Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Screenplays! Minecraft! Things people tell me about America (which simply aren't true)

Hullo thar, Internet! How was your week? Me, I spent this week reading A Raisin in the Sun twice (because I read the wrong version the first time) and it was kind of a trip. Not because of the play/screenplay itself, but because people kept telling me I would hate it. One person even went so far as to compare it to War and Peace in how boring it was. So after being thoroughly prepared to skim it and read the Spark Notes, I was pretty surprised to find that I liked it. Go figure. The short synopsis is that it's about a black, Chicago family in the sixties with a ten-thousand dollar check and four ideas on how to spend it. Alltogether, I thought it was an interesting look at the period through a set of eyes we don't often look at it through. Maybe I'll do a post on it one day, I dunno. Generally I try to avoid speaking about racism at length because, quite frankly, as a white, privileged, literature student I don't really feel qualified to talk about other people's hardships, what with me existing in the single-most non-shit-taking demographic on Earth. I'm still not totally sure if "African American" or "Black" is the appropriate term because I've seen people take shit for using both. It's a good play though, who knows.

The other thing I did a lot of this week was bug testing for a Minecraft server I'll be performing some admin duties on! That's exciting! I've never been an admin before. People have to listen to me or I'll teleport them to a mile above the earth's surface and laugh as they plummet to their deaths!

Minecraft is Serious Business, my friends.

Moving right along, this week's topic has nothing to do with any of that! HA! This was a terrible hook unless you really care about commentaries on racism and/or Minecraft!

Like last week, this week's topic is the kind of thing that almost everyone has a story about. You hear them less often because, quite frankly, telling hilarious stories about political gaffs is about twice the minefield that telling hilarious stories about bad parenting is, but most assuredly, anyone with strong to semi-strong opinions has one. Stories about:

This Week's Topic Is:
Things I Hear People Say About America
(Which Simply Aren't True)

Oh yeah, that's right. This week's topic is sure to make me some friends. And by "Make me friends" I mean "Make me the recipient of angry emails, Facebook messages, and looks from across the room." That's okay though; much like a guest on any daytime talk show, I never learned the difference between bad attention and good attention. 

Source: Jerry Springer
Hint; the secret has something to do with my penis, and what I like to stick it in.

Truth be told, I am actually fairly happy that this topic got picked, as I already had some research done for it on the side for other projects I've done/have going on. There was a brief moment when it looked like you guys were going to go for "Shit your brain pulls" which I have done less research for, but thank God; controversy saved the day. YAY!

A college campus is brimming, sometimes boiling over with political controversy, debate, name calling, and occasionally just general dickery. Mine is a small campus, so I don't see an abundance of different parties represented, but I do see posters for student Democrat/Republican organizations plastered literally all over the place. My government class can't get through a single topic; an entire topic of any length, without a student asking the professor to clarify his position on X mandate, policy, or party, meaning HAHA, no, we're not getting through with the Judicial System today. Sorry!

This is actually surprisingly representative of trying to get anything done in that class. 

That being said, it's actually pretty surprising that most of these examples come from that very place, either from direct conversation or things I heard in the computer lab while I was wishing desperately I hadn't forgotten my earbuds so I could listen to these funny internet videos instead of what all these other people were talking about. I would think, I would hope, desperately hope, that in a place where intellectual discourse and higher learning were the general themes, people would get their facts straight and, you know, try really really hard to at least sound like they knew what they were saying. Sadly...

"The President of the United States is the most powerful man in the country/world."

Admittedly, this one can get tricky, depending on how you define power and/or how many conspiracies you believe the president to be a part of. If you think he's a member of an elite, alien secret society that quietly controls the inner-workings of world government, then you know what? Sure, he is. The honest truth is that, well, he's still pretty powerful, but not generally the absolute authority a lot of people make the position out to be. Let me just list off a few things the President can't do.

--Make laws.
--Interpret laws
--Write treaties (by himself)
--Declare war
--Balance the Budget
--Appoint cabinet members and Supreme Court Justices (He only nominates them)

Now that being said; he is a pretty powerful guy. This is the president after all. Thing is; he's not quite as much of a decision maker as he is a decision enforcer. He represents the Executive branch. That's the part that executes stuff. He sees that laws get enforced, he's in charge of our armies when they need to be used, he can even represent and rally people in the interest of lawmaking, he gets shit done, but it's not him that gets to decide exactly what shit needs doing; that's congress' job. You know, Congress; those old guys no one pays attention to until they really mess up. The ones who, despite what you may believe, the President is NOT in charge of.

"Hey guys...Where's my seat?"

So why do people think this way? What happened? Well, kinda most of the 20th century happened. Stuff like The Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Kennedy Assassination, the Cold War, they all put the spotlight on the president because, for a lot of this, it was stuff he had control over and, likewise, people expected answers out of him when stuff went sour. It eventually just kinda went on long enough and after a while, people just started assuming that the president had all the answers which actually kind of sucks for him because now people hold him accountable for all kinds of stuff he didn't do (Like where the fuck all our money went). This wasn't helped by the fact that he kinda does have a say in what laws get passed in that he can veto bills which, don't get me wrong, is a great idea, it works and I love it, but it certainly helped people conflate the Presidency and lawmaking.

"I don't like [X Mandate], so I shouldn't have to pay taxes on it!"

I just....Hold on.

Pictured: For when everything is just a little too much.

Let me clarify here; I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't be upset when your money is going towards something you don't agree with, or even that you shouldn't try to fight it if you think it's bad enough, what I'm giving an example of here is a person who believes they should be exempt from paying taxes on a thing because they don't agree with it. The specific example comes from a conversation about the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) adding video games to a list of things it would give grants to, so long as they were artistic, educational, or otherwise improved culture. Some of you may remember it for this clip.

This clip makes me rage for several reasons, but most of all because it is terrible, terrible journalism.

For those of you not really paying attention; no, we're not talking about Call of Duty. We're talking about small, artsy games that make you think, incidentally, the kind of games I absolutely adore. Click on all those links. They are wonderful Now this person, didn't agree, which is fine. Games are still a pretty new medium and, frankly, we still have a lot of growing up to do. This person seemed to believe, however, that because they didn't agree, that they had a constitutional right to not pay for it.

Because I'm sure you know by now that I love picking me some low-hanging fruit, there's a few problems with this supposition.

Let me ask you something; how do you think most teachers felt about their money going to No Child Left Behind? How do you think African American's in the 50's and 60's felt about their tax money going to policies that further segregated them? How do you think Japanese Americans felt about their tax money going to the soldiers who built and maintained the concentration camps they were kept in during World War II? Hell, how do you think I feel about part of my money going directly into Rick Perry's wallet? Answer; pretty shit.

I am legally forbidden to say that I want this man assassinated, especially in a public forum. Just thought you should know that.

But because obviously I'm publishing blog posts and I am certainly not in jail, I pay my taxes anyways and yes, they do still go to things I disagree with, dislike, or otherwise hate. I do this for two reasons, 1) so I don't go to the aforementioned jail and 2) because even though sometimes they do stuff I don't agree with, generally, I trust them to do the stuff I need; build roads, fund schools and libraries, and support the arts (like NEA did with games) I take all this awesome stuff with the crap stuff because, well, in genereal, I trust them to do the right thing and, in general, they do (with flagrant exception to the Japanese and Black people mentioned earlier)

Why do people think this? Well, it actually kind of makes sense to think it, if you don't think too hard about it.  We are, by definition, a capitalist, consumer society and, by extension, if we don't like something, we don't buy into it. We don't like a kind of car? Don't buy it. We don't like a kind of movie? Don't pay for it. We don't like a kind of house? Save up and move somewhere else. And so we just kind of bring this along into our ideas about the government; if we don't like a policy, we think we shouldn't pay for it. Bottom line is; your money's always going to go to something you don't support and yes, you can disagree and yes, you should absolutely contest it, but bottom line is that everyone thinks their money should go somewhere different and no one can seem to quite agree. with it. Shit could be worse.

"I know my first amendment rights; I have freedom of speech and you have to listen to me!"

This one's fun because despite being just about the simplest, most easily understandable amendment on the books, everyone seems to get this wrong somehow. Even I get it wrong from time to time.

The idea of the first amendment is that the government can't stop you from speaking up about something. Remember in the last point where I was all "If you disagree with something, you should totally fight it"? If someone from the government tried to come down and stop you, that would be a violation of your first amendment rights. Any law that says you can't say something, can't write something, can't criticize something or can't believe something is, itself illegal and you have every right to do any of those things. You wanna believe that the universe came into existence as a byproduct of Eddie Van Halen tearing an epic riff, then go right ahead; you'll get some funny looks (and probably a couple high-fives) but no one can stop you.

Pictured: How I like to think the world was made.

But there are limitations; slander and libel are not at all okay and are not only not protected, they could get you arrested. The same goes with words designed to create a "Clear and present danger" like causing a riot. Totally not protected. On a smaller scale "Fighting words" aren't protected either so, generally, the government isn't okay with you being a douche.

You know what else your free speech isn't protected from? Just about anything else. See, the caveat is that the government can't stop you from speaking your mind, assembling peacefully, making your art, or having your own religion. Everyone else is fair game though. If, for instance, the guys who ran Blogspot read my stuff and decided that it was messing with their mojo, they could take it off with no repercussions whatsoever.

Not to in any way imply that this is a thing they should do. Also, I think Blogspot is a wonderful site full of fantastic features!

So long as they aren't doing anything else illegal, a company can regulate what its empoyees are allowed to view, read, and say at work, pretty much to whatever extent they feel like. On a much more personal level, I am not required to agree, listen, understand or care about what you say. A teacher shutting you up is not a violation of you first amendment rights, so please, please, please, stop telling me about how cool it would be if Pot were legal.

"We are one nation Under God! When are you people going to remember that?"

This...This is the part that's going to "Make me lots of friends" because this is, and has been, one of the most hotly contested things in the history of our country. 

When making these arguments, a lot of people like to point to the founding fathers, saying that they were all stalwart Christians and, following that, based the foundation of the country on Christian principles.

Except...they weren't...

Not a lot of the important ones, at least.

Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independance and third US President said "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virign will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
And also went on to accuse the church of purpously over-complicating the teachings of Christ so as to not invalidate themselves.

James Madison, fourth president and original framer said "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."

John Adams:
"The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?"

Thomas Paine, who you might remember as the guy who galvanized the whole revolution with his work Common Sense.
"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."

And finally, good old George Washington (Whose name I have to remember does not include an r because my high school history teacher always pronounced it "Warshington") who was actually very private about his personal beliefs, appointed and then stood by the appointment of John Murray, a Universalist who didn't believe in hell, as an Army Chaplain.

Several of the founding fathers, nearly all the ones we hold up on pedestals, were either deists (basically, belief in God without assigning him a religion) or almost anti-religious all together. So...that could make next 4th of July awkward for some people.

Okay, but what about "One nation, under God?" I mean, it's in our goddamn pledge of allegiance! That's gotta mean something, right?
See, those two words "Under God" didn't really appear in the pledge until some guy named Louis Bowman added it in and then Daughters of the American Revolution adopted it and gave him an award. Those aren't the actual daughters of the revolution mind you, this happened in 1948, almost a hundred and seventy-five years after America was a thing. Some people contest that Abraham Lincoln used it in the Gettysburg address, but there's versions floating around with and without it, so that's up in the air. Officially, the words "Under God" along with adding "In God we Trust" as an alternative official motto, weren't added until the MccArthy era which, as we all know, was at least seven identifiable kinds of crazy.

But maybe that's not enough for you. Maybe that all seems circumstantial and trite and maybe, you know what; strictly speaking, I haven't proven a damn thing.

I need to wrap this up, I'm already running out of pictures like this.

Fact of the matter is, we have it on paper, for all to see, spelled out in completely unambiguous language. Ladies and Gentlemen:The Treaty of Tripoli.

Specifically, Article 11 says "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

If you read that to the end and got confused, all you really need is that first sentence "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" That treaty was submitted and signed by Adams, again; a framer of the constitution.

Where a lot of us get confused (Where, I'll even admit, I got confused for a long while) is that we are, indeed, predominately Christian. A lot of Americans, especially the ones in power, are some form of Protestant or Catholic. We get used to being on top and when someone questions that, we get all pissy and cite the very same laws that was meant to stop us from doing that as a defense. The truth is though; we don't run the show. I'm sorry, but we don't. That's the whole point of America; no one's going to make you conform to their religion just because. Does it go a little too far that way sometimes? Yes, definitely. Christians and non-Christians alike need to chill out because no one's on top, really. Philosophically speaking, we're spooning. 

Sometimes I wish the ongoing debate about religion in the state was a lot more cuddly.

I was going to add another quote and talk about how English isn't the official language (it's not) but then I realized holy shit, this is super long already! Maybe I'll do a quick mini-post about it at a later date. It's probably a big enough topic that we could make a decently-sized dealie about it. As always, if you enjoyed this week's post, share it with your friends (Possibly by using our still relatively new and shiny social media buttons!) and definitely vote in the poll to decide next week's topic or email me a topic of your own!

Thank you, Goodnight.

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