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Ideology has had its day

Ring down the curtains, pack up the props and shutter the theater. Ideology, that grand stage upon which the great and bloody dramas of the last century were played, is played out.

Ideology was just another fad, a mostly 20th century diversion in the flow of history. We still talk about communism, fascism, socialism, capitalism but that’s all it is, talk. Some form of market economics—and those forms are far too diverse to constitute a cohesive ideology—prevails nearly everywhere.

But that doesn’t mean that history is over. What we have now isn’t the end of history, but rather a return of history. The history of the world since Mesopotamia, the endless struggles between and among states and empires, and now global networks and corporations, for conquest, in their neighborhood, their continent, and the world.

We can’t shake the habit of calling states by their putative ideologies, but that’s antiquated thinking. In what sense is Communist China communistic anymore? Newly crowned dictator for life, Xi Jinping, leads a party that has “communist” in its name, but China is state capitalism and personal power personified. China has no more ideology than the Mafia and less socialism than Denmark. If Marx were alive he’d sue them for slander.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, China has never been a wildly expansionist empire. Historically they’ve seen themselves as the center of the world, the so-called “middle kingdom” and they’ve expected tribute from nations in their neighborhood, but they’ve produced no Caesars. When Zheng He’s Grand Fleet raided the South Pacific and Indian oceans eighty years before Columbus floated across the Atlantic in three dinghies, the Ming Emperors took the treasure, burned the fleet and stayed home.

Russia doesn’t even pretend to be communist anymore, but their history is nothing but Caesars, all the way back to Grand Duchy of Moscow. Even their word for leader, Tsar, is nothing but Caesar with a lisp. That tiny Duchy expanded until it covered a continent and a half, from Murmansk to Vladivostok. The communist interlude in Russian history saw the Russian Empire at its greatest extent, but communism didn’t cause it. Russian expansionism did. And now they have a Tsar again.

A couple of decades ago we were supposed to be entering an ideological clash of civilizations, between the Islamic and non-Islamic world. Well, that obsolescent idea is still around, but it’s Muslim bombs pounding Muslims in Syria, Yemen and beyond. It’s about power, not the Prophet.

Between the Kurds and the Turks, the Iranians and the Saudis, the Chinese and the Japanese, there’s not enough ideological conflict to fill a postcard. It’s all about power.

It always has been. We just got distracted with ideology for a while.

Ideologies arose, mostly in the last century, when a dizzying rate of scientific and technological progress made anything seem possible.

Why, we could even remake human nature! We can turn people into socialist heroes! Fascist supermen! Objectivist demi-gods!

A hundred years and a couple hundred million deaths later, we found out what happens when we act on those impulses. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot: Ideology is an express lane to genocide and national self-immolation.

Power is the real game. The struggle of the nation state against the homogenization of globalization, the spheres of interest of the Great Powers, that’s where the action is. That’s where the action always was.

They just slapped some tail fins on it, called it ideology, and got the peons to go to their deaths with a gun in their hands and a slogan on their lips.

In the good old USA we’ve never done ideology very well. Oh, we fight like roosters over minor political differences but that’s more about party branding then any deeply rooted philosophical ideals.

My conservative and liberal friends won’t buy that, but if the poor can switch from the Democrats to the Republicans in a single generation, while, at the same time, the rich and privileged make the exact opposite move, how important is ideology in politics? It’s all about who’s up, who’s down, and who’s out for the count.

The fight of good against evil, and raw power against raw power will never end. I’m not saying there isn’t a wrong side and a right side in some, even most, human conflicts.

I’m just saying ideology isn’t the way to find it. Never was, never will be. Ideology had its day. I think we’re all better off that its day was yesterday.

 

The “Joys” of Aging

If you’re fortunate, you will live to be old. Yet old age brings thoughts of dread to the young; the best they can say about it is that it beats the alternative.

How little they know. But that’s the defining characteristic of youth: How little they know.

In truth, the “golden years,” are the most liberated, blessed and privileged time of your life.

To appreciate a joyous old age you must accept one inevitable truth: You cannot save your life. You can only spend it.

Know that, and out the window with so-called life-extending diets, which not only are a misery to follow, but change every three months. Fats were suicide a few years ago, now a couple ounces of cheese daily is good for you. Emaciation was the key to longevity just the other day, now carrying a few extra pounds means a few extra years.

Keto diets, paleo diets, the fads never end. The smartest diet is a diet from diets. But try not to get too fat.

The best reason not to gain weight as you age is your wardrobe. If you’re lucky, it, like you, is old. But if you get fat and have to buy new, you’re going to become more stylish. There is nothing more ridiculous than an old person being trying to be stylish.

When you’re young, you’re always struggling with one existential question: “What’s wrong with me?” The answer is “nothing” but you’ll still delve deep into your youth-addled unconscious for a reason, usually wrong. When you’re old you’ll figure that out. End of angst.

When you’re old, people will disregard you. You might think this would be a liability. You’d be mistaken.

Plus, you get to be a grump. I’d tell you about the extreme bliss getting license to be a grump provides, but you’ll have to find out for yourself. So maybe you should do that keto diet after all.

You will gain altitude as you age. Eventually you’ll crash and burn, but until the accidents of living murder you, you’ll gain perspective, every day, with every new, or, more to the point, repeated experience.

Even politics is easier to take when you’re old. Donald Trump came as a shock to the system to most young people. They didn’t see him coming and when he came they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Donald Trump surprised most of us ancient mariners too. But we know exactly what we’re seeing. We’ve seen it before.

Youth lacks humility because youth is an ass. We’re all asses but the young haven’t been alive long enough to know it. Along with age comes humility and a healthy skepticism of everything, especially oneself. That gift is invaluable.

I remember, must have been around 1964, a new food stand near the beach at Ocean City Maryland. It had a big sign saying, “Will the taco replace the hot dog?”

I got a good laugh about that for the next decade or so. Then again, their tacos stunk, so it wasn’t all my fault.

When you turn 65 the government should swap your Social Security card for an Old Folks License. “The bearer of this card shall be entitled to the best seats on public transit, shall be able to cut the line at any theater, entertainment venue and restaurant, and park in any designated handicap parking place, so long as another is open for authorized placard holders.

“His or her use of antiquated racial, sexual or ethnic terms is a part of his or her cultural heritage and shall be excused.

“In addition, the bearer of this card is allowed to call wait staff and other service providers “honey or doll” without said employee taking offense. In bearer’s time, such terms were expressions of endearment, not harassment or disrespect.”

These are great times to be an old person. We may not be able to tweet or blog or snapchat, but we’re vintage. And nothing is hipper than retro.

There is joy to be had between Depends and dementia. You’ve earned the right to ignore the fashions of the day, to laugh at the follies of the present, to live both in the moment and in all the moments you’ve lived.

Old age is all you have to look forward to, children. So take good care of yourself, but not too good. Enjoy the present. There could be an idiot Uber with your name on it barreling down Market Street. You never know.

 

My Virtual Valentine?

February is the month of love, but it sure doesn’t feel that way now. This feels more like a time of spousal abuse and sexual harassment than chocolate hearts and romance. Love is out of fashion, the culture doesn’t believe in it much anymore. A couple generations ago we were urged to “get on board the love train,” but that caboose ran off the rails.

What changed? Reality changed. We virtualized our lives and lost our real ones. The digital life is seductive but unsatisfying. Because it’s not alive at all.

Love is biological; it is not virtual. We are biological beings. If you sense a love deficit, and how can you not, it’s because you’re human.

Be my virtual valentine? It’s not enough, is it? That requires flesh and breath. The difference between real love and virtual love is the difference between intimacy and internet porn.

This isn’t just a rant by a superannuated technophobe. The spiritual emptiness of the digital life is no secret; it’s expressed all over our language and contemporary culture.

Consider the two meanings of the word surf. Ocean surfing has a mystical place in our imaginations. Surfers talk about bliss, being one with the wave, the ocean, mother earth. When you surf you feel your body move, and your spirit, too. Surfing, at its best, is reverence, it’s a living being floating on the mind of God.

Then there’s the virtual surf of bytes and bits. The detached, alienated connection with every other digital entity through a cold, hard screen. You surf a screen with your eyes and maybe your ears, not active but passively consuming. You are not biological, you are a digital end point, a receptacle.

That’s why there is so much anger in the digital world. Screens are cold, anger is hot. Anger penetrates the screen. And then us.

One kind of surfing produces joy, the other angst. One is biological, the other dry and dead as a zombie.

Which maybe explains why pop culture is so captivated by the zombie apocalypse. Maybe it’s because we’re already living it.

Why does anger seem more relevant than love these days? Because we’re trapped in a web that feels like landfill. A vast garbage dump, littered with jagged edges. Shards of life, shattered by rage.

For all the “likes” we tap online, there isn’t much liking going on. Mostly we fight and insult and snark at one another. And why not, it’s only a screen we’re insulting. We rarely do that face to face. Face to face anger is dangerous, painful and bad for your blood pressure.

A screen has no blood pressure, it’s ice cold and responds best to hot emotions. But that screen is reflective, the anger we pound into it bounces right back.

We don’t have a Valentine’s day for anger. That’s because we recognize anger as a vice. But we’re in an angry time. If an ad has a woman in it, she’s always “fierce.” As if anger was necessary to be fully human today.

On some level we feel the dead hand of the digital on our souls, and we fight against it. Our sports have become more and more extreme because only facing death makes us feel alive. Used to be you could just go bowling; now you have to jump off the Matterhorn in a wingsuit.

The allure of the virtual, and it’s emptiness, are on full display in cat videos. A cat video is cute, watching them is addicting, and really, what’s not to like about a cat video?

Nothing, except that a cat video can never be a cat. A cat video can’t purr, or scratch, or love.

Nobody understands the dangers of over-technologizing better than the tech moguls. Tech gurus are very open about the damage their products do to children. Most of them won’t let their kids use the media they make.

Here’s the thing, though. If virtual, non-biological life is bad for kids, it’s bad for everyone. It’s the same as smoking. We don’t let kids smoke, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad for adults. Smoking doesn’t become harmless because you’re over 18.

There is no turning back the clock, I know that. The virtual isn’t going away, we need to transcend it. We need to reach for love. Not the virtual golem of digital anti-social social love, but the real, biological thing.

Because we’re biological creatures. Analogue beings lost in a digital maze. Pixilated and furious.

California: The Two-State Solution

California, you have the least equal citizens in America. Each Californian has one-twenty millionth of a vote in the United States Senate.

With 12% of the nation’s population, California has exactly 2% of the votes in the senate. Same as Wyoming, which means that for every vote a California citizen gets in the senate, a Wyomingite gets seventy.

This injustice, embedded in the Constitution, is old news. The framers gave each state two senators, regardless of population. They did this for two reasons: to placate the small states, which seems silly now, and to get the slave states to ratify, which was the mother of all corrupt bargains.

But you don’t have to reach back into ancient history to see the damage to big, underrepresented states like California. That malign two senator policy just cost California a beating in the new tax law, reducing our state and local tax deductions to a ridiculously inadequate $10,000.

In no democratic system imaginable could you pass a law so contrary to the interests of so many people. It couldn’t happen. But it did, because our votes don’t count for much. Our 40 million citizens are horribly underrepresented. The states of Wyoming, Delaware, Alaska, Vermont and both Dakotas, whose combined populations don’t reach 6 million, have six times as many senators than we do, twelve to our two.

The new tax law is a textbook case of taxation without reasonable representation. That’s supposed to be a mortal sin in America. We were founded in violent opposition to taxation without representation. It’s the kind of thing Americans won’t stand for.

Yet we put up with it and more. Stripping tax deductions, undercutting sanctuary city policies, defying marijuana legalization, selling oil leases where no sane Californian would allow drilling, California gets the middle finger from the Federal government because our 40 million are virtually disenfranchised in the senate. They shaft us because they can.

There is no chance in hell that we’ll ever get rid of the two-votes-per-state rule in the senate, though hell is where it belongs. But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless, my fellow Californians.

We can begin to rectify this blatant injustice by recourse to The Two-State Solution. Split our oversized state in two, and just like that, you double our senators.

There has been talk of a breakup lately from a right wing fringe group calling itself New California. They’ve declared independence from us commies on the “coast ” They also claim California is an ungovernable tyranny, which is a spectacularly moronic oxymoron.

But there is far sounder reason for breaking California into two states: Senators.

Cut California in two, north and south. Make the dividing line between North California and South California somewhere near San Louis Obispo. You’d still have two very populous states. Maybe 25 million below the line and 15 million above. But with one big difference. We’d have four senators, not two.

Two Californias, North and South. If it’s good enough for the Dakotas and the secesh Carolinas, it’s good enough for us.

Some could object that I’m only suggesting this drastic change because I’m sure that the two new states will elect four Democratic senators. Guilty as charged, but that’s not the only reason, and electoral politics change. California used to be reliably Republican, it could be so again.

But the moral argument is deeper and incontrovertible; it is profoundly undemocratic for forty million voters to have two lousy senators. Getting four doesn’t rectify that injustice, but it helps.

The Two-State solution will be good for the national economy, too. Think of all the fifty one star flags we’ll have to manufacture. Not to mention maps and fridge magnets, tee shirts and souvenir shot glasses.

Ok, that stuff will be great for China. But it won’t cost Russia a dime, so the current president shouldn’t mind at all.

Everything good will double overnight. Two state birds, two state flags, two state mottoes, (I suggest “Creative Destruction!” and “Lights, Camera, Action!”) and two state capitals. South California will produce the content that entertains the world. North California will create the media to distribute it globally.

The Two State Solution is a win-win for us. It’s a lose-lose for the tiny troglodyte states that harass and oppress us with impunity. But there are far more of us than them. And in a democracy, the majority rules.

Do you want to make America great again? Fifty one is greater than fifty. Enact the Two-State Solution, now.