Friday, August 24, 2012

Why I Support 'Big Government'

The other day, I posted the following status update to my facebook page:

"I spend my days around social workers and the homeless--possibly the two demographics that Republicans hate the most".

I followed up that statement with the following comment:

"In the time I am not with social workers and the homeless, I am with my children. Since they are not fetuses, and attend public school, they are also a demographic Republicans don't care for."

I got a bundle of 'likes' from likeminded people, but also got a handful of e-mails from Republican friends and family who were offended by my hyperbole.

Mostly, they explained how they didn't fit into my stereotype: 'I am pro-choice and a Republican', or 'I like social workers and am a Republican', or 'I volunteer at a food kitchen and am a Republican'. The rest of their arguments all boiled down to variations on the following catchphrase: 'I just don't want government running my life'. One friend ended his statement  with the familiar bumper sticker, 'a government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything away'.

First, I apologized to everyone for painting an entire group with so broad of a brush. I have come to accept this part of my character: I am a divider, not a uniter. I like all of the people I offended with my comment, so I regret hurting their feelings. I have been pretty good at keeping the little demon of agitation that possess me in check lately, but sometimes she gets out.

Now, I am writing this, because goddammit, I think my friends and family are wrong. 'Big Government' in and of itself is neutral. You have to ask yourself, 'what is this big government doing?' My friends and family carry a fear of oppressive state regimes around in their mind. They are thinking of Stalin and Chairman Mao. But this need not be the case. 'Big Government' in a working democracy really equals a bigger influence for people not born with the gift of upward mobility, which--we have to admit if we are honest--is an American myth.

We do not get a vote in the activities of 'the 1%'. We don't get to elect the boards, or the C.E.O.'s. We can't vote on the type of healthcare coverage our employers offer us. We don't get to vote on the cost of an education, or any of the freedoms ascribed  us by our founding documents...only through government do we have any say about these things. It's only through government--an assembly of imperfect citizens, accountable to the general public--do the disenfranchised and the minority have a chance to build coalitions that allow their voices to be heard and their rights to be respected.

Government is not perfect, because people are not perfect. But government is the only thing standing between our society and the law of the jungle (survival of the fittest), which, at its bottom, is the foundation principle of the modern Republican party. We are a capitalist nation, and capitalism always devolves into a vast pyramid scheme. A strong, progressive govermnent is the only tool we have to make sure the rights of those not at the top of the pyramid are not completely fleeced away.

We are at a critical point in the history of our nation. We have an oppportunity in this presidential election to acknowledge that 'sometimes history needs a little nudge', and make a move towards a more equitable, fair, and universally prosperous nation, wherein the wider population has a larger say in the way things should be done. Or, we could choose to vote for a lesser voice for ourselves, and vote to further empower the already empowered, and hope that a few scraps might fall off of their bulging plates from time to time, enabling us to feed our families and pay for our doctor's bills.

I vote for 'big government', because government is the only vehicle that keeps the people--my people--in the race.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

HP Lovecraft, Honest Theologian

There is no other experience in literature that rivals reading the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft. The cumulative effect--regardless of the order in which you read the stories--is to gradually open up before you a vista  of complex mythology through hints and gradual revelations, much in the same way the protagonists of Lovecraft's stories discover the horrors of the universe, and the utter insignifcance of mankind. For those of us with darker senses of humor, it is fun.

One of the things that makes it fun is that in Lovecraft we have a few rarely combined elements: we have the mythmaker and moralist. The two things in and of themselves are not dissonant, but the morality that reveals itself in the myths is definitely uncommon. Typically, man looks for vindication and progressive guidance in his myths. He seeks a larger purpose that adds grandiosity to his life, and provides meaning. What we get in the myths of Lovecraft are larger purposes that we cannot fathom, and we see the veneer of meaning stripped away. We are meat-machines (to paraphrase Houllebecq), whose self determination is illusory.

The other disparate combination is that of the theologian and the artist. Again, there is nothing unusual about this combination on its face: C.S. Lewis wrote books of apologetics and sprawling fiction. G.K. Chesterton did the same (although his fictions were far less sprawling). The reason these two men are still so influential, I believe, is that they nearly got the cocktail completely right. Lovecraft did get it right; His worldview is very much reflected in his fiction, but the fact claims hinted at in his fiction don't extend past his own pessimistic, reactionary--possibly schizophrenic--worldview. This worldview may be bleak, but it is one arrived at by personal consideration, without relying on unverifiable and improbable prophecies and visions for confirmation. Lovecraft's worldview may be wrong, but it is honest. It is this key element that separates him from the theologian.

Not that believing theologians are all deliberately dishonest. In many cases they are very honest people with a very honest interest in preserving their whole identity and worldview. Because their identity and worldview are based on untruths, they have to be very creative in the way they protect them. H.P. Lovecraft--possibly because his worldview was inherently bleak--had no need to protect it with fantasy. He used fantasy to illuminate and share his disposition, but he didn't need to believe that the stories he spun were true. Whether or not the idiot god Azatoth squirmed and babbled at the center of reality, Lovecraft abandoned himself to his fears and phobias.

 Chesterton & Lewis's mythologies were more optimistic than Lovecraft's, but they were created as metaphors for untrue things. Lovecraft's mythologies are pessimistic, but they are reflective of the author's disposition, not untruths. Once you leave christianity, the fictions of Lewis and Chesterton can still be charming, but they become a little too precious. Lovecraft, love him or hate him, doesn't give you much to argue with. His work is about feelings, and you don't need to be an atheist or materialist to understand what it means to be isolated, ignorant, and in-over-your-head; we're given that understanding at birth.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"We're Americans...We're Better Than This..."

"We're Americans...we're better than this..."- a survivor of Jared Lee Loughner's shooting rampage commenting on recent mass shootings in the news.

'We're Americans...we're better than this...'

'No, no we're not.' was my first thought when I heard that statement made on NPR this morning. The myth of American exceptionalism is a dangerous one, and it needs to die. I was going to say, 'it needs to die if we're ever going to get 'better' than this', but there's really no getting better than this. This is the human condition, and we are only able to improve by understanding that we are all animals, and we are all capable of any kind of behavior under the sun. 

Think of the worst people you know. Odds are, they believe they have it all figured out. Human potential only shows through when people embrace struggle; the cruelest, stupidest, most backwards among us are people who have decided it is better to embrace a comfortable illusion than to be real.

"God is on our side. Our people are better than their people. My kids would never do anything like that."

There is no god. People are people. You better believe your kids are capable of anything.

Let's stop bullshitting ourselves. We've got work to do.