Friday, April 24, 2009

In lieu of actual new content...

...someone published me again. Follow the link, gentle readers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hey Kids, Do Ya Like Violence?

So, we've had a few shootings recently. Brings me back.

We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of Columbine, an event I've spent far too much time writing and thinking about in a world that also contains rape, slavery and Battle for Wesnoth, and the subject of a new book by the guy who really got me into internet journalism. (Not that I consider what I'm doing now to be journalism, but...y'know, internet journalism is cool.) And I'm proud to say that Mortal Kombat was not mentioned at all in the recent shooting of three police officers by a crazy guy who thought Obama was going to take away his guns.

Granted, I'm not sure why he felt that shooting three police officers would be an effective way of preventing this. I'm fairly certain his guns are now in the possession of the Philadelphia police, which seems to be the opposite of what he wanted. And even if Obama had taken them, he could have held onto them for at least a few more weeks if he'd just stayed at home watching TV like the rest of us. But anyway, he shot them, and I hope he was satisfied with that result, because it's kind of too late to change course for him at this point.

And then, with much fanfare and at least a little organ music, entered the blogs.

Distilled, some rather avant-garde, largely wordless posts from the left digging up old video and text of The Clinton Chronicles, G. Gordon Liddy's famous exhortation to aim for the head or groin of armored ATF agents--which I can only assume he picked up from Metal Gear Solid 2--and the modern-day Martin Luther who took an armed stand against the medieval tyranny of the Unitarian Universalist Church. The right picks up the ball and insists that the left should be ashamed for trying to criminalize speech on the specious grounds that the aforementioned clips, or conservative sensibilities in general, cause this kind of violence. And some of the posters seem to agree about the causation, and some are more vague, and I thought it deserved a think.

I've written stuff I'm not proud of. Which is not to say that I think it's dangerous, or that I'm not a total attention whore about urging people to read it. I have, however, written a thing or two that I'm proud of, but I'd never actually want published. Case in point, a short story written in my late teens called Last Will and Testament, which is basically an emphatic defense of suicide that borders on celebration. It should go without saying that I don't exactly agree with the protagonist, in the sense that there are around ten ways to kill myself located in the room I'm typing in, and I've not opted to avail myself of any of them. But I like (my memory of) the story, I like its parsimony, its rhetorical force, and its general shamelessness. But I really, really wouldn't want it falling into the hands of a random teenager I don't personally know. So that, apparently, is my line. That's the idea I wouldn't want to express in public for fear of what someone might do with it. I don't know if it's morally necessary for me to have a line, and I can't really apply my line, by analogy, to anyone else's work. They can draw their own lines; it's really not my job.

I don't believe that causality is as simple as yes/no when we're dealing with something like human relations, a subject so ridiculously complex that it only makes sense to deal with it in terms of metaphor and analogy. But I do think that, were I the kind of person who had disliked Clinton's policies to the point that I had (if not actually believed or endorsed) tolerated the kinds of insane conspiracy-mongering highlighted in these posts, to the point that I didn't actively ridicule them, I'd want to take this moment to stop and consider what I had said, and what I had done, and what I had implicitly or explicitly defended or repudiated.

Because, even if there's no causality, these ideas matter. Ideas matter for their own sake, and ideas about politics--ideas about power, and justice, and how rights, duties and resources ought to be allocated in a world of finite resources, fluid wealth, and unfathomable social complexity--ought to be respected. The processes of politics, maybe not. I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with thinking that representative democracy is, at its heart, pretty stupid. And I'm certainly not suggesting that there's anything wrong with treating politicians with no more respect than any other human being of similar character. But human beings matter, once the sun's up and all the trendy nihilists have eaten their pancakes and gone to bed. And politics is about us, about who gets paid, and who gets shot, and who gets left alone. It might not be a noble endeavor, but we are fucking stuck with it, for no reason other than because we are human.

I am not a principled conservative, and my imaginary readers may form their own opinions as to whether I am, by default, unprincipled, unconservative, or both. But were I a principled conservative, I'd want to look at the shooters, and look at their opinions, and take a careful account of where they differed from my own. And then I'd want to look again, to see where they seemed similar to my own, and see if that made me look at my own ideas differently. I'd think about my own writing, and how to express those ideas more clearly and more forcefully: if not to be more civil, or more safe, but only to be more honest.

Imaginary conservative reader retorts, why don't those other asshat bloggers and assorted media whores have to do this?

Well, shit, I hope they do. I think crafting words into communicable ideas is pretty much the most awesome thing about being human, and it's part and parcel of consciousness, rationality, and the very idea of intentional action. Words fucking matter. I think political discourse, in the main, probably ought not to be conducted via stream-of-consciousness or automatic writing. But when the "Bush/Hitler" stuff gets brought up, I can only say...yeah, kinda stupid.

On the other hand, Bush's government did kidnap and American citizen, Jose Padilla, take him to a legal phantom zone, and torture him until he lost his mind. His staff did write memos that granted the office of the president theoretically unlimited power, even if we do not honestly believe he planned to suspend elections and start building concentration camps. He did either a) start a war on false pretenses, or b) start a war by accident, from a bad reading of widely criticized intelligence. He did, publicly and repeatedly, utter false statements about Iraq's WMD capabilities, even if we didn't notice because Clinton had publicly and repeatedly uttered the same false statements. WMD experts knew Clinton was wrong, and they knew Bush was wrong, and we spent four ridiculous years arguing with each other over the largely irrelevant point of whether or not these false statements constituted lying. He authorized torture. I said that before, but I think it's important, so I'm going to say it again:

Oh my fucking God the President of the United States authorized torture. Of anyone. Prisoners of war, foreign civilians, American citizens, your mom, anyone. He made it legal for the government to waterboard anyone they felt like.

These things are facts; they are well-documented, and to deny them or dismiss them is to opt out of social reality and voluntarily take up the identity of a schizophrenic. This makes them a bit different than, say, claiming that Obama's volunteer corps thing is a) mandatory and b) suppresses religious practice, since in this case, but a) and b) are ridiculous fucking lies. Bill Clinton did not murder Vince Foster and half of the state of Arkansas. In 1994, ATF agents were not about to kick in the door of every American who had legally purchased a handgun. These things did not happen. So I'm hesitant to argue that it's equivalent to things like Bush=Hitler, which identifies itself as hyperbole by the very fact that it is literally absurd. Hitler died in 1945. In Germany. You can look it up. The Red Army got custody of his body, and in all likelihood they did something truly hideous to it. George W. Bush cannot be, literally, the same person. Are we all clear on this? That making a literally absurd claim is not the same thing as making a literally possible but factually untrue one?

Lastly, there is one more point that tends to come up in these arguments that deserves mention: the Bush=Hitler people don't seem to have actually murdered anyone specifically because of what they feared Bush would do, despite whatever horrible paranoid fantasies the left might have been feeding them. This isn't bragging, and it isn't an attempt to criminalize speech. It's just a suggestion if we are going to talk about consequences and tragedy, we would probably do well to focus on tragedies that have actually happened as opposed to imaginary future tragedies that might reassure us of our own innocence.

I really did use the word "fuck" quite a bit in that post. Which, I suppose, leads to a nice mea culpa to end on: I do talk about politics in a largely improvisational, stream-of-consciousness sort of way. More accurately, I think about politics that way, and then carefully and intentionally form sentences deliberately constructed to look spontaneous. It's not just politics, I do it with everything. Unless I've tried to date you in the past, you really can't imagine how irritating it is.