Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

18Dec/180

Cat Scratch Fever

It's taken me fifty years to understand this, but most people define good behavior (by themselves and those around them) as that which benefits them, not that which benefits other people. Laws that inconvenience them don't deserve to be laws, so those get ignored. One thing that confuses some people about the crappy behavior of misogynists, fraudsters and other offenders is their lack of self-awareness: "How can they not know they're being awful?" But that's like asking whether the sky smells octagonal today. They're words from two different, independent vocabularies. To these offenders, nothing they do is unethical. Rather, the system is deepening its own depravity by catching them, trying them and otherwise intruding on their never-ending quest to get their greedy way all the time. It's a profoundly egocentric flavor of sociopathy that runs so wide and deep we can display it without ever seeing how hideous it truly is.

My wife and I have a cat. Some cats are scratchers, some are not. Simon, our cat, is a scratcher, preferably of human throats. If you're sitting down, he sees that as his cue to attempt to tear your throat out. If he can't get access to your throat, he'll happily settle for scraping your ribcage. Your desires in this matter are not merely insignificant to Simon; they are, in fact, invisible. He does not see or care about them one iota. He never will -- not a jot. My wife tells the cat she does not wish to be scratched. Even allowing the cat a rudimentary understanding of English he does not in point of fact demonstrate, that effort is wasted, because cats are sociopaths who don't care what anything wants unless it benefits them. Supplying tasty snacks = good human, withdrawing from scratches = bad human. I have accepted this and simply throw up physical obstacles to block the cat from clawing my throat. After this becomes clear, the cat gets frustrated and leaps some distance away, where he gives me the back. That's the feline equivalent of a middle finger. I know that and find it amusing, but only because I got my way and Simon did not.

Now.

We ask why humans mistreat other humans. The reason we're compelled to ask such a thing is we have endowed those offenders with an empathy they do not in fact possess. Surely the fact that one's fellow humans suffer from our actions will dissuade us from acting unkindly! Nope. Not one jot. We do not generally perceive ethics from the perspective of other people, merely from our own. We want something, and anyone who gets in our way is not seen as acting with agency or even with respect to an ethical structure, they're being pains in our ass so we either force them to do what we want or give them the finger, because how dare they? How dare they?! Don't they know they're being difficult in our quest to get exactly what we want all the time?

Seldom if ever will we be able to reason anyone out of violating our own ethical standards. We might have success by engaging their empathy, but only if they can see us face to face and we've already made it clear we'll be an obstruction to their desires no matter what happens. The more successful strategy is simply to raise impenetrable physical obstacles. That's sad but true.

A guy sends you an unsolicited, unwanted dick pic. He wants a sexual charge, and it's your responsibility to give it to him. You push back. He keeps trying. You push back harder. Does he admit he was wrong? Of course not. He calls you a stuck-up bitch. That's the human equivalent of Simon giving me the back for being an obstacle to his absolute, perfect, eternal, fully-deserved ecstasy. Other people's desires or ambitions aren't just inconsequential, they're invisible.

AND THAT IS HOW MOST OF US GO THROUGH LIFE.

Oh, not me, you think. Okay. Have you ever driven faster than the posted speed limit? Me, too. We tell ourselves our desire to spend less time driving is more important than any of the reasons that law was passed. The cops just want more money, we tell ourselves. It's a speed TRAP. Well, much like a perjury trap, it's only a trap if you break the law, but that's not the point, right? The point is we want something, and all these other cars full of humans are getting in our way. We ignore the fact that there's a good chance the speed was lowered on that stretch of road because someone died there and the public would've been furious had that not motivated a change in the law, but ho hum, fiddle dee dee, we want fast so go fast! We tell ourselves oh, it says 65, but everybody knows they really mean 75. There's a ten-mile-an-hour permissible range over the posted limit. Except then we pump our brakes to go below 65 at the very first sign of a cop, clearly demonstrating we know that thing we just thought about the ten-mile-an-hour-allowance was bovine by-products. Our knowledge of the law, or even of why laws were passed, does not affect our adherence to the law when it inconveniences us. Conversely, few of us are car thieves. We already have cars and wish to retain them, so yes, we are very much in favor of laws against car theft and feel outraged when anyone breaks them.

I get the consequences of what I'm saying. I get that I'm implying behaviors we hate will continue no matter how we regard them. I'm not endorsing, encouraging or in any way in favor of those consequences. But do not think reasoning with anyone will change their ethics. It won't. We must simply find ways of making unethical behavior unproductive from the perspective of the offender. If a guy sends you an unsolicited dick pic and then gets all aggro about it, send it to his boss. Get him fired. Get them all fired. Humiliate them. Shame them. Make it no fun whatsoever to even attempt these behaviors. Only then will the scratcher see a reason to scratch somewhere else or not at all.

As for the current administration, it's full of people who were breaking the law over and over and over and over and over and yet seem stunned when the law comes a-knockin'. They were willfully breaking the law, we say. They were aware of the law, knew they were breaking it, and sought to cover it up. Yes. All true. Except we're forgetting the sociopathic perspective on what happened, which is this: The law was inconvenient to those offenders, so they considered it irrelevant in theory and an obstacle to be worked around in practice. That's it. How you or law enforcement or anyone else felt about it wasn't merely inconsequential, it was invisible.

This is why it never serves society well to give a few parties far greater power than the majority. We're sociopaths who, far more often than not, will spend every dollar you give us and more if we can simply take them. Obviously we deserve that money more than they do; they're simply too "stupid" or inconsequential to block us from grabbing it.

You say I'm being cynical. Granted. Except I'm also just noticing a cat is a cat and not expecting it to be Mahatma Gandhi, y'know? Maybe it's time we all wised up and adjusted our society so fewer people have situational opportunities to be the sociopathic, egocentric abusers they're so clearly inclined to spend their lives being. When I block Simon from clawing me, I'm not being unkind to him. I'm being kind to myself because I'm fully aware he will not treat me kindly. Simon isn't a bad cat. He's an average cat. It's up to me, not him, to be smarter and more aware of my own needs than he is. Is that fair? No, not really. But life isn't fair, it's simply life, and if you don't believe me ask anyone who was just prevented from getting anything he or she wanted for even one second.

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22Jun/170

Pull It Together, America

Call me crazy, call me a misty-eyed nostalgic, but I believe there was a time in this country, a brief, delightful summer, when liberals and conservatives mostly got along with each other.

Then political action committees happened. Then the internet happened. Then FOX News happened. Then we all learned how to "unfollow" or even "unfriend" anyone with whom we disagreed about pretty much anything. But back in the long-dead halcyon days of, say, 1990, we tended to get along — even in the same actual, physical room. Now we can barely stand acknowledging each other's existence. Our current president offers a platform based solely on undoing everything the last president did, regardless of whom it deprives of health care, where it leaves our country in relation to its international partners or how many campaign promises get shredded and tossed in our faces. Now voters tell you, not which candidate they're happy to support, but which candidate they're desperate to destroy. There are liberal hate groups now, and liberal would-be assassins. I never thought I'd see that day. I'm not sure I thought we meek liberals would inherit the earth, exactly, but I assumed we'd stay meekly nonviolent.

I think some of the blame has to be laid on lobbyists and other paid extremists who tell us compromise is an act of surrender. It isn't. It's how this is all supposed to work. You want something and I want something, and each of us gets as close to 50% of what we wanted as possible. And conservatives, your party is pushing you to want what a greedy billionaire would want. They do so by telling you it's all to your benefit, but of course it isn't. There's no way the estate tax or slashes to Medicaid work in your favor. You never win that one. Sorry. They aren't doing it for "the American people," they're doing it for very rich people. And since almost any reasonable, factual analysis of the world around you would tell you that, they must pretend facts don't matter at all, that there are no facts, only "good news" and "fake news." Listen to them closely; note how many times they say "clearly," followed by something that is clearly untrue. It's become a running gag, and I'm sorry to say the joke is on all of us, even conservative base voters.

It doesn't have to be this way. You and I may disagree on abortion, for example, but I can understand why you feel the way you do. If you believe life begins at conception, then we allow a million prenatal murders each year. I can see why that'd send a reasonable person into hysterics. If I believe differently, then it seems to me the burden is on me to make my case as reasonably and persuasively as I can. You and I should be able to stand in a room together and talk about this because I understand you're trying to keep the blood of babies off our hands, and perhaps when I remind you of prenatal development you can see where I might be coming from, too.

But that's not how things usually work anymore. Our last election was fought between two candidates that most of us disliked. I despised yours, you loathed mine, but we weren't altogether crazy about our own. I could defend Hillary Clinton all year, and God knows I feel like I did, but even I get why she struck some people as shady. I found myself advocating for her in much the same way I'd recommend the flu over hemorrhagic fever. Perhaps you felt the same way about "your" guy. But each side did offer moderate, intelligent candidates, friends. We ignored them because the 24-hour news channels found them less interesting than the ever-controversial Clinton and Trump.

I don't want to play this game anymore. I got 5300 words into a third novel, this time about politics, then had to set it aside indefinitely because I literally have no idea what the country will look like in two years. I don't want to write and edit and sell and promote a novel only to find it irrelevant the day it's released. So friends, I want you to help me find a reasonable place in America again. Maybe the left's best candidate shouldn't be a dynastic power player or a democratic socialist. Maybe it should just be someone who makes a clear case for being kind and welcoming to as many different kinds of Americans as possible. Maybe you can talk your party out of an agenda based purely on "I got mine, screw you." Perhaps I can work harder to help you see that the way to improve your life is not to worsen someone else's, especially if that someone is already poor, gay, trans, a Muslim, a person of color or any combination of the above. Maybe I can remind you of people like my brother, a fiscal and, to some degree, social conservative who simply thinks it's unfair to expect the entire country to behave like either Georgia or Washington state. Maybe I can remind you of me, an agnostic, gay-friendly gun-regulation advocate who yes, dug Bernie but also likes sweet tea, old churches and even the occasional target-shooting excursion. Maybe you get to keep all your guns; maybe I get a national registry, reasonable waiting period and a safe to lock them in. Would that be so awful? Isn't that how every one of us might feel like a valued citizen of these not-so-United States we all call home?

So pull it together, America. Let's stop yelling about how we feel at each other. Instead, let's discuss what we think. You tell me your reasons and I'll tell you mine, and let's understand that in this game, winning should happen on the 50-yard-line, not in either extremist end zone. (Yes, that's a sports metaphor, because the right has no monopoly on either God or the NFL.) Let's be grown-ups again. Let's be kind to each other again. Let's stop thinking and talking and posting in memes. Let's purge exaggerated, bias-flattering, fight-or-flight-response nonsense from our news feeds, not each other. Let's turn off any commentator who says anyone who disagrees with him or her is an idiot. Let's do what liberals always pay lip (and bumper sticker) service to doing: Let's coexist. Strike that. Let's go bigger and better: Let's co-succeed.

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8Dec/160

Sore

sore loser: a person who becomes very upset or angry when he or she loses a game, contest, etc.--Merriam-Webster

I've been accused of this a lot lately, so I looked it up to make sure I knew what it meant. When I first read the definition above, I thought, yep, that's me, all right. Because I am mad as hell. I really am. I haven't gotten over it one tiny bit. I'm amazed that almost a quarter of all Americans would be so selfish, short-sighted and logic-proof as to elect a guy who stands squarely against decent treatment of women, Mexican-Americans, Muslim-Americans and anyone who doesn't think Trump is God's gift to the stars and stripes. I'm angry that even as I keep getting told to get over it, give him a chance and quit playing the victim card, he keeps appointing staff and cabinet members who represent the absolute worst of us. I mean, actual neo-nazis--Didn't we agree decades ago that those were despicable people? I'm angry at the news for false equivalence and normalization of fascism and nazism, I'm angry at Facebookers for embracing memes and propaganda, and I'm angry at people I'm trying to love despite their hurtful vote against fairness for my loved ones.

Except here's the thing. I guess in some sense an election is a contest, but it isn't a game. Elections have consequences. Elections tell the world how we want to look and act. Presidential elections decide who we want representing us and our ideals to other countries. Elections embolden outsiders--good sometimes, not so great now. Yet we treat our presidential election like we're voting for American Idol. We're drawn to the most entertaining candidate, even if that entertainer plays to our basest characteristics. We devolve into a binary, us-versus-them mentality that leaves no room for compromise or conflicting information. Then, once the election mercifully arrives at a decision, the "victors" act like hey, we won, the game is over, why are you still crying? The rest of us moved on to the next thing. Why can't you?

I'll tell you why. Because every time a candidate for leader of any other country in the world ran the kind of campaign this guy did, it led to fascism. Fascists don't choose the best candidates for staff positions, they choose the most loyal. They choose rubber stamps.

Okay, let's say Trump turns out to be an absolutely godawful president who somehow avoids impeachment. The other thing about fascists is they don't give up power easily. They don't submit to fair elections. Hell, they don't even like reviews of the election they supposedly won.

Meanwhile, as of this morning, Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote by 2.6 million and growing. I know that's not how the "game" is played, that in fact it's only the electors who count. I get that. But let's not pretend we should all submit to a decisive victory, because that's not what happened.

So no, this election outcome isn't a game to me, and it shouldn't be to you. If you think Donald Trump is a relatable comedian who's about to boost employment for high-school-diploma folks, lessen the influence of lobbyists in D.C., improve health care for poor and working-class people and revitalize inner cities, I sincerely hope you're right. Honestly, nothing would make me happier. I would love that. I would love to be wrong, because I can be a pessimist--but when I am, I almost always turn out to be right. But if I'm wrong, fantastic, and please check to make sure I admit that down the road. It's only fair, right?

But I do want you to do one thing for me. Just one, okay? Tonight, when no one but you and your conscience are looking, I want you to look in your bathroom mirror and ask yourself one honest question: What if all your friends who are scared to death of a President Trump turn out to be right? What if attacks against women and minorities continue to increase? What if, as I contend, Donald Trump is a b.s. artist who has no idea how the American economy and healthcare work or how to improve either? What if yelling memes eclipses reasoned debate based on facts in the national dialogue? What if your wife, mother, sisters and daughters aren't as safe as they were a few months ago? What if non-Christians like me get marginalized, harassed or attacked? What if my Mexican-American family members, all of whom were born here, get treated like second-class citizens and told to "go back where they came from?" What if we turn the clock back on civil rights, social security and just basic community-level kindness? How would you feel about your vote then? Would it still be a game to you? Would you still wave your as-long-as-I-get-mine pennant? Would you ever in a million years admit you were wrong?

Because if you are wrong--IF, I say IF, so many of your intelligent, well-informed, essentially decent friends are right about this man and his crusade to reshape America to his own, greedy liking--then we'll need you to fight with us. We'll need you to fight FOR us. I worry you won't be able to admit your mistake and commit to real change. But I will do my best to get along with you now, because if things go the way I increasingly dread, our neighbors and loved ones are gonna need all the friends they can get.

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