Monday, November 21, 2016

Treating People Like Museum Exhibits

Well, at least it is now generally agreed that it was wrong to display the stuffed body of an African Bushman.  That was not quite as bad as making lampshades out of human skin, but it was on the same spectrum, showing a massive lack of respect for the deceased person.  Why it is not also felt to be disrespectful to display the bodies of Egyptian pharaohs is not at all clear.

It is not only the dead who can be used as "edutainment" by first-world countries.  The attempt to maintain the isolation of "uncontacted" communities is likewise dehumanizing, treating the members of these communities as though they were monkeys in a zoo.  However much we may cherish the animals in a nature preserve, we would rightly bristle at the thought of anyone putting us, or anyone we consider to be genuinely our equals, in a preserve.  

It's one thing to protect indigenous peoples from being exploited or to allow them to continue in their traditional way of life, if that is their choice; it is quite another to withhold from them the information necessary to make that choice for themselves.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Donald Song

The Democrats are not the only ones who have made fools of themselves this past election cycle.  One thing many people have noticed is how prominent members of the Religious Right have made excuses for Donald Trump for behavior they would have rightly condemned from someone on the left.  They have, in fact, made an idol out of politics. With apologies to VeggieTales, they have sung the Donald Song:

The Donald, the Donald, whoa I love the Donald.
I don’t love my mom or my dad, just the Donald.
The Donald, the Donald, yeah I love the Donald.
I gave everything that I had for the Donald.
I don’t want no background when it’s time to vote –
His past indiscretions are nothing of note.
I don’t need the details of his policy.
He feels my frustrations, he’ll look out for me.
I won’t go to church and I won’t go to school,
That stuff is for sissies, but Donald is cool!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Order 66

Last night I was watching this video about "Why Yoda Should Have Prevented Order 66" in the Star Wars universe, and it occurred to me I had seen this same shock, stunned outrage, and denial not long ago:  I saw it on election night.  It was all there --  a group of people who considered themselves the elite heroes, having doomed themselves through over-confidence and having overlooked obvious warning signs, felt betrayed by people they considered scarcely human, their only function being to support the elites.  It must all be the result of a nefarious plan -- in a galaxy far, far away it was the Sith, but closer to home, Russia makes a convenient (however implausible) scapegoat.

Such melodrama is comical, in no small part because it is out of place.  Yes, Hillary Clinton's political career is as dead as Ki-Adi-Mundi, but no actual people died in this election.  The Democrats will be back, none the wiser for their defeat.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How Many Lights Are There?

Star Trek:  The Next Generation was certainly a mixed bag, but eventually the writers realized that having a great actor in Patrick Stewart opened up some possibilities that would not have worked with a lesser actor.  The story line leading to this scene is a great example of those enhanced possibilities.

In this scene, a Cardassian interrogator, Gul Madred, offers Picard what appears to be a final choice:  Picard can remain stubborn, in which case the Madred very plausibly assures him he will suffer continuing torment for the rest of his life, or Picard can give in to a "small" demand and reject the reality he sees in front of him, in which case the interrogator gives Picard a much less believable assurance of a life of cultured ease.  What is really happening is something that is, I understand, really done in ordeals of this type:  Gul Madred is trying to break Picard's will and spirit.  Because Picard has been subjected to prolonged physical and psychological abuse, he nearly succumbs -- but of course, being as he is one of the main heroes of the series, Picard ultimately bests his tormentor.

One thing that particularly strikes me this year is how much our election process is similar to Picard's test.
  1. Both involve similar combinations of plausible threats and implausible promises.
  2. Both involve not so much deception as the willful rejection of reality.
  3. Both are designed to break those to whom they are applied.
These last two points are the interesting ones.

The political left in America has been about the willful rejection of reality for quite some time.  Perhaps the earliest example, and one of the most morally significant examples, is abortion.  Maybe -- just maybe -- a person can have real doubt that an unborn child at two months of development is, in fact, a child, but an honest person cannot really be in doubt as the months go on.  That, ultimately, is why those who joined the Democratic Party for more traditional reasons -- support for labor unions, for example, or later an opposition to Jim Crow laws -- have been forced not only to back abortion, but to protect abortion at any time up to and including the moment when the child is actually being born.  It is necessary to be sure that they are broken.

There are other examples.  It's hard to forget the image of Jesse Jackson, who once perhaps was serious about being a Christian minister, counseling Bill Clinton that oral sex with Monica Lewinsky wasn't really adultery.  Another blatant example is the more recent insistence that first Democratic politicians and then the public as a whole accept that two men (or two women) can marry each other, and that there is no sense in which what has been traditionally been understood to be marriage is in any way more real.  Very likely the leadership of the left (like many others, to be fair) are moral nihilists who don't believe there is any reality to any marriage, just fictions people tell themselves and each other in order to achieve the desired effects -- but that does not suffice to explain their insistence that everyone else accept the "new reality".  Making sure that they are broken, on the other hand, does explain the insistence.

By no means is this limited to the left, though; the right has its own version, most prominently around Donald Trump.  Consider, for example, the leaders of the "religious right" who have endorsed and supported Trump while downplaying Trump's moral failings.  Yes, this has destroyed their claim to moral authority in a way that has not escaped public notice and seems certain to do lasting damage to the "religious right" as an institution, but it has done more than that; it has broken them.  On the other hand, maybe this will not do lasting damage to their institution (though it should); there seems to have been little consequence to them for their support of Newt Gingrich, who has many of the same flaws.  Perhaps it will make a difference that Trump has actually bragged about how broken his supporters are.

One way or the other, it bodes ill that this year's whole election process has been corrupted to break down the American public mentally and spiritually.

Understand that Gul Madred did not really believe there were three lights.  That was not the point.  The next day, perhaps the answer he would have demanded would have been five lights, and after that two light.  The point was that Picard was to allow him to define reality.  Only once Picard was fully trained to accept fully and unquestioningly Madred's definitions of reality would Madred begin to make full use of his power.

Toward what end are we being trained in 2016?