Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Roseanne Barr's firing is a trench warfare casualty; can we avoid the same fate? #1stAmendment

Our freedom of speech has become a trench warfare battle where only "market justice" will determine who prevails.

I just ended an hour long stream with a fellow YouTube creator, Akil Alleyne aka "The Realist Libertarian", and we had a very open if confusing conversation about the issues of the new NFL national anthem kneeling law, and the subject of Roseanne Barr's firing by ABC came up. The irony of our chat was that despite the difference of perspectives on the Colin Kaepernick saga, racial politics, and personal beliefs, I agreed with him on both the idea of a legal restriction of freedom of speech in the workplace as well as that of a moral societal imperative to expand freedom of speech in excess of the legal protection in order to create a more civil society.

Yet after hanging up the call, I continue to sink back into the cynical nature of my personal observations and experience and despair of the state of that freedom of speech. The problem is no longer whether people believe in those rights but of whether they are willing to grant the courtesy and patience to entertain the speech that is being expressed by people whose views enrage them. 

A very simple piece of personal experience with this topic is the series of #FarrakhanFeminism articles and videos I produced since February in response to the Women's March national leadership co-chair Tamika Mallory's ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. My aim in that series was not to say "well, Farrakhan is a hateful person and he should shut up"; on the contrary it was to illustrate that thanks to the availability of his content on the internet any freethinking individual should be able to explore how his religious and social beliefs are simply incompatible with modern day feminism and intersectionality. I would never begrudge YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform for granting Farrakhan a venue to express his beliefs; without them I could not do my work, and I must confess it is a guilty pleasure watching him work a crowd and get into the zone even if I find the words coming out of his mouth to be ridiculous and contrary to my own views.

Those indignant over Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, as Alleyne stated, are in many respects the same type of people that tune into Roseanne because she is also willing to slay the sacred cows of others that are Kaepernick supporters. This is a circle of outrage that feels gratifying in the heat of the argument, but in reality is producing a public forum of people that have little to no trust in one another. In our discussion I repeated the concession I had made elsewhere that while I think that Kaepernick is a jerk-off, the imposition of a new NFL rule prohibiting on-field protests during the anthem is two years too late. The only conclusion I can come to is that the NFL had a chance to give a clear ruling in 2016, and instead it decided to punt the ball away. 

In the same manner, the Walt Disney Corporation as Roseanne's employer OK'ed a revival of her show throughout 2017 and 2018 knowing full well that her viewpoints were controversial and had been for a long time. Barr had at one point been a presidential candidate for the far-left Peace and Freedom Party in 2012 and then later veered to the other end of the spectrum in response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. They knew that signing the comedienne would be accompanied with a fair portion of sweaty collars for their PR people. The day before, Barr had openly sparred with Chelsea Clinton and even ridiculed her looks by retweeting a user making fun of her teeth by comparing them to the donkey from Shrek. 

 So people have to then question what's going on here. Nobody is debating the factual statement of whether Roseanne Barr is correct in saying that Chelsea Clinton has donkey teeth. The debate is also not over whether Valerie Jarrett looks like she's a character from Planet of the Apes. In either case, people are objecting to the purported insensitivity of attacking a woman's looks or analogizing a black person to a non-human ape species. 

I didn't watch Roseanne's new show, and I have a neutral take on her current political "conversion". I have a suspicion, just as I did in Kaepernick's case, that her motivation for becoming vocally political was careerist. She risked nothing as her show was a commercial success in the 1980s and 90s, and has raked in millions for her and others through TV syndication. The reason for her wanting to come back was likely due to a legitimate though selfish desire for the spotlight. I have argued that for Colin Kaepernick, the motivation was a byzantine attempt to get traded from the San Francisco 49ers with whom he was by then feuding.

What I find to be the real threat is not the motivations or validity of the causes of Kaepernick or Roseanne. Rather, it is the idea that currently when someone in the audience of a public event finds something objectionable in the content they are watching, they now have a corporate culture on many telecom platforms that is encouraging them to act as a speech police to squelch the offending speech rather than rebut it with an alternative or at least a review based on taste.

The executives of these companies may behave as if they are receptive to an "inclusive" and "socially conscious" corporate culture, but rest assured that beneath the surface this is how they are thinking:

  • NFL: "We can donate millions of dollars to causes that are supposedly in tune with Colin Kaepernick's beliefs while simultaneously having GM's and owners lacking the conviction to have him on a roster and willing to take the commercial hit".
  • Walt Disney/ABC/ESPN: "We will fire Roseanne Barr in order to slake the thirst of outrage over racial stereotypes, but continue to employ racial and political arsonists like Jemele Hill, Keith Olbermann and Max Kellerman because we lack the courage to look in the mirror and acknowledge that no, we're not a sports and entertainment hub anymore, we're an institution of an imposed social order."
These two approaches may appear different, but they are not. They also have two very important things in common: As far as marketing optics they are not fooling anyone, and at the same time their moral compass spins in every direction and no direction at once.

Why not embrace a solution that is both painful but in the long term a healthier alternative? Accept that we may have to hear things that clash with our worldviews or might even find defamatory, but respond to this with the best presentation you can of why that is wrong. Those that live in fear of things they may hear that are hurtful inherently concede that they feel too weak to live outside of a system of tyranny.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

I'm not living on Sugarloaf Mountain.

Image result for sugarloaf mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

A rare dream from the past has jarred both regret and acceptance of a new path in life. One Saturday morning I woke up early and then fell back asleep. What happened in that dream showed me how much had changed, but also what unfortunately hasn't changed in my life. Has believing in personal freedom and a free society cost me friendship and happiness? 

I thank the Lord above that I live in this country at this time in history and have been privileged (yes, I use that world intentionally) to have spoken with people of different faiths and opinions. I think when my mom (may she rest in peace) came to this country not just to be happy but to challenge herself and think outside of the box. And after watching her battle disability from an injury, ongoing depression and mental health issues, as well as dealing with raising a kid after a bitter and awful divorce, and finally the soul crushing ovarian cancer that eventually took her life five years ago I was unsure what was the best way to preserve her the gifts that she gave to me and my older brother.

If it was to live a life of happiness surrounded by support and encouragement, I wonder if she should have found a better candidate whose social skills were stronger. Most of my strongest friendships are with people that I meet over video chats, and those that I know in person are typically ex-coworkers and friends from college.. 

Growing up I was always the problem student, the one that cut school habitually, used profanity to teachers, and would be the contrarian at every opportunity. I remember that when I moved to Israel and enrolled in a pre-military preparatory programme with other local students and the  director singled me out saying (using the English word): "He is an outsider, and I think we know he's an outsider". The moment sticks with me, and it's not just because I was the only recent immigrant there or that I was unusually antagonistic among the group (quite the contrary, in fact) but because there seemed to be some sort of aura of misery and resentment that's followed me since I can remember. 

So throughout my life every instance when I had the chance to fit in to a formal structure has been a failure, with the exception of several jobs that I've had where I was given a good amount of leeway to do my work individually. So after a thoroughly disappointing military service I had to piece together my life, make amends with my parents and start a career. There was a point that I remember, flying back from Israel to the USA almost nine years ago, that I accepted that there were certain elements of personal happiness that I had lost and would never reclaim. That hasn't changed since enrolling in college, getting my bachelor's and master's degrees, and working in my industry:
  • All my friendships are temporal and seem to dissolve with time, distance, and lack of dependence.
  • I've never been truly needed by anyone, and I don't think that's going to change.
  • My fears of betrayal and abandonment often make my fatalistic approach to personal relationships a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In 2016, I like many others became more politically aware and active surrounding our presidential election here in the USA, and since then my attention to these issues of personal happiness has diminished. Instead I've committed much of my work to supporting civil liberties, a free market and open society, and the belief in individualism above group thinking. Whereas once I was a believer in more progressive/socialist systems years ago in high school, I think that my philosophy has in the last decade realigned to be true to my own reality. 

This is to say: I believe in individual freedom, because unfortunately I'm not as comfortable as others belonging to a group. The only time I do use my voice is often in dissent towards someone else's.

The Sugarloaf Cable Car vision

This weekend out of the blue I had a dream that was so vivid that it felt like a vision of an alternate reality. Some nine years ago, prior to moving back here, I had been infatuated with a girl that was in the same academic program as me. But nothing came of it, as she rejected me and began dating a different kid. It was a frustrating experience because the other guy was someone I generally got along with and an inner voice told me: It makes total sense that she would pick him and not me. This ate at me for years on end, and unfortunately I'm embarrassed to say that I used this rejection as motivation to keep working for myself to succeed. This is because since my mom's passing I haven't had any positive motivations to progress in life, only spite towards others and the need to redeem myself.

So in this dream/vision I felt redeemed. And not only were we together, this girl and I, but bizarrely we were on a honeymoon in her country. And beyond for whatever reason there were numerous other people there; her family and friends, and I think my dad was there too. I remember there being a cable car, which is somewhat consistent with Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. But like all dreams, with one inhalation or movement of a limb, you realize that this did not happen. I think this coincided with a moment when I noticed she had removed her ring and put it on top of a wood cabinet in the dining room. This gesture was as sure as anything a sign to me: "No way did this even happen". 

So the vision ended, and my day began. I don't know how others would react to that type of vision, which was crystal clear and felt like hours, but it did not make the day very cheery for me. Especially when you consider that once awake I was looking out the window at the still chilly Midwest in April and not sunny South America. I was more than disappointed, but downright dejected. 

The next day, remembering her name I checked her profile and saw that she'd been married. This poses for me the question, what was the message of this dream? Was it to let go, or a taunt from above? How is it that after years of putting this out of my mind it catches up once again, and why am I plagued by regrets about things that never happened?

Individual freedom does not mean individual happiness

I've worked so hard to focus on ideas that are so impersonal, they almost render their advocates like me irrelevant: an engineering career, promoting free markets, fighting censorship and compelled speech. These are beliefs that have left me alienated from the world, and isolated me from others. I never thought this would give me happiness or affirmation from others, because those are things that I've yet to experience and I don't expect to anytime soon.

During my life I've never denied a spiritual existence that is above our material world. Nevertheless, some of my greatest influences in terms of personal philosophy have been ones that struggled with faith and succumbed to despair. For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms were two books I was enthralled by from the mind of a brilliant but troubled mind, one that eventually took his own life: Ernest Hemingway. Another one, significantly more obscure, is the music parody creator Rucka Rucka Ali who himself struggled with thoughts of suicide and channeled it into a career of being as abrasive and offensive as possible.

I'm not waiting for that dream vision from that Saturday morning to manifest itself in my life. If I want to see Sugarloaf Mountain, the only way is to buy a ticket and actually go there. . . and risk getting robbed. Believing in individual freedom and choice means acceptance of the choices that others make that work against you. I've found the purpose I need to continue without others affirming it and that means digging for the truth beyond the convenient jaded reality that others seek to impose over our dissent. It doesn't feel like misery anymore, because I'm not even sure what true happiness would feel like. So yes: Still contrarian, still a pessimist, still somewhat paranoid, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

I guess even if it were to happen, I won't be "running if you call my name".