Welcome to Your Front Row Seats at the Apocalypse!

“May you live in interesting times,” they say…

Well, we do. But it seems we are pitifully powerless to affect the change hurtling toward us. We feel less like the hero in the arena, and more like we just bought front row seats at the Apocalypse!

This is a blog for everyone who’s interested in the future of our country and our culture.  There’s plenty that has brought me to this point of publishing a blog that I hope you (and all your friends) will read, but more about that later.

The name of the blog comes from my view that one of our chief barriers to a shared narrative about our world is the staggering amount of data that inundates us daily from every direction. The data deluge has a darker dimension: it is constantly being mined (metadata) behind the scenes by social media monopolies attempting to “monetize” their billions of users, by selling detailed information profiles of all who use their services. The staggering amount of information they collect, and their ability to sort and categorize it, allows and encourages manipulation of our views as never before. How? Both unintentionally through mindless algorithms designed as “click bait,” to “give us what we want to hear,” and intentionally through demographic micro-targeting, fake news to stoke our egos, and bot-delivered “news” feeds. My own experience observing and interacting with people on these sites has moved me to “speak up,” by starting this blog.

Go HERE to see some of the frightening implications of this brave new world.

There is also the black humor of living in a “post-truth” world (the Dada movement of the 20’s was dedicated to absurdity). It’s a kind of absurdity envisioned in George Orwell’s prescient political novels like Animal Farm and 1984 as well as by Peter Sellers’ farcical idiot-turned-prime-minister in the movie Being There.  These worlds — which were once thought to be absurd extrapolations — have been validated by the excruciating reality of the present day. And that’s funny… but, of course, it’s not.

So the blog will barge into the political and culture wars of our time, wars that seem to be leading to some kind of apocalypse. Collapse of liberal democracies, collapse of post WWII NATO consensus; collapse of diplomacy, collapse of political respect and norms, collapse of nuclear safety. These are wars that have been curated and manipulated for us by interested parties — our own “political” parties, but also external parties like the Russians, the white supremacists (alt-right), the mega-rich, the media (which can’t ever seem to resist a good fight), global corporatists, etc. — as much as by our own reflection and judgment. A MetaDadaPocalypse…

The Conversation.

Mainly, I’m a believer in conversation… to bridge the gaps between our differing viewpoints, political parties, and view of the ‘facts.’

So what are weapons of everyday people to combat the Apocalypse? The first thing that comes to mind is civil, civic conversation — a dialogue conducted with three principles of just decent manners: Patience, Humility, and Respectful Discussion…

  • Patience: I believe in the intelligence of most people, but also in using that intelligence to spend a LOT more time seeking all the truth we can find — focusing on separating knowable facts from political opinions — BEFORE giving in to opinion — especially the kind of “pre-made” opinions spun out in memes, insults, and doctored photos.
  • Humility: And in the humility to leave a large portion of belief at the door, so discussions of issues can actually take place. Not rushing to judge people and ideas. Not being so arrogant as to think there is ONLY one possible way to think (yours). Especially, focusing on understanding and absorbing lessons from those who actually live with and experience the problems. And for goodness’ sake, stop thinking about “winning” all the time!
  • Respectful Conversation: Mainly, I’m a believer in the benefit of conversation: that something can and must be done to bridge the gaps between our differing viewpoints. I firmly believe that meaningful conversation with our neighbors and friends will improve all our ideas and lead to concrete actions that have a chance of bettering the lot of all Americans. My time during the 80’s and 90’s as an advocate and practitioner of neighborhood planning convinced me that a true apolitical genius of the American people can be unleashed by face-to-face conversation across political divides about real problems in peoples lives.

Finally, honest confessions are a necessary prologue to productive discussion. So, I hereby confess that my politics are typically liberal. But by experience, I have a small-business, careful-spending/regulation outlook. I admit strong empathy with the less fortunate, while aware of how misplaced charity can affect the individual’s self-respect. I have directly experienced the hazards of government overreach, but I equally distrust the bullying monopolistic urges of mega-corporations. I believe there are global and national issues that need global and national action:  protection of the environment, global trade agreements, combatting global warming, insuring the safety of our community. But while these are worth the government making attempts to ameliorate, I’m aware they will probably be clumsy when rolled out on the ground — more clumsy if they originate and are enacted in one political party.

I’m frankly dismayed by the continued intractability of structural racism in the US (see: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander), but aware that the identity politics as practiced by the modern Democratic Party provides an easy, if false, excuse for the rise of open white supremacism.  I took pleasure in earlier years in voting for good Republican candidates, but recently, I can’t bring myself to vote for reasonable Republicans because of the fear of their caving to religious and right-wing litmus tests, not to mention their lockstep approach to every issue of government. And I fear the same thing seems to be threatening the Democratic Party…

So, I have come to think of myself as a “Radical Centrist!”

This is also why I hope my blog can retain not only liberals, but also centrists, and conservative readers and commenters (my father, after all, was an ardent fan of Reagan and Fox News… and still one of the most moral people I have known).

So by all means respond with your ideas and your best thinking. Your control panel for enlarging and entering the conversation is on this page: email to friends, reblog, or repost to social media, comment directly and at length by clicking the blue comment box at the at the end of every post, or just “like” the conversation.

Finally, I hope civility and earnestly expressed opinions will reign supreme on this blog and its conversation. We can all admit that ad hominem abusive and trolling can be very fun and entertaining, but it is not an argument, or a debate, on either side. So the question this post poses for you, readers, is:

Are there ways we can actually improve each others’ thinking, and inform each others’ worlds across our differences of politics?

Comment below. This will be OUR town meeting… to face down the coming Apocalypse.  It’s a pretty big deal…

 

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