Monday, March 4, 2013

Week of 03/04/2013

Do You Know The Why?
– by David Matthews 2

In the “Matrix” movie series, there is a rather annoying villain known as “The Merovingian”.  He (technically “it” since it is a sentient program within a digital realm) prides himself as being a trafficker of information.  He makes it his business to know things within the world of the Matrix.  Not only knowing the “who”, the “what”, the “where”, then when”, and the “how” of things but also most importantly the “why”.  It is this last qualifier that “Merv” takes great pride in, especially in flaunting his knowledge of the Matrix in the face of our trio of protagonists.

You see, “Merv” is a sentient program, and like all sentient programs, he does not understand the concept of choice.  In his mind, there is no such thing as choice.  There is only cause and effect.  Everything happens because of causality.  He demonstrates this by describing how a slice of “special” cheesecake (by his own programmed design) has a step-by-step effect on the “female” sentient program that consumes it which inevitably drives her to have an unseen “encounter” with him.  It is all by design, of course, even if she was not aware of it.  It is reduced to being a simple program statement of “If X then Y”, with “X” being the cause and “Y” being the effect.

Of course “Merv” fails to mention that there was no real cause for him to engage in his little program of seduction other than out of choice.  “Merv” chose to seduce the diner with his “special desert” instead of turning to his wife for whatever personal “cause” needed to be “effected”.  (Yes, apparently emotions exist in sentient programs within the world of The Matrix, which is about as illogical as you can get.)

But “Merv” does bring up an interesting question for us all to ask… do you know the “why” of things?

Sometimes “why” is the one question that we cannot answer.  Either we don’t want to know the “why” or there are others that don’t want us to know the “why”.

Take, for instance, unions.

Liberals love unions.  Conservatives despise them.  One side tries to give unions all sorts of power, and the other side tries to dismantle and destroy unions at every opportunity.

But why do unions exist?  Why did they come to be in the first place?

Well here’s the painfully-simple answer: unions exist because of abusive management.

You take a look at the history of the various union movements and you’ll see a common theme in each of them.  In many of these situations you’ll see people being put in hazardous or abusive environments, sometimes even dehumanizing positions, and with economic divides so vast that you can’t help but compare them to the old feudal systems.

What unions claim to offer, then, is a buffer from abusive management.  They use the power of the collective to fight for things that they believe the employees deserve, like better pay, paid holidays, employee benefits, and also to not be treated as slave labor.

Do I agree with the concept?  No.  It’s a poor substitute for what needs to be put in place, which is good management.  But I do understand why it exists.

Likewise, I can understand why conservative efforts to dismantle the power of unions will ultimately fail.  Their efforts fail because they refuse to deal with the core reason why those unions exist in the first place.

I have heard of at least two communities here in the southern parts of the United States that were virulently anti-union when they would welcome a new business into the area; that would boast of chasing out anyone that even smelled like a union representative.  These same communities, in a matter of just a few years after welcoming that business in, would become union supporters.  Why?  Because of how that business treated its local employees.

Imagine what would happen if the conservatives focused their efforts not on the unions, but on Corporate America, and told them to clean up their act, to stop treating their businesses like vassal states, and to treat their employees as they would expected to be treated themselves.  (I seem to recall a certain carpenter’s son said something like that in a book that the conservatives claim to revere.)  What would happen?  Eventually you would remove the reason for a union to be there.  And as long as you did those things, you wouldn’t have to worry about a union, because the employees wouldn’t feel screwed over enough to want one.

Think about it: no trickery, no political manipulations, no strong-arm tactics needed.  Just a change in business attitude and policy is all that is really needed

But I also don’t see that happening anytime soon.  Why?  Because those in charge of the business world are currently fixated on profits over everything else, including the sustainability of the business world itself.  They would rather allow abusive practices and weather the hassles with unions than to do the right thing because the abusive practices bring in more profit for them.

Did you see that?  The whole issue of unions was spelled out in a way that pretty much everyone could understand by giving three answers to the question of “why”.

So why does it seem like I’m the only one willing to answer those questions?  Because liberals and conservatives and their respective proxies do not want you to know those “why” answers!  Liberals don’t want you know that unions are a poor substitute to what needs to be done; and conservatives certainly don’t want you to know that their efforts ultimately sustain the conflict because they refuse to deal with the reasons why the unions exist in the first place.

That now makes four “whys” easily answered on the subject.

Let’s change subjects… let’s look at America’s rather protracted method of selecting their Presidents.

Contrary to the media and politicians, the guy sitting in the Oval Office right now was not elected by the American people!  Nor were any of the other people that served as President.  With the exception of Gerald Ford, every President in American history was elected through an intermediary group called the Electoral College, whose members end up being elected by the voters.

And it seems that, after recent elections, people begin to wonder why we even have this indirect method in the first place.  And, by no coincidence, the group that seems to complain the loudest about the “unfairness” of the Electoral College system is usually the same group that recently lost the Presidential election.

But why do we have this system in the first place?

Quite simply, because America’s founding fathers did not trust the “will of the people” to decide who sits in the highest office in the country.

Men like Thomas Jefferson knew that the most abusive form of power in humanity is that of the mob.  And that is really what democracy in its purest form is: mob rule.

Much like the bicameral legislature and the concept of “checks-and-balances”, the job of selecting the President was a compromise between supporters of individual rights and proponents of states’ rights.  The masses would play “a role”, but it wouldn’t be “the deciding role”, because they would only vote for the delegates, and those delegates would then haggle and argue over who would become President.  And to supposedly prevent gaming the system, those delegates selected could not be people already in a position of power.

So why is the system so messed up now?  Well it’s not really messed up.  It’s only “wrong” if you feel that “your” candidates are losing all the time.  It’s not a perfect system by far, and it does open itself up to selective campaigning, to where certain states with the largest number of electoral delegates would get all of the attention at the expense of the other states.

You know what really ruins the process? Political parties.  When this system was first put in place, America had no formal political parties whatsoever, something that President George Washington even commended.  The idea of “Democrats versus Republicans” didn’t even start until the Civil War, and even then there were several third-party groups that had some pull in the system. 

The two dominant political parties since the Civil War have been doing everything in their power to game the system to their favor, from their own primary and caucus systems to orchestrating debates and even the orchestrated messes they call national conventions.  So it should not be a surprise to anyone that after all of that meticulous egotistical manipulation, the people within the major party that ultimately loses would cry “unfair”.

Like I said earlier, it’s not a perfect process.  There is plenty of room for improvement.  But before can we do that, we need to answer the question of “who” is pushing for that change, and most importantly “why” they are pushing for it.  If it’s just so the party that complains the loudest can start winning elections, then you’re not really improving the process.  You are, in fact, only making it worse.

Speaking of that process… do you know the “why” behind the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution?  The reason why we have the “Bill of Rights” in the first place is because at some point in America’s history, each of the things that we now say government is not “supposed” to do, they actually did.

Take the Third Amendment, which prohibits the government from putting soldiers into your homes and forcing you to feed and shelter them.  At one point the British government did just that to their colonists.

It seems useless now, but imagine not too far into the future you get a knock on the door and someone from the Department of Homeland Security tells you that they suspect an al Qaeda terror cell is in your neighborhood and they want you to put up some federal agents for an undetermined amount of time.  Oh, and you have to pay for their food and living expenses because of budget cuts.  Not possible, you say?  It’s quite possible.  Not only that, but some talking hemorrhoid from Fox News would probably call you “Un-American” if you said no to the idea.

Now let’s talk about regulations.  Conservatives and neo-conservatives like to bitch and whine about regulations, but only when they’re not the ones writing or enforcing them.  They complain about the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration, but they have no qualms using the Federal Communications Commission to censor TV and radio.  Even on the local level, they whine about building codes and housing regulations, but they have no problem using zoning regulations to get rid of the businesses they don’t like.  They also don’t seem to mind requiring that every profession in the area be licensed and certified.  Oh, you want to start a dog-walking business?  That’ll be $300-per-year plus a mandatory six-month certification program before you can even touch a canine, and you have to be licensed and bonded and go through a rigorous background check.

Lost in the practicing hypocrisy is the very reason why such regulations even exist in the first place.  And here we actually have two different answers to “why”.

The first reason why has to do with maintaining the current business dominance.  Some other dog-walker or kennel business wants to make sure that they’re the only business in the area, so they write the regulations that make it cost-prohibitive for anyone else to set up shop.  Of course, they get to be grandfathered into the regulations so they wouldn’t have to deal with the hassles of complying to their own creation, but if anyone else tries to get in, it sucks to be them.

Look at who authors many of those regulations and who supports them and you’ll realize the why.  There are even special interest groups that have “Fill-In-The-Blank” legislative forms for regulations that are specifically designed to advance whatever local business needs that political advantage.

And then there’s a second and more practical reason behind the “why” of regulations: because at some point the businesses in question abused the trust they were given.

Remember when Hurricane Andrew barreled through the southern part of Florida in 1992?  Thousands of homes were flattened because of substandard construction.  Homes that should have survived and weathered the storm didn’t because they were built poorly.  Builders that were supposed to build homes the right way subcontracted out to those that didn’t, and repeated the process again, so on and so forth.  Eleven insurance carriers ended up going bankrupt, and almost a million residents lost their insurance coverage because of this.  Guess what happened afterward?  New building regulations.  People demanded that builders clean up their act and they put it in writing to supposedly make sure that it happened.  Or at least that’s the reason in theory.

Does it work?  Well, not really.

The local media here in the Atlanta area have taken great pains when it comes to business abuses to point out if a business is not supposedly covered by some regulatory agency, as if that would be an automatic cure to all of our ills.  And yet, all you have to do is look at the number of times that corporate executives get away with out-and-out criminal activities by only paying a pittance of a fine to see just how “successful” regulatory oversight really is.

But why doesn’t it work?  Well, you have to go back to the two reasons why regulations exist in the first place.  Either they are put in to maintain industry dominance, or else they are put in after-the-fact to give the appearance of responsibility and accountability.  When you figure out which “why” applies to that regulatory body, you’ll know who they are really servicing and what their ultimate purpose of existence really is.

Let’s get brutally honest here… being able to answer “why” is a real game-changer for certain subjects that are plaguing us as a society.  It also explains why those in power do not want you to think about the “why”… because knowledge is power, and keeping others ignorant is a great way to keep that power.

As long as we are kept away from dealing with the “why” of an issue, that issue will never go away.  Politicians and pundits and media personalities and Big Business can heap phony panacea atop phony panacea and pretend to be outraged at someone else’s phony panacea; all the while knowing that that nothing concrete will ever be done because they are intentionally keeping the masses ignorant of the “why”.

“The Merovingian” was an excellent antagonist for the world of “The Matrix” in that he represented the smug elite minds in positions of power through no other reason that because they know something they don’t want the rest of us to know.  Whether it’s “Too Big To Fail” or “Big Oil” or Fox News or the people behind the so-called “Tea Party” crowd, their real power rests in keeping us ignorant.  Their greatest fear, then, is the day when people like you or I start asking one simple question: “Why?”

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