Friday, August 28, 2015
So another "disgruntled" ex-employee marched into his former place of business, shot the person who'd taken his job and two other people who happened to be in the vicinity, then died in the resulting shootout with the police. What makes this case notable is the role of the media. The workplace was a TV station, the "disgruntled" ex-employee was a former newsman, the people he shot were the current news-anchor and her cameraman and a woman she was interviewing, the killer was carrying a gun in one hand and a video-camera in the other, he published a 15-page manifesto on the Internet (which revealed his motivations and psychology at great length), and the whole thing wound up on prime-time TV.
Naturally the media had a field day with this story. Not only were the victims -- and the killer -- Their Own, but there was plenty of footage covering the whole event, some of it from the killer's own camera. What's interesting are the varying media reactions.
The usual hardcore anti-gun crowd are trumpeting the usual cliches (and the usual lies) about the Evils of Guns, and When Will America Wake Up and Scrap the 2nd Amendment -- but they're sounding rather weak nowadays, especially as the FBI crime statistics have revealed some embarrassing facts. Among these are: 1) the homicide/gun-homicide/violent-crime rates in America have been falling since the 1990s, which (coincidentally?) is the same period when the majority of states made it easier for civilians to obtain firearms concealed-carry permits, the number of permits and the number of civilian gun-owners skyrocketed; 2) an average of 10,000 Americans every year are killed by firearms, while at least 900,000 Americans every year prevent violent crimes by use of a firearm (and the number could easily be twice as high); 3) the vast majority of gun-homicides (85%) every year are committed by young Black males. Oops.
Far more pundits concentrated on the killer's manifesto, where he ranted about racism, the recent church shooting and its clear racist motives (by one vicious punk), and police killings of Blacks (ignoring police shootings of poor Whites, Indians and Asians). He also raved about losing his job to a White woman and claimed it was because he was Gay as well as Black, but the commentators played down that part. Those first two points gave plenty of fodder for raps about Racism In America by Black petty-politicians -- such as "leaders" of Black Lives Matter, and Al "Mighty Mouth" Sharpton. Interestingly, there are far fewer -- if any -- such raps from the Gay community, probably because Gays are used to enduring worse treatment and more often.
Only a few news analysts I've heard have focused on the killer's manifest -- and manifestoed -- personality. He was obviously a self-obsessed, infantile, paranoid, malignant narcissist who blamed everybody else in the world for his disappointments in life. Comments from the TV station where the event happened make it clear that the killer lost his job not because he was Black, or Gay, but because he was "thin-skinned", "touchy", took everything as a personal attack, and got along with nobody. It's not surprising that a personality like that, when the station suffered shrinking income and had to lay off some personnel, got the boot.
The problem is that nobody realized that such a personality could actually be dangerous, could come back to the studio two years after he was fired and shoot up the place -- and that is exactly the problem. Much of modern middle-class culture encourages infantilism like this, and doesn't realize the danger of encouraging it, let alone have any strategy for discouraging it. Various pundits have discussed the importance of spotting people with serious mental problems before they get to the point of shooting (or bombing, or knifing) random targets, but what good is mental-health testing when the society applying the tests doesn't recognize the problem when they see it?
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Bibliolatry -- the worship of a book -- is the curse that plagues the three major religions of the western world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Regarding a Holy Book as containing sacred power by itself makes it unquestionable, and freezes the mind of the worshipers in the mental attitudes common at the time of the book's writing, and allows no possibility of change or learning from subsequent experience, even over centuries -- a rigidity which puts the worshipers increasingly out of touch with the real world, with all the friction that implies.
The Jews, to their credit, consider only the first five books of the Old Testament to be sacred -- the Five Books of Moses -- and all the rest are commentary. Even so, the ambiguities of ancient Hebrew allow for wide interpretation of even those five books. Ancient Hebrew was a pidgin, a trade-language cobbled together from the tongues of twelve different tribes, with a large smattering of ancient Egyptian, and as such it was word-poor -- containing less than 10,000 words when the Five Books were written. Since there weren't very many words in the language, each word had to carry the freight of several meanings; just which meaning was intended in any given sentence had to be guessed at from the context. This makes a language excellent for poetry, but very poor at anything requiring precision -- such as history or law -- as the authors were quite aware. This means that the Old Testament was never meant to be taken literally, not even by those who wrote it. This did not stop the Orthodox Jews, over the centuries, from arguing over the precise meaning of those imprecise words until they created a rigid code of behavior and ritual which sets them apart -- sometimes dangerously so -- from the rest of the world. Reform Judaism grew up after modern scholarship revealed the facts about the Old Testament -- the ambiguity of the original language, the effect of ancient Egyptian politics on the writing, and the multiple authorship. That last had been obvious from the beginning; the collection is called the Five Books of Moses, but in the accounts Moses dies in the second book, so somebody else had to finish the rest of them. The likeliest candidate is Aaron, Moses' brother, who had been a priest in Egypt -- and not a priest of Yahweh. The Reform Jews used this knowledge to break free of the ancient bibliolatry and shape their religion with a more enlightened attitude, extracting moral and philosophical lessons out of the ancient writings, rather than being bound to ritual observances. This is why most modern Jews are Reform rather than Orthodox.
Christianity, which evolved out of Judaism, followed a somewhat similar path. Its holy book, the New Testament, is the account of the life and death of Ieshua bar-Ioseph of Nazareth and his immediate followers, and was written in Aramaic sometime in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. This was during the Roman occupation of Judea, which followed the Alexandrian Greek occupation after the conquests of Alexander the Great. At that time the literate people in Judea spoke, and wrote, in Aramaic -- which was a hybrid of Hebrew and Greek. Whether Ieshua himself spoke Aramaic or Hebrew is anyone's guess, since he was the son of a carpenter and wasn't raised with the expectation of a literary profession but worked -- presumably at his father's trade -- until he took up preaching in his 30s. Just what he preached was religious reform: direct mental contact with the Jewish god, rather than blind observance of ritual and dutiful subservience to the temple priesthood. His proposed reforms earned him the enmity of the priesthood, and his popularity gained him the hostility of the paranoid local king, which got him killed. Ieshua never claimed to be anything but a Jewish religious reformer; it was his followers who labeled him Messiah and deified him in memory, so that his legend spread after his death. The first written account of his life wasn't penned until nearly 60 years after his death, and the rest still later, so none of the Gospels were eyewitness accounts. The official New Testament was put together by a council of bishops in the 3rd century, and those bishops left accounts of the several other books that they threw out of the final version. The custom of considering the book itself to be holy and unuestionable didn't start until Constantine (on his death-bed, if indeed it was him instead of his pious wife speaking) made Christianity the official religion of the floundering Roman empire. As the religion spread and the empire collapsed, the book became the emblem of the church's power -- and so remained holy and unquestionable for another thousand years. It wasn't until literacy and learning returned to Europe on any sizable scale, during the Renaissance, that anyone started questioning the book's supposed absolute accuracy. Not until the 19th century did scientific discoveries, contradicting the book's claims, make acceptance of its literal inaccuracy widespread. The parables of Ieshua -- which he clearly labeled as parables -- and the obvious symbols and allegories of the gospel of John made it easier to accept the entire book as a collection of parables, myths and symbols. Even so, there are large numbers of people even today who try to insist that the entire book is literally true -- and therefore science is wrong.
Islam was largely the creation, in the 600s, of one man: an Arabian tent-maker who lucked into early marriage to a wealthy widow. Muhammed was prone to mild epileptic fits, during which he saw ecstatic visions. When his wife died and left him a wealthy widower, he consolidated his visions into a religion composed of fragments from the Christian bible and his own creations. Muhammed was illiterate, so he hired a small army of clerks and dictated his visions, thoughts and memories to them. Just how accurately those clerks transcribed his accounts, and how much they added or subtracted according to their own political agendas, nobody knows. Muhammed was also ambitious, and used his inherited wealth to hire troops and entice armed allies. He courted the local Jews and Christians, hoping to win them over to his religion, but when they declined he grew angry with them and took to conquering them instead. By the time he died, Muhammed was an exceedingly wealthy conqueror whose empire stretched across Arabia and much of the middle-east. His notes to his clerks were collected into a single book, which was subsequently called the Koran; it was used as the emblem of his new religion and the justification for his empire. His heirs fell to squabbling over who would inherit which part of his empire, thus creating the major divisions within Islam, but all of them claimed the Koran as their holy and unquestionable justification. No one in the conquered territories dared to question the absolute truth and holiness of the Koran for another thousand years. In the 19th century the Baha'i sect dared to claim that the revelations of the Koran might be transcended by later revelations, for which various imams and ayatollahs denounced the Baha'is and declared them not to be Muslims at all. In the 20th century a scholar revealed, in a novel called "The Satanic Verses", the fact that Muhammed had not directly written the Koran, for which various imams and ayatollahs put out a death-order on him. Only in the safety of distant countries have any modern Muslim scholars questioned the holy unquestionability of the Koran, and they haven't made much headway anywhere else. Instead, the current wave of Jihadis -- typified by ISIL -- have made themselves a threat to everyone else in the world with their strict adherence to the absolute literal interpretation of the Koran.
What history has shown is that bibliolatry creates extensive and unnecessary warfare with one's neighbors, and likewise destructive treatment of one's own people. Religions that indulge in it descend into stagnation at best and savagery at worst. No religion has advanced into modern enlightenment without freeing itself from such holy-book worship and allowing its worshipers to think for themselves. To put it another way, no sensible god would be pleased at seeing humans blindly worship questionable writings, instead of learning from the signs the god currently gives them or using the brains he gave them in the first place.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
On the anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting the usual protesters, now calling themselves part of the Black Lives Matter organization, did their usual peaceful march down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, with the cops out in force watching them. Nothing happened until the sun went down and visibility got poor. Then, just like last year, a bunch of Black provocateurs started throwing rocks and bottles at the cops. One of them started waving a gun around -- as the news cameras caught -- and the cops shot him, nonfatally, and hauled him off to jail. His relatives posed for the cameras, weeping and wailing that it was all a mistake, and their son was a good boy.
But there were some differences between this year's "unrest" and last year's. For one thing, this year the cops didn't go merrily hog-wild and attack the whole protest march, but only shot the one fool and arrested him; they seem to have learned some self-control in the past year.
Second, as the protesters and even the police insisted to the reporters, the troublemakers were not the protest marchers but "two gangs" of crooks who "took advantage of the cover" of the march to "settle some personal scores". I suspect that the provocateurs were a little more than that, but at least the townsfolk are beginning to realize that there's another group of players in the game.
Third, another group has joined the factions; the Oathkeepers -- a libertarian bunch of ex-military and ex-police (and sometimes not to ex-), who claim to keep the oath they swore on joining the police and/or the military: to uphold and defend the Constitution. They brought their rifles and shotguns with them, and volunteered to guard the local shops and businesses so as to prevent the kind of looting and burning that happened last year. To all accounts, it worked; none of the provocateurs went after the local shops, but tangled with the police on the street. This seems to have upset the police, who afterward ordered the Oathkeepers to leave their posts -- on the excuse that they didn't have a "license" to work as security guards.
The Oathkeepers then promised to join the protest march next day, which seems to have upset everybody: the police because they're worried about the "inflammatory" effect of all those adults carrying long-guns, the protest organizers because the Oathkeepers are largely (though not entirely) White, the media because they've convinced themselves that the Oathkeepers are "right-wingers" and therefore racists, and the provocateurs (though they don't call themselves that) because it's "unfair" that "these White guys" can walk around carrying guns without getting shot by the cops.
Actually, it would be a great idea for the Oathkeepers to march with the protesters -- especially out on the margins of the march. It would keep the cops from too readily shooting at the protesters, it would discourage the provocateurs from provoking trouble with the police, it would prove that it's a lot more than just Black lives that matter -- or Black people who get attacked by thuggish cops, and damn-well resent it --and it would display the usefulness of the 2nd Amendment. It's a win-win situation for everybody.
Of course, there are a lot of people in Ferguson who don't like any of those outcomes. Black Lives Matter has been trying terribly hard over the past year to make police abuse look like a purely racist issue, neatly ignoring the fact that more than half the unarmed civilians killed by police every year are not Black. The police really hate any bunch of civilians proving in public to do their job better than they do. The provocateurs don't like any bunch of armed civilians interfering with their business, and the media don't like the idea of armed civilians contradicting the stereotypes that the media have already set up for them. Nobody likes having their precious prejudices refuted!
Besides, libertarians and other Bill-of-Rights protectors tend to throw a monkey-wrench into pre-planned political plots of established political factions, wherever they go. Boo-hoo.
I'm writing this at 10:30 PM on Thursday, August 13, while watching the TV news. On no channel do I see any mention of anything happening in Ferguson. Was the protest march called off? Or did the Oathkeepers join the march as promised -- and nothing whatever happened?
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
The latest news on the GOP's merry competition for a 2016 candidate is the revelation that, back in May, Bill Clinton had a long phone conversation with Donald Trump, during which he urged Trump to try for the Republican nomination. The more intelligent Republicans are screeching over this, because they know -- and have been saying for awhile -- that Trump is absolute poison for the Republican Party, and this phonecall shows that Trump's campaign is a Democrat plot to get Hillary Clinton elected.
The real irony is that they're right. Trump, and his ham-fisted appeal to the worst elements of the Republican voters -- the foaming right-wingers, to be precise -- have already alienated the majority of voters, and if he won the nomination he'd guarantee a victory for Hillary in 2016. That would cripple the GOP for years to come, if not forever. They know because they've seen this done before.
It's a trick the FBI invented, 'way back in the late '60s to use against the anti-war movement and then the women's movement, called CoIntelPro. It didn't work against the peaceniks and hippies because the anti-war and counter-cultural movements were amorphous, with no central authority that could be brought down, whose collapse would destroy or at least cripple the whole movement. The FBI did manage to destroy Students for a Democratic Society, which had originally been the center of the student movement for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, but that didn't stop the movements SDS had inspired.
CoIntelPro did work against the feminists because, back then, the center of the women's movement was the National Organization of Women. Destroying NOW stalled the feminist movement for a good ten years. The way the FBI worked it was to choose a real political lunatic named Andrea Dworkin, an obese and slobby lesbian who really did hate men, and hype her to NOW with a lot of covert and overt media coverage. Her big message was that pornography encourages rape, and therefore must be censored out of existence. There are always fringees, hangers-on, in every organization, and Dworkin really appealed to the wing-nuts in NOW. Once NOW publicly agreed with her on the porno angle, this drove a wedge between the organization and all the defenders of free speech and the First Amendment. When Dworkin, encouraged by carefully-primed flatterers, began making such off-the-wall statements as "Men must give up their precious erections", NOW lost all alliance with the Sexual Revolution movement. Step by step, publicized idiocy by idiocy, Dworkin alienated all of NOW's previous supporters until there was nothing left and the organization died. The feminist movement eventually recovered, but that's another story.
Donald Trump is to the Republican Party what Andrea Dworkin was to the National Organization of Women. He appeals to the fringees -- the foaming reactionary right-wing nuts -- in the GOP, and he's covered intensely by the media (who may or may not be complicit in the game). Now a good CoIntelPro campaign depends on the absolute ignorance of the spoiler him/herself -- Dworkin never could figure out why the media stopped listening to her after NOW dissolved -- and Trump sails on with his incredibly stupid statements, apparently not realizing that all this media attention is revealing his idiocy to the world. His fool claims about Latinos has cost the GOP their vote. His crude attacks on McCain have lost him the support of veterans. His history of raiding and bankrupting various companies has made the more intelligent of the business community back far away from him, and his well-noted past statements about women's rights and environmental protection have lost him all hope of their supporters' votes. Group by group, he's peeling the Republican Party like an onion, and -- provided the GOP is stupid enough to nominate him -- by election time there'll be nothing left but the reactionary right-wing nuts, and that's absolutely not enough to win any election. Yes, even before being nominated, Trump is guaranteeing a Democrat victory.
So now we know, folks. The fix is in, the professional political manipulators are in place, and Hillary will be the next Pres. Brace yourself for a lot of disastrous laws, worsening economy, and concerted attacks on the Constitution.
What can we do about it? Spread the word: "A plague on both their houses. Vote Libertarian." Of course the Libertarian Party won't win any offices above small local ones, but the point is to collect a bigger chunk of the vote. The professionals who analyze elections will notice if enough voters become disgruntled enough with business as usual to abandon both major parties and vote for a minor one -- one that's all for cutting the size and cost and powers of government, which is anathema to the Big Two. This will, at least, shake up the Rs & Ds and make them reconsider their positions. At best, if the LP gets more than 10% of the vote, the media will take notice and just might jump ship to hitch their wagons to a rising star; they just might start hyping the Libertarians and reporting on them truthfully at long last. The presence of a viable third party just might make the Big Two clean up their act and start actually listening to the people for a change.