17 March 2011

Politics and Negotiation

Do you see the Congress, AARP, UAW, Pentagon and Chamber of Commerce getting together to agree to a budget? I mean, can you imagine such a thing without busting out laughing because your imagination might as well add cartoon characters in the background and it'd only make it slightly more ridiculous?

Of course not.  See, Americans have come to think of concession as a sign of weakness. Truth, shame -- those are for suckers. Reason, facts -- just tools, only to be used when it's useful. Those lauded as "leaders" are those that negotiate like six-year-olds. Actual progress, strength even, is to dig in and scream until you get as much as you can. Note you don't get what you want. You're not fighting for what's best. It's about getting more. And with everyone doing that you're assured of a disaster.

Allow me to relate my experience in automotive. (It's a metaphor, so I will sacrifice some accuracy for clarity and brevity.) There's constant pressure to pack more shit into cars these days, so bidding wars for room to put your equipment in there get quite heated. But everyone at the table, while they may spit at each other (because one person getting his way creates extra work for another), understands why they're there, and what the stakes are. Say, for example, you have a little 3"x5" fuse box that you need to fit under the instrument panel. To do your job, you'll need a space a little larger than that. You march into the meeting room with a bottle of antacids, a pot of coffee and no evening plans because this is what you NEED. And not only do you NEED it, the car needs it or it's not going anywhere. A car without a fuse box won't run. So the fuse box engineer generally understands that no matter how ugly negotiations get, his job is to make everyone understand the importance of the space he is bidding for.  Yet before he says a single word, everyone else already knows that unless that fuse box gets the space it needs, there will be no car to bring to market -- everyone loses.  Stonewalling the fuse box engineer's goal just because it's tad inconvenient isn't just childish or stupid; it's madness.  The fight, then, is for a location and space that's convenient for the fuse box engineer, vs. a location and space that's convenient for others.  If they have to haggle and argue all night about where to put the space and how much to allocate, by the end of the day, he will have his goddamn place to put his fuse box. THIS is how work is done. THIS is how negotiation is done. THIS is how GROWNUPS WORK.

Not in American politics. American politics is about getting as big a piece of the pie as possible. Dig in, scream, yell, pound fists and spew lies and go on TV and demonize opponents until. . . you wind up with a farking useless 2.5" x 9" space because that's what you managed to get. You can't fit your damn fuse box in it, but hey, you won something, right? Or you hire a big-time lobbyist who secures an awesome 7"x11" space for you AT THE EXPENSE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING BATTERY. Or you lose and there's no fuse box at all, so it's replaced with a hodge-podge shoestring job of spliced wires and you pray the damn thing doesn't short and catch fire while the people who beat you into submission high-five each other for winning a political victory that will only hurt everyone in the end.

And what the fuck is all this about left-right or bias, anyway? Moderation isn't a virtue! The fuse box engineer is HUGELY biased -- the guy is 100% pro-fuse box all the way. It's the only thing he's there to represent! The difference between his job and extremism is a thorough understanding of the overall situation and how all the pieces interact. The guy is NOT going to compromise on the space he NEEDS for the fuse box, nor is he going to lie to secure any space he won't find useful. It's not because he's a moderate; it's because he's not crazy. He's there to accomplish a job he understands every aspect of and it's NOT some ideological bullshit take-no-prisoners American jihad to secure every inch of every car until the roads are filled with giant fuse boxes and anything less is a threat to our freedoms. That's not a victory for America and it's not even a victory for fuse box engineer. A victory for the fuse box engineer is getting the concessions he needs to do his job so he can fucking do his job and hopefully get home in time to see his family before they go to bed.

There are a few good legislators in Congress, but they're outnumbered, exhausted and unappreciated. Take healthcare "reform", for example. Don't hash out the details. Forget about Medicare, or single payer, or co-pays or taxes or death panels or prescription drugs or whatnot.  I'm not talking about particulars, here.  Think back to just how the debate was conducted. People screaming sound bites from TV in town hall meetings not because there were riots in the streets, but to prevent any civilized discourse. Ultimatums from special interests. Congressmen using procedures and grandstanding -- anything but rational people discussing the actual policy details with the public.  We voted for this.  And people wonder why politicians are corrupt and stupid? Considering what voters demand, subject them to and vote for, why the hell would any level-headed, intelligent, honest person run for public office in this country at this point??

This country's spoiled attitude is out of control. And when I say "out of control" I am using the technical definition -- it is boundless and there are no working negative feedback mechanisms, like shame, to even slow it down. Seriously. Where do you see any sense of shame in this country as a political force? What about decency, or even common sense? What about a sense of having a goal and working to accomplish it? It doesn't help when the people who need reform the most are so wilfully ignorant they don't realize they're on the wrong side, voting against their interests. And why tell people what to think if it's supposed to be a democracy, anyway? My vote doesn't matter not because "both parties are equal" (they're not). It's that the very country itself down to the voters are pushing to make the country completely ungovernable.

American civics just flat-out isn't about running a society anymore.

10 March 2011

Neo-Deism?

Wow, what an audacious douche.  Starts off a blog by inventing a new religion.

Well, not quite.  Tacking on "neo-" to an existing faith is not inventing, and Deists are by nature disorganized so there's no ambition to form any kind of following.  This is basically just another perspective on religion, named for convenience.  There's a decent article on Wikipedia about Deism, but here are a few key points:
  • Historically, Deism was most prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Several of the Founding Fathers of the United States were either Deists or thought to be Deists, notably Benjamin Franklin.
  • Deists reject (or dismiss) the notion of an anthropomorphic, meddling god.  It's a failure to grasp the true scope of the word, "omnipotent" (all-powerful).  For example, a miracle is, by definition, divine intervention.  The very need to directly intervene implies God's plans were not executed perfectly.  Therefore, if miracles occur, God is not perfect.  That isn't a flattering image of divinity, which is why Deists are inclined to believe it's false.
  • Deists reject organized religion (so, it's not Unitarianism).  No mortal can hope to serve as a vehicle of communication for an omnipotent being, nor would a truly omnipotent being require such a servant in the first place.  As such, there is no official Deist church.  Deist beliefs vary, and among Deists this is entirely uncontroversial.  Everyone's entitled to a view, but if anyone claims to be a spiritual authority on Deism, they're a phony, a comedian, or someone who really missed the point.
That's classical Deism.  The variants aren't fundamentally different; for example, Pandeism clarifies God as a transcendental entity (as opposed to, say, a glowing-white guy with a beard) but that's about it.  Modern Deism isn't much more than a scientific update; modern astronomical observations have revealed the universe to be far more vast than anyone -- religious or otherwise -- could have imagined.  The sheer scale of the universe makes even the classical Deist notion that God at least was interested enough in humans to make them an important part of His designs a shamefully arrogant, laughably anthropomorphic failure of imagination.  So, probably the main difference between classical and modern Deism is the shift from "God is content to let people freely interact with the universe He made," to, "God transcends human interaction.  I mean, way beyond it."

So, what's Neo-Deism?  To put it one way, as far as Neo-Deism is concerned, the Buddhist state of enlightment isn't as significant as the inner peace that it provides.  Jesus' divinity doesn't matter as much as his career as an awesome social worker and moral leader.  The sex life (or lack thereof) of his mother really doesn't matter at all.  Really, what's the big deal?  If Mary conceived Jesus normally, as skeptics argue (if they accept that Jesus even existed), would that have made Jesus any less of a badass?  Atheists argue that the existence of God can't be proven scientifically, but it can't be disproven either.  And really, if omnipotence leads to lack of intrusion, why does it matter so much that God cannot exist?  Science isn't about proof any more than it is about dogma, anyway.  It's really just an ongoing effort to find the most concise, consistent and predictive explanations for what we observe, and it's very good at that.  The literalists take the absurd view that God deliberately planted fake dinosaur bones to deceive scientists, but science merely draws its conclusions based on what's observed.  If the bones look like they're 100 million years old, right down to the radioisotope concentration, that's the conclusion science will arrive at whether it's the truth or a divine prank.  Heaven and Hell may be real, but you're here now and you don't need God to tell you that most people like nice guys and hate jerks.  Neo-Deism is not the demeaning, diminishing or denial of God, but a different perspective on the relevance of divinity.  Whereas classical Deism considers one's relation to God impersonal, Neo-Deism essentially argues it's irrelevant.  If there's an antithesis to Neo-Deism, it's the excessive focus on defending or attacking the symbols and tales of religion at the expense of whatever meanings the texts intend to convey.

I'll point out that this idea isn't new or groundbreaking.  The most humble believers of any religion already take the teachings to heart, rather than waste time comparing themselves to others or quibbling over literal accuracy, and have done so for centuries.  However, they still individually identify with the religion that first inspired them, even if (as far as a Neo-Deist is concerned) a minimalist Buddhist and a minimalist Christian would have far more in common with each other than the latter would with, say, Robert Tilton.  Neo-Deism acknowledges their personal adherence to morality in defiance of self-centered organizations that would take credit for these individuals' dedication.  A humble Buddhist isn't holy because s/he is Buddhist; it's the humility that counts.  Neo-Deism separates the sincere believers' way of life from the faith itself into a belief that the philosophy of a religion is more important than its spirituality.  Comparing, say, Hinduism to Islam is silly.  Religion isn't a damn competition for acceptance.  The question isn't whether or not your faith is righteous; it's, what can you learn from your faith?

To reiterate, Neo-Deism is not denial or defiance of God Himself; it's a different viewpoint in how God, people and morality relate to one another.  In particular, the most powerful entity of the three -- God -- is the least relevant precisely because He is the most powerful.  We people should focus on morality, not God, because morality is fundamentally about people.  In other words, to be blunt about it, stop arguing about an entity that doesn't need your help either way and get your life in order.  Many holy texts are rather useful references for that, and that's what they're for.