the search for identity and vision

By any historical measure the British citizen has never been safer, more prosperous, and capable of fulfilling their potential. Yet the polls predict that roughly half of voters are prepared to leap into the unknown tomorrow. This mirrors the mentality of tens-of-millions of Americans who are ready to walk a path led by Trump or Sanders. Why is this?

Part of it is the harsh cruel reality of modern quarterly report drive capitalism. If you make refrigerators in Indiana you might get fired so a worker in Mexico can do your job for a fraction of the cost thus adding 0.0034% to your company’s next earnings report. Same goes for your average British steelworker who has to lose his life’s work because China’s wise state planners couldn’t do simple math to determine basic supply and demand.

Unfortunate as these kinds of devastating situations are, they are not the majority of voters. They do not explain the society wide shifts in tone or direction. To get the total answer you need to go deeper and consider identity and vision.

Vision

Vision is where you see yourself, your family, and your country going. It’s the broader ideals and goals that propel a people. These things matter even if you’re just shilling cosmetics or sitting in a cubicle every day. It’s a natural human need to be a part of a greater whole. But a coherent society requires competent and inspirational leadership. And if the modern world is lacking in anything, it’s high caliber leadership. Of the G7 group of leading democracies, every single one is currently led by a career politician. None of them have really lived an average normal life outside the world of politics. It shows. It reflects the modern incarnations of machine politics where most major lever pullers in the executive and legislative bodies are rich, connected, and have more in common with each other than the average voter, regardless of political party.

People tend to notice when a leader cannot intellectually relate to them. They pick up on this rather quickly, whether it’s on the factory floor or the presidential podium. Cameron is a cartoon caricature of an elite aloof toff. Clinton has openly admitted she hasn’t driven a car in like two decades. None of these people have ever had real jobs. They’ve never been fired. They’ve never had to struggle with where their next meal was coming from. They’ve mostly never encountered real adversity beyond the typical mudslinging encounters of the political parlor room.

From adversity and failure a human can find themselves utterly crushed. Or, a person can use those dark times to build their character and strength. Using these fortified qualities a leader can thus better relate to the citizen whose pain at one point they might have experienced. And certainly, having undergone their own versions of hell, a leader built from adversity is better able to manage the crises of the day.

When a leader can’t relate to the voter, or when a leader appears incapable or powerless in confronting the evils of the day, then there is virtually no chance that a vision for the future can be imparted upon the minds of society as a whole. And without that, it’s thus left to any number of nutcases to fill the void.

Corbyn, Trump, Sanders, Farage, Le Pen, all these folks have some fairly decent ideas for the future, at least worth discussing. Mostly though, they seem to have a whole bunch of really terrible ideas. But they make up for their insanity by their ability to impart a vision for the future on anybody willing to listen. And people feed off of that because the traditional leaders of the day are otherwise unable or unwilling to provide any compelling vision at all.

Identity

As a subset of vision, identity is what a person feels they are a part of. In the simplest terms of Brexit, it’s does a voter feel that are British, or English, or European, or whatever. Increasingly throughout modern democracies the identity of a person is becoming more local. Scots see themselves as Scottish, Catalonians over Spanish, Texans over Americans, and so on. This is partially tied to the lack of decent leadership already discussed. When remote, aloof, national leadership seems unable to solve the problems of the day, folks are inherently going to look for answers with their local leaders. In part this isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering your local mayor has far, far more impact upon your life then the president does anyways. Are bigger problems created however, if we keep driving ourselves to the local level?

Also a factor is the almost total loss of a driving national identity in most Western democracies. Before 1945 the British identity was the Empire. Between 1945 and 1991 it was defense of liberal democracy against communism. What’s Britain’s national identity about today? Judging by the major campaign issues of the last general election, it’s NHS fees, bus fares, and tweaking the edges of welfare eligibility payments. These are not the topics that inspire a Scot to remain a fervent Brit.

The same pattern is beginning to take hold in an America that is increasingly unhappy trying to play the thankless dangerous role of world cop. After 15 years of quasi-war it’s still quite possible for the same enemies of September 11th to slay Americans and Afghans at will. If you lost your job to Mexico, or will spend 20 years paying off student loan debt, or pay every check into a Social Security account you know you’ll never see, then it becomes a bit harder to step back and give a pleasing sigh during the Star Spangled Banner. And if all of this be the case, why should you care about the American dream or what happens in Syria?

A more common response to all of this is to turn inward, to seek the answers in a far more local setting, with the people and values closest to you. With the historical roots that are essentially unshakeable no matter how you slice geography or political structure. Maybe there’s just something to be viscerally said for keeping a people together if you share the same time zone, weather, football team, and drinking water supply.

Brexit

The appeal of Brexit is the clear benefits of identity and vision. The identity is pure Britannia. The vision is a United Kingdom unshackled from an incompetent, distant leadership incapable of battling the problems of the day. It’s certainly an appealing vision. But the question at hand is can such a vision and identity actually deliver? I’m not so sure.

Leave aside the possibility if you can, that the Scots might want out of a UK not in the EU, or that the Northern Irish are going to struggle to come to grips with a full EU border to the south. Even if the UK can hold together post-Brexit, what would this new Britannia actually be? What is the UK without an Empire, without a direct tie to Europe, or without the ever-present struggle for freedom?

Without any of these things, I suspect the answer is that Great Britain (and certainly England alone) is a fourth rate nation struggling on the fringes. Britannia, whatever that is today, requires Europe. It isn’t going to magically reappear outside the handcuffs of the EU. Localism isn’t going to somehow deliver the British economy from Brussels. The British economy requires Europe to survive, and that’s a tall order for an angry EU to fulfill post-Brexit.

To which the Leave campaign’s answer seems to be the creation of a new Britannic vision, a new British Singapore, a new island nation trading post free from that old sick man of Europe. I suppose this is possible, I just don’t see how it happens unless the answer lies in totally going all in with the already active policy of sucking up to China to become their Singapore of Europe. Cameron is of course knee deep in courting China, but post-Brexit this effort would have to go into overdrive. And is this new Britannia prepared to sell its soul on human rights, democracy, and freedom in order to economically survive? I’m not sure it’d have a choice.

Take away Brussels tomorrow and the UK doesn’t automatically become a free little bird in an open sky. The dirty little secret of modern Britain is that the dark master of bureaucracy does not reside in Brussels, he resides in London. In the UK, tasks, regulation, and enforcement of major local issues that in America would be handled by local city councils and mayors, are in Britain handled by bureaucrats in London. One of the more beneficial and inspirational efforts of Cameron’s tenure has been to try and remedy this by pushing more power back to the local level, but they are a long, long way from anything approaching what most Americans would consider reasonable local government. In or out of the EU, this problem doesn’t get solved overnight.

Localism

I don’t have a cure for any of this. It’s a creepy scary dark time in our course of history and I fear nobody has any real answers. And that there aren’t any real leaders out there prepared to tackle the major issues of the day. But I’m not sure Trump or Brexit or whatever are the answers either. I just don’t think they provide the solutions that people seek.

The problem with this new localism is it tends to overlook the reality that everything we do in our modern societies depends not on the local but on the global. Whether it’s containerized shipping, call centers, cheap diapers at Walmart, or the nice reality that World War III is not coming tomorrow, our world as it stands today is defined not by Brits being Brits but by the ever increasing connections happening between people worldwide.

It’s a rather jarring situation that nobody’s really ready to handle. It’s uncomfortable for people to wrap their minds around the construct that what could happen to their pocketbook or their way of life is not really guided by them, but also perhaps not their own leadership either. A president Trump would have to wake up real quick once he realized how much of the American economy is wrapped up in China. A post-Brexit led Johnson would have a real hard time solving the economy when so much of Britain’s trade is wrapped up in the ability for Europe simply to say no to him.

Whether we like it or not, we have built a world where our vision and identity are not local but global. We can still be British or American or whatever we prefer, but what we cannot do is pull backward in time. We may not be ready for a true global identity, perhaps not ever, but the allure to reestablish our identity and vision to the local level isn’t the answer. We’re simply too connected for that.

Prediction

Tomorrow’s vote is likely to run very close but I’ll throw my guess that Remain just edges out Leave. When the undecided voter gets into the booth tomorrow, they’ll still have that ever common human trait that fears the unknown. Lots of folks are tempted to dive into the uncertainty but I suspect the small percentage that will turn the vote one way or the other is going to push for stability, for the certainty of the same. So Remain wins, but by just a hair. Then we’re left with the broader issues outlined above. It’ll be quite the long road to solve them.

Advertisements

the saga of the waiting room

My work identification card expired today.  I knew this in advance, but just couldn’t get to it in advance.  And it didn’t matter because the last time I went in there to update it I showed up cold and it took ten minutes to get the new one.  Anyways, five hours later I got to consider the day a success just because I walked out with a new card.  A whole bunch of other people are going back tomorrow morning.  When life’s a mess, particularly the self-inflicted kind, your barometer of success is rather low.

Waiting rooms are some kind of weird portal into the insanity of humanity.  It’s like you’re having some out of body experience where a drunk wizard’s got the controls.

1) The security building proclaimed itself one of those zero energy wonder structures where all its power came from solar panels and a windmill on its roof.  It was also about 90 degrees in there.  They had a mid-sized box fan (which I can only assume was also zero carbon seeing as how it was plugged into their wall) just to keep the room somewhat tolerable.  But they still kept their promotional zero carbon tracker on one of the televisions upon the wall.  Except the interior temperature readings on the screen were conspicuously labeled as: “–“.  Apparently it’s always like that.  It was cooler outside, but the windows couldn’t open.  Have you ever wondered why all these newfangled climate computer controlled buildings don’t have opening windows, but then the place is always either too hot or too cold?  Get it right silly building, or give me back my open window option.

2) The other television had CNN on it.  I have not watched more then three consecutive minutes of CNN for years.  After five hours, I was ready to burn the building down.  Except it was already too hot.  Hey speaking of ISIS (CNN kept mentioning these guys and Trump; apparently there’s nothing else going on worldwide today), forget electric prods, truth serums, Justin Bieber, or any other manner of torture.  All those guys need to do is place me in a room with CNN or Fox News.  Within about seven hours they’d break my will.  And I’d even give up mine own dogs just to make it stop.

3) Humanity is an incredibly diverse group of people.  When you work with the same folks each day, you forget just how widespread we all are.  After five hours I got to see dozens upon dozens of people of every ethnic, religious, cultural, family background you can imagine.  I don’t know why this struck me, but it was neat.  Go us.  Show that room to ISIS as proof we will win, eh, some day.  We were all miserable people waiting there for hours, but we conducted ourselves nicely and with honor, and some of us even chatted for a bit.  Kiss our ass, ISIS.

4) I still don’t get the smartphone thing.  I had a magazine, which took me three of said five hours to finish cover to cover.  I dabbled on my smartphone for about ten minutes otherwise.  But almost everybody else in the room always had the phone in hand.  Constantly.  I only saw two others reading a physical paper book and/or magazine.

5) Next time, make an appointment, if able.  [points finger at self]

get more pegs

My very first boss, who is probably still the best even after all these years, had one of these maps on his office wall.  I’ve never forgotten about it.  But for whatever reason it’s taken me forever to bother with this.  And even then it was no deliberate plan.  It’s like I just woke up one day recently and decided it was going to happen.  So I did.

DSC00544.JPG

The pegs are hard to see in this shot, but they’re multicolored to define length of stay, purpose of trip, etc, etc.   For those of you who unfortunately read this degenerate blog on a regular basis, you might recognize some of the pegs from previous travel themed posts.

I just added another peg last week, from a recent work trip.  I might get around to posting about it shortly.  I also probably need to get around to planning another trip, just for fun, without the insanity of work telling me where to go.

Either way.

Get more pegs.

the essentials of freedom

I truly wonder whether I’m an internal alarmist who then occasionally flies off the handle in an external fashion aboard this degenerate blog.  Until I read a line like:

“The share of the world’s populace living in countries with a free press fell from 38% in 2005 to 31% in 2015;”

In other words, less than one third of our planet has the ability to live in a free society enabled by free speech.  I would have hoped for at least half, but I guess I was wrong.  Read the article.

Then read the other three articles The Economist put into their latest issue.  OneTwoThree.

My feelings on all this are pretty clear, but I’ll shut up now, and hope you take the time to read it all.

we duel MacArthur and Patton

Patton selected his .357 Magnum and a baseball bat. MacArthur chose an original Model of 1911 and a bolo knife. I met their ghosts at dawn at a nondescript grassy plain somewhere alongside the Hudson River. After a bit of friendly but restrained banter, I outlined the rules of the day.

And …, wait, hold on. [shuffles papers] [unintelligible muttering] I know, hold on. [throws papers] Yeah, okay, that didn’t happen.

But what did happen is a long while back I visited MacArthur’s ivory skeleton box.

So for whatever reason I decided to rewatch Patton and then watch MacArthur the whole way through for the first time. Then I decided to compare the two, because why not. For those who have seen both movies you know how this is going to end. But this is all for fun, so why not.

All the pieces were in place from the start. Patton pulls a decent director in Franklin J. Schaffner who made some good films beyond just this one and also served in combat in said war. They got some c-grade hack named Francis Ford Coppola to write the script.

MacArthur gets stuck with some guy named Joseph Sargent and a writer known as Hal Barwood who you all will surely remember as the guiding hand behind the Oscar nominated video game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Oichalcum plot twists my ass, Hal, what the hell were you thinking? Indy wasn’t like that. [throws chair]

MacArthur also pulled a budget 1/4 less even though it was made seven years later. For whatever reason MacArthur’s creators then decide to compound the impending misery by covering a span of ten years instead of Patton’s three, all with a running time 40 minutes shorter than Patton.

In terms of MacArthur, I think a bunch of producers got together and decided to shoehorn a Patton clone, they somehow got Gregory Peck involved, and figured even though they were setting it up for failure that it’d somehow all work it and still make a bunch of gold. It didn’t.

MacArthur made a fraction of Patton’s money, lives with justifiably poor reviews, and just leaves you with sense of apathy. When you’re done with Patton you get the idea you’ve just watched something powerful. When MacArthur’s over you shut off your television and go get another beer.

Peck, who remains one of my favorite actors, touched on this:

I admit that I was not terribly happy with the script they gave me, or with the production they gave me which was mostly on the back lot of Universal. I thought they shortchanged the production.

No kidding. Yet for some reason Peck would still go on to say this was one of his most favorite roles. Maybe because MacArthur was a victorious general, famous and mostly beloved, and Peck got to do a whole bunch of long monologues.

A good example of the disparity is that Jerry Goldsmith did the music for both flicks. You can hear Patton right now, picture the light notes of the trumpet across the North African desert. You know that music. It will live forever. Now you go ahead and try and remember one note from MacArthur. You can’t because Jerry phoned it in. So did everybody else.

MacArthur is just going through the motions, they portray MacArthur’s evacuation of the Philippines in the first ten minutes of the film. It’s one of his most controversial and gut wrenching decisions and we see it immediately with no buildup, no time to establish the film. It’s jarring how quickly this scene shows up.

Conversely the movie is nearly an hour long by the time we see Patton confront his inability to keep his mouth shut and the ever eternal slapping of one of his men. These scenes have power because the movie has taken its time to build a character and story.

The crazy thing about Patton is that so many of the memorable parts we take as genius, thus making MacArthur look silly, almost never happened at all. Nobody wanted to go with the opening flag speech scene. George C. Scott wanted nothing to do with it. So Schaffner just lied to him and said it’d be filmed at the end.

Says Coppola on the commentary tack, “All you young people, bear note, that the things that you are fired for are, are often the things in later life that you are celebrated and given lifetime achievements for.

Patton also has to deal with the enduring reality that it was made without Patton’s input, family, diary, notes, and thus relied heavily on Omar Bradley. I can say what I want about MacArthur’s poor film execution, but the content at face value is likely almost entirely accurate. The same cannot be said of Patton.

If you ask me, the most controversial aspect of the film is not Patton himself but Bradley’s presence. It’s open to interpretation just how much of Scott’s portrayal of Patton’s personality is a mythical creation inside Bradley’s mind. It makes for wonderful movie, but maybe perhaps not the look Patton himself would appreciate. From my end, I think this is how Patton was, some of the time, as in an act. A deliberate act of leadership. The rest of the time he was likely the thoughtful military professional his writings depict, but that which does not make for entertaining movie.

In the end, the best part of these two movies though is that I think that bizarrely, both Patton and MacArthur got the movies they would have personally wanted. Patton got to be played by George C. Scott and seen forever as an eternal warrior monk badass. And MacArthur gets Gregory Peck, who gives a bunch of cool long speeches for two hours. In this sense, they both win the duel. As always, in their own way.

Duel.jpg

Gentlemen! I will now count off the paces. No General MacArthur, I do not know the current exact time of day. General Patton, please wait till my countdown is completed before you wield your bat. General Patton!

enjoy the zoo while you can

A child was endangered, a gorilla got shot, people are now angry about both, and in the end I think the only thing that’ll matter in the long run is this is just yet more justification of why we’re all bound for the crypt as a human race.

I’ve got no idea what my point of this post is, I’m just a bit frazzled, do or do not bear with me.  It’s your call.  Your were warned.

There is a ever growing path in society to just go around and dispense with things that offend people:

– You’re not supposed to play tackle football anymore because it’s dangerous.  Do folks conceptually understand just how perilous driving a car is?

– You’re not allowed to criticize Erdogan anywhere on the planet anymore without getting sued or charged, even though he’s essentially a dictator.  Even Frau Merkel is in on this plan.  Did she happen to forget what opinion the Stasi took on such matters when she was a kid?

– Do you have a varying political opinion from your friend, co-worker, or acquaintance on the street?  Shame on you.  You should be silenced.  We must all agree on everything.  Or else.

– If you happen to every once and a while prefer unhealthy food, then you’re just not understanding that one day a giant 300 pound strongman will be appointed by the courts to stand over your shoulder and hit you with a stick for not eating a pre-approved, organic, sustainable food option.

– If you love the zoo?  That just means you hate animals and want them to suffer.

– Down with squirrels.  Because why not?

When I was a young lad my Parents lost me in the middle of Disney World.  I seriously remember looking around and having lost track of where I was with none of my family in sight.  I must have been about eight or something.  Not knowing what else to do, I just sat down on a bench figuring they’d be back at some point.  And sure enough, probably about fifteen minutes later my Dad strolls up and all was well.

But think of all the wonderful things that could have happened to me:

– Fallen into the It’s a Small World river and drowned.

– Run amok pawning candy off total strangers.

– Got myself kidnapped by the Goofy mascot who would then have taken me to his gingerbread house.

– Proposed marriage to the princess and demanded to remain in this World forever.

But now because a child falls into a gorilla enclosure, the universe has apparently collapsed.  Folks with either too much time on their hands or no appreciation of the planet’s (or their own) actual problems feel the need to detonate the lives of the kid’s parents.

It’s literally international news.  These parents are going to have their lives and reputations detonated by the trolls.  In our brave new world, social media no longer allows you to make mistakes.  You have to suffer for being a flawed human being.  Which means you have to suffer for drawing air from the atmosphere.  Because we’re all flawed human beings.  What a wonderful moment for humanity.

I suggest, that if folks have an issue with these parents making a mistake, they need to put down the fucking stone.  But I don’t really get a vote.

Yet that’s not enough for some people, for since a gorilla was killed, we now need to bang on the zoo drum.  For you see, the zoo is evil.  It captures wild animals and put them in a cage for our own amusement.  It’s positively barbaric.  If that gorilla had not been in the zoo, it’d still be alive.

Except that it wouldn’t.  Because it would have died.  Because with some rare exceptions, almost every animal lives longer in a zoo then it does in the wild.  Do you know why?  Because wild nature is a freaking thresher.  It consumes life with glorious abandon.

Depending upon your viewpoint, it could also be said humanity consumes life with glorious abandon.  You know what won’t help with that?  Closing zoos.  Think we already care almost nothing for the planet?  Wait till four year old Timmy can only read about tigers in a book.  Because the tiger zoo was banned in 2036.

And only Timmy’s rich classmates’ parents (who were the elitists that demanded all the zoos close) have the cash to take their kids on a tiger safari, in which they’ll have to be encased in bubble wrap surrounded by armed guards.  Because life is dangerous you know.  In 2037, kids won’t be allowed to do anything.  I fear for this future.

Shit happens.  Parents make mistakes.  Zoos make mistakes.  Kids make mistakes.  I make mistakes.  You make mistakes.  Your very act of driving a car is more dangerous than anything you do.  Even if you frequently eat or drink poorly to the point you endanger your own life.  You should be allowed to run your mouth to folks about anything without fearing the lawyers or secret police show up at your door.  But you should also be wary of breaking out the social media bat to club somebody you’ve never met.  And the zoo is still a great place.  Because it teaches kids about nature in a manner they’d never experience otherwise.  And in the end this benefits nature.

And in the end I’m going to lose this fight though.  I’m going to get overruled by governments, outrage trolls, do-gooders, and all the others to whom the previous paragraph is viciously offensive.  So enjoy the zoo while you can, I guess.