Thursday, September 5, 2013

Things I Learned From Star Trek: Episode I

Mr. Spock was a Liberal Elitist

"Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide."
Vulcan proverb

"Act, and you may eat dinner. Think, and you may be dinner."
Klingon proverb

The Star Trek character of Mr. Spock is a cultural icon. His recurring theme is one of an intelligent technocrat capable of the most amazing acts of mental discipline and knowledge but one devoid of human feelings and emotions. Over the course of the series and films Spock more than any evolves as a character in search of the human condition and that emotion and feeling are at least as important as the pure logic he values.

One of the best examples is the one titled “The Galileo Seven”. Spock, Bones and five others become
The humanization of Mr. Spock
Leadership is as much about emotion as knowledge
stranded on a planet inhabited by giant spear throwing troglodytes who start killing off the crew one at a time. Spock decides that a show of their weaponry will cause them to reconsider attacking them which only causes them to attack in force bashing the shuttle craft with rocks while Scotty and the others desperately try to repair the ship and escape.

Spock becomes unhinged by this and expresses his shock that his logic did not work. Bones on the other hand berates him saying, “You assumed that they would behave logically. You never anticipated that they might react emotionally!” Spock's Vulcan philosophy had no answer to the illogical reaction of the creatures. In the end Spock makes the necessary adjustments by himself reacting emotionally and committing an act of illogic resulting in their rescue.
When logic fails
Speak the language of emotion

Like the Vulcans, modern Liberals evolved out of more chaotic times. The labor movement was born in riots and death. The strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are hallmarks of a more violent and confrontational time.  The outrages of Joe Hill, the Pullman and coal strikes of a hundred years ago are just the grainy photos in a history book.  The civil rights and anti-war movements were at the zenith for those still living. The images of troops and corporate thugs beating and shooting down strikers and the four dead in Ohio were an easy message to get. It was as much about the emotion of the times as it was the all too real issues of the day.

Progressive leaders like Bob Lafollet were passionate advocates
Fighting Bob
Never lacking for passion!
for bridling the trusts and action on behalf of the common worker. Lafollet was known as “Fighting Bob” and is often seen in photographs with a stern expression and his fist upraised ready to take on the opposition. It was a populist movement built on the emotion of desperate people trying to survive and hungry for the symbolism and leadership to help them.  Lafollet often said that it was "... necessary to be aggressive for what is right.  Modern Liberals like to attend the event known as "Fighting Bob Fest" to feed on the red meat thrown by Liberal luminaries who breath the fire of moral outrage.  But, when they return home revert to old patterns leaving the emotion on the convention floor.  The message falls flat.

The TEA Party is essentially a populist movement too. It gets many things right. It is angry at Wall Street, is suspicious of corporate personhood and knows by their gut that their fortunes are threatened. It is all about the passions that survival invokes. So, why cant we talk to them?

A Progressive friend of mine pointed out that “we” just can't put our complex ideas into short simplistic sound bytes. Consider this for a second what that means. It says that we are so smart and our ideas so profound that we cannot even attempt to communicate in simple terms or consider the possibility that words are not the entire solution.  At the same time it says that we are NOT smart enough to be good word smiths, communicators or actors when on the political stage. I don't buy that and neither would Bones.  If we are really that educated where are the authors and English majors?  Where are the sociologist and the anthropologist and the behavioral psychologists that permeate our overly educated party?

I suggest that the real problem is that like the Vulcans we have forgotten how to talk to ordinary rank
An image we just learn to understand
and avoid
and file working class blue collar or farm populations. We are too far removed, our habits too altered to be recognizable in the worlds they inhabit. The facilitator of that has been our own white collar success which has become our greatest obstacle to communication with that world. Who do we most resemble if not the very corporate bosses that oppress them daily? We play golf and tennis, dress in nice clothes, drink wine or the pricey beer, drive nicer cars, live in better houses and as teachers and government workers are quite capable of leveling the same sort of oppressions upon them as any SOB plant manager. In short, you cannot tell the players without a program.

Meanwhile they fish and hunt, play league sports for bars, drive older cars and drink the cheap beer in cans – and on sale. More often than not they get dirty for a living. White collars shower in the morning so as not to take their odors to work. Blue collars shower at night so as not to take the filth of their jobs into their beds. We do not live in their neighborhoods or see their lives. But worst of all we do not speak their language.

At the same time that plant manager holds much greater sway that any of us ever could. They hold in their hands the worker's daily bread so that any speech holding that SOB accountable is as likely to endanger hearth and home in ways no Liberal could. In fact, attacking the Liberal is likely to curry favor with the boss.  When they ask what we can do for them we are likely to offer the same answer - become educated like us!  Which is often heard as "You are stupid!".  

If we look the same and our solutions are no better what do we have to offer them?  At least the Republican businessman can offer them a job.  We are the easy targets, the ones without obvious consequences. And still we make it worse by mocking their spelling and and calling them dupes.
If we were the Liberal elite what would we look like?

We are the Vulcans. Too smart for our own good. Too sophisticated to see the simple. Too out of touch with our own emotional and violent past to remember what it was like to talk to rough people who are only trying to survive. Too arrogant and too comfortable to use our own skills to seek solutions that do not fit our modern self made molds.
The wrong message
So, what are the solutions? They will not come easy and if you were offended by the previous paragraph unlikely to happen at all. Its time to shake things up!

It has been suggested by some that we need to become less Liberal by shedding at least some values in order to salvage others. Which ones would you suggest? Worker's rights? The environment? Voting rights? Marriage rights? Civil rights? When Solomon ordered the child cut in half to settle the dispute only the true mother fell over it offering herself to defend it. So too would would the Liberal base exodus the Democratic party if that became the resolution.

Its also been suggested that working even harder at GOTV efforts will deliver us into the promised land. Getting out the vote is important but it cannot succeed on its own. Too many have become demoralized and cynical. Do this!  But do more!

But there is a caution here as well.  Raw emotion is not enough.  It must be directed at the right targets and not the seeming opponent standing before us.  He is the deceived victim and not the enemy.  A
A meeting of the minds
As well as cultures
misdirected attack or a raw shouting match does more harm than good.  The ire and the logic must both be directed at those responsible and the case must be made that takes up their causes in their way and their language and their manners.  There must be both a meeting of the minds as well as the cultures.

To do this we need to step out into the worlds of our fellow populists and rediscover the emotional language of our Democratic fathers. A little bombast never hurt anyone as long as it was made from the truths we hold self evident. And to those who's ears it will harm, I invite them to cover them. People who live by their gut respect strong leadership. We need to demonstrate some. By showing some of those old populist values and emotions that served us so well in the too distant past we can like Spock, rediscover our human side. May we live long and prosper.  A little chaos makes us human.

Star date 2013.08.05

Note: I recently came across this piece at Raw Story which I think supports this and other similar points that Ive made:
This is what he believes it would take to refashion the progressive mindset: the abandonment of argument by evidence in favor of argument by moral cause; the unswerving and unembarrassed articulation of what those morals are; the acceptance that there is no “middle” or third way, no such thing as a moderate (people can hold divergent views, conservative on some things, progressive on others – but they are not moderates, they are “biconceptual”);
Progressive linguist George Lakoff: ‘Liberals do everything wrong.’ 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Progressives on Syria

This is meant as some food for thought among my fellow Progressives who are unhappy with the move toward taking action in Syria.

It is ultimately true that alleging oppression and genocide have long been the excuses for otherwise unprovoked invasions with ulterior motives.  This is not lost on me as today is the 1st of September and the 74th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. The pretense for that was the oppression
World highwaymen - Germany invaded Poland today
of ethnic Germans in Poland which of course was not at all true and eventually brought my father to this country after much pain and suffering. Here we remember all too well the great lies told by Bush and Cheney which created the great debacle in Iraq.

But let me also tell you that WW II itself was equally a demonstration that military force can and should be used as a force for good in the world. My father was a prisoner in the concentration camp Neuengamme in May 1945 when the NAZIs were trying to liquidate the remaining population. The following is an excerpt from his memoir about the conditions on the ground in those final days and what it meant for the survivors and how it affected their captors.

"It was a very beautiful day. The sun was was shining, only a light breeze stirring the air, the fragrance from spring flowers from the nearby fields was permeating the area. If it was not for the fact that the sun was beating very hard, it would have been quite pleasant. But the sun was so unmercifully baking that in no time it became almost intolerably hot. The fact that everyone was in such a weakened condition the heat added to the misery. The voices calling for water became louder and louder. “Quiet!” the Germans from time to time added their voices to the mix. At times even a burst of submachine gun could be heard with bullets whistling over the crowd's heads. This condition almost developed into a major problem, when one of the SS officers turned the water on nearby the [railway] station building. What prevented the outburst was the appearance of American fighter planes. They flew so low that the faces of pilots were visible.
Kostek almost exclaimed aloud, “There!” as he fixed his eyes on one plane. “This plane is the very same that I was waiving to while I was on the farm yet.” In fact, right after that moment, he realized where he was and quickly glanced around trying to assess if he did say something, but no one looked surprised and he cowered down.
The Germans, on the other hand, reacted with a mixed emotions. Some became so angry that they tried to shoot at the planes as they made passes. Others, noticing those aiming at them, shouted. Kostek listened attentively to the conversations. 
“Don't do it!” One of the nearby SS said to his friend. “Do you want them to shoot back?  Your bullet probably will not do much harm, but they will unleash their anger on us and will do a lot of harm."   
"Let them shoot!" replied another.  "Take a look at what you are guarding. Wouldn't you like to see them disappear?"   
The officer scoffed.  "Do you think they don't know who these people are? And don't you think they know where you are?  Look, you idiot. I just came from the front. While there I thought like you do, but it did not take me long to figure out that the pilots can zero in on a target and almost pick what they want. I have wounds to prove it!”
We need always to consider the motives of any leader who advances the idea of military action to protect the innocent. The question we must ask is, Do we trust this president at this time? Or must we cast each and every such claim as automatically false because it has been used for such insidious purposes before? I think we need to consider each and every event as new and unique and need to consider the merits as they stand. It all comes down to trust in the light of the one real truth which is that inaction can be as devastating as action and the difference lives or dies with the truth.  For my part he still has my trust.  Others, a good deal less so.