When You Make Your Voting Choice, Consider

Many folks will be trying to convince you to vote one way or another. Here are some ideas about what to listen and ask for, and how to react to what you hear. Persuasion works from three platforms, each a little lower than the least accessible, and each more accessible, but subject to misleading claims. Supporters and candidates will drop a mass of statements in your lap about truth, proof, evidence and facts in their attempt to persuade you to vote in their favor. Be ready.

  1. Rational arguments require the voter to have a broader knowledge base and be more willing to follow a line of reasoning. “This is how it would work.” (critical thinking)
  2. The voice of authority will ask the voter to rely on history and reputation as a matter of trust. “Have I ever lied to you?” (limited thinking)
  3. And the agitator will play on your baser feelings, especially those that lead to physical response. “FIRE!” (no thinking)

None of them however represents truth, though each has a relationship to facts. So let’s talk about that relationship first.

Facts are by definition real and present. They are not proven by evidence; they are evidence. Facts are accessible to anyone with functioning senses. Glass is hard. Water at room temperature is a liquid. These are not disputable. Right?

Fact Evidence

Not all evidence is factual however. If a person’s fingerprint is found on a murder weapon (fact) that indicates that that person held the (otherwise determined) murder weapon (evidence), but that does not make indisputable that that person actually committed the murder; it’s not proof.

Evidence Fact

A proof is an evidentially sustained conclusion. Proofs are reached by logically arranging factual and circumstantial evidence to a conclusion. Such an arrangement is called a “logic,” and when there are different possible logics, leading to different possible conclusions, any one conclusion cannot be considered an indisputable proof. Furthermore, one might reasonably guess that the more pieces of evidence needed to x_Jay's Oakreach a conclusion would suggest more possible arrangements of that evidence with more possible conclusions. And one would be correct. So does a proof lead to a truth?

Truth is a thorny issue. Is telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” possible? Putting aside Truth, as in the ultimate, divine truth about everything, truth is very simply a belief. If I feel a piece of glass and it feels hard, then I would believe that the hardness of glass is a truth. Of course, if I melt it down and blow it into a vase, I would find that it isn’t always hard. If I mix gelatin into hot water and cool it to room temperature, I might find it is no longer a liquid, but now a colloid. If I can’t count on facts being factual all the time, however will I be able to reach a proof I can accept as truth?

Evidence Proof

Proof Truth

Truth is a matter of what I believe it to be. I guess I’ll just have to have faith to get to the truth. Faith is accepting the unprovable as true. My faith and therefore my truth is mine alone.

Belief Truth

Undertaking actions then, such as voting, based on someone else’s truth is risky. If someone tells you they have the truth, and she or he wants you to accept that truth, you must remember that that “truth” may be believed but it is not provable, whether it’s really true or not. Even when someone tells you what she or he believes, you must still take his or her word for it or not. You can never really know. All evidence of belief and therefore “truth” must be highly circumstantial. The more “evidence,” necessarily circumstantial, that a person provides in support of a truth, the more you need to question that truth. Could such evidence even lead to a reasonable proof? Has that person really accepted that truth himself or herself, or is she or he really just trying to get you to accept it for some other purpose? If more evidence only makes any conclusion more debatable, what effect does more evidence have on the unprovable validity of someone else’s professed belief? How’s your faith in that? Now to the vote.

In choosing who or what to vote for, immediately dismiss any claims involving the word “truth.” Look for factual information that you can see or hear yourself, arranged in a reasonable logic that you can understand, and to a conclusion that weighs well against values and condition you support – Yes, align it with your truth. That’s still not enough.

You have to decide then if the proposition or candidate you “like” can actually get enough support to make that agreeable conclusion a reality. Beside aligning your vote to the most issues of yours that are supported, you must decide if enough of other voters’ issues are supported to have a hope of election. That will require looking more broadly at the whole campaign, all the candidates and issues, and many other societal factors that will impinge on the election.

In a statewide election, issues in one area may not be well supported in other areas. In any election, are their other candidates that support most or the most important of the issues you support? In rank choice voting, you’re asked for your alternative, compromise choices up front. Are there hot topic issues in the public eye that might influence voters? These can often be completely unrelated to the competencies necessary for the role to be played in governing. Such things as ethnicity, race, gender and religion are particularly common “false” factors in voting choices. Is the best outcome

  1. voting for the best candidate,
  2. getting the best alternative candidate elected or
  3. keeping the worst choice from getting elected?

Most of all, avoid the temptation to vote for something or someone because that’s what or whom you were told to vote for. Be wary. If you haven’t been worked up enough to do something constructive, how will it help you to have someone get you all worked up to do something destructive?

And finally, if you want to vote for someone because that candidate is just like you, then write your own name in. You’re probably just as qualified as he or she is.

 

What if our government actually listened?

A Yale history professor’s powerful, 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today:

1. Do not obey in advance.

Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution.

Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics.

When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.

Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language.

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out.

Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate.

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk.

This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.

Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state.

The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.

Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life.

Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries.

Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed.

If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can.

If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot.

The [current] president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

This article was originally published as a Facebook post by Timothy Snyder, the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

This Thing We Call Mortality

When do we apprehend our mortality?
When we look into the mirror and see the same face we saw yesterday?
When we wake stiff and hurting from a night of frequent tosses and turns?
When we look to the left and then to the right and to the left again and to the right again?
When we forget the names of the flowers in the garden we have silently tended year after year?
No.

When we look into the eyes of a child and see the wonder of what is new,
When we observe the tender expression of restrained passion in the faces of young lovers,
When we look at the straight lines and right angles of buildings mounted on the graves of forests,
When we watch as friends and acquaintances of long standing drift silently by as we sit quietly here,
Then we apprehend our mortality.

April 2018

Existential Change

We generally change in response to what the past has done to the present, but frequently, we then ignore, even deny, what the present will do to the future. One day our past damages will exceed our resource for planned change. Ultimately, the grinding force of universal changes will sweep everything in, but we can’t do much about that. Meanwhile, how we change ourselves is ultimately our responsibility, and a clear definition of who we are.

From star dust to star dust, we are nothing special in the cosmos. There is no specialness, except what we create in the scope of our existence. In the year of a planet’s existence, life is but a millisecond, sentience a nanosecond, and then it’s over. In galactic terms, all sentient populations are effectively alone, incommunicably distant in time and space. The Here and Now is the universe we live in. Humans are all the sentient beings we will encounter and each of us is the only being of any kind we will fully encounter. Each of us lives in her or his own universe in effect. We can live there alone or we can try to merge into other universes, but our knowledge is our existential limit.

The Universe is everything we know; beyond our knowledge is Nothing. Heaven and hell are just our hopes for and fears of the Nothing. The Here and Now is the only thing we have. It is the only thing we can effectively change, and the effect will be the next here and now. Hopes and fears peer into nothingness. Only doing changes our course from one here and now to the next. Only learning grows our universe. We learn from what has been to predict what might be and that allows us to shape a plan.

A plan is a hopeful outcome of a calculated change, a shift in trajectory, an action taken or a stasis maintained. A plan guesses at the shape that will emerge from the nothingness of the future. As the future shapes itself into the here and now and slides into the past, we assess the accuracy of our planning.

Ultimately, each of us manages this process in his or her own universe, individually or in commune with others. Like vehicles on the roads, our plans and our changes will impact others, and others’ plans and changes will impact us. And like the galaxy, the solar system and the planet, the roads offer no support for the hopeful plans of the drivers. For all we can know, the road may end in a great void just over the next rise, or the truck on our left may suddenly swerve to the right. The only laws that truly apply to drivers’ planned changes are the laws of physics. What we see and hear and perhaps feel from the driver’s seat is all we know along with some rules of the road we have been led to believe. It is our known universe. It is our immediate knowledge of the here and now.

Knowledge is all we can have any faith in. Everything else is guess work, and its more courageous brother, belief, each weighting the wager placed on an outcome. Belief is not knowledge. Belief is a shroud to disguise ignorance. If knowledge enlarges our universe and who we are, then ignorance diminishes those.

This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit…”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Gaining knowledge moves our here and now closer to heaven, while ignorance moves us closer to hell. The greater knowledge is on Earth then, the closer we are to heaven on Earth. Humans’ incredible capacity for learning is what most elevates us on the planet; not-learning then is bestial.

Learn to live.

Listen, Talk, Vote

It is an election year for Minnesota. Much is at stake.
Midterm elections don’t usually draw much voter turnout. When the state economy seems to be doing well, voters may think that not voting returns the status quo. These conditions favor the opposition, whose turnouts produce stunning defeats and are followed by dramatic reversals.
Minnesota stands out as a great place to live, for now. The governor’s efforts to hold off the forces of capital side pressure have preserved many gains for Minnesotans. That could come undone in November. There is a fragile and unreliable balance in power.
If the effects of an international trade war sharply depress the equity markets and the economy, pensions and other retirement savings could be similarly depressed and under renewed threat from the investment industry. Losses in farm exports could put further demands on our state’s resources. Meanwhile, prices for consumer goods as well as medical costs and inflation could rise. Social Security and Medicare are already under threat from blossoming Federal debt and the prevailing “everyone for her/himself” attitude in Washington.
We can anticipate debates around gun sentiment and actual education needs upping that piece of the next budget, while the 2017 budget standoff gets revisited attention. The #MeToo movement will rightly demand some actions. Meanwhile, other gender rights agendas lie right beneath the surface. And there will be water quality problems and climate change effects that are unpredictable but seemingly inevitable. Actions taken will have long-lasting outcomes.
Voting in November could not be any more important. Your everyday lives are far more impacted by state controlled factors than any other. Every candidate must be asked about all of the above points, and their answers must be clear and their positions firm. That’s how you must decide your votes.
If you’ve read this far, you were already committed to voting. Now commit to getting family and friends to do likewise. Find out where candidates are on the issues and get yourself and others to the polls in November. Every day you should think about what’s important in your life that the State of Minnesota affects in some way. Listen to what others are saying about these things and talk with them about why you feel as you do. Then every day, tell someone to vote in November.

Never a Truer Word

Things are not going well with the world. I have recently pondered the overwhelming, perhaps overshadowing, general sense of dysfunction, this decay of civility we now endure. It blares out of politics, economies, technologies and even organized religions. It erodes our quality of life, our access to necessities, our feelings of safety, our sense of humanity. As is natural, we strike out at the things that threaten us, usually people whom we are predisposed not to like. And we declare our injuries, real and anticipated, demanding justice, yet accepting revenge which is more tangible.

Even when justice and/or revenge is achieved, the sense of impending doom remains and seems to envelope us in a vague fog of unknowing. A place of victimization and powerlessness becomes the abode of tens of millions, even hundreds of millions. Much of what we hear when we listen are the screams of rage and fear. Reality is cracking.

There is a churning cloud of words and images hovering behind, around and over people, a cloud so unstable and so filled with threat, yet so impervious to any efforts to quell it or fend it off, that it can only be called the Darkness. It is as if the Void and the Chaos that were banished in Creation have truly crept back in, not from the starry heavens, offended by arrogant space venturers, but from the inner depths of the very people whom it afflicts.

It is as if malignant insecurity, buried under the nurturing soil of civilization is reaching up from its grave to fuel the chaos of misinformation, accusation, incrimination and virulent conflict that surrounds us. Nothing is as it seems; everything is confuted with evil forces reckoning to destroy each of us, isolated and confused. Yet, it is from within ourselves that this malignancy originates; it is our own internal dysfunctions, made manifest and fed on by parasites of power, that have created the Darkness that threatens us. We feed the turmoil we dread.

Walt Kelly’s words have never been more true, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” (Pogo, 1971)

Pogo quote

 

Who Am I to Say?

Below a bright, white sun there were clouds
     Scudding across the clear, sharp sky,

First white and puffy, then flattening and smearing,
     And now faded into a grey obscurity.

I know who I am – says the Black girl.
     Yo sé quién yo soy – dice el abuelo.

We know who we are – say the Grange men.
     We are who we have always been – say the Lakota.

I am not who you say I am – says Samira,
     But I know who I am. So who are you to say?

Who are we? And who am I to say,
     If we have faded into grey obscurity?

January 2018

Now It Is Really Winter

 

It is cold and it has been cold for days,

The cold that singes your cheeks

And makes your eyes run,

And your tears freeze.

Burningly cold.

 

So cold and dry the air feels like sand.

So cold that even with thick socks and mittens

Feet and hands feel buried in cold, sharp, dry sand

Drawing out the heat and moisture

Desiccately cold.

 

And it is quiet, dead still and cut off.

The windows and doors are closed and sealed

Two, even three deep, holding the cold dead air,

And curtained. The heavy drapes

Silencing the whoosh of traffic,

The thud of human steps

And the birds brittle song.

Deafeningly cold.

 

Inside, closed in and cut off as in a crypt,

Alone, holding a weeks-long breath of arctic air,

Staring at the white blankness of paper,

I chip words out of my frozen thoughts

As I listen to the booming in the walls

And the cracking of encasing ice.

Perhaps it is terminally cold,

Mummifyingly cold.

January 2018

Corrupting the English language for fun and profit

an icon

 

Here’s an icon representing Mary and Jesus. Speaking to it is speaking directly to Mary and Jesus.

 

an app

Here’s an icon representing text on a page inside a folder. Clicking on it, on your desktop, opens an app that you can type text on and read from.

 

a trainHere’s a picture representing the Orient Express. Speaking to it or clicking on it does not open any doors, allow one any access or (sigh) take one on an iconic journey. Yet the journey is “iconic” because it represents another opportunity for marketeers to misuse the ‘new word’ in Madison Avenue’s vocabulary. How very per-adolescent.

And awesome! Or wait…it doesn’t really inspire awe.
What is awe anyway. Awesome? Awful? Ah shucks? Ah well. Ah! Inspiring AH! Ahsome!

It’s not the Queen’s English anymore!

Outbursts of hostility seem more frequent?

It’s the resurgence of bigotry. It is an eddy in the cosmic tides, the universal back-and-forth between entropic chaos and structured order. How many genesis texts proclaim this very observation? What is troubling, on the side of the order that chaos opposed, is mostly that our order is what defines us, and defines our values. Of course, for individuals who attack the ordered group, order seems to devalue the strong self-interest that defines that individual. Everyone tries to do the “right thing.” Generally we accept Right and Good to reside on the side of Order, while Wrong and Bad imbue Chaos. That is a socially accepted evaluation: society being an ordered collective. The chaotic have values too, derived from a world view that tends toward: what is good for me and mine is Good, and what is bad for me and mine is Bad. The good and bad can be valued as right and wrong.

The undeniable truth of chaos and order has no value component. So acting out in impulsive, seemingly random directions has roots in the cosmic impulse to chaos, but it’s only wrong to the tidal swell of order. Acts of bigotry then are simply acts of chaos attempting to assert itself against order, while the societal response will be to suppress and even extinguish those chaotic elements. Extinguishing chaos will not happen of course, because in the dispassionate, nonjudgmental scope of the cosmos, we must have both forces. As Ravana said to Rama: each of us defines the other.

In the here-and-now of earthly existence, this cosmic interplay both condemns and forgives our actions in these days or terror and terrorism: condemned because we cannot escape these rending forces, which actually help to pull people closer together as victims and allies, and yet forgiven because we are all victims of ultimately primal forces, which cannot ever pull us all together. As chaos perpetrators, we lash out energetically to fend off what we perceive to be the domination of an adversarial order. As communities, we huddle together, cloaked in self-righteousness against the irrationality of bigotry. Yet, who we are is not as a result of the fact of their birth, but is a result of when and where we were born. All individuals are products of their conditioning, and all are acting out their own conditioned perception of what the world is.

I offer two cautions here. One is that chaos is ultimately ungoverned and unconstrained, seeing wrong and right uniquely, but seeing it. It would be easy to fit this to the term “freedom.” Freedom however must be freedom from something negative, not freedom from order or freedom from everything. The other is that order is governance which defines right and wrong and shapes us to it. It would be easy to try to define order as right or wrong, but it become an impossible circular rationale. Order is a state, like liquids or solids. Within that state things are ordered, but different things can be ordered differently. While things in an ordered state are indeed ordered, they are right. Therefore, there are no right or wrong orders. Understanding this leads us to examine acts of bigotry and hostility in better light.

Acts of hostility are in fact increasing. It’s not about white people, or Americans or Christians; it’s about individuals. The rise in individual rights and the sense of greater individual freedom has created the tinder. Astute individuals have recognized this development and now tap its potential. Tinder in place, a spark from the supremacist leadership has ignited the conflagration of hatred and violence against that which is identifiable as different, that difference being a contrivances of the same leadership. The messages have been about religious groups, color groups, language groups, national origin groups and even gender, as if the world’s reality descends from the commonality of these groups. That’s simply wrong. These commonalities bring individuals together to be sure, but the individuals define the group; the group does not define the individual. What the attacks achieve is often ironic, as it welds the attacked group into a tighter order and helps shape group members to the conditions the group defines. Meanwhile, individuals without the ordered conditions of such groups, who labor under ignorance, fear and hatred will also come together with their commonality, newly revealed by the manipulative leadership. These individuals bring unique perspectives to the group; they do not get them from the group. They do not bond in order to generate their stability; they are left with only negative definitions, anti-order. Seeing impunity under the masters of the new regime, this group of bullies can and will turn their bigotry against anyone who is ‘different’ and probably vulnerable. They have been told they are right; so, all difference is wrong. Remember we all define right and wrong either individually or by consensus.

Chaotic individuals derive validity for their values of self-interest from compatible, powerful and often simplistic ideologies. Ordered individuals derive validity through shared values and shared interests – one for all, etc. Hence, chaotic soldiers fight for god and country, while the ordered soldier fights for the good of comrades and citizens’ safety and well-being.

So the ordered groups, the ordered societies can define right and wrong to maintain the smooth operation of their group, and this is done by consensus; we are shaped by one another. On the other hand, disconnected individuals – social free radicals, as it were – are aimed at targets, generally defined by their apparent difference for the mainstream, real or imagined, by manipulation from without. As individuals, we are all subject to the defining influence of others.

Because it is part of the universal dynamic, this situation has always existed. It has always been used by malignant rulers first to mobilize destructive forces against relatively defenseless victims, as a common enemy, thus creating a new, seemingly powerful if deluded cadre which can be used as a weapon of power and terror. The rulers then redefine the bigotry group as a racial or national champion that can be moved against other, new, stronger targets on the way to domination.

Perhaps the good news in this chaos versus order view is that ordered forces cannot be turned around in short order. Only after the free radicals are sufficiently well established as a group to at least appear to be the mainstream will the existing organizations begin to realign, and thoughtful individuals, who value genuine order, will continue to exist, first as dissidents and later as the new free radicals. The universal tides will not be stopped.

So remember: “When good people do nothing, bad things happen.” The question will always be, “Who are the good people?”

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