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“Don’t you look for a lamp?”

It’s probably obvious to everyone that 2016 is a season ripe for some kind of alternative–most of us, regardless of partisan affiliation, recognize on some level that politics as usual has been a failure for our needs. Wealth disparity: no meaningful action. Climate change: no meaningful action. Structural racism: no meaningful action. “Meaningful” would involve substantially changing society as a whole system such that the problems don’t occur, and that’s just not how we’ve been doing politics.

This, I believe, is why both Bernie and Trump have gotten so much traction: there is a dissatisfaction that the real problems are not being talked about as such, and they talk about them. I’d guess Trump is mostly only pushing emotional buttons and doesn’t actually have useful solutions, and I’d say it’s entirely possible that Bernie’s solutions might be too late, even if he’s elected. And I’d say that it’s a toss-up as to what would happen if any other candidate wins: the same forces of social dissatisfaction could push them toward change (good or bad), or they could try to stave off change and just make it worse for the next election.

This is not an isolated pattern in history. Similar problems, and stifled discussion, existed in the Middle East and North Africa in advance of the Arab Spring. Similar circumstances existed in Germany after WWI. Similar circumstances existed in the United States before the Civil War. Many other countries tried to make a change through Communism. None of those situations turned out especially well. And let’s not even get into the French Revolution or the Khmer Rouge. Just awful.

It’s true that there have, in history, been some good, constructive leaders in these situations. The first ones that come to mind, for me, are Lincoln, Ataturk, Gandhi, and Washington, who all rose to power under roughly similar circumstances requiring fundamental policy changes (although I don’t know if that’s how they would have phrased it) and saw those changes through. We usually regard them fondly in history, although I suspect they were just riding (or, swept up in) existing waves of social change–it’s telling, for example, that Gandhi opposed nationalism and was assassinated, and that Washington opposed partisanship but his precedents in that regard didn’t last after he left office.

So I just feel like we’ve heard the song that both Bernie and Trump are singing a few times already. Their verses are different, but they’re singing almost the same hook… and the hook is the part everyone actually sings. What really seems to matter in politics is not what the putative leader sings so much as what the population sings in response. I guess I can always hope that it will go differently this time–that this time, we’ll see the start of the next Pax Romana, Egyptian Middle Kingdom, or Song dynasty–but that’s difficult for me.

The thing about these systems? These systems that we as a populace are sufficiently aware of to feel dissatisfaction but not quite enough to articulate why? They aren’t necessarily the ones we leap to the first time we consciously ask “what’s wrong here?”. The salient systems at play in a situation aren’t necessarily the ones we can see right away. There’s a whole universe of factors at play in any given dissatisfaction, and it’s tricky to tell which factors you’re missing, let alone which factors are the most relevant. Following a rising social tide to a shining shore, and then seeing the tide withdraw abruptly, is another system, and it turns out–if you’ve read your history and your political philosophy–that we’ve known about these kinds of tides for literally millennia. Human nature hasn’t really changed in all that time.

There’s only so much that any one person has control over, whether they’re a president or just some citizen. We’re responsible for what we have control over in the progression of politics and history, but the rest of it is out of our control, and putting too much energy toward it takes energy away from other things we do have control over. We have control over our lives and we have effects on the lives around us, but we generally don’t have control over history, only over how we respond to it.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I (quaint little homer) think the real solution, if you’re serious about saving the world, is to get educated, plan and cast your vote (or other actions, if you’re in a position to have other ways to affect the political process), and then turn away from the political cycle, whether it’s the little four-year-presidential one or the bigger history-is-happening one. That’s a cycle of inevitability. Then turn to other constructive pursuits. Turn away from the picture box and turn to the big picture. Turn to reading old books about history and philosophy, and help save human knowledge. Turn to gardening and learning science, and help people eat and stay alive. Learn how to communicate well, turn your conversations toward less volatile ideas, and help calm down the social discourse. Maybe turn to meditation, art, or prayer.

That’s what I think the right course of action for any one person is: turning mostly away. I think I’m mostly turned away. I could be wrong about that, but assuming I’m truly looking at the other side–well, I can’t really describe what’s on the other side, except to say that I find it empowering and I actually find hope there–hope that I don’t find in politics.

Waxen Beats and earworms

§ One of the hazards of listening to somewhat obscure electronica, or really any non-mainstream instrumental music, is that you can’t search for lyrics to identify something stuck in your head. For many, including myself, that’s the go-to search method to identify a song in the wild: note a novel phrase in the lyrics and search the web when you get the chance. Chances are very good that the lyrics are online somewhere—with the title and artist.

You can’t do that if there aren’t lyrics in the part you remember, though. I went for literally several years hearing the sound at ~2:36 in “Waxen Beats” by Vesna without remembering where it was from. I tried to find it (hmm, sounds like that one DJ Shadow track on The Private Press … listening … listening … no, that’s not it. Argh!) and then quite accidentally heard it during a listen to Vesna’s album. It was like hearing angels singing the lost chord.

Since 2008 I’ve heard the three snare hits at ~0:41 in Brothomstates’ Qtio echoing in my head. I kept thinking it was Techno Animal, but, no. Well, you might note that this track samples The Pharcyde’s classic “Passin’ Me By”. One magic day quite recently I put them on. I think YouTube suggested Qtio next, which I hadn’t heard in years–not since I bought it on vinyl, and then gave my turntables to a friend. So feeling sentimental I gave it a listen … and felt God break like a tidal beat in my ears.

This problem compounds when you are musically illiterate—as I am. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to hum some theme or other for a classical musician because it was stuck in my head and I had no way to search for it online. Even though we’re in the 2010s and search tools exist that can handle music note queries, I wouldn’t be able to use it without an off-putting amount of effort. And that’s assuming the particular theme is in the given tool’s database. Other tools exist that search by audio signature. Something catchy is playing over a café PA? Record a few seconds by smartphone and get track information. That’s just amazing. Sadly, it doesn’t help if the music is playing only in my head.

I was clubbing after a wedding reception and a fantastic dance anthem came on. I still hear it, and I heard it again at the reception for another wedding. The song itself was just the interchangeable grooves of a moment in pop culture, quickly forgotten by society, and quickly passed through in each DJ’s mix, but I remember the grooves vividly in my fingers and feet. But the words? I couldn’t remember a phrase meaningful enough to search for in the lyrics—most dance anthems’ lyrics are roughly the same—and I just lived with twitchy fingers until luck led me to listen to and recognize it again.

In dreams many hear (or at least remember) audible speech without the actual meaning. It’s like we dream about the idea of speech rather than the ideas in the speech. How does someone find the words they don’t remember? Do you find them at all? Or do you let go of the unimportant details and focus on the fact that speech occurred—or, for that matter, that the music was good?

Smash Patriarchy

A lot of men came to the anti-patriarchy demonstration in Baltimore. That was heartening. Originally, the demonstration was organized to disrupt a neo-masculinist MRA/PUA rendezvous. It was cancelled, but the demonstration was held anyway as a show of anti-patriarchy.

Although no Return of Kings fans were detected (duh), quite a few typical Saturday-night-in-Federal-Hill bar patrons were. Some made rude remarks, many smiled sardonically, one funny man yelled “Feel the Bern! Feel the Bern!” Many were just confused. Their girlfriends walked by awkwardly.

I feel like it’s the unexamined lives, living out day-to-day roles and stereotypes like normal, that present the real home for misogyny.