All posts by Bryan

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Wisconsinites Need to Vote Today, Even if You Think the System is Broken

I’m glad Scott Walker got elected.

The Occupy movement may have fizzled but while we were still alert, while we were still angry, our governor was busy acting like exactly the sort of man he was, abolishing collective bargaining rights for all unions in the state. Oh wait, did I say all unions? No, public safety workers were exempted–firefighters, cops, and the like. It’s almost like admitting that abolishing bargaining rights was the wrong thing to do, isn’t it? Everyone else got hit but the cops and firefighters, the ones even Walker relies on in potentially life-threatening situations, they were exempted.

This next bit is cut-and-pasted straight from the Wikipedia article on the 2011 Wisconsin protests. I think they managed to be quite succinct on this point:

“On February 23, Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy placed a prank telephone call[62] to Walker claiming to be billionaire David Koch, one of Walker’s largest corporate supporters, who is often accused of trying to drive civil service unions out of government.[63][64] During the 20-minute call, Walker discussed a method of getting the absent Senators to return, that he had considered placing agent provocateurs among the protesters, and that he spoke daily with like-minded Ohio Governor John Kasich.”

Yep. We had that on record. If you’re not familiar with the Kochs, they’re some truly dastardly people. Imagine you have so much money and so many properties and toys that you just can’t think of a single thing you still want. I know it’s hard, but try. You’ve got it all. What else can you even do with your money? Influence politicians to decrease regulations on your industry, block legislation for increased regulation or closing of tax loopholes, oppose worker’s rights, obfuscate the facts on global climate change, and just generally slow society down so we don’t progress. Whatever it takes to maintain and improve your profits. That’s really all you have left, and that’s exactly what the Koch brothers do.

For those of you who might not know what the term agent provocateur from the above excerpt means (aside from the fact that it sounds slightly malevolent),  here’s a definition.

“An agent provocateur (French for “inciting agent”) is an undercover agent who acts to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act or falsely implicate them in partaking in an illegal act. An agent provocateur may be acting out of own sense of nationalism/duty or may be employed by the police or other entity to discredit or harm another group (e.g., peaceful protest or demonstration) by provoking them to commit a crime – thus, undermining the protest or demonstration as whole.”

Thinking he had one of his largest corporate sponsors on the phone he went ahead and discussed a strategy that had been used time and again to discredit the Occupy movement in the eyes of the media. That’s openly showing contempt for anything the people of his state had to say! That single suggestion, moving to discredit, cuts out any room for dialogue with the concerned citizens he was supposed to be governing. He had already made up his mind and was moving into spin coverage–how do I come out looking the best without even considering the what Wisconsin thinks?

Well, we all know how that ended. And afterwards his slogan became “I Stand with Walker”. His primary platform became “I put down those rowdy troublemakers who were concerned about the skullduggery I was trying to pull, because I don’t put up with that shit!” Not surprisingly this ‘not putting up with shit’ attitude resonates with some people. The problem is that it vilifies not just the opposing political party, but everyone in between. Anyone who might have had a concern. Anyone in a union. In an increasingly broken bipartisan system he encouraged both sides to move further to the extreme, further from the middle where compromise can be made.

So that’s your trip down memory lane. After the protests and the failed recall and the shenanigans I gave up on politics for a while. I just couldn’t handle it. It was too much, and clearly they had too much money, and what could I do? I doubt this was the primary intention of Walker or the Koch brothers but I know it benefited them. I was too tired to care, and that’s the best place for a young person to be. Because we still have time to devote to learning about the issues and we haven’t been betrayed enough by politicians to expect it and let it happen. If we don’t care, the whole broken system wins.

I won’t get into Walker’s ethics violations or anything following those protests because I wasn’t paying attention. Other people are more qualified to speak on those issues, you should listen to them. What it comes down to is that we elected a man who basically ran on a campaign of “I don’t know anything!” into office and he’s been playing the Idiot ever since. Should we be surprised?

I have friends who say they don’t want to vote. Their vote doesn’t matter. They repeat slogans like “Whoever wins, we lose.” They say all politicians are corrupt. And maybe they’re right. I agree that the system is broken.  I believe that our politicians all bend over the arm of the couch for corporations and the rich (but I hear that hundred dollar bills and thousand dollar checks make good lube, so there’s that). And I believe that no matter who we elect it is unlikely that things are going to get any better for us here at the bottom. Likely not in the next four years anyway.

But here’s the thing. All those other politicians, they fuck us slowly. Gently. They roofie us with bullshit and PR until we just let it happen. Walker stuck it in raw. Hard and fast. And laughed about it with his buddy Koch.

Wisconsin made international news coverage during those protests. Parts of the world who had never heard of our state know about us now, because of Walker.

So I’m glad Scott Walker was our governor. He showed us the caliber of politicians we’re working with. But now that our eyes are open, maybe let’s get someone into office who won’t cause over 100,000 people to storm our capital? Maybe let’s elect someone that might actually help, or at least try? I don’t know what the solution is for us. I don’t know how we’re going to fix this broken system. I do know that someone like Scott Walker is exactly the kind of puppet corporations like Koch want. Let’s take away one of their toys, then we’ll figure out what to do next.

Just get out there and vote.

Pursuit of Happiness

Above all other things, I believe we are all searching for happiness. This search is the single most important thing in our lives. It’s what we spend almost all our time pursuing–whether at the job we work to earn money for free time, volunteering, or creating art. Very few of us ever achieve true, lasting happiness–in most cases we grasp the edges but find our joy to be fleeting, our desires capricious. The search for happiness has lead to the rise of every religion, every government, every grassroots movement or revolution. While there may be a select few throughout the ages who have intentionally avoided happiness for one reason or another, most of will spend our entire lives in this pursuit.

So why talk about it?

As we go through our lives we all experience vastly different realities. We experiment with activities, thought processes, and companions. Through chance encounters we learn what helps us attain happiness, at least temporarily. We may also discover things that make us unhappy. As we proceed through life each of us builds our own list of rules, the dos and don’ts of happiness.

But our lives are individually unique. By the time you reach adulthood it is likely that your list is completely singular, built as it is to address your experience of reality. And the older you get the more unique you become until like the cliche, both you and your personal rules for happiness are a snowflake. Unrepeated anywhere else in the world.

For a long time I dreamed of creating a novel, a compilation work which would take perhaps ten individuals and list their top ten rules for happiness, then tell the stories of past experience which cemented these as fundamental tenets to guide their paths through life.

Over the course of a year and a half I drunkenly interviewed people at parties. I was both surprised and fascinated to discover that people’s opinions on what the ‘Number One Rule for Happiness’ should be varied wildly, much more wildly than I would have imagined. “Always be actively creating something new” I was told by an sophomore art student from the local Catholic college. “Never doubt yourself” from a particularly rowdy clown of a young man, who proceeded to spend the majority of that evening stripped down to just a ‘banana hammock’ dancing on tables and telling anyone near him that they needed “more potassium” in them to be healthy and then generously offering them his ‘banana’. And from a particularly philosophical college freshman, “You’re always allowed to contradict yourself.”

I’m sure that if everyone wrote down every rule they subconsciously abided by we would find that most of us share a pretty large list. What really captured my curiosity was the ‘top ten’ nature of the question. Which rule was most important and why? What lead you to discover this rule? What caused you to believe this rule was the most important one? Have you ever broken your rule? What happened as a result? In your list of top ten rules are more of your rules positive (do “this”) or negative (don’t do “that”)?

In the experience of interviewing anyone I could force to put up with this needlessly philosophical line, my own rules began to change. I added a few consciously and realized that some of the things I believed were outdated or based on unreliable information. I realized that although composing this list is something we all do unconsciously, it’s important that from time to time you take a deep look inside yourself and review how you choose to live. We all want to find happiness and we’re all looking for the most efficient way to attain it. Self-reflection of this nature is clearly worth the effort (although for the sake of expediency I suggest you do it sober). And who knows, you just might surprise yourself.

So what about you? What’s your number one rule for happiness? I’d be interested to know–post your answer in the comments section!

Why Do We Have War?


Vision, not plans, is what moves men. A desperate struggle in a back alley is not something for which we would imagine giving our lives, but a frantic fight for survival is maybe the most honest we can ever be in describing the taking of life. Dark, dirty, desperate… this is the truth of death.

Given this truth, why do we have war? Conflict may be an inevitable affliction of human nature but the systemized, nationalized sport that is modern warfare is insanity incarnated. How can we, as a species, witness the near-constant stream of murder and sacrifice that comprises war and simply accept it as an inevitable part of life? Because we are given visions. Bright, shiny things that–with the help of Mother Culture’s whisperings–we choose to believe not only justify the horror, but demand it.

 

Fight-or-Flight: The Truth of Death

I was once told a parable. A guru takes on a student who is desperate to learn the secrets of success. The guru tricks the student into wading deep into a river until the student’s head is barely above the water. The guru forces the student’s head under the water and manages to hold him there until the student has almost drowned. When the boy has recovered, the guru tells him ‘When you desire success as you desired air, you will be successful.’

My friends and I used to have a ‘Fight Club’ of sorts. A fight went on until someone passed out or tapped out. I was always very good at worming my way out of a variety of chokeholds but I was caught more than once. When your body registers that the fight you’re in has put your survival at stake, when you realize you’re in your opponent’s guard and he has you trapped, when his arm snakes around your neck and your vision begins to tunnel, you brain surpasses all higher thought functionalities and kicks on Survival Mode. Fight or flight? Your choices are limited, you are trapped. You have to fight, even if only to win the ability to flee.

Your mother’s fiance comes home drunk again and charges, fist cocked. You have less than a second to act, too little time to weigh options–in fact, too little time to think at all. You shove your sister behind you and the lights go dark.
domestic violence
When the moment comes, you fight the guru’s grip without considering what he’s trying to teach you. When the moment comes, you slip out of the choke not because you remember your teacher explaining how to do it but because you need air or you won’t survive. When the moment comes, you shove your sister behind you not because you’re thinking “She’s defenseless, he won’t stop until one of us is on the ground, I love her and it’s the right thing to do” but because on some base level you believe her life is worth more than your own.

This is not meant to belittle the accomplishments of soldiers, or to say that no one has ever died for freedom. Or liberty. Or democracy. It’s not to say that war is not addictive or that testosterone and bloodlust don’t sometimes drive men. The point I’m trying to make is that when the cards are on the table, you’re not thinking of your country, your traditions, or the ideals your culture upholds. You only think of survival. We train our soldiers to understand that survival is contingent on the annihilation of the enemy, but even that thought is something we spend weeks or months brainwashing into them. When rounds are flying inches above your face and shrapnel is flying through the air, you pass through fear into an emotionless void. You only do what you can do, what you have to do, to survive. Maybe you risk your life to save someone. Maybe you die protecting someone whose life you perceive as being worth more than your own. But you don’t weigh the pros and cons of such an action before you commit to it. When fight-or-flight is fully engaged, you lose the ability to do anything but act and react.

 

 

The Spoils of War

What about those of us back home when we get the knock at the door, when we get the phone call? When they roll the body bags in, when they lower coffins into the ground, are we thinking about justice? About honor, or freedom? We work very hard to trick ourselves into believing that we are. The reality is in that moment we’re feeling our bubble of perceived invincibility, the bubble we must reside in to be able to function without constant paranoia of death, burst. We aren’t invincible, we realize, no one is. And we feel the awful tearing of some bright piece of our life leaving forever. A friend, a relative, sucked into eternal abyss.

What do we gain from war? Not as a country, not as a society, but as individuals? Did your freedom or liberty increase as 90,065 people–over 73% of which were civilians– died in Iraq? (Numbers are from Wikileaks ‘Iraq War Logs’ cataloging the war from January, 2004 to December, 2009; for other numbers you can start here). Is your life more democratic now than it was before? Do you have more money in your pocket or more material possessions? Objectively speaking, did the common American gain anything positive from our most recent war?

The impacts of war for the majority of any society don’t aren’t pleasant. The only spoil we receive from modern warfare is the touch of death. Mothers, brothers, friends, all gone forever, and the knowledge that by virtue of your tax dollars you are now an accomplice in the ‘sacrifice’ of our troops and the murder of civilians as well as enemy combatants.

 

 

So Why Do We Have War?

If it weren’t for demagogues, all wars would end with the first round of casualties. When our illusions shattered and reality set in, both sides would do whatever needed to be done to reach a mutual agreement without bloodshed. Instead we let politicians and leaders lie to us, convince us of great, shiny ideals: Liberty, Freedom, Honor… People far removed from the desperate, dirty struggle, the emotionless void of reaction that is the fight for survival, convince us that these values (which are themselves illusions created from perceived value and selective observation) are not only concrete, real, but that they are worth dying for! Not worth the politicians themselves stepping on the battlefield, of course, but well worth the ‘willing’ and ‘noble’ sacrifices of the faceless masses. Our deaths.
 Our blood provides the fuel for countless campaigns so our leaders can profit–whether directly or indirectly, personally or politically–all while wrapping coffins in the flag as if our nation was on the minds of our soldiers when they died.

At least when weapons were made of bronze, those who stood to gain from war were the only ones who could afford to participate–to put their lives on the line. Ironworking made the common man a soldier and we have laid our lives on the line for the profit of others ever since. In fact, we’ve been lied to for so long that these invented words, ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’, have become living things! We believe these ideals exist autonomously, and through the lens of our selective cultural memory any wake or funeral can be amended post-mortem to exemplify our commitment to uphold these ideals, rather than realizing the other truth: these lives are lost for nothing more than the profit of the few. Why remember my uncle as his drunk squadmate described him, whimpering and crying until he finally drowned on his own blood, when I can choose to forget the horrid reality and believe he died for freedom? And if he died for freedom, freedom must be worth dying for. And if freedom is worth dying for, then this war must continue! As must the next! And the next! We need more meat for the grinder.

 

 

Conclusions?

Visions, not plans, are what move men. Pericles was spot on in his funeral oration propaganda. George Bush was right in invoking higher ideals in his speech. When faced with the inevitable brutality, fear, and desperation that truly comprises a battle to the death, we would all rather walk away and live another day. But we must crush Sparta! And we must have oil! So we will defend the cultural richness of Athens, we will defend democracy, we will hunt down the terrorists, and we will save the world from WMDs. We will fight, and we will die for honor, justice, and our nation.

We will let others lie to us and we will lie to others. We’ll lie so well we’ll trick ourselves into forgetting how war may benefit the rich or how freedom is relative within a hierarchical society. We’ll forget that humans invented war. As a society, as a species, we’ll forget the difference between conflict and war. Because some things are worth dying for, even by the millions. Because we’ve been given a fantastical vision. And at the end of the day these visions, not plans, are what move men.