Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Debate for Its Own Sake

There's this…thing you see on social media.

Your (often) white dude friend who will endlessly discuss things. No matter how anathema they are because they value being open minded.

Folks (usually cishet white dudes since they are the ones unaffected by bigotry) who pride themselves on being surrounded with lots of diametrically opposed opinions. They don't grudgingly say "Yeah, that's Mike—he's lower key in person." Or "My dad can see my posts. Sorry about that. I'll talk to him."

Nope. They're proud of it. This is the space they curate. Battle royales over every topic from culture war issues to the body autonomy or humanity of certain groups of people.

Because they are always oh so willing to ENGAGE in the marketplace of ideas over and over and over and over. Each day the same topics, the same boiler plate arguments. No matter how much the underlying premise of some of these conversations hurts someone watching said conversation, they ENGAGE on. Like, say, their OTHER friends on social media watching their humanity be the subject of an intellectual debate) should really make an effort to understand how the SQiD (Status Quo Defender™) works. 

See your average SQiD never changes. They begin every "debate" with "Prove to me that is even a problem." They attack expertise. They propose ludicrous narratives in an attempt to explain otherwise clear-as-day statistics. They hit reply with the endurance of Samwise Gamgee when Frodo is in trouble and shout down everyone. They argue from bad faith. They refuse any and all points that would require them to consider that their current world view is anything but utterly unimpeachable. Any counter-argument must be countered with a gush of ceaseless emotional labor. 

And if you should ever incontrovertibly "win" such a debate, you will find they often have to depart suddenly. ("Well I have to go…") If they're NOT losing, they'll just come back later. It's only when they can no longer cling to their views without seeming foolish that their obligations must take them away for good.

And whether they quit or stay and let themselves get trounced in public (rare), in the end they announce that it has been very "stimulating" (or "educational")* and thank you as if you just had a vigorous martial arts sparring match with them. They appreciate the discussion, but must depart. 

Then it happens.

The next time you run into them to discuss that issue again, they have returned to initial positions like it's a new chess match with the pieces reset instead of a growth process.

Which, of course, it is.  It is a GAME to them. It is about winning. They do this because this is exactly what they see "debate" as—an intellectual exercise not to establish truth but to establish who is the better debater (always them).  So they do their favorite opening move: "Prove to me that is even a problem." 

Again.

And since they never move their "square one," those willing to have that conversation with them ad nauseam are engaged in an endless tango. The debate is not a means to an end (finding the truth or the best idea) . The debate is the end itself. The marketplace of ideas cannot reject any idea. All must begin each day on equal footing, for the marketplace of ideas has no value as a crucible to find the best ideas; it is simply valued for its own sake. It is as if each person's individual social media account becomes an example of The Paradox of Tolerance.

(*This of course is only as long as you never got "emotional." If you did anything they took as not absolutely of perfect decorum, they will refuse your point on the principles of civility politics. Because, of course, they are not interested in figuring something out—the debate itself is what they wanted and you sullied that for them like someone who got mad when they were losing at chess.) 

I think some spaces for debate are wonderful, but not every space must reflect the constitutional right one has to espouse harm (in the same way one might decide not to platform someone praising the September 11th attacks); however, in social contexts if you don't learn that actually there are SOME conversations that are absolutely NOT worth having, you will be quagmired there forever as the Status Quo marches on. And those folks who pride themselves having exactly every stripe of friend may quickly find certain of their most marginalized friends unwilling to have the same debates over and over in their spaces. It is uncomfortable and often painful to watch as those one considers a friend happily—PROUDLY— allow one's humanity to casually be questioned over and over like it is a fresh and exciting topic for a rousing intellectual debate (that will never go anywhere). And then, as they leave because there are safer places in the world where they don't have to struggle just to exist, one more place gets overrepresentation by those at the top of social hierarchies. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Sometimes The Only Way Out……SUCKS!

[CN: Self-harm—although a socially acceptable form of it]

One of the things I worked on in my many years of therapy was the fact that I was using workaholism as a socially acceptable form of self-harm. It's practically a badge of honor in our culture to be so busy that you can't think, can't slow down, can't breathe, can't….process, can't…….deal with your emotions. ("You worked 50 hours?" "Well I worked 60!" "Well I worked 70-80?") Some careers even haze interns based on this sort of thing. 

You are always a step behind. You're always adrenaline rushing from crashing deadlines and external obligations.It hurts in just the right way. (It also leads to heart disease and a host of other health problems so it can be just as destructive in the long-term as the kinds that will alarm people.)

And when I walked into therapy one day and said, "I want to stop being ever more adept at understanding, explaining.…DESCRIBING my issues. I get that my childhood was formative, and others' narcissism has shaped me in maladaptive ways. Now I want to get better".... When I did that, the fact that I was working myself to a pulp was one of the things we worked on. 

And I got better. (Ironically, one of my last sessions involved a commitment that I would fully drop the side hustle that was PAYING for the therapy, and I would not turn around and pick up another.) 

I learned to watch my behavior. I learned to pay attention when I was taking on work in a destructive way. I learned to say no, even though I hated it, to clients when I was stretched thin. I committed to down time. I would force myself to go to movies. There was a time of the day I would stop working (even if I didn't feel done). I did budgets to show myself I had enough income to stop pet sitting and taking on every freelance writing gig that came along. I sent emails to all but a tiny handful of my clients (the ones with the coolest houses or the best tippers) saying that I was hanging up my leash and catnip. I would enjoy HOURS to myself. I could never turn off completely, but I learned to turn DOWN that little voice that said I was never doing “enough." Down enough that I started to enjoy a whole new life.

And then the pandemic came. And the Faustian deal became clear. 

For the sake of chosen family (particularly my favorite smol human), I would have to unspool my progress. I would have to self-harm again….a little. I would have to set aside progress and put myself on the rack. (Temporarily, but who knew how long.) Sixty- and seventy-hour weeks (instead of 80--See? Progress!). Nannying as much as I could for as long as I could stand and then coming straight home and writing as much as I could in every spare moment between. Minimal weekends. Almost no time off. Balls to the fucking walls.

And if you know something of the psychology there, you know I didn't just see this as a busy time. The "Oholic" part kicked in. The fear that everything I'd learned to walk away from could never be "controlled" in the way I was hoping to control it, and I would fall back into self-destructive habits. And maybe this time I wouldn't be able to crawl back out. It would feel too good to chase that rush again. 

But for 13 months, that's what I did. 

Writing professionally is a needle-thread. And when people ask me how I do it, I am brutally honest about the long hours and short weekends. I do not think I would be a working writer if I took off every time I had a bad day, was overwhelmed, or "didn't feel it." If I worked some never-more-than-40-hour week during the pandemic, once I factored in the nannying, I'd have even less to show for the last year than I do now. When people tell me to "screw productivity as a capitalist concept,” I have to take it with a grain of salt because I'M my own boss—or more accurately about 350+ patrons are my bosses—and just not working can also mean "screw your income, Chris" really really quickly. And I hate to tell them this, but I don't think many of the folks campaigning so hard for permission to write LESS have the dedication they're going to need to achieve the dreams they nurture.

But, of course, writers are human, and humans actually become LESS productive as they overwork. And walking that line between persistence, tenacity, and purpose vs. obsession, stubbornness, and addiction is basically THE artist's cliché because it's so common. Can you be one of the very best at anything (ever), without being just a little bit consumed?

And so for me, the last 13 months have felt like trying to balance leaning back in a chair on two legs. Too far one way and I was barely writing. Too far the other....and I would fall back into that maelstrom of self-destruction. 

For thirteen months.

Our story has a happy ending. The intrepid hero walks the knife's edge of seductive self-destruction but never falls in. They go the distance but do not lose themselves. There are weeks off (sometimes a dental or medical appointment is scheduled more for the quarantine afterward). Sundays are for Dungeons and Dragons no matter how badly writing is going. And as the vaccine promises an end to the untenable hours, the hero finds they have not lost themselves to the struggle but are "oh-so-holy-shit-yes" ready to lay down their burdens. 

Hopefully, this is the last time I have to go Shane on a situation and whip out the ol' horrifying ability to kick ass, but in some ways, it's sort of nice to know it's there. If I can step up for 13 months, I know I have a month under tough book deadline or ONE 80-hour week in me. 

But also....it's really nice to look forward to twenty-four days from now….when I won't have to. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Be Glad Your Housespouse Isn't Union

Note: This article is a "refurbished rescue" from the Grounded Parents blog I used to write for. They had to abandon their old site (and many of their old articles) when they moved forward after a "you used my image" scam, but I found it in the wayback machine, and considering that I just tried to figure out how to charge my clients for a 21 hour shift in which I was asleep next to a two-year-old for eight of them, I thought that with a little dusting, a rewrite, and a fresh coat of paint, it was just as relevant today.

[At the time this was written, I was one side-point of a "V" relationship with a married couple, and I was the domestic of the family. These days I still watch the same kid (plus one more) in the nanny situation I'm always talking about, but I don't live in the house. All names have been changed.]

I’ve taken on 20 hours a week of being the stay-at-home caregiver to Tom on top of most of my housekeeping duties, and let me tell you, it has completely changed everything.

I really like my mornings with Tom. Even when he’s being completely inconsolable, filling diapers so quickly I’m not sure how he doesn’t look like a squeezed toothpaste tube, or when he's just sleeping the whole time like a limp rag. It's just us. He's cute and sweet and I have been mind-controlled by his eye-to-face ratio, large head, and tiny chin. 

However, I also know part of the reason I love our time so much is that it ends after five hours. When the timer dings, I get to hand him back, trundle upstairs to do some writing, take a nap, or just save a galaxy far, far away from those Sith jerkfaces.

I’m the househusband in this arrangement. The parents of Tom have jobs outside the home, and we keep track of the hours I'm putting in because until a three-way marriage is legal, I lack some of the benefits like health insurance or a retirement plan that I would be co-building even if I were the stereotype-shattering househusband in a TWO-person marriage. From the moment Renee discovered she was pregnant, we knew that the kid was going to have some pretty profound effects on the delicate equilibrium we’d established where I do a few hours a day of housework and they brought home the bacon. 

Long before we'd grown comfortable with this equilibrium—for years—we tracked hours, totaled up grocery shopping receipts, watched the incoming and the outgoing carefully. And it just kept coming up pretty even. We would pass the same $20 bill back and forth week after week and month after month, and finally just decided to call ourselves "family," and stop worrying about it.

But then along came 20 hours of babysitting into the mix.

That balance….that equilibrium where my contributions to the household basically equalled my room and board (and some incidentals)…was about to be completely fucked. And because my family is not the sorts to take reckless advantage of me, we all kind of knew we should at least have a rough sense of how many hours I was going over the tipping point. In particular, Renee wanted to keep a watchful eye on the "forty-hour" Rubicon. 

“A full-time job is enough,” she said. “Beyond that, we’re taking advantage of you.”

I’d been the househusband (2021 edit: housespouse) for my family for nine years. I’d felt all the clichés of under appreciation for the work I do. William and Renee wondered why it took me so long to clean up, and I’d been in their face that fairies don’t flit into the living room to tidy up their abandoned dishes and discarded socks.

There’s a reason the unappreciated housewife is a solid cliché of TV and movies.

And yet.

AND YET!

And yet….

I still had no fucking CLUE how fast 40 hours would blow past with a Doppler effect sound once kids were in the mix. Some weeks we hit it by early evening on Wednesday. Almost every week, I would stop doing housekeeping by Thursday or sooner, just so I'd have a couple of “banked” hours left over in case Renee and William needed some emergency kid watch. Dishes have sat in the sink for days because I hit my limit. Week after week.

The kicker is, I don’t "officially" watch Tom all that much. Five hours a day for four days a week while Renee works outside the home is all that’s certain. I get tapped to help out in the case of a social engagement or just an “hour of solitude,” but I get to give him back. I don’t have midnight feedings or dawn changing or colicky nights. I don’t put the baby down for a nap and then rush to try to clean all the things before he wakes up. I'm not constantly trying to balance his need for attention with how badly the dishes need doing, tossing him into a bouncer and praying that he'll stay distracted for long enough to put on a load of laundry and pick up the living room enough to run the vacuum. 

But there have been a couple of weird weeks. Something went wrong. Their jobs outside the house were particularly hard. I had to tag in a little harder. And I did some math and figured out that a full-time stay-at-home parent who also cooked and cleaned would be cruising up around 100+ hours a week. Easily more. Fourteen or fifteen hours a day. Seven days a week. And that's not even counting that nights are more "on call" than they really are "off."

The claims that “motherhood is a noble (even 'sacred') calling" are oft repeated despite all evidence to the contrary. Devaluing jobs traditionally held by women isn’t anything new in our society, but even among folks who would clutch their pearls and whip out their smelling salts at the accusation of sexism, there is still a sense that a family’s breadwinner is doing the “real” work. It is a sobering experience to realize just how much devaluing has gone on when it comes to child rearing and domestic work. While most families find a way to divide the labor without ever feeling the need to track hours, because of my family’s quirky circumstance, I happened to sit down and crunch some numbers.

And those numbers are shocking.

What I discovered is so starkly imbalanced that the absurdity of “traditional” roles is breathtaking. A traditional father putting his feet up and refusing to pitch in with childcare or cleaning because he “worked all day” should probably be aware, according to US labor laws, his wife should be getting about 60 hours of overtime. 

Per week.

At least.

That means that even making the federal minimum wage for this "sacred" calling, a housespouse (working a mere 100 hours) would be earning about $1050. (That's overtime for hours over 40 and "golden time" for seventh-day pay.) And if they made the actual going rate for a housekeeper/nanny, got paid for the hours they were on call, and were paid more accurately for the hours in which they were expected to perform duties, they would be making closer to $2000 or more.

Per. Week.

That's a six-figure salary even at a devalued wage. Think about what would happen if there was a domestic labor union instead of just this cultural sense that housespousing is the easy job. Which is why it's just a METRIC CARGO CARRIER of bullshit to be saying, "I do the 'real' work" just because we live in a society that refuses to acknowledge unpaid labor as actual work. 

Take home?  While a modern family is more likely to flip gender roles, share responsibilities, and approach equity, it might still be worth looking at the clock…just to check. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Actually, It IS Who You Are

On January 6th there was a coup attempt in the United States.

Technically it was the culmination of a “slow burn” coup that had been going for two months, one that started the night the sitting President of the United States declared victory before all the legitimately cast votes had been counted. 

The coup was doomed to fail. It was carried off in a disorganized, half-ass way like everything else this administration has touched, whether it be building a wall or a vaccine roll out. It was primarily executed by an online mob of leaderless Nazis, neonazis, and white supremacists whose sheer sense of white, male entitlement led them to do things like take selfies at Nancy Pelosi’s desk and steal her mail instead of confront the true gravitas of what they were perpetrating. And they were incited by Trump who promised to lead them down Pennsylvania Ave., but instead cowardly ducked away into his bunker and let stochastic agents he had whipped up behave like a leaderless mob. And so, it might be possible to dismiss the day’s events as some sort of mob psychology gone horribly wrong––a lot of angry people who got carried away.


But in the final analysis, what really happened was that an armed insurrection, with malice aforethought, having discussed their violence previously online in forums like Parler, showed up to the seat of government intent on subverting the results of an election* and were allowed in by the police (who thought they were on the same side) in a national security catastrophe. [ETA: That we now know happened because Trump deliberately held back the national guard.]

That’s a coup.

Just because it went off like keystone capers doesn't make it NOT a coup. 

The rest of this is smoke-filled, coffee-house crap, and after-the-fact armchair quarterbacking. The results of the day may have been anarchy, but these terrorists were anything but anarchists. In fact, they had extremely explicit designs about who would govern and how––and in most cases, extremely outspoken ideologies about what sorts of "slow genocide" policies the government would use its power to execute. That's not anarchy.

That the “revolution,” with its decentralized authority, was as incompetent as the very President it sought to entitle, and unfolded in the same epic fail manner as everything else Trump touches, was a stroke of undeserved luck. Had an organized cell with an agenda and a competent leader entered the building in tandem with (and under cover of) the more chaotic insurrectionists, the story could have easily been about Democrats (and Mike Pence) being pulled out of their offices and executed one by one. And in fact, we saw some people clearly had that very intention if they had gotten their hands on anyone they didn't like.

(*I can’t in good conscience say that it was a free and fair election, but the right isn’t interested in the actual problems––like voter ID laws, voter scrubbing, gerrymandering, and the electoral college itself––that make the U.S. a “flawed” democracy in the eyes of the world. Mostly because those things have all been instituted by the right and help them maintain power.)

And now Lindsey Graham, who has never found a Trumpian cause unworthy of providing a few more stock “angry white guy” photo ops, has said “enough is enough,” resignations are happening left and right (including cabinet members), and even Republicans are talking about the 25th amendment.

But of course, what I heard over and over from Republican lips was this phrase that reached near “thoughts and prayers” in its meaninglessness: “This is not who we are.”

"This is not who we are."

It was like a broken record. “This is not who we are.” “This is not who we are.” “This is not who we are.” Some Democrats also said this, and those Democrats may need to confront their willingness to be civil over all other values and/or ruminate on what they allowed, by inaction, to happen and what they're willing to forgive without accountability, but today I speak to and about the Republicans––at least the 90% of them who consistently supported Trump, those in the leadership who enabled him, and those who could muster little more than a piecemeal "deep concern" for his behavior each time he did something breathtakingly horrific, but generally told us we were being "hysterical" and were simply experiencing nothing but the same sort of "hate" for Trump that they'd had for Obama.

To all of you, I want to make this crystal clear. I want to make it unswervingly direct. I want no room for ambiguity. I don’t want to be misconstrued in any possible way. 

This IS who you are.

Let me say that again: this IS who you are.

Maybe you’re looking at yourself in the mirror or at the consequences writ large of the actions an egomaniac who would rather invoke stochastic terrorism than admit defeat in a democratic election, and the fact that yoking the fascists to win some SCOTUS seats is looking a little too Faustian for your tastes when the bill comes due….  

And maybe you’ve decided that it isn’t who you WANT to be, but it IS who you are. 

This IS who you are.

  • It is who you were when, out of a field of 17, you chose the guy who took out full-page ads calling for the death penalty on innocent black men, had a jacket of racist complaints going back decades, and spearheaded the claim that Obama was not a U.S. citizen. 
  • It was who you were when you picked the guy who bragged about the size of his dick and called people names in a national debate, requiring the birth of a new vocabulary word that means “anti-presidential.”
  • It was who you were when he told you exactly who he was and you didn't recoil in horror.
  • It was who you were when he bragged about tax fraud and stiffing contractors and you didn’t consider that maybe he was going to be a grifter and a fraud. 
  • It is who you were when his blatantly bigoted statements earned your admiration for speaking his mind.
  • It was who you were when his documented history of racism didn’t give you pause and maybe, in places you don’t talk about in mixed company, you kind of liked it.
  • It was who you were when he began to mantra, “We’re going to build a wall. (He didn’t) And we’re going to make Mexico pay for it. (Also no.)” and your cheers only became louder. 
  • It was who you were when he promised he could get soldiers to violate the Geneva Conventions, and that didn’t give you pause.
  • It was who you were when you elected a bully––not sitting out the election in a sort of dull horror, but showing up for him in droves.
  • It was who you were when we told you that someone endorsed by Nazis, neonazis, and white supremacists would embolden those ideologies and you told us we were snowflakes who needed to get over it.
  • It was who you were when you wanted him to hurt the right people.
  • It was who you were when actual email security breaches garnered your limp shrugs after an entire election cycle of “but her emails.”
  • It was who you were while you ignored a candidate who was chummy with a known child sex trafficker, who bragged about sexual assault, who had dozens of credible assault allegations, while the idea that Clinton was running a sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor basement sounded plausible enough to demand answers.
  • It was who you were when you valued a reality show star, who bankrupted everything he touched and with zero political acumen, over anyone who had the slightest expertise in the art of the D.C. compromise because he assured you he was a billionaire and did well in “deals” (usually the kind of deals where he’s the boss and has all the leverage).
  • It was who you were when you spent six years with a pull string on your back that said. “Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi. We need another investigation. I just want the TRUTH.” And it was who you were when you mocked and belittled the Russia probe after it (relatively quickly) found actual credible overwhelming evidence of election interference, some level collusion (and probably more), and led to dozens of convictions.
  • It was who you were when you ignored the evidence that actual statesmen (statespeople?) would have the diplomatic savvy to run rings around him and he kind of bent to whoever was the last person in the room with him.
  • It was who you were when you shrugged at how chummy he was with dictators and how he just couldn’t get along with allies. It was who you were when you giggled along instead of giving him that "dude....no" look every time he made his haha jokes about authoritarian regimes really knowing how to do things, even when he was standing in places known for genociding their marginalized communities. 
  • It was who you were when he insisted he had, in fact, won the popular vote against Clinton and that––despite ALL evidence to the contrary––all four million votes he lost by were fraudulent. And that didn’t raise alarm bells in your mind that he wasn’t going to be able to handle losing.
  • It was who you were when you blew off his comments about extra terms or about liking the convenience of being a leader under authoritarianism.
  • It was who you were when he couldn’t handle his anything being smaller than Obama’s, literally looked at a picture of a fractionally-sized inauguration attendance, and lied his ass off that it was bigger. And instead of becoming concerned that apparently the President of the United States was apparently SO self-absorbed and delicate that he couldn't handle the truth, you laughed and went along with the "joke" and didn't notice that you were arguing that 2+2=5 on day one. 
  • It was who you were when high-ranking members of his administration proffered the idea of "alternative facts" and you laughed because that "triggered the libs."
  • It was who you were when he reversed every campaign promise he made to disclose his financials, his health, his sexual misconduct allegations, and you shrugged.
  • It was who you were when you dismissed our concerns about his disrespect for precedent, and the fact that every week was a new constitutional crisis because, if he knew the constitutional limits of his power (doubtful), he didn’t CARE. And it was who you were when the ardent warnings of historians, people from authoritarian countries, even the fricken ADL (and you know it’s not just Godwin’s law when the ADL is jumping up and down and screaming) made you roll your eyes even harder and double down on the cult mentality of we vs. they thinking.
  • It was who you were when one by one, every member of his inner circle got caught in a bald-face lie about their involvement with Russia and you blamed liberals and Democrats for having the audacity to bring it up.
  • It was who you were when you pretended you couldn’t even wrap your brains around what Trump might have POSSIBLY done that wasn’t above reproach when the full Muller report came out. You who spent entire news cycles apoplectic about hot sauce and tan suits and half-hearted salutes.
  • It was who you were when you told us to fuck our feelings. It was who you were when you called us snowflakes for providing so much as a speed bump in the road to hurting “the right people." It was who you were when you told us we’d lost and to get over it. It was who you were when you didn't bat an eyelash as the GOP abandoned all pretense at governing a pluralistic society.
  • It was who you were when you didn’t stop obscene power grabs at the state level (like in Michigan), and instead practically dared Democrats to stop you.
  • It was who you were when one by one, you kissed the ring and the party became Donald Trump and Donald Trump became the party.
  • It was who you were when you let him peel off conscientious objectors (who had an iota of integrity) one by one and send his followers like jackals to rip them apart.
  • It was who you were when he retweeted white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and open bigots with no consequence.
  • It was who you were when you allowed him to attack the media unrelentingly if they said anything he didn’t like. It was who you were when you allowed him to attack the courts unrelentingly if they made a ruling he didn’t like. It was who you were when you allowed him to attack the legislature when they did anything he didn't like. It was who you were when you shrugged as he battered away at the very pillars of democracy.
  • It was who you were when Trump cheered the police violence (and ordered more) during demonstrations of groups that had the temerity to say, “Please stop killing us.”
  • It was who you were when he called white nationalists, whose ideology had led someone to commit vehicular manslaughter, “very fine people” and you voiced nothing but “troubling concern” in concert with some deeply furrowed brows.
  • It was who you were when he wouldn’t denounce white supremacy and instead told the Proud Boys to “stand by” and that got swept under the rug as a misspeak. 
  • It was who you were when he wouldn’t denounce white supremacy the time before that and you didn’t care.
  • And the time before that.
  • It was who you were when he didn't soundly condemn a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, and you weren't horrified at such partisan behavior.
  • It was who you were when Trump was impeached for subverting U.S. democracy and literally the only defense the best legal minds in the fucking world could come up with was, “Yes, he clearly lied and subverted the investigation and did all the high crimes and misdemeanors of which he stands accused, but it’s late in his term, so let’s just wait for the election, kay?”
  • It was who you were when you wouldn't allow witnesses at said impeachment trial. 
  • It was who you were when he said “animals,” “shithole countries” “China virus" (and JFC “Kung flu”) and you fell over yourselves to excuse, rationalize, and justify his crystal clear meaning with misplaced modifiers and grammar sleights of hand.
  • It was who you were when you looked the other way at kids in cages.
  • It was who you were when travel bans earned your praise.
  • It was who you were when you ignored how Trump started repeating QAnon––how you giggled and exchanged knowing glances when he said "The valiant truth-seeker, fighting-the-good-fight-against-child-trafficking patriots who like me very much? Never heard of him."
  • It was who you were when Trump ignored and criminally mismanaged a global pandemic for months, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands who did not have to die, and you took up the rallying cry of “economy” and threw the most vulnerable into the meat grinder of our immediate financial recovery (which didn’t even work).
  • It was who you were when you poo-pooed the danger of the virus to such a degree that you followed him in aggressively refusing to take even the simplest precautions to protect others, like wearing a mask or not throwing parties.
  • It was who you were when you cheered Mitch McConnell for not even bringing bills (with the support to pass) to the floor of the Senate, enacting his personal, one-man veto on anything he didn’t like and then, standing in front of stack of legislation taller than him that he refused to vote on, accusing the House, with a straight face, of not getting anything done.
  • It was who you were when voice after voice after voice warned you that Trump was the kind of dangerous authoritarian who could end a democracy––that there wasn’t going to be an adult in the room; that the constitution would not come to life and form a giant Mecha with energy cannons if it was ever violated TOO much––but instead of listening, you tossed them into an ever-growing conspiracy of “haters.”
  • It was who you were when you enjoyed the delicious bounty of your “Faustian deal,” as you rushed through a tax code “reform” in the dead of night without debate (that ended up being worse for everyone but the super rich when it was finally unpacked) and when you rammed through one SCOTUS nominee (while silencing the investigation into his credible sexual assault threat that even the FBI said they didn’t have enough time to finish), and when you blasted another through with weeks to go before an election (in breathtaking, spectacular hypocrisy of your “totally not partisan” position four years prior). It was who you were, by the way, when this rushed confirmation left stimulus by the wayside while millions of Americans fell into poverty from your continued inaction.
  • It was who you were when Trump started to contest the election results as fraudulent and you found that was really good for fundraising, so you didn’t shut him down.
  • It was who you were when literally you could tell which GOP members were making a bid for 2024 by who was still saying the election was rigged.
  • It was who you were when his calls for stochastic terrorism grew louder and you watched (or joined) as he fed his people a diet of distrust for any court, journalism medium, expert, or scientist who disagreed with him, so that the whole lot believed with growing fervor in debunked and outrageous conspiracy theories.
  • It was who you were when your response to a president refusing to peacefully transfer power was to form a caucus with "sedition" in the name.
  • It was who you were when you all but ignored an exodus from Facebook (which is not like…..super mean to right-wing groups) so the alt-right could say what they REALLY wanted on Parler, and what they wanted to say turned out to be explicit calls for violence and increasing organization. 
IT IS WHO YOU WERE.

And it was still who you were when the violent consequences of your decisions manifested in the form of a group of domestic terrorists and in a way you seem to think wasn’t telegraphed for years. You can’t retroactively uncouple yourself from the ramifications of your long history of behavior in the last few seconds before the culmination like a professional criminal who really only laments the mistake they made that got them caught.

You cannot be complicit in every step leading up to a (predictable) result and then magically exculpate yourself from the consequences.

It is who you are when your colleagues STILL get up, even the next day, and repeat the most outrageous claims (“it was all ANTIFA!”) with little or no consequences. When they have supported a slow coup and ducked any real or serious consequence by saying "That's not who we are" when the direct consequence of their behavior was violence. It is still who you are when you deliver slaps on the wrist instead of offering serious consequences and removing from power all those who have technically committed treason. It is who you are when nearly half of Republicans still support the storming of the capitol. 

So when you say “this is not who we are” you are in error. At least in the moment you spoke it. This is the just the inevitable conclusion to who you have been for years––for what you have been courting for political gain. This result stood atop the scaffolding you’ve been methodically assembling most of your lives and/or political careers. This is the repercussion that we have been trying to tell you has been inexorably approaching for decades––because, really, Trump was no more than the avatar of all the things festering within the GOP and exploited for political expediency. 

This IS who you are!

But it doesn’t have to be.

Now you have to decide, having looked at the naked, inevitable conclusion of what you have wrought, if this is who you want to continue to be. You cannot be John Hammond standing amongst those killed by the dinosaurs and give a glib, "This is not who we are." You chose all the steps that led to this moment. You encouraged it, organized it, and facilitated it. You can't clutch your pearls that some took the next step. And you can't act as if not repudiating these steps won't continue to lead to escalation. If this isn’t who you want to be, then everything leading up to it has to go as well.

If it doesn’t…this IS who you are.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Solstice Ritual (Navel Gazing)

On midwinter, I went and watched the sunset over the water, and as the longest night began, I considered the road ahead and my own moment of rebirth and renewal.

[The start of this post is repurposed from last year, but the goals themselves (below) are new.]

As much as I've never really done resolutions, and I'm not a particularly big fan of this time of year, I have found a lot of comfort in creating a little solstice ritual that involves a bit of a mental and emotional unpacking and Inventory, and the setting of new goals to start the new year. I was going to just post the goals themselves on Facebook in a cross between accountability and telling my friends what I'm up to, but it ran a little long for FB, fit a little TOO well under "navel gazing," and it seems to me that sometimes the posts I think are almost gratuitously personal and uninteresting to almost everyone turn out, apparently to be surprisingly universal and compelling to many people. So I figured....what the hell. Let's make a post of it. 

As a disclaimer, both these goals and this ritual are intensely personal. I don't think everyone "ought" to do any of them. I don't think they have moral value. I don't think they bring me any closer to humanity's true nature. At the most, I think they involve listening closely to myself and trying to move closer to what would make me happy. Your mileage may vary. You do you.

Woo Factor

I keep most of my metaphysical thoughts pretty close to my chest. There's a filter within a filter within a private account on a social medium where I talk about the things I sometimes experience or dream that are difficult to put into dismissive language. Once in a while, a peep buys me lunch (or just kisses me so often that I have a big soft spot for them), and if they're curious, I'll spill the whole tangled mess. Suffice to say that if they don't know what Unmanifest Brahman or Taoist metaphysics are, we probably end up talking about Babylon 5 and Star Wars more than anything.

The important part to understand––why I'm running around on solstice with a necklace overloaded with charms, and trying to both bend and be bent by "the will of the universe" or some shit, is this: I don't capital-B "Believe" in very much (outside of widely agreed upon cross-cultural empirical human experience). I don't waste time making sure everyone knows I DON'T believe either. But with most extraordinary claims, I consider the verdict to be out until/unless more extraordinary evidence is presented.

Perhaps I'm just too skeptical. Perhaps I also found one too many atheists insufferable to be willing to count myself among them. But one thing I've seen evidence of, time and again, is the focal power of symbols and metaphor, the reorienting strength of ritual, in human lives. I know that sounds pretty woo, but all you have to do is change the language, if you want to tuck your resident atheist into bed without giving them nightmares. The Placebo Effect is a real, measured phenomenon of the mind affecting the body. Our "Rorschach Inkblot" interpretations of random patterns around us provide personal psychological insight into ways of thinking we might not even be consciously aware of. Our ability to focus on an idea can be enhanced with a physical object that jogs our sensory experience with tactile and visual reminders, or by repetitively doing something that reminds us. You can talk about meditation reducing cortisol inflammation and anxiety levels without ever getting into balancing your energies or your third eye.

So that's what's going on. If you're one type of person, I tell you that I'm going to clear my head and mindfully focus on some symbols while I enter a non-drug-induced altered state of consciousness through mindful breathing. If you're another type of person, I tell you I'm going to take my fetishes up to a place of power to do some solstice magic.

Of course, to a third type I say only, "I'm going to do a blasphemy. Pure unadulterated, Claude-Frollo-sentences-you-to-be-lashed-in-the-public-square-for-heresy blasphemy."


Now, When I Say Goals....

Some people are taskmasters with their goals. They are going to quit this. Learn those. Lose that. This is the day their life changes, by God. I think that's one of the reasons I'd rather leave "resolutions" to other people to suss out at the flip of the Gregorian calendar, and find a day a little more personally meaningful for me than one where I'm mostly watching everyone nursing hangovers and being appalled that the brunch place isn't open until 2 p.m. Most folks want their goals to hurt because it's time to live life differently (goddamnit), and if they have to wear leather with spikes and yell German at themselves, they're going to make it happen.

It's not that kind of movie, kid.

I mean, I could do that. I certainly have in the past. I am nothing if not overdo-it capable. But I find the Venn diagram between people who set taskmastery goals and people who are back to their old ways by Jan. 8th is aaaaaaaaaalmost a perfect circle.

For me, solstice goals are more like fiddling with the knobs. Slight adjustments. I may have a goal to get something done but I'm not going to stand over myself with a riding crop. (I let other people do that if they negotiate....erm perhaps another time.) These goals are not supposed to alter my entire lifestyle or be hard to keep up with. Often they're things I want to do––those things encouraged of me by little inner voices throughout the year, saying, "You should do more of this," or "You should do less of that."

I feel like most resolutions––certainly of the New Year variety––consist mostly of people slamming themselves into a wall in hopes that they hit it hard enough to break through like they're fucking Bugs Bunny. They hope to leave a little them-shaped hole in all those obstacles. And usually they end up smashing themselves more than anything. For me, solstice goals are more like redirecting the force of what's already there to something a bit more aligned with my objectives and values.

The Candle

Timing and a knee that still needs a bit more rest from an injury last month prevented me from doing more than a brief sojourn into the green outdoors. Instead I lit a candle. I listened and focused and occasionally spoke only the most carefully chosen words. And between my life of busy and my ADHD and my desire to immediately synthesize everything into language, I so rarely do any of those things. Being still enough to hear myself is sometimes a conscious effort. 

I sat and thought about the past year and the one coming up. I thought about how this year has tested every coping mechanism I've had, and they cracked and sometimes buckled, but (barely) held.  I thought about what I want my life to look like––not pipe dreams but actual hopes. This time next year. In five years.

I thought about the pandemic and all the ways it changed what I had intended to do from last year. I talked to a thing. I don't claim to have the answer as to whether I was talking to myself or something was listening.

I thought about where my time and energy have gone, and places where those things do not align with my values and objectives. I thought about what would make me happy. I have kept up with cooking. I have enjoyed photography. I have gotten my sleep schedule under control. I **NAILED** my mental goals, and in many ways it was a testament to the fact that, as badly as I did this year reaching last year's goals, I actually did hit MOST of them in which the goalposts didn't change. 

I thought about where my time and energy should go and the person I want to be. I visualized closely a life I desire in both form and function. And again, if you are one type of person, I would tell you I am envisioning goals and objectives to assert my will consciously to inform my small and sometimes "less conscious" choices to help me manifest those goals as well as to see avenues to said goals that I might otherwise miss. And if you were another type of person, I would tell you I was casting a spell. 

I thought about some things I have not the heart to tell you. And if that sounds like I should be Legolas pouring a pitcher of water into a pool, you have exactly the right inflection. 

And when the candle sputtered and began to die, I put it out with my fingers like they do in the movies, and I had a slice of orange chocolate before making dinner.

Goals

Last year's goals basically washed. They washed HARD. I was making good progress on most of them by the equinox, but at that same time it was clear that we were in for a bad global pandemic. Lockdowns were in place, and a lot of things didn't look like what I imagined they would when I set the goals. I became my chosen family's only nanny, and overnight, my hours went from 8-10 to 30 and sometimes more. That impacted everything from my writing to how exhausted I felt as I walked through the world. Plus the pandemic itself took its toll mentally and emotionally. And whether it was the forever ramp up to the 2020 election and the rapidly accelerating fascism or that AND the pandemic working in tandem, I barely even kept up with some of my basic writing habits (like a decent blog article twice a week).

Also I was living alone when the airlock doors came down. I had just begun to cast about with an eye on a nesting partner or a polycule family. And this year has been, at times, desperately lonely in that regard. 

This year I can't take anything for granted. I don't even know when the vaccine might change our lives. So I adjusted my goals to include what I want to try to expect from myself before the pandemic ends and included goals in parentheses that I might try to incorporate if the new normal reaches us before late next fall.

Writing

  • 2 solid posts per week
  • Reading Fiction
  • (Work hours)
  • (Prioritize novel)


I essentially work as a part-time nanny and write when I can. This arrangement keeps everyone SLIGHTLY miserable, but we are surviving. As I have begun to feel my sphincter unclenching a little about Trump and fascism, I notice I am regaining my ability to write. I don't want to assume I'll be back to my old self (and I certainly can't assume my hours will cooperate with my ambitions) until there is a vaccine, but I think with some weekend effort and my renewed vigor, concentration, and discipline, I can make sure I get at least two "good" posts up a week.

Like many people, I found my ability to read fiction was severely impaired after the 2016 election. I just could not get into it. And I have probably read something like ten books a year since then. (That is like....almost a tenth of my usual rate.) I still read voraciously, but mostly non-fiction articles, think pieces, news, and such. I still ENJOY reading fiction when I tie myself to the mast and ignore Facebook's siren call. So I'm going to start slow––one book a week––and if I'm not quite up to that, I'll readjust, but just thinking about it as a low-key obligation might help crowbar me off of screen time. 

I had to give up on my novel this year to help my family. We all made sacrifices (including those poor kids). That one was mine.  If the pandemic hellscape gives way to a vaccine, I will return to working work hours each weekday on writing.

In addition, acknowledging that I have severe ADD, I must make a tweak. I will always expand to fill up as much time as I give myself for this blog. After seven years I must admit this and attempt a redirection of force instead of trying to meet it head on with willpower. While on occasion, there isn't 
enough time, there is never too much time. There is only ever just enough time. Because my brain doesn't work very well until the screws start turning. So if I have six hours to write a post, it gets done in five hours and fifty-five minutes. If I have EIGHT hours to write the exact same post, it gets done in SEVEN hours and fifty-five minutes.

So if (or dare I hope..."WHEN") I end up returning to my old schedule, I do my novel first. I have to, or I will never get to it. The end of the day will always be getting something in right under deadline, and I have not managed to rewire my brain to finish blogging with an hour or so to spare. The fiction must come first. I'll probably start with a page a day and see how that feels. The important thing is that novel writing happens first.


Physical

  • Hiking/Walking (10 miles/week)
  • (Hiking/Walking [25 miles/week])
  • (Tai Chi-Once a week)
Last year I started with some wonderful hikes and unfortunately, between my schedule and the cavalier attitude of my fellow hikers to wearing masks (but mostly my schedule), I pared it down considerably. I'd like to get it back up to 10 miles for sure and, if the pandemic's effects are mitigated, increase it beyond that. I still want to build up to some big nature hikes. 

In college I took Tai Chi to fulfil a physical education requirement, and that chuffed my Maguffs. My ADD brain is not good with the sit-still brand of meditation ("Oh good luck with THAT!", my brain says), but the kinds that involve repetitive moving are really quite wonderful. (I think that's half the appeal of hiking.) I could probably find a distanced one in a park that wouldn't be risky, but my client is immunocompromised, and I'm not taking any chances.


Emotional

  • Less "dribble"
  • More fun
  • Keeping up with calendar
My online life is an amazing balancing act. I'm not amazing AT it, understand, but if I didn't spend most of my time flat on my face, the act itself would be impressive. I can't walk away from "online" because that's where I promote my work and most of the reason I get paid. (I also wouldn't want to because that's where 95% of my social interactions are.) Any effort to reduce online time usually lasts only a couple of days. And yet I am often "stuck," refreshing Facebook or reading ONE MORE article. And while I am comfortable with my political and ethical convictions, I know that my biases are being stoked to make me angry all the time by algorithms that monetize my anger. 

What I want is for my life to be more deliberate. So much springs forth from that. From more writing time to reading to potentially taking up an instrument. But when I'm stuck online, I feel like I'm dribbling. I'm not really working. I'm not really playing. I'm not really enjoying myself. I'm just....THERE. Scratching that itch, sometimes for HOURS. I don't know how much it will work to just think about this and commit to "not getting stuck as often," but if that doesn't work, I can install some Facebook monitor app or something. Sometimes just being aware of something helps. 

I did not do well with this last year. The pandemic and election exacerbated these behaviors. So I'm still working on it this year.

To that end I want to "play hard." Or at least harder. Instead of four hours doing nothing on Facebook as reruns play of shows that I've seen multiple times, I want to close the window and do the things I want to do––that I LIKE doing. Watching new shows that I must sit and pay attention to. Playing video games. Reading. I have so many things I really do WANT to do, but so often I sit and refresh FB over and over while Supernatural or House MD or something grinds through a season every week or two as little more than ambient noise. I'm going to start putting PLAY time in my daily schedule to help encourage me to spend more time away from FB. Maybe I can't do it by just willpower and have never had much luck from simply saying, "Must.....not.....Facebook!" However, it's very likely that working WITH my brain, I can find success in saying, "Oh that's my 4pm alarm. It's Fallout o'clock!"

My 2019 day calendar was perhaps my most important tool in keeping myself from feeling too much like I was spinning out of control. Therapy was great, and one of the enduring lessons I took from it was to do what kept me feeling in control before I felt OUT of control. When I kept up with all the little aspects of my day calendar (scheduled posts, planned writing, budget, adulting), I knew how much money I could spend and be okay. I knew what blog posts were going up and when. And I knew when I was going to take care of that thing. When I let it slide, some of those things made me anxious. ("Someone canceled a $5 Patron. How will I afford food this month?") Having a thing I can look at that basically says "That fear is unfounded. Chillax!" helps profoundly. In 2020, I was absolute crap about keeping that calendar. So I'd like to start again as (the first) part of a daily routine.


Mental

I'm not going to make mental goals this year. I did well on the ones from last year that weren't time sink sensitive (learning piano), and right now I'm going to put that energy towards a combination of maintaining what I've managed and working on the other "spheres." Sometimes you can bolster emotional development with a little extra braining.



I will take inventory of my progress at the summer solstice and on the equinoxes and probably find I'm doing well with some things and need to be more deliberate about others. Plus at some point in the next year, life will probably start to go back to normal as many or most of us start to have Covid antibodies. 

The world will keep hurtling around the sun. 

The days will shorten again, and this year will come to a close and I will again think of where my life is, where I want it to be, and how I can get there. 

But for now, the longest night is over, and my heart and ambition begin to unfurl again. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

What A Week

My wake up face.
Well, I woke up to some decent news! And I feel a little better than I have in (*checks watch*), oh, about four years.

Like any proper leftist, I'm not going to take a victory lap and relax until the next election cycle. (Voting: It's literally the LEAST you can do.) There will be protests and demonstrations and marches and writing to representatives, and of course I'm a writer so I have that whole "My pen is my weapon!" complex going on, and what I "do" is mostly try to influence hearts and minds with my writing here. 

But HOLY GOOD GOD DAMN FUCKING SHIIIIIIIT, am I ever looking forward to having just a little bit less to write about partisan politics. Partisan politics is the necessary evil of policy and governance (can't govern if you don't win), but 90% of the time it is kind of background radiation to social issues and cultural narratives, and those are actually what I like to unpack, examine, and write about. But since fascism and open white supremacy on the ballot WAS a social issue and the entire Republican movement over the last four years has been a cultural narrative*, well, you can see how it affected the last couple of years of my writing. 

(*Not that it's really over. I wasn't born like.....an HOUR ago. It's just going to change form like a Pokemon evolving. 70 million Americans knew EXACTLY what they were getting and said, "Not a dealbreaker.")

Hell, maybe I'll even get in a post reviewing a movie or a video game, an occasional navel gazing personal update or something (and a bit more content over on WAW), and not feel like I might be missing the opportunity to do just a little bit more to save our (admittedly flawed) democracy.

Thank you all for your patience while I twisted and turned and bit my pillow (none of it in the good way). We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming. 


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Selecting Your Difficulty Level: Voting and Video Games (20 Leftist Goals That Will be Easier Under Biden)

Today is the fourth of my series of posts about voting—particularly in THIS election. [And on a personal note, I had to trash several days worth of my regular update schedule to take this from concept notes to a polished final draft, so I appreciate the patience of anyone who was wondering where my usual posts were.]

As one goes further left in U.S. politics, the chances grow rather quickly of finding folks who don’t vote, vote for third parties or write in candidates as “protest,” or generally make sure you know they’re “leftists” not “liberals,” hate the DNC, and find everyone but maybe "the squad" entirely too moderate and impure for them to endorse, support, or vote for. (They also, as a broad generalization, seem to have a weird inability to notice that Senator Kamala Harris rates more liberal by every watchdog group than Bernie Sanders who they think of as the One True Leftist™ in politics––but that could probably be its whole own post. Left-over primary season self-righteousness is a hell of a drug.) 

These are the folks that find compromise on issues like health care to be unacceptable. They are the ones who cannot abide by a mainstream politician who has made, or sometimes even supported a politically centrist policy at any time during their career….even if it goes back perhaps decades. (And, frankly, some of them just hate anyone without a S and and “anders” in their last name.) The harm the Democratic people causes people isn't trivial and they don't accept it just because it's not as much.

And let’s be clear that a lot could be said about these folks. They’re not exactly wrong. Ideologically speaking, I’m one of them. I just yell at the clouds like Grandpa Simpson where it’s most effective and vote…well….ALSO where it’s actually most effective. But Democrats regularly court the far left's votes and then throw them under the bus as a matter of standard operating procedure. ("Oh....did I say socialized medicine? I meant a complicated system of paying insurance companies and a mandate that you must. We'll get you a subsidy, though! Just fill out ten miles of paperwork.") There is no viable left-wing party in U.S. politics. Not really. There are some left-wing parties but voting for them is pragmatically the same as ceding power by inaction and probably instantly gets you on an FBI watchlist. 

But no major political party in the United States (of which there are TWO––take it or leave it) is having a serious conversation about redistributing wealth. Actual leftist folks are NOT represented by the U.S. political spectrum (arguably by design). And frankly, no one is entitled to anyone’s vote, even if "the other guy is totes worse, yo." On a global continuum, Democrats land just right of center, and as a party have never taken a stand against colonization or capitalism, or taken a firm position against police brutality, a MUCH higher tax on the super wealthy, fought hard for social justice issues like institutional racism, really come down against environmental destruction, or found alternatives to cowering in the corner* and begging Republicans not to hurt them every time the latter group demonstrates that it will have no respect for bylaws or precedent and is about to make a naked, “who’s gonna stop us....YOU?” flavored power grab.

*Democrats like to call this "going high." They would apparently rather be governed by the conservative minority from the low ground than engage in anything that has the appearance of unseemly procedural politics.

On the other hand, these same leftists seem more intent on calling people bootlickers, blocking their agree-with-almost-everything-but-the-pragmatism-of-a-protest-vote friends on social media, and sharing dank memes than they are intent on winning hearts and minds with ideas they assure everyone are vastly superior. (And….just so we’re clear, before we go any further, I should again make it crystal clear that I’m mostly one of them.) The message they seem to think they’re sending to Democrats didn’t work in 2016 or even as far back as 2000 when one could arguably say their votes DID swing the election in key states. And their political strategy seems primarily based on showing up every four years, putting a gun to their own heads and threatening to blow away their own political power on write-ins, protest votes, or pure apathy if they are not appeased by Democrats in purple districts embracing various third-rail leftist issues or abandoning all semblance of the decorum without which one cannot get elected in our society. And without getting elected––and this should go without saying, but so often doesn’t in these circles––one cannot govern. (Making the ideal leftist dream candidate, who calls conservatives names and demands policies for which there is no political will, UTTERLY unelectable.) Ironically, the idea that—given how many of them (us) there are––they could pull the entire DNC platform to the left in under a decade by joining the party en masse doesn’t seem to have as much catharsis to them as simply getting pissed off, taking their ball, and going home to watch Democrats lose again (and presumably not be too troubled by watching the folks they claim to champion suffering under Republicans).

It is no wonder they are the ones that Russian psyops and right-wing false flags so consistently target as "the weak underbelly" of the left-wing of U.S. politics. Essentially, by reminding them of what the more conservative end of the necessarily broad Democrat coalition finds acceptable (or by playing a highlight reel of a politician’s most compromising and/or right-wing-y choices), leftists can be convinced to disenfranchise THEMSELVES in write-ins, protest votes, and abstention, thereby ceding power by inaction to the right wing.

Pragmatism and idealism are big values struggled fiercely over at that end of the political spectrum. Tacit approval of corrupt systems is still approval, and voting for someone who has essentially embraced ideologies, and likely even signed legislation anathema to one’s personal philosophies or even HARMFUL in terms of objective results is understandably an awful position to put anyone in. This Faustian deal is particularly compounded when sneering Democrats catechize leftists about who ELSE they're going to vote for. For leftists, saying “Here, buddy. Have the power to govern me” to someone who has shown that they absolutely WILL use that power to hurt them and theirs is a fucking tough sell.

I’m not here to sling insults or besmirch decisions, but I would like to challenge the existing narrative. Because leftists reach for one particular way to frame this dilemma over and over again: that Democrats don’t share their values and are against them, and moderate policies ALSO hurt them SO WHY EVEN BOTHER. (Personally, I would argue that Republicans and Democrats are far from the same, but this article is not about challenging that perception.) That we shouldn’t HAVE to vote for the LESSER evil and this “it is what it is” shit is hard to swallow cycle after cycle as change, if it comes at all, is glacial and wiped out by the first fifteen minutes of a GOP regime. 

But there’s another way to think of this. Another way to frame this narrative.

Like a video game. Specifically, that screen where you get to choose your difficulty.

See, no one thinks a video game is ON THEIR SIDE. The game is working against them. (The metaphor breaks down, of course, because this is about power, not fun, but if you stay within the margins, it makes sense.) A player has to defeat enemies who want to destroy them. There are powerful bosses. A gamer is likely to fail a few times and have to go back to a save point (or something). The end boss might even be super challenging and in some cases require hundreds of hours of work to have a chance of succeeding. (Even on a relatively easy game.) The system of the video game is not their ally. They are literally working to defeat it.

But many video games do allow for choosing a difficulty level. Maybe you have more ability to get hit, or your enemies less. Maybe you start out with more resources, or they are easier to find. Maybe the number of random encounters with enemies goes down. The game might be working against you and you might be working against the game, but it is just EASIER. The hard parts are still hard, but they’re easier than if you crank the difficulty. And if you DO crank the difficulty, you can often find that just walking around in the world becomes incredibly difficult.

Voting for a Democrat (particularly at a moment in history like this one) is setting the difficulty at a lower setting. It will make for an easier experience for any leftist, whether they be a card-carrying communist or an anarchist, a democratic socialist who would like to see a more Scandinavian model taken seriously, or even just a party line Democrat. We don’t have to share the official DNC “victory condition” objectives or like their candidates’ every past move to recognize that a Democrat makes life as a leftist easier than a Republican. Especially THIS Republican. The hard parts are still going to be very very hard, and we’ve lots of work to do, but they’ll be easier. And it won’t be so fucking dangerous to just walk around.

My leftist friends, this doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t be working against socialism, or radical liberation movements, or that they never passed a bill that targets sex workers or trans folks or hurt a community of color. (They don't, they have, they will again.) It just means that EVERY. SINGLE. GOAL. OR. OBJECTIVE. ––both pragmatic and idealistic––that we leftists have will just be that much EASIER to accomplish under a Democrat. 

Not easy. Just a lower difficulty.

1. Having Codified Power- The reason you get to cheer on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the squad” ––or (if you’re a certain stripe of leftist) hang on Bernie Sanders’ every word and make sure everyone knows he would have done a better job at…..whatever––is because SOMEONE VOTED FOR THEM. At some point they won their elections. That's WHY they have power. The political landscape in their area was liberal enough that their constituents felt represented. That can’t happen if elections are ceded by inaction to the other party. 

2. Discourse- Arguably, the reason that the far left can’t muster more than about 30% turnout during Democratic primaries is because they are still trying to win the war of ideals (and less so, trying to get their people to actually show up). A hearts-and-minds persuasion campaign is not as glamorous to think about as revolutions and not as fun as making dank memes about bootlickers. It is long, unrewarding work, but it is also how movements make progress. Do you imagine that discourse is going to be easier under the party that thinks your goals are all worthy (but that maybe you’re not being pragmatic about how to get the political will to make it happen), or under the party who is framing mainstream Democrats as enemies of the state, characterizing activist groups as terrorists, and working to make it illegal to say what you’re saying? You think people are going to listen to talk of socialism MORE or LESS if we enter a new McCarthy era or have ONE viable party? Or do you imagine your subversive and possibly illegal ideas will be more difficult to talk about?

3. The Overton Window- If you’re trying to move U.S. politics to the left and maybe someday even see the U.S. abandon some of its destructive legacies, deep-seated culture of bigotry towards various groups, and harmful policies both parties embrace (like allowing monopolies ungodly power), do you imagine that this will be easier with a party whose lefter members already question these things and are willing to move the slider, or with the wing that is actively hostile and pulls to the right whenever they can still do so and win elections?

4. A POTUS Who Might Listen- Simply getting through to a sitting president is NOT EASY. A certain level of….let’s say self-assuredness is required just to run for the position. While there is some evidence that Trump tends to default to taking advice from the last person with whom he was in the room when he has too many options he likes or really doesn’t know what to do, these are his advisors groveling to his ego (and evidence suggests, playing him). When it comes to listening to economists, diplomats, military experts, scientists, historians, the vast majority of the citizens over which he governs, he demonstrates a singular… “disinclination.” Even being nearly killed by Covid-19 didn’t convince him to be any less cavalier about blowing off every safety precaution advised by the very same medical science that almost certainly saved his life. Do you imagine getting the president to listen to reason, science, a huge swath of constituents would be easier with Trump or with Biden?

5. Environmental Concerns- Of course, the Green New Deal is a plan the far left wants, and it would be great if we could just circumvent those pesky democracy concerns and mandate it tomorrow. But in the meantime (until we have a leftist military coup and a socialist utopia enforced at gunpoint by an authoritarian regime), we have to work our ground game and SELL people the idea.  And do you imagine that this will be easier with the candidate who has agreed that anthropogenic climate change is the existential crisis of our century and has said that getting back into the Paris Accords will happen on day one (but has some sobering concerns about how quickly fossil fuel economies can be shifted to renewables and how all this is going to get paid for)? Or do you imagine that this will be easier with the candidate that mocks anyone who says there’s a problem, has called climate change a political hoax as recently as this month (usually insinuating that it's China's doing), pulled us out of The Paris Accords, passes federal laws to undermine states trying to regulate the use of fossil fuels, and has made denial that it is even really an issue a PART OF HIS PLATFORM as well as spending four years deregulating SO much that pollution problems we spent decades fixing have already returned?

6. Anti-Racism- The reason Black Lives Matter was able to bring so much attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system in the wake of George Floyd’s extrajudicial murder is because they (BLM) had been talking about the issue since the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That’s seven years to start moving the needle on the national conversation. Now do you imagine that sort of progress is going to be easier under a regime that has its problems and needs to unpack some assumptions and challenge systems with racism baked in but that seems more willing every day to challenge a problematic past and be inclusive, or under the regime of the party telling BLM they’re a bunch of terrorists and anyone who doesn’t just let the police kill them can fuck off and die? In fact, we can see the different reactions to the 2020 protests in the candidates themselves. One is clearly a higher difficulty level.

7. Anti-Bigotry- Really the same thing goes for any anti-bigotry. Feminism? Trans liberation? LGBTQIA+ rights? Do you think that getting to where you want to be is going to be easier with a group who generally (except perhaps for its most conservative members) wants the same things but sometimes can’t find the political will to make it happen, or with the party that is overtly hostile to these folks and friendly to the folks who want to treat them as social pariahs and that practically has “Wink Wink Nudge Nudge” stamped on the legislation it passes allowing bigotry against such groups in the name of “religious freedom.” Do you imagine that the courts, where issues of civil rights and liberties are usually hashed out (rather than the legislature), are going to be more or less open minded under Republican appointees? 

8. Body Autonomy- Do you imagine the body autonomy of people with uteruses is going to be more respected by the folks who (generally) consider the right to medical care to be sacrosanct and access and privacy surrounding family planning a basic medical human right, or by the party that is nakedly and transparently packing the court with anti-choice SCOTUS justices so that they can challenge Roe v. Wade piecemeal….or even whole cloth? The party who has made access to abortion a priority in the states they control or the one who has shut down Planned Parenthoods in the states THEY control?

9. Taxes Reform (The Real Kind)- Which party do you imagine is going to make it easier to pass a more progressive tax code? Which party would (in fact DOES) discuss taxing the rich at a greater rate and would make it easier to fund programs that help poorer folks? And would Trump or Biden veto the shit out of anything like that if it landed on their desk––making it that much harder to get done?

10. Social Issues- You see where this is going, right? You can fit almost any issue in here and ask yourself the same question. I don’t need to list them all. From immigration reform to labor rights to equality issues to early childhood education, they will have the same basic breakdown. Do you think you’re going to get more under a regime that drags its feet and won’t (or often can’t––because governing a pluralistic society is hard) get things done as well or quickly as the leftist line, or do you think you're going to get more under the regime of the group that is openly hostile and derisive to all those things? Anything from school lunches to kids in cages to SNAP benefits to regressive tax “reforms.” It’s all the same. Which party do you think is going to make it easier to achieve some concessions, achieve some progress, achieve SOME middle ground, and which party wants to pass laws going exactly the other way ALL the time and to make every single thing you might want to accomplish much much much more difficult? Even something relatively simple like taking a more nuanced look at Christopher Columbus and indigenous history, we can see which side is going to make it easier, and which side is going to make White House official statements that any such nuance is anathema to the “spirit of patriotism.”

11. Safety and Security- There is no question that our entire society and all on the political spectrum are hostile to certain marginalized communities, but one thing we’ve seen in the last four years is that while Democrats may not expend their political capital to make things better, Republicans can always, always, always, ALWAYS make them worse. Fucking always. Do you imagine a president who is openly, nakedly racist, refuses to condemn white supremacy or fringe conspiracy groups, and whose rhetoric encourages stochastic terrorism will make keeping folks (particularly marginalized folks) safe and secure easier or harder? Do you imagine folks for whom simply walking around has become difficult will be more likely to take chances putting their time and energy and money into all those leftist causes if they are spending more time just trying to make sure they and their family are getting by and safe and staying alive?

12. Health and Livelihood- The same goes for heath and livelihood. Possibly literally, as the gutting of the A.C.A. is absolutely on the ballot this year. Do you imagine people going through foreclosures because of medical bills or watching loved ones die are going to be more or less likely to have time and energy for a leftist mobilization? Do you imagine that lacking affordable health care or conversely being unable to miss a day of work because even REMOTELY affordable healthcare is coupled with employment would make it easier or harder on the average person?

13. Covid Response- Do you imagine we’re going to slow the body count that is directly affecting some of the most marginalized communities with a president who is ready to embrace national leadership, whose party has pushed for some serious stimulus, who personally takes the CDC guidelines seriously, or with the president who knew the truth and didn’t tell us, has actively hidden data that looks bad, yanked data from the CDC because they told him opening wasn't a gangbusters idea, who mocks basic medically recommended precautions as “living in fear,” and whose basic outlook on stimulus is, “Fuck you. It’ll ruin the Dow. Get your whiny asses back to work"?

14. Socialism- I know it’s a dirty word that conservatives are afraid of even though by calling everything socialism they demonstrate breathtakingly that they actually don’t understand what it even is. Many conservative voters even favor policies that are MORE socialist...as long as the word "socialism" is taken out of the description. But if we think of Capitalism vs. Socialism as a slider moving from left to right instead of a switch that is either on or off, which party do you think is going to make moving the slider to the left towards “socialism” easier? Which party already favors safety nets, social programs, expanding medicare, progressive tax structure, keeping social security funded, and increasing minimum wage? Which party hates ALL those things, has strategy memos about how to win a war of attrition against the New Deal, wants to go back to a flat tax, and will cut costs by privatizing health care, education, and even retirement? Which group has a higher difficulty level?



But hey. Maybe all this policy wonkery isn’t your style. Maybe you think taking to the streets and mobilizing and organizing is the key to change rather than getting your hands impure with all that mainstream politics. I might encourage anyone with such a belief to take a look around and notice how many of the U.S. proletariat’s deep-seated and very real concerns they are literally refusing to take political action on in pursuit of “loftier ideas” for which they want those exact same people’s support, but that’s a different article. Even if you don’t, strictly speaking, believe in "harm reduction," you can still turn down the difficulty level on what you ARE trying to accomplish.

15-Activism/Protest- Do you suppose there will be more or fewer people able to go to marches and protests and weekly meetings and write persuasive articles and give their time, energy, and money to a cause under the party that generally struggles for labor rights, health care, and accountability in law enforcement? Or do you suppose that you’ll get a lot more people who CAN’T participate, are afraid of the consequences, or can’t AFFORD to take a day off to take part in a march or something under the party that is openly hostile to all those things….well, at least when the left is doing them (seems like domestic terrorists invading capitol buildings in Michigan get a pass). Do you imagine that standing up and being counted (if you are a "mob" instead of a "militia," that is) will be easier or harder as the consequences increase for doing so?

16. Full-on Civil Unrest- Which party do you think is going to outlaw mass protesting or at least make certain kinds of protesting illegal? (You don’t have to imagine this. You can just look and see which party has already tried to pass exactly such legislation.) Which party is going to accelerate police brutality? (Again…which party HAS?) Which party is more likely to react to grievances in better faith? And if you do have police cracking down (via various work-arounds to the first amendment), which party will make peaceful assembly harder? Again, it’s not like there’s never been protests and/or police brutality under a Democrat. That’s absurd. But Trump has made it crystal clear that it’s going to be HARDER under him.

17. Finding (and Sharing) Quality Information- Do you imagine Donald Trump with his open contempt and hostility for the fourth estate, a history of coverups of everything from translators speaking about his sideline conversations with geopolitical enemies to his taxes to the dangers he knew about Covid way back in February, and shrill insistence that anything he doesn’t like must be “fake news” is going to make it easier or harder to access reliable information? You may not like the mainstream media and its corporate, GE/Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Warner Media monopolies on what news you even have access to, but do you imagine that things will be easier or harder under a regime that actively undermines the press at every turn? What about social media? Do you think it’s going to be easier to find reliable information on social media under the party that is instigating hearings into social media’s effects on democracy, or under the group that hired Cambridge Analytica, shrugs at Russian troll farm meddling, claims a "fact check" is censorship, and thinks that anyone with money should be able to spread just as many lies as they want without so much as a fact check?

18. Grassroots Movements/Parallel Infrastructure- Of Trump or Biden, which do you think would be more accepting of movements that build political power by doing what government ought to be doing, though at the community level; however who also do so with an activist/leftist bent? Which do you imagine will have federal agents who seize assets and shut programs down on technicalities? (Not because they actually did anything “wrong,” but because they were hotbeds of “radical antifa liberal” thought.) Which do you think will make it harder for such a group to influence policy? Which do you think will just make it simply HARDER to exist as such an organization?

19-Democracy (flawed though it may be)- We are a flawed democracy. That is a matter of fact. (Feel free to look it up. We're on the edge, but it's true.) We're more an oligarchy really and with profound disenfranchisement, particularly of marginalized groups. But which candidate has been encouraging voting? And which has openly said anti-democratic shit? Which party "gets out the vote!" and which party floats, writes, endorses, proposes, votes for, and fights the legal battles to maintain laws that disenfranchise voters (particularly CERTAIN voters)? Which party is more likely to use computers to gerrymander the SHIT out of states so that some votes literally count for less? Which candidate has said he won’t accept the election results? Which candidate has hinted around that he will want more than two terms (“My political opposition made me do it.”) Which party makes vox populi a higher difficulty level at every opportunity?

20. The Vaunted “Revolution”- I just want to take a moment to address the leftist elephant in the room: the “revolution” everyone seems so keen on. While I’ll laugh at a clever guillotine meme, and I understand the language of the unheard, people who have watched too many movies maybe don’t understand just how many people get killed (and which underclasses will take the brunt of these casualties) if folks try their hand against the greatest military in history on its home soil, and against a party that finds the Geneva conventions or the rules of engagement....constraining. If we do end up sparking a revolution under a Democratic regime, it is more likely to be a cultural metamorphosis. A huge tectonic shift in social norms and ideology. A "movement." We’ve seen what this looks like. Not without its civil unrest (I’m no credulous naïf), but perhaps without tanks in the streets and live ammunition. And we’ve already seen who militarizes and demands violence from the governors they don’t think are being heavy-handed enough. Which revolution do you imagine is going to have a higher difficulty level….(of even surviving, never mind of effectively changing anything)?

I could go on. This list isn’t even exhaustive. Leftists can’t get what they want out of U.S. mainstream politics, but the idea that the election outcome doesn’t matter is absurd. Just the great awareness of the coming shift in judicial outcomes is proof that elections matter.

Everything that someone who claims to be lefter than liberal (and I’m talking about those who go to great pains to make sure that everyone knows that liberals are too moderate and they don’t consider themselves to be one)…..

EVERY goal they have….

EVERY objective they’re trying to accomplish……

EVERY SINGLE THING they want to see in the world….

ALL OF IT will be easier under a Biden presidency. And so, so, so much harder under a smug-about-winning and likely unfathomably vengeful Donald Trump regime.