Monthly Archives: December 2017

Arithmetic and Transformations

I agree with a colleague, who wrote,

“In my judgment, Al Franken is not a predator. Instead, he likes to play a naughty boy role. He knows he is being naughty, but he’s a cut-up and doesn’t hide it. In the photo, he is ‘posing’ as a lecher, for crying out loud.”

Lawrence O’Donnell, who spent seven years in the Senate as Chief of Staff to Democrat Pat Moynihan, drew attention, on his MSNBC program, ‘The Last Word, to a “Wave,” a metaphor for the political force unleashed by women going public on sexual harassment from powerful men. Such a force, Lawrence suggested, is transformative. Later in the program, talking of Al Franken, Lawrence said, ‘Politics always comes down to politics.'”

What is Lawrence talking about? Two things –

First, Politics as Arithmetic

Al Franken comes from a state with a Democratic governor. His seat will be filled by a Democrat.

The federal corruption trial of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday after the jury reported it was hopelessly deadlocked. If he is rejected by the Democrats, Republican governor, Chris Christy, will appoint a Republican to fill Menendez’seat. The Democrats embraced Menendez on his return to the Senate.

Is that what he’s talking about?

Yes. “That’s politics.”

And so is –

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Suppose we re-write Shakespeare like this,

There is a WAVE in the affairs of men,
And we must take the WAVE when it serves.

Or re-write it like this,

There is a MEME in the affairs of men,
And we must take the MEME when it serves.

A meme is “a culturally transmitted informational entity.” It is transmitted perceptually, not genetically. If the changed relationship between men and women is to survive through natural selection, then it must be made visible. When the democrats insisted Franken resign, they were doing just that – making a meme all can see!

Their remarkable consensus indicates the political culture had profoundly changed. It had exploded the falsity that men are superior to women. We are much more human than otherwise. A women is not inferior to man. She is not to submit to his authority, but to share it equally.

A mere 200 years ago, Aaron Burr, the sitting vice-president of the United States, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Why is duelling unthinkable now? When and how did that come about? Why is war between major European nations unthinkable for the last 75 years, a continent most given to war for interminable centuries?

You ask, “Why did the Democratic senators ask Franken – the least arrogant of powerful men – to resign?”

– Because they think differently!

“What! Since last week?”

– Maybe since yesterday! These transformations occur invisibly. When and how is a mystery. Inexplicable. Recently we experienced a profound change in our culture regarding homosexuality, astonished at its rapidity. The same was true for abortion and a woman’s right to choose.

The Republicans have thrown in their lot with Donald Trump and Roy Moore. The Democrats, by their ousting of Al Franken, have opted for a transformation of our political life. It’s not a holier than thou position. It is making a more perfect union. It is a statement by the Democratic Party and not that of a single senator, regardless of her/his motives.

I am heart-sick with the resignation of Al Franken. I am comforted it is not political action based on arithmetic, necessary though that almost always is.

At this point in time, our culture is being propelled on a giant tide. We the People must take the current while it serves or lose our venture.

Politics and Transformations.

Memes to the Rescue

In 1976, biologist Richard Dawkins discovered The Meme. He didn’t invent it. He found it! It’s not matter. It’s not energy.

“What is it then?”

-It’s Information.

“Dawkins discovered Google!”

– Of course not. Google is merely a gigantic storage bin. Memes are information in action. They are in the heads of people.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Did God spend the seventh day creating Information?”

– Information came in with language, an event as puzzling as the origin of life. With language, we became informants. We developed the spoken word, which serves as the bearer of information. We speak a mutually intelligible language and have the powers to thrash belief systems and the complexities of a culture. No other animal speaks a symbolic language. No other animal has the faintest idea of semantics and the structuring powers of syntax. When language was first heard on the planet is anybody’s guess. Contrasted with geologic time, it was closer to yesterday than a month ago. What is obvious is that it made us the masters of the planet and its custodians.

“That’s all very interesting, but where is relief from the Trump Horror Show? The other day he injected racism in a ceremony to honor Native Americans. The depravity of our government is an unobstructed work in progress.”

– Trump’s racism is a meme, an informational entity identifying a group’s culture, and, like genes, transmitted to succeeding generations. The longer a meme remains viable through the rough and tumble of natural selection, the more powerful its impact. The DNA of a gene identifies a single individual. Shared memes identify a group.

“Is there a more powerful meme than that of racism? It’s been around since the first colonies.”

– Racism has a long history. The longer a meme has been selected the more power it wields in a group. A meme is “a culturally transmitted informational entity.” Racism is certainly in a lot of heads and shapes behavior generation after generation. One of the great benefits to us of Dawkins’discovery of memes is that we needn’t be discouraged that memes, say, for the gun culture or racism, persist. Their durability is the nature of the beast. Here’s another meme, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This informational entity has also been transmitted generation after generation.

– Through thick and thin, we have kept our political traditions dynamically relevant. For 240 years we have adhered to The Rule of Law and our Constitution. It’s our history. It’s We the People. It’s our America. Above all, we have submitted to the peaceful transfer of power.

– The most remarkable fact of the Trump Administration is its foreignness. Not just its treasonous alliance with Russia, but its daily perversity in attacking our way of governing, our way of life. The meme for Bozo the Clown as President does not have a long history. It will not survive natural selection.

– Simply put, the Trump meme doesn’t have generational breadth. It’s an oddity, the unlikely convergence of bits and pieces from the dark places of marginal political groups. It will not survive natural selection. In political life, that takes place in the voting booth.

– Recent election results in Virginia and New Jersey indicate the continuing memetic vigor of our democracy.