Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bubbles 4: Belong

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What the malignant spirit that has captured us wants is this: genocide and slavery. Literally.

* * *

Have you ever really thought about what it takes to enact genocide and slavery?

You don’t need a population to want genocide and slavery in order to enact them. You just need to convince them to accept a series of propositions that will lead them there, that make such an end first possible, then likely, and finally inevitable, even normal.

What you need are bubbles.

I suspect no society that has ever committed genocide or enacted slavery has ever let themselves see themselves for what they were. Example: most 'white' U.S. citizens, if asked, probably don’t think the United States is responsible for multiple genocides. We might if pressed admit they occurred, and even that they were very sad, perhaps even bad. But most of us reject the notion that the United States is responsible.

But we are. The United States is responsible for multiple genocides.

We’ve forgiven ourselves.

Pictured: Buffalo corpses. This is what we did to a primary food source,
specifically because it was a primary food source.

It was a long time ago. That's what we say. It has no effect today.

Yet somehow we still revere our founding 'fathers.' We put them on our currency. We resist any attempt to deconstruct the mythologies we've built around them. We propose to follow their every intention to the letter. Yet most of them owned slaves and built extraordinary wealth from their labor. All participated in some way in our genocide of the native tribes who lived in this land for millennia before our country's founding. We live on that land. That wealth shaped the country in which we live.

Thus the past has no bearing on the present, except when we think it should have every bearing on the present.

We only inherit wealth in this country, not responsibility.

Nor do individuals think of themselves as evil any more than societies do. We tend to appeal our actions from our goodness, not our badness. Every society that has ever committed genocide and enslaved others has been full of good people—brave people, intelligent, well-read, who loved their children, and helped one another with good will, and gave to charity, and so on and so on and so on. So many good things. So many, it seems impossible—wicked, even—to believe bad of them.

That’s the horror of it. It’s never demons. It’s always just regular, good-hearted people. People who would help you move or change a stranger’s tire on the side of the road or bake meals for a family with a sick parent. Generous. Charitable. Kind. Brave. Well-meaning. But preferring order to justice.

Order is very good, remember. It’s important. It’s even fundamentally necessary. But sometimes order will come into conflict with justice. And what then?

If order is prioritized over justice, or if order is mistaken for justice, you will eventually begin to hear all sorts of propositions that might seem shocking, particularly to those who take as their first priority a justice grounded in love. You start to hear arguments that end, either implicitly or explicitly, with, "and that's why a lot of people unfortunately will have to die."

You wouldn’t hear people express these propositions out loud in blunt terms—not at first, anyway. You’d have to watch the society for actions taken and statements made, to see what the logical assumptions behind such actions and statements must be.

Let’s do genocide first. (This would be an unfortunate sentence to take out of context.)

If I want genocide, first I'm going to have to work on dissolving the idea that we all belong to each other—not ‘belong’ in the sense of property, but rather in the sense of relationship. There is no way what happens to you doesn’t affect me, or me to you. We create a human ecosystem from which we are fundamentally inextricable. This is true from the local level to the global. When one of us is mistreated, we are all mistreated. Injustice eventually hurts even the seeming beneficiaries.

If I want genocide, I'm going to have to dispatch this idea right away. I'll want to foster the notion that each of us is a self-created being, and our successes or our failures are the functions only of our own effort and choices. The suffering of another is entirely the business of that person, and nothing to do with you or me.

It may be necessary to expand the definition of ‘self,’ to include one’s family and friends, perhaps one’s neighborhood, or ethnicity. But eventually there will come some boundary, some impermeable delineation. At some point we must build a big beautiful wall between our specific ‘self’ and other people, and make those other people pay for it. We don’t belong to each other. Each ‘self’ is an island, complete to itself.

There are questions that come naturally, when we do not belong to one another. They are “I” questions. The ‘I’ will always include certain similar people that I mean when I say “I,” and it will always, crucially, exclude the rest.

Why should I pay for education when I don’t have children?

Why should I pay to see the hungry fed when I buy my own food?

Why should I pay to shelter the homeless when I worked hard to own my home?

Why should I pay to clean the lead from their water when my pipes run clean?

Why should I pay for the sick to receive care when I am healthy?

Why should I have to pay for prenatal care when I’m not a woman?

Why would my money go to provide relief to a country I don’t live in?

Why would I let that family from a dangerous country into my country when I am already safe?

These are the questions people ask, in a society that no longer believes that we all belong to each other.

There are few in such a society to ask: What is the price to be paid for an uneducated population? What is the price to be paid for potential ungrasped? What is the price to be paid for a nation of desperate people? What bill will come eventually due because of a country destabilized by invasion and warfare, or a population made desperate by need?

When we don’t all belong to each other, these questions don’t need to be asked. Failure and success are hermetically sealed at the individual level. The only price to be paid for a society that fails to see to everybody’s education, health, shelter, food, water, and other basic physical and spiritual needs, will be paid by the specific individual, not society. Freedom becomes a very specific and compartmentalized concept, customized to one's own particular preferences.

The only education that affects me is my own education.

The only health that affects me is my own health.

The only shelter that affects me is my own.

The only water and food that affect me are my own.

The only prosperity and the only safety that matter are my own.

And (or so I will believe if I think we do not belong to one another) if only everybody behaved that way, everyone would be fine. Because, after all, I behave that way, and I am fine. In time, certain conclusions will be impossible to avoid. If I am successful only through my own natural virtue and skill and industriousness, then others, who suffer, must logically suffer as the result of some natural fault and incompetence and sloth.

Notice that once again none of these things—education, health, shelter, water, food, wealth, prosperity—is bad; in fact all are good and even necessary. It’s not a question of the things being bad. It’s the assumption, the lie, the bubble, which elevates the acquisition of these good things for “I” above the provision of necessities for all.

So. How will we know if we’ve successfully convinced people of the lie that we don’t belong to one another?


If we were a society that believed in this way, we would likely find many people who began to believe that their ability to survive and thrive and prosper was entirely the product of their own effort and talent and ingenuity.

We’d begin to see people who equated their moral virtue with their own ability to survive. For those who thrive, prosperity would become indicative of a moral virtue greater than that of those who merely survive. The greater the prosperity, the greater the moral virtue.

We’d likely find many people who began equating wealth itself as interchangeable with moral virtue.

Which might result in more and more people becoming obsessed with accumulating more and more wealth, much more than they could ever spend, because at a very basic level, they seemed to believe it literally made them more virtuous. You might find others, not wealthy, who nevertheless began to believe this, and ascribe virtue to the wealthy simply for the fact of their wealth.

Which would result in an ever-increasing disparity in wealth. And anyone mourning the injustices endemic to this divide would be declared to be enacting some sort of class warfare, while those who sought to increase the disparity would do so specifically in terms of increasing virtuousness. In fact, the disparity itself would be defended as virtuous, while those calling for remedies would be thought of as divisive.

Protection of property would become more important than protection of humans in such a society. Protection of humans with property would become more important than protection of humans without property. Eventually, protection of the property would be seen as a primary goal of society, and protection of humans secondary. If property happened to be destroyed during a protest of the destruction of a human, the destruction of property would become the more shocking matter by far, and would be held up as an a priori negation of the rightness of the protesting organization's cause, whether that organization's members were responsible for the destruction or merely adjacent to it.

The ability of incorporated organizations to efficiently gather wealth might afford them greater protections and considerations under the law than that offered individual people. In time, those organizations might begin to be worshipped in subtle ways, their logos adorning the foreheads and chests and backs and feet of people loyal to their specific values, their leaders elevated to high priests. In time, the idea that these organizations should have greater protections and considerations under the law than human beings might become enshrined as received wisdom, simply for their outsized ability to generate wealth (which is, after all, a good thing).

The more the government of such a society became a matter of protecting and providing for property rather than people, the more the idea of community would give way to cynicism. The idea of government as being the mechanism by which humans choose to organize their shared life for common good would be replaced by ideas like this one:  “The most frightening words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Thus would our nation at last begin to be freed from the perceived tyranny of a coordinated response to a serious challenge.

Public good would become the necessary enemy of private good.

Public services would become the necessary enemy of private purchases.

The idea of tax collected for public values such as education or health would begin to seem monstrous, while the idea of large and powerful individuals and entities seeking relief from any contribution to the society in which they operate might be seen as pragmatic and necessary and even virtuous. After all, if wealth is the same as virtuousness, then tax is not how a shared life together is funded; it is not a price paid for the continuance of health and thriving within the society that has fostered your own health and thriving. Rather, it is the theft of your moral virtue, taken from you and given to unvirtuous people who, being unvirtuous, will surely waste it, and upon whom, given their unvirtuousnes, any investment is a immoral waste, no matter the outcome.

You might begin to hear people expressing the opinion that a society committed to ensuring basic physical needs for all people is engaged in slavery, while presuming that people toiling at jobs that do not provide wages enough to sustain life should stop their immoral complaining.

You might even begin to hear catch-phrases like ‘tax is theft.’

You might get a political party dedicated to only one discernible principle, that being the payment of as little tax as possible, the better to let the virtuous hold ever more of their virtue.

23 million uninsured in 10 years? Party time.

The idea of tax collected upon an estate would begin to seem evil. The idea that the public should have some claim upon one’s virtue, rather than passing the full measure of virtue down the line of one’s own personal line of heredity, would seem like the gravest injustice.

Meanwhile, the idea of inherited accountability would seem as foolish as the idea of inherited wealth would seem wise. Of course money should be handed down with absolute fidelity from father to son. Of course the son should be absolutely free from questions of how his father acquired that wealth. There is no account to be made to past injustices, when we don’t belong to one another. Time has laundered our guilt, made our fiduciary sheets as white as snow.
Story here.

If this were a deeply ironic universe, people might even fully believe all these propositions while worshiping within a religious tradition that taught there exists no greater danger to the soul than the love of money, no harder way to enter heaven than to make the attempt while encumbered with wealth.

If we were a society that believed we did not belong to one another, all these might be exactly the sort of thing we might see and hear.

This is the final conclusion: Other people do not matter.

Thread worth reading.
Seems like an important critique
Here is the penalty inherent in believing this lie: Dissatisfaction. A growing sense that I have not been given my due. An gnawing sense that I should have more than I do. A sneaking suspicion that any good thing that comes to another might better have come to you. A life lived not in appreciation for the good I do have, but in discontented grasping after the more I could get. A deliberate choice to live in a world, not of abundance, but of lack.

And here is the danger: Vulnerability. Living in a world where we do not belong to one another means living in a world in which others, resentful of their lost advantage, seeking for the phantom limb of it, will inevitably seek some scapegoat, and will inevitably land upon me. Living in a world where we do not belong to one another means living in a world where those who have best learned how to press a mean advantage will eventually consume their easiest victims, and will then, filled with greed's hunger, engorged with the virtues of wealth and power, turn at last to feast upon me.

When I choose to live in world in which other people do not matter, I choose to live in a world in which I will not matter, either.

0. ART


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bubbles 3 - Spirit

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So let’s ponder bubbles.

Here is what a bubble is: a mirror that won’t let you see yourself.

I find it useful to think of bubbles as the great temptations of the world, as various invitations to see the world through a distorted and self-reinforcing lens.

I’m still trapped inside many bubbles, I’d daresay, along with most everyone else. The better you have it, the luckier you are in life, the more illusions you can afford to give yourself. And it must be said, I have it awfully good.

There’s one bubble at least, though, that I’m finally free of. Call it a ‘liberal’ bubble if those labels interest you.

These types of bubbles don’t usually pop without a disruption. Something shocking. Something astonishing. Something that knocks the breath out of you and makes you wonder what you really know about the world you inhabit and the people with whom you inhabit it.

My bubble popped.

I'm told this is a photograph and not a Ralph Steadman drawing

I suspect it popped late last year for thousands and millions of us. When it popped, we all took a look around.

What we see now is that there is a malignant spirit alive in our country, which has captured the hearts of a large and growing portion of our population.

I use ‘spirit’ purposefully, by the way. I use ‘spirit,’ because I think our problem is spiritual. I doubt it will be solved by logic or reason. Those of us on opposite sides of the divide appear to have chosen alternate fundamental premises about the nature of the universe, appear to have actively sought out alternate realities to support these premises. Our moral propositions live on parallel planes, and our news sources present us with divergent universes. Our ideas do not contend, because they never actually meet one another—and this by design and by choice.

So, while the cause of justice is logical and reasonable, I doubt it is logic or reason that will save us. I suspect that what is required is not a change of mind, but one of soul. Spirit. Heart. Changes in the core beliefs of millions, new answers to fundamental questions of what is good and what is true and what is most important. Something so close to a miracle as to be indistinguishable from it.

Spirit it is, then. Do a find-and-replace of ‘spirit’ with ‘ideology’ or 'orientation' if you don't find the word useful.

This spirit gripping our nation is … bubbly. It creates many bubbles. It offers many temptations.

One of our great temptations now is to think that our relative comfort means that this spirit isn’t actually malignant and real.

Another of our great temptations now is to think this is a new spirit, rather than one of the animating forces of our national character, burrowed deep into our history, nestled near the heart, tendrils threaded throughout the body politic, contracting, expanding, regressing here, invading there.

Another of our great temptations is to imagine that this spirit has captured them, rather than us. This spirit has captured so many, and they are our friends and neighbors. So we can write ‘them’ as a matter of clear grammar, but it never means anything other than a subset of ‘us.’ The they … are, inescapably, us.

It has captured a lot of ‘them,’ this spirit. That has become clear to thousands and millions of ‘us.’ It’s also clear to me that most of ‘them’ don’t know it.‘They’ are in bubbles. ‘They’ want us to re-join them there again. 'They' refer to this act as 'getting out of your bubble.' And that’s the greatest temptation of all. ‘We’ want to join them. It’s comfortable in there.

What the malignant spirit that has captured us wants is this: genocide and slavery. Literally.

(Whoa. That’s quite a claim, I know. Hold on; it’s going to take a while to unpack. We’ll get there.)

Genocide and slavery. We need to oppose it with everything we have.

Thousands and millions of us have learned that our friends and family want mass-murder and slavery to protect their own advantage, or else (more likely) are willing to accept propositions that make such things inevitable, or else (most likely of all) are willing to accept and flatter those who believe these propositions, to protect an established order they find comfortable, without contemplating what those ends might be, and with deliberate and practiced incuriosity about making any inquiry into the matter.

And perhaps ‘we’ express our shock at this realization in clumsy and angry and hostile ways that ‘they’ find deeply offensive. But ‘they’ also find the simple fact that 'we' see it this way is itself deeply offensive. ‘They’ don’t see it that way at all.

And ‘they’ are angry and offended, and complain of uncompromising attitudes.

And ‘we’ mourn, because ‘they’ are still our friends and family.

They’re not bad people, we tell ourselves. They’re not evil. We know them. They’re integral parts of our lives. When we need them, they’re there. They’d give the shirt off their backs—and they would. Sometimes, perhaps, they have. They care about us. We care about them. They are us.

And the truth is—‘they’ aren’t evil. Many of ‘them’ are better than many of ‘us’ in any number of ways. More generous. More helpful. Braver. Smarter. More patient. 'They' might even have friends—real, actual friendships—with people who fall into categories 'they' propose to harm, when polled on general bloodless faceless policy. 'They' might even be willing, given proper criteria and circumstances, to sacrifice time and resources to help people within these categories. And ‘they’ love ‘us,’ many of ‘them,’ sometimes better than ‘we’ love ‘them.’ After all, ‘they’ are people. Humans. Unique and irreplaceable works of art carrying intrinsic and unsurpassable worth.

All of this is both important to remember and entirely beside the point.

The reason it's beside the point is this: 'They' have believed a lie, and we are fighting that lie.

The reason it's important to remember is this: We're fighting the lie. We're not fighting them.

The question is one of orientation. Are we oriented toward a justice with its foundation in love? Or are we oriented toward preserving an order that has selected some other thing—likely some good thing—as its primary guiding priority?

Let's assume I mean orientation and spirit as one in the same.

Your orientation is your compass. It's your founding assumption.

The compass determines the navigation. The navigation determines the course. The course determines the path. The path arrives at the destination.

Any compass that does not use as True North a justice founded in love (that is, a justice that ensures the inherent dignity, legal equality, and provision for basic need, of all human beings) will inevitably fail to recognize that people are art. It will arrive at one barbarism or another. Intention doesn't really come into it. Even a well-intentioned navigator will lose her way, if her compass is wrong.

Nor is perfection required. Navigation can be corrected. A course can be adjusted. New paths can be devised to arrive at the correct destination. But if the compass is wrong, the corrections and adjustments will be incorrect, the new path just as wrong as the one before, and the destination will remain a foul one.

By way of illustration, here's just one example.

Let's imagine our compass is the law, rather than justice. The law is a very good thing. I can't imagine a society working without it. It would be difficult to imagine any sort of justice could be achieved without it. We might do well, then, to make the law our compass.

But if law is our compass, we will only be as good as our laws can be—and we won't meet the challenge of changing them when they fail. In fact, we won't even recognize them as having failed, because they, being our compass, will be the realized purpose of themselves. Intentions don't come into it, if we are unwilling to consider whether a law is just or not, or if our priorities have caused us to define 'justice' as something other than the recognition that all human beings are art, holding value simply because they exist.

Everybody knows this is true. Look:

An action can be deeply unjust, even if it is lawful ...

A Presidential pardon of a torturing bigot: perfectly legal
...while breaking the law can be fundamentally and heroically just.

Pictured: Criminals
If we petition solely to the law for questions of morality, we will arrive, whatever our intentions, at barbarism. And if this were a particularly ironic universe, people might once again make yesterday's mistakes, might once again define today's crusaders for justice solely by their disruptions of the legal order rather than by the obvious justice of their complaint, might at the same time defend barbarians on the pedantic grounds of their proper adherence to legal documentation. It's amazing the sorts of things many law-oriented people will permit, provided only that they have the proper permits.

"At least they had permits—unlike Antifa!"
- People in my Twitter mentions, who for some strange reason felt compelled to defend Nazis

"The racist fury of BLM led to white nationalism.
You reap what you sow." - Also my Twitter mentions

Example over. Let's sum up.

A spirit has captured this country.

A spirit might be expressed as a foundational orientation. You might think of a compass.

The compass determines the destination.

Presently, in the United States of America, our compass is a set of terrible lies, leading to genocide and slavery.

We are primarily fighting the lies, not the people who believe them. Which is not to say that this fight does not involve confronting with the truth people (even the good people—especially them) who have believed lies. Which is not to say that this fight may not involve defending with our bodies other people who those lies are meant to harm and enslave and kill.

Our focus is not on a battle between good things and evil things. It’s on priority between competing good things, and against the spirit that has captured us, which tells us the lie that there are priorities higher than human dignity and life. Justice grounded in love is our priority, and we must insist on it. Any other priority inevitably arrives at barbarism. Any other priority is based on a lie; and even the best person can believe a lie.

So we mourn, not because of ‘their’ evil, but because of ‘their’ goodness. We weep, because we all belong to each other, and because justice demands that the great priority over all others is a justice grounded in love, is the life and dignity of human beings. We weep, because we can no longer unsee that those who suffer because of our unjust systems—those within our borders and those outside of it—are also our brothers and sisters, and always have been. We've been abandoning them for the sake of our comfort.

We mustn't ever abandon them again. They are us, too.

We all belong to each other, but we’re captured by a lie that says we don’t. We're looking into mirrors that don't allow us to see ourselves.

As a result, we are all in serious danger. Some among us are deeply sick, and are hurting others among us with weapons that will inevitably spring back to maim even those who wield them. Others among us are deeply sick, and have chosen to make ourselves comfortable by taking the less disruptive path and aligning with those who are doing the hurting rather than those being hurt. Still others of us are deeply sick, because while we are now aware of this, we don’t know what to do about it, and we feel numb and paralyzed in the teeth of this new knowledge.

Our new knowledge is this: many among us are being hunted and hurt and killed by the rest. Many will suffer that otherwise would have received relief. Many will die who might otherwise have lived. And, while some will profit from it unintentionally, and others will profit from it very deliberately, intention is beside the point. Spirit is what matters. Orientation guides us.

We had heard it before. We even ‘knew’ it. But now we know it.

The bubble is popped. For thousands and millions of us, there’s no going back.

But how can we possibly go forward?

* * *

And Thomas berated his wife, for her lies against his character. And Abe scolded his wife, for her unwillingness to hear both sides. But Sally would not deny what had happened. And Mary refused to open the door.

0. ART


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Bubbles 2 - The Great Divide

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And both Thomas and Abe were angry and offended, and they went off to complain to each other about the uncompromising attitudes of their wives.

And Sally wept, because she was abused and vulnerable, and she mourned, because she had been beaten and disbelieved.

And Mary mourned, because Thomas was still her brother, and Abe was still her husband.

* * *

I read a fair bit, over this long warm winter, over this crisp clear summer, about what the meaning of the election really was.

Slavery and Antisla: Just
Two Sides of the Same Divisive Coin?
I read that it represented the end of ‘identity politics,’ which seemed to mean ‘voting for somebody who was not a white man.’ I read that it was time for us all to unite behind our new president, but little of what that unity would entail. I read that if he succeeds, we all succeed, a sentiment that seemed unconcerned with the question of what, exactly, he considered success, or at what, precisely, he intended to succeed. I read that it meant we all need to spend a lot of time thinking uncritically about the fears and needs and desires of specific demographics of voters, and stop focusing so much on the fears and needs and desires of other specific demographics.

I learned I now have a new job, which involves many tasks.

I learned that I am in a bubble. I learned it is part of my job to get out of that bubble. It’s a very important task, I’m told.

Is Abolitionist Scolding Causing Pro-Slavery Violence?
I’ve learned that there are many reasons 'regular,' 'hard-working,' 'working-class' people voted for Donald Trump, that have little to do with the many and varied fascist and hateful and violent things that he promised and that they cheered for, and that he continues to promise and that they continue to cheer for, and that it is now my task to discover what those things are, and support them, and this is part of getting out of my bubble.

I’ve been given to understand that the tone of opposition’s rhetoric has become much too sharp and hectoring. I am now tasked with finding a tone much more conducive to comity, and that is part of getting out of my bubble.

I’ve heard there are two sides to everything. I’ve heard it’s very important to consider and respect and understand and publish both sides, and this is part of getting out of my bubble.

Liberal rabble-rousers were so annoying in 1836
Most of all, I’ve read a lot about how divided we are as a nation—the most divided we’ve been in a hundred years. I’ve learned that I and people who feel as I do have scolded far too much, and resentment at this scolding has fueled this political seismic activity, has created and exacerbated these fault lines, and prised apart the tectonic plates of our political body. I’ve learned it is my job now to reach out and mend this divide, and this is part of getting out of my bubble.


Except … I haven’t heard anything about how all the people who Donald Trump and his party threatened and attacked, and continue to threaten and attack, are going to stop being threatened or attacked if I do any of that.

I haven’t heard anything about how, if I choose to move on, those who continue to live under the constant dread of promised menace and violence and bigotry are going to be able to move on, too. Moving on doesn’t seem to be an option for them. Compliance with new proposed laws appears to be more the order of the day for them. Getting press-ganged out of the country appears to be their new role, that, or else being barred from entering it, or else facing imprisonment for crimes disproportionately enforced in their neighborhoods, or being conflated with villains for protests against outrage, or facing cruel retaliation for standing up against injustice, or living in fear that their skin or their dress or their custom will lead either to threats of violence or else the genuine article.

I haven’t heard how my reaching out to mend the divide is going to protect millions of people— including those who voted for Donald Trump and his Republican Congress—who rely on access to health insurance and affordable health care, who now face the very real possibility of losing that access, and dying or suffering from a treatable malady. The first attempt failed, yes...but these men seemed eager, almost giddy, to do it. Given a bit more time, they will try again.

I haven’t heard anything about how all these people are going to be protected from the effects of the intended Republican strip-mining of load-bearing girders of our social infrastructure, which provide relief to tens of thousands who might otherwise have suffered, and allow tens of thousands who might otherwise have died to live, but whose funds could also be used to further enrich the already wealthy.

I haven’t heard anything about how any of us expect our grandchildren to live on a planet that is swiftly tilting toward inhospitablity, due in large part to energy habits many in this country seem intent on preserving primarily for their utility in distressing the rest of us with their recklessness.

All the healing and mending and understanding, it seems, now needs to be performed by the marginalized and threatened, on behalf of those powerful and comfortable people, their power newly re-entrenched, who continue to threaten them.

I can’t help but wonder why that should be.

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
So let’s think about bubbles, and let’s think about our nation's great divide.

But before we do, let’s move the frame a bit. Let us think about justice and order. And let’s think about priorities.

Some people talk about justice as a primary value.

Others talk about order.

Do you see the difference?

Words are promiscuous in meaning if we aren’t precise. We could define these two terms any number of ways, and arguments between those definitions could make their own essay. Best to settle on some definitions, then, if only for use within these posts.

For these purposes, let’s take 'order' to mean “a system which, to the best of its ability, maintains itself with consistency through any attempted disruption.” It’s the quality that allows us to assume that today will follow the same rules as tomorrow. It supports the sort of predictability that allows both society and individuals to make and enact projections and plans. It is the soil from which can spring innovation, growth, wealth, stability, and comfort. It's the bulwark against anarchy.

It’s good. Order is very good.

Now, let’s take 'justice' to mean “the extent to which a system recognizes and ensures, to the best of its ability, essential dignity, equal standing under the law, and basic physical and spiritual needs, of all human beings.” This is the underlying bedrock upon which the soil of order rests, which, when perfected, is smooth and level, with none afforded systemic advantage over another and none systemically robbed. Thus justice defines the shape of order.

It’s good. Justice is very good.

It’s worth repeating that both order and justice are good and necessary things. I personally am not a fan of disorder. I dare hope we can all get behind justice.

I’d observe that evil isn’t usually a product of creativity or innovation. Evil is usually the corruption of things that are already good, by degrading them down or elevating them up out of their proper places.

Take prosperity, for example. To prosper is good. It’s very good. But when prosperity becomes more important than questions of whether your prosperity will cause people to die who might otherwise have lived, then prosperity—a good thing—has become badly corrupted.

And people aren’t evil—people are art. But we choose our priorities, and as our priorities inform our beliefs, we can take on the corrupted and inartful shapes of our bad assumptions. We might later even see the forms we have taken and fail even to recognize ourselves anymore. We may pause to wonder how we arrived there, and attempt to change. Or we might deny the truth of what we have become, might angrily wonder how other people could possibly see us for what we manifestly are.

"This isn't me! This isn't me!"
That’s what makes it all so insidious. We can always try to ignore or promote evil by mistaking the goodness that remains as goodness of the whole. Those who intend great injustice will always retreat to some island of goodness from which to defend themselves:

"I'm not for genocide. I just love my family and want to protect them from other races. So now it's bad to love? Aren't you the twisted one?"

"I don't want to torture our enemies. We need to, to keep our kids safe. You don't want to torture? You must not have kids. Why do you hate safety?"

Repeat: Justice is good. Order is good. They are both good.

I repeat it because I know from experience how people hear—how I hear. It seems we have lost sight of the fact that most conflicts between right and wrong are actually questions of appropriate priority between competing good things. (Which is not to say both sides are in the right.) The expectation in most conflicts between two things is that one of the things is good and the other bad, and usually the goodness and badness are assumed to be undiluted. Thus, when you say that one thing ought to take priority over another, what I hear is not that one thing is more important than another, and should therefore be given precedence, but rather that the one thing is entirely good, and the other thing is entirely bad.

“You think property rights are more important than civil rights. Thus, you think civil rights are a bad thing.”

“You think civil rights are more important than property rights. Thus, you think property rights are a bad thing.”

Obviously, neither proposition is true of most people. But the conflict emerges. Property rights are good. Civil rights are good. But which is more important? The choice matters a lot. One choice honors the fact that all people are art. The other leads, inevitably, to barbarism.

The defining question is one of priority. When two good things come into conflict with each other, which good thing takes preference over the other?

Here is the defining frame I propose: The chief priority among all competing good things is recognition the inherent dignity, legal equality, and provision for basic need, of all human beings, a recognition which, for brevity’s sake, I’ll refer to as ‘justice.’

This is a justice that is founded on the idea that every person is a unique and irreplaceable work of art, carrying an intrinsic and unsurpassable worth.

It is, crucially, a justice with its foundation in love.

I submit that a casual observer can tell a lot about a society by observing how, when, and why it prioritizes justice over order, or order over justice.

If a society is unjust, an insistence on a more perfect justice is going to disrupt that society’s order, and those who demand justice are not going to see that disruption as a bad thing. Not because they hate order (though perhaps a troubled few might), but because they have determined that order must first demand justice; otherwise it is going to be an ordered injustice, a terrible order not worth the cost to the soul and conscience.

And, if a society prefers order above justice, it’s going to focus on the particulars of the existing rules that support that order, with little consideration as to whether or not those rules establish justice; and those who prioritize order are going to ignore and suppress and dismantle any rules that do not support that order. Not because they hate justice (though perhaps a troubled few might), but because they recognize that establishing a more perfect justice will necessarily require a great disruption to their desired order, a terrible price not worth the cost to stability and prosperity.

And so some will prefer equality and justice for all.

And some will prefer law and order.

In a perfected system, law and order will be exactly the same thing as justice. A peaceful order resting upon a system that is completely just is a great aspiration, though as yet an unattained one.

This sort of perfected justice and order would mean nobody is being assaulted, or robbed, or starved, or sleeping without shelter, or exposed to tainted water, or made unwelcome in public spaces or public life, or harassed, or barred from equal treatment under the law, or expected to accept less pay for equal work, or  forced to accept pay that does not allow them enough upon which to live, or otherwise abused in any other way. It would mean that any rules or actions making such abuses likely or inevitable would be ended or curtailed, with consequences enforced for infractions—consequences which restore essential human dignity and provide basic human needs to the victim, while still maintaining and protecting human dignity for the perpetrators.

That sort of justice would require a great deal of honesty and deliberation and probity and intention and hard work and willingness to change. When that system found systemic injustice within itself, the society would need to be willing to submit itself to hard and costly work of correction.

Cost is something we would prefer to avoid. But avoiding cost, while important in its right place, is not more important than justice. Thus, a society preferring justice to order might bring itself to deny itself and suffer, in the name of what is good, might be willing to pay the price to do the good work necessary to dig up the soil of order, to repair the fault lines in justice's underlying bedrock..

But a society preferring order to justice would greatly resent any finding of fault.

Pointing out fault lines of inequality is so … it’s so divisive. Why point fingers?

A preference for order over justice represents a preference to cover over fault lines with new soil, rather than to address the underlying imbalance. It is a desire to say that order and justice are already the same, without doing the hard and costly work to make it so.

It is an invitation—a tempting one—to reconciliation without reparation.

It is an invitation—a tempting one—to forgive somebody who has harmed someone else, as proxy for the one they have harmed, the one they intend to continue harming.

It is an invitation—a tempting one—to create a papered-over justice by urging or even forcing a victim to apologize to the one abusing them, for the disruption to the established order their abuse has caused.

It is an invitation to maintaining an order that will not only allow further abuse, but guarantee it. It will make further abuse inevitable. Permission for continuance of ordered abuse is the reason the invitation, with all its attendant benefits and temptations, is being offered in the first place.

The reason this invitation remains so tempting is this: Its enticements are offered to those with the most power to stop an abuser from their abused, while hurting most those with least power to complain or defend themselves. Some will suffer, and suffer badly, but mostly invisibly—at least for a while. Everybody else is allowed to remain comfortable—until it is their turn to suffer, anyway. Meanwhile, a favored elect are allowed to continue reaping massive advantage from the unjust order, and even, provided they are ruthless enough, to strip away even the covering soil, to work at adjusting the fault lines to restore injustices already ameliorated, to Make Past Injustices Great Again.

And, let us not forget, there are categories other than those who prefer justice to order and order to justice.

For example: There are those who prefer injustice to either justice or order. Evil still does exist. Badness exists. We’re not always dealing with a competition between two good things.



Allow me to suggest that, when there is a great divide between people who prefer order, and people who prefer justice, this is an indication that the undergirding system over which these people contend is deeply, fundamentally abusive and unjust.

Allow me to suggest that, the greater the divide between those who prefer order and those who prefer justice, the more abusive and unjust the existing order of that system is likely to be.

Allow me to suggest that, in cases like this, an increasing divisiveness is not actually the problem, in the same way a symptom is not the disease.

Allow me to suggest that (because order is actually a good thing), when I elect to prioritize order over justice, it can seem in my mind that I am doing good and necessary work, because the thing I am defending is, taken by itself, a good and necessary thing. It may seem to me that others, who prioritize justice over order, are saying that order is bad and should be destroyed, not modified.

But, even if I fail to understand what they are saying, I will notice that they are opposing me. I will become aware of the divide. That much at least will penetrate.

It may well be the divide is the only indication complacent people will ever perceive that the order they support is unjust, and that their support of it makes further abuse not only likely, but inevitable—that their support of an abusive order is itself abuse. If a society has become committed to an unjust enough order, the divide may need to get wide enough that no bubble can cross it.

It may well be the divide is the only thing separating an unjust system from those people the system is designed to abuse, the only thing keeping those people separated from those others, not complacent, very intentional, who intend to deliberately advantage themselves, using the inherent injustices preserved within the order of their society for the abuse and harm of others.

It may be that unity, while a good thing, is not more important than justice.

It may be that before we decide if unity is appropriate, we must ask what it is we intend to unify around.

And it may well be the divide is actually a very, very, very good thing.

Pictured: A Unified Country

I must confess, this year I’ve lost my patience for those who save their first tears for the divide rather than its causes.

* * *

And Mary wept, because Sally was still her sister.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017


So. About two weeks ago, I got riled up about Nazis and I wrote a Twitter thread. Maybe you saw it.

Not long after, I received this tweet, from an awesome cartoonist named Melissa Mendes. Here's what it said.

A cartoon of my tweet thread?  How cool is that? That was more than OK with me. It was spectacular with me.

Then she hit upon a great idea. What if she made a PDF and made it available for however much you wanted to pay, and what if all the proceeds went to the Southern Poverty Law Center?

So she did all that, and now it's done. I have it here small, but you really have to go to her Patreon to see it embiggened and beautiful.

It's so good. How good? This good:

Bubbles 1 - Sister

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The Kingdom of the United States is like a brother and sister named Thomas and Mary, who moved next door to one another, along with their spouses, Sally and Abe.

As children, Thomas and Mary had always been close, and the two couples quickly became best of friends. Double dates every Friday, joint vacations, backyard barbecue. Support for each other in times of crisis. Assisting on one another’s home improvement projects. Loans in times of financial distress. Thomas even hired Abe to work in his company, and Abe proved apt; he quickly became Thomas’s general manager.

Thomas and Sally and Abe and Mary, best of friends for years.

Late one night, a knock came at Abe and Mary’s door; it was Sally, beaten badly, arm broken, eye swollen shut. Thomas had done this to her, she said. It wasn’t the first time; it had been going on for years. But tonight, for the first time in years, Thomas had pushed it further, had hit and not stopped hitting. Tonight she feared for her life. She came to the one place she could think to go. She came to her friends. She came to her brother and sister.

That night, at the hospital, Abe and Mary talked, and discovered many things now cast in a new light: Sally’s famous clumsiness seemed less accidental now, her tendency to over-drink seemed compensatory, and certain of Thomas’s running jokes about Sally’s shortcomings revealed themselves as cruel and controlling. Thomas’s habit of playing loud music at odd hours now seemed calculated to mask other sounds. Mary remembered troubling rumors she'd heard, and soon discounted, of Thomas's behavior with Mary and other partners when he was in college out of state. Both realized a new menace now tinted actions and words that had previously seemed harmless.

In time, the police arrived, and, just after them, came Thomas, who explained that Sally had just been having an episode. It happened sometimes. He never mentioned it because he didn’t want to embarrass her, but last night she'd gone too far. She’d gotten drunk and angry, he claimed. She’d started screaming at him (look, she’s screaming now). Then, out of the blue, on purpose, she threw herself down a flight of stairs.

Thomas was deeply disturbed by their reaction to him. He was shocked, offended; they’d gotten him all wrong. She was doing this to get back at him for imagined offenses. And he was a good person; they knew him, so they knew he was a good person. All the times he’d helped them—employed them. How could they believe it of him? And, they had to admit … Sally was a a drinker, no? A bit of a lush? And by the way, how was this anybody else’s business? He was very calm and very logical.

The police asked Sally if she had been drinking last night. Sally admitted she had.

The police cleared their throats. They asked Abe and Mary, do you really want to give a statement?

Abe decided not to give a statement. After all, Thomas was his friend and brother and boss. And, he reasoned, both sides have some part of every quarrel. And he knew Thomas, and knew all of his amazing qualities. It was impossible to think his friend—his brother—was an evil man.

But Mary gave her report to the police, and stood with Sally as Sally gave hers, and when Abe left them both to bail out Thomas, she brought her sister into her own home and changed the locks. When Abe returned with Thomas, neither of them could get in anymore.

When Thomas demanded to be let in to see his own wife, Mary told him, I love you. But things aren’t the same anymore, now that I see what you’ve done.

When Abe demanded to be let in to his own home, Mary told him, I love you. But things aren’t the same anymore, now that I see what you’re willing to allow.

And Thomas berated his wife, growing ever angrier for alleged lies against his character, and shouted that her behavior now merited the treatment she had falsely claimed to have received. And Abe scolded his wife, for her harsh tone, her close-mindedness, her unwillingness to hear both sides. But Sally would not deny what she knew had happened. And Mary refused to open the door, no matter how hard Thomas pounded.

And both Thomas and Abe were angry and offended, and they went off to complain to each other about the uncompromising attitudes of their wives.

And Sally wept, because she was abused and vulnerable, and she mourned, because she had been beaten and disbelieved.

And Mary mourned, because Thomas was still her brother, and Abe was still her husband.

And she wept, because Sally was still her sister.

illustrations (c) Juanito Moore

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