Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saltwater Taffy Government

I am apolitical. This is useful to take into context and consideration upon reading this article. I am apolitical because I am required in a religious context to be apolitical. Being apolitical is different from being anti-government, or from being an anarchist—often the categories overlap but it should be remembered that these categories are different things. I am not an anarchist, and I am not anti-government. Also, my situation stems from my relationships and my Work, not from apathy of politics. My interaction with government is limited and I maintain a nonpartisan view. I abide by the laws and the local customs.

I stand for human rights, personal liberty, sustainable interaction with the environment, an awareness of climate change, human reproductive rights, the ethical treatment of animals, and the right to protect oneself and each other, the right to marry another consenting adult (or more than one, of any gender, of any adult age, it’s none of my business), and many more concerns. The things that I listed above that I support are not synonymous with government interaction, even if often they are protected, destroyed, or both, through government interaction.

I am as neutral regarding politics as I can be, and I try to step back and allow room for those far more educated on politics, the specialists, those who understand these things more than I, to step up and speak. I am a priest; I am not a politician, I am required to be apolitical, and thus I do not speak on politics.

I would also have it noted that I am not championing being apolitical as a better thing than being political; it is just different. Nor am I advising that anyone “should” be apolitical (indeed, far from it!). My being apolitical has to do with a specific relationship, in a specific role that I have with my Work and my deities, and it is not reflective of how things are or should be with other folks whose relationships and situations are different from mine. Indeed, I would hope that most people are quite involved with their local government and with politics; these are useful and necessary interactions and I support interactions with these things and our rights to interact with these things.

I give this much background on myself so that you will have a better understanding of where I am coming from and so that you might avoid writing me off as Pro-That Thing You Hate or Anti-That Thing You Value.

It is because of this restriction, of being apolitical, that I have kept my speaking of certain issues to a bare minimum during the US election season. I do not have to remind you, dear reader, of the difficulties the US finds herself in. I cannot and should not do your political research for you. Suffice it to say, like the old saying goes, we live in “interesting times.”

What I am going to talk about now is not politics and the actions of government; I will instead speak on the difference between government and other things. What I speak on now is a matter of differentiation, of understanding what things are from what they are not. I am at an intersection in my religious practices and requirements because while I am apolitical on the one hand, I must also speak on issues of differentiation on the other hand, so I engage in a careful balancing here.

Being apolitical requires a little bit of understanding on what is political so that a person can be other-than-political. Politics is a noun which covers the activities associated with governance (usually of a country), and in this light, politics usually indicate an involvement with the government and involvement in the activities of that government. Being apolitical, therefore, means a lack of involvement with the government and a lack of involvement with activities of governance (usually of a country). Because of being apolitical, I will restrict my remarks to a very basic sense of what government is—the word itself, not the activities, details, or the merits of the activities which go on under that word. I will also discuss very briefly what government is not. My goal is not the discussion of politics here, but the discussion regarding differentiation and understanding what an item (which happens to be government) is from what that item is not.

A government is a tool used in the hands of people. When that tool does not perform the desired function, sometimes it is because the tool is in disrepair, the tool is handled by inept hands, or what we thought was the tool turned out to be something else which only resembled the tool.

  1. A screwdriver is a tool. Saltwater taffy formed into the shape of a screwdriver is not a tool. A screwdriver made of saltwater taffy…is not a screwdriver even if it looks like one. It’s not going to function as a screwdriver, and if you try to use it as a screwdriver, you’re going to be terribly frustrated when all it does is bend, stretch, and mush itself against the screw’s head. Saltwater taffy is great for what it is: candy is a wonderful, tasty thing, but it cannot be used as a screwdriver. It must be appreciated for what it is (candy, which happens to be in the shape of a screwdriver) instead of being misunderstood for what it is not (a screwdriver).
  2. A tool which is an actual real tool, not made of saltwater taffy, will work best if it is of good quality and in good repair. If it’s broken, you’re not going to get far on the job you set out to do. If it is not broken but it is of poor quality, it may break in your hands as you try to do the job you set out to do. Tools must be of decent quality and kept in decent order so that they can function to do the job that they are intended to do.
  3. In looking at tools, we must also take into consideration the hands that wield the tool. No matter how good quality and in good repair a screwdriver is, if a person doesn’t know how to use it, then the tool won’t work. If you have asked a person to do some complicated home repairs, and the person does not know how to do what it asked, then a good tool is of no use, and a tool in disrepair is a moot point. If a person who does not know how to do home repairs has represented himself to you as a handyman, he is at the very least deceiving you, and he may well also be deceiving himself, too. Nothing in the house is going to get fixed. It does not matter how many people that “handyman” may bring with him, if they also known nothing about fixing tools or about home repair,  or are misguided or deceitful on how much they know, our home will remain in disrepair and so will the tool to fix it. If the situation is left unattended and out of competent hands for too long, the house will fall into a state of disrepair so bad that the foundations will start to crumble and the roof will cave.  

We are living in a house which is in a state of disrepair, with a tool which needs repair before we can fix the house, and with hands which are not expert at doing the job they are set to do at either tool repair or home repair. That the “handyman” does not have the expertise is a matter of public record; it is not a matter of personal opinion. (A person who claims to be a politician but who has not participated in an active role in an elected office of that government is not a politician. A handyman who has never fixed anything is not a handyman even if he has qualified expertise in another field.) This is the state of affairs in our red, white, and blue painted home.

I have a separate statement to make in regards to totalitarianism. A totalitarian “government” is a saltwater taffy “screwdriver”. It looks like government on first glance from a distance. People use totalitarianism as if it were government, but it is not government. If a leader doesn’t like the government he has—a tool which he doesn’t know how fix or how to wield, or he won’t fix and won’t wield well—he may well replace it with a nicer looking “tool” of saltwater taffy that he can bend to his will, and use it like a good a stage prop. But, even if that saltwater taffy replica looks like the real thing, it is not. Even if totalitarianism resembles a government, it is not.

Government is a tool for managing people, and no matter what type of government is used, from monarchism to communism, it is usually done with some nod towards the good of the people involved. When that nod towards the good of the people becomes a middle-fingered gesture of curse and a sneaky confiscation of liberties, it’s no longer government even if it pretends to be. These things often do not occur as sudden change, it’s a slow creeping one, and as such, it is difficult to see and more difficult to realize.

Prison camps also manage people, but we know that prison camps are not governments because the camps are lacking in that precious key word: liberty. Ideally governments balance personal liberty with the need to function together as a society. When a people have complete liberty with no government, this is called anarchy and it's a state of chaotic lawlessness which is not necessarily a good thing. Lawlessness means there is no longer a government, and on a sliding scale it looks like 100% chaos and 0% order; I am reminded of the book Lord of the Flies and a breakdown of society. With complete anarchy, people get hurt, and might becomes “right”: ironically, peoples’ personal liberties end up being diminished or destroyed. On the other side of the spectrum, when you have 0% chaos and a paralyzing soul-crushing, liberty-demolishing 100% order, you have a prison camp.  A totalitarian dictator starts sliding to the side of the spectrum of 75% order or greater, and 25% chaos or less. A totalitarian regime ends up no longer being a government because the space for personal liberty is so deeply reduced it becomes nonexistent.  Anarchy is not government; totalitarianism is a structure of order which impersonates government. Neither one of them is government.

These sliding scale estimates I give are based on my right-brained assessments through very casual, non-scientific, non-expert, layperson observation and are not evidenced through any study or hard data. They are personal observation and estimation.  This scale is not meant to be relativistic; it’s not meant as a scale for “I feel one way, but my conservative / liberal neighbor feels another way, and both ways of feeling are ok.” Each person has a right to feel what they feel; and, making these observations about what’s going on around you isn’t about individuals’ feelings. Instead, this scale is meant for you to apply to the things you see from a variety of credible news sources—not from clickbait or “fake news” websites—and to make your determinations from that material as best you can, as objectively as you can. As always a person should seek out and listen to the experts who know more about these things, and take expert opinions into full consideration. This sliding scale is meant as an informal personal tool to judge the events and to see more clearly beyond the political dualism, beyond fear of change and fear of scarcity, and beyond systemic and difficult-to-see problems, beyond complacency and comforting slogans.

Generally speaking, whether after this election, or a previous one, or one in the future, consider the following. Even if you believe that a leader is not set out to do harm, whether you like that new leader or not, whether you agree with that leader’s politics more than you disagree (or vice versa), even when you think “things aren’t that bad…four years isn’t so long,” I urge you to do three things: get out that sliding scale, listen to expert opinions, and listen to credible news sources. Start observing the personal liberties which are challenged (or outright confiscated!) even if--and especially when--those personal liberties are not yours but someone else’s.

Confiscated liberties signify an amount of order that creeps towards a totalitarianism chokehold. When those rights are overridden by a larger group, then that pattern is codified through law: that would be evidence of totalitarianism. On the other side of the spectrum, the fragility and absence of the personal liberties of smaller groups, due to the stronger, larger groups' interference in combination with a lack of order and lawful protection of those rights, can point to a greater amount of anarchy.  It is certainly possible that within one government structure, a person can observe anarchy in one place and totalitarianism in another; the world is a complicated and nuanced place. Neither anarchy nor totalitarianism is government; neither anarchy nor totalitarianism will protect anyone’s rights. Too much chaos will not safeguard rights; too much order will not allow those rights.

Measure what you’re seeing between a spectrum which ranges from chaos/anarchy on one side to order/totalitarianism on the other side. Contemplate the situations very carefully.

If you’re a visual learner, draw a line on a bulletin board with Chaos / Anarchy (maybe symbolized by a little fly) on one side and Order / Totalitarianism (maybe symbolized by a barbed wire fence) on the other; clip out articles or headlines, put a date on them and note where they come from, and put them on a bulletin board on the side that the information seems to fall more towards. If it’s hard on the side of order, put it all the way there by the barbed wire fence. If it’s more of a middle ground, put it more towards a middle ground. If it’s a little more on the score of chaotic, put it a little closer to the fly. Make sure the articles you find are in regards to many different segments of the population, not just the dominant one, and try to ensure the articles come from credible news sources. You will have a record and a visual representation when you do this.

As for this past election, take a good hard look at the news coming out: issues regarding civil rights and personal liberties are ignored or overridden, there are associations with racism, there have been internal memos of gag orders issued, there's a suspension of involvement with the rest of the world, there are promises of a wall between countries, there is evidence of foreign interference in elections, we've even started to have questions as to what constitutes “real news” versus “fake news” and talk of “alternative facts,” the media have been treated with a heavy hand, and there's an active dismissal of objective information and of science, and there are many other factors. Look into what's going on, and listen to expert opinions, and credible news sources, and weigh what you're hearing and reading on that scale between chaos/anarchy and order/totalitarianism.

The thing you weigh on that spectrum doesn’t have to be 0%-100% to be flagged as a problem. As I said before, totalitarian regimes look more like 25% or less of chaos to 75% or greater of order, and although totalitarian regimes usually don’t reach the 0% chaos and 100% order that a prison camp has, it is still a totalitarian regime even if it would pretend to be a republic. Look into these things and judge these things for yourself.

At what point between 0% chaos and 100% order are you willing to accept before realizing something is amiss? At what point between 0% chaos/anarchy and 100% order/totalitarianism are you willing to accept that things are not ok? At what point in that scale does it fall for those of us who aren’t a part of dominant culture, and at what point are you ok with these personal liberties being interfered with? At what point does liberty, the liberty of any law-abiding citizen, become an acceptable casualty? Could the current state of affairs be edging in the direction of totalitarianism, or could they even already be there? I ask you to put these questions to yourself. We all have a different role to play in ensuring the rights of ourselves and each other; maybe your role is political, maybe it’s less so, but whatever that role is, in order to claim those roles we must first be cognizant of the goings on.

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