“Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

There is “a large group of people who feel that they no longer have any effective stake or a just share in a particular system of economic or social relations aren’t going to feel any obligation to defend that system when it faces a crisis, or any sense even of belonging within it.” Scott Preston writes about this in Panem et Circenses.

When people feel disenfranchised and disinvested, disengaged and divided, they are forced to fall back on other identities or else to feel isolated. In either case, radicalization can follow. And if not radicalization, people can simply begin acting strangely, desperately, and aggressively, sometimes violently as they react to each new stressor and lash out at perceived threats (see Keith Paynes’ The Broken Ladder, as written about in my posts Inequality Means No Center to Moderate TowardOn Conflict and Stupidity, Class Anxiety of Privilege Denied, Connecting the Dots of Violence, & Inequality in the Anthropocene).

We see this loss of trust in so many ways. As inequality goes up, so do the rates of social problems, from homicides to child abuse, from censorship to police brutality. The public becomes more outraged and the ruling elite become more authoritarian. But it’s the public that concerns me, as I’m not part of the ruling elite nor aspire to be. The public has lost faith in government, corporations, media, and increasingly the healthcare system as well — nearly all of the major institutions that hold together the social fabric. A society can’t survive long under these conditions. Sure, a society can turn toward the overtly authoritarian as China is doing, but even that requires public trust that the government in some basic sense has the public good or national interest in mind.

Then again, American society has been resilient up to this point. This isn’t the first time that the social order began fracturing. On more than one occasion, the ruling elite lost control of the narrative and almost entirely lost control of the reigns of power. The US has a long history of revolts, often large-scale and violent, that started as soon as the country was founded (Shays’ Rebellion, Whiskey Rebellion, etc; see Spirit of ’76 & The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence). In their abject fear, look at how the ruling elite treated the Bonus Army. And veterans were to be feared. Black veterans came back from WWI with their guns still in their possession and they violently fought back against their oppressors. And after WWII, veterans rose up against corrupt local governments, in one case using military weapons to shoot up the courthouse (e.g., 1946 Battle of Athens).

The public losing trust in authority figures and institutions of power is not to be taken lightly. That is even more true with a country founded on revolution and that soon after fell into civil war. As with Shays’ Rebellion, the American Civil War was a continuation of the American Revolution. The cracks in the foundation remain, the issues unresolved. This has been a particular concern for the American oligarchs and plutocrats this past century, as mass uprisings and coups overturned numerous societies around the world. The key factor, though, is what Americans will do. Patriotic indoctrination can only go so far. Where will people turn to for meaningful identities that are relevant to survival in an ever more harsh and punishing society, as stress and uncertainty continues to rise?

Even if the American public doesn’t turn against the system any time soon, when it comes under attack they might not feel in the mood to sacrifice themselves to defend it. Societies can collapse from revolt, but they can more easily collapse from indifference and apathy, a slow erosion of trust. “Not with a bang but with a whimper.” But maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It’s better than some of the alternatives. And it would be an opportunity for reinvention, for new identities.

* * *

7/26/19 – An interesting thing is that the oligarchs are so unconcerned. They see this situation as a good thing, as an opportunity. Everything is an opportunity to the opportunist and disaster capitalism is one endless opportunity for those who lack a soul.

They aren’t seeking to re-create early 20th century fascism. The loss of national identities is not an issue for them, even as they exploit and manipulate patriotism. Meanwhile, their own identities and source of power has been offshored in a new form of extra-national governance, a deep state beyond all states. They are citizens of nowhere and the rest of us are left holding the bag.

“The oligarch’s interests always lie offshore: in tax havens and secrecy regimes. Paradoxically, these interests are best promoted by nationalists and nativists. The politicians who most loudly proclaim their patriotism and defence of sovereignty are always the first to sell their nations down the river. It is no coincidence that most of the newspapers promoting the nativist agenda, whipping up hatred against immigrants and thundering about sovereignty, are owned by billionaire tax exiles, living offshore” (George Monbiot, From Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise – backed by billionaire oligarchs).

It’s not that old identities are merely dying. There are those seeking to snuff them out, to put them out of their misery. The ruling elite are decimating what holds society together. But in their own demented way, maybe they are unintentionally freeing us to become something else. They have the upper hand for the moment, but moments don’t last long. Even they realize disaster capitalism can’t be maintained. It’s why they constantly dream of somewhere to escape, whether on international waters or space colonies. Everyone is looking for a new identity. That isn’t to say all potential new identities will serve us well.

All of this is a strange scenario. And most people are simply lost. As old identities loosen, we lose our bearings, even or especially among the best of us. It is disorienting, another thing Scott Preston has been writing a lot about lately (Our Mental Meltdown: Mind in Dissolution). The modern self is splintering and this creates all kinds of self-deception and self-contradiction. As Preston puts often it, “the duplicity of our times — the double-think, the double-speak, the double-standards, and the double-bind” (Age of Revolutions). But don’t worry. The oligarchs too will find themselves caught in their own traps. Their fantasies of control are only that, fantasies.

Protecting Elections From Democracy

Few people take seriously the issues and problems of democracy. This is apparent to me as an American watching the inanity of supposed democracy in action, i.e., the campaign season for electing the next president.

We don’t have a functioning democracy and few people have ever experienced a functioning democracy. On top of that, the media doesn’t help inform the public, assuming that even those working in media understand democracy. It’s hard for Americans to imagine what democracy might mean, what an actual and fully free society would look like.

I’ve pointed that out all before. It’s nothing new. And it is understandable. It isn’t as if past generations understood democracy better. We forget how young modern politics still is.

When some of the American founders proposed democracy, they had little clue what might result. Other founders didn’t want democracy at all. Once the post-revolutionary government was established, only a few percentage of the population had a right to vote or run for office. In some states, the majority was enslaved. And, in all states, most women only had slightly more freedom than a slave in their being treated like property of their fathers and then their husbands.

That isn’t a propitious beginning for freedom and liberty. Consider that, if one includes the colonial era, America has existed longer with slavery than without it. And there is also the long history of mistreatment toward other minorities. The results in recent politics shouldn’t be surprising. The winning of full protection of voting rights for most Americans happened within living memory. There hasn’t been a moment in American history when there wasn’t a ruling elite running the show. In some ways, it has gotten worse with wealth and power more concentrated than it has been in a long while, wealth and power that now has a truly global scope. We are in banana republic territory. Plus, systemic and institutional racism continues.

I was reminded of this because of various discussions about the campaigns. In response to my complaints about lesser evilism, C. Derick Varn (Skepoet) brought up an important issue about specific populations. He said to me, “Look at the demographics tied to political machines in Democratic cities, particularly in states that are otherwise red.” And added that,

“The Southern States have an enriched city based political elite that is dominant in the African American community. It may not reflect the option of African Americans as a whole because about 50% of black men can’t vote due to felon and prior felon exclusion laws in those states.”

That last point is what bothers me. Mass incarceration is directly rooted in slavery, as I’ve noted before. Along with keeping the population demoralized and apathetic, not to mention ignorant and propagandized, this continuing disenfranchisement of the historically oppressed is a powerful force for maintaining the establishment and keeping genuine democracy from emerging. These people who have had their voting rights stolen from them are a large enough part of the US population to potentially swing elections one way or another.

The same goes for voter suppression tactics: shutting down polling stations, voter purges, difficult ID laws, etc—all intended to shut down any hope of democratic process. Not to forget other important anti-democratic factors such as gerrymandering, big money campaign financing, speaking fees and other legalized bribery, special interest lobbying, revolving door between big biz and big gov, regulatory capture, and on and on.

Professional politicians in both of the main parties know this. Many of them wouldn’t be able to win elections if all US citizens were able to vote and did vote. What matters is to create the appearance of democracy, without letting it get out of control so that actual democracy might threaten to create a free society.

Voting Rights Act: a Last Defense Against Voter Suppression

An important case has attracted attention recently. It is about voting rights.

I will never understand why this is seen as a partisan issue, specifically why Republicans make it a partisan issue. If Democrats (or any other party) sought to suppress Republican voters (or any group of voters), if they sought to disenfranchise Southern whites, conservatives and fundamentalists, I’d be as strong of a critic of this practice as when Republicans have done the same in recent elections.

Why do Republicans, conservatives and libertarians lack principles about democracy? Or refuse to apply their principles in principled fashion? What do they fear about democracy? Why do they do to others as they would never accept others doing unto them? If their principles don’t include democracy and the constitution, what do they represent?

Here is one article making clear the issues at hand.

Millions Of Voters Of Color Will Be Affected By The Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision

As the nation awaits a decision in the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, the future of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance. The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

As the repeal has become official, let’s ponder the consequences. The reason the Voting Rights Act was passed in the first place was because certain states were practicing legal oppression of citizens and suppression of their voting rights.

Consider this in terms of the criminal system. With the Voting Rights Act, certain states were in a sense put into prison with the hopes of rehabilitation and one day release into normal life.Replace the crime of unconstitutional and anti-democratic political action. Replace it with some more mundane crime against one’s fellow citizens, let’s say: theft, murder or rape.

The criminal is caught, charged, given a trial, and imprisoned. After many years, the prisoner appeals for release. Would the appeal committee release the prisoner without looking at his record of behavior while in prison? One would hope not. If the thief, murderer or rapist had had stolen, murdered or raped while in prison, should he be released simply because he had been in prison for decades? Of course not.

Now, let’s analyze the original crime that caused these states to have this law enforced upon them. Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, have these states committed these crimes again? Have they committed these crimes recently? Yes and yes. Have they been rehabilitated? Should they be released because of good behavior? No and no.

So, what is Section 5 all about and how does it specifically relate to recent political issues?

The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

A new report, to be released next month by Advancement Project and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, comprehensively analyzes that experience for the first time, and recommends election reforms to ensure the ballot remains free, fair and accessible for all. (See a five-page summary with key data from the report here.) Entitled Lining Up: Equal Access to the Right to Vote, the report highlights the determined efforts of the two civil rights organizations, from the courtroom to the streets, to combat voter ID laws, challenges at the polls, deception and intimidation, proof-of-citizenship registration practices, unacceptably long lines, and the improper use of provisional ballots.

The report also tells the story through testimonials from African-American and Latino citizens who were impacted by – and stood up to – voter suppression laws and policies. Collectively, this illustrates the continued need for federal laws, such as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote. In addition, the report explores the critical role of Section 5 in blocking legislative assaults on voting, and the continued voting problems in states covered by the provision. Findings include:

  • In states covered by Section 5 in the 2012 elections, more than 22.9 million Black, Latino and Asian-American voters were able to cast a ballot.
  • Laws that shortened early voting periods in 2012 contributed to long lines in some locations, which voters of color faced more. Black and Latino voters were reportedly two to three times more likely than whites to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote.
  • In 2013, 11 of the 15 states that are either fully or partially covered by Section 5’s protections – more than 73 percent – have introduced restrictive voting bills.

 

“While African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters came out in historic numbers in 2012, those numbers were possible only after voter protection organizations, community groups and voters themselves, who fought tirelessly to defeat restrictive laws across the country and other attempts to suppress voters of color,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney and Director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project. “Without the intervention of the Justice Department through Section 5, the impact of these assaults on democracy would have been far worse.”

Push to overturn Voting Rights Act tied to GOP voter suppression efforts
Zachary Roth
MSNBC

In 2012, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted caused an outcry when he ended early voting in the three days before Election Day for everyone except members of the military. The change would have made it harder for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans—disproportionately African-Americans—to vote. As Rachel Maddow and MSNBC.com noted at the time, Husted brought in Consovoy to defend the move in court, after it was challenged by the Obama campaign. Ultimately, the court required that the early voting days be restored.

Also last year, Florida Republicans passed a law that cut back on the state’s early voting days. Among other changes under the new system, polls would have to be closed on the Sunday before the election—a day when many black churches help get their members to the polls right after services. The Justice Department blocked the law. As The Nation‘s Ari Berman recently noted, Wiley Rein was brought in by Florida to argue the case in court. Consovoy claimed that reducing early voting was necessary to combat voter fraud—though there’s almost no evidence of significant fraud occurring. The early voting days were ultimately restored, though long lines nonetheless plagued both early and Election Day voters in the Sunshine State.

To block Florida’s early voting cutbacks, the Justice Department cited Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows the federal government to stop any election changes in most southern states if they’re deemed to reduce minority voting power. It’s Section 5 that’s at issue in the Shelby County case that goes before the Supreme Court this week, and voting-rights advocates have held up the Florida case as an example of why the provision is still needed.

American Democracy?

I had someone ask me why they should care about politics. It was just a few days ago. They were responding to my posting a bunch of political stuff on facebook. They didn’t see how politics helped one live one’s life.

I gave a rational response. Everything is political. One should care about politics because one cares about anything at all. Whether or not one is involved in politics, politics is involved in every aspect of one’s life. The personal is political. But rationality doesn’t by itself offer anything compelling, much less inspiring.

I’m not a person who is obsessively involved with politics. I often don’t even feel sure that voting matters. I see how democracy functions to a limited extent on the local level, depending on the local politics, but it is for damn sure hard to tell if democracy is functioning even slightly on the national level. If it is, it’s barely hanging by a thread.

This has become increasingly apparent as I’ve grown older.

The first election I cared about was in 2000. And what happened? It was stolen. There was never a full recount done and the supreme court chose our president. American democracy became the joke of the world. If this scenario had happened in a third world country, it would’ve been an international scandal necessitating outside intervention. Gore did nothing in response, no demand for a full recount, no righteous defense of democracy, nothing. The 2006 election also was problematic.

More recently, there was disinformation campaign that destroyed ACORN. That was an organization that helped average and below average Americans, especially in terms of voting. Republicans attacked them and Democrats caved. It was one of the most morally depraved acts in recent years. Now, Republicans have stepped up their campaign against democracy by pushing voter suppression.

Citizens United was maybe the tipping point toward a new era of corporatism. Polls show that the average American is far to the left of the Democrats and yet the majority position is rarely heard in the mainstream media or from either of the two main parties. Even a strong majority of voters can’t compete against the corrupting power of big money.

I’m not sure which is worse: Republicans attacking democracy or Democrats refusing to defend it. I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the moment, voting against the attacks on democracy is strategically more important. If democracy is finally and completely corrupted and disempowerd in national politics, then any other attempts at defense are meaningless.

The last thing I want to see is Republicans being rewarded with votes for attacking democracy. It’s sad that this attack has happened at all. It’s even more sad that the mainstream media and the Democratic Party has given it so little attention. There is no more important issue in a democratic system than ensuring democracy functions. The only unforgivable sin in a democracy is to undermine democracy itself.

I don’t care about either candidate in this election or either main party in general. All I care about is saving what remnants of democracy that have managed to survive. However, if Romney wins this election, I’m going to give up on American democracy. I’ll join some critical leftwingers in their assessment that the entire political system has become dysfunctional beyond saving.

There apparently is a very large number of Americans who either don’t understand democracy or don’t care about democracy… or else maybe it is just cynicism and apathy. Democracy can’t defeat a highly organized and well funded campaign of propaganda and disenfranchisement. I’d like to believe that democracy has a fighting chance, but it is hard to keep the faith.

So, what is the point? When rationality fails me, my cynical response is to say, “Wake me up when the revolution begins.”

Romney’s Class War

I’ve been saying for a while that this election is Obama’s to lose, but I have to admit recently that Romney is doing his best to lose. I’m not even speaking as an Obama supporter.

The media is particularly getting excited about Romney’s comment that 47% of Americans are freeloaders with a victim mentality and that these people will inevitably vote for Obama because they are looking for handouts from government. Two things stand out to me. First, Romney is admitting there is a class war and that he is fighting on the side of the rich. Second, this recording simply proves what many rich Republicans say in private when around other rich Republicans.

Even though I’m not an Obama supporter, I have decided to vote for Obama. My decision came before this recent event. What brought me out of voter apathy was the endless attacks by Republicans to suppress the votes of the poor and disadvantaged. This became most clear recently with the changes to state voting laws, although it had already become clear with the morally depraved attack on and destruction of ACORN, one of the few organizations that helped lower class Americans.

It forms a truly dark picture of cynicism. This class war that isn’t just about economics, isn’t just about unemployment and stagnating wages, isn’t just about ensuring tax cuts for the rich, isn’t just about outsourcing American jobs, isn’t just about redistributing America’s wealth to the already wealthy, isn’t just about eliminating the remains of the safety net. More fundamentally, the voter suppression tactics demonstrate Republicans are trying to disempower and disenfranchise all Americans who aren’t apart of the upper classes. Republicans are flirting with plutocracy and the Republican elite seem to have already fully embraced their role as plutocrats.

I find this disturbing. I know the Democratic Party has its own problems. I realize Democrats haven’t always been the best defenders of democracy. But at least Democrats aren’t actively attacking average Americans who are just trying to get by.

That is why as an Independent I’m voting for Obama. I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils. My vote isn’t about party politics. I’m voting for Obama in order to vote against those who attack democracy. I’m rather fond of democracy and I don’t want to see it any further harmed. Democracy and plutocracy are incompatible. Every generation must choose democracy again and so every generation faces the possibility of losing democracy.

 
Unlike Romney, I don’t see all of this as a simple class war. There are rich people for democracy and lower class people against democracy. The American Dream of an egalitarian society isn’t about attacking the rich and giving to the poor. It’s about making a better life possible for everyone.

Political Jiu Jitsu

I liked the last point made in the video below.

Various corporations, media & political groups are constantly trying to control the narrative. The narrative that would be most financially beneficial to powerful corporations is that of voter apathy & disenfranchisement. Riling people up & then misdirecting them away from real problems inevitably leads to a sense of helplessness. If this is repeated enough, the entire lower class develops an attitude of learned helplessness where they just give up entirely.

Combine this with the slow destruction of the middle class then you a combination punch. In the US, the middle class always aspired to be part of the upper class. This aspiration has caused many Americans to identify with the wealthy class. We like to watch rich people live their lives on tv and the middle class will fight for tax cuts for the rich (even though it personally harms their own class). Instead, middle class anger gets directed at the working class (i.e., worker unions), the working class anger gets directed at the poor, and the poor class anger gets directed at everyone who is at the very bottom (welfare receipients, homelesss, immigrants, etc).

Institutional Racism & Voting Rights

It is obvious that racism still exists… well, obvious to anyone who isn’t either willfully ignorant or a closed-minded bigot.  There has been tons of research proving beyond a doubt that much racism exists in our society, individually and collectively.  However, it’s nice when the government itself admits to the existence of institutional racism.

Court overturns Washington State felon disenfranchisement law

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the discriminatory impact of Washington‟s felon disenfranchisement is attributable to racial discrimination in Washington‟s criminal justice system thus, that Washington‟s felon disenfranchisement law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote for the majority.

. . .

Washington State‟s constitution previously disenfranchised felons until they repaid all of their legal financial obligations. “For some inmates … that was essentially a lifetime ban on voting,” David Ammons, communications director for Sam Reed, Republican secretary of state, said. “We thought that was unfair and that it was not good social policy.”

. . .

“That development is a positive one to be sure,” Haygood said. “But it doesn’t have any impact on our clients because they are still incarcerated. Neither does that amendment shield victims of discrimination as they enter the criminal justice system on the front end.”

. . .

“If I remember correctly, [previous circuit court cases] were dismissed earlier and plaintiffs were not even allowed to put forth their evidence,” Erika Wood, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice said. “I think this is the first time plaintiffs were actually allowed to put forth evidence that demonstrates the impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color in Washington State.”That evidence came from research by University of Washington sociology professors Dr. Robert Crutchfield and Dr. Katherine Beckett, who found evidence of racial discrimination in each step of the state’s criminal justice system, from policing and investigation to prosecution and sentencing.

“The numbers in Washington State are stark. Twenty-four percent of black men and 15 percent of the black population in the state can’t vote because of a felony conviction and we argue that that result is exactly what Section 2 was enacted to proscribe,” Haygood said. “The court was clear that we provided compelling evidence of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system that served to shift any inequality into the political process.”

. . .

“At this point there are no changes being made in the way elections are administered,” Kim van Ekstrom, chief communications officer for King County elections said. “This is such a recent decision and at this time we are basically waiting to see what the state is going to advise us on. Like everyone else, we are taking our lead from them and we support statewide consistency regarding voter registration matters.”

In the meantime, Wood plans to pursue federal legislation. The Democracy Restoration Act (H.R. 3335/S.1516) was introduced in the House by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., this summer. The bill “would restore voting rights in federal elections to people who are out of prison living in the community across the country,” Wood said.

Faux Righteousness

There is one issue that is a hot button for me.  The issue is righteousness.  Actually, I don’t know if it’s just righteousness, but that is definitely a major part.

Like many people, I have tendencies towards righteousness.  I don’t like righteousness in myself any more than I like it in others.  I feel a visceral repulsion towards righteousness.  What makes me feel more righteous than anything is righteousness itself.  Which is a bit depressing as righteousness about righteousness doesn’t in any way negate or decrease righteousness.  But it isn’t a rational response.

When feeling defensive, it’s easy to feel righteous about one’s righteousness.  People often become polarized and feel more certain about their position than when they started.  For some people, this can become a permanent state… and I’d like to avoid such a horrible fate for myself.  I don’t want to spend my time looking for things to be righteous about, but admittedly there is plenty to feel righteous about without even looking for it.  The daily news, for example, usually offers any number of affronts to reason and morality.

In particular, American culture seems overly righteous.  Maybe this just goes along with the imperialistic patriotism found in any large and powerful country.  Whatever the reason, many Americans believe America is right about almost everything because many Americans think we’re on the winning side of history.  But Americans quite often turn this righteousness against other Americans.  And it goes beyond simply deciding who is the most American.  There is just a general atmosphere of conflict and attack, ridicule and criticism.  This tendency in American culture has become magnified as media has begun to dominate our lives.  We now have constant news reporting and commentary (with more emphasis on the latter) which feeds (and feeds off of) the constant internet buzz.  A popular form of entertainment right now is the verbal fights between the representatives of different tv news networks.  And then there are some silly pundits who think that constantly berating those in power somehow proves that they’re independent thinkers.

There are even those (whether preacher or pundit) who see themselves as prophets of moral righteousness.  They just have an inner sense of knowing they’re right.  They see themselves on a mission (possibly a divine mission) to save humanity and guide the righteous to the light of Truth.  This type of person seems rather arrogant to me.  This is the most extreme form of righteousness which can be used to incite extreme behaviors such as violence or else just incite general hatred and mistrust.  Righteous fear-mongering is particularly distasteful to me.  Somehow expressing either fear by itself or righteousness by itself doesn’t seem so bad as expressing fear and righteousness together… especially when further combined with populist anger.  I severely doubt anything good can come of it. 

Righteousness is opposite to so many truly beneficial values (humility, acceptance, sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, love, etc.) which are values I idealize even though I rarely live up to them.  Also, I see righteousness as opposed to knowledge and truth which are personal ideals I feel a bit more capable of living up to.  A very important aspect of humility is intellectual humility, knowing one’s limits and knowing one doesn’t have everything figured out.  Righteousness sometimes feels like false confidence, a bullying strength that hides an inner weakness.  When taken to extremes, there can be something cruel and hard-hearted about it.

I should point out that I’m not arguing for a relativist belief that there is no right or wrong.  A righteous person could be right (or they could be wrong), but my sense is that the correlation between being righteous and being right is often accidental.  Even if a person is absolutely right and can prove it beyond any doubt, is there any point in being righteous?  Perhaps it might be justified or at least it could be understandable.  But it seems most likely to me that the more righteous someone behaves the less likely they are to be correct.  The reason for this is that critical thinking is impaired to the degree intellectual humility is lacking.

I know that when I feel righteous I want to believe I’m right, and I want to believe that my hypothetical rightness somehow is important and somehow justifies my righteousness.  But I also know that when in a righteous state of mind I’m not being very impartial.  For certain, my critical thinking skills are impaired at such moments.  Because I value critical thinking, I try to counter my righteousness by determining to what extent I’m actually right or wrong.  The problem is that, even if I do (or think I do) determine that I’m right about something, it doesn’t make me feel all that better… nor anyone else for that matter.

Although I’m clearly not fond of righteousness as a general way of being in the world and of relating to others, it isn’t necessarily righteousness by itself that annoys me.  If a drunk or mentally ill person was righteously ranting nonsense on a sidewalk, I wouldn’t really care.  First, no one is going to mistake such ranting as intelligent commentary.  Secondly, this person doesn’t have much of an audience and if he has any influence at all it is very limited.  Or if someone just feels righteously angry about life in general,  I wouldn’t really care.  As long as they’re not trying to scapegoat some person or group for the world’s problems, there is nothing wrong with expressing one’s genuine feelings… but I wouldn’t consider righteousness to be a genuine (or not a genuinely worthy) feeling when an anger-fueled superior attitude is being used to cover up other feelings such as a sense of impotence or guilt.

Anyways, good or bad, isn’t it part and parcel of the American democratic sensibility to loudly declare what one believes to be right?  It’s definitely a part of the American mythos.  Take for example the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  It’s about the conflict of a truly righteous man trying to overcome false righteousness being used for devious ends, and it’s also about how easily the general public is manipulated by false righteousness.  There are any other number of stories (both true and fictional) like this which are about a person (often alone or with few allies) righteously struggling to get their voice heard.  On the other hand, false righteousness seems more common as it’s such an effective tool for those in power and for those who want to gain power.  But most people would like to believe their righteousness is genuine.  And there is usually a way to rationalize righteousness, a way to frame the issue so that one feels like the good guy fighting the good fight. 

It’s easy to deceive oneself when the stakes are high or whenever one is emotionally invested.  But how do you know when you’re seeing the world through a self-enclosed rationalization?  There are several ways.  First, if you have developed critical thinking skills, these can be helpful… but I don’t think that is enough by itself.  So, secondly, I would emphasize even more so the value of self-awareness (which correlates with awareness of the other).  If you are self-aware enough or have someone in your life to point out your blind spots (which to some degree requires sympathetic understanding of other perspectives), you’re more likely to be able to step back from your rationalizations.  Maybe it’s only when self-awareness starts to break in that you can then use critical thinking skills to come to understanding.  However one gets to this point of self-questioning, there has to be a desire to self-question in the first place.  Questioning the world has to be balanced by questioning turned inward (and if there must be an imblance I think it’s best to have too much emphasis on the self-questioning).  A person can only be genuinely righteous to the extent they question their own righteousness.

I guess that is the rub.  Righteousness is almost always turned towards someone else.  It’s hard to imagine the vocally critical type of righteous person being equally critical of themselves and being equally open in voicing those self-criticisms.  I can think of a number of political pundits and social commentators who are examples of extreme criticism of others.  Some of them may occasionally point out minor flaws of their own, but it is a small part of what they say and these meager confessions usually get lost in their larger message.  Maybe this comes down to entertainment value.  Watching someone attack other people is entertaining.  Watching someone morally contemplate their own weaknesses and failings would be boring… unless they were a particularly funny stand-up comedian.

My sense of aggravation towards righteousness is very much about the personal.  My own righteousness is constrained for the reason I don’t generally feel to be in a morally superior position.  I have no grand accomplishments and often I feel like a failure (or that I don’t live up to my “God-given” potential).  Yet, I do feel something like pride for what I’ve managed to accomplish (in that I’ve read and researched widely and have tried to gain some understanding on a fairly diverse set of subjects), but that which I’m proud of isn’t overly valued by society.  So, I do sometimes feel righteous when I meet people online who either are willfully ignorant (especially certain apologists) or else simply some combination of uninformed and misinformed (which everyone is to varying degrees).  But I know that doesn’t justify my projecting on to such people all of my frustrations and anger (and general unhappiness).  As a depressed person, I’m easily irritated and it isn’t anyone else’s fault.

The righteousness I feel comes from my sense of being an underdog.  Let me try to explain.  According to the social standards of success and respectability, I’m not all the way at the bottom with the outright losers and scum of the earth, but I’m no where near the top.  I’m not homeless and I’m not unemployed, and so I have that going for me.  But I am a bachelor who lives alone and I’ll probably remain a bachelor to the end of my days.  Despite having above average intelligence and some other natural abilities, I’ve always worked entry-level jobs and I just earn enough to get by (with little prospects for anything better in the future).  I haven’t had much in the way of external obstructions to moving up in the world.  I was raised with plenty of advantages and opportunities as a middle class white male in a developed country.  Still, I’ve struggled for “internal” reasons (some combination of psychological issues and genetics) and this just makes me feel all the more sympathetic towards those who didn’t have the advantages and opportunities I grew up with.  Life can be tough no matter where you begin, but it’s particularly tough for those who have so much going against them right from the start.

Plus, I have this basic sense of the precariousness of life.  Life can seem perfect one moment and hell on earth the next.  I may not be on the bottom, but it wouldn’t be hard for me to end up on the bottom.  People living in shelters and under bridges usually don’t start off life that way.  The majority of the homeless are mentally ill or traumatized veterans, but most of them once were normal people with jobs and houses, with families and friends.  The homeless aren’t a mutant sub-class of humans entirely isolated from normal (i.e., respectable) people.  Anyone can become mentally ill, get addicted to painkillers, get diagnosed with a costly illness, lose their job and house, go bankrupt, etc.  If you don’t have very strong social support (which fewer people have these days), it’s very easy to fall through the cracks and get lost there.

On the other hand, there are those who have lives that more or less work out as planned and they somehow avoid major catastrophes for most or all of their lives (death being the final catastrophe that finds us all).  They have a sense of being in control of their own life.  They feel they deserve what they have, that they’re entitled.  But I think most of this is just a matter of fortunate circumstances.  I understand why the illusion of control is so attractive.  What I don’t like is the sense of superiority that almost inevitably goes along with it.  If the rich person deserves being rich, then the poor person also deserves being poor.  If Americans deserve their power and luxurious lifestyle, then those in third world countries deserve to be stuck in slave labor jobs while their environment is destroyed and their natural resources stolen.  The unemployed and homeless deserve to live miserable lives.  Those without large savings and health insurance deserve to die of easily treated diseases.

Growing up a middle-class white American (and living for years in a very above average middle class town) has given me a bit of perspective.  I have some insight about what it means to have privilege and to take it as a given.  The issue I have with righteousness is that those who should feel righteous too often feel powerless and unheard… all the while the politicians, political pundits, and televangelists who act all righteous are usually those who grew up with privilege.  But it’s all relative.  One can almost always point to someone who had more privilege than oneself.  If you go by the words of the righteous people who get heard in the media, it’s not unusual for them to claim to be underdogs or to represent the underdog… which in most cases doesn’t seem authentic.

The facts are that most of the wealth and power in the world (including in democracies) is passed down according to relationships of family and class.  More money gets inherited by the next generation of the wealthy than is produced by means of capitalism.  A large percentage of politicians (including in democracies) are familialy related and of royal lineage.  Even today, research shows that a white male has massive opportunities beyond minorities and females.  Research shows that people born rich tend to remain rich and those born poor tend to remain poor.  Also, poor areas tend to be where there is heavy pollution which leads to low IQ and high rates of illness, and these areas are so polluted because of the industries run by the rich who don’t have to live in these areas.  IQ, in particular, has high correlation to economic success.  So, the game is rigged before a person is born.

Yes, occasionally someone through various factors (strength of will being the least of these factors) manages to escape their situation.  But, for every one person that escapes, there are millions or hundreds of millions of people equally worthy and equally determined who were crushed by circumstances.  The exception proves the rule.

As I see it, there is so much suffering and injustice in the world.  And despite Enlightenment ideals, the West has it’s fair share of underprivileged, impoverished and disenfranchised.  Where are the righteous voices to defend those who can’t defend themselves?  In the news, we constantly hear about what the rich and powerful are doing, but why do we rarely hear about the struggles of the vast majority?  Why aren’t there regular interviews with the poor and homeless?  Why aren’t there popular reality shows that follow the lives of people in war-torn countries?  Why aren’t there tv series based on families who live sick and hungry in refugee camps?  Why do tv commentators spend most of their time reporting on the same small set of topics and events all the while almost entirely excluding the everyday lives and experiences of the average and below average?

What are people who feel justly righteous to do in response to all of this?  Organize?

As an example, consider the peace protests against the invasion of Iraq.  They were the largest and fastest growing of any anti-war movement in American history, and the most widespread and most well-organized in world history.   That is a truly righteous populist movement if one ever existed, and it was ignored and dismissed by the faux righteousness of politicians (and the patriotic submission of the media in parroting that faux righteousness).  The justifications of the war were dubious, but it’s impossible to stop even an unnecessary war when it’s backed by political power and financial gain (which includes the revolving door between big government and big business and more specifically the corporate interest in media coverage). 

Consider how much worse it is when you are someone in the minority, someone with no ability to influence, someone with no ability to start large protest movements, someone with no ability to force the media to at least recognize you exist.

Part of my issue about righteousness is that public opinion has become something for those in power to manipulate.  There is a general mood that the news media isn’t doing a good job of informing the public.  Going by commentary I’ve read and my own observations, very little news seems to be based on investigative journalism or even basic fact-checking.  News reporters seem to rely too heavily on media releases by corporations and the government.  The media basically tells us what we should be righteous about… and the general public seems rather compliant.

I would be less irritated if I felt there was something worthy to be righteous about.  I’d love to live in a culture that was righteous about truth, where people weren’t just out for their own ideological interest.  Or why can’t people be righteous about compassion?  Why can’t we take all the money spent on the military and instead have a war on homelessness, poverty and hunger?

I feel demoralized by what I see in the world and I feel disenfranchised from what seems like a fraudulent political system.  I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  There are many people who rightly feel the system doesn’t benefit them, but the problem is that when people feel insecure they most often react emotionally rather than rationally.  And when people are in this state, they’re easily manipulated and easily riled up.  This collective sense of dissatisfaction is rarely ever directed towards any morally righteous end.