Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What is Government, and What Should It Be?

It's no secret here that I am not a fan of the U.S. government as it is now, and probably as it's ever been. Clearly, this is something I share in common with many people around the world and across all political spectrums. Pretty much unless you're a registered Democrat with a blue wave in your Twitter handle and/or bio, or you're currently collecting a sweet government salary, benefits, and power as a lawmaker, you probably kind of hate the government.

But what is government? This question started brewing in my noggin a while ago after talking with someone I know who identifies as libertarian but is not just a Republican who likes weed. We were discussing universal healthcare and they expressed that they didn't trust their healthcare to be in the hands of the government. I inquired whether they would prefer that to be in the hands of big corporations, and they said they trusted corporations a bit more than the alternative.

Like many on the left, I started my political journey as a centrist liberal and have been drifting leftward ever since. 2020 may have pushed me all the way into anarchism, which is an ideology that condemns all power hierarchies. So obviously our system of government is a no-go. But I find it easy to slip back into liberal "big government is good actually" thinking. It becomes hard to reconcile my desire for people all over the U.S. to not die of preventable medical issues because they can't pay with my own disdain for our government.

What I really want is public ownership of the healthcare system. But that becomes different from government ownership when the government doesn't represent the people anymore.

The point is, people are mad at the government to the point that many fairly average U.S. residents' automatic reaction to many issues is "government bad." Big government controlling every aspect of our lives is a weird boogeyman that U.S. Republicans love to whip out any time someone proposes helping the poor even though Republicans make up half of that big government. But they're also not wrong - the government does control much of our lives, and the people running it are largely completely out of touch with the average U.S. resident.

So what is government supposed to be? In basic terms, it's supposed to be a group of people coming together to pool their resources to make things better for everybody. It's pooling money to build roads we can all drive on and schools we can send all our kids to and, if we felt like it, pay doctors to treat everybody. That way, people who fall on hard times don't just get fucked or have to rely on charity that may or may not exist when and where they need it.

In those terms, government-run healthcare sounds far preferable to me than private health insurance companies. The reason I would still prefer even the U.S. government running our healthcare over our current system is that a corporation's natural and inevitable highest goal is profit, which means they are always, always motivated to screw you out of care. If they can get away with it, they will. Governments are at least supposed to exist not for profit or some asshole's power but for the people.

Anarchist theory generally says that hierarchies will always lead to abuse. This means that the U.S. system of representative democracy, in which we elect people to give power to in order to make our laws and shit for us, assuming that they follow the will of the people, does not work for anarchists. We see power corrupting people every time and we go "let's stop giving people power over others."

Anarchists instead desire direct democracy. That means everybody votes on every issue and proposal that comes forward. Instead of electing people with enough money to successfully campaign only to have them break all their campaign promises and point fingers, we'd just all cast individual votes on proposals like COVID stimulus payments and Medicare for All. 

What does that look like in a practical sense? There is no simple answer to that. The problem is that with such a huge nation, understanding the issues well enough to vote on them is a full time job. Not everyone wants to be so engaged even if we didn't have to have other jobs. Many anarchists believe such a thing would only be possible in rather small communities and I tend to agree. Will we have to break down human civilization into a series of thousands or millions of small independent towns not governed by one big government entity? Maybe? I still have a lot of anarchist theory to read before I can even begin to tell you what an ideal human society would look like.

But something is clearly very wrong with our current system, and just about everybody seems to sense that. I can't tell you how to fix it, but we can start with some simple questions. What is government, and what do we want it to be? Some slave owners hundreds of years ago said something about "by the people, for the people," but obviously they were full of shit. Still, that is what most of us want out of our democracy. Pooling our resources and working together to make life better for everybody is something that few would say no to. Yet here we have a whole nation full of people who react to the very word "government" like you just said "moist" or "Nickelback."

Anarchists themselves often disagree over whether government is inherently bad. You were probably told at some point in your life that anarchy means no government and therefore total chaos, but that's not correct. It really depends on how you define government. If government requires authority and hierarchy, then anarchism is anti-government. If government can just be people coming together and trying to make sure everybody is taken care of and is as happy and fulfilled as possible, then it's definitely not anti-government.

It's annoying how often things come down to semantics, but this is how we humans are. We can, however, stop to consider that how we think of government might be considerably different than how another person thinks of it. We toss around words like "government" without really thinking of it, but now's as good a time as any. Stop and ask yourself, sincerely, what is government to you? Can government exist in a form that works for you? Would we be better off without it, and how might that look?

To me, the most important question is how can we all best take care of each other so we can all be safe and happy? How can we make a world that uplifts everyone? Okay that's two questions, but you get what I mean. These are the questions that could unite the common people, if anything can.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Having Feelings

So I've been working real hard the past several months on getting myself to let myself FEEL THINGS and did you ever notice how often I start blog posts with "so" oh well fuck you.

Anyway I just watched the Hannah Gadsby special "Nanette" for the 10th time and for the 10th time it made me cry.

The older I get, the more eager I am to protect the young radicals shaping the world right now from the people who hate and fear them. 

Oh, you think you're so tough, threatening 18-year-old women through your Twitter account? Why don't you come say that to my face, to the wrinkles on the bridge of my nose, to my dark circles and bags that I've always had but no longer resent, to my neck fat and my bloodshot 32-year-old eyeballs?



Sunday, January 17, 2021

Let's Talk About Cancel Culture AGAIN Oh My God

Lindsey here, and I'm dragging my dissociating corpse out of blog retirement to address this god damn issue again because uh oh! We had an attempted fascist coup against the U.S. government and now people are finally motivated to address the five-ton elephant in the room. And it's not really about "cancel culture." It's about how we navigate a world in which the sudden emergence of the Internet has put a fuck ton of information at our fingertips but cannot by itself tell us what is true and what isn't.

Is cancel culture real? Well, it's a human-made concept, so it's exactly as real as we want it to be.

What is real is that we have an incredibly small number of social media companies, arguably few enough to be counted on one hand, through which we are pouring vast amounts of information and opinion that is filtered through a profit motive. Facebook and Twitter are likely the two biggest.

Let's build some background here. Cancel culture is a term that emerged pre-2017. I can't remember what year it was the first time I heard the term or when I first heard something like "so-and-so is canceled." But I know it was before 2017, because that is the year that mainstream media articles site as when the term "cancel culture" first emerged on Twitter. As per usual, the concept began in Black communities, where all the best new forms of English language begin before they're co-opted and ruined by us white people. 

I first saw people getting "canceled" on Tumblr. There is, by the way, a fascinating phenomenon in which a lot of philosophical discussions and social debates seem to start on Tumblr, with the community arguing over and examining every possible aspect of it before it's pretty much settled (or people just get bored of it) and then years later, that same debate emerges on more mainstream and profitable social media platforms.

Here's where Tumblr landed: There is nothing wrong with "canceling" those with enough money and social power that even if they never worked again, they would be able to live out perfectly comfortable lives. Mel Gibson was and absolutely should have been canceled and the fact that he still somehow has a film career is gross and terrible. Also, it's not actually a crime against humanity to hurt someone's follower count if they say or do something harmful. But there is a line.

That line is nowhere near banning someone like Donald fucking Trump from social media, however. The real place that cancel culture gets out of control is when people start digging through people's social media posts going back several years to find problematic things they said out of ignorance, particularly if they were underage when they did so. The actual problem is young, sometimes underage people with no real power in the world at all being dogpiled and harassed for making a mistake and having to delete their accounts even after apologizing because people tend to just react without checking to see if someone has already learned their lesson.

At some point, where that line should be exactly gets tricky, because of course it does. But that place is, again, nowhere near people who have held the most powerful political office in the entire fucking world.

People like Nikki Haley and other members of congress have no idea what a truly detrimental version of "cancel culture" looks like. I've seen it, as have many other Tumblr users. What's so interesting about Tumblr, though, is that it has become a social media platform where profit is essentially impossible.

One thing I and other users love about Tumblr is that posts from the people you follow show up on your dashboard in chronologically order, the end. On Facebook and Twitter, posts are organized for you by algorithms that are closely-guarded company secrets and are, of course, designed with one key goal in mind: Profit. You see what you see on social media because that's what makes Mark and Jack the most cash money.

Cancel culture is not a threat to you. If you were fired because you attended the attempted coup at the Capitol on January 6, "cancel culture" is not at fault. The real threats are the conspiracy theories that hijacked your brain, the politicians who exploited that, and the society that makes it so losing your job can literally kill you.

But there is also a massive problem with social media today, and that is the fact that a couple of massive corporations are having such a huge impact on human society and have so much control over what information you see and how that information is framed. Two dudes named Mark and Jack have an intense amount of power over the shaping of your entire perception of the world. 

That's fucked up, folks.

As a professional news regurgitator, I can provide real-world examples of this. I write daily political news articles for a side website of the Daily Dot created for fans of one of those social media accounts that pretends to be God. Though I am given a lot of leeway when it comes to commentary and framing, there are strict content rules we have to follow because otherwise we risk being penalized by Facebook. Most of our clicks, meaning our ad money, comes from Facebook. Without our Facebook page, we'd be sunk and I'd be out of a job. 

We have have our reach severely penalized, which in turn is a huge blow to the Daily Dot's profits, and our page threatened with deletion for making jokes about how privileged groups such as men and white people suck. I am not allowed to write "men are trash" in any of my articles and can't even embed a social media post that says this in any of my articles because Facebook's offensive content detector could pick that up. I have even been told that I should not be identifying white people as being white in my articles unless it's absolutely necessary, because pointing out the race we invented might offend white people and Facebook will have our jobs.

The vast majority of my professional stress in this position has been because of this. I have resented Facebook for over two years now because of how much power the platform has over my job and, by extension, my life. I have to stop and consider whether it's okay to point out the race of a white person assaulting a Black person in a nation created by and for white supremacy because some fucking nerd steeped in toxic masculinity got dumped and created a website for ranking women in college by physical attractiveness.

So perhaps you can see why I have zero patience for federal members of congress crying crocodile tears over Parler getting deplatformed because a full 10 percent of the posts on there were calling for the murder of George Soros and their moderators were all VOLUNTEERS.

Here's something you might not know. Yes, there has been a large purge of right-wing accounts on Facebook and Twitter, many of which are by actual nazis, but they're also purging left-wing accounts. Many of the more popular accounts of leftists, communists, and actual anarchists (lol @ people calling the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol anarchists btw) have been temporarily restricted or banned entirely as these two companies work to quash any political discourse they view as being too radical. God and Radicals makes an interesting point that no institution has had so much power over public discourse and speech since the heyday of the Catholic church.

This isn't about "cancel culture." Reducing this issue to hand-wringing because some rich white guys for once are facing consequences for their actions is just embarrassing. This is about the rich white guys who are controlling what information you get and how that information is framed. This is about the fact that any further power we give them to control that will be used against whatever they see as a threat to their profits, whether it's looking bad for giving nazis a platform or allowing people who think their vast power should be reduced and their vast wealth redistributed to the people to spread those sentiments.

And who benefits? That would be whoever Mark and Jack want to benefit. It will be whoever Mark and Jack decide are "moderate" or "reasonable" voices, like the TIME article written by a neoliberal white dude who says that not only should we not allow any further government regulation of these social media companies, we should be thanking Mark and Jack right now.

And even if you are a US "moderate" (but I gotta remind you that you're solidly right-wing by global standards), do you really want literally two guys to have that much power? Because their politics might not always line up with yours. And even if they did, I would hope that you would be morally and intellectually honest enough to see why that's messed up.

Do I think Trump supporters should have a platform to spread their violent and hateful rhetoric? Hell no. But I believe in community deplatforming, or what Republicans love to call "cancel culture." That is a large group decision, also sometimes referred to as democracy. What I don't like is giving all that power that should be in the hands of the people to two dudes named Mark and Jack.

How do we put that power back in the hands of the people? It's not by disallowing Twitter and Facebook from banning people or transferring that power to the hands of a couple white dudes in government. We need to address the larger problem of so much of our civil discourse being controlled and manipulated by these platforms. How do we do that? You know I'm gonna say abolish capitalism.

But to start, we need to have a real conversation about this. We need to confront the fact that we see the world largely through a filter we call an "algorithm." We do not need to thank Jack and Mark for anything, ever.