Monday, June 24, 2019

I'm quite mad you know.

After stephen (pissing-in-the-closet) harper was found to have won his majority government through election fraud (on an election that was called because of his demonstrated contempt of Parliament) I came up with a ludicrous notion of a campaign to force him to resign and have a new election called to be fought on the basis of respect for parliamentary democracy. It involved establishing the case that harper's right to govern over us was illegitimate; a months-long grassroots, door-to-door/in the streets, public outreach program asking people to join a campaign against harper, to an escalating series of protests, occupations and strikes.

I had this stupid belief that if you're going to ask why people aren't in the streets, "doing something" about harper, then you, yourself, should have a plan that you could suggest people try. Especially if (as it turned out) nobody else was really proposing anything. Obviously, trying to put meaning into the slogan "Educate! Organize! Resist!" was a completely moronic idea and saner heads prevailed. My proposal went nowhere.

[I've just recalled another instance of my pathological compulsion to put meaning into otherwise empty statements! And I blogged about it here but can't seem to find it. If I find it later I'll attach a link right "HERE." Anyway, I was on fazebock and someone posted a link to a news story about a current instance of police brutality in the USA. One of my fazebock frendz commented words very similar to "And the same thing will happen in Canada unless we do something." I asked him what he meant by "do something." He said that well, he wasn't qualified to make suggestions. I told him that as an adult citizen of Canada OF COURSE he was qualified, so what did he suggest? And he essentially said that we should all just keep pointing these things out and then a critical mass will develop and from out of that, SOMEBODY ELSE would suggest an actual plan. And then the problem would be addressed.]

So, as a result of the failure of my shit-for-brains strategy to stand-up against harper and his throrough abusing of our pseudo-democracy, and for a bunch of other asinine reasons (the inability of so many progressives to recognize that people such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau are monsters) (the way otherwise intelligent people allowed themselves to be swept-up in the utter insanity of "Russia-gate") I've become rather despondent lately.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Humanity is Doomed: Part 3,672

First off, there was something I'd meant to say in my last post reviewing the two books about Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. It was that in both of them soldiers mentioned how they wanted to go to war because that's what they were always training for. They wanted to see how they'd hold-up in combat. They wanted to see if they were effective soldiers. Now, this is understandable on some level but it's also evidence of how dangerous a militarized culture can be. Imagine a foreign policy built on the desires of people champing at the bit to go and shoot at people!

But, anyway, ... onwards!

Lately I've been thinking about the consequences of "conservatives" supposedly being more fearful, with larger amygdalas. Reports on these studies sorta came and went with a little jeering about how right-wing chest-thumpers are actually wussies and that was that. But maybe we should think more about this. Now, it's possible that people are simply born with big amygdalas. In which case, they're just more fearful, end of story. But the brain has been found to be a constantly developing organism. Maybe it's the case that people subjected to trauma (especially childhood traumas) would develop larger fear responders than they ordinarily would have. Maybe you're born with a large amygdala and on top of it, an abusive childhood makes you even more fearful.

In which case, many of the "conservatives" shrieking about dangerous Muslims, scary Black people, scary changes to their world, etc., are the victims of childhood trauma. Isn't it ironic that "conservatives" are so opposed to social welfare programs that would reduce childhood poverty, stressful homelives, etc., that would all go to mitigating the factors that made them such fearful creatures?

I guess this is because "conservatives" fixate more on negative things. From that first link in the second paragraph:

In a 2012 study, liberal and conservative participants were shown collages of both negative and positive images on a computer screen while their eye movements were recorded. While liberals were quicker to look at pleasant images, like a happy child or a cute bunny rabbit, conservatives tended to behave oppositely. They’d first inspect threatening and disturbing pictures—things like car wrecks, spiders on faces, and open wounds crawling with maggots—and would also tend to dwell on them for longer. This is what psychologists call a “negativity bias”. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. When attention is biased toward the negative, the result is an overly threat-conscious appraisal of one’s surroundings. Essentially, to many conservatives the world looks like a much scarier place. This would seem to explain why so many major conservative viewpoints tend to be rooted in irrational fears—like fear of the president, immigrants, Muslims, vaccinations, etc.

This being the case, "conservatives" will fixate more on people abusing the system, thereby cheating them, than they do on the very real benefits that such programs bring (this cynicism and paranoia extending even to programs that would benefit them personally).

Anyway, the thing that progressives should do is to continue to fight for policies that reduce trauma in society. (That is, the opposite of the neo-liberal/austerity nightmare we're presently in.)

There's more that could be said about this but I want to move on to my next point.

Humanity is doomed because, on average, we are focused mainly on our own immediate social circles and the practical realities of our everyday lives. A terrifyingly large number of us really are incapable of caring about people outside of our networks of family, friends and other intimates. We are incapable of empathizing with people from far away who act slightly different from us. Just think about all the people you know who have zero clue about what's going on in the world. The people who never think about the poverty that exists in the city they walk through. And here I'm not talking about "conservatives" who believe that refugee applicants at the US -border are all drug-mules/"reconquistadors' or that poor people are all scammers and criminal drug-addicts. I'm talking about people who don't even notice the sufferings of others nearby and have no interest in finding out about events going on beyond their immediate line of sight. (Although it is the case that many "conservatives" demonstrate an inability to care about something unless it affects them personally. Like a finance minister who allocates funds for a particular disease because his one of his own children has it.)

So they lack empathy. And they lack curiosity in the wider world. They are focused. I believe they have very vigorous and robust production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter thingamabobby that does a lot of things but one thing it does is block-out stimuli that your brain has decided is unimportant for you to be able to function. Serotonin deficiency is a factor in depression, energy, etc..

What I'm getting at is that many human beings are simply wired to care only about themselves and their immediate family and friends. And their focus in life is on how to best SUCCEED in obtaining the resources to provide a life for themselves and their immediate loved ones. So, those seemingly happy people working at some uninteresting job, driving their nice cars to their nice homes without a care in the world? That's who I'm talking about. They've figured out how to personally succeed and they are completely incapable and uninterested in understanding the big picture. They can't maintain an interest in people starving in Africa, or First Nations' children committing suicide, or refugees fleeing wars and calamities in South America or the Middle East, because they're not wired to.

Now, all of these people I'm talking about; Can they still be "good people"? The person who was traumatized as a child and who is hard-wired to view most things as a threat; the airhead who works in marketing and finance buying a monster home out in the suburbs and commutes to work in a SUV; ... are they "good" people still?

That's why I've always tended to shy away from the words "good" and "evil." There are things that we like and things that we don't like. That's it. So, for the most part, some fearful "conservatives" ... (I don't know why I'm putting that word in quotes. I think I started this with the notion that an actual conservative has a developed body of ideas whereas they people I'm talking about have visceral responses to their environments.) .... can be quite friendly to people of their own kind, and even to "others" who have proven themselves to be non-threatening over a longer period of time. (Like a Black person or a Muslim who they work with and have decided that they're not a threat.)

Few of these types of people will actively seek the destruction of strangers or passers-by. So, by that indicator, they're "good" people and not "bad" people. And, to the extent that they have no control over their ideas and actions, to their fear, selfishness, insularity, etc., etc., ... can they really be accused of being "bad"?

But here's the thing: This is a big reason why nothing changes. Something from one-quarter to one-third of our society is comprised of people who self-identify as "conservative." They're afraid of terrorism. They're afraid of deviations from traditional moral values. They desire an authoritarian father-figure to protect them. They're afraid of crime. They're afraid of change. We can't do anything about changing these people other than to try to figure out how to keep them from getting angry while still advancing our own progressive agenda.

I have no speculation about the numbers of the second group of people; the healthy, seemingly happy, focused, prosperous ignoramuses. But I'm pretty sure it's vast. They're successful members of the species. They know how to play the game and survive. But if the rules change, they might be put-out. Sure, they'll be better at pushing others out of the way to get the emergency rations. They'll adapt (if they're intelligent enough) with greater relative success to the new rules in the crumbling of civilization than will progressives who are not as focused and selfish.

But it's the blissful ignorance and complacency that makes society's downfall so inevitable. We have one-third of the population convinced that Global Warming is a commie-hoax designed to enslave them and another large group (one-third to sixty percent of the population) that hardly thinks about it and contributes to the problem through their excessive consumption of resources.

We were designed to obtain food and shelter and to procreate. We became quite successful as a species at doing so. But in so doing, we've created an ecological monstrosity. And it is my belief that, as a species, we're simply not equipped to recognize the problem and respond to it in time. In short; Humanity is DOOMED.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Canada in Afghanistan Reading Round-Up

A while ago I did a survey of books by or about Canadians in the war in Afghanistan. That post consisted of links to various reviews or publishers' blurbs. This post is the start of my own reviews of books that I have read myself (and eventually studies and reports on the war and its impacts) for a book that I may or may not write.

So, at the "Deer Park" branch of the Toronto Public Library system I found two books. The first one I read is by Jamie MacWhirter entitled A Soldier's Tale: a Newfoundland Soldier in Afghanistan. (2013) MacWhirter job in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was in transport. He was a truck driver. He was in Afghanistan in 2006. On more than one occasion this involved driving a fuel truck in support of the artillery close to the front line. (This would also make him vulnerable to roadside ambushes and IED's.) At one point in his book he discovers that the infantry soldiers he's with have nicknamed him "Fireball" because of his willingness to drive a large tank of gasoline into a war-zone. The fact that the infantry considered him brave surprised him because he felt he was just doing his job. Obviously the infantry soldiers probably think that they're just doing their jobs and don't pause to consider the enormity of respect other soldiers like MacWhirter have for them.

I don't think MacWhirter would object to being described as a simple man. His universe appears to revolve around friends and family and his job and he doesn't appear to speculate about the wider purposes of Canada's role in Afghanistan beyond some vague notions that we were there to "help" and that the Taliban was clearly the problem that the USA and its allies were there to solve.

The book is very much MacWhirter's own, focused entirely on his own personal experiences. But these are valuable in their own way. From the Afghan contractors who "cleaned" the offices at the main Canadian base camp using such filthy water that the place smelled worse than before they went in. To the Afghan truck driver who dove into a tank of gasoline to retrieve a lost wristwatch (and emerged successfully if barely alive). To the elderly Afghan man who enraged him by begging (with a large number of others) at the camp's fence with a baby strapped to his front that later turned out to be dead. Another time he was about to leave the camp in a convoy but the whole thing was inexplicably delayed. He sat in his truck for forty minutes getting increasingly irritated when he sees a stretcher team carrying a bruised and bloody adolescent boy back from the main gate towards the camp's health clinic. From another soldier he later learns that the boy had arrived at the camp gates after having been gang-raped and left for dead. And then there was this:

A few kids from the village next to us decided to come up and see what we were doing. We gave the kids some water and what food we had. Adam was even playing catch with a little girl. He would lightly toss a small rock to her and she would giggle and toss it back to him. It was so good to see Afghan ids laughing and enjoying theselves. Having fun with these kids made me think of Avery. I can't wait to see him and see if he has changed since I last saw him. This moment with the kids almost made me forget about this horrible place I was in.
Off in the distance a small white car had pulled up onto the road and was facing us. The car caught the eye of our officer and he told us to keep an eye on it. Within seconds of him saying that the driver of the car pressed down hard on the gas pedal and came right at us. Our officer quickly fired a few shots at the driver of the car and the shots must have hit him because the car began to slow down. But when the car came to a complete stop, it exploded. The blast blew Adam, Larry and me into the air and we all landed close to each other. We were knocked out from the blast. I sat up, but I was not sure where I was. I was in a daze and I just sat there, a little dumbfounded by what had just happened.
I noticed Larry on the ground knocked out, and I saw Adam on his feet, but just standing there like he was lost. Adam had blood on him so I knew I should get to him to see if he was okay. But when I stood up I saw there was blood on me too. I started to check myself over to see if I was injured but I couldn't find anything wrong. I stood up and took a step towards Adam to check on him and that's when I saw something on the ground.
I was stepping on a child's arm. I stared at it in shock and horror for a minute. It was like what I was seeing was not registering in my brain. I looked at Adam again and this time I took notice of everything. We were both standing in children's body parts and blood. The suicide bomber had killed all the Afghan children who had been playing with us. That is why I was covered in blood, because of the children; it was their blood that was all over me. I walked over to Adam and could hear crunching under my feet with every step. I knew it was body parts I was stepping on. When I got to Adam he seemed to be okay. Just in shock like everyone else.

MacWhirter makes no effort to empathize with how lifetimes of grinding poverty, decades of war, and myriad instances of personal abuse might make the people of Afghanistan act differently from the way Canadians tend to behave. These people have all gone through their experiences with no hope of being able to eventually go home. Because they're already home. And there will be no anti-depressants, or counselling, or quiet retreats for them to access and work through their issues. Obviously, the raping of young boys (and the purchasing and raping of female child brides), using a dead baby as a prop for begging, and driving a car full of explosives into a group of children, ... these are all barbaric. But it is disturbing how western soldiers will insert themselves into situations like this and come to hate the people that live there. In the case of Afghanistan, the government we were defending was brutal and corrupt. Many Afghans joined the Taliban because that was the group that was resisting. And the Taliban's original rise to power was based on its being the best alternative to the corrupt and brutal warlords who dominated after the Soviet-allied government fell. So, some of the people we thought we were helping were on the side of the Taliban. That would make them "enemies." It is the hatred and paranoia that leads to dehumanization that leads to massacres as was documented at My Lai in Vietnam (and which many Vietnamese and critics of war happened numerous other times during that conflict).

We've read about victims of a violent assault who suffer PTSD. MacWhirter describes several situations where, even though he was "just" a truck driver, he was in life or death situations. Perhaps it was the case that being able to return to the relative safety of the main Canadian base made going back outside the wire more of psychologically difficult than might have been the case for soldiers who stayed out at the front for longer periods of time. Whatever the case, MacWhirter does a good job of describing the onset of the PTSD that would eventually plague him after his tour of duty was completed. Towards the end of his tour some of his fellow soldiers begin to crack and he himself finds his hands shaking and he only continues to accept assignments because he's ashamed to think of someone else being forced to do them if he refuses.

MacWhirter takes perhaps a quarter, but more like a third of the book talking about his return to Canada. He describes his paranoia. His anger. His awareness that he's now "different" from the person his loved ones saw leave Canada. He expresses his frustration at how the CAF transfers the mental health professionals he finally begins to see to deal with his issues. Anytime he met one he connected with and liked they'd be sent somewhere else. Almost all of them are quick to recommend pharmaceuticals. And all of them want to start again at square-one and get him to explain what's angering him. He accepts a transfer to his home province of Newfoundland & Labrador and finds that this is a greater benefit than anything the military did for him. He now does a lot of work helping fellow soldiers manage their PTSD.

So, that's the first of two books for this post. Be sure to check back for the other review. Or not. I'm mainly doing this for myself.


The second book I read was Chris Wattie's Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, The Taliban and the Battle that Saved Afghanistan. (2008) Wattie was a war correspondent for The National Post. Evidently he's also a reserve member of the CAF. His book deals with Afghanistan during the same period as MacWhirter's book. 2006. Except Wattie attempts to tell a bigger picture. His story is that a Taliban leader, Mullah Dadullah Akhund had a plan to break-up the NATO alliance in Afghanistan by inflicting heavy casualties on a US ally and by briefly taking the city of Kandahar for propaganda purposes. (This would be akin to the propaganda victory achieved by the NLF in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.) Wattie has Mullah Dadullah telling Taliban head-honcho Mullah Omar that unlike the US government, the governments of its NATO allies were weak and would quickly leave if they ever suffered large numbers of killed and wounded. (This is probably the deleterious impact of the namby-pamby peace-activists.) It just so happened that it would be the Canadians who occupied Kandahar and who would bear the brunt of Dadullah's offensive. Wattie describes the men and women of the CAF and how they managed to thwart the Taliban's plans.

That's essentially it. There's very little analysis of the origins of the conflict. Of the causes of the resistance to the western-backed government in Kabul. Of the resilience of the rebels. In Wattie's writing, CAF members are angry when people shoot at them and their brothers-and-sisters in arms. They become even more enraged when their friends are wounded or killed. Wattie doesn't bother to speculate about the thoughts of Taliban fighters. What are their thoughts about people coming from foreign countries to shoot at them? How do they respond to the deaths of their comrades?

The book is interesting for describing the details of small scale combat (generally at the platoon level); how the CAF patrolled an area, the weapons they used, the strategies they employed, the cooperation of other NATO countries' air-support. (French "Mirage" jets; US "Apache" and "Blackhawk" helicopters and drones). I was a little mystified as to why NATO would use ground-troops to take Taliban strongholds. There's a couple of encounters, especially at a place called "the white schoolhouse" where the CAF takes casualites and calls in air-strikes or artillery, which (after the various groups of Canadian soldiers retreat to a safe distance, tended to obliterate the targeted buildings and everyone inside. I mean, if you're trying to keep your own casualities to a minimum, wouldn't it make sense to just identify the stronghold and call in the big guns at the beginning. (You have to wonder about the courage ... or the ignorance or insanity ... of the Taliban fighters who don't have body armour, artillery, helicopter evacuation, etc., etc., )

At one point the Canadians can't get any artillery or air-support because some desk-rider back at headquarters worries about damage to civilian buildings nearby. If that happens once in a while it seems to be an anomaly, because numerous sources refer to civilian casualties and destroyed villages.

At the end of the day, Wattie's book needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It tells a very one-sided story of an important part of the conflict. I don't doubt the courage of any of the Canadian Forces soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. I've encountered enough soldiers (mostly through their writings but a few I've met personally) to know that there are some good people among them. Which is why I find their involvement in Afghanistan to be such a tragic waste. Let's review:

The Taliban rank-and-file was prepared to take their guns and go home at the fall of their regime but the US-backed Afghan forces decided to take advantage of rewards and bounties and began capturing former Taliban and handing them over to be tortured by the Americans.

The Karzai government and its warlord allies behaved abominably to the mainly Pashtun people who occupy much of former Taliban area. The Afghan police are brutal, corrupt or even murderous.

Our military activities create volunteers for the Taliban.