Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting (Re)Started

Considering this is my first post at my new political blog, Rob Talks Politics, I figure some introductions are in order.  Some of you may know me from my personal blog, where I've been posting off and on for the last five years or so about politics, personal interests such as craft beer and music, and updates on happenings in my personal life to keep friends and family in the loop.

I generally strive to keep the my political viewpoints confined to my blog (or up until recently, my Facebook account) and try not go around sharing them with others unless they bring it up first.  But because there are lots of non-political topics I want to share on my personal blog (I know everything is political, but I'm talking about the difference between things I experience in my personal life and things I read about), I've begun to feel lately there are two sides of my writing: political and otherwise.  I tried to split the two into sections within one blog, but the result just seemed a bit schizophrenic to me.  So I decided to create a separate blog dedicated all things political, and that's what you're reading right now.

So, about me: 

I can make things simple.  Here's where I score on the Political Compass test (which I highly recommend if you haven't taken it). 

But that doesn't make for much of a blog posting. 

So how would I describe myself?  First off, I hate political labels.  I think the corporate media has turned the way we view our political system into a joke.  Every issue is sensationalized and turned into meaningless soundbites, and we think in terms of a false right-left, liberal-conservative, Republican-Democrat dichotomy.  As a result, we end up with countless examples of absurdity throughout our political system, such as liberal political groups supporting Obama and conservative pundits reviling him, despite the fact that Obama governs probably to the right of Reagan, policy-wise.  Jon Stewart and other comedians have made a career out of doing little more than pointing out these absurdities.

Public policy debates now resemble a sporting event, where people's loyalties lie often with their party/ideology, and they cheer on their "side" as if it's their favorite sports team.  I've found myself falling for this line of thinking many times, and how could I not?  We're immersed in it.  So if both "teams" fail you, then what?  That's where I find myself.  Lately, I've been trying to think of my family, friends, community, planet, and fellow human beings as the only "team" worth rooting for.  It's pretty liberating, actually.

While I'm not a fan of labels, I do think it's important to have some sort of starting-point, something to give you the idea of where I'm coming from.  I'd have to say the basis for all my viewpoints is that I'm anti-authoritarian.  I'm vehemently against any person or institution, whether the government or corporations or some other institution, having power over an individual.  It all boils down to power.

One of the results of the false left-right dichotomy is that conservatives tend to argue the government has too much power, and liberals say corporations have too much power.  They're both right.  Corporations dump millions of dollars into lobbying and political campaigns, allowing corporate-friendly politicians to win elections, and in return these politicians pass laws that allow corporations even more power.  This gives both the government and corporations more power, and in return regular people like us end up with less power.  It's a corporatocracy, and it's strongly authoritarian in nature. 

I'm also very much anti-hierarchy, as hierarchies and authoritarianism go hand-in-hand.  All the failed systems in history (feudalism, fascism, Soviet-style communism, Maoism, etc.) have been hierarchical in nature, with one guy at the top (let's face it, it's almost always a man) and everyone else underneath.  This gives too much power to the one(s) at the top, and not enough to everyone else, and that's its fatal flaw.  Oppressed people tend to eventually rise up.  Our current corporate system is modeled the same way, with one CEO or small group of executives at the top, and everyone else underneath.  This is why it's doomed to eventually fail, as well. 

On social issues, again I'm anti-authoritarian.  I'm in favor of marriage equality, not because I want to marry another man, but because it's not my place to tell consenting adults they can't marry each other, and it certainly isn't the government's place to do so.  I support legalizing drugs, not because I think people should do drugs, but because I don't think the government has any right to tell adults what they can and cannot put into their bodies, and because prohibition has caused more damage than the drugs themselves.  I'm pro-choice, not because I think abortion is a good thing, but because the government has no right to force a woman to go through with a pregnancy if she doesn't want to.  For this reason, anyone who supports banning abortion has no place to call him or herself an advocate of "small government."  On a related note, anyone who wants to ban abortion but supports the death penalty or our aggressive militaristic foreign policy has no right to call him or herself "pro-life."

On fiscal issues, once again I'm anti-authoritarian.  I think people have an inherent right to things that are necessary for survival, such as food, shelter, health care, etc.  If a hospital tells a patient he will die unless he can cough up $75,000 to pay for a surgery, it's hard for me to see how that's any different than extortion.  I think if you're starving and I have extra food but refuse to share, I'm essentially committing a criminal act.  And yet, I don't think the government should force me to give the extra to you, mainly because the politicians who write the laws and make policy decisions have their own agenda.  I'm not sure what the answer is, but perhaps benefit societies are better alternatives.

I'm either pro-capitalism or anti-capitalism, depending on who's defining the term, "capitalism."  I support a society where people can exchange a good or service for compensation, at least in principle.  But I think the people who take in billions by gambling on Wall Street, trading currencies, getting loans at 0% interest from the Fed and then turning around and loaning the same money to others at 3%, or otherwise manipulating numbers are absolute scumbags.  Likewise, the large corporations that use their size advantage to put their smaller competitors out of business by undercutting them, then raising their prices when they're the only game in town need to go.   

I hear lots of people say we need more jobs.  I disagree.  I think we need need a reevaluation of the whole system.  When I was growing up, all I heard was how technology was going to make our lives easier and better in the future.  Now it's almost 2012, and people are working harder than ever, at least the ones who can find work.  We should be focusing on how our resources are allocated, not working on creating easily-sold-and-consumed products.  Sure, it's really cool that I can store 500 albums worth of music on a gadget the size of a condom wrapper, but meanwhile people are starving even though we have the technology to feed the entire world, and people are dying from diseases we have the technology to cure and/or prevent.  Our priorities are insane.

I definitely tend to focus on what's wrong with our current system, and not so much on what I think we need to do.  This is in part because I'm cynical, but also because I think you have to identify the problem before you can come up with solutions.  And as someone who's anti-hierarchy, it would be hypocritical for me to claim I have the answers for everyone.  Whatever solutions we come up with, we need to come up with them as a group.

I think a big reason people are largely unhappy with our current system but can't seem to agree on any solutions is because misinformation and disinformation are in abundant supply, and a very narrow corporatist viewpoint dominates the debate throughout our corporate media.  The powers that run this country are incredibly skilled at controlling the message and blaming all our problems on the ones with the least amount of power to actually cause them.

I support the Occupy movement.  I don't always agree with the tactics used by people in the movement, but that's how it works in any horizontal, people's movement.  The corporate media has done a thorough job at highlighting all the least-desirable traits among people in the movement, or ascribing non-existent ones to the entire movement, while simultaneously ignoring the reasons for the movement.

Seriously, if you go on TV and shrug your shoulders and ask, "What do these occupiers want?" or "Why are they protesting?", you have no right to call yourself a journalist.  A Google search would thoroughly answer those questions within 30 seconds. 

The establishment media does what it's supposed to do, and that's to protect the establishment.  Once the movement started gaining traction, the pundits inevitably went into smear mode, and the vast majority of people who have too much going on in their lives to research the issues themselves had no choice but to believe the nonsense.  They were told the protesters were lazy (if they were lazy, they would've stayed home like the critics), uninformed (a great deal of them were college grads, and if you read their first release, it's clear they get it), wanted a handout (no, they want a future), were dirty (that's what happens when you go camping, not that it has anything to do with anything), etc., etc.

The movement seems to be in disarray these days.  Don't believe it.  People are still pissed.  And I don't see things getting any better any time soon.  When all is said and done, the movement may have a different name or use different tactics, but it isn't going anywhere.  Not until things change.
A bunch of kids, most of whom had little or no organizing experience, managed to create a movement that has spread across the nation and lasted so far for months.  Good on them.

There's a lot more I want to say about a lot of different things, but I'll save it for future Rob Talks Politics postings.  Stay tuned. 

Reading Assignments:

On my personal blog, I got into the habit of sharing what I've been reading, and I thought I'd do the same here, focusing on political links.  I haven't posted there in almost a month, so my list is pretty big.  Feel free to pick and choose what to read.  Then again, knowledge is power:

I'm hoping to update this blog every few days or so, so check back often.  And please feel free to leave a comment or two.