Thursday, February 08, 2018


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Nature: by which I mean things that form structures and interactions without human participation even when they penetrate and transform humans, works by pushing and then forming pushback.

Culture: by which I mean patterns and coding that are invented by humans even without consciously intending them, works by shaping and modifying nature.

So sex, which is nature, is “the force that through the green fuse drives".  (This assumes adequate food, shelter, and safety.)  Beyond a certain minimum of survival, culture is what crosses generations, which is the alternation of birth pushing back against death.

Two related systems (among others) that constantly work to guide and control sex are government, including law enforcement, and public “norming” — what everyone is assumed to be doing.  These two get out of sync.  For instance, marriage has simply become irrelevant except to the people who want access as a political statement.  It’s actually a government function for accountability that is enforced by religion.  A legal contract purporting to be sacred.

Many Catholic women simply ignore the church rules about birth control.  Men who are used to the idea that they can blame their lovers’ babies on their promiscuity, saying the baby is not theirs — can’t be proven to be theirs — are now cornered by DNA proof of fatherhood, which has been followed by laws requiring them to pay for the babies.  On the other hand, the existence of rape kits that can convict men have been countered by neglecting to provide enough funds to buy and analyze the kits.

Something similar happens with corruption:  the laws may or may not be effective, but the sense of “what everybody does” cuts against it.  Evidently in the American Republican party corruption is so widespread that it is accepted as “the way it is.”  The only higher power is the Supreme Court, which they can control to some degree.  But something so seemingly innocent as a couple of popular TV series may change the majority public view so effectively that a wave of reform-by-election may wipe them out of power.  Political parties are formed by norming and I see -- saying that -- our moral arbiters are sitting in the “writers’ rooms” that create scripts that are arguments.

A new literary “genre” has appeared in the last decades — alternative history of demographic groups, nations, and the planet — so thoroughly box-busting that they reach back to the beginning of existence and barely pause at the invention of writing, which we had assumed was the only historical record.  This illusion underlies hegemony by “white” old male traditionalists and is dangerous in the sense that it justifies legal precedents that destroy alternatives.  

But written law is then enforced in the street and even policemen from the demographics libeled by stereotypes can hardly keep from responding to the same prejudices.  But they are relating to the results of differences that come from lived practices, particularly in education, and many argue that changing the parenting skills of disadvantaged people, providing enough shelter to prevent the need for criminal shortcuts, and paying attention to the pathways to achievement as well as the objectives, makes a lot more sense than locking up people and feeding them macaroni with no cheese while they share diseases.

Probably no set of laws is as out-of-date as those addressing sex.  Some things are self-punished, such as disease and pregnancy (!), but those punishments become social crimes when they are handled only with more punishment, more affliction, more suffering.  

I was born in 1939 and my cohort struggled hard with unwanted pregnancies that came before the pill was invented and abortion was legal, both of which reformations were propelled by the suffering of not having access to them.  In those days antibiotics for what we called VD instead of STD had not been invented.  “Just say no” wasn’t about drugs — it was about intercourse.  Anal intercourse to avoid pregnancy was a social practice so stigmatized that a person could not find out what buggery was.  We only knew it was very wicked and probably English.  Although the French would do anything — our soldiers told us so.  Much of our social control came from displacing what was strange or unwanted onto other groups.  (Which made them far more electric to some people.)

All this searching of a larger context, researching of the written past, writing now in what has always been the blank space where dragons lived, and writing out both dystopias and utopias, partly memories of the Sixties when we could do anything including founding communes, and partly space colonies entirely fabricated — it’s all a search for new alternatives.  But they don’t find their way into law as much as they ought to.

Human behaviour is slippery.  What law can address a man who kidnaps a teenager and persuades her to have baby after baby they refuse to feed properly and keep chained to the furniture?  All protected by secrecy fed by norms, so that as Scriver suggested, it’s too outrageous to be believed and therefore addressed.  The world is full of the equivalent nations who metaphorically chain and starve their people.  We try not to know.  Even if we do, even if the nations gave up their compartments and answered to some planetary norm, what would it be like?  Like us, most likely.  Not pleasing to everyone.  And polls now suggest that we don’t mind being oppressed so long as it means being rich.

Before effective action can be taken, it has to be thought of.  That’s the shortage we have right now, IDEAS, and our political deadend is probably just what we need to drive us out of our corners where our heads are rammed to keep from knowing.  Democracy is finally an experiment that gives “norming” by voting the power rather than using an idealistic template for what should happen.  Some have always said that meant going to the lowest common denominator — anti-intellectual, greed-based, America-first, slam the doors shut.  Populism.

So the new admitted player is economics.  The lowest common denominator will not produce wealth, though they think so.  But their problem (“What’s your PROBlem??”) is that they don’t have enough money.  They may realistically believe that it’s because the system of laws makes all the wealth roll into one corner, the corner that already has more and feels entitled to the rest.  So we liberate the money.  Yet it happens again and again over the centuries.

We have strategies.  Social layers and secrecies, cartoons and poetry, not so much books now but far more videos of talking heads.  Strategies might be simply removing the legal pretense that institutions and businesses are people with person’s entitlements, or simply eliminating pirate islands of jurisdiction where money can be hidden in secret bookkeeping, or simply seizing all Russian oligarchical investments in the USA.  That last would bring Putin to his end tout suite.  The financial guillotine.  Why not?

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