The Golden Rule and Reality

The Golden Rule isn’t a mere nice-sounding ideal, a feel-good moral sentiment. It’s practical policy. You better be careful what you do. What goes around comes around. The chickens will come home to roost.

I’m not sure why so few seem to grasp this simple insight.

The act of terrorism on 9/11 happened after generations of the US government committing mass terrorism around the world. I remember being half asleep in bed, drifting into consciousness. I had left the radio on the night before. And what I woke up to was reporting on the terrorist attack. I was completely unsurprised. It seemed like the most expected thing that could possibly happen. The only thing surprising was that it didn’t happen earlier and more often. The rest of the world had been experiencing attacks like that for a long time.

At that point, I had been following alternative news for years. I wasn’t a news junky or anything. But neither was I fully ignorant. I knew what went on in the world, including what my own government did… and, I might add, continues to do. No one who was paying attention should have been surprised, certainly not any government official or journalist who is paid to know what is going on in the world.

Yet most people acted surprised. This willful ignorance isn’t an isolated incident. If anything, it’s the norm. Also, it’s bipartisan.

Too many think that it has nothing to do with them what their government does in other countries. Governments do horrible things. That is what we have governments for, to do the things we don’t want to do ourselves and would rather not know about. No one wants to see the sausage being made. Running an empire ain’t pretty, that is for sure. For every cheap product you buy, it was bought with the blood and misery of thousands of people. That is what it means to live in an empire and to benefit from its might and power.

It’s not even just what happens in other countries. The US government, federal and local, has a long history of doing horrible things to the poor and minorities. If you want to know what the future will look like, consider the lives of those living in poor and minority communities. They are the canaries in the coal mine. What happens to them will be happening to the rest of us later on.

That was seen with the 2008 recession. It didn’t come out of nowhere. There had been economic problems percolating for decades. But these problems were mostly impacting the poor and minorities. Older Americans with good jobs and pensions, middle-to-upper class blacks and whites, professionals of the liberal class and in conservative suburbs—these people were disconnected from what was happening and they simply didn’t care; didn’t know and didn’t want to know.

But when the 2008 recession hit, they suddenly cared. They were shocked. What suddenly went wrong? Well, you clueless ignoramuses, nothing went wrong. It all was going according to plan. You just didn’t know what the plan was. This was caused by economic changes beginning at least with the Carter administration and pushed into full gear with the Clinton New Democrats.

Similarly, the security/police state that we now have wasn’t simply a response to 9/11. It had also been developing for decades, going back to the Cold War. This security/police state was first fully operationalized with the War on Drugs. So, it was experimented on the poor and minority communities, similar to how COINTELPRO tactics were perfected on activist groups often involving minorities (e.g., Black Panthers).

Those people deserved it, that is what the rest of the population said. We destroyed entire communities and sacrificed an entire generation for the sake of spiteful vengeance and scapegoating. Meanwhile, we ignored the fact that we created the problem in the first place. Those communities had already been hit hard by racial segregation, economic isolation, factory closures, unemployment, poverty, ghettoization, etc. Then the environmental racism of high rates of lead toxicity was crop-dusting Napalm on a blazing fire.

Oh, really? Poor minorities who have been completely fucked over by society have problems. Ya don’t say, imagine that.

Only when that blazing fire spreads to the nicer communities do the better class of people wake up from their slumber. But guess what? It’s kind of too late at that point. Your house is already on fire. Throwing buckets of water on it now probably isn’t going to help.

Welcome to reality! We’ve been waiting for you to arrive.

What got my mind churning was looking at some books on the failure of democracy. Of course, it’s intentional—failure by design. Heck, even some of the ruling elite (e.g., Jimmy Carter) admit that we now live in an oligarchy, a banana republic. It’s an open secret that few can fully admit.

One book I was perusing is Martin Gilen’s Affluence and Influence. I must say it’s fascinating data. Some of it fits what is expected, though far from all of it. An example is that of military adventurism, which the upper classes favor and the lower classes not so much. We often think of the working class being patriotic and nationalistic, even about war. But the fact is most lower income Americans despise wars of aggression. They don’t think that the US is the greatest country in the world and they don’t think we have a right to bully other countries into submission.

Even so, it’s not as if there are protests and riots all across the country. The lower classes don’t like these stupid, pointless wars because they and their children are expected to be the soldiers who die for corporate interests. It is small comfort that these corporate interests help keep the products cheap at Walmart. But what are these people to do? Besides terrorism, direct action politics doesn’t ever get the attention of those in power nor does it get the attention of the comfortable middle class.

We are all in the belly of the beast, poor and rich alike. And most of us would rather not think about it for we don’t know what to do about it. Plus, the empire does have its benefits, even if they come with high costs that we hope won’t come due until later. Let the next generations deal with it, the older generations say—a thought not found comforting by the younger generations.

It’s normal for humans to become disconnected. We live our lives in a narrow frame, focused on what is before us. Yet some of us are more disconnected than others.

I’ve heard middle class conservatives worry about there being too much democracy. Specifically, they worry about there being too much democracy for the poor and for the working class… ya know, mobocracy. These chumps think they can take freedom away from others without it effecting themselves. Anyway, they have little to worry about the lower classes having too much say in what the government does. The data shows the political elites almost entirely ignore the lower classes. These middle class conservatives would find this comforting. But what they might find less comforting is the fact that the same data shows the ruling elite ignores the middle class about as much. They forget that what you do or allow to be done to others will be done to you.

It’s not just middle class conservatives. I don’t hear too many middle class liberals making personal sacrifices in the fight for the rights of the underprivileged and disenfranchised. Nor do I hear many middle class blacks fighting for ex-cons regaining their right to vote. All of these people have a continuing pattern of voting for politicians known for making miserable the lives of the poor, especially poor minorities. It’s not merely lesser evilism that makes Hillary Clinton attractive to these people. To their mind, this evil is for the greater good, which is to say they think that it benefits them to harm the less fortunate and keep them in their place: “We have to bring them to heel.” What they don’t realize is that they harm themselves in the process. They end up harming their own families and communities, the kind of harm not easily undone, a wound not easily healed.

The wealthy are also stupid in their haughty arrogance and paternalistic self-importance, and the wealthier they are the more disconnected they are from reality on the ground and its consequences. They may have the wealth along with the power, but the society they have helped create is shitty for everyone involved. It has been shown that even the rich are worse off in high inequality societies. The social problems caused by inequality effect all areas and levels of society.

Worse still, all of these problems accumulate. Whether middle class or rich, this game can’t go on. It’s an unsustainable fantasy. These policies that hurt so many in the world, at home and abroad, lead to the undermining of whatever good is left in our society. Down this path lies ever more terrorism and, if pushed far enough, maybe revolution or a civil war. We are creating a destabilized society. It likely can’t continue much longer and most definitely it can’t end well.

This isn’t only about what will happen for later generations. The future is already here.

A Liberalism That Dominates

Why do people think they can vote for a politician to represent them and then not be morally responsible for what that politician does in their name?

I’m specifically thinking of politicians with known political records. In such cases, voters can’t reasonably plead ignorance. One has to assume that they approve of the choices made by their preferred political representative. If that is the case and it is hard to interpret it otherwise, this speaks badly for most voters across the political spectrum.

Do these people honestly wonder why politicians do bad things when they vote for politicians known for doing bad things? Or are these people simply disconnected from reality, disconnected from the larger world of consequences where real people are harmed?

That last question points to a real possibility. Those who are most harmed by our government are those who don’t or can’t vote: the poor who are shut out of the political system, minorities who experience voter suppression, felons who are disfranchised, undocumented immigrants who never had voting rights, and foreigners who have no influence over our government. But those aren’t the people I’m focused on here. It remains to explain those who can and do vote.

I’m unconvinced that the voting public doesn’t know they are supporting politicians who harm so many other humans, large numbers of them being their neighbors and fellow citizens. I know ignorance is rampant. But with internet and social media, knowledge of government actions and political records is hard to avoid. To not know this kind of thing at this point requires a particularly virulent form of willful ignorance. Even then, in order for that ignorance to be willful what is being ignored has to be acknowledged at some level of awareness, even if subconsciously.

Another explanation is lesser evilism. I have considered that in great detail as of late. It is the rationalization often given for why people vote the way they do. I don’t doubt that people are easily manipulated by fear-mongering. And I don’t doubt that political campaigns and PR companies are highly advanced in the techniques they use to manipulate voters. Still, that isn’t a fully satisfying explanation.

What if we take at face value how people vote? Maybe they aren’t voting for a lesser evil. Maybe it is no mere unintended side effect the harm done by the politicians who represent them. Maybe, just maybe voters really do get exactly what they want. I’ve resisted that conclusion for a long long time. It is the most demoralizing possibility that I can imagine. But it is starting to seem compelling.

My thoughts here have been largely elicited by listening to supporters of Hillary Clinton. Her political record is well known and widely discussed. It is easy to find out all the details of her political career. What bothers me is that much of what she has supported over the years and decades has led to horrific results, both in terms of decisions she has made in official political positions she has held and what she helped promote in working with her husband in his political career.

Clinton has been extremely active in promoting a particular worldview and social order. And to be honest one has to admit that it isn’t entirely inspiring: cutting welfare, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime policies, war hawk policies, promoting the overthrow of governments, etc. All of this corresponds to the money she gets from speaking fees and donations to campaigns and to the Clinton Foundation—from: prison industry, corporations, particular foreign governments, etc. She does the bidding of those who pay for her services. All of this is out in the open.

Maybe people who support her (and politicians like her) know fully well what she stands for. Maybe these voters completely understand what they are buying with their vote. Maybe they are intentionally aligning themselves with certain powerful interests. Maybe they want politicians who, from their perspective, will do what needs to be done.

It might seem like hypocrisy. Supporters of Hillary Clinton often claim to be liberals and progressives. So, how can they support her illiberal and reactionary policies? Yet maybe this misses the point.

The purpose of politicians in a democracy is to represent voters. If we take this as being genuinely true, then it indicates politicians are doing what voters want them to do. The confusion comes from there being a difference between what people say they want and what they actually want. That is what politicians are for, as they will do what voters want them to do, even though voters can’t admit that is what they want them to do. Politicians allow for plausible deniability, a disconnect between the voting public and government action.

We live in a liberal age. But we rarely think about what this means. What really is liberalism? Why do conservatives speak the rhetoric of liberalism and invoke liberal values? And why do liberals so often act like conservatives? Considering this, what exactly is this liberal order that dominates our minds and lives?

Looking the Other way: Willful Ignorance and Intentional Blindness

Ignorant. There is no word like it. Calling someone ‘uninformed’ or ‘misinformed’ doesn’t have the same force nor even the exact same meaning. No word can take the place of ‘ignorant’.

Yet it is politically incorrect to call someone ignorant. I’ve had comments deleted on Amazon reviews because I called someone ignorant when I meant it as a literal statement in that person was, as defined by the dictionary, “lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular.” It is considered mean-spirited to point out that someone is ignorant, even when or especially when it is true.

This just makes it all the more frustrating. Our society has a taboo about facing ignorance. We wouldn’t know how to function as a society without such ignorance. It can feel like it goes beyond even just ignorance. Along with an unwillingness to talk about ignorance, there is an ignorance of ignorance. It is the default position for nearly all social interactions and public discourses.

It can seem pointless even trying to blame anyone for being ignorant. The seeming unconscious obliviousness is immense. People are just ignorant. They don’t know any better, so the story goes.

My focus has been mostly on racism as of late. The ignorance in this area is more frustrating still. It is a systemic and institutional ignorance that makes possible the systemic and institutional racism.

Why are so many people ignorant about the continuing reality of racism?

“It can be tempting to think that today most white people are racist primarily because of an inadvertent lack of knowledge about the cultures and lives of people of color. Many white people in the United States and other white privileged countries do not often personally interact with people of color, and when they do, such interactions often are of the trivial sort found in consumer exchanges. Given the de facto but persistent racial segregation of many cities, neighborhoods, and schools and the paucity of non-stereotypical portrayals of people of color on television and in Hollywood movies, white solipsism is a real problem.”
~ Shannon Sullivan, Revealing Whiteness, Kindle Locations 219-223

But is ignorance reality a default state? How can an unintentional passivity toward racism cause it to be to remain so stubbornly in place?

There is a study that was about attentional focus. It measured this by eye gaze. As I recall, it had to do with differences between liberals and conservatives. There was something that either conservatives don’t appreciate or doesn’t fit into their worldview. They put an image of this thing or something like that in their visual field. What the researchers found was that the people who had a vested interest in not seeing something intentionally didn’t look in the direction of what they didn’t want to see. At some level, they had seen it, even though in questions they acknowledged no awareness of it being there.

These people went to great effort to maintain their experiential blindness. This is how willful ignorance operates. There is an intention behind the behavior, even if it isn’t fully conscious.

“A similar temptation is to think that white people are racist because they lack accurate knowledge about the (alleged) scientific, biological basis for racial categories. This view of racism holds that many people fail to understand that there are no necessary and sufficient biological or genetic conditions for dividing the human population into distinct races. Because of this failure, they mistakenly think that race and racial hierarchies are real. Demonstrate the lack of scientific basis for race, so says this eliminativist view, and racism will disappear because the categories on which it is based-white, black, and so on-will have disappeared. Racial categories and the racism they support are like the emperor who wears no clothes. All one need do is honestly point out the emperor’s nakedness, and the illusion of his clothing will disappear. Dismantling the biological theories of race upon which racism rests likewise requires merely the same straightforward good will to acknowledge the obvious: the lack of the scientific data to support racial categorization.’
~ Shannon Sullivan, Revealing Whiteness, Kindle Locations 227-232

I’m a lover of knowledge. I want to believe that knowledge matters. The issue isn’t really about knowledge, but about ignorance and the two aren’t necessarily oppositional. People know and don’t know things all the time. People are fully capable of dividing their minds and their lives, never making the connections that would cause them to see the full picture.

Knowledge isn’t just about facts, but more importantly about comprehension, about a visceral and emotional sense of really getting what something means and why it matters. Knowledge isn’t an abstract intellectual exercise. Truth is a moral force or it is nothing at all.

Pointing out data without a way of conveying meaning won’t undo ignorance. List the numbers of dead in the recent genocide against Palestinians won’t have an impact. But if you forced someone to spend a week having Israeli bombs falling all around them with dead bodies and destruction that couldn’t be ignored, all of a sudden that list of numbers would be viscerally real and would have an emotional impact. Mere knowledge that could be easily dismissed would become a truth with moral force.

Westerners can be told the data that objectively proves genocide. But data is just data. There is great power of the mind to not really see or comprehend the data, to dismiss it, ignore it and rationalize it away. It isn’t unintentional.

The oppression of dark-skinned people in Palestine follows the same basic pattern of the oppression of dark-skinned people in America. The mechanisms are the same. The details really don’t matter in defense of the social order and in upholding the status quo. Much has changed in the US over the centuries. Racism morphs to fit the times and yet basically continues on.

I sometimes try to make sense of this as mere inertia. But that doesn’t really explain anything at all. That is just an avoidance of responsibility and an avoidance of the despair that would accompany taking responsibility.

“Rather than an innocuous oversight, it was an active, deliberate achievement that was carefully (though not necessarily consciously) constructed, maintained, and protected. Du Bois eventually saw that to understand the white ignorance of non-white people, one has to hear the active verb “to ignore” at the root of the noun.”

We are ignorant because we ignore. This is willful ignorance. It isn’t just racial bias in institutions, residue of past racism. No, racism is alive and well, in the minds of all of us. We are afraid to call a spade a spade. It is politically incorrect to point out that our society is still racist.

The Force of Truth

It sometimes feels like those of us who value truth and honesty are at a disadvantage in these times of mass misinformation and disinformation, willful ignorance and echo chambers. But the internet despite its failings has opened up dialogue in a way never before possible. The average person can access info that even the most educated elites didn’t know in the past.

On the world wide web, a person can live in a reality tunnel if they choose. But when they do so, they isolate themselves and so disempower their impact on the world. They end up silencing themselves, a just result in a too often unjust world.

I’ll give an example of this.

Just recently, I was debating someone in their book review and someone else joined them in their defense. So, I took them both on which wasn’t hard to do because I had the facts on my side. These people weren’t necessarily ignorant in the willful sense, at least not initially. They simply didn’t know the facts because no one had taught them the facts and it never occurred to them to look at alternative views.

They argued with me for several comments. But I ended the debate by offering direct quotes of the person in question. The review was on Amazon and so the reviewer couldn’t censor the debate. They couldn’t silence me directly without also silencing themselves. They removed their review which is their admitting they were wrong and knew it.

That has to hurt their sense of self esteem. They can never again enter a debate with confidence that they know what they are talking about. From now on, they will live in fear of debate because they fear the truth. They can now become a recluse who hides away in their preferred reality tunnel listening to their own views echo back to them. But in doing so they’ve accepted defeat. They’ve chosen to resign from debate and so have removed themselves from the battlefield of ideas.

This is the second time I’ve managed to get someone to remove their review simply by offering facts they couldn’t refute. I’m only one person. Imagine if every lover and seeker of truth were to do the same. It’s a win/win scenario, for me at least. If they remove the untruth, that decreases the misinfo/disinfo in the world. If they don’t remove the untruth, they are forced to leave my refutation of their untruth for all to see.

I’ve noticed this kind of power to influence in other ways as well. There are the right-wingers who will mindlessly repeat that America is not a democracy. I saw this regularly online for years. I pointed out the falsity of this every single time I saw it. Many other people did the same. Now, you rarely hear right-wingers say this anymore.

The force of truth is more powerful than we sometimes realize. This makes me happy.