Friday, September 08, 2017

Weird v. Dull

It occurred to me this morning that the basic conflict in the world now is between creative and interesting weird people and reliable but boring people.  For most of human history, the default was reliable and boring.  Our lives depended on being reliable and predictable members of a small group. Creativity might be fun, but more times than not changing anything changed it for the worse.  Humans adopted new technologies only after a long period of observation and only once it became clear that the new method was necessary or so clearly better than the old one that failing to adopt it would be dangerous.  To use one recent example, firearms were inaccurate and far more dangerous to the one using them than to anything else from their introduction in the late 13th century until the end of the 15th.  That is, from the late 1200's until the very late 1400's, archers were better than riflemen. The creative souls who invented guns died thinking their invention was mostly a failure.  Cannon were more useful but principally for knocking down fortifications, and since sieges were worse for the besieges than the besieged, cannon were still less desireable than a good infantry battle.  Novelty requires the leisure time and surplus of goods to play with the novelty until its use becomes apparent, and for the large majority of human history we didn't have the surplus necessary.  So, most people were boring but reliable, and weirdness was sharply discouraged.

You will, of course, have already seen the problem here.  Eventually adopting novelty becomes necessary and failing to do so at the right time means catastrophe.  Groups that delayed too long in adopting the new stuff eventually get eliminated.  China in the 17th Century thought itself superior to the European interlopers and for centuries it had been so.  By the end of the 19th century Europeans owned large chunks of China and manipulated its government, and largely controlled its economy.  Since the advent of machine production and now with the vastly greater automation capacity of electronics, we have far more stuff than we really need, and clearly enough to reward the weird and creative for being weird and creative.  Thus, we have artist celebrities and inventors and scientists and all manner of fascinating but clearly odd people in important places.

So far, so ordinary.  What is the point?  Societies were being boring and reliable are desirable are homogenous ones.  People have to be predictable in such places, and the prerequisite to being predictable is having mostly the same looks and tastes and motivations.  This works great for hunter-gatherers and small village farmers.  Now, however, we don't live in homogenous villages, and failing to be part of the predictable and boring default group has painful economic consequences.  In a world where the preferences of certain kinds of white males are the default, not sharing those preferences or being unable to share those preferences means forever being excluded from power and influence.  That, in turn, means living a much more precarious life than someone who is part of the dominant group would.  In the language I've been using, there are people whose normal is weird to the dominant group and who suffer for wanting to be normal according to their own terms.

So, still, what's the point? Humans like boring and predictable, yet we now live in a world where there is a lot of reward for those who disrupt things and at the same time reward the preferences of one particular dominant group.  Thus, both the predictable and reliable AND the creative weird live in stressful and unpleasant realities.  The predictable blame the creative types for being weird and the creative types blame the predictable for being repressive and boring.  Trump voters are mostly boring; Democrats are mostly creative.

Finally, my point: right now, being boring is worse than being weird.  We do not live in a predictable world, and consequently trying to cling to predictable things makes the world a lot worse.  We have to find a way to make those who prefer predictability as part of the dominant group comfortable with what to them is weird.  As a diehard Weird Novelty Seeker, this is important to me.  We are most successful when we present ourselves as wanting normal -- black students wanting to eat lunch at Woolworths, gay people wanting to marry, women wanting recognition for our intellect instead of our looks, transpeople wanting to just go to the damned bathroom --  all were recognized as wanting to be part of normal and were mostly successful at doing so.  We lose when the other side paints us as weird.

We have to find a way to make the boring understand that different people have normal needs.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Resolutions for the Trump Era

1.  I will not suggest that he is somehow not actually the President.  He is formally entitled to the office under the rules established for that office.  I will, at the same time, continue to note that those rules were made up in the 18th century as a way of preserving the power of slaveowners at the expense of everyone else.  Furthermore, I will not suggest or support any suggestions that we redo the elections because of possible foreign interference, Trump's own extraordinary conflicts of interest and general incompetence.  The Constitution has a procedure for removing Presidents once they take office.  If the facts warrant removal, then follow those rules.  If not, then we defeat him at the polls.  Trump lost the popular vote by a large margin and is historically unpopular.  We work with those things.  

2. I will not share or otherwise publicize obviously fake or poorly-sourced news stories about his alleged salacious activities.  Mostly because his policies start at catastrophic and go on up to mass-extinction-event level; paraphrasing the great Molly Ivins, he's going to screw enough people in office so we don't need to worry about who he's screwing after hours.  (On the Pee-Pee Tape: his kink is gross but so long as everyone was willing and of age, it's none of my business.  It shows an arrogant disregard for the poor maids who had to clean up after him, but other than that no one should care.). 

3.  I will not criticize his family unless they insert themselves into policy making.  I will never criticize Melania's or Ivanka's looks or aesthetic choices as a backhanded way of attacking him.  To the extent possible I will completely ignore their existence.  

4. I will not cut off anyone of my actual friends because they supported him.  They were wrong, but unless I have concrete evidence that they supported Trump because they hate dark-skinned people or women, they get the benefit of the doubt.  I will not let Cheeto Mussolini prevent me from sharing my friends' lives, especially their vacation and baby pictures.  I am not denying myself their music, art, recipes, and jokes because the rest of the country elected a buffoon.  

5. Most importantly, I will never share or endorse any ridicule directed at Trump voters who will suffer under his horribly policies.  That guy who disliked Obamacare but loved the ACA needed help, not abuse.  The Republican Party treated Obama's policies like Cotton Mather treated witches -- as means to obtain power by lying. That people who don't have the privileges that I do to check on such things fell for it reflects on the liars and not their victims.  I will do whatever I can to help these people, including explaining how Democratic polices are better for them than Republican ones.  

6. Finally, I will not give up andI will not stop opposing him and his evil policies.  Someone suggested that wanting the President to fail is like wanting the pilot on my airplane to fail.  If the pilot announced that he was going to fly the plane into the ground, damn straight I want him to fail.  I want everyone who can to work to stop him,  Same here.  His policies, such as they are, are all horrible.  They need to be stopped.  

The next four years are going to be at best trying and, well, I'm not going to say what the worst will be.  I have to believe that we're better than this and that we can inspire our fellow citizens to correct this mistake as soon as possible.