Idle Musings

on software, philosophy, and other thoughts.

Making Sense of the Moment We're In

I had hoped my second post here would be about the details of this cool new client-side JavaScript static-site generator I've written, but haven't quite gotten polished enough to release, but the last week or so has been an interesting one.

The death of Justice Ginsberg has sparked quite a shit-storm in our political system (realizing of course when I say "our" I mean the United States. I do know there are other countries, and I love you all).

I've been wondering how to respond... to various things.

The comments on Facebook from the woman who doesn't believe that masks are effective and that she shouldn't have to "live her life behind a mask". Not understanding that masks are for others, and not understanding, that even if they do nothing, not wanting to risk the consequences if they actually do something. I found myself feeling strange, using a variant of Pascal's Wager to argue for the use of masks.

"If I'm right, and I wear a mask, no one is harmed. But... if I'm wrong and I don't wear a mask, people could die. Why risk it, for some minor inconvenience?"

The comments from a President who won't say he'll agree to a peaceful transition of power if he loses. Only a "continuation" if he wins, or maybe even if he doesn't.

I've never been someone who is afraid of things. Most things that invoke fear have explanations that de-fang that fear. Even death, while sometimes unsettling doesn't really invoke fear. I might be deluding myself though.

I'm a self-described Soto Zen Buddhist, so I return to that a lot. I take refuge in the Dharma (the teachings), and recently re-reading the Maha Parinirvana Sutra - the record of the last days and passing of the historical Buddha - one passage in particular has stuck with me.

And when the Buddha had passed away... those monks who were freed from passion, mindful, and clearly comprehending reflected thus, "Impermanent are all compounded things. How could it be otherwise?"

Life is finite. How could it be otherwise? Realizing that life is finite, one can be freed from fear of loss. The favorite tea cup is already broken, but I can enjoy it now.

I say "one can be freed". I'm not sure I'm actually there yet.

On Anger

I have an anger problem, probably for as long as I can remember. It is this anger that pushes me to react, instead of respond.

It is the voice that when presented with people chanting "12 more years" to a self-absorbed TV President/aspiring dictator, thinks "We should just kill them all, the world would be a better place without them."

It's the voice I have to fight hard, every single day, not to listen to. It's the voice that I use as a tool, to say "hmm, that response is obviously not the right one, how can I not do that and find the right response here?". Sometimes I succeed in this. Sometimes I don't (and that's one of the more toned down reactions).

I vow not to indulge anger, but to treat everything as an opportunity for growth.

That's one of the sixteen vows I took when I became a Soto Zen Buddhist. I've been trying to find ways to "treat everything as an opportunity for growth". How can I learn to be a better person, instead of listening to that angry voice? I'm reminded of the movie "Inside Out" with Lewis Black (Anger) trying to take control of things (pretty striking that the father is depicted as being driven by five Lewis Blacks at the helm).

I've found myself lately almost "policing" other's behaviour on Facebook, calling out bad arguments, faulty logic, or trying to convince someone that vilifying the "other side" is not helpful and actually part of the problem and then being accused of being a censor, or trying to get someone to see that maybe their own beliefs are potentially harmful to others. I almost don't want to use "policing" there, because it contains it's own bag of problems.

So much of what we have police for are symptoms, not the actual problems, and if we solved the causes of the actual problems, we wouldn't need police. If you want to understand "defund the police" then take some time to understand that sentence.

So Many Problems, So Little Time

I feel lately like society has so many problems that are interwoven and interconnected, that I could focus on one of them, and find to my dismay that it's actually connected to this other problem that I felt I didn't have enough time to deal with.

I can't solve all the world's problems. My inner "fixer" or "engineer" will have to learn to live with that. Maybe listing them will help? Maybe?

To Convince and Not Attack

I'm not sure that's the best way to put it, but it's the way I tend to think about rhetoric lately.

How can I convince someone that their position might be problematic without them feeling like they are personally being attacked?

If I can do that, then I might have some chance in changing minds. If I make a person feel as though they are being attacked, then I have no hope of changing their mind. They'll dig in and refuse to see any reasonable argument I make as valid. Too often, people conflate their beliefs with their identity.

"I'm a Democrat, and I believe X, Y, and Z, and you're saying X and Y are wrong, so that means my identity as a Democrat is wrong, which means, my identity is wrong.... which means, FUCK YOU, YOU'RE WRONG, YOU PIECE OF SHIT FASCIST!".

You can't make progress when someone is in that place. We've gotten to a place where we are... quite correctly... pointing out that people have racist ideas. But we don't phrase it that way. We say "You're a racist". That's an identity attack, and the ego will dig in and defend that. If we separate the ideas from the people, maybe we'll have a chance? "That's a racist idea"... feels less like an attack, than it does a statement of fact. It's less a part of identity than it is something that maybe you can decide to put down.

Separating the ideas from the person, from the sense of identity, seems to be the key. Figuring out how to do that sometimes is very hard. Trying to get someone to empathize with your position seems like it might help, but I've had trouble with that.

Trying to convince the woman who didn't believe that wearing masks helps prevent the spread of Covid-19, I tried to point out that:

Somehow that doesn't stick? I don't get it, but maybe I've planted the seeds of doubt. "Hey, maybe this isn't about you and your comfort, but about protecting others?" When did compassion become a political issue?

Loss of Rational Discourse and Heading Towards a Ditch

I worry, quite a bit, about the future of this country. Nothing lasts forever (see above... how could it be otherwise?), but I hoped I wouldn't live to see it. It's hard not to see things like our President saying he'd like another two terms and seeing his supporters shouting "12 more years!" and not feel some concern.

It's hard not to watch a President say he might not accept the results of an election, and also sow doubt that that election will be legitimate, and not feel some concern.

My father-in-law is from Chile. He lived through the coup on September 11, 1973. When Augusto Pinochet overthrew the duly elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, because the United States had been leading an economic sanction campaign against the Allende government, just because Allende was a socialist. When Pinochet started a reign of terror that lasted for decades. It's not the only South American dictatorship that was supported or started by the United States, but it's the one I know the most about. I have a feeling that my father-in-law lost friends during that time, but he doesn't talk about it. I won't ask him about it, as curious as I am.

I can only wonder what he's thinking about this moment. Wondering if we're teetering on the edge of our own "terror". Conservatives like to worry about progressives moving too quickly, and rightly so, the French Revolution is a textbook example of what happens when things move too fast, but conservatives are also (supposedly) at the helm right now, and they're steering us dangerously towards a different kind of terror. The terror of Erdogan, and Orban. Of Kim, and Xi.

I worry that it will take true patriots (much as I don't like patriotism) to bring us through this, the ones who know that the only way through is together, not separate. That our differences are less than our similarities, and that party isn't everything. We're all Americans. Sometimes we forget that. I think it's time we remember how to get along.

Are there any patriots like that left, or are we only left with flag waving maniacs chanting "12 more years!"?