Idiocy on Parade

Posted: July 5, 2015 in Culture, Ethics, Idle Nonsense, Politics, Tacky, Taste
Tags: , ,

If I were to get twisted and strained over every example of idiocy on parade, I’d be permanently distorted. Still, a few issues have crossed my path that might be worth bringing forward.

Fealty to the Flag

An Illinois teacher disrespected the American flag during a classroom lesson on free speech. Context provided in this article is pretty slim, but it would seem to me that a lesson on free speech might be precisely the opportunity to demonstrate that tolerance of discomfiting counter-opinion is preferable to the alternative: squelching it. Yet in response to complaints, the local school board voted unanimously to fire the teacher of the offending lesson. The ACLU ought to have a field day with this one, though I must admit there can be no convincing others that desecrating the flag is protected free speech. Some remember a few years ago going round and round on this issue with a proposed Constitutional amendment. Patriots stupidly insist on carving out an exception to free speech protections when it comes to the American flag, which shows quite clearly that they are immune to the concept behind the 1st Amendment, which says this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. [emphasis added]

Naturally, interpretations of the Bill of Rights vary widely, but it doesn’t take a Constitutional scholar to parse the absolute character of these rights. Rights are trampled all the time, of course, as the fired Illinois teacher just found out.

Fealty to the Wrong Flag

The Confederate battle flag has come back into the national spotlight following racially inspired events in Charleston, SC. (Was it ever merely a quaint, anachronistic, cultural artifact of the American South?) CNN has a useful article separating fact from fiction, yet some Southerners steadfastly defend the flag. As a private issue of astonishingly poor taste, idiocy, and free speech, individuals should be allowed to say what they want and fly their flags at will, but as a public issue for states and/or institutions that still fly the flag or emblazon it on websites, letterhead, etc., it’s undoubtedly better to give up this symbol and move on.

Compliance with Authority

Stanley Milgram’s study on unquestioning obedience to authority ought to be familiar to people in the Information Age. Indeed, knowledge of the experimental design might make it difficult to repeat the experiment faithfully, since participants are prone to recognize quickly that they are the experimental subjects, not the person on the other side of the wall with (fake) electrodes attached. But when the design is not so recognizable, the willingness of regular folk to forfeit moral and ethical agency, substituting instead the dictates of authority, however arbitrary, is still surprisingly potent. A recent movie called Compliance, inspired by actual events, dramatizes one such scenario where unwitting employees followed instructions of an unverified phone caller pretending to be the police well past the point of reasonable cooperation. A tag at the end of the movie informs viewers that such incidents have occurred more than 70 times.

Reflection on this issue got me wondering when, exactly, in the escalating series of instructions I would refuse to cooperate. I decided I would probably accept minor humiliations and inconvenience fairly readily, as I do pretty much every day passing through bogus security checkpoints and yielding to institutional bureaucracies, but I would draw a hard line at doing anything against my moral code. Easy to say prior to facing decisions. When civil unrest ramps up, which seems inevitable to me, we will all face these decisions head on.

Shock and Awe — Blue Haze Edition

The annual holiday where we blow shit up for the insane inane pleasure of watching sparks fly through air briefly was yesterday. I have a decent vantage point from which to watch my neighborhood as it erupted in multiday celebrations starting around dusk and extending into the wee hours. I lost my childish fascination with fireworks in my early 20s after realizing just how dumb they are and how dumb they made me, too. However, no similar sensibility has appeared among the public. Quite the opposite, in fact. Reports of fireworks sold just across the state line costing between $500 and $2,000 per buyer, just for the opportunity to set fire to things, are commonplace. For more than eight hours yesterday and the day before (and probably tonight as well), the entire horizon was filled with the sight, sound, and smell of fireworks, leaving the air heavy with blue haze from all the smoke. I’ve never been to a theater of war, but it felt like ongoing artillery bombardment without the destruction beyond that to participants’ bank accounts. Restrictions on allowed pyrotechnics are flatly unenforced.

If we can muster the aggregate wealth to put on such displays, both private and municipal, that literally burn through money for some not-so-cheap thrills, it’s hard to feel too badly about folks and city governments that complain about being cash strapped. Priorities differ regarding what’s still worthwhile and what’s should be jettisoned in the waning days of empire. Things that go boom ought to be a clear choice.

Keeping Fear Alive

The very first thing I heard on the radio yesterday was about renewed threats of terrorism because, doncha know, the United States is in a state of perpetual ongoing war, meaning that we have a bull’s eye painted on us and evil-doers cannot resist the propaganda value of executing an attack on this most American of all holidays (fuck yeah!). To my knowledge, no such attack occurred this year or any other year, yet right on schedule, warnings of increased threat had been ramping up for days in advance. It’s hard to argue against what-if scenarios, but still, the paranoia that someone is coming to get us is beyond tired. We’ve had about 70 years of this nonsense, and yet history instructs that it’s us going after them (whoever they are — hardly matters) to a far greater extent. This worn-out old trope — the oft aggressor playing the eternally besieged victim — nonetheless shows little fatigue. Yet for all the corrupt comforts and profligate pleasures of the vaunted American way of life, we have not recognized the threat that we pose to ourselves.

Overstuffed Clown Cars

Hardly a day goes by without some new idiot announcing his or her candidacy for the big chair. The fields of Republican and Democratic hopefuls are overstuffed clown cars, with more emerging every time one thinks capacity has been exhausted. Two franchise candidates command the bulk of the attention at this early date, but several ridiculous gasbags keeps shifting attention to bizarro hyperbole guaranteed to transform what ought to be a sober evaluation into circus entertainment. Too bad that legitimate third-party candidates are lost in the shuffle. Dysfunctional government at all levels is highly unlikely to reform itself when the slate of viable candidates continues to be the same clowns.

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