Tag Archives: elections

Good People, Corruption, And Politics According To “Designated Survivor”

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Politics is a dirty, cut-throat world that often requires good people to compromise principles, integrity, and basic human decency. Most people wouldn’t argue that. Even before the internet, the corruption that often goes hand-in-hand with politics was well-documented. That corruption has only become more visible in recent years. It’s hard to go more than a week without seeing a fresh case of shady political conduct.

However, instead of dwelling on how ugly politics can get in the age of social media and outrage culture, I’d like to scrutinize the nature of that corruption. I don’t doubt the ugliness or absurdities that politics often breeds, but it also poses some interesting question.

Do politics naturally corrupt the people who get involved?

Is corruption in politics unavoidable?

Do politics only attract corrupt individuals?

Is it possible to get anything done in politics without some amount of corruption?

These are not easy questions to answer. You don’t have to look hard to find corrupt politicians or uncover cases where politics undermined efforts to pursue a public good. However, the extent and the process of that corruption is sometimes difficult to understand. Those of us not involved in politics have a hard time imagining how ordinary people could become so callous.

That’s why a show like “Designated Survivor” is so uniquely compelling. Even as a work of fiction, this show explores the complex world of politics within the most extreme of circumstances. There’s political drama, intense action, and ongoing mysteries that go beyond politics, but the latest season of the show accomplished something unique in terms of how people become corrupt.

The premise of the show starts simple. Tom Kirkman, played by Keifer Sutherland, works at the White House as a fairly low-level department head as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In terms of rank and influence, his authority is barely above that of a typical intern.

Then, prior to the annual State of the Union Speech, he gets picked for the unenviable role of designated survivor, which is a real thing. It’s a role meant to keep the government going in the worst of worst-case scenarios when there’s a catastrophic attack that kills the President, Congress, and much of the government. In the pilot episode, that’s exactly what happens.

Suddenly, this man who has never run for political office or served as an elected official is thrust into the role of President of the United States and after the worst attack in the history of the country. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. It makes for great TV drama, but it also creates a unique experiment in what power and politics do to an otherwise ordinary person.

Before Kirkman is thrust into this role, it’s established early on that he’s somewhat of an idealist. He identifies as an independent who is genuinely concerned with using the political process to pursue a public good. He also demonstrates early on that he has a strict understanding of right and wrong. For him, there’s no compromise or second-guessing when it comes to ethics.

On paper, he has the kind of character and ethics that most people want in a politician. Even the dire circumstances of his ascension are favorable because he never had to raise money from billionaires to finance his campaign. He doesn’t even have to make shady deals or back-stab anyone, which is also an all-too-common tactic in politics.

In a sense, Tom Kirkman comes into this position of power free of corruption. He is in a position where he can govern with his principles and ideals intact. This isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” This is Mr. Smith gaining unprecedented power without having to go through the corrupt process.

Throughout the first and second season of the show, Kirkman tries to do his job with his ideals intact. Whether it’s tracking down who blew up the Capitol or preventing an all-out war in East Asia, he has to constantly render difficult and weighty decisions that test his ability to keep being that affable man from the first episode.

For the most part, he succeeds on many fronts. The conflicts throughout the show often followed a common formula. President Kirkman faces a difficult issue. One side urges him to make one risky, politically-motivated decision. The other side urges something else that’s just as risky and just as political. Kirkman, unwilling to compromise his laurels, has to forge a third option.

Time and again, the integrity of his character shows. By the end of the second season, the extent of that integrity is beyond dispute. Then, the third season arrives, via Netflix, and everything changes and not just due to the sudden increase in profanity.

This season, unlike the previous two, cast aside the formula of the first two seasons, but not without reason. The entire third season is built around Kirkman running for re-election as an independent. At this point, all the good he did with respect to rebuilding the government after a devastating attack is a distant memory. It’s all politics now and this is where his integrity is pushed to the limit.

Almost immediately, Kirkman discovers that just being a man of integrity isn’t enough. The first episode of the third season really sets the tone, highlighting how easy it is for his ideals to get lost in the politics of an election. Just saying what’s true and right isn’t enough. It has to resonate with voters. That’s the only criterion that counts for anything.

His primary opponent in this season is Cornelius Moss. In the second season, he was an ally. He came in as a former president who knew the rigors of the job better than most. He was also an experienced politician. He had experienced the corrupt world of politics and he had successfully navigated it. As a result, he never comes off as having the kind of integrity and principles that Kirkman espouses.

For a while, Moss comes off as an outright villain in the world of “Designated Survivor” and in a season that introduces a full-fledged bioterrorist, no less. He conducts himself the same way most people expect a corrupt politician to behave. He doesn’t care about truth, integrity, or decency. He does whatever he must in order to win the election and secure his power.

In previous seasons, Kirkman would’ve sought a way to counter those tactics and come out with his integrity intact. It was part of what made him so respectable, as both a character and a politician. Season three makes it abundantly clear that this is not going to work this time. If Kirkman wants to win, he’ll have to compromise his principles.

Without spoiling too many plot points, I’ll just state that the conclusion of this struggle leaves Kirkman in a very vulnerable position. He’s no longer the same man he was when he became President. The attack on the Capitol that made him President was an extreme circumstance that he never could’ve known about. What happens with the election in season three is very much a byproduct of his own choices.

It doesn’t definitively answer those questions I listed earlier, but it does offer some insights. More than anything else, season three of “Designated Survivor” makes the case that the political process will ultimately corrupt anyone who gets involved. It doesn’t matter how principled or decent they are. The very nature of navigating power requires that people compromise their ideals.

It’s not just Tom Kirkman who struggles with it, either. The same supporting cast that helped him cling to his principles for the first two seasons, such as Aaron Shore, Emily Rhodes, and Seth Wright, end up compromising, as well. For some, it’s disconcerting. For others, it’s downright traumatic. In the final episodes of Season 3, the reactions of Emily Rhodes nicely mirror those who valued Kirkman’s character.

There’s now an unavoidable disconnect between what Kirkman says and what he does. Even the actions of Cornelius Moss are obscured when he too becomes a victim of shady political dealings. In the end, there’s no one left in “Designated Survivor” whose integrity hasn’t been compromised. There’s also no one left whose morals aren’t muddled by circumstances.

Even in a fictional context, the politics in “Designated Survivor” are surprisingly reflective of real-world complications. Like in the show, every political party or movement believes they’re right and their opponents are wrong. They believe in what they’re doing. They also believe that if they fail, then the wrong policies will prevail.

Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and even anarchists are guilty of that flawed mentality. It’s one of the many reasons why politics tends to breed polarization. When people are so convinced that they’re the good guys, they become more willing to cross certain lines to defeat the bad guys. Tom Kirkman managed to avoid that for two seasons. He couldn’t in the third.

Whether or not he’s vindicated for his choices remains to be seen. Depending on whether the show gets a fourth season, it’s inevitable that he’ll face consequences for his choices. How he manages those consequences will reveal how much integrity he still has. If he plays his cards poorly, he may not have any left when all is said and done.

Designated Survivor” is a great show that explores difficult issues. Season three had its faults, but it marked a major turning point for Tom Kirkman. He is definitely not the same person he was in the show’s first episode, but he’s not quite at that point where we can say he’s lost sight of his laurels.

Both circumstances and politics did plenty to change Tom Kirkman over the course of the show. You could make the case that these forces corrupted him. After season three, you could also make the case that he’s now on the same path as Walter White from “Breaking Bad” in that these circumstances simply brought out a side of him that was always there.

Whatever the case, the ugliness of politics is something people have to navigate, both in the real world and the fictional world of “Designated Survivor.” Good people will keep trying to do good. Corrupt people will keep pursuing corrupt behavior. Politics, whatever form it takes, can only ever complicate that process.

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Using Nihilism To Make Sense Of Politics

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I don’t consider myself that huge philosophy buff, but in general, I’m a fan of anything that helps me make sense of mind-bending complexities of the universe. In an era where mass media and the internet have made it easier than ever to see the breadth of that complexity, I think such tools are more valuable than ever.

Lately, I’ve found myself more frustrated than usual with the news media, the politics surrounding it, and the never-ending crisis/outrage cycle that it seems to perpetuate. I’ve written articles before where I’ve mused over the absurdities surrounding the media and outrage culture in general, but I’ve tried to be apolitical about it.

It hasn’t been easy, to say the least.

Well, given the ongoing trends of politically-driven divides in recent years, I don’t think that approach is entirely tenable in the long run. At some point, I’m going to have to get somewhat political on certain issues, more so than I already have. For that reason, I want to take a certain kind of philosophy and use it to cut through the layers of political bullshit that are sure to obscure any issue, present and future alike.

That philosophy is nihilism, which should come to no surprise of those who regularly follows this site. Whether it involves the tendencies of future generations or my favorite cartoon show, I’ve made my fondness of nihilism fairly clear. I also think that, as a philosophy, it’s a more useful tool than most with respect to filtering hyper-partisan politics.

In my experience, Nihilism is useful because its premise and principles are relatively simple. There’s nothing too convoluted or esoteric about it. As a baseline philosophy, nihilism posits that life, the universe, and everything in it has no inherent meaning. Human life isn’t special. Life, in general, isn’t special. The entire universe isn’t special. It’s just random clumps of matter floating around aimlessly.

It’s simple, albeit depressing. There’s a good reason why it’s popular among goths, punk music, and Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty.” It makes no promises and guarantees nothing. It acknowledges that all the meaning we ascribe to our lives and our world, be it through religion, ideology, or our favorite football teams, is entirely arbitrary.

Naturally, this does not sit well with those whose religion preaches faith in a higher power or whose ideology requires adherents to accept some greater, intangible meaning to it all. The basic implications of nihilism can leave many feeling uneasy. The idea that our universe is so purposeless can trigger an existential crisis, especially among those who’ve been led to believe there’s something special about them.

However, it’s that same cold, callous element to nihilism that makes it so useful. It immediately casts doubt on anything that someone or a group of people deem meaningful. It forces both observers and participants to take a step back and ask some metaphysical questions about why they deem something so meaningful.

To illustrate, here’s a painfully recent example. There have been two school shootings in 2018, thus far, that have garnered major media attention, followed significant political upheaval. One occurred in Parkland and the other occurred at Sante Fe High School in Texas. In both cases, the political upheaval involved gun control. One even led to a major, nationwide protest.

For one side of the political spectrum, these incidents motivate politically minded individuals to fight for stricter gun control. That’s the common position of liberal politics. For the other side of the political spectrum, such incidents motivate other politically minded individuals to protect the rights of gun ownership against government intrusion. That’s the common position of conservative politics.

Which side is right? Which side is wrong? Which side’s policies are more supported by verifiable scientific research? Which side’s position is statistically shown to result in less suffering?

These are all questions that both sides of the political spectrum argue about endlessly and to the point of absurdity. They’re questions that are impossible to answer. However, when you apply a little nihilism to the debate, the context suddenly changes. Instead of asking all these specific, unanswerable questions. Nihilism asks only one major question.

Why does it even matter?

More specifically, why does it matter what the liberals say? What does it matter what the conservatives say? Why does all the outrage and protest surrounding gun control, abortion rights, or convoluted campaign finance laws matter at all?

It’s not a question meant to trigger or troll an audience. The purpose, in this instance, is to get people to take a step back and understand that the meaning behind the current debate requires that the meaning behind this current point in time be exceedingly inflated.

With gun control, the primary catalyst for the debate that rages today began with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Many of the passions surrounding gun control began with that event. I’m old enough to remember how big a deal it was when it first happened. My school underwent a great deal of melodrama during that time.

As horrific as that event was, why is it any more meaningful than the deadly shooting that occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin? Going back even further than that, what about the deadly massacre that occurred without guns at Enoch Brown that occurred in 1764 and left 10 people dead, 9 of which were children?

Most people don’t even remember or know of those atrocities. Do they matter any less? Sure, there aren’t as many people alive today who are affected by them. In fact, for most atrocities committed before the 20th century, nobody is alive to ascribe meaning to those events.

That makes sense through the lens of nihilism because, given enough time and entropy, nothing matters in the long run. The outrage of those events and all those effected passed as soon as the people involved passed. When they died, they took the meaning with them. Even though the records of those events still exist to anyone willing to look them up, they are devoid of meaning.

Now, with that in mind, think about how meaningful the recent school shootings will be 200 years from now. It’s a given that they won’t be nearly as relevant, but will they carry the same meaning? Will anything that happened as a result really matter in the long run? Will all those political debates mean anything in the grand scheme of things?

If history is any indication, and history itself is subject to arbitrary meaning with nihilism, then chances are it won’t. There’s a high possibility that the current uproar surrounding gun control, as well as the uproar surrounding every political issue we deem important today, will eventually be rendered pointless.

That’s not to say they become pointless in an instant. Time has a way of skewing and twisting hot-button issues that don’t always make much sense in the decades that followed. Before the 1980s, abortion was largely considered a Catholic issue and didn’t become really touchy until the rise of the religious right.

The same thing happened with issues of censorship. Back in the mid-1960s, campuses like UC Berkeley were the central hub of the free speech movement that championed the right of people to say controversial things. These days, those same campuses have promoted censorship of controversial speakers, sometimes to the point of violence.

To most, that comes off as an act of hypocrisy. In a nihilistic context, though, it makes sense because both positions are similarly flawed. They were deemed meaningful during a particular time, but once that time passes, that meaning faded once the people who gave it that meaning moved on.

That, more than anything, is the ultimate message nihilism conveys to political discourse. What people consider politically charged is only relevant because the people currently alive are making it so. When those people die, move on, or get bored, the political upheaval fades and loses meaning.

The fact that such a heated issue can lose meaning further implies that the meaning ascribed to it in the first place was entirely arbitrary. It only meant something because people subjectively believed it. There was no larger force at work in the grand scheme of things. It’s just individuals in a certain time at a particular place collectively deciding that this is worth their emotional energy.

It may seem callous. It may even seem to undercut suffering and injustice. However, I would argue that nihilism actually helps by putting an issue into a proper context. Whether it’s gun control, abortion, or the right of a person to marry a squirrel, the meaning of both the issue and the passions behind it is contingent on those experiencing it. There’s nothing else beyond that and pretending there is only obscures the situation.

Nihilism, and its propensity to strip away inflated meaning, reduces every issue back to temporary, finite beings concerned with their current condition in a fleeting, uncaring, unguided universe. It doesn’t matter if life is ultimately meaningless in the long run. It doesn’t matter that life in the past has been rendered pointless or that life in the future will eventually be pointless. What matters is what we’re experiencing now.

Anything beyond that context within a political issue is just false meaning. Anything that attributes more meaning to the events in the past and future is just as arbitrary. Ultimately, the individuals alive today are responsible for ascribing meaning to an issue, whatever it may be.

I believe that harsh truth actually puts every political issue in a proper perspective, one that shows just how responsible we are as a society for giving meaning to an issue. It doesn’t mean we should all just give up and lament at the meaninglessness of our lives. It means we should be mindful of the things to which we ascribe meaning because, in a nihilistic universe, nothing else will do it for us.

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Is Democracy The Best Way To Ensure Basic Rights?

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When it comes to ensuring the happiness, advancement, and general prosperity of humanity, it’s not unreasonable to say that basic human rights are a core ingredient. Most know the basics of these rights as life, liberty, and property. Some even throw in the pursuit of happiness, which denotes all kinds of freedom, including the sexy kinds.

Beyond just sounding great on paper, human rights are a major guiding force. History has shown, time and again, that societies that value these rights tend to prosper more that only exist to glorify a despot. The contrast between the two Koreas is proof enough of that.

However, the preservation and promotion of basic human rights is no easy task. The world is full of corrupt, cruel, and power-hungry people who would scoff at the very concept the same way they would anyone who claims trees have souls. The fact that some of them manage to get elected in countries with democratic institutions says a lot about just how hard it can be to protect human rights.

It’s that vulnerability in one the most cherished modern institutions, which some claim took a major hit in 2016, that leads me to ask a question that I’m sure is going to draw me some level of ire. However, in wake of recent news and a particular Hollywood movie that indirectly touches on this concept, I think it’s worth asking.

Is democracy the best way of preserving basic human rights in a society?

I ask that question as someone who loves and celebrates the freedoms that being an American has given me. I feel lucky and honored to live in a country where I get to participate in the democratic process. I make it a point to vote in every election, be it mid-term or a presidential election.

That said, I’m not among those hyper-patriot, Ron Swanson wannabes who willfully ignores the flaws of the democratic systems around me. Between the limited choices offered by a two-party system, the non-democratic nature of the electoral college, and misguided ballot initiatives, I see these flaws as much as anyone else with an internet connection.

To some extent, I recognize that not all of these flaws are fixable within a democracy. The essence of democracy is people electing their government. Unfortunately, people aren’t always rational and anyone who has read headlines from Florida knows that. People can also be whipped up into a hateful, mob-like frenzy. It’s one of the side-effects of being such a social species. We’ll often go with the crowd before we go with reason.

In a perfect democracy, every voter would be completely independent, completely informed, and only vote to elect the person they believe will best preserve basic human rights. Since there’s no such thing as a perfect democracy any more than there’s such a thing as a perfect autocracy, there are bound to be flaws in the system.

Some of those flaws can be mitigated with things like voter education. Others involve mixing democratic systems with that of a republic. That’s primarily what the founding fathers attempted to establish with the United States, a republic being the fixed body of laws to preserve our rights and using democratic systems to protect those rights.

Other western democracies utilize various methods to address these issues, but so long as people are involved, there will be human flaws in any system. The key is making sure that those flaws don’t end up undermining human rights. The results haven’t been perfect. Ask any number of minority communities for proof of that.

With these flaws in mind, I believe it’s worth thinking beyond democracy to imagine other ways of preserving and promoting human rights. Some of those concepts manifest in movies, comics, and TV shows. The “Black Panther” movie presented an enticing, albeit fanciful, idea of an all-around good king who believes in basic human rights and does what he can to promote it, at least for his own people.

I’ve also cited Dr. Doom in a previous article who, despite being the ultimate villain in the Marvel universe, is pretty much the perfect ruler for any system of government. Sure, people in his government fear his wrath, but that’s the only thing they fear. You could argue that such fear is inconsistent with basic human rights, but in terms of actually securing people, property, and what not, Doom has no equals.

Outside the world of superheroes, though, there are also instances where a great leader who deeply values human rights gets thrust into power. That’s the entire premise of “Designated Survivor,” a show where Kiefer Sutherland does more than just shoot and torture terrorists. The best possible leader for a government isn’t elected. They essentially find themselves in that position.

In a sense, that embodies the disconnect between the fictional world and the real world. The idea that a king with ultimate power in a secretive country or some low-level government appointee would turn out to be a perfect president assumes a lot of things that don’t play out in the real world. It essentially vindicates what Winston Churchill once said about democracy.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Those bolded parts are my doing because those are the parts that most people recall. Considering the context in which Churchill said those words, having just fought a massive war against two leaders who had been democratically elected, it’s hard to blame him.

Even today, extremists who do not hold certain human rights in high regard do get elected to positions of power. It’s not a matter of people just throwing the concept away. People are still very tribal, last I checked. They’re going to vote or protest in accord with their own interests, even if it means undermining the interests of others.

That situation leaves basic human rights vulnerable. There are, as I write this, people living in functioning democracies whose basic rights are being undermined. While we have made a great deal of progress over the past century as democracies have spread, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Going back to the original question I asked about democracy’s ability to preserve human rights, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. For now, I’m inclined to side with the wisdom of Winston Churchill. Democracy has it’s flaws, but it’s the best we’ve got thus far. We can definitely stand to do better and should work towards doing so.

Some of that may involve getting money out of politics to mitigate corruption. Some involve doing the opposite of what China just did and setting term limits for politicians. Some are taking an even more radical approach by integrating emerging technology into the democratic process.

These are all bold ideas, which are certainly worth pursuing in the future. Until we have a real life T’Challa to be king or a super-intelligent AI capable of running a government with perfect efficiency, democracy is our best bet for preserving human rights. We shouldn’t stop trying to improve, but we should still celebrate it’s merit.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Thought Experiment

Ted Cruz, Twitter Porn, And Why We Shouldn’t Make A Big Deal Of It

As a general principle, I don’t like mentioning certain politicians by name. That’s because to mention them is to give them more attention than they deserve and, as I’ve pointed out before, attention is the life blood of both the internet and the trolls that make it awful.

I only ever get specific once their propensity for bullshit reaches a level of absurdity and hilarity that both sides of the political spectrum can laugh out. That’s why I’ll drop names like Rick Santorum and Bernie Sanders. If they didn’t exist in real life, they’d probably exist as cartoon characters that Seth MacFarlane made up.

With that in mind, I have to say I’m shocked that I can add Ted Cruz to that list. In terms of politicians, there’s not much about him that makes him deserving of attention. He’s a cut-and-paste conservative republican who espouses everything you’d expect a guy who once called same-sex marriage a threat to liberty and makes one too many Nazi comparisons when he talks about health care.

It’s for that reason why nobody should be surprised that he’s as sex-negative as they come. While he was the solicitor general in Texas, he ardently defended a state ban on sex toy sales. He even went so far as to make this unsexy statement.

“There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.”

Try to read that without cringing. I dare you. This is a man who honestly sided with people who believed in using taxpayer money and policing power to discourage people from touching their own bodies in ways they might enjoy. It’s enough to make the Ron Swanson in all of us fume.

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It’s also for that very reason that nobody should be surprised that Ted Cruz just got himself into trouble by “accidentally” liking a porn video on Twitter. I put the word “accidentally” in quotes because it’s a loaded word in a situation where any word can turn into the dirtiest kind of innuendo. Since I prefer to save that sort of rhetoric for my novels, I don’t want to overdo it here.

Naturally, the idea of an uptight conservative republican who once argued for prohibitions on masturbation liking a porn video was like catnip for social media. Cruz is now the butt of a lot of crude humor and understandably so. It’s like catching a priest with a prostitute. It’s just inherently funny.

Now, as funny as this is and as detestable as Ted Cruz may be to anyone who enjoys stimulating their genitals, there’s a good chance the man may be completely innocent here. He has already gone on record as saying that a staffer managing his social media account liked the video and not him. Given how common that practice is among politicians, that’s the most likely scenario.

That doesn’t make situation any less hilarious, nor will it stop the onslaught of reactions from people calling Ted Cruz a hypocrite and a fraud. Given how much we, as a society, detest hypocrites, even from those from the non-political class, that’s understandable. Hypocrites are the epitome of everything that makes a human being unlikable.

However, in this case, I think the reactions to the hilarity may do more harm than good. Please don’t take that to mean I’m defending Ted Cruz, nor am I making excuses for him. I am not a big Ted Cruz fan. I would not vote for him to be my local dog catcher, let alone a politician of any standing.

That said, I’ve never met the man. I don’t know what he’s like outside of these ridiculous stories about the ridiculous things he says on the record. He might very well be a nice guy who only says what he says because his party’s platform involves decrying porn as a public health crisis. When the cameras go off, he may not really care much about the kinky stuff people do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

You could probably say the same about a lot of ardent conservatives like him, whose party gets a boatload of money from anti-sex, anti-porn, anti-fun organizations like the Family Research Council. What they say in public doesn’t always reflect what they believe in private.

Let’s not get too high and mighty here. If someone paid us enough money, then we would probably say all sorts of horribly unsexy things as well. I don’t deny that if someone gave me millions of dollars to only write novels that would appeal to Mormon clown enthusiasts, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Short of reading Ted Cruz’s mind or getting some private audio recordings that has him going on a Mel Gibson style rant about the evils of porn and masturbation, we have no way of knowing how he really feels about porn and sex. However, social media is still going to mock him as the ultimate hypocrite, right up there with Ted Haggard.

That, I feel, is a mistake because Ted Cruz is not Ted Haggard. Haggard got caught red-handed in a way he could not blame on a lazy staffer. In Cruz’s case, it’s very likely that this was just some staffer with too much free time, not enough coffee, and badly in need of a good orgasm. Attacking him for something he probably didn’t do makes us the assholes and not him.

There’s another more important reason why we shouldn’t make too big a deal about Cruz’s possible porn tastes and it goes beyond simply not being an asshole, an effort we should all value. There’s a time for mocking and a time for pointing out the hilarity of a situation, of which there are many. However, let’s not mistake mockery for an actual argument against the idea we find so abhorrent in the first place.

Mocking Ted Cruz does not make an effective argument against his regressive attitudes towards sex, porn, and all things fun in this world. Mockery outside of a “South Park” or “Rick and Morty” rerun never adds any kind of meaningful insight to an issue. Sure, it’s funny, but that’s the extent of the contribution.

For someone like Ted Cruz, who still wields real power and has real influence over public policy, mocking him isn’t going to change his mind about anything. If anything, it may make him that much more eager to send police into peoples’ houses to make sure they’re not pleasuring themselves. People get unreasonable when they’re mocked, especially when it’s not warranted.

Whether or not Ted Cruz genuinely believes his party’s platform on sex, porn, and minorities is beyond the point. At some point, just being an asshole to someone who likely didn’t have any role in an incident, other than having his name attached to it, helps nobody. It just gives Ted Cruz more reason to despise his opponents and not listen to them.

That’s the biggest reason why this whole ordeal with him liking a porn video on Twitter is already overblown and need not be an indictment on all things Ted Cruz. Instead of actually pointing out to Ted Cruz how regressive, harmful, and unproductive his attitudes are, people are taking the easier path and mocking him instead.

That approach is every bit as asinine as anything Ted Cruz has been part of. In fact, I dare you to find any person of power that ever changed their mind because of mockery. Men like Cruz should be challenged, but part of that process involves actually respecting them enough understand their situation. That’s harder for certain people, especially politicians who are beholden to donors.

It’s hard, frustrating, and not nearly as funny, but when our sex lives are at stake, I think it’s worth enduring. It might not be possible to persuade a man like Ted Cruz that his attitudes towards sex are wrong, but by being assholes about it, we’re doing a disservice to those who can be persuaded and for all the right reasons. In the end, that benefits both our sex lives and political discourse.

 

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Filed under Current Events, Jack Fisher's Insights, Reasons and Excuses

Thought Experiment On Democracy (The Non-Boring Kind)

I imagine that after last week, everybody is sick of politics, elections, and democracy in general. Believe me, I feel your pain. I almost long for the days when the news dedicated most of its time to what was going on with Kim Kardashian’s ass. Now that the 2016 Election is over, we can all stop fighting the urge to throw a brick at our TVs.

Now don’t worry. This post is not going to be about politics, at least not in the Anderson Cooper type tradition. I remain committed to keeping this blog relatively free of overly political bullshit that would otherwise kill the sexy mood I’m trying to create with my novels. While there are some political undertones in this topic, it’s not the kind that make most people want to beat each other to death with a sack of hammers.

This post is about something a bit more thought-provoking, at least that’s my hope. It’s another thought experiment. I’ve posed them before on this blog on other topics like disease and attitudes towards jealousy. I think it’s helpful to get people thinking about a difficult issue and this is as difficult as it comes these days.

More than anything else, the 2016 election in America highlights the flaws in democracy. It is prone to the irrational, irresponsible whims of our caveman brains. Those brains are wired in a way where we don’t give enough of a damn about what is actually true and instead go with how something makes us feel.

This is why demagogues, hypocrites, liars, cheaters, and reality TV stars can run for office and actually win. These people are smart enough to understand that the mass public doesn’t care if you’re a liar or a cheat. If you tell them what they want to hear and make them feel good, they’ll vote for you.

This is exactly why even the great Winston Churchill was critical of democracy. He said it himself.

Democracy, as beautiful a thing it is, has room for improvement. It’s definitely an improvement on the Game of Thrones style governments of the past where kings could routinely spit on peasants and shoot them for sport if he wanted. There are still tyrants in this world, but their governments tend to fail miserably in the long run. Just look at North Korea.

So rather than just throw democracy out entirely, why not give it some added polish? Why not look for ways to make it better? The Founding Fathers of America did that. People often forget that the first form of government they chose wasn’t the Constitution. It was the Articles of Confederation, which was so flawed that it didn’t even last a decade.

With that in mind, let’s channel the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and look at our current forms of government, not just in America, but all around the world. How do we improve it? How do we make it better, more efficient, and more just?

It’s a hard (if not impossible) question to answer. Many have tried though. Listverse even compiled a list of bizarre, hypothetical governments that have never been tried, but do seek to make improvements over the current system.

Some aren’t all that radical. The concept of the Perfect Commonwealth or Jeffersonian Democracy all have concepts that are fairly well-rooted in the real world, if not historically, then most certainly practically. Then, you get much weirder concepts like Liquid Democracy or Technocracy, which require more imagination than bureaucracy.

These are all interesting/strange/downright crazy ideas. So for the sake of this argument, let’s keep them all in mind as we conjure a better form of democracy. Let your imagination go a little crazy and conjure a government that might actually work in the real world.

Having done this thought experiment already in my own slightly crazy brain, I have an idea I’d like to share. It’s not something James Madison would probably approve of, but here it is. I even have a name for it.

Negative Democracy

Now don’t let the name scare you. I’m not talking about a democracy that will allow the King Joffrey’s of the world to reign supreme. I’m talking about a form of democracy that takes the current flaws, turns them upside down, and keeps them there so that the current corruption doesn’t get a chance to return.

So how does it work? Well, it goes like this:

  • There are three tiers: local, state, and federal
  • The local tier elects its leaders by popular vote
  • The state tier elects its governor by popular vote, but legislators are appointed by the local-elected officials
  • The federal tier elects its congressperson by popular vote, but the president/prime mister is appointed by a 2/3 vote by state governors
  • Every year on the first Saturday of November, the people can vote to remove any appointed and/or elected representative at any level if the vote is greater than 2/3 of the population

I know it’s basic, crude, and simplistic. I’m no Thomas Jefferson. That much, I admit. However, I make these points to highlight one key component of Negative Democracy that makes it unique.

It doesn’t focus as much on electing officials to public office as it does on removing those who don’t do a good job. Here in America, we do way too good a job at electing incompetent officials. The Constitution says a lot about how to elect these officials. It says far less about removing them.

That’s the key, Negative Democracy. You remove the incompetent, corrupt elements of government in hopes of allowing better, more qualified officials to fill the void. At some point, somebody who isn’t a total screw-up should come to power. Even politics is subject to the law of averages.

The second key is that democratic elections be held on the local and state level for the most part. Why is this important? That’s because people tend to be more in tuned with the officials in their neighborhood. They’re more likely to interact with the mayor or city council than they are a senator or a President.

As such, those local officials are closer to their constituents. They’re more likely to know them personally and when you know someone personally, you’re less likely to screw them over. It’s one thing for total strangers to hate you. For your own community to turn against you is pretty powerful. Only a select few have the ego and cruelty to try a terrible stunt like that.

Under this system, most of the federal officials are appointed and don’t have to run an election campaign. They can still be voted out of office every year if their constituents don’t like what they’re doing, but the key is they don’t run expensive, dishonest campaigns in the first place. They get appointed, they go to the capital, and they do their job.

If you think that might be prone to corruption, I don’t doubt there’s a chance. There’s a chance for corruption in every form of human-centered governance. It’s just a matter of managing the incentives to cheat as much as possible.

There’s a reason why the Judicial Branch of government in America gets less press and is often seen as the most effective branch. It gets to exercise Judicial Independence. Judges in this branch don’t have to run for office and they don’t need to be re-elected. They can, in principle, lose their jobs if they do something egregious, but those instances are rare.

So much time, energy, and money is spent on just electing officials. In a large, diverse country like the United States, that’s wholly impractical. For every country and society, the emphasis of all government should be to maintain rule of law, protect people from harm, and manage public services. It’s a difficult, if not impossible task to accomplish, but it’s too important not to be improved upon.

With this in mind, I challenge others to conduct this same thought experiment. What sort of new government system would you come up with? What would you call it? How would it work? Share it! During these trouble timed, these are definitely ideas worth exploring.

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