Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Socrates has to teach the GOP candidates

More debates, more empty showcases.  The race has advanced to the final four, leaving only the candidates that have passed the vox popoli.  Despite the bid being a weeding-out process, it has not selected for the better, and the discourse is every bit as shallow as its ever been.  Despite what most people believe, its not just Rick Perry who is a poor debater. Every single GOP presidential candidate, to greater or lesser degrees, doesn't know how to debate.  Don't get me wrong, they're all good orators, and they're all, with the exception of Rick Perry, quick witted and possess a modicum of communication skills. Newt Gingrich, in particular, has shown himself to be the master of the riposte.  But no, I'm not talking about that. Rather I'm referring to their complete inability to win an argument in a unanimously satisfactory manner.

Think about it, in any of the debates, when have you ever enjoyed the silence of someone's defeat, the silence that calls for pity onto the interlocutor and his hapless argument?  Even with all my biases in favor of Ron Paul, I have yet to see him demolish his opponents to a breathtakingly conclusive extent.

In all fairness, this is partly the fault of the debate forum.  The debates number in the double-digits, and with the sole exception of Mike Huckabees recent Q&A, there has been no change in the debate setup, no variety that could reveal truths that haven't been exhausted before.  It is a testimony to how unimginative the mainstream media is that nothing different has been proposed and tried upon, which is why I was bummed when the Donald Trump debate never panned out.  Ron Paul simply dismissed it because a celebrity show host would be unfit to host a presidential forum, as if delegating that role to a collection of self-serving, establishment-promoting media heads was any better.

Since I have decried the lack of imagination in the mainstream media, I will take the time to offer my own proposal.  Simply put, I am suggesting a Socratic dialogue. All previous debates had it where the moderator (or some twitterer) would ask a question, allowing the asked candidate to answer. The questions were almost always as broad as the dawn and as shallow as a kiddy pool, leaving the candidate sufficient room to contort, evade, and redirect. Sometimes this would make way for another candidate to dispute the answer, but the dialogue would eventually devolve into a he-said-she-said argument, a spectacle that no one cares about.  And then it's over; thank goodness because I know someone's brain hurts.

This is why I am proposing the moderators change their routine entirely, and make the GOP runners use the Socratic method.  If my plan were implemented, candidates would have the opportunity to ask another competitor of their choosing five questions building up to a specific topic.  The asked candidate would be forced to answer the question in a concise, unevasive way, lest the next question be hurled to cover the avoided nuance.  The role of the questionnaire would rotate between candidates and moderators until every possible combination is tried, in which the cycle would repeat itself.

The reason the Socratic dialogue is superior is because constantly asking questions exposes the gaps of recipients arguments and knowledge base.  No longer can they ramble on with what they're comfortable with.  No longer can they substitute hard honest answers for talking points or attacks on Obama.

Ron Paul in particular would profit from utilizing the Socratic method. As much as I admire the man, he is a very poor persuader.  The only thing saving him is 1) the weight of his ideas, and 2) his fans know how to get the word out and create advertisements. It's not just that he lacks the powers of appearance and oratory, its the interpersonal techniques he uses.  He rarely asks the much needed question, preferring instead to reiterate his libertarian and often-times correct arguments.  For example, he would do well if he simply asked the question is maintaining an overseas empire, throwing out every evil dictator, and attempting to eradicate world terrorism compatible with a small and limited Government? The ideal Conservatives are so enamored with?  I have asked that question numerous times in forums around the internet and guess what answer I received? Nothing. They couldn't be bothered with it. But instead Paul converts the question into a positive statement, which is only met with evasions and arguments from necessity, like we have to fight this war, or whatever. And Paul could ask dozens of such questions regarding the Constitution, a declaration of war, who predicted the crises and what that means,  the role of the Federal Reserve, the bankers that Republicans never talk about, the list goes on.

Questions demand accountability and precision, something that is severely lacking in the mainstream political discourse.

Why this won't happen. There are many reasons why the Socratic dialogue will never be tried.  For one thing, it takes away the powers of the moderator, putting it into the hands of the better, more knowledgeable and logically sophisticated candidate.  Devising questions that run five levels deep isn't easy; more than anything it demands a strategic and logical mind.  No doubt the candidates would need more preparation and effort devising and preparing to answer multi-tiered questions than working on spewing the same old talking points. And secondly, it probably wouldn't be a crowd-pleaser.  Viewers want to see rhetorical gustos confirming their beliefs, not craftily constructed examinations that delve into complicated nuances of a viewpoint.

Let it not be said that the current debate forum doesn't have its merits.  That's not the point.  The point is that it is way overused; its now defunct as it has exhausted its capacity to spark new, meaningful conversation.  Whoever devises these debates needs to get creative.  I outlined one proposal, and I'd like to see others implemented as well.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Emptiness of American Consumerism

Jake and Kelly think they are a relatively happy couple with good kids.  Jake works a decent job, one that pays more than enough to support his family.  But in order to fund their exuberant lifestyle, Kelly gets ready for a long day at work as she waves her kids farewell when they enter the yellow bus of doom.  A lot is on their minds.  As Jake slaves away at his soul-crushing job, he is looking forward to his next pay check to buy the new iphone, after which he will set his eyes on a new boat for the lakehouse. Once Kelly is done pushing papers in her corporate, bureaucratic job, she mounts her Lexus to pick up her kids from school and departs for the local mall, spending a few hundred $ on her favorite (!) red purse, some fine-smelling perfumes, and a size 40 dress to fit her inflamed, oversized waist.  By the time she gets home, she is too exhausted to cook dinner, so it’s more Dominoes pizza for the family. Jake gives the perfunctory beckon to his kids about what they learned at school today.  With a moment of ums and ahs, the kids finally respond that they learned how to calculate fractions – the same answer they gave last week.   Newtons, the lot of them. 

Jake had read earlier that day it was a good idea to go over finances with his spouse, but the issue posed an uncomfortable hassle for him. He wanted that iphone, he wanted that boat, and he knew that he had to amass even more debt to pay for them.  The idea of saving his resources for another day was wholly foreign to his mind, preferring to just take on more equity on his appreciating house.  Jake could confront his poor financial decisions now, but instead he brushed off the discomforts of introspection and turned on the TV, which he and his family would stare at until curfew.

Question: who the heck are Jake and Kelly? Answer: the average, miserable Americans, gripped in the thongs of consumerist culture.  If you thought my little story was exaggerated, you would kidding yourself.  There is no society more materially fixated than America, as the consumerism embedded knows no bounds. The average American spends every dime he makes, and more, saving for nothing.  It’s the mentality of short-term gratification and pleasure at the expense of everything else.  You would think that America, being the wealthiest nation on earth, would provide enough consumption goods to satisfy these degenerates, but you would be wrong.  The problem with wealth is that its beneficiaries can never get enough of it, because once you give them these toys, they develop an insatiable lust for more.  Americans are stuffing themselves with spoiled mammon, only to die of their own gluttony. 

American culture, as opposed to the American economy, has nothing to offer the refined individual. It’s a joke.  The average American has no appreciation for the fine arts, being content in swallowing the morass of cheap Chinese-made goods.   The soul-draining dirtbag that passes for culture provides nothing but circus and bread.  Nothing lies in their minds besides the products they see on the commercials.  It’s not about who they are as people, the quality and substance of their being.  No.  It’s about what they have. Americans pride themselves with their values, but they have immolated their interests on the altar of materialism, bowing to the idols of mammon and overindulgence.    

If Americans spent half the time laboring to improve themselves as individuals as they did consuming material goods, they would all be Renaissance men by now.  And that’s the problem.  Short-sighted consumerism takes time, effort, and is ultimately unrewarding. These energies could be spent on the finer endeavors of life, like improving oneself as an individual.  

 You want to rise above the pack? Extricate yourself from the throes of free-dumb society and crass consumerism. Create, produce, refine, not just consume.  I was deeply moved by the part in the movie Titanic when the lower-class Jack (Dacaprio) talks to the smug seniors of his girlfriend’s family. He said that he was set as long he possessed a pencil and drawing paper. He didn’t need all the material possessions Americans will die before giving up because he was content with something of a higher quality, something transcendent, something that required a higher level of consciousness and was thus ultimately more rewarding.  Likewise, do something creative.  Play a musical instrument.  Write a lot.  Learn how to paint.  Wood-work.  Pick up gardening.  Join a book club.  Read the great works of literature.  Think big ideas.  Learn the Alexander Technique.  Take up toastmasters.  Play board games with others. Invest more time in love, friends, family and relationships.  Embody the virtues you admire in your heroes.  Try to make yourself into the best person you can be.  Forgot your material welfare.  When you arise in the morning, look forward not to the things you can buy but to the things you cannot, the immaterial blessings that separate humans from the apes.   To use a food analogy, don’t impel motion into your life by eating chips, ice cream, or dope, for those things are nothing but cheap and poorly-rewarding gratifications.  Instead, eat the fruits of life and the meat of strength, with all their wholesome nutrients and enduring satisfaction.     

Left to their own devices, people will inevitably take the path with least resistance, which is why consumerism is the well-worn path.  Altering your lifestyle to emphasize the transcendent over the material will not be easy. Some of your friends will laugh at you; others will even resent you, for there is nothing more threatening to a weak person’s sense of self-worth than seeing another man rise above the same miserable and unsatisfying conditions of their own life.   But this path, the one less taken, will ultimately be worth it.  It will imbue within you a sense of purpose, a drive, a motivation to be a better person, an avenue to find your affinity with nature, and means to reconcile yourself with your being and your Creator. That is what life is about.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The practical dangers of not swearing too much and too poorly

      Earthly elements scraped the bottoms of my barefeet as I hoofed my afternoon walk.  Placid, calm, enjoyable. But the quiet streets of suburbia were interrupted by two whiggers, flawless specimens of a degenerate species.  They only graced my presence for a few brief, shiny seconds, but from what little time there was I could easily discern the incredible breadth that passes for their vocabulary.  The shorter one with plastered brown hair talked about his friend f—k, describing him as a f—k who f—k-d his f—king f—k, all with the pristine conversational skills of the average, doped-ridden teenager.

     Now then, I’m not the guy who will interrupt someone with, “hey man – you cussed!”, because swearing can serve a good purpose (I have no problem doing it myself, on occasion), but I reserve my most contemptuous thoughts for those individuals that use it as a crux for all their insecurities. High School culture has already seared what was left of their moral compass, but you don’t minimize your swearing for moral reasons; you stop because you don’t want to sound like a self-conscious moron.

     These pathetic creatures imagine themselves to be the paragons of cool and rebellion when they are in fact the most approval-seeking individuals on the planet, slavishly searching for outward notice and approval, always laboring in the vein that what they’re doing makes a difference.

     Curser Kid, stop swearing; you’re not good at it. I know my pearls of wisdom will bounce off your unmotivated mind like a track coaches’ pushing words to a snail, but soon the unforgiving forces of reality will set in your identity stone the words, You Are Not Cool. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why are these people voting for Newt?

This post would probably be more pertinent a month or two ago, but I just have to ask the question. Why vote against Romney because he is a Mormon, and vote for Newt instead? Seriously, it makes no sense to preempt Romney because of his religion, but vote for Gingrich.  Its as if words meant more than actions. In Romney you have a candidate who for the most part has lived a morally upstanding life, but whose only sin is to believe in various extra-biblical theological doctrines (although I would say these doctrines are significant from a theological perspective.)  In Newt you have a candidate who professes to be a Christian but whose actions indicate otherwise.  I'm not questioning Newt's salvation or anything, but salvation really isn't the issue. It's about electing a leader that offers moral credibility and self-control.  You shall know them by their fruits.

Whats even worse was when many of the Hermain Cain apostates, who left him because of his fidelity issues, went over to support Newt.  Talk about not getting it...

At any rate, Gingrich is out.  The only two ones left are Paul and Romney.