Sunday, October 12, 2008

Generation Terrorists

We’ve got a big problem right now. See, there’s a pretty good chance that Barack Obama’s going to win the Presidency of the United States of America in, like, a month. There’s also a very good chance that there are a crap ton of heavily armed people out there who think that Barack Obama is a terrorist. This is an especially big consideration when we consider this simple fact: the United States of America has a long and wonderful history of crazed loners killing important political figures for really fucking stupid reasons. Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, John McCain isn’t particularly safe in this scenario, either. Let’s discuss a man named Charles J. Guiteau. Guiteau was a Stalwart. For those who aren’t up on their late 19th Century politics, the Stalwarts were a division of the Republican Party who were all about the general business as usual approach to politics, which means cronyism, to the uninitiated. President James Garfield was not a fan of cronyism and made it his goal to destroy it. Guiteau killed Garfield and said, “I am a Stalwart and Arthur is President.” See, Chester A. Arthur was supposed to take over as President, keep cronyism in place and, from what I recall, show his gratitude to Charles J. Guiteau by making him, as I recall, Ambassador to France. Lest anyone wonder, I may or may not have taken a 400-level course at Western Illinois University called U.S. Political Assassinations. It was one of the best classes ever, seriously. So let’s take a look at the John McCain scenario. I’ll only do it quickly, mostly because it’s a one-step theory. He’s got a member of the extreme fringe as his veep candidate. For anyone who’s wondering, that particular extreme fringe is filled with people who think that god speaks to them. Do the math. This brings us to the Barack Obama scenario, though. Back on September 11th there were a lot of people who wanted to turn the Middle East in to a smoking pile of rubble. It was the insanity of the 9/11 response that allowed Bush Administration to railroad the Iraq War through and then get re-elected. It is this insanity that McCain is turning to as his campaign falls apart. This is not a good sign. Now, as a pretend internet historian who got an A in U.S. Political Assassinations with a personal history with one part of the Republican lunatic fringe and a secondary understanding of gun culture, I’m pretty sure that I’m the sort of guy you want breaking this down. Quite frankly (lunatic with guns) + (President) * (accusations of terrorism + racism) is a pretty stinking easy formula to come up with results for. You don’t need me for that. I’m going to assume that the people who read this are pretty good at algebra, especially the kind with equations that don’t actually need to be solved. Let’s take a look, then, at the mentality. I was in Kansas City two weeks ago to hang out with a friend and see a Peacemakers show. My friend wanted to go to an outdoor supply store. A woman working at the store asked us if we were going to buy any guns, to which I replied, “Nope, I’m going back to Chicago. You can’t really get guns there.” She replied, “Oh, isn’t it just a mess up there?” I decided not to pursue the line of discussion, but I don’t think she was talking about the CTA budget crisis. Either way, it was the first time in my life I’d ever thought of myself as a “big-city liberal,” which is fascinating, since I really, really don’t think of myself as one. I mostly think of myself as a liberal in the larger sense of questioning the world and trying to advance knowledge. This, of course, is what has gotten us to where we are. We live in honestly frightening times. I don’t know that they are more or less frightening than any of the times we’ve known before, but they are magnified by changes that have happened over the last hundred years or so. Namely, we’ve experienced great leaps forward in science, communication, and, for lack of a better term, universalism. To define terms, Barack Obama defines what I mean by the term universalism. We have a half-white, half-black candidate whose mother is from Kansas and whose father is from Kenya and who lived in, what, Indonesia, for a time. This is terrifying to a lot of people and gives ample ground to accusations that he’s a terrorist. Lots of people are worried about places like Indonesia. Hell, I met a woman who wasn’t too comfortable with Chicago. (By the way, this isn’t to say anything bad about K.C. I wasn’t a big fan of their road system, but other than that it’s a nice place.) It’s easy to play on the fears of the other, since we’re kind of hard-wired that way. It’s the tribal history of the human race. Sticking with the tribe used to be the way to survive and it’s still an important part of the thought process. To a large number of conservatives, Barack Obama is the other. Unfortunately we’re seeing a Republican Party that remains content to play upon those fears, which is both why Obama is called both a Muslim and a radical black terrorist and we’ve been subjected to the candidacy of Sarah Palin for the last month. Palin is the exemplar of the sort of incuriosity that maintains a frightened base. It’s why they actually tried to pull the, “Well, I can see Russia from my house,” defense. They honestly don’t care that this idea sounds ludicrous to your average big city liberal, since they’re not talking to the big city liberals. They’re talking to the people who will eat the bullshit of the xenophobic party line with a spoon. Think of the Intelligent Design people. They live in an echo chamber. This I know, as I spent quite a bit of time in the echo chamber. So when I hear people say over and over and over again that I.D. should get even shot because evolution isn’t proven and is “just a theory,” then I hear evolution proponents try to explain the concept of “theory” in science v. “theory” in regular, every day language, I have to shake my head at the futility. As I may or may not have mentioned, I used to date a girl who believed that the universe is 6000 years old. This honestly surprised me the first time I heard it, since she was plenty willing to reject most of the craziness of fundamentalism. It came up in discussion a few times and she pretty much dropped it to an explanation that religion is one way of looking at things and science another and either one was equally valid. They aren’t equally valid. Those who live in a scientific world know that. I can explain time and time again that there is a difference between observation and delusion. The scientific method is terrifying, both to those who maintain the power structure and to those who are inside it. Quite frankly, I don’t think they can be easily separated any more. There may well be no one intentionally maintaining this attitude. Moreover, there is an attitude that says science isn’t true because it doesn’t find god. Work through this thought process. Science is supposed to seek truth. God is truth. Therefore, if science isn’t finding god, science is not finding truth. This is also why Bill Maher’s Religulous is a worthless project, at least if anyone is expecting to find converts. The religious targeted by the movie will be professionally outraged by it but won’t watch it. The people who will watch it will laugh or be outraged or both and will use it to fuel attacks on the internet and everyone will reinforce their own beliefs when all is said and done. Woo hoo…? Combine this echo chamber with the gun people. Right after Chicago was dismissed due to its general big city liberalness, my friend broke down the gun culture mentality. Basically, the attitude says that the gun is a useful tool with limited use, but in the places where it is useful no other tool will do. This is why Barack Obama’s idea of talking to people who disagree with us can be and often is attacked. They want to kill us, the reasoning goes, so our only option is to draw quicker than they do. This is why we’re in Iraq. This is the root of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war. Logic doesn’t apply. I often hear that things are worse now than they ever been. The world is filled with sex and crime like it never has been before. Um, no, no it’s not. We’re more frightened as a people, but that’s due to communication and marketing, not due to an actual uptick in violence. And people have pretty much been obsessed with sex for as long as there’s been sex. It’s kind of important for the continuation of the species. It doesn’t do much good to point that out, though, since the people that are the biggest problem then switch over to their default hold the line mentality. Either way, we live in dangerous times, but not for the reasons generally tossed around. We’re colliding with each other at faster speeds than ever but a lot of people are thinking and growing at the same slow speed people always have. The fact that there are plenty of lunatics with guns and lunatics with guns have a bad habit of killing politicians in the United States of America is a bad combination. I wish I could offer explanations to fix it, but there can be no revolutionary changes, we can only hope for evolutionary changes.

4 comments:

suzy-q said...

Did you read the Reader's Digest article about the woman who let her kid ride home on the subway? She was totally maligned as a horrible mother, but she did the research to show that kids are in no more danger today than 30 years ago, but 24 hour news channels perpetuate this myth that kids are constantly in danger of being kidnapped, etc. Sort of related in the "times are worse now than ever." They're really not.

That said, I fear for Obama's life. Crazy, crazy people. Ignorance is costly.

big a said...

Suzy-Q,

I didn't read the Reader's Digest article, but I did see that incident covered on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
The mother was absolutely flabbergasted that "boy rides subway and nothing happens" was somehow a national news story.

I found it interesting, also, that P&T later put forward the amusing statistic that your child is actually more likely to be molested by their priest than kidnapped. Naturally, that didn't make it into Reader's Digest...

Geds said...

So who's side was ol' Penn on?

big a said...

Penn (and presumably Teller, though he didn't voice an opinion - haha, I made a pun!) were on the side of the mother, it was an episode this past season called "Stranger Danger" which evaluated the fact that the paranoia over the safety of our kids from mysterious boogiemen is ridiculously inflated and truly not statistically justified.