the GOP.

What drives such thinking? What drives politicians to hike up their skirts, stick out their legs, and sell their soul to the highest bidder? Greed of course. Greed for money, greed for power, greed for the sake of greed. The major corporations pushing for these tax cuts are the fat kids at the party who take all the cake, refusing to share with any of the kids, and the politicians who support the tax cuts are the annoying mothers who say that the other kids just don’t understand not-so-little Johnny. At its core, this boils down to greed.

Lowering taxes and threatening to offset it by lowering spending on social programs only underlines the greed. It’s a way to ensure that no one else can ever threaten your wealth, it’s a way to sit there and codify your superiority over the masses, it’s how you become a lord without the title, without the pomp, but with all the benefits and more. The current tax plan will absolutely, 100% guaranteed lead to a massive finical crisis within a decade of its implementation. The US debt will skyrocket, infrastructure will crumble more than it has, we’ll watch the last thing we’re good at (higher education) begin to slip in world rankings, and we’ll start seeing unemployment jump. The lower demand will lead to lower profit, and like the drug addicts they are, executives will rob and steal from others (layoffs) in order to continue supplying their addiction (profit).

Of course, if human history has taught us anything – hell, if American history has taught us anything – it’s that people really hate being oppressed. When they can’t put food on the table, when they can’t find steady work, when they can’t live with dignity, they will seek radical changes. It may not be a violent revolution, but the wealthy elites could very well wake up one November day to the reality that America has elected its first openly socialist president. And not some Nordic Socialist who wants to sing the praises of Social Democracy, oh no. When Americans swing the other way, we swing the other way! We do everything big, so it’s likely we’d pick someone who has a slight authoritarian and strongman zeal to him. The wealthy, so unwilling to compromise now, could find all their wealth confiscated within the very near future. Yet, they’ve trained themselves to only look at the next quarter and not the next decade, so their fate is their own doing.

But such is the price of greed. Greed blinds us to the plight of our fellow humans. It blinds us to the dangers of the path we’re walking. The best analogy for the GOP tax plan would probably be Breaking Bad. The wealthy are Walter White, addicted to the money and power and the rush of doing business. But eventually their ego, their greed, their thirst for power will get in their way. That is the story of greedy societies for all of recorded history. Shortly after removing the Etruscan kings, the newly formed Roman Republic watched as their working class soldiers left Rome undefended because the wealthy aristocrats refused to compromise. This led to a compromise, but to tension as well, a tension that ultimately collapsed the Republic. One could easily argue that the English Civil War wouldn’t have occurred without some class politics shaping the religious politics. The French Revolution occurred due to a tone-deaf French aristocracy and royalty. The Russian Revolution was a direct result of the Russian ruling elite not listening to the cries of the underclass. History is full of examples of what happens when the wealthy allow their greed to overtake them.

Yet, here we are. We’re facing down the barrel of a loaded gun that, if fired, will put us on the path to economic devastation. Taxes, while they suck, are the price of civilization. If you like roads, if you like order, if you like living in civilization then you have to pay for those things, and that comes from taxes. And if we refuse to accept that fact, if we refuse to accept that taxes are essential for a society to survive, then we deserve the fate we receive.

A Philosophy of Beauty

It’s really an awkward scene in American Beauty Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) goes on about how a plastic bag is the most beautiful thing ever. In 1999, before the rise of cynicism (personally, I blame Y2K), people treated the scene as something beautiful. In a way, it is. But in more of a way, it’s weird. Still, it underlines something intrinsic in all human beings, which is that we all hold some concept of beauty.

Walk down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, the area of New York that’s still New York, and along with the rundown buildings of a failed public housing system you’ll see scenes of astounding beauty. In these crumbling bricks of buildings, people take to the streets to express themselves in art, in music, in dance. Walk into the poorest part of Mexico and you’ll still hear humans expressing themselves in art, attempting to obtain some form of beauty.

In many ways, we’re trying to mimic what we see in nature, attempting to copy and surpass. For myself, staring into the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean is soothing, but Fantasia On A Theme stirs emotions within me for some unknown reason. Honestly, I don’t really need to know, I don’t care to know.

Yet, the idea of beauty is a somewhat unexplored element of philosophy in the modern age, that is, it’s relegated to the ugly and unbeautiful world of being analyzed. And it does need to be analyzed, but only if the analyst understands he’ll never understand what he’s analyzing. Beauty is one of those odd things that exists, but exists just out of touch of our reason, something that we feel we can come close to understanding and grabbing, only to have it slip away just when we are closest to it.

Why is it that we seek after beauty? A brutalist interpretation might be that it’s a survival instinct that helps us cope with the brutality of life. This, however, doesn’t seem to quite capture the existential feeling; it sounds rational, it even sounds reasonable, but it conflicts directly with our experiences of beauty. Maybe we seek after beauty for some sexual reason that we just can’t figure out, but this reduces the whole of the human experience down to sex. Again, a rational case could be made, but it wouldn’t be satisfactory (ironic considering it even involves sexuality). This isn’t to say that beauty is irrational – being against reason – but that ultimately the concept of beauty is suprarational – being beyond reason.

There’s the old analogy used to contradict religion about bringing blind men into a room and having them touch different parts of an elephant. While they’ll all describe different parts, they’re all describing different parts of the same thing. While it’s a good analogy that’s misapplied, when applied to beauty it makes sense; whether we’re looking at the sunrise over mountains in Mexico or listening to Mozart, we’re seeing different parts of beauty that lead to one, universal form of beauty. Oh, hello there Plato.

But I won’t go the route of Plato, at least not completely, because his theory of the forms is very incomplete. I would agree that our experiences of beauty point to an ultimate form, some sensus divinitatis within every individual that cries out for beauty, though their experience of it may be subjective. It does beg the question though, that if beauty is universal in form (but subjectively experienced), where does it come from? If it’s something that’s created, then how could the concept of beauty be formed before the form of beauty came about? This would be a contradiction. So then beauty would be eternal, but what would those implications be? If we live in a closed universe that has no divine, how do we explain beauty?

I will not come to any hard conclusions or push for hard conclusions, but merely leave the above for you to think about…or to ignore. But we cannot deny that there is a universal experience of beauty, so we must always push for the arts (which expose beauty), not because it’ll make better students or better workers, but because by helping to satisfy that deep human hunger for beauty we will make better humans. And maybe, just maybe, we can make the world a slightly better place to live.

 

Capitalism isn’t always violent, except when it always is

If you haven’t heard, Communism has killed a lot of people (or a lot of people have been killed in the name of Communism…whatever, semantics are boring). What’s fun for me is to watch people on the far left unironically say Stalin did nothing wrong and to argue that such deaths are necessary. I, of course, ironically say Stalin did nothing wrong, but usually just to be an ass to whatever conservative I’m debating. Or whatever anarcho-capitalist I’m mocking, along with his fedora and neckbeard. But, yeah, Stalin did a lot wrong. So did Mao. So did, well, really all Communist leaders up to this point. Oops.

But what’s never asked is how many people has Capitalism killed? “But Disgruntled Philosopher!…” you may be saying (you’re probably not saying that), “Capitalism hasn’t killed anyone! It’s brought about so many technological advances that it’s saved lives! And even if it has killed a few people (via Chilean helicopter rides), look at all the progress we’d gained!”

Yet, Capitalism has killed millions of people and is killing people to this day. Not directly, no one is saying, “In the name of Capitalism, I hereby sentence you to death for being poor.” Capitalism is just as deadly as Communism, if not more, and it’s deadly from its core because of its central philosophy of individualism. Let’s fall down this rabbit hole, shall we?

Humans are beings made to be in a community, yet also distinct from each other. Every personality is unique, but at the same time is supposed to function to work with other personalities. This is the foundation of culture in its smallest measurement, that people get together and impress themselves on one another, and from these distinctions society begins to grow. The greatest flaw is when we emphasize one element over the other, when we create an imbalance between the individual and the community. The problem with most forms of Communism, admittedly, is the archaic idea of “the greater good,” of placing the individual in a subordinate position to the greater good, which is vague enough to sound reasonable, but also vague enough to really, really abuse.

Capitalism commits the opposite mistake. It places the value on the individual, going so far as to say that all transactional dealings between individuals are (or ought) to be for pure mutual benefit. Thus, everything is a voluntary exchange between individuals at a market price, and the market is this invisible hand that dictates how everything works. This allows for individual liberty and the world spins on while everyone prospers.

It’s also bollocks.

See, in Adam Smith’s most important work – no, not that book, this book – he begins from a point of view where moral sentiments aren’t naturally known to humans. All morality is essentially drawn from observing others and from creating this invisible observer who either praises us for good deeds or chastises us for bad. Wanting to avoid chastisement, we act a certain way, which often fits within our social norms. While some think this later contradicts his theory in Wealth of Nations, it does the opposite and lays the groundwork. In Wealth, Smith argued that self-interest drove morality, which ultimately drove the market; everyone engages in business and, really, engages in life, for one’s own self-interest. But his Theory of Moral Sentiments idea that we only act moral because of what others think is where his idea was really fleshed out, and that’s what we find at the core of Capitalism: Self-interest being the guiding factor for the market. Voluntary cooperation in the market only happens so long as it’s beneficial to one’s self interest.

The thing is, an entire moral theory based upon the belief that self-interest is the foundation of morality is an inherently violent belief. It divorces humans from any grounding of truth and makes all moral choices value calculations; nothing is right or wrong, just beneficial and disadvantageous. In creating this divorce, an individual no longer has a tie to a community beyond what he can get out of the community, beyond how he can best use that community to his best benefit; he’s divorced from his communal nature as a human being and there is nothing more violence in this world than being divorced from your nature.

It follows, then, that if at its core we see violence, then we should see very early examples of violence within…oh come on people, SLAVERY! Slavery existed prior to the advent of Capitalism (Capitalism predates Smith, who was merely writing down popular liberal economic theories at the time and perfecting them), but Capitalism took what was a small, but still unjust practice, and loaded it up with energy drinks and cocaine. The reason was simple: Slavery, or exploitation of labor, was best suited for one’s self-interest. Why pay people when I can force them to work for free?

The contradictory element to Capitalism is that people should act out of their own self-interests and that Capitalism is voluntary. If acting in my own self-interests, at a certain point my interests will come into a direct conflict with another person’s interests, and the conflict will be so great that they are mutually exclusive, meaning one of us must win out. An easier way to understand this is through demonstration: Walk into your boss’ office and demand a raise to a livable wage, a wage you deem fit. I’ll wait. Now, did you get fired? Did you get laughed at? Well, you can just quit, right? Oh, no, you can’t because you need an income? So then how is this system, where your boss keeps your wage low for his own self-interest in earning a higher profit, truly voluntary? You can’t leave it and everyone else acts like your boss, so how is something you’re forced to do to live truly voluntary? It’s like saying eating and breathing are voluntary acts. In the strictest sense, yeah, they are, but c’mon.

Likewise, Capitalism assumes that people know what is in their self-interests. But if there’s anything one can learn from studying thousands of years of human history, or watching YouTube videos, is that humans are idiots. The fact that we’ve made it this far in our evolutionary journey is a miracle, because we really shouldn’t have made it past hunting and gathering. This ties over into everyday economics. Even though there’s an almost universal consensus that higher wages typically means higher profits, higher productivity, and long-term sustainability for companies, few are willing to pay higher wages. Even though it’d be in their best interest to pay higher wages, they don’t because they don’t perceive that as their best interest. Thus, they continue the exploitation of labor (which is a violent act as it takes away the freedom of another) thinking that it’s in their best interest to continue this exploitation.

Along the lines of not knowing what is best, this comes to the actual violence we’ve seen in Capitalism. We’ve seen corporations pour toxic waste into rivers, which killed people. We’ve seen them keep food supplies artificially low in some areas to boost costs, which of course caused famines. We’ve seen them convince the British Empire to just up and invade China over opium. And of course, there’s the American healthcare system, the biggest FU to anyone without money and even those who are middle class. It’s marketed as some big, beautiful free market solution to all those nasty, socialist healthcare systems around the world. It’s the last bastion where people can come and die of a preventable disease, but so do freely, unlike those living into old age under the healthcare-laden chains of socialism. There’s a reason that the US has a higher infant mortality rate than any other industrialized nation in the world and it has nothing to do with essential oils. It’s estimated that tens of thousands up to hundreds of thousands of people die in the US alone due to inadequate healthcare.

The point being, Capitalism has killed millions of people over the years, though not always intentionally (except for Pinochet, but that guy was a dick). A better example would be this:

Two people come across a forest that’s overgrown. One guy, we’ll call him Vlad, says we must burn the brush. You object, saying there are homes in the way, that it’ll cost property and possibly cost human lives. He agrees, but says that if the fire isn’t started now, it could lead to a bigger fire in the future that would cost even more lives. So he warns people to leave and then sets the fire anyway, even after many say they’ll stay.

The other guy, we’ll call him Ayn Rand, notices all the overgrowth and says, “Yeah, bruh, not my problem.” He then lights his cigarette, smokes it a bit, then tosses it and walks away. It was in his self-interest to toss it, and it didn’t matter where. And without warning, the forest erupts and everyone loses their homes, everyone loses their lives. He then proceeds to write a horrible novel about how Vlad ruined all freedom. We all just shrug.

In both scenarios both people are wrong, much like how Communism and Capitalism are wrong. But Communism is very intentional in the deaths it causes (with a “maybe” exception to Mao’s industrialization of China and killing sparrows; I mean, who other than scientists and farmers knew you needed such animals to keep locusts away?). Capitalism is unintentional in the deaths it causes, but inevitable due to the core philosophy not meshing with who we are as a species. While Communism wants a revolution to establish a new society, Capitalism just wants the individual to reign supreme, or put another way, Communism gave us Joseph Stalin, but Capitalism merely privatized the dictatorship and renamed it to CEO. And it’s meant to, because rather than keeping us within the community where we belong, it displaces us and makes us refugees, but empowers us to be individual dictators enforcing our will on the masses, so long as we believe it’s in our self-interest.