On sexual perversion and the people we like

 

At this point it seems the real news is when some famous celebrity or politician isn’t accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. The latest perpetrators only add to an ever-growing list: Roy Moore, Louis C.K., and I’m pretty sure Barney will be up there at some point in the next week.

The reactions have been…interesting…to say the least, especially concerning Roy Moore. But I’m not here to talk about 30-something year old men trying to date 14 year old girls, nor about Joseph and Mary, but rather about something that isn’t being covered in all the claims of sexual exploitation: None of this is new and what’s more is we’ve known about it for quite a while. I’d venture to guess that the human race has been aware of the sexual exploitation of women since we were able to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior; so we’re talking around 100,000 years, give or take.

We all sit there aghast that [insert celebrity/politician I like] could possibly engage in such behavior, but silently sit there in glee when [insert celebrity/politician I don’t like] is accused of sexual indiscretions. We all know what I’m talking about, but I want to use my favorite Twitter punching bag – Joe Walsh – as the PERFECT example of what I’m talking about. For those who don’t know, Joe Walsh is what would happen if the shit stain in your underwear became self aware and grew into a human form. He hates The Liberals™, The Gays™, The Blacks™, and Hillary Clinton©. So when Hollywood’s sex scandals started blowing up last week, he had this to say:

That was November 1. But yesterday, November 9, when talking about Roy Moore (who he supports):

So he took the hypocritical route – shocking – by quickly accepting the claims against Hollywood actors, but then denying the claims against Moore.

But he’s not alone on this as people tend to do this all the time. But in the Moore controversy as well as the Hollywood controversy there’s something major that’s missing in all the discussions: There are victims here. See, in the game of chess that is US Culture War we don’t actually care about the victims of these acts, we care about the gossip from these acts. We care that Roy Moore had/has(?) a thing for 14 year old girls because it means a disgusting politician will (hopefully) not be elected. But we don’t really care about the victims, only so far as they’re useful to our cause. We care that Kevin Spacey harassed and assaulted young men because it shows how depraved and disgusting Hollywood is. But don’t expect us to throw any concern to how those guys are doing now.

To some extent, this is expected because the perpetrator is known and the victim is unknown (and sometimes should remain unknown). But the level to which we do this actually prevents further progress in our everyday lives. We see what these politicians and celebrities do and rightly chastise them, but do we then turn around and go, “Could I have made someone sexually uncomfortable?” We don’t dare ask if we know someone who has assaulted women, and we will never ask if some of our own actions could possibly be construed as sexual harassment or sexual assault. See, we love to reflect on the sins of those in the news when the reality is this should cause some massive introspection for all of us.

This brings me back to a previous point: The claims of sexual assault are nothing new. If anything, we’ve known about it forever and accepted it as a cultural thing. We say “boys will be boys,” or we tell young women (or even young men) not to be prudes, to be open in their sexual experiences, all the while we’re only validating the predatory experiences they’re suffering. Some of us might think we’re suave when we’re flirting with a woman, but she could take it not only as uncomfortable, but as threatening. Our own ego and lack of introspection, our lack of looking at how we come across blinds us to how we might make others feel. What it boils down to is this idea that we’re somehow entitled to a sexual encounter with another human person simply because we have the desire; it’s like the whole “nice guys finish last” mantra. I’m sorry, but what about being nice guarantees you anything from a woman (or a guy)? If you’re being nice to get something out of the person, then you’re not being nice, you’re being a Capitalist, you’re bartering.

So we should take these very public accusations seriously, we should have judgements for the men and women accused of being sexually inappropriate. But we should be ever so careful, because unless we’re allowing these incidents to open us up to some self-reflection, we’re only helping to perpetuate a culture that devalues people (specifically women) to nothing more than their sexual purpose.

The sloth is being used because they just look like sexual predators. Look at him, I mean really look at him; he creeps me out. 
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Tuesday’s Election was still about populism

One year removed from having Trump elected against 3-1 odds per FiveThirtyEight (man, 2016 was really good year for underdogs down 3-1, just ask the Cavaliers), the US held another election. Not for president (sadly), but an off-year election for some governors, some state reps, some aldermen, and so on, because federalism is really confusing when it comes to keeping up with your local and national elections.

If there was a theme to the 2016 populism it was, “Anyone who will change this!” The theme – so it appears – for 2017 is, “Well, yeah, we want change, but we really gotta’ add some qualifiers here.” Populism didn’t go away for these elections, if anything it entrenched itself. Of last night’s elections, 7 or 8 of the victors nationally were avowed Democratic Socialists or Socialists (who ran as Democrats or Independents). The victory with the loudest bang would be Lee Carter ousting the established Republican House Majority Whip…and he did it by 9 points and with very little help from the Democratic Party.

So why did Democratic Socialists do so well? More importantly, what should the DNC do with this information (other than offhandedly dismiss one as “that red-headed Marine guy” like Perez chose to do). It shows that, at least at the local level, people are still very concerned about the issue closest to their hearts; their wallet. The majority will tend to vote with where they feel or believe their economic interests are. Once they feel a certain way about an economic plan, they’ll often times shape their other beliefs to fit with the economic one, or “hold their nose and vote.” It’s very rare for someone to embrace pure ideology (insert Zizek reference here) and say, “While this is in my best economic interest, I simply cannot vote for it because I really hate The Gays™ and The Blacks™.” What they might say is, “He’s going to bring us jobs!” Don’t believe me?

Think about the Civil Rights Act, passed during a time when the majority (white people) didn’t care all too much for changing the system. Now it passed during a booming economic time for the white population, where jobs were easy to come by, pay was good, and Americans – for a brief period – enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world. So along comes Goldwater with his far-right economics and also saying he wanted to eradicate the Civil Rights Act. In 1963, a year before the Civil Rights Act was passed, 60% of Americans were against the March on Washington. 74% thought mass demonstrations would hurt the African American cause for freedom. So here’s Goldwater saying, “We can go back to what you all want” and they didn’t. Why? Because as much as white America hated the Civil Rights movement, they feared Goldwater’s economic policies more, so they overwhelmingly voted for LBJ despite his passage of the CRA.

There are numerous other examples. The point being, people vote where they believe their economic interests are. That means that messaging by the political party also matters. See, for whatever reason, the GOP has been really good at branding and advertising that tax cuts for the wealthy is actually good for the poor. Now, if we took this claim and put it on a Maury lie detector test, he’d give us the gleeful disappointed look he’s so good at and tell us the test determined the claim was a lie. Yet people eat it up because no one can brand like the GOP can brand. The Democrats, however, are the nerdy kids who might have some good ideas, but have no idea how to explain it to people without boring them or sounding condescending. And the fact is, most Democrats now aren’t really economic populists, fighting so hard for (and losing) corporate donations. Those of us on the more progressive side of things are often labeled “radical” by other Democrats.

But suppressing their worker roots is what has the Democrats in the position they’ve been in for 20 years (losing local and national elections). The Democratic Socialists, or “Social Democrats” if it makes you feel better, have tapped into a populist trend that will bear fruit if the Democrats let it. People want to know there are solutions out there for their problems. While they want overnight solutions, if branded correctly, one can show how we can have universal healthcare, free college education, college debt forgiveness, and other progressive economic talking points over time. We can transition to them and honestly, we don’t have much of a choice. The ease with which people took to Bernie Sanders in 2015 and 2016 and the minor, yet significant, gains Democratic Socialists (all of whom were supported by young people, young people who got out and voted in an off-year election) made on Tuesday should be a wakeup call to Democrats that their economic outlook no longer matches the majority of young people (and I’m being liberal with that term: I mean people 40 or younger).

Populism is in vogue and the 2017 election shows it just as much as 2016 did. Now, we can try to ignore that populism and downplay it as mere peasantry, supporting neoliberal policies that only aid the rich in getting richer, and allowing the populism to grow and quickly turn into tribalism and nationalism. Or, we can use that populism and begin to construct a “more perfect union,” a nation that works for everyone, a populism with a pragmatic structure to make sure it works and improves our nation. If the Democrats are smart, they’ll go with the second option. I won’t hold my breath.

Avoiding a Bolshevik Revolution: A How To Guide (Featuring Vladimir Solovyov)

Well it’s here, the 100 year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution (give or take a few days, I’m late…I have a real job you know). So it’s time to celebrate because there ain’t no party like the Communist Party! We’ll have plenty of food, unless you’re Ukrainian. Sorry.

For whatever reason, cos-playing Antifa kids want to party like it’s 1917 (forgetting the irony that Antifa is typically anarcho-communist, meaning it’s not exactly in line with Bolshevik ideals, but whatever) and overthrow the bourgeoisie. And who can blame them? In our modern age, at least in the United States, we’re seeing such a massive disparity in wealth that we can actually watch it destroy our economy, hopes, and dreams in real time. We’re seeing jobs disappear, the rise of an aristocratic class in America, and realizing that our counterparts around the industrialized and modern world tend to have much better, much easier lives. We feel hopeless to change all of this.

But don’t fret, because pre-revolution Russians felt REALLY similar (they actually felt worse)! So we got that in common. We can look to history to see how to prevent it from happening again. The easiest way to avoid a Bolshevik Revolution is to not dissolve the monarchy and put a highly divided, inept government in place while fighting a major land war against Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Likewise, don’t free people from feudalism and have no plan on how to…

So yeah, the exact parallels don’t exactly match up. But if you look at some of the pre-Revolutionary philosophers, they saw the problem of the Revolution before it ever occurred. I don’t mean Lenin or Trotsky. I don’t even mean Bulgakov or, to a lesser extent, Florensky. Dostoevsky certainly punches the causes of the Revolution in the gut before it ever happened, but doesn’t spell it out. No, we must look to one of Dostoevsky’s good friends, The Philosopher himself (not you Aquinas, sit down), Vladimir Soloviev, or Solovyov, or whatever (I’m going with Solovyov).

Ah yes, Solovyov, of course, why not him? Who hasn’t read Solovyov? Well, pretty much everyone in the West hasn’t, so…

Vladimir Solovyov was a guy born destined to be a priest, moved toward Nihilism, then toward Catholicism, then back toward Orthodoxy. He was impressive enough that Dostoevsky based not one, but two characters in The Brothers Karamazov on him (Aloysha and Zosima; impressive when you consider Aloysha is named for Dostoevsky’s son who passed away with 3 years old, but still took on the characteristics of Solvoyov). He was a big believer in ecumenism founded on love and truth and a bigger believer in a government that was economically progressive and socially libertarian. Oh, and he is considered a heretic by many for his going too far with his teachings on the Divine Sophia. So close.

The thing is, Solovyov saw the Revolution coming and wrote about it in the 1880s. He saw that a great European war would strain the resources of Russia and cause the people to finally revolt, to revolt against a Church entrenched within an oppressive government, to revolt against a monarchy that had abused the people for centuries, to revolt against life itself. He saw that they’d establish a totalitarian regime based on modernism and that this regime would eventually collapse, years after the revolution (seriously, he predicted all of this; absurdly impressive and unfortunately the book is packed away right now so I can’t offer citations). And he saw that, way back in 1880, the Revolution could be stopped. Alas, no one listened to him.

His solutions, however, apply to more than Russia. His solutions are, in a typical Russian way, very vague, very specific, and very paradoxical. In many ways, they only apply to Russia at that specific time and place. But in other ways, they apply to all nations at all times (such as his maxim, and I’m paraphrasing here because, again, my books are packed away, “It is okay to love one’s country, but love other countries as much as you love your own”). Solovyov’s entire system in that it’s theological-philosophical, but can be adopted and embraced by anyone of any faith. You could boil his entire system down to one thing: Love. The entire economic and political system of Solovyov boils down to loving others. Seems simple enough, but it’s not.

See, to Solovyov, revolutions occur because people are treated like shit, but we’re not shit, we’re more than that. He throws off the notion that humans are basically good or basically evil and rather argues we have the capacity to be good and evil, but what matters is what we choose to be. The path to choosing good must begin with the belief that we have some purpose in life, something more than wasting oxygen in a cycle that will inevitably end billions of years from now. That purpose is to grow in love, which even the atheist who denies all purpose in life can embrace so long as he has a streak of existentialism within.

Growing in love means holding to a belief in the common good, or doing what is best for all. Not the greater good (the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people), but the common good, looking out for everyone, even the assholes. But all of this is still vague, so let’s break down how we look out for the common good:

  1. Remember that human dignity actually exists. What that means is that every human being, whether obscenely wealthy or obscenely impoverished, holds value. No one holds any more intrinsic value than anyone else, which means that all legitimate concerns are valid (there are illegitimate concerns, but we won’t get into that).
  2. Remember that we’re a part of something greater. In recognizing individual human dignity, we must also recognize that we’re nothing without our community and our culture. Who we are as individuals is directly tied to and reliant upon who is around us. Thus, we are born with a debt and we die with a debt to a society that forms us how we are; if we are successful, we must remember those tools came from thousands of different people instilling lessons into us to make us into who we are. No one is raised by their own bootstraps, Obama’s “You didn’t build that” would fit every well within Solovyov’s works.
  3. Remember that because we have individual dignity and because we are nothing without the community, we must not elevate ourselves above the community. Selfishness, whether through petty robbery or through low wages to increase profit rob the community. It isolates us from the reality of our existence, which is what causes the economic anxiety and, on a deeper level, the existential angst, that deep desire for something other than our current life, so prevalent in our modern times.

The problem with Russia is that they ignored all of the above. They kept giving power to aristocrats, they ignored the workers, they ignored the pleas to depart from the war, they ignored the cries for fairer treatment. The Russian people cried out for dignity and were met with a very strong nyet, so the Russian people said, “Oh, okay then, well, how’s about a nice revolution?” And thus 1917.

And here we are, 100 years later in the United States, failing to learn from Russia’s mistake. Listen to modern debates over things that shouldn’t be so vitriolic, like healthcare or fair wages. We all understand, or should understand, that businesses do have to make a profit in order to stay open (this is true even in a Communist society; the profits are just shared among the workers or the community…or in the case of Soviet Russia, “shared” by a bureaucrat), that doctors need to make money to continue their practice and education, and that there has to be an exchange of goods that can at times be pricy. But we also need to understand that people need to, you know, live. That they too need to make a profit on their labor and not the bare minimum acceptable, that they need money for more than the necessities so they can enjoy leisure.

The problem in the modern age is we have two political parties that have seemingly forgotten (or, let’s be honest, never knew about) Solovyov’s core principles. We’re currently attempting to pass tax legislation that not only denies the existence of human dignity, it straight up lights the concept with fire and pisses on it to put it out. We tell the poor to work harder, ignoring that the system is set up to harm those who are poor despite their hard work. The wealthy, especially with the latest GOP tax bill, puts petty charges in there to jab at the poor, as a reminder to them that they are poor and therefore lesser. Their dignity doesn’t matter as much as someone who is wealthy because we have this stupid myth that being wealthy means you’ve actually earned your wealth without anyone’s help at all.

So when the poor in the US have had too much, when they can’t stand to be insulted and have their dignity robbed from them by working 7 days a week between two jobs only to still live paycheck to paycheck, when they grow tired of watching their children suffer from preventable diseases, when they realize that they’re being scammed by the ruling elite in the US, and then they decide to elect a strongman leftist, an open and avowed Socialist who comes with all the centralized socialism you could ever want, they can look back in sorrow on Solovyov as he tamps out his pipe, smiles, and says, “Told you so sukas.” (He probably wouldn’t say that). If you want to avoid a revolution here in the US – not an armed revolution, but one at the polls – then you should probably start treating everyone with dignity and class, which means we’re going to have to reform our entire economic system. Good luck with that.

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.