Friday, January 18, 2013

Prevarications, Obfuscations, And The Outright Lies

They lie to us. If not overtly, then through omission. They seek to manipulate us, to drive us to adoration, or to fear, or to desire, or to action, but they do it through manipulation. They act upon the predilections we already harbor, or they pound into us a continuous stream of doubt, or simply repeat the words backed by a seeming surety and sincerity that resonates with us.

But it is all lies.

They want to convince you that they are clean, free of the taint of evildoing. They want you to believe they are right, no matter what the evidence says. They want you to trust them, though their behavior leaves you with a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach.

They are the poltroons, mountebanks, jesters, and megalomaniacs that exist at the edges of society, seeking to use their wiles to manipulate us into giving them what they want: power, money, respect, obedience, obeisance. They flit around us, walk among us, and meander through us, spreading their miasma of incoherence and insensitivity, which clings to us like an unseen coat, poisoning our faculties. We want to believe them, have to believe them, find it difficult to break from their penetrating gaze. We create a veneer of respectability around them that hardens into an armor that deflects even the most pointed queries about those parts of their behavior that trouble us.

We find them in business. We elect them to government, We elevate them in the celebrity parade. We kneel before them in houses of worship. We cheer them in sport. We surrender the natural power of our own intellect in their presence, allowing them to dull our senses and bypass our reason. We want to believe what they say and do is true; oft times, we simply surrender to that belief despite all evidence to the contrary.

Judge not, lest ye be judged, but that does not mean we must suspend all judgment. It means we should not simply place people and things into neat boxes without ascertaining the truth of them. It means we must suspend our innate desire to measure every thing against what we believe and be willing to accept those facts brought before us, irrespective of belief. We must be willing to bend, to narrow the number of absolute codes we carry with us. It means we must not allow ourselves to be so easily led or fooled by those who wrap themselves in the trappings of those things we trust.

The lie is not the thing, for to lie is as easy as telling the truth. It is the intent behind the lie that matters. We call upon the "white" lie to prevent the discovery of a surprise, to spare feelings, to cover a thousand minor infractions in our life, and very rarely can it be said to be harmful. The lie that harms us is the lie told as truth, the lie cloaked in fact, the lie embedded within a web of other lies, the lie built specifically to prevent us from knowing the dark purpose behind the lie. The worst of the lies is that which is coated in officialism, that is "true" because the speakers says it is true. When you have looked to someone as trustworthy, when you have invested in them a tremendous level of respect, when you have marked them as important, the lie they tell breaches your defenses and is deposited in the deeper recesses of your mind, to sit, to fester, to grow, to ensnare reason in the tendrils of deceit. The mind, so swathed, refuses to push back, and reason is choked off.

Not everyone is a liar and not every lie told is intended to do damage, but those that are, when coupled to those figures we deem important, carry tremendous destructive potential for our society. When placed in positions of power, venerated as heroes, imbued with the rank of their office, they can build barriers against the normal forward course of society, attempting to roll it back to beliefs and superstitions and nonsense that previously caused human society to totter on the brink of self-annihilation. Worse, still, they can make it seem that to do as they did or to speak as they spoke carries an air of veracity, that from their lips the words gained truth simply through being said by them.

The lie is perpetuated because it is left unchallenged for those who choose not to apply any discrimination to it. Where facts are rejected out of hand, where belief is stronger than reason, where fame outstrips normality, the lie suffers no damage to many, even where those outside it can support their contention that it is a lie with reason and evidence. There is no comfort in knowing that so many of our fellow human beings in our society choose to simply accept the lie uncritically, content to back in its shadow.

This is the critical point, like so many before now, where we must face down and gear up against the lie. Those in the reasonable, thinking majority of us can no longer stand idly by and let the lies go unchallenged, no longer put up with our fellow citizens and the rank hypocrisy they bathe in. Pull them kicking and screaming we must, out of the dark mists of Middle Age thought and into the 21st Century age of reason. Until we rise up as a mass and proclaim reason a more fit way of providing peace and liberty to all, we will suffer the indignity of ignorance and play with the fire that still threatens to consume us all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Carrying On For Weywerdsun

It is considered laughable by some that those you meet in social media, people you have no other physical connection to, can be considered friends. After all, as we are surely all aware, the Internet is the ultimate masquerade ball. No one can ever be thought to be truly what they seem. Doubt nags at the corner of the mind for some; others take everything to be true. The Internet has scrambled our perception of reality and the people in it.

So many of us have so many connections via our social media that we often lose contact with people we have "met" at a time or another and found to be kindred souls. When you begin to interconnect with hundreds and thousands of people, some invariably get lost in the shuffle. Most of us think nothing of it, as they usually resurface at some point.

Then, last week, I ran across a bit of, for me, disturbing news. Someone I followed on Twitter has died, apparently right around Thanksgiving. His handle was @weywerdsun, his name unknown to me and perhaps the thousands that followed him. It took me aback, because I swore I had seen him many times, but realized that the holidays had created a temporal myopia that made me mistaken.

Herein, I do not seek to eulogize him, for to do so requires a depth of knowledge of the man I have no access to. He was an acquaintance, a free thinker, a man who would pose meaningful questions, not because he expected answers, but because he wanted dialog. He believed -- as far as I can surmise from our few interactions -- that problems were solvable with thought. He has the same level of impatience I do with politics. He also believed, as do I, that ignorance is our greatest enemy. Where we seek to believe but do not seek to question and to learn, we deny ourselves truth and the solutions to our problems.

Now he is gone.

As with Aaron Swartz, another person doing their part to lift up humanity from the weeds, @weywerdsun has left us. It is in this moment, when we sense the loss, that we can take our moment to mourn, but only just a moment. What it takes for us to truly prove our love and kinship to these people who are merely ephemeral to most of us, is to recognize their goodness, recognize their forthrightness, see what they were trying to accomplish, and to pick up where they left off. We must continue the dialog. We must continue to seek truth. We must continue to improve. We honor them only by our action, and so we must carry on.

Monday, January 14, 2013

And They Called Him Aaron

For those with knowledge of holy books, Aaron was known as elder brother of Moses and first high priest of the Israelites. When Moses went to challenge Pharaoh, it was Aaron who spoke for him to both the Israelites and to Pharaoh. He was considered wise and well-spoken, though in the end, he suffered the same fate as Moses, in being unable to enter the land of his people at the end of their long journey. He would not see the world he had worked so hard to bring his people to.

It should be fitting then that Aaron Swartz was named after the holy Aaron of ages past, for he, too, was endowed with great wisdom, spoke for the right of his people to be free to pursue the quest for knowledge as they wished, and devoted himself to their liberation, and in the end, would not live to see the completion of his work.

I did not know the man; you probably did not either, at least not directly. If you have this blog -- or any one -- linked to a news reading program through the RSS protocol, that is Aaron. If you read, use, or edit the site Reddit, that is Aaron. If you publish the data you create to the Internet using the Creative Commons license, that is Aaron. If you joined Demand Progress in fighting against SOPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act -- to keep the Internet free from censorship and spying, that is Aaron. So you and I may not have known him, but he has touched our lives and continues to do so every day.

Aaron Swartz was, to all accounts, brilliant, forthright, fun-loving, inquisitive, and took action where most of us feared to. It was this combination that drove him forward, to not only seek to improve the quality of and access to information on the Internet, but to prevent other forces from seeking to lock the Internet down and dilute its power. This drive to preserve the freedom to use the Internet brought him to cross intellectual swords with the law.

He suffered, as many of us do, from depression, that bugaboo that seems to creep into our lives at inopportune moments, either allowed in by the vicissitudes of life or unbidden from the depths of the brain. Grappling with this personal demon at the same time he was being oppressed by the Federal government's attempts to clap him in irons for daring to free information for all to use, drove the man to suicide on January 11th, 2013. He was only 26. In the brief span of his life, he had accomplished more than most of us will in a lifetime, and as with many, it can be said that there was so much more ahead for him and for the world he graced had he lived.

Eulogies and remembrances are many, and will continue to in the days to come. But after he has gone back to the soil of the Good Earth, the void his absence creates must be filled. It is not enough that he falls and we look back -- it is better that we embrace and move forward. Aaron Swartz, in his time, showed us the way. Let us honor his memory by picking up his staff and continuing his journey.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Case Against The Second Amendment

There is one, and only one, flaw in all attempts at the imposition of normal control on guns & gun ownership: the Second Amendment. It is the fly in the ointment that degrades any reasonable discussion into shouting pedantry and veiled threats. It is at once the crux of the issue and the thing that bars any movement in any direction. Its semantics have been decompiled, deconstructed, dismissed, and devalued, and in the end, its shadow still lies endlessly across the peace of our nation.

I am reticent to touch it; it is like a clinging, clutching vine that no amount of cutting and trimming may successfully dislodge. As part of our Constitution, I am honor-bound to defend it, but so am I also required to see that its precepts are properly followed. That's where the problem lies: the intersection of the then, from whence it was spawned, and the now, wherein we must live with it two centuries later, in a world radically different from the one the Founding Fathers lived in at the time of its conception.

You and I may speak of clauses and commas, intent and introspection, but at the end of it, the Second Amendment is an enigma, both plain to see but bounded in mystery, a monolith that rises among us and programs us to fear and to fight. The amendment itself is plain enough, despite what we take to be a crude & confusing wording. At its simplest, it means that government may not take away all rights for citizens to maintain arms; the caveat is -- and this part is often glossed over -- that the reason for this particular allowance, above any other, is that States must be allowed to maintain the necessary strength to form militias.

Look at the world and the circumstance that led to it. The United States was a swaddled, newborn nation, had just fought a war of independence, and was heavily indebted to others to supply the necessary firepower for us to gain that independence. Having so gained it, those who agitated for revolution were now faced with a difficult task: pry that independence from under the thumbs of any potential adversary. At the moment, with no large standing naval forces, land forces that were demobilizing to a greater degree after the war's conclusion, and a nation still not fully constructed in law, The United States was in a precarious and vulnerable position, should Great Britain or any other sovereign nation choose to make a play for it.

This leads, inevitably, to finding ways to secure a nation from foreign threat that allowed for quick mobilization of forces in the advent of attack, and placing such forces in close proximity to every possible entry point on a significant landmass. And doing so, possibly without a strong central government to coordinate defense. The answer was obvious: State militias, built up of citizen soldiers brandishing their own weapons, fighting for their own ground, concentrated in cities and town near possible invasion points. When rallied, such militias would be the first line of defense, hopefully able to hold an invading force at bay long enough, for Federal government to coordinate the fight and bring larger forces to bear.

So when the Bill of Rights was crafted, it seemed appropriate to codify this necessity. After all, the British were not keen on an armed citizenry in their midst, and were wont to strip the average Colonial of weapons if they thought that would protect them from exposure to attack. Having just lived through that war, and having seen how hard it was to gather sufficient forces quickly to counter British thrusts, it made sense to the Founding Fathers to enshrine the principle of home defense in the newly-minted Constitution, not simply as an organizing principle, but as a warning to other nations: we will defend ourselves and if you seek a fight, you shall have it.

As men of The Enlightenment, the Founding Fathers knew that their work, like the world, would not remain static, but would need to be reshaped to meet the challenges of new times and new technologies. The Constitution was meant to be altered as circumstance warranted, when conditions called for a new approach to the organization and functioning of the country. Secretly, they must have sensed that by not dealing with the issue of slavery, that alteration would have to come sooner rather than later, to make up for their lack of courage at the time. So, the document was formed, it was built to be amendable, and the very first amendments were made as a first set of guiding principles to be shaped. That freedom of speech, press, and worship should be the first guiding principle should come as no surprise; in line with that, the second being the right to maintain arms should not shock us either. Having established freedom and liberty for all, it was important to ensure its defense.

Now, we look upstream from the 1780's and 1790's to the start of the 21st Century, and we see that a necessity of the previous era is no longer such at our current point in time. The United States of America is the sole, preeminent superpower on Earth. Our arsenal of weapons, our standing ground,  sea, and air forces, our bases strewn across the face of the globe, make us unrivaled and unmatched. What was true in Lincoln's time, for he foresaw it even then, is clearly true now: no foreign power could take a drink from any river in our nation, nor trod one foot upon it, save where they could eliminate every single American at a stroke, a formidable and seemingly insurmountable task.

Where does that leave the Second Amendment? Dying. It dies of necessity, decaying through the inevitable shift of our nation from shaky confederation to powerful unity. Two world wars armed us, and every conflict since has honed us. Thus, an amendment born of necessity for defense, now lies withering on the vine of liberty. It is kept feebly alive by a faction among us who still believe in inevitable tyranny, though they believe it preparing to strike from within and not from without. They are certain that their government will soon be battering down their doors and marching in to strip them of their only defense. These are not the hunters and sportsmen we are talking about; these are people who see shadows on every street and eyes peering around every corner.

Our nation is supreme in its ability to defend itself; for that purpose, the Second Amendment is now obsolete. Does that of necessity mean we should not be able to bear arms? No. What it does mean is that unfettered, unregulated access to weapons is now a greater threat to us than all our "enemies." Like a seemingly mighty tree, our outward appearance is of strength, but the core is slowly rotting away, chewed up by the increasing frequency and devastation caused by the carnage of military grade weapons in the hands of people who have no business having them. They have these weapons, because the Second Amendment has been elevated to the status of a Commandment by a minority of Americans who feel threatened by their own government. Tapping the power of their sycophantic paranoia to wield legislative power on a national scale, unchecked and unopposed by rational Americans, they leave us all vulnerable to the vagaries of those unwilling or unable to control their rage.

Now, however, perhaps the slumbering mass of Americans awoke, stirred from its torpor by the horror of one person slaughtering innocent children in a school. We may be forgiven for momentary skepticism, because why should it have taken this horrific moment to finally change the direction of the narrative, given the number of such horrible events before now? We cannot belabor that point, though; we must now work on focusing the outrage and ire of the American citizenry over this into a laser-like beam, scouring our nation of the forces that would continue to plant the seeds of slaughter in our midst while turning their back on the carnage such a crop reaps.

The Second Amendment no longer does what it was intended to do. We must now have the courage to fix it.