Saturday, October 10, 2009

Where is the hero who shook my hand?

Interestingly enough, I wrote the title of this post over a month ago. I was disheartened by something or other that our dear president had done or had failed to do, and I got as far as typing the title before I was interrupted by some work-related demand. Today, however, it seems appropriate to return to the topic.

I once heard Nobel Laureate Edmond H. Fischer speak (I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really know who he was at the time) and I met winner of the Kyoto and Albert Lasker prizes, Leroy Hood in a Seattle bakery once -- and shook his hand. As of today though, I can say that I shook the hand of a soon-to-be Nobel Laureate.

When Obama came to New Mexico the second-to-the-last time before the election, my wife and I drove up to Santa Fe to hear him speak. The line to get into the auditorium was over a quarter of a mile long and by the time we got to the gate the venue had reached maximum capacity and we were turned away. Then he came outside and talked to the crowd. I employed all of my crowd maneuvering skills (and abandoned my wife) to get to the front of the crowd, and I was rewarded with a moment of eye contact and a firm clasp of hands, and for few moments I was able to set aside my skepticism and truly believe, with all my heart, that this man would lead our nation -- our world even -- to true change.

Time has passed. He has proved himself to be human. He compromises. He panders. He protects. He gives undeserved preference. He even obscures the truth. I'm still glad that I voted for him and I am happier with him than I've been with any president that I can remember. But he's not the one. I wanted the Kwizatz Haderach and he is merely another Duke Leto I; a good man and a mighty relief from the Harkonen oppression that came before, but a politician none the less, and ultimately ineffectual.

Today he has been crowned by the world. I'm pleased for him and I'm pleased by the humility with which he announced his intention to accept the prize, but it makes me wish all the more that he'd done more to deserve it. If he had withdrawn our troops from pointless conflicts, if he had demanded absolute transparency regarding the tortures at Guantanimo Bay and the existence of secret detention centers, if he had sacrificed bipartisanism for the sake of a healthcare system that might really make a difference for the health of our nation, if he had shown himself to be the hero that I wanted him to be... then I would be cheering for him today, on his day.

Instead... well instead he is just a man who shook my hand. But men can become heroes and so my hope is not yet dead.

Facebook: Fuel for the Flames

My post on Facebook sparked some fun debate today. I am privileged enough to have friends of all walks and persuasions (including some very conservative folks), and this makes for very lively and stimulating debates. Not the ideal blog post, I know, but it makes for entertaining reading, and I did put a little work into my responses. Oh... and if I end up posting a bunch of responses to Glen Beck transcripts, at least you'll know why.

Me:
[Micaiah] thinks that Obama could become the greatest president ever, but that he doesn't deserve a Nobel yet. Maybe winning it will inspire him to earn it.

Friend 1:
I completely agree that Obama hasn't really done much to earn the nobel. But it tickles me absolutely silly that he did! Can you imagine the wailing and teeth-gnashing on the part of the Limbaughs and Becks of the world? Infuriating the wingnut lunatics makes it all so completely worth it.

Friend 2:
I admire Glenn Beck tremendously. So does that make me a wingnut lunatic? I try hard not to call liberals names. It makes me sound condescending and arrogant. What do you think?

Me:
I haven't actually consumed enough of Mr. Beck's product to comment on him specifically, but whether or not the term "wingnut lunatic" is entirely fair, I do question the judgement (and possibly even the mental processes) of those who attribute any value to the unreliable propaganda that is continuously generated by the conservative talking heads of Mr. Beck's ilk.

Friend 2:
I challenge you to watch him for a week, then investigate his claims on the internet, and come back to your sight and give a "knowlegable" evaluation. And while you're at it, maybe you could actually keep your mind open to the possibility, no matter how impossible it may seem, that there could be an element of truth in what he has to say. After all, it is you liberals who claim we conservatives are the close minded ones, even though I could probably tell you what the liberal media is saying about any given political idea, better than most liberals I converse with can tell me the conservative point of view. Questioning my intelligence or "mind processes" sounds to me like if we were in Germany in the Nazi era, I would probably be put in an institution to rehabilitate my brainwashed mind. So would you say it requires genious intelligence in order to know truth when you hear it? I believe we've had some very intelligent evil men in history. I'll take integrity, honesty, diligence and many other signs of morality over extremely high intelligence any day! In fact I remember reading some years ago that geniuses lie more than those with average intelligence. Let's just work together, both sides of the aisle to discover what the truth is about the merits, or lack thereof, of the bills we are passing so quickly without our representatives even reading them and laughing about it as though that were the most absurd of ideas. I really admire your intelligence, but it is not my gift. But I do believe I have enough character to suspect when things just don't make good old common sense. And I believe you do, too. Please, let's stop spewing platitudes. Our country's future is too important for this blind loyalty to either party. If you can't see how corrupt both sides of the aisle are in our government and try to be open to joining with those who love their country, just as you do, then I guess I'm wasting my words. But I beg you to stop and listen to those you now ridicule long enough to give them a honest chance to convince you. And Glenn Beck is the one I believe you might actually find yourself surprised about the most. Please. It's important.

Friend 3:
Has anyone on the liberal left side stopped to think that possibly the more conservative people on the right consider things we hear and see and disagree with propaganda also? And that we, too, feel just as strongly for our beliefs as you do. I too, will take integrity, honesty and morality over high intelligence. However, I feel that it is 1) not our place to judge where anyone is at since God alone knows the hearts of men, 2) you can't believe every thing you see and hear in either the Republican or Democratic arena, so we need to be doing our own research and not relying just on what a news anchor has to say, and 3) most importantly, start simply respecting each other. This "war" between the sides is never going to end ... but each of us can start with being kind and respectful to other people's opinions and beliefs. Micaiah, you are someone that I both love and respect very much and I would never, ever stoop to calling you a name just because of our political differences. So ... please everyone, a little kindness and respect goes a long way.

Me:
(To Friend 3)
Thank you for reminding me of the importance of kindness and respect (coming from one such as you, who epitomizes both of these qualities, a rebuke, even a kind and respectful one, goes a long way -- I mean than with absolute sincerity). Furthermore, I agree 100% that you can't believe anything you see or hear in either the republican or democratic arena (I was absolutely appalled to hear on NPR [generally considered a fairly liberal source] that liberal politicians have received more in campaign contributions in recent years from the military industry than have conservative politicians) and that we cannot rely on what a news anchor has to say. That is why I do not rely on any one source of information, but rather scour the internet for as much information on a topic of interest as I possibly can. Yes, many of the items that start me searching originate from my early morning sessions with NPR, but as is evident from the above mentioned revelation of horribly suspect behavior on the part of liberal politicians, NPR is not entirely the slave of any liberal agenda. In any case, what I find, over and over again is that the conservative news sites (I refer to internet sites here, as I do rarely watch television and only listen to the radio in the early morning and late afternoon) only ever pursue stories that undermine liberal viewpoints, whereas the more "liberal" sources honestly explore all angles, even when it is liable to hurt the probable liberal agendas. Sure integrity, honesty, and morality outweigh intelligence in an absolute sense, but part of being truly honest and moral, and part of approaching an issue with true integrity is looking at the whole picture with an open mind. This is something that I do not see even attempted by the bulk of the conservative media pundits.

All that being said... thank you very much for weighing in, and please continue to do so. I am a very opinionated person, but I also lay great stock in dissent and am not easily offended. I learn more by being whittled down to size by my opponents than I possibly can by being shored up by my allies. So keep it coming, and the more specific examples and arguments, the better. People are pendulums, pushed to and fro by whatever wind is blowing the hardest. Equilibrium is the truth and it will only be reached when all of the angry squalls have blown themselves out and only the prevailing wind is left.

Me:
(to Friend 2)
I'll come back to your challenge in a minute.

First, however, regarding Mr. Beck (or Rush Limbaugh or any of the other right-wing pundits), I have no doubt that there's an element of truth in what he has to say. Incorporating an element of truth into propaganda is an age-old technique, going back to the "father of lies." The serpent said something to the effect of, "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," and of course the part about "knowing good and evil" was all too true (in the context). Similar strategies have been used throughout history. It's a heck of a lot easier to get a croud to swallow a lie if it's coated in truth. "Just a spoon full of sugar helps the..."

As for the Nazis (who were quite adept at incorporating partial truths into their propaganda), I think we should probably leave them out of this debate. A more than cursory analysis of their political agendas will reveal that they shared far more ideology and policy with conservative right-wing elements of this country (especially as led by GW) than they do with the liberal left.

Yes, there have been some very intelligent evil men. Evil men who are also intelligent tend to go far and make a big splash in history because of their ability to effectively impose their will on a large number of people. There have been a great many very intelligent good men (and women) too... and they often are not remembered quite so well, as they don't hurt as many people (one of the basic rules of classical conditioning is that pain is a far more potent [and memorable] motivator of behavior than pleasure). And it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that very intelligent people lie more than those of average intelligence (I guess that's an argument for GW being far more intelligent than his speeches made him appear).

Unfortunately I can see just how corrupt the politicians are on BOTH sides of the aisle (see above response to Friend 3). In fact when it comes to evaluating any given proposed policy, I automatically ASSUME that any proponents of said policy are as corrupt as the day is long. It's ugly way to think, but over and over again it proves itself to be the case that there are no disinterested parties. Approaching an issue with this assumption does level the playing field though. It allows one to look past the sponsoring politician and/or party to see who is likely to actually benefit from the proposal. If the beneficiaries are the corporations and their executives then I smell something rotten and I'm opposed; if a proposal benefits the workers, the children, the poor, or the otherwise marginalized, however, then even if it means lining the pockets or polishing the egos of a few corrupt politicians (as sick as that makes me feel), count me in. The fact is, I have pretty much no loyalty to either of our (far too few in number) political parties. I side with the democrats more often than with the republicans because more often than not the democrats' proposals are based on better evidence and stand to benefit a greater number of people than those of the republicans. That's not always the case though. When it came to the fate of the automobile giants, it seems that more republicans were for leaving it to survival of the fittest while the democrats wanted to bail them out. I was with the republicans on that one.

OK... so back to your challenge. Unfortunately you have me at a bit of a disadvantage, as I have relatively little control over my work schedule and cannot commit to watching Mr. Beck's show for a week straight. I do have a counter offer for you though: Send me the transcripts (or links to the transcripts) of any of his shows that you consider to be especially worth reading (as many as you like) and I will read them with an open mind and respond to them here on Facebook, as well as on my blog. This method has the added benefit of eliminating any bias (positive or negative) produced by his style of presentation.

And please, keep up the discourse. I've already had my opinion on one major issue turned on its head in the past six months, so I know it's possible. Teach me, disprove me, convert me, sharpen me... "as iron sharpens iron..." and all that. Turn me into a frickin' razor already!

Friend 1:
Ah me oh my...my little funny sure did set off a firestorm! I'll respond more coherently over the weekend as it is late and I'm a-drinkin' some beers. For now: I can certainly adapt to debate mode rather than cheap shot mode; but, I would point out that my chortling at the discomfort of conservatives is certainly *not* inappropriate given theunbelievable invective against liberals generally, and Obama specifically, that they have injected into the public sphere. One need only consider the absolute glee of conservative pundits when Obama failed in getting the Olympics in Chicago; or the horrific name calling (Nazi!!) of the Sept. 12th protestors; or the absurd claims of the so-called birthers.

Okay, so maybe we liberals shouldn't stoop to "their level" but sometimes I think that it's just that sort of namby-pamby thinking that has resulted in the complete erosion of a truly progressive wing in this country. Clinton? End-of-wealfare-as-we-know-it-guy? Nafta-guy?? De-regulate-banks-guy??? Yeah, that's real left wing...NOT. And, so far Obama is demonstrating a warmed over Clintonism. In the last 30 years Democrats have capitulated time and again. I'm sick of it. So...I'm willing to be a bit snarky at conservatives' expense. Sometimes, it seems, fire must be fought with fire. I'm more than willing to debate without snark; but I'm going to stand up for a robust progressive agenda. Hopefully Obama will one day as well.