Tag Archives: politics

What I Believe About America in 2012

Listen: America is changing.

It’s not just that Obama is a hit with young voters. It’s that young voters are increasingly multiracial and metropolitan, and they reward the candidates and policies that represent their views: inclusive, aspirational and non-limiting.

The conservative leaders in America seem either unwilling to grasp the complexity of our country’s changing demographics, or else they’re convinced that this is somehow an aberration, and that traditional politics of exclusion, protectionism and limitation will someday seem like the more appealing option.

This is not going to happen.

40% of Generation Y is multiethnic. The vast majority of them intend to live in cities, where they’ll be exposed to people, cultures, stories and opportunities drawn from a diaspora of backgrounds and intentions. In short, they are going to be the most tolerant generation in history, simply because they will be the least easily-segmented population in history.

And they’re not alone. Our global economy is also shifting.

In the next 50 years, North America and Europe will be surpassed by Asia and Africa in terms of boom economies. China is aggressively pursuing resources and relationships throughout Africa and the Middle East, while the United States races to catch up in a life-sized game of financial Risk. Successfully capitalizing upon these emerging markets will require a cosmopolitanism previously unfathomed by the global populace — and an entirely new approach to education.

Reluctantly, America is finally coming to grips with the fact that we as a nation are living in a post-industrial economy, yet our education system is broken in so many places that we are profoundly unable to teach our children the skills that will prepare them to be successful in a world where, soon enough, “just” being bilingual will be seen as an international recruiting handicap.

And yet, when faced with the enormity of America’s future challenges, we somehow managed to reduce the level of discourse in our recent 2012 elections to debates over whether or not women have the right to control their own bodies, or if people who are physically attracted to others of the same sex deserve the same civil rights as people who are attracted to their gender opposites.


China has the largest standing army in the world, and an economy that’s showing signs of slowing — thus indicating that they might need to fire up their war machine in order to fuel the capitalist binge we thrust upon them — and we’re still worried about how our fellow citizens are managing their own genitals?

Well, no. Actually, we aren’t.

The people who are worried about that topic — and many others that truly aren’t helping America evolve at the rate we need to evolve in order to remain globally relevant — are an increasingly small but desperately vocal conservative minority, who cling to antiquated social norms as totems that they pray will ward off America’s inevitable change because they fear how that change might force them to adapt their own lives, thoughts and worldviews.

But to the young cosmopolitan voters, the Tea Party comes across the American version of the Taliban: angrily resistant to change, defiantly insistent upon ancient dogma, extreme in their economic views and reductive in their social policy. Theirs is not a vision of a unified future, but a vision of an America that never was, which they somehow hope to recreate atop a population that is ethnographically incapable of supporting it.

Intransigence is not a winning strategy.

I’m not saying that all change is good, or that all tradition is bad. Failing to appreciate where we’ve been means we wouldn’t appreciate where we could go next. But I am saying the new America means coexisting, compromising, and conflating our various worldviews into a joint vision that works.

We are not post-racial. What we are is co-racial.

We are not godless. What we are is capable of rectifying spirituality and science within a practical ideology.

We do not want to commit fiscal suicide, or redistribute America’s wealth by way of unearned handouts. What we want is to provide reasonable opportunities for success to everyone who’s willing to work for it, without requiring some people to jump through more artificial hoops than others based solely upon criteria they cannot control.

We do not want to be the nation that ceased to be relevant in the 21st Century. What we want is to be worthy of the vision we all keep telling ourselves we were founded upon.

The good news is, getting there is inevitable.

The only question is how long is it going to take?

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Why Are We Afraid to Be Inspired?

I am most proud of my integrity and least proud of my cynicism.
— Chloe Sevigny

I’m normally a cynical person, but get a cynic drunk and he’ll admit that he’s really a romantic who’s just trying to avoid getting hurt.

A cynic wants to believe in the good things he hears, but he’s been disappointed enough in life that he feels as though getting excited about something new would be an illogical risk. He’d rather be seen as the guy who can’t be blamed for not caring than the guy who never learned from his mistakes.

Cynicism is an intellectual solution to an emotional problem.  It doesn’t add up.  But it does let us think we understand more about the world than those poor optimistic idiots who don’t know they’re going to get let down yet again.  It’s just as much a self-delusion as optimism is, but it feels worse because your sanctimony doesn’t even allow for the luxury of hope.

The Year of the Cynic

Maybe it’s just me, but we seem to be more cynical than ever.

Maybe it’s our sour economy. Maybe it’s the petty, tribal, clannish behavior we see popularized during an American election year. Maybe it’s the polarizing social issues we debate now instead of our economy — a practice that requires no intellectual rigor from participants, but instead rewards passionate opinions.

Whatever the cause(s), the effect of subjectivity’s modern triumph has been threefold:

We now live in a world where everyone can form not only his own opinion or worldview, but his own reality, thus rendering logical discussions functionally impossible. Arguments are made based on specious facts, facts are declared irrelevant, and otherwise sound theories are rejected based upon the reputation of the theorist.

In short: nothing matters, so why bother?

And while I truly think American politics has a lot to do with this trend, it’s not just an American problem.  Cynicism is contagious in a way that optimism isn’t, because optimism requires an innocence that adults reject in favor of the street cred that comes with doubt. But whether Americans are fueling the cynicism or just reacting to it, it’s spreading, and not in a good way.

A Political Aside You Should Read Even if You’re Not American

This could be the most Orwellian political year I’ve ever seen, in which at least one of the presidential candidates admits that facts are of no use to his campaign. And given that the US presidential election is always a 50/50 shot for the two finalists, American voters find themselves in the unthinkable position of trying to figure out which worst case scenario they fear less: re-electing the socialist fascist communist, or dethroning him in favor of the identity-less plutocrat.

No wonder we’re cynical.

And while I personally prefer to be inspired by Obama than be admonished by the GOP, I’m more troubled by the correlation that being inspired is to be naive — as though, by preferring to focus on the bright side of a flawed opportunity instead of dwelling on the flaws of the man behind that shiny curtain, I’m a weak-minded idiot who needs to be “assisted” toward a more mature mindset.

I’m not in the market for parochialism. Give me two dueling ideals and I’ll be thrilled to have to choose between competing inspirations, but if you’re selling a product intended to make me feel worse than I already do, don’t be confused when no one wants your free samples.

How Do We Justify the Act of Becoming Inspired Again?

Look, the world kind of sucks right now.

Then again, it always has — if not for you, then for the country (or business, or person) next to you. If we’re not at war (and we always are), then our economy is “in a rebuilding year,” or our social values are being torn apart, or our climate is trying to kill us, or someone else is. And if they aren’t now, they’re planning to do it later. And if they aren’t even doing that, they could.

By that rationale, the mere act of not being terrified every day is, itself, revolutionary.

In the face of so much negativity, choosing to be inspired might seem illogical.  But since logic is no longer in vogue, you’re free to feel any way you’d like to feel.  Given the gamut of possible emotions, why not choose to be inspired?

Here’s how it works (for those of you who’ve forgotten):

  • Envision the possibility that things could get better.
  • Identify at least one symptom of what that improvement would look like.
  • Investigate what it would take to make that change happen.
  • Take efforts to effect that change.
  • Succeed or fail.
  • Figure out what went right (or wrong).
  • Repeat.

Yes, those are a lot of steps, whereas cynicism only has one step:

  • Do nothing.

But if we all sit around waiting for our bosses, our coworkers, our spouses, our parents, our kids, our government, the rich, God, or someone else to solve our problems, we might never have anything to feel better about. (Ever.)

Plus, look on the bright side: if one of those entities is going to swoop in and solve your problems for you, why not solve a few yourself while you’re waiting? That way they can help you with the really big things you haven’t gotten to yet, instead of the small things you keep complaining about every day, like media rhetoric, poor customer service, interdepartmental miscommunication, rebellious teens, unemployment, obesity, racism, sexism, and the absence of quality reality television.

Any one of those problems — and hundreds more — could be solved by not saying, “This won’t work,” and instead saying, “I think this could work. How can you help me make this better?”

And if all of the above are solvable by us working together, rather than against each other, what’s stopping us?

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Our Brave Last Days of Giving a Damn About Anyone Else

One day, when I was a child, it occurred to me that there’s no way to know, without a doubt, that anyone else in my life was actually real.  What if they were all robots?  What if they were all aliens?  What if this was all just some sort of a game, or a dream, or an experiment, and I was the only real person in existence?

Thirty years later, I still haven’t found any proof, but that’s never stopped me from caring about other people… until now.

Because it’s suddenly occurring to me that even if everyone else on this planet is real, they’re all acting like they just had the same realization I did years ago: if none of us are real, then nothing we do matters.

And now we’re all starting to live like it.

The Death of Empathy

I used to believe empathy was something all humans naturally possessed, but now I’m not so sure.  In fact, I think empathy may soon be a completely foreign or antiquated practice, like chivalry and honor — attributes that future generations will regard with nostalgic fondness, due to their extinction from our daily lives.

And I don’t think I need to conduct any kind of officially controlled experiment in order to study our eroding empathy; I just look at my own ever-dwindling ability to care about my fellow humans, and I alarm myself.

But what’s scarier is that I’m not alone.  Because we’re all alone, voluntarily.

I Couldn’t Care Less… Really

We’re living in the culture of Tosh.0, in a world where others exist solely to be mocked and any pain or suffering someone else is experiencing can be shrugged off because there’s always another cultural car crash begging us to rubberneck it before it ceases to be newsworthy.

We’re also living in a political and theological landscape where anyone who disagrees with our beliefs is branded as “the other,” and then caricatured beyond any recognizable human traits so they can be written off as threats to be expunged, savages to be feared or problems to be solved.  Reasoning with your ideological opponents is impossible because your opponents aren’t really people, are they?  (And, anyway, compromise is failure.)

Within this worldview, I find it hard to honestly care about what happens to anyone else.

You have cancer?  You lost your job?  Your car got totaled?  Your kids are sick?

Wow.  That sucks.  Now get over it, or don’t.  Life goes on, or it doesn’t.

I’m starting to wonder if my occasional fits of cultural outrage or my shocking instances of actually giving a shit about something are really just an artificial exercise.  Do I really care about these things, or am I just going through the motions so I don’t forget what caring is supposed to feel like?

There’s a coup in Libya?  Someone drowned in a Pittsburgh flood?  Troy Davis may have been wrongfully executed?

Wow.  That sucks.  Now get over it, or don’t.  Life goes on, or it doesn’t.

I also suffer from tragedy saturation.  The scope of the world’s catastrophes has become so mind-boggling, from the debt crisis to the uprisings in the Middle East, that it’s no longer possible for me to view them in a relatable context.  Everything seems like a crisis, which means nothing is, because the world keeps turning whether Mississippi floods or Wall Street burns.

There’s a tsunami in Japan?  There’s an earthquake in Haiti?  There’s a gulf oil spill?

Wow.  That sucks.  Now get over it, or don’t.  Life goes on, or it doesn’t.

And then there’s the social media problem: now that we can share our most immediate thoughts at any time of day, we all do.  And since most of our thoughts are about how wronged we’ve been by the world, it sometimes seems like the Internet is just an endess scrawl of teenage goth poetry, in which everyone on the planet secretly believes everyone else is out to get them.

Granted, these aren’t the only factors contributing to the death of empathy; they’re just the most obvious.  Meanwhile, our ever-growing perception gap between the rich and the poor, our technological isolationism and our muted sense of local identity in the face of globalism are all helping to render the idea of caring about someone other than ourselves an increasingly alien concept.

Maybe the Tin Man Had It Better Than He Thought?

This is the part where I’d normally say, “wait… how do we stop this?  What do we do about it?”… except I’m not ultimately convinced that we should reverse this trend.

Maybe empathy should die.

Maybe we’re all better off not wasting our time caring about other peoples’ problems.

Have you ever noticed that you have your own problems?  Maybe you could fix them if you weren’t spending so much time helping others.

Have you ever noticed that you’re poor?  Maybe you’d be less worried about money if you spent more time making it.

Have you ever noticed that you’re unhappy in your relationship, and that your family is more of a burden than a benefit?  Maybe you’d have a better life if you left your family ties behind and hit the road, ignored other people’s problems and finally admitted that you’re the only creature on this planet that really matters.

Maybe Ayn Rand was on to something.  (That would certainly explain her astronomical rise in popularity over the last few decades.)

Maybe we’re all better off as islands.  (Or living on them, alone.)

Maybe you don’t matter.

But if you don’t… who’s to say I do?

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He Who Throws the Most Candy Wins

When I was a high school sophomore, I took a class called “Election ’92 and You.”  Among the weekly exercises was a pretty massive spectacle: a schoolwide mock debate of the presidential candidates.  Three of my classmates were selected to portray the trio of politicians — the incumbent George H. W. Bush, the challenger Bill Clinton, and the underdog H. Ross Perot — and they were expected to deliver orations to the entire school, based on speeches written by their classmates.

I was drafted as the scriptwriter for Bush.  (Because, in high school, I was a Republican.)

And in our class at least, art imitated life, because we got our asses handed to us in the debate.  And it was all my fault.

I wrote a speech that was so dense with facts about Bush’s policies and accomplishments that it was inscrutable, even to the guy who delivered it.  He actually stumbled over it so much that he apologized to the audience — not for his own gaffes but, as he said, “I’m sorry.  My speechwriter sucks.”

So we lost.  Big.  But not to the guy who played Clinton.

We both lost to the guy who played Perot.

Because when Perot walked out on stage, he threw candy into the audience.

And that was the truest lesson I ever learned about politics, business and life in general: the guy who throws the most candy wins.

Don’t Worry — You, Too, Can Throw Candy

You may never be president, but that’s okay.  You can still be an effective influencer.  You just need to give people a reason to love you unconditionally.

For example, take LeBron James.  If you actually understand how the NBA works, you know that LeBron James is at best an underachiever and at worst a problem — for his team, maybe even for the whole league.

And yet, there’s a large subset of people who do love LeBron James, and who do think he’s a great player.  They believe all his media criticism is unwarranted.  And not only don’t they want to hear it, but they don’t even believe it has merit.

Or, as one woman on Twitter told me:

are you crazy lebron james will never be a problem your just a hater

To paraphrase, what she means is, no criticism I could possibly raise about LeBron James would be valid in her eyes because to criticize him means I hate him, which automatically invalidates my entire argument.

In other words, any criticism is a personal attack.

And, to clarify, she sent that response to my tweet of the “criticism” link within seconds of my tweet, which means she didn’t read the article.  She just responded from instinct.  There’s no room for debate in her mind.  She’s busy, and she believes in LeBron’s brand.

LeBron James throws candy.

Presidential candidates throw candy.

Anyone who would rather not be judged by their merits throws candy.

How much candy will you need?

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Now That Bloggers Are Being Taxed, It’s Time to Ask: Is YOUR Blog a Business?

Whether you blog for fun or profit, you may want to rethink your motives before your elected officials start doing your thinking for you.

According to the Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia bloggers are being charged a $300 business license tax, regardless of whether or not their blogs are profitable.  This means even Philadelphia’s casual blogs will now have to conduct themselves as businesses.

And while this news may initially seem comparable to a health inspector shutting down a 7 year-old’s lemonade stand, the truth is, Philadelphia just might have this right.

After all, social media has been begging to be taken seriously for years.

If you attend any PodCamp or other social media meetup, one of the first questions out of anybody’s mouth is, “But how do I monetize???”

And now that the city of Philadelphia is rewarding bloggers by classifying them as businesses (so they can be taxed, and so the city’s underworked accountants can have something else to do), bloggers naturally do what they do best: they complain.

All of which begs the question: why are you blogging, anyway?

At What Stage Does a Blog Become a Business?

If you’re blogging as a creative outlet, but you have sidebar ads… is your blog a business?

If your blog is a self-promotional tool, but it leads to direct consulting or marketing work… is your blog a business?

If you’ve never written a post in your life, but you employ autoscripts that crawl, steal and repost other people’s content to drive up your SEO ranking so you can charge for more blog ads… are you a business?

I don’t know many people who blog and don’t hope for lots of traffic.  But what do you need traffic for, unless you expect to (even indirectly) convert them into customers?

Do I think Philadelphia is being opportunistic, shortsighted and comically petty? Absolutely.

But if the blogging community tries to laugh this off, I think we miss an opportunity to look ourselves in the (collective) eye and ask a question so few of us bother to answer:

Why are we doing this, anyway?

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