Being an evolving and incomplete statement of fundamental principles, an outraged and amused shout to the cold cosmos, a painful stumbling about in a darkened room filled with strange furniture, a flag raised on a chaotic field so that like-minded members of the same tribe may rally, rest, explore and form their new ranks...
- There are no unrelated topics.
- Life is more complex than the simplistic this-or-that filters we typically apply in writing and thinking about it.
- Rather than continue the important discussions in traditional frames that have proven to be less than effective, xarkers go look for new frames. Sometimes the best new frames just come up in casual conversation.
- Xarkers will try practically anything. Once. Most of us have the scars to prove it.
- Xarkers do not do unsuccessful things over and over whilst complaining that the outcome never changes.
- Xarkers enjoy studying and examining traditions, but they are not bound by anyone's traditions, including their own.
- Xarkers are more interested in understanding subjects in useful ways than they are in stockpiling rhetorical ammunition for future arguments.
- Xark! transcends political and spiritual orthodoxy. It is neither liberal nor conservative, Christian or non-Christian, quantum nor relativistic.
- Nothing is more boring than grasping a subject via hard work and study but being forced to re-state its most basic concepts on demand as new people enter the conversation. Consequently, xarkers avoid excessive entanglements with true believers, fundamentalists and other buzz-kills.
- Xarking rejects boredom and redundancy. Xarkers shun any argument that supports itself via the contention that more boredom will lead to something valuable.
To understand the principles that lie beneath this line of thinking, read on...
Rules of engagement
- Everyone believes that their perspective is more valid than those of others. This is practically universal. However, not all perspectives are equal on all subjects, and they should not be treated as if they are. Even the best auto mechanic is a lousy oncologist.
- How do you tell the difference? By deciding. Xarkers create themselves by making decisions in response to every question that interests them.
- On this blog, subjective decisions about whether certain perspectives should be considered seriously or left behind are made by the proprietors. Those who disagree with the decisions of the proprietors are free to go be smug, belligerent jerks on a dazzling array of high-quality blogs and websites located elsewhere.
- Spirited dissent is welcome here; trollish intransigence is not.
On art and kitsch
- People need art.
- Art is in the hands of too few people.
- The spirit of unlimited bandwidth encourages us to revitalize the spirit of art in literature, filmmaking, music, painting, dance -- in everything. But we must do it ourselves.
- On the all-important subject of kitsch: Milan Kundera is to be taken as written. As this passage from Wikipedia explains:
Other theorists over time have also linked kitsch to totalitarianism. The Czech writer Milan Kundera, in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), defined it as "the absolute denial of shit." His argument was that kitsch functions by excluding from view everything that humans find difficult to come to terms with, offering instead a sanitised view of the world in which "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions."
In its desire to paper over the complexities and contradictions of real life, kitsch, Kundera suggested, is intimately linked with totalitarianism. In a healthy democracy, diverse interest groups compete and negotiate with one another to produce a generally acceptable consensus; by contrast, "everything that infringes on kitsch," including individualism, doubt, and irony, "must be banished for life" in order for kitsch to survive. Therefore, Kundera wrote, "Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch."
For Kundera, "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."
- When artists make art with the assumption that it is too good for regular people, regular people learn to reject the possibility of art in their lives. This leaves them with nothing but kitsch.
- A diet of kitsch is like a diet of refined sugar: addictive, self-destructive and soul-killing.
- Yes, "Art is whatever an artist can get away with," but that is the lowest possible common denominator of art, like saying that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Both are true, but neither is true in a limiting sense. They provide baselines for art and freedom, but they do not set their ceilings. One can be free, or an artist, and aspire only to these truths, but one should not confuse the LCD with the highest expression of a concept.
- When what is on the canvas alone is not enough to make a judgment on its quality, then art has been replaced by theory.
- When theory is less imporant than the theorist, then art has been replaced by fashion.
- When only fashion determines success, then art has been replaced by conformity.
Straight talk about economics and politics (HA!):
- Marx was correct in his basic critique of 19th century capitalism, but he WILDLY underestimated the adaptive and corrective power of democratic political systems.
- The natural tendency of unfettered capitalism is to concentrate wealth in an increasingly small group of elites, thereby destabilizing society. Yet to maximize its longterm profitability, capitalism requires a stable society.
- While America is formally a political republic, the evolved ideal of America is better understood as a capitalist democracy. In such a system, the government succeeds by finding a balance between the needs of the people and the dynamics of the market. Without market freedoms, the nation is soon diminished to poverty; without fair regulation, inequity destabilizes society and wealth is destroyed, sometimes violently.
- The ideal government in such a system keeps competition fair, protects the credibility of its institutions and prevents the natural anti-democratic tendencies of each segment of society from gaining advantages on each other. It counterbalances capitalism's tendency toward fascism and democracy's tendency toward socialism.
- The guiding principle of that counterbalance should be this: Less is more. Government should neither seek to control the economy nor to limit the rights of its citizens. Government sustains capitalist democracy.
- In 2005, the United States operates by the rhetoric of captialist democracy, but in reality the people have lost control of the government and the wealthy are actively rewriting the rules in favor of increased centralization of wealth and power. The ultimate result of such a program is instability and conflict.
- The success of this destabilizing power grab by the political right is made possible by modern mass-market consumerism, an economic and cultural development that emerged as a distinct economic strategy in the mid-20th century. Consumerism gives meaning to people's lives, encourages indebtedness, ensures predictable participation in the economy and distracts the public from unpleasant realities, all while earning profits for its proliferators. Unchecked consumerism, however, fuels destabilization by encouraging alienation, affluenza and a profound brand of personal and cultural cynicism.
- Power in America is based on money, and any political group that claims otherwise is not to be trusted.
- The worst thing that liberalism ever did for American culture was to elevate the status of "victim" to a level at which it has become almost universally coveted. This occurred when we allowed victimization to be interpreted as a free pass for unlimited self-righteousness and wretchedly bad behavior.
- Modern American culture can be viewed, cynically, as a messy scrum in which a variety of groups, most of which are doing quite well, compete to have their victimized status validated by others.
- The press and the larger media are complicit in this sorry development.
- In the 1980s and 1990s, the Cult of Victimization reached its left-wing apex with "politically correct" intellectual group-think. Once identified, it began to recede.
- The right-wing now claims victimized status via the oppression of The Liberal Media, Hollywood, "activist judges," intellectuals, homsexuals and non-Judeo-Christian religions.
- The Rhetoric of Victimization has justified absurd levels of rudeness, and this occurs not only on the political/cultural scale, but also at the level of interpersonal relationships.
- The real losers in the victimization craze? Actual victims.
Politics, part deux: power, lies and culture
- Politics is a polarizing lens that creates conflict by dividing all aspects of human existence into either/or choices and then forcing humans to pick sides.
- Politics is useful as a means of ratifying positions. It is a terrible means of evaluating ideas.
- The jerks you remember from high school are still running things, and they haven't gotten significantly smarter or nicer.
- One means by which political groups consolidate their power is by making participation in public democratic life so onerous that human beings with healthy priorities drop out of the game. This also teaches regular people to hate politics, and stands as another good reason that a fully functional society requires institutions that transcend the political.
- In 2005, America is operating on an interconnected, bipartisan lattice of lies and self-deception, and the brilliant thing is, it's self-perpetuating. The last thing anyone wants to do is admit that they have been deceiving themselves for really bad reasons.
The neo-cons and President George W. Bush
The Bush administration knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and deliberately led the country into war based on a premeditated lie. This is a rational observation which, on its own, represents neither a liberal nor conservative point of view. People who strongly disagree with this statement should probably move along without bookmarking Xark!April 22, 2006 edit: I've been giving this one a lot of thought in recent months, and I've decided I was wrong when I wrote this in June 2005. Today I offer a new statement: The Bush administration never seriously investigated claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, because its stated reasons for going to war never reflected its true reasons for conducting the invasion. Those actual reasons remain a matter of conjecture. The callous, calculating dishonesty of the Bush administration's case for war in 2002-03 is not. As indicated by The Downing Street memo, facts were fixed to fit the case. Did the president know there were no weapons of mass destruction? A better question turns out to be, Did the president even care? And the answer is, no, he did not.
- George W. Bush was selected as the GOP nominee in 1999, before the party's primaries began in 2000, because of his willingness to carry out the agenda of the men who recruited him as their candidate. These men were not interested in his qualifications and didn't want to hear his ideas. They wanted only his obedience and electability. We call this cabal -- the RAND/Carlyle Group/PNAC/Halliburton wing of the conservative movement -- "the neo-cons."
- Today's America is out of whack thanks to the co-opting of the federal government by the neo-cons on behalf of their corporate clients. By dismantling conventions, institutions and regulations that prevent the out-of-control concentration of wealth and power, the rich have embarked on a dangerous course that seeks to make permanent their temporary anti-democratic gains.
- Bush ascended twice to the presidency because of election fraud. His victory in 2000 was not the first time that a presidential election was determined by corruption and thievery, but it was the first time that the son of a former president delivered the White House to his brother on behalf of a power structure that had circumvented the democratic process of its own party.
- Because the neo-cons did not consider G.W. Bush capable of performing the job to which they were anointing him, he was given a running mate with the intelligence, experience and authority to handle situations in which decisions must be made without consultation. Consequently, in crisis, Dick Cheney runs the government while the President rides his bike or reads My Pet Goat.
- The modern GOP is an unholy alliance between Christian conservative footsoldiers under the control of neo-con political leaders who manipulate their loyality on behalf of corporate paymasters. Though a successful partnership, it is fundamentally volatile and fated to implosion.
- The neo-con agenda: Dismantle the vestiges of our capitalist democracy on behalf of a new system, one that combines economic power, overt militarism and totalitarian kitsch. It is the agenda of empire.
- There is not one single big conspiracy. There are countless little conspiracies.
- Money, at sufficient levels of concentration, becomes a conspiracy in and of itself, much in the same way that a sufficient quantity of uranium stops being just a pile of radioactive metal and becomes a nuclear reactor.
- When independent conspiracies become aware of each other, a culture of conspiracies emerges. This is a very bad thing.
- At the heart of this culture of conspiracies lies a thing called Spookworld.
- At its most basic, Spookworld is the byproduct of the games played within the world's intelligence community. By their ethos of warfare via deception, intelligence agencies make use of any tool at their disposal: politics, media, history, technology, organized crime, business, the stock exchange, etc.
- In compromising these institutions, intelligence agencies themselves invariably become compromised. Distinctions between self, ally, enemy and bystander become meaningless. Spookworld is composed of anything that has been touched by the realm of organized deception. It is not limited to traditional intelligence operations.
- In the same way that cyberspace exists in the virtual space in and between all of the nodes on the Internet(s), so too does Spookworld exist in and between all of the nodes in the network of deception.
- Because it distorts everything it touches, Spookworld cannot be clearly seen, measured, or proven empirically.
- Spookworld exists.
- Nobody, not even the people in Spookworld, know exactly what Spookworld is.
- While many individual spooks may be patriots who defend the United States and its ideals, Spookworld itself is the primary enemy of democracy. While terrorists can damage a country, Spookworld destroys the ability of a democracy to trust its own institutions. Without the common trust of the people, a democracy ceases to function.
- Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, UFOs , the USS Liberty, Flight 800, Vince Foster and 9/11: Each is touched by the shadow of Spookworld.
- President Ike Eisenhower was prophetic when he warned the nation about the inherient dangers of the military industrial complex.
- The media, being materialistic, cannot talk about Spookworld.
- Without talking about and understanding the concepts of Spookworld, one cannot understand modern America. In fact, without the concept of Spookworld, any discussion of America quickly becomes absurd.
- There is more to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, than the official story endorsed by the federal government would lead one to believe.
- Spirituality and religion are not synonymous.
- Textual inerrancy is a losing proposition that inevitably leads believers into bitterness, isolation and jealous anger.
- The modern concept of "conservative Christianity" as a political and cultural force is less about Christ than it is about defending cultural norms that have absolutely nothing to do with anything Jesus ever taught.
- For white political conservatives, the great lesson of the 1960s and 1970s was how to pervert the profound moral rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement into an umbrella of victimization for their own cultural and religious pluralities.
- If a church wants to ignore the disenfranchised, celebrate materialistic greed, play politics for the sake of gaining power, ban women from the clergy and condemn homosexuality, that's the church's business. On the other hand, what goes around, comes around. If a church wants the respect of others, it should start by respecting the rights of "the least of these my bretheren."
- We need more separation between church and state, not less.
- Xarkers do not believe any one way about religion, but in general accept the idea that "God is a target so big you can't miss it."
Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex...
- The sex lives of other grown people are none of your business.
- It's none of the government's business, either.
- If you choose to believe in a religion that says differently, that's your business. But that doesn't give you the right to apply it to the rest of us.
- Most of the established, monotheistic religions on the planet are still struggling to deal with deep-seated, bronze-age Middle Eastern sexual anxieties that tend to perpetuate the very pathologies they oppose.
- Gay people deserve all the civic rights of straight people, and that includes marital and family rights. If a particular church wishes to exclude them from its sacraments, fine. But a gay couple that wants to go down to the courthouse, or the local notary for that matter, should have the same civil rights as a hetereosexual couple.
- There is no practical separation of church and state when it comes to family law. Our statutes on marriage, divorce, child rearing and custody are derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition and are, consequently, a mess.
- In America today, a person who violates the marriage vow against adultery forefeits his or her right to property, parental equality and control of future income. On the other hand, a spouse may violate all the other standard vows -- to love, honor, cherish, etc. -- without fear of penalty. This should tell us something important.
- Disasterous divorces are a self-fulfilling prophecy, brought about by legal and cultural institutions that seek to protect "the family" by making divorce punative.
- Wanna cut down on the divorce rate? Make it as hard to get into a marriage as it is to get out of one.
- Cultural conservatives fear that without the shame-based dominion of moral stricture, human sexual behavior will become more promiscuous, deviant and destructive. Xarkers look at the promiscuous, deviant and destuctive sexual behaviors that have always been a part of the human experience and then go find better things to worry about.
- You want to go wild on spring break? That's your business. Just don't come crying to us when it doesn't turn out so well. We suggest you learn from the experience.
- In sex as in everything else, karma is a bitch.
- Men and women are not the same.
- Men and women are equal.
- Laws that attempt to enforce sameness are absurd.
- Laws that do not recognize equality are immoral.
- In matters of sex, the governing doctrine is consentuality. This implies a right to a reasonable expectation of protection from non-consentual exposure to sexual behavior . In other words, it's OK to put limits on public expressions of sexuality. This includes covering Janet Jackson's breast, protections for children and municipal zoning bans on sexually oriented businesses near churches, etc. It does not include prohibitions on protected free speech or restrictions on what people may do or view in private.
On change, both personal and large-scale
- It is always harder to propose something new, brilliant and unproven than it is to defend something old, failed, rotten and nasty.
- Most human beings are not changed by evidence and reasoned argument, at least not on matters they identify as being of fundamental importance. This is because we are naturally hardwired by our evolutionary, sociobiological past to conform unconsciously to a group norm.
- Awareness of this human trait does not make xarkers immune to it, but it offers us a tool for making changes in our lives. Sociobiology helps us understand human nature, but human nature is not limited by sociobiology.
- You cannot force change in yourself or in others. You can only create the circumstances in which change may occur.
- Change may occur gradually, like a rock eroded by water, or suddenly, like slow pressure on a light switch that has no effect until the instant the entire room goes pitch dark. The latter is known as phase change, and it is an important concept in a variety of new ideas ranging from chaos theory to global climate modeling.
On the press and the media
- Americans want to be comforted by the news.
- Major news organizations are for-profit ventures that naturally seek to give the customer what he or she wants.
- The "mainstream media" is not liberal. It is, instead, a pathetic outsider desperately seeking an invitation to the party, and it has become hopelessly compromised by wealth, ego, power and envy. It has failed to heed I.F. Stone's warning: "To be regarded as nonrespectable, to be a pariah, to be an outsider, this is really the way to do it. To sit in your tub and not want anything. As soon as you want something, they’ve got you!"
- While examples of liberal media bias exist, systematic and partisan Liberal Media Bias is a deliberate invention of the American Right.
- The goal of the Liberal Media Bias meme is something professor Jay Rosen of NYU calls "de-certification." To wit: Because the media is liberal, it will dishonestly seek to discredit its partisan conservative enemies. Therefore, anything in the media that challenges conservative orthodoxy may be rejected out of hand without closer examination.
- Watergate taught American conservatives that they did not control the press. The lesson they learned: Don't let it happen again. Their well-funded, decades-long assault on the media is detailed in the 2004 book Republican Noise Machine by David Brock, who now runs the fact-checking web site Media Matters for America.
- The neo-cons use the media as a battleground, and their most effective weapon is FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. With FUD, a coherent political program is not necessary so long as all contradictory facts can be undermined and obscured.
- Newspapers are doomed, but they won't change because the act of slowly dying is proving to be so profitable. Plus, the people who run most modern American newspapers tend to be complete fucking morons.
- Journalism is to politics as art is to culture.
- Journalism cannot fix what is wrong within a culture. It simply chronicles and catalogs the pathology as it winds down to death. To heal and correct requires art, and if art is unavailable to regular people, any healing will be incomplete.
- The only people who benefit from the elimination of anonymous sources in the media are liars in positions of power. Guess who wants to get rid of anonymous sources?
- Advertising creates more unhappiness in American than drug addiction does, but you never hear anybody talk about launching a "War on Advertising."
On Terrorism, and the "War on Terror"
- Sept. 11, 2001, was a really, really bad day. But it did not, without our consent, "change" Americans as a people.
- Anyone who says that "all Americans were traumatized" by Sept. 11, 2001, is either a liar, a fool, or a salesman.
- Americans do not want to confront the uncomfortable truths of 9/11 any more than they want to consider the Spookworld conspiracy theories that surround the event. Among those uncomfortable truths is this secret: We kinda liked it. Aside from the families and friends of people in the airplanes and buildings, most Americans experienced Sept. 11, 2001, as an exciting day of reality TV. Later on, we enjoyed feeling united, justified and resolute. We rejoiced in the reassuring patriotic rituals and ceremonies that followed.
- When the towers collapsed, most people's first thought was not "O! Those poor people inside!" but "WHOA! HOLY SHIT! THAT'S INCREDIBLE!" The compassionate response was real and true, and we all felt it. But it wasn't the only response. This element of our nature shames us.
- The continuing public rhetoric of American victimization and vengeful self-righteousness is totalitarian kitsch. It is fundamentally dishonest and intended to maintain a particular social order.
- Killing enemies who attack us is a good thing. Making more of them isn't.
- Fighting terrorism is necessary, but it will never end terrorism. The only solution to terrorism is justice.
- A permanent war against an enemy we never see is a familiar concept to anyone who ever read George Orwell's 1984.
Science and the world around us
- The more we learn about the world, the more beautiful and surprising it becomes.
- What we learn about one thing changes the way we think about other things. Werner Heisenberg was simply trying to explain the behavior of electrons when he advanced his uncertainty principle in 1927. He had no idea that his observation would challenge the authority of mechanistic, top-down political and cultural thinking for decades to come.
- Science is an effective way of looking at the world. But it isn't the only effective way of looking at the world.
- The more we learn about physics, the more mysterious the structure of reality becomes.
- The more we examine that structure, the more echoes we hear of our mystical past: Lao Tzu, the Vedas, Druids, Jesus, Hafiz ...
- Human beings who are in love with the mystery and experience of life acknowledge the limits of science but love it for the things it reveals. On the other hand, human beings who fear mystery and cling to the ever-eroding certainty of dogma despise discovery of any kind. Science is the enemy of the religionist and the totalitarian because it represents an independent source of authority.
- No single authority, or way of thinking, or means of expression will ever give us the full picture.
- And so we xark.