Solidarity

My night-time working background noise is generally The Daily Show and Colbert, followed by the overnight replays of MSNBC’s opinion-show block, followed by a mad scramble to find something – anything – to watch other than Ed Schultz. Before anyone asks, yes – I get my “equal time” fill of right-wing talkers in daylight hours while I’m driving.

NOTE: Remainder of post involves politics. Don’t want to read it? Then don’t 😉


I don’t watch/read/listen to “the news” for information, I do it because I like hearing things argued out by smart people and because the only way to remain aware of media manipulation of info is to stay engaged with it – block it out for too long, and you forget the two key facts of living an informed life: 1.) That there are such things as objective truths – just very, very few of them; and 2.) that everyone is aiming to “sell you” on something, even the folks who truly believe in their heart of hearts that they are not.

Tonight, though, I’ll be paying closer attention than usual to see what – if anything – MSNBC’s top guns (Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews) have to say about the public-pillorying of their fellow host Chris Hayes.

For those who don’t follow this stuff, over the weekend Hayes brought up for discussion his (personal) discomfort with the way terms like “hero” and “valor” are blanketly-applied to military service in and of itself in the context of the Memorial Day holiday; his overall point being that however duly respectful we are toward military service, the very reflexiveness of that respect makes it difficult to approach questions when/why to use military force with the kind of thoughtful skepticism such grave matters deserve.

The timing is, of course, of questionable tact; but the actual commentary is about as bend-over-backwards and qualifier-laden as a “controversial” statement can be and still be a statement at all – he even concludes with “But maybe I’m wrong about that.” This, of course, did not prevent the right-wing media from pouncing on him. They can hardly be blamed for the obvious glee they took in doing so – Hayes’ approach and overall demeanor is practically a caricature of what Michael Bay’s America thinks of when it sneers about “liberal elitism;” and The Right did it’s usual classy job of “taking him down” by inferring that he was effeminate (because, after all, there is no greater sin than to a dumb ol’ GIRL!) and chortling about his use of the phrase “rhetorically proximate,” the kind of big fancy book-learnin’ words that “normal people” would never use.

Hayes has, of course, offered an apology/clarification; which reads as sincere and reasoned but also utterly unnecessary. He didn’t say “soldiers aren’t heroes,” he didn’t even issue a statement of anything other than to offer his own personal view – which he admits is difficult for him to grapple with and may well be incorrect! – for discussion. The only thing he did “wrong” was to do this in the context of the present-day American media culture; where nuance and thoughtfulness are four-letter words.

The problem Hayes faces is that we live in a culture that vilifies any approach to the word that does not exist in terms of simple, basic wisdom. We prefer definitive statements of right and wrong or good and evil to nuance and intellectual inquiry. Something is either an absolute good or an eternal wrong; and to suggest that there may be layers or issues of context is to be uncertain and thus somehow weak. It’s a strain of anti-intellectualism that taints and corrupts just about every facet of our existence; viewed most-glaringly in the way our allegedly modern culture heaps far greater import on religious “truths” – which are by-design simple, easy-to-digest and require very little mental effort beyond blind acceptance – over scientific facts which are often more-difficult to comprehend.

But it also subtly (yet profoundly) colors they way we approach the rest of the world, and the way the rest of the world approaches us: Far, far too much stock is placed “common sense” and “folk wisdom.” We perpetuate the pleasant yet disastrous LIE that “simple truths” that any random dolt can easily understand are innately superior to academic, scientific or merely “complex” solutions that require effort and study to arrive at: The hard, unpleasant fact of the matter is that most of the time the “average joe” and his simple, common-sense answer – however likable and approachable both may be – are going to be wrong; while the “cold” or “detached” intellectual is usually going to be right. Because the world is not simple and grows less so every day.

Folks, when I spout-off about “Thinkers vs. Believers” (and I’m well aware that many take reasonable exception to the terminology which is, ironically, perhaps a bit too simplified for it’s own good) this is what I’m talking about. It’s this horrible, destructive notion of acknowledging the world as a complex place requiring thoughtful, nuanced solutions that – yes! – are indeed better suited to those of an intellectual persuasion is somehow tantamount to weakness. The idea that simplistic, “right or wrong, black or white” decision making – a fundamentally ignorant approach ill-suited to modern life that too many mistake as some kind of anachronistic masculine virtue – carries some kind of moral righteousness.

One is free to agree or disagree with Chris Hayes or anyone else – for my part, I understand and agree with his overall point while understanding the need for sentiment and symbolism in such matters – but the idea that asking the question or having a viewpoint that isn’t 100% binary about such an important issue is everything that is broken and bleeding about American culture handily summarized. Complexity and nuance are not personal failings, they are virtues. “Simple solutions” should be mistrusted and vetted, not deified. Ignorance ought to be a mark of shame, while intelligence and ability to take an intellectual approach should be a mark of great character.

Chris Hayes may or may not have been “wrong,” but his willingness to think about it in the first place makes him the innate superior of every “average”-pandering political hack who spent the weekend throttling him. And I hope that other thoughtful people in the media or otherwise on either “side” don’t give in to the temptation to throw him under the bus for the crime of being a thinking person in a time and place where that is unwelcome.

79 thoughts on “Solidarity

  1. Anonymous says:

    @Zeno:

    “What material existence does the “for” have?”

    Easy… who do you think would benefit? Who would they be doing this for?

    “It's your logic, not mine.”

    Really? Are you so sure?

    “Maybe all African-Americans should give up their rights and return to bondage. It would be so heroic.”

    Your words, not mine….so again, way to be racist and belligerent.

    Signed, Megabyte (Im at work, and not signing in from here)

    Like

  2. Anon1 says:

    @James
    You know what James, how about you give us your facebook so that we can harass you in front of your friends, family, and co-workers cause that is what you are doing here to Bob.

    Like

  3. antecedentless says:

    Might I suggest subscribing to this instead of listening to whatever crazies the local radio may be running morning?

    Also, uh, AceofSpades had an interesting somewhatrelated discussion on twitter; he basically blogged one sentence at a time; maybe I'll consolidate it somewhere.

    In the meantime; I think he should of rephrased it/give a counter example such as “I'm uncomfortable with Arabs calling fallen soldiers Martyrs

    Ok; I just realized that tweet came off as racist… and to an extent it basically is. My apologies.

    Like

  4. Zeno says:

    @Megabyte:
    “Easy… who do you think would benefit? Who would they be doing this for?”

    The morality of an act must be self-contained and inherent in the act itself or it has no morality. Otherwise ignorance on ANY subject would throw into doubt the morality of ANY act. If we can't be certain of our morals we have none. This means that the act of sacrificing one's rights would have to be intrinsically good, which, taken to it's logical conclusion, would mean that the act of giving oneself to bondage is heroic. I chose the example I did because I knew you wouldn't agree with it, and neither do I. Haven't you heard of reductio ad absurdum?

    Like

  5. biomechanical923 says:

    @Zeno
    The morality of an act must be self-contained and inherent in the act itself or it has no morality.
    But that's wrong because acts themselves are not even self-contained.
    War (and all of life) is not simply a series of self-contained events, but rather many events are inter-connected by causality, or by an intent to reach some goal.
    You seem to be saying that the self-contained act of giving up one's own agency is not, itself, a moral act. This is true, but it fails to consider the intentions behind an act, or the consequences of an act (Teleology).

    You can't truly believe that the act of joining the military is just a random act that occurs arbitrarily in a certain portion of the population. There's an intent that goes with it. Namely, the protection of the lives of American citizens, and those of our allies.

    Like

  6. Anonymous says:

    Though that demonstrates that what soldiers are at best *possibly* heroic. If you join the army because you like guns, that seems more hedonistic than heroic. If you do it because you're economically desperate, that's not heroic, just practical. If you like to hurt people, that seems like the opposite of heroic. If you're, say, giving up part of a career as a professional athlete because you think you have a duty to your country, that starts to sound a little better. So really, when we call people heroes for joining the army, we're just being very optimistic about what's in their hearts.

    Like

  7. Megabyte says:

    @Zeno:

    “The morality of an act must be self-contained and inherent in the act itself or it has no morality. Otherwise ignorance on ANY subject would throw into doubt the morality of ANY act. If we can't be certain of our morals we have none. This means that the act of sacrificing one's rights would have to be intrinsically good, which, taken to it's logical conclusion, would mean that the act of giving oneself to bondage is heroic. I chose the example I did because I knew you wouldn't agree with it, and neither do I. Haven't you heard of reductio ad absurdum?”

    So in short, you are backpedaling because you wanted to trap me and it didn't work. Furthermore your reading and comprehension skills are poor enough to be frightening. I GAVE A REASON why joining the military of your own free will is heroic. That reason is that you are giving up your rights on behalf of the rest of us.

    All you did was give an example that can not be compared since the person losing their rights is NOT doing so by choice, you can NOT give me an answer to who they are benefiting, and it's based on race (the definition of racist).

    Nice to know such mental integrity stands against the people who want to defend this country. Get some stones and actually make an argument instead of being a petulant child who stomps his feet because someone said something he didn't like. Need me to say it shorter? Grow up.

    Like

  8. Zeno says:

    @Megabyte:
    “I GAVE A REASON why joining the military of your own free will is heroic. That reason is that you are giving up your rights on behalf of the rest of us.”

    And that's what I'm challenging.

    “All you did was give an example that can not be compared since the person losing their rights is NOT doing so by choice,”

    I said “give up their rights”. I don't know how it can be any clearer that it was by their own volition.

    “you can NOT give me an answer to who they are benefiting,”

    What I'm saying is that the morality of an act is intrinsic to the act itself; That something can't be justified on the grounds that it benefits somebody; The ends don't justify the means.

    “and it's based on race (the definition of racist).”

    Your point?

    “Nice… …up.”

    Ad hominem.

    Like

  9. Zeno says:

    biomechanical923:

    “But that's wrong because acts themselves are not even self-contained.”

    Then how can it be said to be volitional?

    “War (and all of life) is not simply a series of self-contained events, but rather many events are inter-connected by causality,”

    If all events were determined causally there could be no morality because there could be n choice. Some things must be self-contained.

    “or by an intent to reach some goal.”

    How do you quantify intent?

    The How is inseparable from the What(Imperative and Declarative programming). At some point a thing is so far from its ideal form that you can no longer refer to it as such.

    “but it fails to consider the intentions behind an act, or the consequences of an act (Teleology).”

    Unless you're omniscient you could never be fully certain of the consequences and hence morality(by your reckoning) of an act. That's tantamount to Nihilism.

    “You can't truly believe that the act of joining the military is just a random act that occurs arbitrarily in a certain portion of the population. There's an intent that goes with it. Namely, the protection of the lives of American citizens, and those of our allies.”

    If I accepted that I'd have to accept the same things about “our” “enemies”.

    Like

  10. Megabyte says:

    @Zeno:

    Can I just call you stupid and move on? Seriously, you are STILL trying to justify comparing slavery to joining the military.

    Yeah, Im just going to call you what you have demonstrated you are… a stupid, petulant, racist, 5-year-old who happens to have picked up a few commonly flung around forums latin phrases.

    We are done and good day.

    Like

  11. biomechanical923 says:

    @Zeno
    Unless you're omniscient you could never be fully certain of the consequences and hence morality(by your reckoning) of an act.
    Unfortunately, that's absolutely correct, which is why people retroactively attribute morality to actions based upon their observed results.

    Like

  12. Anonymous says:

    “The truth resists simplicity” – John Green

    I agree with a lot of what Pat says.

    Of course our troops are awesome, but we can and maybe should cut defense, and recognize when troops do bad things.

    Or maybe we can take this to an extreme-dark-satirical place: Saying things like “Our troops must not be heroes, because we wouldn't treat heroes like this” and other things that jab at the fucking reprehensible VA problems, but at the same time gives the right fodder.

    Like

  13. Jake says:

    As much as I really disagree with some of the things Bob has said for the past couple of years, I have to give him credit for thinking Ed Shultz is an idiot.

    Like

  14. Anonymous says:

    @ James

    I'm sorry Bob didn't call the next day. Let it go.

    @ Zeno/Megabyte/Bio

    I believe you really meant your example as a reductio, but it came on a little strong. You're also being dogmatically Kantian, which I guess is fine, but most people aren't going to agree with you that only consequences matter and principle is everything.

    You're flailing in weird ways. It's not necessary for a there to be a maxim that every person should give up his or her rights in order to be heroic in order for it to *sometimes* be heroic. Nor does it matter whether or not we can *know* a person's intention for the intention to matter morally. There's also a big difference between a good action and a good person, and all of those distinctions are being muddied by this debate.

    What about this:

    A soldier is a hero IF that soldier joined the army for noble reasons AND if the consequences of that choice were in some sense positive.

    So in general, if we believe that most soldiers join the army out of loyalty to/a desire to protect Americans, and we acknowledge that no more catastrophic attacks like 9/11 have happened and that this seems to some extent like evidence that America is in fact protected, AND we are either willing to agree that the thousands of civilians killed in the Iraq war/the people who got tortured/the people who got indefinitely detained/the families of soldiers destroyed by PTSD or by losing a loved one/etc. are necessary collateral damage to the goal of protecting America OR willing to agree that individual soldiers bear no (or only limited) responsibility for any of that, then we can say that most American soldiers are heroes.

    Everyone happy now?

    Like

  15. Anonymous says:

    Correction: “most people aren't going to agree with you that consequences DON'T matter and principle is everything”

    Like

  16. James says:

    Hey Bob, when are you going to admit that Obama's as bad as Bush & Romney, you fucking sheep? Why are you okay with violating the rights of others if it suits your selfish agenda? Why do you support eugenics?

    Like

  17. KevinCV says:

    Hey, James. When are you going to admit that this is Bob's blog and that he can say whatever the fuck he wants on it, regardless of whether or not you agree with it? Plus, why are you even bothering with harassing him?

    Now I'm fully convinced that you're exactly like that Tim guy who kept spouting off how much “Metroid: Other M” sucks after Bob defended it amid the controversy. However, he -unlike you- at least had the decency to know when to fold 'em. It seemed like you knew that awhile ago, but now you've fallen back on your old habits.

    For the sake of making a REALLY obscure game reference, did Bob put your hamster in the microwave or something? I really wish you'd leave him alone. If you feel this strongly about what he has to say, take the advice other commenters have given you: START YOUR OWN BLOG.

    It's that simple. That way, you don't have to infect any intelligent discussion that goes on here with your stupidity and trollish tendencies. Plus, I won't have to be reminded of similar asshats I had to contend with when I used to be a moderator on this now-defunct gaming IRC chatroom. However, I'm hesitant to admit that you're actually quite pleasant compared to the worst of 'em…

    Like

  18. Anonymous says:

    James,

    Isn't it a form of “superior to everyone else” BS when you infect numerous semi-intelligent conversations with the same, redundant statements that contribute nothing? You get off on feeling like you're calling out a pundit/critic/whatever when you're just as insightful as the average youtube commentator (which isn't saying much). For the sake of conversation (if nothing else), learn how to debate properly like an adult before you cast stones at Bob.

    ANYWHOOO…

    Bob, if you're still reading at this point, I was wondering if you've seen a film called “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers”. I felt it was a fairly competent Morgan Spurlock-esque documentary, and seemed to present balanced portions of time to pro-christian and pro-LGBT commentators. I'd advise you give it a look if you haven't already. Thought it'd be something you'd enjoy, especially concerning the recent political climate surrounding LGBT issues. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    Like

  19. Zeno says:

    “we are either willing to agree that the thousands of civilians killed in the Iraq war/the people who got tortured/the people who got indefinitely detained/the families of soldiers destroyed by PTSD or by losing a loved one/etc. are necessary collateral damage to the goal of protecting America OR willing to agree that individual soldiers bear no (or only limited) responsibility for any of that, then we can say that most American soldiers are heroes.”

    I can't agree with either of those.

    Like

  20. KevinCV says:

    @James

    “Bob can say what he wants,”

    Well, well. You're certainly making progress…

    “but I'll call him out when he spews his holier-than-thou 'I'm superior to everyone else' bullshit.”

    …and now you're back to where you were before. Here's another idea for you: Actually mount a sophisticated argument instead of resorting to personal attacks and trollish harassment. I know it sounds horribly difficult and mentally taxing, but as they say: “No pain, no gain”.

    Like

  21. Ralphael says:

    Bob, when the first comments on your blog post are…..

    1. In your Favor
    2. Anonymous
    3. REALLY familiar with your past blog posts.
    4. Trying to prevent a flame war while still typing words in ALL CAPS (aka passive aggressive bullshit)

    We can tell its you under a different name. C'mon Bob I thought you were better than that.

    Oh wait, no I didn't.

    Like

  22. Anon1 says:

    @Ralphael
    Please think before you type something that ridiculous.
    If you want to disagree with Bob, make a point. But don't just a totally out there claim with absolutely no proof.

    Like

  23. Robin says:

    I'm late to this particular party, but I've also recently become tired with extremist rhetoric (on all sides), in addition to how amazingly personal and political disagreement quickly degenerates.

    As for this issue, I would suggest interpreting the case of “soldiers vs. heroes” in the following light: Many soldiers around the world, from all nations, perform acts of valour and heroism every day. A proclaimed hero performs heroic acts, because a hero performing them defines the acts themselves as heroic. This is, to my mind, a dangerous line of reasoning, because it leads to unaccountability. That's where I think the disconnect is coming from, and it's how I have resolved to see the issue. So, yeah, as you were, Bob.

    As for the concern that people prefer their ideas simple and well told, I'm afraid that's a very human condition. We like poetry, and the best speeches are nothing less than that. My concern is the insidious return of some very medieval thinking: if someone disagrees with you, it's because they are inherently mad, stupid or foreign. Rather, if you don't agree with me, it's not due to your logically reasoned inference of personally acquired opinions and facts, rather it's a visible facet of your personal worthlessness.

    And that's fucking nuts.

    A clever person can have a dumb idea, and just because someone believes something doesn't mean they have/will always believe it. We evolve. We are still evolving. Shutting the conversation down with personal attacks and the digital equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears is incredibly unhealthy and damaging to all of us, either as individuals and as a society.

    And because sometimes, the clever person with the dumb idea is you.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s