SODAMN INSSEIN HOTDOGS AND HAMBURGERS SHOW FLYER OLYMPIA 2003
I recently had an exchange on a social network with a beloved cousin of mine who has a take on the political scene that is very passionate and very different than my own.
This exchange came at a time when I’ve been following the news a lot less than I usually do. I think its some combination of the arrival of beautiful spring weather and the blossoms that go along with it as well an awareness that election season is about to kick into high gear that has had me taking a break from following every ridiculous, infuriating, boring, crazy, inspiring, and disheartening twist and turn of the news cycle.
Ahhh…blue skies, children playing in the park, women in dresses, pretty flowers…and politics?
This online debate with my cousin inspired me to think about my political views a little differently than I usually do. Like most Americans, I associate primarily with people who share a lot of my opinions political and otherwise. We might differ on details but for the most part people in my community and I agree on many of the main issues of our times.
The opinion echo chambers most of us choose to inhabit feel nice because they reinforce the feeling that what we think of as the correct and enlightened way of seeing things is the correct and enlightened way of seeing things. What person doesn’t like the feeling of approval from his peers on some level?
The problem with these social and media feedback loops is that they don’t ask much of us in the way of considering how other reasonable people could arrive at different conclusions than we have about things. These self-reinforcing relationships and media diets often make those we disagree with seem completely unreasonable.
So I asked to myself: if my take on politics is so different than that of my cousin is it worth asking what exactly are the differences and are there any similarities?
I think it is worth asking this question.
First I should say something about the two of us as people. I won’t go into our biographies, I’ll just say that if you met us you’d see two middle aged white guys dressed casually, conducting themselves like two completely normal human beings because that’s what we are.
In my own personal experience of my cousin I’ve only known him to be a very funny, pleasant, caring, kind, patient and friendly person. I’ve seen him be tough when he needed to be and tender when the time was right. Some people might think of him in other ways than I do but those are the traits that come to mind when I think of him. I’m proud to say I’d imagine most people who know or have known me would likely use similar positive adjectives to describe their impression of me, although a few people might use less favorable ones. (they’d be wrong BTW!)
If you knew more about us you wouldn’t need a microscope to see similarities and differences in our personal histories and cultural backgrounds. In some major details there are differences to be sure. I think it’s safe to assume however that since he and I are of a certain age we have shared all the basic universal pleasures and pains of living out the full range of human emotions and experiences.
Basics like, love, anger, fear, regret, anxiety, joy, heartache, frustration, awe, wonder, laughter, and the list goes on. I don’t care who you are or how you think, the fact is: if you live long enough you’ll get to feel most, if not all these things and more. If there is a plan, this is certainly part of the plan.
Now to politics…
As simply as I can I’m just going to break it down for you, and for myself, some of the key conclusions I’ve arrived at after thirty or so years of reading, watching TV, listening to the radio and of having close personal friendships and passing encounters with countless folks of many different ages, classes, and of the all the big races, genders, political, sexual orientations and religions.
Afterall that living, here are nuggets of something like the truth of what I’ve arrived at politically speaking…in no particular order…here goes…
Changing the system is more important than changing the players in the system. If you want real change, put most of your efforts into changing the system. A corrupt or broken system discourages the well-intentioned and the competent from participating in that system and attracts the corrupt, dastardly, and the incompetent to it. This leads to an even worse system and worse outcomes.
Follow the money. If you want to know the purpose and agenda behind what’s being said and done, look at who is getting paid and who is having money and rights taken away from them. This is not to cynically suggest that no one in politics cares about people or deeper core values, it’s only to say that 9 times out of 10 money is what shapes the shape of what gets done and why.
Keep on following the money. If you want the most accurate picture of who is doing what and who is getting it done to them and why, don’t stop too soon on the money trail. Instead keep on following the money. This might seem obvious but it often isn’t. If you keep following the money you won’t find it is the poor, the disenfranchised and their advocates that and are ripping you off and curtailing your rights. It’s somebody rich and powerful who is doing that. Sounds crazy but I think it’s true.
When a rich and powerful person tells you a person who is poor and disenfranchised is ripping you off and curtailing your rights be suspicious of that powerful person’s motives. He might not actually have your best interests in mind even if it seems like he does.
If someone comes to you with a money making venture and begins his pitch by telling you “it’s not a pyramid scheme” you can be pretty sureit is a pyramid scheme.You might apply this rule the next time Fox News comes at you with a slogan like “Fair and Balanced”. I pick on them because they are by far the most blatant and toxic channel of overt propaganda out there. News Corp. is an awful company.
Conspiracy theories are of myths of disempowerment.
(I’m riffing this one from something I once heard in a talk by the late Terrence McKenna where he said something to a similar effect)
It’s not that I don’t think conspiracies exist, that would be ridiculous. Anyone who pays any attention to anything knows there are conspiracies big and small all around us. Most of the economy is a conspiracy in my opinion. You read about conspiracies ripping people off and ruining people’s lives, getting found out, going pear-shaped, and exploding in the faces of the conspirators all the time.
I’m not saying there aren’t conspiracies, I’m saying conspiracy theories are myths of disempowerment because they always imply that an evil, supernaturally competent, foreign interest or set of interests is pulling the levers of history and world events to fullfil their agenda and enslave us.
If this were true it’d be a deeply disturbing truth but in a twisted, childish way it’s also a very comforting one because it’s a vision of the world where the grown ups are still in charge: …mommy and daddy may be mean because they control us, tell us what to do, and what not to do, but at least we know they’re in charge of the house because I can hear them downstairs watching TV!
The fact is, no one and no group of people is so dialed as to have a grip on the reigns of history or current events. No one. Don’t take my word for it, instead just look around at everything…does it really look like planet earth 2012 is a place ruled by a group of people who know exactly what they’re doing? On any level does that seem to be the case? The answer is no.
(Of course conspiracy theorists after reading this would tell you that everything I’ve just written is part of the conspiracy and my saying this is further proof that I’m in on the conspiracy because how else could I possibly know they’d be reading this and saying that I was in on the conspiracy and…blah, blah, blah…)
The real grown-up reality is that no one is in charge of the whole sh-bang.
The world is managed in sections by powerful and imperfect people doing their best to keep everything from going completely off the rails so that they and their friends and supporters can keep on living the high life to the highest degree for as long as possible. They attempt to do this by using a steady stream of propaganda and a carrot and stick approach that includes helpings of entertainment, fat, police, sugar, drugs, shiny consumer products, prisons, armies, food and all the machinery that goes along with those things.
It’s a super complex global system of resource and population management that kind of works by rewarding and distracting enough of us just enough to enable us to overlook the rest of us who are being ground up in its turning wheels. All the while convincing us that the wheels won’t do the same thing to us someday. It’s a super complex system on the surface but underneath it all it’s pretty simple.
Religion isn’t the problem, fundamentalist thinking is the problem. I haven’t mentioned religion so I probably should, considering the crucial role it plays in politics. I’ll admit I’m not any more or less a fan of organized religions than I am a fan of governmental and corporate systems of control. This is simply because like governments, they are imperfect systems run by imperfect people. I do have a particular distaste for the fact that they, unlike most governments, too often do claim that they are perfect.
If you wanna argue that your religion IS the one perfect and infallible one, run by perfect infallible people, I’d like to introduce you to another guy who says the same thing about his religion and the two of you can sit down and hash it out with a third guy who’ll make a very convincing argument that his religion is actually the best and so on and so on.
What I’m saying is if you reallythink you have a total lock on the nature of reality and a clear understanding of god’s plan for us all, I gotta tell you I think you’re mistaken and that you only say such a thing because you’re not thinking it through or looking honestly at the facts. There’s probably something in your religion about having some personal humility that you should take another look at.
Just because I’m not religious doesn’t mean I look down on people of faith though. In fact I consider myself to be a person of faith. It’s just that I put my faith in the infinite well of mystery, the miracle of the imagination, the beauty of nature and the power of love. My path is not for everyone, everyone’s path is not for me. I don’t fault anyone nor do I see it as an intellectual weakness if one chooses to express their faith and love in a religious community and tradition. Different strokes for different folks.
I don’t have a problem with people who hold different religious views than I do the same way I don’t have a problem with people who hold different political views than I do. If I disagree with someone I don’t automatically assume they are ignorant of “the truth” I just figure they have been exposed to different sources of information and have filtered that information through a mesh woven from different life experiences than mine, so naturally they have reached different conclusions than I have. Makes sense to me.
The thing I am opposed to is fundamentalist, absolutist, fanatical thinking no matter who it comes from and no matter what their ideas are. I am opposed to this mode of thinking because it is unhelpful, negative, pernicious, uninteresting, hysterical, annoying, and ultimatelyvery dangerous to the health and well being of humans and the planet we live on. It’s that simple.
Back to the written exchange I had with my cousin…
There was one thing that stuck out in my mind as a red flag in our recent exchange most of all. It was when he wrote that Obama’s first term in office has been an absolute failure. He said this twice in fact. As I thought about our exchange I wondered one thing:
Would my cousin count the killing of Osama Bin Laden during Obama’s term as a victory for America or as a defeat? If it’s a victory then wouldn’t that one victory mean Obama’s term hasn’t been an absolute disaster?
This isn’t a lawyerly “gotcha” moment, not at all. I just think language is really important because after all, when fighting an absolute enemy anything goes, right? But when you’re fighting another imperfect human being like yourself you have to consider your actions and approach more carefully. This distinction is huge.
Back to the issue of Obama killing Osama…
Perhaps my cousin would attribute the killing of Bin Laden to a plan the previous administration had gotten rolling during the eight years Bin Laden eluded their grasp? He might say their efforts only ended up paying off during Obama’s term and Obama just jumped up and took credit for it as his own accomplishment. Sounds like a huge stretch but I guess it couldbe true…
But then I remembered the clip of G.W. Bush when he was asked six months after 9/11 what his thoughts were about Bin Laden and he replied “…I don’t spend that much time on it” Maybe my cousin would say that that was Bush being sly, trying to put Bin Laden at ease to make America’s job of getting him that much easier. Also a quite a stretch but again, it could be true.
But that still wouldn’t change the fact that in the eight years of Bush’s administration he was able to start two wars one under a totally false pretense, neither of which have yielded any clear benefits to anyone, and have so far cost the country an estimated 1.9 Trillion dollars. These wars have cost hundreds of thousands of human beings their lives, livelihoods, limbs, loved ones, their rights and in some cases their sanity.
He could doall that but he wasn’t able to capture or take the life of the world’s most famous terrorist, after he himself promised the nation that he would stop at nothing to take him “dead or alive”.
I wouldn’t say that I know enough about Bush’s two terms in office to declare them an absolutefailure. I’m sure something was accomplished in that time that was good for America. I don’t know what it was exactly but I’m 99% sure there must have been something. I think this is true because I believe there are no absolutes in politics. Not because there aren’t profoundly evil acts and wickedness done in the name of politics but because politics are about systems and systems are machines. They don’t have feelings or intentions. They’re made from tons of parts. Nothing happens in a vacuum. There’s a constituency and a context for everything that happens. No one person or group set the thing in motion or can decide exactly how it’s gonna be. So how can anything be completely cut and dried in politics?
If absolutes do exist anywhere in life it is my opinion that they probably do so only in things like a parent’s love for their children or a person’s love for the god of their understanding or for life itself. That kind of thing. Absolute evil might exist but I think that it is probably a form of mental illness that should be treated as such. I could be wrong but, oh well.
I believe the language we use shapes the world we live in so I try to be careful about saying what I mean and I avoid speaking in absolutes unless I’ve really thought it through absolutely. It’s just too harmful and potentially dangerous to do otherwise. After all Osama Bin Laden was absolutely sure he was doing the right thing on 9/11 right? I doubt he had to struggle with any doubt at all about those attacks. George W. Bush always prided himself on never “second guessing” his own decisions as if to imply that being thoughtful is a sign of weakness!
There might be some places where everything is black and white but the vast majority of places you look in life you’re gonna see some shades of grey. I don’t think this is a bad thing. It’s just a way of saying we’re allpeople even though sometimes some of us act like monsters.
The flyer above is from a house show I played in Olympia. This bill featured two absurdist-Punk bands. Hotdogs and Hamburgers the band I was in (as the character Bobby Hamburger…or was I Bobby Hotdog?) wrote songs againsttheBush Administration, corporate power, and the invasion of Iraq. The other band Sodamn Inssein (get it? Saddam Hussein?) wrote songs, as a joke, in support of Bush/Cheney and the Iraq war.
H&H had some silly songs with lyrics like “I want Dick Cheney to be my butler, I’d ring my bell in the middle of the night, I’d wake him up and ask him to make me a ham sandwich…” along with more pointed tunes with lyrics like “Osama, Bush, Dick Cheney, and Saddam Hussein, they’re all a bunch of hypocrites, they’re all the f-cking same, Osama kills for Allah, George Bush kills for cash, they want us to die for their oil or else live in the past.” This flyer advertised the only show the band ever played and it was really fun.
H&H made a few cassette tapes and burned a few CD’s for friends. Even though the project, our tunes, and our artwork were obviously parodic and absurdist we made a lot of points in our songs that were very heartfelt and in doing so we employed some dark imagery and harsh words. Because of this we made a point on each recording to include a disclaimer stating that we didn’t actually advocate violence of any kind. If only the same had been true for Bush/Cheney, Osama & Co. both of whom did a hell of a lot more than advocate violence!
If only they’d started bands instead of wars…
These two bands with their mix of serious protest, absurdist madness, and satirical parody when taken together on this bill got to the heart of how I felt then and still feel about politics:
It’sdeadly serious business that often comes off looking pretty much like a flippin’ joke!
Hotdogs and Hamburgers Sodamn Inssein flyer from my personal archives.