Morning Memo for Thursday, September 1st, 2016

TLP’s Morning Memo is brought to you by all the circumstances that leave me with not enough time to write full length essays about these topics. Enjoy.

marked20160901_ChineseFish_Zhuangzi
MOTD

Morning Memo for Thursday, September 1st, 2016

All (okay, some of) the things in my mind I wish I had time to blog about today. Some of these things may get a full post later, but most will not. As always, many more links can be had by visiting TLP’s Facebook page.

Philosophy, Re: the Power and Impotence of Words

 

My approach to philosophy, by which I mean the ongoing pursuit and love of wisdom, has always been one of joyful or even ecstatic curiosity and enjoyment. My approach to Philosophy, by which I mean the long history of pre-existing philosophical work that one is made to study when one asks to formally study philosophy, is uhhh… …adversarial. There are good things (e.g. taoism) one can find that will hold up pretty well today, including some bits from the Western tradition like Aristotle or the Cynics. Mostly though it is men (and in Western philosophy, white men) writing from a place of privilege in a racially and culturally homogenous society that is not technologically advanced. I am increasingly interested in the problems that result.

For example, let’s talk about the MOTD quote in the image above. It is similar to the first line of the tao te ching (incidentally it is the only line that really matters) in pointing out the fundamental flaw of words, which is that they do not actually convey experience:

the tao that can be spoken of is not the true tao

That’s it. You can’t get there from here. That’s the first line! Everything that follows is an at least slightly untrue representation of tao, because tao cannot be represented. As mind fucks go, it is a good one, because interpersonally and politically, once someone realizes that what other people are saying is an imperfect attempt to describe their own experience, it gets easier to empathize, be curious, and find common ground. There is certainly still a great deal of value in the idea that words are, if not meaningless, then at least a mere stepping stone to meaning. But there is also a problem with this.

Both Laotzi and Zhuangzi wrote as Chinese men in China’s ethnically monotonous, male-dominated society of the time. Put them in a modern society with a multi-ethnic population, advanced technology, and ubiquitous information and what happens? We don’t know. They might be Trump supporters! Make the Wall Great Again! Deport the Mongols! We just don’t know.

We do know (thanks, psychology!) that words have power. Not just in the accurate-but-nonetheless-coopted-by-woo-woo-new-age-people “words shape perception and perception creates reality” kind of way, but in the oppression and social justice kind of way. For instance, here is a definition of stereotype threat:

Stereotype threat is a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group.

Stereotypes are spoken (words) both among persons and also in ways that are published and/or broadcast for mass consumption. The current body of evidence tells us that there is a real impact in marginalized folks’ lives, starting at a very early age, as a result of being exposed to stereotypes.

Another example of the power of words is #BlackLivesMatter. Just say it sometime, somewhere, and watch how fast you can find out a lot about the political and cultural inclinations of the people around you (or the people on your Facebook feed, or Snapchat, whatever). Three words that are, in the United States, radical and revolutionary and have had a dramatic impact on personal perceptions, interpersonal relationships, and increasingly on political institutions and our whole culture. And those three words are particularly powerful. They make a simple proposition, an obvious one, that should not warrant any argument – but holy shit do a lot of people argue with it anyway – and they apply to any and every situation – police brutality, criminal justice, education policy, housing policies, etc – where our society is built around the devaluing of, and violence against, black lives.

Now I will masterfully resolve this paradox between how important words can be to shaping cultural norms and personal experiences, but also their unimportance and basic meaninglessness in the face of nature and personal experiences… …just kidding! But it’s good to be thinking about.

Politics, Re: The Trump Cycle

I am pretty done with the Donald Trump Show and am spending less and less time reading, or even clicking, links related to either Donnie or his Trumpsters. I know other folks who tend to follow things pretty closely and get scared every five weeks or so when the polls appear to narrow. So I wanted to lay out the Trump Cycle, as I have seen it, to explain why I’m always saying/writing “just chill out” about Donald Trump.

Part 1 – The Escalator Pitch: Donald Trump rode down an escalator in 2015 and said Mexican immigrants are… …well he said terrible things that I don’t need to repeat. The Escalator Pitch is when Donnie is at his worst, but trying to present his best. It’s the point where polls turn against him. (This is where we are at in the cycle right now, after last night’s lawn-cross-burning-of-a-speech in Arizona.)

Part 2 – The Spiral: This is when Donnie is at his worst and not even trying to look his best. Retweeting white supremacists, saying whacko crazy shit that his spokespeople trip over themselves to defend for the 24 hours before Donnie contradicts himself again, rinse and repeat. He is just a landed, famous, flailing racist for a few days or weeks, and his poll results get even worse. (This is where we will be this weekend while his newest campaign makeover artist goes on “news” shows to soften up Wednesday’s remarks, while Donnie tweets even more extreme comments on the same and other topics.)

Part 3 – Rock Bottom: This is when Donnie is (relatively) quiet, is facing a huge landslide defeat according to polls, and sometimes is looking to fire one of his top campaign staff. First it was Lewandowski, then Manafort, and my money is on voter fraud expert – and by that I mean he is good at committing voter fraud – Steve Bannon being next. Donald’s decline in the polls slows during this time. (We should be one to three weeks away from this happening.)

Part 4 – MSM CPR: This is when the media, which needs a horserace to get viewers and/or pageviews and needs those to sell ads and needs ads to have money and needs money to… …buy stuff? Anyway this is where the so-called mainstream media resuscitates Donald Trump’s campaign by posting hilariously anti-reality articles about how Donald Trump is about to pivot and he is going to moderate himself and blah blah blah. The media does this for days, maybe even weeks, before Trump decides to inhale what they’re pumping into him, probably because he notices that when they start doing this, his decline in the polls stops. (We won’t be due for this to happen again until near the end of the month.)

Part 5 – Okie Doke: Donnie goes ahead and runs the con being set up for him by the media and says something less-than-usually-stupid about foreign affairs, or maybe makes a less-than-usually-hateful comment about immigration, or maybe even gives a speech from a teleprompter without calling more than a few people names. Now all those pundits can write about how he might be able to win, getting their ad-revenue-inducing pageviews by playing on your fear of the end of the Republic. Donnie’s core Trumpsters are mostly fine with his seemingly moderating about a topic, whatever it is, because their support for him is not about policy it is about white identity and besides at this point they’re in on the con. Donnie’s national poll numbers tick up slightly and het gets closer to competitive in a couple states because he is reaching the voters who think and vote based on white identity politics, but they don’t want to see themselves or be seen that way. (We were just here yesterday.)

Now it is a big media ecosystem and there is lag between how each part of the cycle runs, such that you might have the Okie Doke poll bounce happening even while some media outlets are still pushing a comeback narrative and one campaign spokesperson is still on TV explaining something from The Spiral even while another campaign mouthpiece is being shown the door. But the complexity and overlap are all the more reason to step back and take the longer view of the whole thing. Avoid the coverage. He is just doing the same thing over and over again and the overall trend is towards Donnie losing the electoral college vote in a huge way. Or YUUUUUGE, as they say.

Nerd stuff, Re: New Westworld trailer is much more interesting, also NSFW

Nerd stuff is lite today, but here is a trailer for HBO’s new sci-fi show Westworld:

 

This trailer simultaneously makes me more excited to see the show and also more concerned it will, like so many other recent TV shows, just be too harsh for me.

Image of the Day

Mmm, word play, mmm.
ViolinsWillNeverSolveAnything_GemmaCorrell

(Image is also a link to the artist’s website)

Enjoy your day

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