Blowing Things Up: Observations on the Post-Election Landscape

November 21, 2016

One week in from the election, we now know enough about the new regime to begin to systematically address how to move forward in a world we don’t recognize. Here are a few ideas.

Living in History

Hillary Clinton’s difficulties generating enthusiasm and passion minimally sufficient to get her elected had many sources, but I’m sure one of them, among the people who switched their votes from Obama to Trump, was a despair that the next four years would be more of the same with Clinton in charge. With political gridlock just giving the country a fucking eternal national charlie horse.

People want to live in history, not limbo. For most people, living in history means making shit happen. Basically blowing things up. Most people would prefer good shit to happen, but will accept bad shit happening over nothing at all happening.

With the entire federal and state governments and courts lined up for the Republicans, it’s fair to say shit will now certainly happen, and those who have placed their hopes in Trump will rue the day. I fear things will get much worse before they get better. For all of us. But this is the world in which we now live. So bring it on, I guess.

Who Is to Blame and What Is to be Done?

It’s time to stop being mad and start getting even. The who is to blame question cannot be separated from the what is to be done question. Trump won. As his vicious minions and hobgoblins will endlessly remind us, Trump saw something no one else did. In reality, of course, he did not really win, unless by win we mean he got fewer votes than his opponent and will now preside over a cataclysm.

But clearly everyone else did lose. Big time. And so the what is to be done question requires that we own this failure. We are all to blame. So if you want to be angry about something, be angry with yourself. Because that is anger you can redress. We must now decide what we all could have done better, and differently.

Identity Politics

Here’s one thing we all can do. We need to give identity politics a rest. Seriously. The infinite regression of fractionalized identities mirrors so closely the fractal self-similarity of all our interactions in this digital era. If we don’t do a better job of deepening our species-awareness – versus our awareness of ourselves as merely hived-off, mutant portions of humanity, endlessly self-classified by what divides us from everyone else – we will brutalize our world beyond recognition before 50 more years pass.

This goes for people with differing racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and religious identities. Everyone needs to just lighten up. We have no margin left to indulge us-against-them. That doesn’t mean we fall in line. But going forward, it has to be us-against-us.

Moral Hazard and Mark Zuckerberg

I grew bored saying Holy Fuck, It’s Zuck the Cuck about a year ago. But truly, if any Internet titan not named Peter Thiel deserves an atomic wedgie, it is Mark Zuckerberg. This is a really good article about how incredibly irresponsible, bordering on criminal, Zuckerberg’s abject failure to clean up the turd pool called Fakebook turns out to be.

Facebook is the most powerful media company in the world. We know this is true because every other media company in the world now bows down to Facebook. So when Mark Zuckerberg tosses off his responsibility for fake news by saying Facebook is only the delivery pipe, we can tell him to shut up, because his delivery pipe is an open sewer. And clearly this is moral hazard of epic proportions, because Mark Zuckerberg has gotten fabulously wealthy for being a lucky motherfucker, and he wants none of the social responsibility that comes with the power and influence that his wealth confers.

Nothing Is Free (Including Speech)

The utter dependence of digital media on eyeballs to generate advertising revenue has obliterated standards of all sorts – standards of truth, decency, fairness, and compassion. In what must count as one of history’s most Orwellian inversions of meaning, social media has appropriated the concept of “community” for online discourse environments that couldn’t be more insipid and/or vile and/or less like any community any of us would really want to live in.

Any community requires enforceable standards that people understand, accept, and observe to the best of their abilities. Any community also extends its benefits and the full scope of the identities and capacities it values to everyone within it, including and especially the least among its members.

But Mark Zuckerberg, and his libertarian techbro confreres, have refused to set and enforce a bar of civility for discourse and a bar of journalistic professionalism and integrity. Facebook establishes no meaningful floor below which we cannot be allowed to descend in our communication with each other. And so we merely experience the obligatory, crashing, smashing race to the bottom.

Politically free speech is anything but free, psychologically or financially. A vast amount of online speech these days is spontaneous extrusion of the id, of raw, unfiltered, amplified emotion. I am no Constitutional fundamentalist, but even I can get behind the idea that when the First Amendment to our Constitution enshrined free speech (and freedom of the press), the intention of the Founders was to protect deliberation, in which language communicated ideas and arguments that one must defend using logic and evidence and symbolism.

Speech is the currency of freedom, yes. Debased speech is worthless currency and the transactional language of a bankrupt society. Digital media will remain corrupt and bankrupt until it can develop sustainable business models that require people to in some manner make payment for the value they hope to receive from their online media platforms. We all should support Pro Publica. Mother Jones. Wikipedia. The New Yorker. The New York Times. The New York Review of Books. The Guardian. Brain Pickings. Don’t use these resources if you are not prepared to pay for them.

Get the Hell off Social Media

The Internet, the Web, Social Media. They’re all incredible tools. But they are tools for life. Not life itself. Use your computer or phone to do stuff. Not as the place where you live.

We are material creatures. We are made of stuff. We live amidst stuff. When we die, we will no longer be stuff. One of the travesties of Trumpworld is that we have elected a man who is entirely disconnected from the material reality that constitutes life for all of us. This a man who does not exist without a power suit and a limousine. He does not, will never, live amongst us. He will always live above us. Which detaches him from the experience of reverence for the material foundations of life.

Our strength and power emerges from our connections to the material world (see Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried). When we allow the Web to absorb us, we diminish ourselves beyond the limits of repair.


Speaking of speech. The Trump/Tea Party assholes have no sense of humor or irony (caustic or otherwise). But this might be the ultimate litmus test of our humanity, the capacity to fabricate artistic awareness of life’s truths using humor and irony. All great art is complex, contradictory, dialectical. Humor and irony refract and make bearable sadness and pain and grief. Laughter might be the only thing that redeems us.

The best and wisest leaders have the capacity to self-deprecate (consider Barack Obama). But humor and irony are not accessible, except in crude fashion, to those who merely lust for power. Which makes them easy to parody on Saturday Night Live. But dangerous to face Sunday morning.