Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"OK Boomer"

If you've been online in the last couple of weeks, you've probably run into someone who has responded to some criticism of younger folks as coddled or sensitive (or perhaps the idea that the current problems of our time simpy require even more  aggressive capitalism to be fixed) with "OK Boomer."

"OK Boomer" is such a microcosm of our social interactions in the modern era. It works as an overlay to almost any marginalized group that develops a phrase or saying or something to demonstrate that they are fed up with trying to calmly explain how fucking EXHAUSTED they are, handling with kid gloves those who are blaming them for everything.

You see it time and again. A million thoughtful think pieces. A thousand careful provable challenges to the facts that supposedly support the broken narrative being advanced. Hundreds of reasonable debates. Time after time of showing that there's not somehow some magical entire generation that just came out "lazy"––they really have had it harder.

And how far do the marginalizers move? Not one goddamned centimeter. At the end of the day they thank everyone involved in these debates, discussions, and writings for being *reasonable* and turn around and keep saying the same exact thing over and over again. And so the marginalized group, struggling for something more than a satisfying evening of debates, finally shrugs and dismisses them with a phrase about being trash or colonizing everything or being "at it again"....

Or "OK Boomer."

Once upon a time, there was no choice for these groups but to keep playing nice. Any voice that became frustrated enough to be dismissive was silenced--literally blackballed out of any media exposure. They had to be properly deferential in order to earn the right to describe their own mistreatment. The mainstream had the impression that all these debates were just so reasonable; no one was really upset that the powerful casually voiced their thoughts that the marginalized were basically causing the downfall of civilization by having the temerity to keep existing. Those conversations where groups were just DONE being mischaracterized and blamed went on in coffee houses and bars and almost entirely underground. Now a powerful new medium exists that makes simply erasing and silencing someone a whole lot more difficult. The cultural censure of doubt that someone is capable of relaying their own lived experiences is still there, but you can't just pluck the voices themselves whole cloth right out of the discussion anymore.

For most of the history of mass media, controlling the narrative meant mainstream consumers never being aware that a group had hit the moment of "Fucking DONE." Today, with the advent of SOCIAL media, you can see that flashpoint happen in real time. You can witness the EXACT cultural moment that a critical mass of people in the maligned and besmirched group simply gives up trying to explain their side of the situation, invoke nuance, or appeal to compassion. And now we've seen it over and over again.

"OK Boomer" is the latest in a long line of moments where the marginalized have simply left the table because what is the damned point.

And then the reaction hits.

I watch a five-year-old who likes to either win or REALLY win at every game we play, and I can't tell you how much this reaction reminds me of him. I'll play the games he's invented for a while as he keeps tweaking the rules further and further to his advantage so that it basically becomes impossible for him to lose ("Okay but if I touch this pillow, then I can regenerate and have a shield for thirty seconds, okay, Uncle Chris?"). Finally, I tell him I'm not interested in playing a game that he has rigged to be impossible for him to lose and he gets pretty indignant and reminds me a lot of the way no small number of Boomers are behaving, about being told this one-sided interaction is over.

Just like white people get incensed when BIPOC folks are no longer willing to be "reasonable" explaining why they are upset. Just like men get upset when women just start rolling their eyes instead of carefully laying out systematic and systemic abuse for the gazilligillionth time. Just like folks who've never struggled with their birth gender assignment get mad when being told they are at it again.

Setting aside for a moment that a generation who has told the youth to "grow a thick skin," "stop being so sensitive about everything," and "fuck their feelings, snowflake" for a decade has fallen into the mud crying over something as innocuous as "OK Boomer," and after listening to a lifetime to stories of bootstraps and "sticktoitiveness"––though they came from a time with an entirely different financial reality––there is a spectacular kind of irony in the sheer unmitigated fury and lack of cope on display that being dismissed, ignored, and edged out of the conversation is something they can't control (in EVERY corner of social media) anymore.

Of course "OK Boomer" is not mature. Of course it's not kind. Of course it's not reasonable discourse.

It's all that's left.

And like many moments when "all that is left" is finally embraced, it actually makes some folks feel bad. It makes them feel bad in a way that all the reasonable think pieces, discussions, and debates did not. It causes them to pause in a way that, "You are HURTING me!" from the group they were marginalizing simply.....didn't.

For the first time...the privileged feel bad.

In this case it's boomers, but you can see this moment happen along any example. It's all a clever game of intellectual whack-a-mole to the privileged until suddenly someone is no longer willing to play their impossible-to-lose game.

Ironically this moment so often only comes when those at the top of the social hierarchy (in this case the Boomers who still have all the power) feel ignored, dismissed, prejudged, stereotyped.....

Sound familiar?

It often only comes when those at the top of the social hierarchy experience the tiniest bit of what they so casually inflict on those lower than they without examining that they are doing so. For Boomers it's a casual phrase from those they have spent decades calling weak, unmotivated, and parasites on a consumer economy. (As if the mystery of the stagnant wages was simply too damned complicated to figure out.) This indignation at a simple descriptive phrase or the mere act of POINTING OUT systematic bigotry as "the real bigotry" is also echoed in other power dynamics. Men think that the real sexism is women talking about how they don't like being street harassed. Trans exclusionary radical feminists try to get the acronym that accurately describes them considered a slur. A fair number of straight white guys think the term "straight white guy" is an insult. All because it can sting to have one's privilege challenged directly and unambiguously.
Of course, this is indeed the TINIEST taste of what they dole out. The cosmetic superficiality of being dismissed, ignored, stereotyped, and prejudged without the institutional power is no more than a few bad fee-fees. It is nothing compared to the actual power of cultural hiring conventions, poor media representation (if there is any), the criminal justice system's treatment, the legal power to tank the economy, roll back environmental protections, and send (mostly millennials) to go fight needless wars. All those things the group in power says are completely overcome-able with some bootstraps and "reasonableness."

Responding to more of the same dismissive, intractable arrogance (for it's not like anyone is tossing this out as a conversation STARTER) is just the tiniest taste not backed by institutional power, and they still hate it.

But the demand to "be civil," as with so many other conversations like this, is just centering the feelings  (in this case Boomers' feelings) over lives.

There's a lot of nuance. A lot more discussions are coming, now that both sides "feel bad." A lot of DEEPER discussions are coming. The fact that it is not just possible, but INEVITABLE that the oppressors will eventually become the oppressed when it comes to ageism makes it one of the most dynamic and complicated axes of privilege and marginalization in an already complicated and dynamic set of power dynamics. Boomers are on the very cusp of losing the power in our society and they will almost overnight become marginalized within a culture that often doesn't treat elderly folks like people.

There's nothing particularly new about the "Kids these days" dynamic. We have writings from Plato that say, essentially, EXACTLY THAT. And the kids roll their eyes, go find their own power in the world and the old person who talks about "Back in my day...." becomes a trope. Pretty sure "what EVER?" was the same thing thirty years ago, and that I've seen a couple of grandpas who bloviated about the good ol days in Boomer-created media.

And like "Millennials," which has shifted in common parlance from the actual meaning children born from 1981-1996 to a metonymy that essentially means "these fucking kids today," "boomers" also has its own linguistic elasticity. It means people who are ride or die about capitalism. It means people who have a bootstrap mentality despite a changing economic landscape. It means people who refuse to acknowledge their unearned advantages in a world where -isms and -phobias are very real. It means people who believe in exceptionalism rather than the demonstrable historic legacy of theft and plunder. These features are not unique to an older generation, but they are ubiquitous within.

But for the actually '46-'64 Boomers out there incensed, particularly those who spent fifteen years shrugging and looking the other way while Millennials got blamed for, or told to bootstrap their way through, every late-stage-predatory-capitalism thing that went wrong in our society....

For you...."OK Boomer" is your wake-up call. It's the crossroads where you decide how the next ten or so years is going to go.

Like in every generational 80's movie (that y'all fucking made and consumed, by the goddamn way), where the stodgy fuckers from the fifties just didn't GET you, it is time to listen. The oldest of the millennials is pushing 40. You're the ones who still have your children's participation trophies on your walls and in your attics. They grew up in a WORLD that made them lose way more than the occasional soccer game. They were the first generation in a gagillion years to definitively, unambiguously make less than their parents (gen X––which is me, BTW––started the trend but had a lot of exceptions), power from your generation has been relinquished primarily only by being taken from cold, dead hands, and Millennials are tired––oh so FUCKING tired––of being blamed for not keeping the eighties going for another forty years. Maybe, instead of echoing every privileged group's fragility in making it about your FEELINGS, it's time to come to the table in good faith and figure out what the heck happened that an entire generation is fed up enough to feel like it has nothing left to say besides "OK Boomer."

Friday, November 1, 2019

It's Always Okay To Trash The Left

What I've learned from watching US politics closely for 30 years is that the left is always a fair target.


Whether you ask a Republican, a moderate Democrat, or even a liberal, whatever is to the political left of them is fair game for the worst sort of derision.

The right has to be respected, coddled, the beneficiary of bridges and aisle reaching. Ever wooed. Don't spook them.

Even the far right (until you are pretty far to the left yourself) must never be simply dismissed. EVER. The Far Right deserves a place at the table. It deserves our understanding about what happened. What "traditional values" and “deep-seated anxieties" have led to this? How dare you simply write them off! They are humans too! Bring on the nuance! 

The GOP supporters and leadership have basically decided that it's no biggie for Donald Trump to use the powers of the presidency to run an illegal extortion scheme with Ukrainian aid in an effort to affect the outcome of the 2020 democratic elections. But most people in the middle, including the media, will calmly advance a "both sides" narrative and never be willing to talk about how this is not normal––even for Republicans.

The left, though? Open season. They’re all ridiculous. Socialists. Commies. Social Justice Warriors with their absurd identity politics. Out of their minds. Always okay to lampoon. Simultaneously absurd peace and love hippies with no sense of a dangerous world and violent antifa who clearly skipped tolerance day at liberal school. You can barely even talk about Nazis marching in the streets and plowing cars into their ideological enemies without taking a moment to make sure that everyone knows you are just as upset with those bad actors on the left. The left is always okay to mock.

Of course in parlance, it’s really only the "FAR" left that is acceptable to sneer at, but that is Hillary Clinton depending on who you talk to, and not Sanders or some leftist politician (the likes of which the US actually doesn't have), which is probably part of what's going on here. The "far left" is a moving target that has been deemed okay to make fun of, so it is used by everyone from Breitbart talking about Obama to Pelosi talking about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Or Joe Biden talking about almost anyone he’s running against (except maybe Buttigieg). It simply becomes the label that is slapped on anyone to the left right before the aspersions start.

Democrats, even deep blue democrats who are self-identified liberals don't have any compunction taking shots at anyone to their left. Left wing pundits are completely fine deciding that the contingent who tried to talk to them about ableism or fatphobia were all from the fringe lunatic wing of moonbat patrol. Liberals don’t demand that the far left get a seat at the table or that we should try to understand what deep-seated anxieties they face. The "far left" gets viciously scorned. In a 4-million popular vote blowout with an electioneering conspiracy by a foreign government (and all but absolutely provable collusion), they'll look to their left and blame identity politics for electing Trump.

The far left even takes shot at the OTHER far lefts that it doesn't get along with. Democratic socialists will try not to get any REAL socialism on them. Social progressives take shots at anti-capitalists. Leftists take shots at neoliberals. (And I'm left wondering if that's not exactly working as intended.) The left doesn't have anything even CLOSE to the kind of knee-jerk, automatic, predictable, overwhelming, finger-wagging response that goes on if conservative positions are dismissed outright as simply being absurd.

The left is okay to just blow off as being "out there." The left is always okay to roll one's eyes at. The left's concerns are always okay to dismiss.

The left is always a fair target.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Sum of Our Parts

If you ever want to understand the concept behind gestalt psychology (that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) get an OKCupid account, answer a bunch of questions, and then spend a few days checking out your high matches. I guarantee you will feel instantly both seen and understood but also strangely atomized into useless piles of meaningless homogeneous components.

Perhaps I should back up just a tad....

I'm dating.

Okay that's not true. I'm TRYING to date.

One day, many years after a terrible break up, I woke to the realization that all of my relationships were long distance or involved people who were married and had very full lives already. Meanwhile, I spend most Friday nights watching old Star Trek shows and cooking for one. I decided to try to find if there was someone polyamorous, close, and available ENOUGH that they might want to join forces to take down The Legion of Doom.

So far, this involves poking at OKCupid and scowling a lot.

One of the weirdest things about OKCupid is how it both knows and doesn't know me. It quickly gained a sense of the important component parts that make me up from these questions I answered. It successfully knows what I like, what I don't like and (for the most part) what would be deal breakers*. However, what OKCupid doesn't seem to understand how those things work together. It pulls these aspects of apart when it's showing me matches.

*Of course, I'm talking about the algorithmic searches. The recommendations they send me are comically bad––like that well meaning family member who just DOESN'T GET IT. "No Aunt Martha, I'm pretty sure a 64% match monogamous lesbian and me aren't going to hit it off. I just have that feeling."

See I have many things that make me who I am (values and interests and passions), but I am not just those things. I am more than the sum of those parts. What is also important is the way those things COMBINE AND INTERACT and exist in a rich, nuanced, and vital air/fuel mixture. When they are pulled apart, I find myself intensely uncomfortable. Any one ingredient in my "special blend" taking over creates something that I am actually actively uninterested in. The way their algorithm works, unless someone is OPPOSED to another part of my persona, they show up as a high match because we "get along" so well in the one aspect. I'm talking mid-to upper 90s.

There are artists, but they are so artsy, they don't DO mainstream media. They are apathetic to politics. They have dinner parties, drink wine, argue about dadaism and seek out artsy experiences.

There are contrarian activists who are unwilling to see anything that isn't independent film, who never watch Netflix, never play video games, and never spend money that they think would help a capitalist.

There are spiritual existential thinkers who are so love-is-all-you-need that they're about to float off the Earth and evolve to rejoin the solar wind or something. They don't want to hear about how angry social issues make you (especially not if it's about their cultural appropriation of "exotic" religious iconography), because they're just too full of love and harmony for that negativity.

There are these entrepreneur go-getters who are going their own way and carving their life out in a world that loves people to punch a clock, but they have exactly zero time for politics, movies, mainstream media. If it's not improving their outreach or landing them a client, what is even the point?

There are geeks and nerds who love the MCU and video games but who hate how "everything is political these days" and think feminism has "gone too far."

There are those wary of government wary that they have become libertarians, and think that everything they have was earned. That no advantages exist because they are white, have intergenerational wealth, or benefit from roads or an educated citizenry.

I am all these things.

But I am none of THESE things.

There isn't a thing on here, I don't consider a part of me.  Every single of these is something I'd consider important to who I am––vital even––but pulled apart, I find these people horrifying. Disengaged, uninteresting, vapid, and often extreme to the point of caricature.  Without the other aspects in that perfect mixture that blends, combines, synergizes, and limits any ONE part of me from being too much, I find the singular aspects....well the opposite of romantically tempting.

Maybe I should take up line dancing....

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

They Don't Value Honesty

Trump is a liar. Even his most ardent supporters (using euphemisms like "alt-facts" or "loose relationship with the truth” or the even worse “oh it’s just his way”) will admit that. He lies about shit that is not even important and easily verifiable––like what he said on record or that there are clips of. His supporters knew it. They liked it about him (along with the bigotry). They don't value honesty. Perhaps even more accurately, they value dishonesty. Or at least they value dishonesty if it works better than honesty does to achieve what they want.

Trump’s "the lurkers secretly agree with me" lies are not easy to confirm or deny and he's always talking about the "many people" who agree with what he says, but sometimes (like a couple of weeks ago regarding tariffs on China or this thing with the sharpies and Alabama), he just starts making up conversations that he never had with other foreign leaders. Like, you can maybe get away with claiming to have had a conversation if you know the person you're lying to isn't going to immediately go check with that person. We are all guilty of talking up what a hard ass we were or how reasonable we were (when the other person would characterize things very differently), but with Trump we're talking whole cloth fabrication here. Entire conversations with people––easily verifiable––that NEVER HAPPENED. But his supporters don’t care because they don’t value honesty.

Or more recently doubling down on something misinformed until he’s involved in a scandal with the NOAA and threats of firings. You know honesty is not your jam when your ego is so fragile that you have to threaten to fire members of a government body (NOAA) if they don’t back up the lie you’ve already doubled and tripled down on. You know you're okay with lying when a state spending millions for hurricane preparedness means less to you than admitting you misread the "green zone" on a map as being more significant than it is. 

And guess what? His supporters STILL like it about him. They like his fantasy. They like his grand conspiracy theories about entire science disciplines trying to make him look bad with a grand coverup and the media that just “never gives him a break.” They like his made-up conversations. They like someone who just gets up there and says something that pisses off the people they hate. They know it's a lie (they do), and they don't care because they kind of dig the lie. The lie upsets the people they don't like. It's like when the bullies all agree to say that it's Wednesday and the more someone tries to prove it's Monday, the harder they laugh. They don't value honesty.


Truth only matters when it gets them what they want or can be used as a cudgel against their opponents (or "enemies" as Trump has now taken to saying openly and often). As soon as it stops working––the INSTANT it isn’t useful––they happily abandon it for deceit and falsity. (Much like open democracy or free markets, but that’s a whole other rant.)

So the whole "Truth will merit out" brigade are bringing knives to a gunfight. Expecting the GOP to gasp when it becomes clear (well, clearER to many of us) that Kavanaugh perjured himself under oath about sexual predation to achieve a lifetime appointment to the highest court is not reasonable. And the tendency for the intelligentsia to think they're going to Snopes their way to Trump supporters one day saying, ”Holy shit. He LIED!” is predicated on values that Trump supporters simply do not have. We say it to ourselves to remind each other that This Is Not Normal, but we are not going to sway those who have chosen their moral values. That’s NOT going to happen.

Because they don’t value honesty.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

White Supremacy and the GOP

The modern GOP knows that they're sunk without white supremacists and thus white supremacy. That's why that memo that leaked about deflecting blame towards left-wing "extremism" and doing anything needed to pull focus from white nationalist terrorism was written in the first place––if they had nothing to do with white supremacy and didn't want white supremacists in their party, such a memo would be an awfully strange thing to write.

But they do and they do.

They need white supremacists. They can't live without them. Their pencil thin margins of victory (even after all the disenfranchising and gerrymandering and not stopping Russian interference and cheating they can muster) absolutely REQUIRE the white supremacists for political support. They jumped in bed with virulent racism during the Southern Strategy and now they CANNOT win without courting it.

The 2016 election defied the wisdom (of the GOP leadership, I might add) that they could no longer win while focusing exclusively white voters. Basically everyone thought the "wink wink nudge nudge" days of racism had to be dialed back so they could pull more women and non-white voters on board. They were prepared to expunge some of their dog whistling and broaden their coalition in order to survive.

But it was never JUST a strategy.

Instead Trump went all the way in. He dropped the euphemism, just said the quiet part out loud, he won the primary as "their guy" and now they HAVE no choice. If they lose the white supremacist vote, they lose. That's all there is to it. White supremacy, always more powerful than white America would admit, has hijacked the Republican party. THEY are the mainstream now.

That is who the Republicans are now. (That is who they have been for my lifetime with a tacit nod and a conspicuous silence, but now they are out and open about it.) And while some of them don't appreciate having the quiet part said out, their struggles have been superficial and tepid at best. White nationalism is the no-longer-deniable moral stain and legacy of their party all grown up and calling the shots.

Hobbs & Shaw: Reviewish

Hobbs and Shaw is pretty much exactly what it looks like it's going to be in the trailers. It's big. It's ridiculous. It's a couple of ripped dudes trying to out "lone wolf" each other and learning that the real anti-terrorism is the friends they made along the way.

Go see it if you like popcorn movies with driving stunts that make you say "Yeah, that's not really possible by the laws of physics."

Now for the (mild) spoilery part.
I've noticed a lot of movies lately have an "ends never justify the means" villain. They're basically RIGHT, but "that's NOT how one goes about getting change."

In Hobbs and Shaw, the genocidal virus-unleashing Idris Elba played bad guy was ostensibly an anticapitalist environmentalist who was terrified that humanity was on track to wipe itself out by 2090. Of course, if he had stopped riding motorcycles off of skyscrapers for a second, he probably would have realized that the power his boss had to control literally ANY story would make for a useful tool in getting some green legislation passed, but maybe that's just me bringing my brain to a movie where it clearly isn't welcome. Still, I've been hearing "calm down and MAYBE we'll listen to you*" for my entire life, so it's pretty easy to imagine a political landscape in which eventually that doesn't work.

*They won't, by the way. They want you just "calm" enough that you can be ignored.

Entertainment is often cultural anxiety turned up to eleven. (There's a reason that for fifteen years after 2001 a LOT of blockbuster movies had an antagonist-ruined cityscape and protagonists basically going to get some payback.) But boy, it's going to be a plot twist to people who consume mainstream media when they find out which ideology is actually on track to trash the planet and kill billions––no super virus required.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Gravity House Effect of U.S. Politics

You know those gravity houses? The kind that tip you one way and your mind technically knows what's going on, but you also sort of adjust to it despite yourself. So even though you know why it is working that way, your brain still tricks you and you kind of freak out when it looks like shit is falling up or rolling uphill.

Yep. I'm going to make a metaphor. About Republican cheating. Because we know it's going on, and we've been dealing with it for decades, but our mind also kind of adjusts to it. And when we lose elections by narrow margins, we kind of don't realize we probably should have won. Or when we win, we kind of don't realize that it should have been a blowout.

If you think about how long the cheating has been going on (at least here in the U.S.), you'll realize that the left has actually been winning the war of ideas for a long time––we're just up against those who feel they have a moral imperative and are perfectly willing to toss every underlying principle of democratic government to maintain a minority rule and get what they want.

About twenty years ago, they started computer-assisted gerrymandering to maintain their control. This creates "safe" districts and dilutes the power of their opponents. Then about thirteen years ago, they started voter ID laws, essentially creating a poll tax. Ostensibly this was because of fraud, but in-person fraud is extremely uncommon and the more common form of it (mail in ballots--though still rare) was left alone because the military uses them and they tend to vote conservative. In some places DMVs were even closed en masse to make getting ID far more difficult. Just a couple of years ago, they ramped up the process of purging voters from registrations. These efforts, of course, are ALWAYS in places with certain "kinds" of voters (and it's not middle-class white folks). They are proposed by, endorsed by, paid for by, campaigned for by, passed by and defended in court by conservatives, and overwhelmingly hurt liberals.

You don't need a degree in rocket science to put together what is happening. Just because they've rolled out the cheating slowly, so they win by plausible margins and loose from time to time doesn't erase what they're doing. The room is starting to tilt, and even though we can see it, our brain is also starting to adjust to it despite us.

Yesterday Mitch McConnell stood in front of the American people and openly, shamelessly said with his facehole that they won't pass a law to fix election security in order to prevent interference from a foreign geopolitical enemy we KNOW has interfered, is interfering, and will interfere again and who wants the GOP to win. They won't do this because because free and fair democratic elections would give Democrats "political benefit."

Here. Let me translate that for you just in case you didn't catch it over the sound of all the jaws hitting the floor: "Our prior levels of cheating are not cutting it anymore, so we need this outside interference or we're going to lose."

What surprises me, honestly, is not the behavior of the GOP. I became politically aware during Gingrich's "scorched earth," so I pretty much expect them to lie, cheat, and steal for power grabs at any opportunity. They lost any vestige of personal ethical high ground they may have had thirty years ago when they offered up their integrity on the alter of a Faustian deal to win at any cost––it's just taken this long for most of the country to get the memo.

What surprises me is how many liberals and moderates still act like we have a fair democracy. It's not that they don't see it. It's just that their minds have also kind of adjusted to it a little and it sort of looks like votes are "rolling uphill."

Progressive ideas should be kicking ass, but instead we've got minority rule by a party increasingly willing to hide their cheating in plain sight. And instead of treating them like exactly that, we're still hoping they can be convinced of their own moral turpitude and will have a "coming-to-Jesus" moment.

They won't.

They have no shame.

It's time for plan B.