Monday, January 26, 2009

Using Your Brain is Not a Team Sport

Okay, here's how this works: I look at patterns. I see stuff happening, and I tell you - all of my friends and companions - what I see coming. Then you get to behave in a mocking, name-calling, or patronizing manner until I turn out to be right...then, it all starts over again.

For example: 20 years ago, I was a Star Trek geek marveling at the cool tech that I saw coming (cell phones, laptops, CDs/mp3s, GPS, etc.) ... and I earned the scorn and derision of my peers and adults for believing that these things would eventually get here. Many wedgies - few dates. And yet, here we are approaching 2010, and a lot of the stuff I was mocked for believing in is being sold at WalMart for under $400. But I'm still considered a geek.

I accept that there will always be naysayers. "That'll always be too expensive." Or "There will never be a market for that." But I've been right often enough about the conclusions I draw from what I see going on in the world that it gets old. And the truly distressing thing to me is that the things I am predicting - things I hope will happen soon enough to make a difference - have been given some unfortunate political stigmas.

Now, for many of you, politics is just another team sport. You have your favorite team, and you tend to let your thinking drift along the direction that your "coaches" tell you it should drift. Anyone disagreeing with you is either biased or misinformed, because your team is the best. And Heaven Forbid that anyone imply that YOU are biased or misinformed, because then the blood will flow!

Well, I don't have a team. I'm not vain enough to think of myself as a "referee", even for the sake of this lame analogy; and really, I'm not even a fan of the sport. I don't really care what political labels you associate with various issues.

Instead, I look at patterns; I see which way the wind blows, and I see the shadows that indicate rocks under the water. When you ask me - either directly, or by making observations of your own in my "hearing" - I will gladly share my opinions with you. All I ask in return is that you accept that I'm not stumping an "agenda" or trying to give some meaningless victory to the "other team".

After 9/11, a lot of people asked me "Why do people hate Americans?" Maybe it was insensitive of me to do so, but I answered that question honestly: "We are seen as too fat, too arrogant, and too powerful. We bully the world into doing things our way, and leave them the scraps. Most people resent that, and some feel moved to blow themselves up to teach us a lesson."

The response I got was not what I expected. I hoped for at least, "Gosh, how can we show people we aren't all like that?" What I got was, "Why do YOU hate America?"

I'm still pretty ticked off by that reaction. It's that "shoot the messenger", "for us or against us" mentality that made the last 8 years a frustrating slog. And it was that mentality that turned me off to candidate after candidate, until I was left with the one that showed some faith in an America that could handle constructive criticism.

It was hard for me to decide to support Barack Obama - not because he was black, or because he was young, or because I disagreed with his ideas. It was hard because he is part of a particular "team", and I knew that supporting him would identify me with that team.

But in the end, it was more important to me to be true to the objective decision that I had to make. It was more important to ask hard questions of those who insist that they have a lock on common sense. I have found that those who bray the loudest about their common sense have trouble answering those questions. Here are a small handful of them:

Question 1: Why is it okay to spend a trillion dollars, taking money out of the pockets of good, hard-working Americans and saddling our children with a nearly insurmountable financial burden to send our troops to Iraq... but it's NOT okay to spend a trillion dollars, taking money out of the pockets of good, hard-working Americans and saddling our children with a nearly insurmountable financial burden to fix all of the stuff that's broken because the last administration was preoccupied with invading other countries?

Question 2: Why do you argue that I can't have electric cars or solar powered houses because "there isn't a market for it", even though there are apparently markets for:

*a tobacco industry that sells an otherwise useless weed to people who then die from the effects of using the product
*a food industry manufacturing nutrition-free crap that contributes directly to our growing heart problems, diabetes, and obesity?
*oh, and don't forget those low-mileage, high capacity SUVs and trucks that are used as commuter cars - there is apparently a market for those, too.

Question 3: Why are we "a Christian nation with Christian values" until someone points out that Jesus said the opposite of whatever argument you're making... and then suddenly you're an "independent pragmatist and non-religious free-thinker"?

Question 4: Can you tell me the difference between "creating a large bureaucracy to suck TAXES out of our pockets to pay for health care for poor people", and "creating a large bureaucracy to suck PREMIUMS out of our pockets to pay for health care for poor people... after paying for bonuses for corporate executives"? (Hint: both suck.)

I don't believe that any one person or group of people has all the right answers. I expect that the team I've given my support to this year will make some mistakes. When they do, I'll call them on it.

But the other team has had the ball since 1994, and the patterns they've created lead to some pretty unpleasant conclusions. Before you sneer at me and dismiss my opinions, I need you to recognize that I have a pretty good track record, and the patterns are there for everyone to see.

And much like me, the patterns don't care what team you're on.

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