Friday links! Masters and servants edition

Apparently Friedrich Nietzsche is the guest editor this week at Also, I'm not sure Rikki Kramp is this young man's given name.

As anyone who has read about the United States in a book will tell you, ours is a country founded on egalitarianism. Let the tottering empires of Europe labor under the notion of a permanent ruling class; America has no king, because America needs no king. Sure, certain of the exceptionally gifted among us will rise to power and prominence, and it’s only logical that those men and women keep their positions for long, illustrious careers. But even from the lofty heights of power they see us at eye level. Ours is not a culture in which a small elect view the rest of us as braying lambs, raised to numbly trot after the herd. No—we live free, with no shepherds to herd us to safety or slaughter. Or, um, maybe that’s totally how it is. Maybe the levers of American power are set hopelessly beyond the reach of any person of average heights, and we live at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Maybe the presidency really is a fifth column with its top higher than our eyes can see, and our only defense is a conglomeration of old families and wealthy industrialists trying desperately to trick us into right action before it’s too late. Both explanations—a nation of free men, a sad school play in which frightened children mumble words they dimly understand—seem equally possible. And either explanation is, after all, self-fulfilling. This week, Combat! blog presents evidence for both sides. Is America still operated by Americans? Or have we devolved into a kleptocracy in which corporate money and political aristocracy compete to see whose views they can make our own? More than most questions, this one depends on how you look at it.

At least one segment of the American body politic would like to remind you that the United States operates a participatory democracy exactly insofar as you believe it does. In a classic instance of a phenomenon that may or may not have been real before the Times wrote a story about it, hundreds of thousands of Americans have joined the nascent Coffee Party.  “Joined,” in this case, means “friended on Facebook” or “agreed to follow on Twitter” or “sent an email about” to the organization’s founder, Annabel Park. Still, the group’s stated mission and the Civility Pledge on its homepage offer a promising start. The Coffee Party is, obviously, a response to the Tea Party—and the somewhat unsettling degree to which that organization appears to be a grassroots organization of people who refuse to understand or participate in American politics. “We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans,” says the site’s mission statement. “As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.”

And who might that be, one wonders? On the opposite end of the spectrum of American optimism, the Republican National Committee was embarrassed Wednesday by the leaking of a 72-page strategy document that mocks party donors, depicts the President in the now-familiar Joker whiteface, and advises fundraisers to “play on fear” and present the GOP as the only way to “save the country from trending towards socialism.” Perhaps most damming is the “RNC Marketing 101” section of the document, in which the authors describe the best way to appeal to major and minor donors. Small donors are given the heading “Visceral Giving,” a category whose keywords include “fear,” “extreme negative feelings toward existing administration,” and “reactionary.” Now that the RNC is describing its own populist base as reactionaries, it would appear that the continuing question of whether the GOP actually believes its own rhetoric has finally been answered. Michael Steele has quickly moved to distance himself from the document, but at this point in his career he’s like Charles Manson fighting a parking ticket.

One has to question the long-term viability of a political party that plans to govern by frightening its own members. Then again, much of their base may be genetically incapable of switching to the other side. I’d like to thank the literally dozens of you who sent me this article, in which scientists reveal a correlation between liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity and high IQ. As a male liberal atheist whose exclusivity has been so perfected that his sex life does not involve even one other person, I can tell you that an excess of intelligence is not my problem. I’m torn about this article. Anecdotal evidence suggests that one meets a lot of smart atheists and dumb Christians, but the hallmark of a not-unusually-high IQ is a commitment to anecdotal evidence. It certainly takes a little intellectual firepower to move away from tradition and received beliefs, and in America “tradition and received beliefs” is synonymous with conservatism and Christianity.

It’s also synonymous with the US military, and today’s Times gives us a guest editorial from former Air Force chief of staff Merrill McPeak, who argues against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Props to asker/teller Sarah Aswell for the link. I’m willing to bet that former chief McPeak could beat my ass six ways from Sunday in a game of chess, but his argument in favor of DADT is plain dumb. He invokes the already hoary reason that the presence of gay soldiers will undermine unit morale, which is essentially saying that we should continue to discriminate against homosexuals because people discriminate against homosexuals. The same line of argument was popular at lunch counters across Alabama and obviously lacks moral force, but moral force isn’t what McPeak is invoking. Instead, he argues that the armed services differ fundamentally from the civil sector, and should therefore be exempted from considerations of fairness. “The services exclude, without challenge, many categories of prospective entrants. People cannot serve in uniform if they are too old or too young, too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, disabled, not sufficiently educated and so on. This, too, might be illegal in the civil sector.” McPeak’s implicit argument is that efficacy trumps equity, and the excluded categories he lists are all people who are by definition worse at fighting. Bafflingly, though, he goes on to argue that skill at soldiering isn’t important, either. “It would be a serious mistake to imagine that personal performance is what matters in combat,” Mc Peak writes. What’s important is group functioning, and while he’s certainly right, if group functioning were somehow entirely separate from individual ability, every combat unit would have a child mascot whom everybody loved.

That sort of branding is obviously better left to organizations that don’t matter, like city governments. Slate reports that the town of Topeka, Kansas has renamed itself “Google” for a month, in an effort to become a site for the corporation’s experimental broadband internet project from. Those of you wondering if the country’s children have preserved their idealism about America’s political process can ask the basketball team at West Google High School. The city’s official proclamation is a terrifying document of submission to not just corporate marketing but corporate thinking. “Whereas,” it begins, “Google’s commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions coupled with the belief that every employee is an equally important part of its’ success mirrors the City of Topeka’s belief that every citizen is an important part of the city’s success.” What the fuck does that mean, Mayor of Google, Kansas? And why does your city government believe that there is an apostrophe at the end of its?

It’s’ time’s like this’ that make me want to give up on human endeavor entirely. Just when I feel that way, though, something wonderful comes along. Chances are you’ve already seen this video, since it’s been all over the internet like peanut butter on Jim Bunning’s dick. If you have, watch it again. There is something in it that is best in all of us, and if it takes a little too much care to make me look at a State Farm logo at the beginning, it also makes sure to remind me that we’re best together at the end. Enjoy.

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  1. Another stellar post! That leaked strategy document confirms what we’ve all already known from the beginning.

  2. Alabama authors/writers are some of the most talented in the world. Being an Alabama native I personally look for home grown works from our own talent pool. If you haven’t looked into works from our authors you owe it to yourself to give it a fresh look.

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