Gandhi Flip-Flops and MLK Day

Yesterday it was reported that outrage has stirred in India due to a consumer item advertised on Amazon. The item was a pair of flip-flop sandals with an image of Mahatma Gandhi’s face on the top of them. The sandals cost 16.99$ and required that the user put their feet directly on Gandhi’s face while wearing them, which would almost be comedic if it weren’t so sad.

This incident comes a short while after another consumer related scandal, this one being a doormat with India’s flag on it for guests to wipe their feet on. The people of India’s anger is understandable, although it’s important that they direct their anger towards the right place.

gandhi-sandals
Amazon’s image of the sandals being sold.

What would propel someone to wear flip-flops with Gandhi’s face on them? I imagine that it would be someone that superficially idolized the man, meaning some hipster in the U.S. that vaguely knows the man’s actions and think it’s a sign of rebellion to wear them. I imagine it being the same crowd that wears Che Guevara t-shirts despite never reading his work and never studying the Cuban revolution. Read More »

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The Maxim of Strength

One of the prevailing ideologies from our past comes to us in the form of the slogan “Might is right”. It is the ideology of the strong taking what they can, what they deem to be rightfully theirs and attaining from those that have. It separates the haves and the have-nots. More poetically, Jack London would have called it the law of Club and Fang. Another form, although slightly different, comes to us from one of the greatest sophists of the 19th century.

Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil:

Physiologists should think twice before positioning the drive for self-preservation as the cardinal drive of an organic being. Above all, a living thing wants to discharge its strength — life itself is will to power -: self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of this.

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Protest on College Campus

Throughout the day on Thursday students on the University of Tennessee campus gathered to protest the presidency of Donald Trump. At the height of the protest there was up to 300 students participating in both the protest and the counter-protest. Students, forming a ring around the sitting ‘marginalized’ students, chanted and repeated slogans from the speakers of the event. In an explanation of the purpose of the protest, one of the speakers elaborated that it “is not a pro-Hillary protest, it is a fuck Donald Trump protest.”

I joined the protest around 2:00 pm on my way to class and stayed for a few spare hours. Just walking close to 100 meters away from the gathering I knew instantly what it was, the police cars parked along the road with flashing lights only confirmed my suspicion. I gathered later that it was organized by the campus diversity organization. After positioning myself in the crowd I found myself chanting along with them, although abstaining once or twice when I found their slogans distasteful. A few of the favored rallying cries were “Not my president”, “Fuck Donald Trump”, and the now famous “No Trump, no KKK, no fascists USA.” The chorus to Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright” was also frequently chanted, which is always expected.Read More »

Art as a Form of Escape

The classic problem of people hiding from their lives and retreating to art has fundamentally changed within the last few years. The typical portrayal was some slightly disillusioned child preferring to read their stories or paint a picture than go to class. This concept is littered throughout popular literature and film, but hardly ever captures the real situation that we are facing. I don’t think any reasonable person would object to a child that wants to spend the majority of their time reading or painting, mostly because we think of this as classical art. The major art forms we see today are radically different and therefore require a different analysis.

To any common observer there are two depictions of modern art. There is the contemporary abstract form of art that we all love making jokes about, where there is always some deep meaning to jumbled up colors and tin sculptures that nobody understands, and there is the online culture of art production. The latter is the more baffling, because it is a phenomenon that is almost entirely unique to online culture but has been seeping into the public frame lately. Read More »

Dehumanization

It’s an amazing thing to be able to witness the base anger and resentment towards each other that people carry  today. It appears society is getting so bitter that we can barely stand the sight of each other anymore, and for many people they will hardly admit that the other person is truly a human.

This seems to happen most in modern industrialized countries. Take a look at the average minimum wage worker. Typically a bored teenager, working for extra money or to save for school, and they face a constant stream of upset customers. Now, the business tries their best to get the worker to be enthusiastic and kind to the customers, regardless if the worker truly cares or not. The moment the person allows this to happen, his identity is that of the worker, and not the human being he actually is. The best example of this is Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of ‘Bad Faith’. He gives the example of the waiter that moves with too much precision and acts all too “waiterly” in a sense putting his role of a waiter before his role as a human being. Sartre would say that this man was in bad faith because he deceived himself about who he actually was.Read More »

Third Party Politics

It was reported earlier today that Jill Stein, the assumed presidential candidate of the Green Party, offered to step aside if Bernie Sanders wanted to run on the party’s ticket. This is an interesting proposal, especially since just yesterday it was leaked that Sanders will supposedly endorse Clinton at an upcoming rally next week. The idea isn’t completely ludicrous, after all Sanders served as an independent in Congress and his ideas match up more smoothly with the Green Party. In fact, as a sign of support, during the California primary Jill Stein actually urged voters to vote for Sanders if they were registered as Democrat or independent, saying that “The more the Sanders team can raise the bar for the people not the billionaires, the stronger we will all be for it.”

This raises more crucial questions about the function of third parties in the U.S. First off I’d like to mention the abuse of the term ‘third party’ when every organization that isn’t the Democrats or Republicans is merely called the ‘third party’, in a way hinting at it’s own failure. But it turns out that the Green Party is the second largest alternative party with ballot access in 20 states in the country, right behind the Libertarian Party with access in 34 states.

The issue is, which would really be the most beneficial solution? Suppose that Sanders does endorse Clinton, that doesn’t automatically mean that all of his supporters will vote for her. In fact it seems the only reason the Democrats want the endorsement from Sanders is really just as an admission of defeat. Only that way will the party begin to pacify many of its more outraged members. But imagine if Sanders turned around and endorsed Stein? That seems much more likely than Sanders running on the Green Party ticket, and it would mean an unprecedented amount of people would suddenly very seriously consider the party. Sanders began endorsing and fundraising for progressives running for local elections, the most impressive feat being the fundraising of $250,000 for Tim Canova, an opponent of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Jill Stein
Jill Stein is currently running for President as a member of the Green Party, and previously ran in 2012.

I don’t expect this to ever happen. Sanders is already poised to have a great deal of influence in the Democratic party and will likely continue to influence generations of voters. But a move like this would grant him the same status as Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate often accused of taking votes from the Democrats clearing the way for the 2000 Bush election. In an election season without Donald Trump I would fully support this, but for now the best thing might be for Sanders to continue to build the new labor movement, regardless if it is within or outside the Democratic Party.

However the future of any alternative party does not depend solely on Bernie Sanders. The biggest issue at the moment is exposure, the fact is that the majority of Americans couldn’t identify an alternative party to vote for. This is being remedied in some ways. For instance in late 2015 the Green Party and the Libertarian party filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates in hopes to gain access to the national debates. The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the exclusion of alternative candidates violated antitrust laws, and in many ways actually does. The ideal for the new system would be any candidate would be featured in the debates if they had secured their place on enough state ballots to potentially win a majority in the electoral college. This seems to be a reasonable way for candidates to actually earn their place on the debate stage rather than having it handed to them.

Despite this being a reasonable solution it is unlikely to succeed. Prior to 1988 the debates were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, however after the group chose to pull out of the debates the Democrats and Republicans put together a joint effort to create the CPD. Although technically the CPD is a non-profit organization you can imagine the amount of influence the two major parties have over their operations. As a result in 2000 the rule was created that for a candidate to be featured in the debates that candidate would need to garner at least 15% of national support across five polls. Of course it’s extremely difficult to poll that high without any sort of national recognition such as a debate would bring. This is exactly what the Green’s and Libertarian’s lawsuit would seek to end.

There is a great deal more that needs to be done to see the growth of an alternative party. Although an endorsement from Bernie Sanders would seem like a quick fix there is still other issues inherent to these parties. The biggest example is the mentality of the “Lesser of two evils.” The idea is that you vote for the least despicable of the two major candidates simply to deny the worst candidate from winning. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree with the person you voted for, the mentality just states you vote for the person you disagree with least. This is such a silly idea you could hardly find anyone that seriously supports it.

There are a number of problems with this argument. While it is largely utilitarian, your vote would be much better spent going towards a candidate you actually agree with. Not only would you be putting your effort towards ideals you believe in but you wouldn’t have to compromise yourself into this trap of “lesser evils.” Think of it this way: if Hitler and Stalin were campaigning on the Republican and Democratic tickets, respectively, would you vote for the lesser of two evils? You wouldn’t vote for Stalin simply because you believe he is the less despicable, you would simply revolt. And that is all there is to do.

The thing about the lesser of two evils is that they are both still evil, which in my mind means that we can do better. However, I’ll be honest. I would much rather see a comprehensive labor movement in the U.S. than a new party, but I’ll take what I can get.

Boredom

It turns out that with Summer here and the hot sun, the dangers of boredom is a very real threat. What is it about boredom that makes someone want to gnash their teeth and smash their head up and down? This feeling comes naturally when there is nothing particularly interesting to do, or when there is no will to get up and do them.

One trait of boredom is that the person is very aware of their own boredom, making the whole situation worse. For instance it’s one thing to lay on the couch all day, but it’s another to lay there and constantly complain how boring it is. It’s almost as if that constant reminder that you’re bored just perpetuates it. So the obvious solution here would be to get up and do anything, really anything to get your mind off the nothing. In fact that’s what many people suggest, citing how beautiful of a day it is or how many things there are to do around. The likelihood of any of those curing your boredom may vary, depending on their excitement and personal interest it has.

But perhaps boredom may actually be somewhat beneficial. It plays a very odd role in our day to day lives, from being minimal some days or devoting an entire day to boredom on other occasions. For instance boredom can cause someone to be ‘begrudgingly productive’ by doing tasks just avoid the boredom, and this in many ways is the only way I personally function. For others it causes them to lash out and seek some sort of excitement, many times without an end. In his book “The Conquest of Happiness” the mathematician Bertrand Russell devotes an entire chapter to the relationship of boredom and excitement, writing that:

The desire for excitement is very deep-seated in human beings, especially in males. I suppose that in the hunting stage it was more easily gratified than it has been since. The chase was exciting, war was exciting, courtship was exciting. A savage will manage to commit adultery with a woman while her husband is asleep beside her, knowing that it is instant death if the husband wakes. This situation, I imagine, is not boring.

In this attempt at being witty a good point arises, mainly that our domesticated and increasingly restrained way of life doesn’t leave as many chances for a base excitement. I’m not saying that we should try to imitate a hunter-gatherer type lifestyle, but it’s important to consider how the average human day has evolved over time. So that for the majority of human history, much more time was devoted in a single day to working, getting food, taking care of a family, ect. That’s not to say boredom always springs out of unused time, because often times we find great excitement in being completely unproductive. But perhaps our ancestors weren’t as bored as we are.

But regardless, this is mostly just speculation. I doubt that anytime soon we’re going to see a comprehensive scientific survey of boredom, and in many ways we don’t need it. Anyways I’ll keep these thoughts short so it’s not so dull, and as many probably guessed, these thoughts are a product of being ‘begrudgingly productive’.