Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ship, Horses, Beaver, Woman, Planet

I didn't make this film, but I wish I did. It is absolute perfection. You've got everything in it: a ship,  horses, a beaver, a woman, and a planet. The entire universe realized in the space of a minute! Watch it on full view and allow yourself to be swept away by that majesty of it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Concerning Resistance to Repression in Our Current Age (With a Peculiar Digression into the Realm of the Proboscis)

The mechanism of repression and control are evident in every aspect of life in the 21st century.  What we eat, how we communicate, who we vote for, how we entertain ourselves, and the like, are all completely programmed by our true overlords.  They want us to think that we have freedom of choice, and, indeed, we do perhaps in the most innocuous of matters.  But in the things that really count, freedom and self-determination are myths—illusions created by those in control to give the semblance of democracy and prevent open revolt.

And we, like the docile creatures that we are—more like cattle than puppies, because at least puppies become dogs and eventually develop fangs that can be used for self-defense—willingly agree to our own abject servitude.  We go through the motions of living, but we are not really alive; for to be truly alive is to be self-determined, to have a vision of the good life that is uniquely our own, and to act at times capriciously, wantonly, even imprudently, simply because we choose to do so.   And we have none of these abilities any longer.   
Dissent, resistance, and revolt are impossible, because the mechanisms of control are so total, so all-pervasive, that the dissenter would be annihilated before he utters the first word of critique.  And far from being able to count on the support of his fellow citizens, the dissenter would be carried over to judgment and tribulation by his own neighbor and his own child.   He stands alone, and therefore he stands in ruin. 

It is madness, then, to challenge the control of the elites, but it is equal madness to allow oneself to become part of the herd, to lose the only power that we have left as human beings—the ability to internally dissent and thus retain some small shred of our original autonomy.   And so I dissent, and in doing so, proclaim as loudly as any revolutionary that I am free, and will remain so as long as I refuse to give in to the overlords control over the workings of my soul. 
But what form shall my personal dissent take?  Curled toes and snarling lips are overplayed: the overlords would recognize them immediately as symbols of revolt.  The raised pinkie and furrowed eyebrow are too subtle: they could as easily bespeak a “come-hither” insinuation as a challenge to the status quo.  No, if there is to be true internal revolt, it can only be symbolized by the nose. 

The nose.
The nose.
The nose.

The nose.  It is so conspicuous, but so filled with mystery.  It sits happily on the surface of our faces, yet it is the true window to our human souls.  With every breath we take, the outer world mingles with the inner, the mundane realm conjoins with the spiral.  The nose is also the ultimate symbol of contempt for authority: I thumb my nose at you, I raise my nose in disgust at your malfeasance, I blow my nose in your general direction as the ultimate manifestation of my hatred for you. 
And so I create nose art.  And in creating nose art, I free myself from the control of the overlords.  I create nose art and I become the free man that I was born to be.   I create nose art and I expose my potestas animi  (my vital spiritual power) brazenly for all to see.

And thus with the nose, ends all tyranny!



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Changing the Way We Do Business


I have to confess that the Internet often bugs me.  Most of us living in the 21st century, after all, have become virtual slaves to web-based programs like Google,  Flickr, and Amazon.   These programs were supposed to make our lives easier and enhance our freedom, but the opposite has proven to be the case.  We are now poised to become a generation of Internet idiots—people who will no longer have the attention spans required to write great novels, study philosophy, or practice meditation, or who will no longer have the emotional intelligence needed to interact meaningfully with our fellow human beings.  And that’s mainly due to our addiction to the soul-sucking Internet. 

That having been said, every now and then I come upon a website that actually has the potential to transform human society for the better.  And when that happens, it slightly reaffirms my faith in the Internet as a tool for personal and social empowerment.

Change.org, I believe, represents what is best about the Internet, because it allows ordinary people like you and me to harass the powerful and mighty into changing the way they do business.  Last fall, for example, Molly Katchpole, a 22 year old nanny, was incensed that Bank of America wanted to charge a $5 a month fee for the use of debit cards.  Molly wrote a petition on Change.org, and 306,000 signatures later, Bank of America totally backed down on their plans. 

More recently, another ordinary American, Mark Shields, gathered 250,000 petition signatures to demand better working conditions at Chinese factories making Apple products like iPhones and iPads.  Conditions in these factories are so appalling that there has recently been a rash of workers—including child laborers—killing themselves out of despair.  A lurid New York Times  exposé wasn’t able to shame Apple into changing its practices, but Mark’s petition seems to be having some effect.  Yesterday, Apple’s CEO announced that the company will immediately be starting factory inspections in China.

As I was searching through the Change.org site, there were several petitions that I immediately signed (one being a petition to end corporate personhood) and I was inspired to begin writing my own petition for a cause that is near and dear to my own heart—calling for the end of China’s genocide against the people of Tibet. 

My question to each of you out there is:  is there some cause about which you feel strongly enough that you’d be willing to sign a petition or even start your own?  If so, what would this cause be? 

You know what my causes are… Now share yours.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yes, But What Does It Mean?

According to a recent report issued by the Mercatus Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank out of George Mason University, one-third of all Americans received some form of means-based public assistance, like Medicaid or food stamps, in 2010. The report then goes on to say that when Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits are included, nearly half the country—148 million Americans—were living in a household receiving some form of government benefits.



This comes at a time when less than half of all Americans are paying income tax.

It makes your blood boil, doesn’t it? Just think about it: half the country footing the bill for the benefits of the other half; the industrious ones being crippled by onerous tax burdens to prop up those who are too lazy or stupid to take care of themselves.

The problem with this report is that Social Security, Medicare, and even unemployment benefits are not “gifts” from the federal government. People pay into these programs throughout the course of their working careers, and, therefore, they can hardly be considered government entitlements. So the 50% number is pure propaganda designed to enrage those who look for any excuse at all to bash any and all government programs—even successful ones like Social Security and Medicare .

This is not to say that we don’t have a problem in this country, however. When one-third of the country is so poor that they require public assistance and when one-half of all taxpayers make so little that the government can’t even tax them, that should concern all of us, because it means that our country is on an unsustainable economic path. The question is how do we interpret this data.

Economic conservatives like those at the Mercatus Center and the Heritage Foundation would argue that the size of the American government itself is the issue. They would probably maintain that government programs designed to assist the poor actually create a perverse incentive not to work, while at the same time penalizing those who are the most industrious in the country. The solution, then, would be to dramatically reduce the size of government, thus lowering taxes, giving wealth creators (i.e., the rich) more money to invest, and creating jobs for those Americans who actually want to work. To do this, they advocate privatizing some current government programs (Social Security, for example) and entirely eliminating other programs (Medicaid) and troublesome government agencies (The Environmental Protection Agency, among others).

Progressives, on the other hand, would interpret this data as evidence that the middle class is being squeezed economically to the point of oblivion and that our public policies, which are skewed in favor of the top 1%, are creating a nation of rich and poor. If 50% of Americans pay no taxes, they would argue, it’s because they aren’t making anywhere near enough to be taxed in the first place. Cutting government programs like unemployment benefits, Social Security or Medicare is exactly the wrong thing to do, especially at this time, they would argue, because all this will do is push more Americans into the ranks of the poor. Taking their refrain from Franklin Roosevelt, progressives would argue that, especially during difficult economic times (i.e., right now), what we need is an even stronger safety net reestablished for the most vulnerable Americans and large-scale public spending to stimulate the economy.    

So what’s the right way to interpret the data put out by the Mercatus Center? This issue, I believe, gets to the heart of politics in the United States. It pits those who believe that “government is the problem” (conservatives/libertarians) against those who believe that government has an important role to play in insuring that all citizens have a decent minimum standard of living and have access to those goods that are vital for human flourishing—employment at a living wage, adequate health care, and some degree of economic security in their old age (progressives/liberals).

So which side of this issue do you come down on and why?

Monday, February 6, 2012

March of the Crazies


As I was reading the New York Times on Saturday morning, I happened upon two stories that give a good indication of just how dangerous the reactionary right-wing in this country can be.

The first story has been all over the news this past week. The Susan B. Komen for the Cure foundation is one of the country’s largest charitable organizations in the fight against breast cancer. You’ve undoubtedly seen their ubiquitous pink ribbons on the back on people’s cars, and may have even given donations over the years to help this organization in its important work.

Last week, Komen, caving under pressure from conservatives who are determined to kill off Planned Parenthood, made an announcement that it would no longer be helping to fund Planned Parenthood’s successful program of offering breast exams to low income women, because there was supposedly a question about whether they have used taxpayer funds for abortions (they don’t and never have). Fortunately, the sane majority of our country was outraged by this decision, and Komen received a barrage of hostile emails from people who, not surprisingly, were disgusted by the politicizing of this issue. Reeling from public pressure, the Komen foundation finally announced that they would, in fact, be continuing to fund breast exams through Planned Parenthood.

The other story that caught my attention was one that hasn’t been in the media much, but may even be more important than the Komen story. The Times reported today that over the past few years activists associated with the Tea Party have been using their clout to attack local programs to conserve energy, limit sprawl, and promote public transportation. Apparently, they view these green initiatives as part of a “United Nations-led conspiracy” to undermine the freedom of Americans to live as irresponsibly and destructively as they want. Although normal Americans might laugh off this type of activism as the by-product of the paranoid and delusional mindset of the typical Tea Party fringe lunatic, the protests that have occurred in recent years have actually caused some important environmental legislation on the local level to be undermined, according to the Times.

In a recent post, I argued that younger Americans are increasingly becoming more progressive in their politics, so you would think that the type of right-wing activism that is trying to kill off Planned Parenthood and eviscerate all decent environmental programs (not to mention deny women, gays, minorities, union workers, and immigrants their legal rights) would be doomed to fail. And, indeed, it will fail in the end. The problem is that the right-wing in this country is well funded, vocal, and highly motivated, and progressives, unfortunately, are not. In the short term that means that reactionaries like those who seek to cast doubt upon the reality of global warming, for example, can do a great deal of damage to our planet and the people who live on it.

Fortunately, progressives—and I speak of real progressives here, not Democrats, who haven’t stood up for their beliefs since the time of Lyndon Johnson—are learning to fight just as tenaciously as their reactionary counterparts. The efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have failed so far precisely because people on the left were able to shame the Komen foundation. This shows that political overreach on the part of the right in this country can be thwarted, but it will take constant vigilance on the part of everyone who considers themselves part of the sane majority.

Rabid reactionaries may score some victories in the short-run: they’ve already succeeded in causing grave harm to an environmental movement that has been teetering on the precipice of irrelevance for some time now. But the future is not theirs. It belongs to those on the left who have the courage and conviction to stand firm during the dark times that are undoubtedly ahead of us.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Now

The only moment we really have in life is the present moment. Past is gone, future does not yet exist and may never be. If we are to live fully, we must by necessity live in the here and now.

And yet we spend our lives obsessing over the past and fantasizing about the future. In living in this way, we become shadows of what we could be--phantoms dwelling in obscure never-lands of the mind.

All wisdom, all beauty, all truth is contained in the present moment. To be able to tap into the eternal reservoir of the now is to achieve true liberation and ultimate enlightenment.

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