[personal profile] floorpigeon
Sometimes I can feel it-- getting old, I mean. It seems that I'm a lot more apathetic than I was at 20, a lot more cynical, though in other ways I'm a lot more open to possibility. Back then, I thought everything was possible, but none of it applied to me. Now, I want to do what I can, but I see the limits and sometimes enjoy them. Life needs some limits-- that's what getting older has taught me. Without limits, I'm just bored. It's odd, for sure. I still don't accept enforced limits, but I'm less likely to insist on things based on pure faith. I try to walk myself through some rational basis for decisions more instinctively these days.

But sometimes, in the oddest things, I'm still pretty hardcore teenager-level in my responses (unfortunately?). Reading a NYT article about the increasing drought in Texas-- could last decades historically, they say-- well... I'm kind of glad. Thinking, y'know, Nature's Revenge.
    I definitely still retain some desire to see the earth, y'know, kick humanity's ass, sooner rather than later. Back when I was 16, I actually thought we needed cataclysms to push us back from the brink, and this involved, of course, collateral damage. Now, thinking of 'collateral damage' on a grand scale isn't so easy when I don't feel immortal, but it seems even now, I have a bit of that mad laugh of nature's fury in me.

I talked about it with my friend once, how I want to live to see history move, I want to see 'what happens' with say, global warming and The End of Oil & such. She doesn't want to see the zombies come (so to speak), and doesn't see why anyone would. But this sort of 'being-ok-with-right-now' thing still doesn't come naturally to me. Feeling trapped in the flow of history-- it was some of my most intense pain in adolescence. Living in this tiny blink of eternity's eye-- that grated. At least give me 300 years, I thought. I want to see what happens. Why am I here if not to observe? Obviously, I was also waiting for my so-called soul-mate, but even then, I thought I could count on the future in a way I couldn't count on meeting The One. It was a question of time in the most direct way. Not time and luck-- just time.

Of course, I realize (mostly) that I'm not that special, and I'm not really an Observer-- well, I kind of realize it. I guess I am one even if I'm not-- that's how it is with questions of identity vs reality. There's also inner truth, whether or not it conflicts with 'outer' truth. In this case, I guess I'd say there is no outer truth, only feeling. So anyway, these things that change society on a basic level-- I always think 'yes, this is good'. Not catastrophes where people simply die, but situations that change the landscape of our lives, make us pay attention. This is the difference between a long draught and Hurricane Katrina-- long-term adaptation to nature. We need to pay more attention. Of course, change is hard. But if we don't change, it'll be harder.

One more sign of age: I'm not as rabidly pro-choice or as militantly atheist as I was at 16; that is, I am both these things, just not rabidly. I even had thoughts like, 'well, maybe they're right, but still, they can't force people to agree to live under their moral supervision'. But then I read an article on what's going on in Texas and I remember why I used to be enraged. Just imagine if I was pro-life, and these people would still turn me off. That is to say, even if they're right, they go against my idea of separating moral issues and gov't ethics. It's simply unethical to manipulate funding to force underprivileged members of society to believe (not behave) as they 'should'. Of course, I'm not surprised; I think it's human nature for people to construct society to be run as if it's a kindergarten. This is one reason I don't hold much faith in socially-based solutions alone to questions that involve the planet or future of civilization.

Ultimately, people's instinct is to run society as if it's their society, or their family. Emphasis on social control understood as support.
    That is to say, they're not trying to be the bad guys, Big Brother, etc-- they literally see their control as being supportive, the way a controlling parent understands rules as love. Giving broad options to people-- accepting different viewpoints not as in general tolerance but about things you have a personal stake in and control over-- that's against human nature. In theory, people generally 'live and let live' by nature, I think, sure. But that's up until it has any impact on them/their family's way of life. Ultimately, too, living in a ghetto-ized or marginalized sub-society becomes limiting. Everyone secretly wants their way of life to be "the" way of life. Even if you get used to it, like the Jews did in Europe, it becomes an ongoing source both of bitterness and superiority (as well as persecution).

I was thinking recently about what 'multi-culturalism' really means. What's an effective way to have a society where there are people with competing interests, ways of life, and agendas? Well, one way is through segregation and disempowerment, obviously-- so you're multi-cultural on paper, but in reality, only the upper classes have social power. This isn't just the US or Europe, this has been the case all the way back in Hellenistic times, too. Is it possible to give power to separate and non-assimilated peoples with different cultural wants and have an 'equal' society? Only within certain limits. This is what bugs me. People think 'it'll just work out if we communicate', assuming everything is open to discussion and compromise, but they don't know themselves well enough by far. Traditional ways of life are, in fact, almost completely incompatible with 21st-century corporate capitalism, just talking economics alone; any situation where you graft the two, you're grafting only the people in power finding new means of control. I'm talking about a place like Abu Dhabi-- the people themselves do not adapt. If they did, they would disappear as a people.

It's not that different with cultural threads; it's just that it's easier to pretend, and let things fester. Ultimately, the end result historically has been two-fold: assimilation or war. Jewish settlements are one example, though a bit of an exception because it's a case of the culture providing a service to another, so you have a semi-functional social eco-system (instead of migrant farm-workers, in Medieval Jews you had your money-handlers). In general, anytime you have separate peoples merging to form a society, a hundred years later, either they're one stable country or they're not, and split into two or more. If you're talking empire, multi-culturalism is possible because of geographic isolation. You have semi-independent states or provinces in the context of a larger 'empire'. In a situation where geographic separation is not in effect, what ensues is conflict. And it's not simply that people aren't open-minded enough (though most likely they aren't). It's this desire for control. You can only control those that are like you in terms of shared cultural assumptions; if you cannot control people in the sense of predicting and ensuring cultural/behavioral norms, you can't 'trust' them. If you can't trust them, you can't feel at home. If you don't feel at home, either you marginalize them socially or isolate them (or yourself) geographically, which is what happens when cultural rifts occur and say, the Pilgrims sail to America.

In my estimation, the only way 'true' multi-culturalism would work is if you actually thought about compatible cultures when cohabitating in a shared country, same as with housemates on the individual level. Of course, this is assuming democracy, and well, I don't actually think there are any true democracies in the world, so perhaps it's moot. I'm not sure if I think a Democratic Republic inherently fosters social inequality; most likely with the addition of ecohomic corporate capitalism (without active pushing in the other direction with cultural socialism ala Northern Europe), the answer is mostly yes. The US is an interesting case because we are so huge, so a sort of geographic isolationism is possible in a way it's not in, say, England. Not like Texas is literally a separate province like Quebec, but yeah, kinda. Because of our country-wide emphasis on state and even county independence, a lot of things become more possible than they are in Europe, which tries to integrate cultural norms across the whole EU, forget a whole country. Of course, I'm not so sure that allowing Texas to do whatever it wants is a good idea, even though they may well break off otherwise. The thing I really wish people got to intellectually is that multi-culturalism is a bit of a ridiculous straw-man as an ethical standard. I guess I should blame the long history of imperialism, now having the blowback effect.

More to the point, I think education and acceptance of difference is a super-important mental habit to develop in intelligent and mature citizens and human beings. However, 'multi-culturalism' and 'diversity' and all those other happy concepts are kind of naive. Let's put it another way: culture is inherently multi-layered and multiplicitous; even a 'singular' culture never is, but has different faces in different social strata (working class culture vs intelligentsia, etc). What I disagree with is both the controlling integrators denying people abortions, and the permissive diversity people thinking 'why can't we all just get along'. Cultural/moral beliefs (take abortion, say) are neither 'good' nor 'bad', neither precious nor wrong, neither worthy of respect nor necessary to defuse (though respect works as a default with any interaction with people). Culture is simply culture; the bad is a function of control and propagating one's views, not from the culture. Of course, like I said, that desire for control is something that transcends culture, unfortunately.

The abortion thing is a great example of why we can't get along, even with geographic & some political indepedence. People like to point out how religion 'at its best' is accepting of other religions. Eh. To a point. It's not the private practice of other religions in their places of worship that people tend to dislike, though. It's anytime we cross paths in the public sphere, and people start doing things that affect the public spaces of others, like teaching schools, say. There's a reason that religious schools only exist in the context of one religion; I'd claim 'non-denominational' Christian institutions are mainly possible because they exist in a culturally Christian nation. Since the cultural atmosphere isn't in conflict, it's possible for it to be 'low-key'. In a society where even public schools have breaks for Christmas for everyone but breaks for Rosh Hashanah only by request, I wouldn't get too excited about multi-culturalism and diversity. The inequality is camouflaged by tolerance, but the point is that the people in power can seize it at any time.

Going further down the rabbit-hole, I'd say even within a 'single' culture, there's an inherent struggle for power between the classes. The two major economic approaches (capitalism & communism/socialism) emphasize two different classes in terms of giving them more social power and dominance. Going further still, you can say all history is a story of continuing struggle between groups and individuals. Obviously, cooperation and unity exists, but the function of unity in say, belief-- that is, once you have a successful idea-- is to become a unit which can itself engage in struggle for dominance or succumb to assimilation. On the individual or intra-group level, you see harmony, but on the broader inter-group level, conflict remains. Thus, Christianity can fight Islam just as a corporation can fight another corporation for dominance. The idea that ideas don't "need" to fight is what I find naive/unrealistic, and see no evidence of. Obviously, struggle isn't constant, for there can be no war without peace. But if two ideas don't "need" to fight, it only means that one of them is secure in its dominance; it's easy for a dominant culture/idea to feel there's no need for conflict, but I'd claim this attitude is a function of cultural (possibly imperialist) privilege. You don't need to fight for your life and/or your culture? You have it good. It's sort of like the summation (in my mind) of what it means to be bourgeois.

Lastly, the idea that you 'respect' others if and only if they are 'moderate' and thus the 'true McCoy' is severely problematic on any diversity score-card. Maybe I'm overemphasizing the 'people as mammals' thing, but I think there's a lack of genuine respect unless we respect the predatory or aggressive aspects of others, and their valid struggle for power and recognition. It's not like it's only ok as long as we all play nice, mostly because I wouldn't say we've ever played nice. I see a lot of liberals proclaiming their solidarity with the Other by saying 'well, see, the moderates of Faction A and Faction B agree, so it's good as done! yeay for compromise between mild-mannered peoples!' I really want to thwap these people on their well-meaning middle-class heads. 'No one needs to be angry', these people reason. 'Aren't you happy with the nice neighorhood in the polis we've allotted to you?' And then, if they aren't happy: 'how could you? you're not representative of your people. how sad.'

There's a weird sort of mixed message there, because I do think most people are 'moderate' in the sense that they're passive, apathetic, easily controlled. This masquerades itself as the sort of enlightened acceptance so valued by the middle-class bourgeois cultural aesthetic. Most of these people aren't bourgeois-- they're oppressed. I mean, yes, they're also naturally passive in the sense of desiring central authority to tell them how to react. I sort of think this is part of the oppression. In some ways, perhaps, this set-up is reasonable to create social stability. On the other hand, it's not really culturally acceptable to me. A good example is China. It's funny how most people in the US, right and left, don't really go on about the deeply problematic, even horrific, social control issues in China. We note them, but mostly we're not horrified now that they're not actively using tanks. Why? They're seemingly stable, relatively fed, etc. People have a prejudice in favor of stable situations that 'work'. People were more up-in-arms with the USSR for two reasons: one, Russia went on about ideology more, and two, they were a direct military/cultural threat rather than a 'servile' culture that makes our goods. As powerful as China is, the fact that it makes things for people makes us reassured rather than threatened, overall, because in some hind-brain way, we feel at ease with the inequality.

So yeah, there may seem to be a stretch between abortion issues and how the gay community has latched on to marriage as 'The Issue', but the reason is that people want to be on top if they can. It's unconscious, mostly, but the reason gay marriage is 'The Issue' isn't in spite but because it facilitates assimilation. People who claim they don't want to merge tend to mean that they too want society to reflect them rather than them reflecting society (so as soon as Jews got a country, they started marginalizing Arabs). I mean, it'd be great if I was wrong, but I don't see much proof to the contrary.

Trying to be positive, what-- if any-- definition of progress do I have? I do think things are improving, overall. The big things that are improving is science and medicine, due to recorded knowledge affording us the ability to utilize precision over cultural memory. These things allow for stuff like increased life-spans, ability to have children less/later on, less reliance on physical labor, etc. This can tighten the gap between classes and allows women room to do something outside child-rearing, as well as furthering individual growth through education. The opportunity to explore things we didn't have time for before isn't the same as change though, not exactly. Culturally, we're not any more advanced-- it's more like we don't need the extreme measures we once took to survive. The big problem is that we take nature for granted, so we as a species need to learn progress within limits. I guess I'll say this: we are the way we've always been. I hope one day we find a way to be who we are more sustainably. Needless to say, supporting overpopulation isn't one of those sustainable practices I think we need to survive. If I'm totally honest, outside of feminist rage, that's the thing that worries me here.


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the one who stumbled

January 2015

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