Sunday, October 20, 2013

Radical Fundamentalism and the Evolution of the Rattlesnake

Fundamentalism might have a role in a democracy but can it ever emerge as a majority without destroying the basic elements of the same democracy within which it thrives? The answer, of course, is no.  The very essence of a democracy is diversity. The very essence of fundamentalism is the annihilation of any diversion from its fundamentalist path.

Fundamentalism carries with it the necessity of truth.  It’s a return to the first principles of those truths.  It is assumed by fundamentalists that the truth always lies within these first principles.   The Qu'ran, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution.  All can be used as foundational constructs...but many other foundational constructs can and do exist, many within the very same constructs from which they sprung. The stronger the  foundational construct the stronger the institutions that rise up around them.  The strength of the institution, then, reinforces the truth contained within its foundation.  Mess with the foundation and you mess with the entire institution.  That’s the bottom-line of fundamentalism and it’s underlying truths are so true as to be, well, true.  Those who are extreme fundamentalist are so fervent in their belief that they are correct, based on this self evidence, emerge as self-righteous fanatics for their cause.  Unfortunately, that is what we call a self licking ice cream cone.  The evidence that you are correct in your cause is evidenced by the fact that you exist to fight for your cause.

The radical fundamentalism of the self-righteous has no role in a democracy because by definition these radicals don’t see themselves as having a role in a democratic process.  Once you have found the truth, there can be no negotiation.  After all, you can’t compromise on the truth. Without compromise you have no democracy.

Returning to foundational principles with it’s presupposed definition of singular truth is alien to reason.  Belief in a single truth from among the infinite number of truths that surround us hems in diversity.  Evolution occurs.  It’s not a scientific theory to be debated any more then warm is warm and cold is cold.  It’s a fact of life. Everything evolves.  Plants, animals, systems, cycles, and processes.  Nothing is immune from either change or the passage of time. So too is the evolution of democracy as a system of government.  

In 1833 the number of insect species on earth was estimated to be 400,000. That prediction was made by the entomologist John Obadiah and he is quoted as having said, “If we say, 400,000, we shall, perhaps, not be very wide of the truth.”  Today we have cataloged over a million species of insects and as for the potential number of all species on the planet that number could simply grow higher than 8 million with 15,000 new species being cataloged each year.  Of course that number could also be seen as, not “very wide of the truth” as well but we have to keep in mind, even today, there is still plenty of disagreement in how it was derived.  This type of biodiversity is the cornerstone of our great blue planet.  We also have a huge diversity in the way the 7 billion people on earth choose to live and govern or be governed.  This is something to be embraced, not feared.

Evolution works extremely well.  The very fact that we are screwing around with genetics is already happening within the broader context of global change. We have evolved as humans  to the point where we can screw around directly with our own genes.   There are two possible outcomes.  Those who screw around with genetics will doom us to extinction.  Or, conversely, our doom is imminent and those who screw around with our genetics might just be the ones who can actually defer some of us from extinction.  The trick of evolution is the changes occur simultaneously and it’s hard to know in advance which change is useful.  The change that wins doesn’t necessarily know it has won.  The change that has lost doesn’t really know it’s lost because it’s not around to argue it’s point.

When I first started driving, over 30 years ago, all squirrels in Northern Virginia ran out in front of your car. When they felt the threat of a 3,000 lbs metallic animal bearing down on them, they instinctively reversed direction and ran straight back to their tree.  Sadly this reversal to run back to safety took them straight under the back tires of the car. Squish.  Unfortunately, it will be hard to do research, other than anecdotal, on the gene that causes squirrels to reverse directions and die because we haven’t been collecting statistics on the subject.  What is clear, is that when squirrels in Northern Virginia now dart out into the road most of them run as straight as an arrow and never reverse direction.  It appears that cars have eliminated that “turn-back” gene from the squirrel gene pool.  Only squirrels with a weak impulse to reverse direction have survived to reproduce.  Or, squirrels with a strong impulse to run straight were the only ones who have survived.  Or it could be a combination of both. Any way you look at it, that’s how evolution works, and there are less dead squirrels on the roads..

A more recent example where the science is being collected, but is still considered an urban myth in some circles, is that of the plight of the Prairie Rattlesnake.  The Prairie Rattlesnake is losing it’s ability to rattle.  Basically the theory is that in the presence of man, only the rattlesnakes that are predisposed to either stay silent, or genetically have an atrophied rattle muscle, are the ones that are surviving to reproduce.  The ones that are noisy to warn of their presence had this evolved survival trait to avoid being tread-on or perhaps eaten. This trait was once an asset but has now become a liability.  In the presence of man, it’s hard to not have our own self-survival instinct kick-in and meet the sound of a rattle with sound of shovel hitting the ground or, better yet, a shotgun blast.  Heck, you don’t even have to hear a rattle to kill a snake.  Snakes have that whole Garden of Eden thing working against them.  Time and time again one can find a suburban homeowner  flushing the harmless black snake from their den, where they have ironically protected the homeowners property from mice and other vermin for years, only to find the deep mahogany stain of their blood on the black asphalt street.  The homeowner stands proud, garden hoe in hand, self-righteously believing that he has made the world, or at least his cul-de-sac piece of the world, a safer place to live.  Judge, jury, and executioner, all in one.  I, on the other hand, feel a weakening in the Force. 

The snake’s life, however needlessly taken, doesn’t compare to the life of Trayvon Marshall, also needlessly taken by the self-righteous, self-appointed, self-protector of property in Sanford Florida.  Strangely, the law-of-the-land, in that neck of the woods defends such behavior, known as stand-your-ground.  Stand-your-ground works on the prairie and in the old west, where there are no laws.  There are only those who are hunting and those who are hunted. It’s not quite to that point in Florida yet, but there is no doubt that’s one of our 50 States happens to moving in that direction...the direction of the wild west.  After centuries of maturing democratic thought, which gave us civil society and the cloister of the upscale modern suburban neighborhood to begin with, do we still need vigilantes keeping the peace?  Another weakening of the Force.

Recently, the Boy Scout’s of America troop leader’s Dave Hall and Glenn Taylor, believed they had come across a cache of “WMD” while hiking through Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.  The men discovered a stone, which, by most estimates, had been standing for 200 Million years. They believed that particular stone was getting ready to fall upon the next young troop or family  heading down that particular path. After 200 Million years they happened upon that moment in history where the threat was real and present.  The rattlesnake was about to strike.  They toppled the stone, on video, to proclaim their sovereignty, the protector of scouts, of lives, and of the world.  They made their 200 million year decision in about 15 minutes talking among themselves.  They made the world safer place by toppling that stone.  It’s probably wrong for me to wish that stone would  have rolled the other way.  Yet another weakening of the Force.

Self-righteous behavior leads to disaster.  Why? Because by reasoning to first principles, by becoming a fundamentalist, you can always justify your behavior. Safety first, after all.  Rather, what we should be doing, is thinking.  Democracy exists for those who can think, those who can reason.  It sprung from the imaginations of those who wished to only reason.  These were men who wanted to break free from the tyranny of oppression at the hands of a few fundamentalists who believed in their own sovereignty as Lords over other men, those proclaimed as Monarchs.  The government that emerged has been the greatest in history...thus far.  The louder we proclaim with our own self-righteousness about our system of government being the best, the more other systems of government take note...particularly those within their those culture who are themselves leaning toward the self-righteous...can we all be right?

What’s so strange about this behavior, on our end, is that the Bible, one of the most fundamental of all documents, the one that guided the development of western culture and the evolution of our democratic system, doesn’t teach self-righteousness.  It teaches exactly the opposite.  It teaches humility, awe, wonder and selfless behavior.  Why then are there so many self-righteous fundamentalists on the loose?  There are certainly a lot of freedom loving folks living in democracies these days.  But freedoms and democracy don’t teach self-righteousness behavior either.  Democracy teaches equality first and then compromise.  If we are all equal, that’s everything, our rights and our beliefs, all equal.  To exist together, we then must compromise, and then respect the bounds of the compromises once they have been created. We can’t all be right, in fact, most of us must be wrong from time to time.

Our system of government is set up to evolve.  To evolve in whatever direction the majority and norms of society might take it...good or bad, but mostly good.   Our entire system of government is based on the equality of men, not the self-righteousness of man.  Ironically, the democratic system of government is the one system that allows bastions of self-righteous fundamentalist to exist.  In any other government, if they were not the ruling class, they would be eliminated.  

However, these enclaves of extreme behavior, are in fact necessary in a democracy.  They create the diversity necessary within a democratic society to evolve.  This diversity as a country  makes us stronger.  It gives us a vast gene pool of genetic material from which to grow and change.  That progress shouldn’t be viewed as good or bad.  It should be viewed simply as the evolution necessary to survive.  Because that’s exactly what it has been doing since our Founding Fathers set it up.  Those men of reason who gave us our constitution.

The U.S. Constitution is a living and evolving construct.  We can’t base our system of government firmly on it’s foundation, rather we need to base our lives on the flexibility of how it can change.  That’s the way we will evolve and survive.  That’s the way our system of government was set it can change.  So we can change it.  It’s not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th amendments to our constitution that are it’s bedrock.  It’is all of the other  amendments as well.  Including the 13th, and perhaps even more important,  the 18th and 21st that serve as a stark reminder that we can always screw things up...and then, after a few years without a beer, go back and fix it. Democracy must be free to evolve and we can change it.  That’s what’s important about our system of government.  I for one prefer an evolving that can change and one with which I can sit down to discuss these weighty matter with my within which I can also have a beer...and I thank God for the 21st amendment almost everyday...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thomas Sowell, George Will, and the Appalling of James Madison

The Face of Appalled
I find it fascinating that that so many intellectuals are also passionately wrong with regard to who is at fault in the stalemate of the US Government today. The libertarian Thomas Sowell…who perhaps, in his day, was on par with giants such as Ron Paul, can no longer reason clearly. In his recently published post, Who Shut the Government Down, Sowell gets it so wrong as to suggest his days of clear reason have passed him by. The same can be said for the well respected journalist, George Will, who recently was interviewed on NPR and simply demonstrated that he can no longer express himself in a way that makes sense, read or listen to the interview with George Will yourself on NPR. Both are fans of James Madison. Both should go back and reread what they know of the man before they back the anti-government anarchists of the Tea Party movement who currently are using his good name to destroy our Country.

With regard to Sowell’s piece, no one objects to the House of Representatives using the power of the purse. They should use their powers as the check and balance it was designed to be. The Tea Party conservatives, however, are abusing that power. Abuse of power is what everyone is afraid of…right? Everyone is afraid President Obama abuses his power…and he is called into check when it occurs. Our system of government demands the checks and balances but it also demands compromise. Compromise is one of the greatest of the Madisonian gifts to our Country. There has to be a threshold, upon which we can all agree that someone has won and someone has lost. The issue of ObamaCare has been decided again and again and again. But like spoiled brats who haven’t gotten their own way…those in opposition continue to scream and yell about the loss. If our children acted out like that would we give them what they want? Or would we send them to military school? (like that GdDmn Finkelstein Shit-Kid)

The fact that others (democrats included) have abused their power in the past certainly doesn’t make it right. Mr. Sowell, seems to agree with that fact…even suggesting that it might be bad. He must know that two wrongs don’t make it a right…isn’t that what we learn as children? Bad behavior isn’t precedence. Bad behavior should be an experience we learn from and try not to repeat. Yes it’s a matter of opinion…as to what constitutes bad behavior…just as children often fail to recognize they are behaving poorly, that’s their opinion. And I definitely agree, if the Republicans do bring forth an area of the government to fund, even if line by line, the Democrats should fund it. Line by line is better than a total barricade. So to the Democrats have been sucked into this dysfunctional behavior by refusing to go line by line but they didn’t start the fire. You can't blame every child for burning down the house if only one of them was playing with matches.

With regard to Mr. Will, whereas it might not seen like he is acting childish, his adherence to what James Madison has said, particularly in his discussion of the Federalist papers now being used by the Tea Party Republicans to justify their position, could easily stand a refresh. He’s either forgotten or is simply looking the other way. Look no further than Federalist #58. One must ask if Representative Mark Meadows even read the paper before using this quote to support his position.

“This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

This quote is followed quickly by another…establishing that holding the power of the purse comes with it certain adult responsibilities not lost on Madison.

“Those who represent the dignity of their country in the eyes of other nations will be particularly sensible to every prospect of public danger, or of dishonorable stagnation in public affairs.”

For Mr. Sowell and Mr. Will to blame this government shut down on anyone other than it’s architects, Mark Meadows and Tedd Cruz, and possibly Republican’s who don’t have the backbone to keep their childish impulses in check, is to simply be looking for excuses, another favorite tactic of 10 year olds.

Regardless of the political posturing and the political rhetoric that abounds…and what ultimately may occur…the government shut-down is no good. Exceeding our debt limit is no good. Being a dysfunctional government is no good. Those are not lies of any kind…the proportionality of holding the Government hostage over ObamaCare is completely out of balance. That is why this Republican strategy is abusive. That is the total sum of the issue. James Madison would be appalled.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ferris Bueller and the Anti-Government Republican Shut-Down

About 10 years ago I held a "press conference" and stepped away from the Republican party declaring myself an Independent. Fast forward to today... I now would like to add my caveat that perhaps that was a mistake. I'm pretty main stream so if I became an Independent 10 years ago, I'm certain I was not alone. So when others, like me, left the party, we quite possibly drained it of any remaining rational thought. And as more rational thinkers left the party they created a vacuum. That empty space sucked in something quite different...that something different literally makes me sick to my stomach. I'm not a big government guy, but I am a pro-government guy. Instead of having the old pro-government Republicans, like John McCain, working to stem the tide of big government, we now have new anti-government Republicans trying to stop all government in it’s tracks. That’s a whole lot different. 

I get it, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA, is the pinnacle of big government. Another colossal entitlements program. Unfortunately the PPACA made it through the gauntlet of our legislative system. It’s now a law. It’s now authoritative in nature. To change it means we must change it the way it was created...through legislation directly targeting that change. The rule of law requires that we follow rules in order to keep order. To change it any other way is to not follow the rules. It means creating new rules  to suit your own political whims. It ‘s not creative, or inventive, or special. It’s lawless, it’s stupid, it’s completely illogical, and sadly it’s incredibly dangerous. The best way to define lawlessness would be to picture the chaos resulting from a competitive game played without rules. At best, the game breaks down and ceases to be a game. At worst, things break and people get hurt.

Currently the game has just broken down. The government was turned off. We are currently at that point on the field where the referee has made an arbitrary call. The players are all looking around, scratching their heads, staring at the ref, throwing their arms up and shrugging their shoulders, gesturing the universal  “What’s the call, Ref?”. Of course there will be no response. Because there is no rule to cover what has just happened on the field. A Congressman from North Carolina just pulled a rule out of his ass. And a Senator from Texas just babbled on for 24 hours.  For now, it has just created confusion. Soon, however, the Ref will walk off the field leaving no rules in his wake. And with no governance and no authority we are left with what? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? We are left with the absence of government otherwise known as anarchy. And what's in store for  us is not the celebration of anarchy that the Tea Party so desperately wants for us--the celebration during the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, set to the song, “Danke Schoen”, or thank you very much.  Rather, It’s the inability to turn back the odometer, to reset what has occurred, to fix what has been broken. In reality it’s the destruction our beautiful car, a vintage Ferrari, the governance of our Republic all to the soundtrack of "Twist and Shout" or "Green, Eggs, and Ham", take your pick. That’s where the revolutionaries will take us...the Tea Party revolutionaries...Mark Meadows, Ted Cruz, and the delusional Rand Paul to name a few. That’s not where we need to least not for another 10 or 12 centuries.  Shame on me and shame on those of us who left the Republican Party and left strong Americans like John McCain to fight against big government with the radical clowns of anti-government who took our place. I really am sick to my stomach and now I really do have to stay home from school...