Archives for posts with tag: Donald Trump

There is a fairly cynical worldview out there called Psychological Egoism. What this means is that every human action, regardless of how altruistic, can only be motivated by some kind of personal gain. A common example is the story of Abraham Lincoln, of all people, saving a pig stuck in some mud, and then explaining afterward that he would have been bothered all day had he left the pig stuck in its predicament. It’s probably not a factual depiction of history, but it gets the point across.

Some go further than the uncomfortable feeling one might possess if they had not rescued a pig in distress. Complete self-sacrifice, such as throwing oneself onto a grenade in order to save one’s peers, has been argued to be selfishly oriented as well. The story goes that the person is of such a disposition that the life they would have led had they not sacrificed themselves would be less agreeable than death. It is a selfish act because they choose for themselves the less painful of the two options. The introspection and regret would have been too much, and so to avoid that personal suffering, they selfishly kill themselves, saving everyone else.

Charming, right? Such a lovely mentality.

I want to take a different approach. Since those who argue for humanity’s inherent selfishness look to the altruistic paragons in order to tear them down, I’m going to look at the most selfish behaviour, and see if I can’t argue that it is inherently selfless. Since I want to look at the worst of the worst, I will of course be examining the Trump family.

The Eric Trump Foundation’s charity golf tournament, which raises money for children with cancer, falsely tells its donors that 100% of their donations go to charity. Eric Trump alleges that his father Donald allows them use of his golf course for free, when in reality, the Trump organization charges them for everything, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars “donated” by unsuspecting philanthropists. Surely this must be a selfish act!

Eric Trump connives and takes advantage of cancerous children for the sake of his family. He has no interest in himself, but spreads the wealth that he steals from charity to the people he cares about most. He would risk his name being dragged through the mud, vilified for his deeds, in order to bring in extra money for the only people that matter to him.

Now you might think, the Trump family already has enough. As president, Donald is seeking to eliminate the only taxes that he appears to have to pay! Surely they do not need the extra cash. Yet I expect that the Trump family believes that they would make better use of any funds given to them, bettering the world by making sure that those who best know how to utilize money are the ones given the opportunity to do so.

Those who routinely decry taxation as theft, who would rather spend less on the property tax on their vacation home, do so because they believe that they know how to spend their money better than some government. They believe firmly that the world would be better off if they had the choice on whether the money they earned sends poor children to school or buys a second vacation home, rather than have that decision made for them.

The natural human lifespan necessarily requires altruism. Leaving a legacy, preparing a dynasty, we as individuals always leave this mortal coil, which means that a portion of our life is inherently dedicated to who and what we leave behind, but let’s say that Donald Trump was not going to bequeath his vast wealth to his children when he dies. Let’s say, after he has stolen so much from so many, he burns it all, rather than dispersing it to anyone, loved ones or otherwise. This would obviously be because he believed that the world would be improved without this money in it. Why else would he burn it if he didn’t believe the world would be better off?

Every act we take is based on helping the ones we love (even if it negatively impacts others), and improving the world based on the personal standards that we hold it to. Even if others might disagree on those standards, we cannot help but abide by our own.

Perhaps you might think my examples far-fetched. The Trump family is a difficult sell as decent human beings of any sort. Yet my story is just as plausible as the soldier jumping on a grenade for selfish reasons. We can come up with speculation to justify or betray any behaviour.

In all honesty, there are certainly selfish behaviours, just as there are selfless ones. Trying to confine the complexity of humanity into one is just as absurd as confining it to the other. How we judge and perceive the actions of others is more determined by what story we are willing to tell. If someone perceives every action as selfish, I believe that speaks greater volumes about the accuser than it does about our human nature.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Muslims are all terrorists. 1.6 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, are interchangeable variations of the same, freedom-hating towel head. From those in Uzbekistan to Bangladesh; from Morocco to Indonesia; from Algeria to Tunisia, all of them identical in every way. Actually, in doing some research so I could sarcastically list Muslim countries that nobody talks about because America isn’t drone-striking the shit out of them, I discovered that there are more Muslims in India and Pakistan than in the entirety of the Middle East! Normally this would imply vast cultural differences based on external influences, but we’re ignoring the incredible diversity that a quarter of the world’s population spread out over the globe necessarily implies, so again, for the sake of argument, Muslims are a homogeneous group with one goal in mind: destroying the West with suicide bombs and beheading videos.

Why do they hate our freedoms? I mean it’s just as easy to make blanket assumptions about their motivations (they’re evil) as it is to make blanket assumptions about their behaviours, but I’m going to hold motivations to a higher standard at this point otherwise this blog would be over very quickly.

I haven’t been entirely fair. I am certain there is another generalization that someone could use that doesn’t denounce Muslims as evil, and there is. They are just backward savages who haven’t caught up to civilization yet. It’s not bigotry if it’s condescending! I mean, the Iraq War was justified as a means to bring modernity and democracy to a simple, superstitious people who would surely be grateful for the wisdom (This was obviously after the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” excuse fell apart). If you consider the Medieval period when Christianity was pulling people apart on the rack, and now Muslims are beheading people, clearly parallels can be drawn. Muslims, a quarter of the planet, are just less culturally evolved, and surely they’ll catch up in the next few hundred years. That is how time works.

This is called Modernization theory. It basically says that all civilizations start out as baby hunter/gatherer tribes, and evolve through similar phases, until everyone ends up at the pinnacle of culture, us. We’re the best, and everyone else is just in an adolescent phase of their cultural development, and they can’t help that their limbic systems haven’t fully developed yet! This is what is commonly known as racism: the perceived notion that one’s own culture is superior to another. If a culture exists today, then it is a modern culture. THAT is how time works. The reason that one society might have longer life expectancies and less random violence isn’t part of some preordained path that each group of people must follow; human societies don’t exist in a vacuum. Shit goes on all around us, and that is what determines the direction groups of people will follow.

So what’s been going on with these generalized Muslims? Well, way back when Western secularism was first introduced to Muslim-dominated countries, the elites were all very impressed! They marveled at the technological advances that had been made; they listened to the Enlightenment ideas with rapt interest; they were awed by the massive expansion that the West was capable of, and they actually tried to secularize themselves with these Western ideologies. Except the problem with top-down ideological revolution is that it is indistinguishable from oppression. It usually involves banning practices from the previous paradigm, and violently enforcing its new social norms. This means that the Muslims who had been living out their lives quite contentedly were now being punished for that old way of living and were pushed toward this new way that allowed the powerful to buddy up with Western imperialists. Who cares what happens to the vulgar masses? Try to imagine what would happen if Obama implemented Sharia law while in office.  The reaction to that, I imagine, would be identical to the sordid Middle Eastern history of Islamic conflict with the West.

In addition to brutally enforced Westernization, the relationship between these two civilizations continued with a general disdain held by the West against the Middle East. Consider the creation of Israel. Turns out that the British, who did not even have ownership of the land at the time, promised it both to the Arabs, in the hopes that they would help them fight the Ottomans, and to the Jews as well, mostly to get them out of England. Given that someone was going to be inevitably screwed over by this incredible act of duplicity, and that the Jews had just suffered through the holocaust, Israel thus became a Jewish state. This Jewish state, now beholden to the West, acts as a stabilizer for the area. Stability in this context means that it will destroy with violence any group that gets out of line and does not provide appropriate resources at a steal of a price. The West betrayed the Muslims of the Middle East, and then allied themselves with the favoured demographic in order to marginalize and rob them.

Remember how I said earlier that the Western excuse for Middle Eastern intervention is to bomb the countries into respectable democracies? Well it turns out that the Middle East has been quite capable of establishing democracies in the past, but they tend to elect leaders who have the interests of the people in mind, rather than the interests of the West. In 1953, Iran elected a leader who was going to nationalize the oil industry so that the profits could go to the people of the country rather than foreign corporations. Unlucky for him, America and England decided that this would not do, and assassinated him. They then put up their own puppet dictator that brutalized the populace, but made sure that the money and resources went to the right people. More recently in Afghanistan, when Hamid Karzai was elected, rather than allow the people of the country to put into power someone who might allow Afghans some degree of autonomy, the US simply populated parliament with the warlords who had torn up the country in the aftermath of the proxy war fought between America and Russia decades earlier. I suppose putting in your own violent puppets in the first place means you don’t have to assassinate democratically elected world leaders to do it after the fact. Fun fact: Jihadi extremism was encouraged by the Americans during their cold war forays into the region as a weapon against the communists, and then was simply allowed to run rampant after the US pulled out their troops. The Taliban used Jihadi textbooks literally provided by the US to indoctrinate children into this violent mindset. There are many other examples of American interventions in democratic countries, purposefully destabilizing them for the sake of the flow of capital, but those are mostly irrelevant for the purposes of this blog.

America is actually quite fond of supporting brutal dictators in the Middle East. Remember the Iraq war that allowed Bush Jr. to fight Saddam just like daddy did? Saddam was the worst human imaginable, as the story goes, which is odd considering that America was providing him with money and weapons almost right up until they invaded his country in the early 90s. Or how about Hozni Mubarak, the malevolent dictator that Obama condemned when the people overthrew him. Again this is odd considering America had been supporting the despot for about 30 years. The excuses typically given are that these autocrats provide stability to the region, the same kind of stability I was talking about earlier.

The Middle East doesn’t produce violent extremism because of any ideological differences between Islam and the secular/Christian West, but because the Middle East has resources that the West devours but doesn’t want to pay for, so they, without any subtlety, fuck over everyone who lives there. People who, in theory, ought to have the rights to that covetous oil in the first place. If Arabs are constantly fighting over everything and are dirt poor, they’ll never be able to stand up to the greed-driven powerhouses responsible for their squalor. The touted “stability” that the West supports in the region is actually its opposite, since a Middle East in solidarity would be able to actualize some form of control over those resources, thereby forbidding the West from exploiting them.

If you’re thinking, hey now, I never condoned that colonial barbarism being committed by my society against the Middle East! I shouldn’t be targeted by Jihadi terrorists! I’m completely innocent! Doesn’t feel good to be judged for the deeds and mentalities of individuals who are only related to you by the most superficial of connections, does it? Well, I doubt the vast majority of Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran are particularly fond that they are being targeted for the deeds of people only akin to them under the most desperate of comparisons either. Except technically, we are more responsible for Western destructiveness than Muslims are for general acts of terrorism because we elect the government officials who collude with vicious imperialists regimes, if not the ones who perform the vicious imperialism outright. Muslims bear no such responsibility for the deeds of entirely unrelated peoples.

If you’re thinking, hey now, I know what this is really about, and Donald Trump isn’t trying to ban Muslims, he’s only trying to ban people from seven Muslim majority countries! Except, he said he was going to implement a Muslim ban, Rudy Giuliani said Trump asked him how to institute a Muslim ban, and considering the fear that right-wingers have of terrorists swarming in from my own Canada, why wouldn’t he include Canadian visas on his list? (you should totally read that second hyperlink to Breitbart because they manage to turn Canada’s loose regulations on Muslims to somehow being Barack Obama’s fault. It’s fucking hilarious) Trump said that Mexico is sending America their criminals and rapists, as if the country itself is responsible for the problem, and yet Mexico is not on the list either. The 9/11 terrorists that allegedly inspired the executive order did not come from any of these countries. That they are “trouble-spots” ignores the problems going on in Burma, Israel/Palestine, Romania, the Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc. The only connection any of these countries have is that they are populated by mostly Muslims and don’t do business with Trump. Saying that this executive order is anything but a ban on Muslims ignores that it does not target the largest terrorist-producing nations, ignores what Trump himself has said about instituting a Muslim ban, ignores most of global conflict, and does not even coincide with the worldview espoused by its most fervent supporters. An interesting counter-argument that I haven’t seen in slogging through alt-right perspectives might be that these are countries that America is being overtly hostile toward, but that doesn’t work either, since America is very vocally claiming that it is fighting “terrorism” and not individual countries, so banning visas from those countries makes no sense from this perspective either. Also, how is “Obama and Carter did it too!” an argument against it being a Muslim ban? If the Democratic party is so hard on Muslims, then why fight tooth and nail to oust them? You can’t clamor for a ban on Muslims, and then when one is basically implemented, deny that it is exactly that when people call you out on it.

Post-script: There is actually a short version to this. I mean, these days the West is basically murdering civilians willy-nilly and then expecting that the region is not going to be pissed off about it. Why do Muslims-who-are-all-terrorists hate us? Really?

No one likes despotism. Well, I suppose those who derive auxiliary power to enforce the despot’s will might think it’s okay, but if we look at a dictatorship from behind Rawls’s veil of ignorance, then it is certainly not an optimal form of government. Generally authoritarianism, as the imposition of one person or group’s will onto the rest of society, is frowned upon with swathes of historical evidence showing why it might be politically gauche.

In Western culture today, the common authoritarian bogeyman is Donald Trump, who speaks of cracking down with full state authority on dissenters, journalists, and satirists in a picture-perfect representation of tyrannical authoritarianism. What about those attempting to resist Trump’s foreboding ascension? Progressive movements today have a complete disdain for authority, often avoiding leadership of any kind, as they attempt to revolutionize the practices of their country.

In Vladimir Lenin’s The State and Revolution, he says:

The anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.

When looking at the Russian communist revolution with this quotation (and many others from that book, holy) in mind, it is of little wonder that Joseph Stalin’s subsequent regime was so brutal. However, Lenin raises an important point. The very act of revolution is by its nature authoritarian. Even if your future utopia is a stateless one, as Lenin’s indeed was (though he did not consider it utopian), then achieving it will require the annexation of conflicting beliefs through some means or another, and then further displays of authority to maintain that foothold. One cannot be wholly anti-authoritarian and expect to make social change.

Considering how extreme the early communist rhetoric was, it is fairly simple to challenge it even in revolutionary terms. The more educated may cite ‘power-with’ as their response to the traditional, authoritarian ‘power-over’, where one utilizes whatever social authority they possess to work with those who hold less social power to ameliorate their position instead of simply demanding they follow certain criteria in order to conform to societal norms. However, if we consider this practice in the terms of social change, working with someone until they conform to the new paradigm sounds more like 1984 indoctrination rather than its touted anti-oppressive modality; an option not much improved over violent enforcement.

Slavoj Žižek chastises left wing practice in this capacity as a worse form of totalitarianism than its traditional counterpart. The example he uses is of a child not wanting to visit their grandmother. The traditional approach would be to force the child to visit their grandmother without regard for their feelings, but this new approach is different; Žižek dramatizes, “You know how much your grandmother loves you, but nonetheless I’m not forcing you to visit her; you should only visit her if you freely decide to do it.” Couched in this approach is the underlying pressure that not only must this child conform to the action that is demanded of them, but they must also want to conform. They must become the person who would willingly perform their social role.

Consider Kim Davis, the woman who refused to license same-sex couples. She was punished in the traditional sense, but the real vitriol was reserved for her characteristics as a person. Her failure was not so much in purposefully breaking this new law, but in her values. In order for her to truly belong within the new societal paradigm, she must not only license same-sex couples, she must want to do it as well. One may claim that these social movements are based on unalterable truths to which anyone could become enlightened should they receive the prerequisite education, but purporting a divine truth merely turns the process into a crusade rather than a simple revolution. There may no longer be rifles, bayonets, and cannons, but the authoritarianism is still present, with much bolder goals in mind.

Though it may sound like it due to the negative connotations of authoritarianism, this is not a condemnation of contemporary progressive movements. As Lenin says, change will always require some degree of authoritarianism. The condemnation occurs when the authoritarianism is obscured, dismissed, or ignored with the results being hypocrisy, delusion, or ineffectual soapboxing respectively. If we wish to avoid the devastation of Leninism, then rather than pretend it doesn’t exist, authoritarianism must be acknowledged and driven along a path that does not lead to a destructive state.

The biggest mistake of Leninism was the us-versus-them dichotomy from which a “proletarian dictatorship” (his words) was the outcome. Separating society into enemies and allies can only lead to oppression and bloodshed. This divisive dyad is still prevalent in the black versus white attitudes of the Black Lives Matter movement, or the women versus men attitudes of popular feminism. Even the term ally is indicative of this mentality; an ally against whom? The faceless Other who must be defeated. If we understand the intrinsic nature of authoritarianism within social change, the presence of this dichotomy is a serious concern. Inclusivity within social change is therefore paramount.

In addition, focusing on policies and practices would alleviate many of the dangers of authoritarianism. Most movements today prefer to prioritize personal identity and expression, again making the paradigm about the values and characteristics of the individual more so than the actual structures of society. The ostracization and shaming of a county clerk only becomes an arm of oppression after the structural foundation of the paradigm shift has been cemented in place. Of note: though Trump has declared gay marriage to be safe, it is important to bring up the potential damage he might cause against Planned Parenthood. Perhaps you might wonder if society had done more to silence pro-lifers when it had the chance, this structure would not be in jeopardy. This is true, but what kind of society would that be? If abortion is good for society, this can be shown through data on women’s health and autonomy, poverty and crime rates, and myriads of other information that could be attributed to the legality and availability of abortions. If it is not, perhaps on the grounds of morality or family cohesion, then there would need to be a weighing of the variables. In none of these instances is a shutting down of dissent necessary.

Alternatively, a path might be available that I will call skeptical authoritarianism. In it, I might recognize that in trying to create change I am imposing my will on others, just as those who seek to maintain the status quo or implement other forms of change are trying to impose their wills on me. If I maintain skeptical attitudes about the infallibility of my position, I may be able to, through dialogue, compromise with the Other. At best (from my perspective), I may make incremental change toward my ideal, but I may also in turn realize other truths that would be unavailable to me if I remained within my own echo chamber.

Fear of authoritarianism within a social movement is nonsensical. Leadership is not an inherent evil, nor is relativism an inherent good. Understanding the nature of change will lead to improved methods of implementing it. Failing to do so, or remaining purposefully oblivious, will either lead to further cycles of traditional revolution, totalitarianism, or annihilation.