Monday, January 6, 2014

Infantile Fantasies of Omnipotence

I know, I know -- I'm saying that like it's a bad thing.  Anyway, some brief items as I sit at home today, confined by the cold weather.

"Love it," wrote a friend as she linked to this online comic about a young kid's introduction to role-playing games.  She's bi, educated, happily coupled with a woman, culturally sensitive, a Unitarian.  The kid in the comic learns that he can, within the game's world, decapitate an enemy with a broadsword and toss the head derisively aside.  "I can do that?"  Yes he can.  "A childish action, steeming [sic] from a morbid, juvenile fury," the narrator says (though such fantasies remain a staple of gaming, including computer gaming, for adults -- it's one thing if you outgrow it, but many people never do).  The boy discovers that he can play "without board, without figurines ... then even without a character sheet or dice."  "They can call you childish, huge nerds, say that you're trying to escape reality, but your brains are a tangible component of this reality ... and within their fathomless synapses ... everything is possible" (ellipses in the original).  But "this reality" isn't reality, and even in gaming, everything isn't possible -- each world has its constraints and limits; that's intrinsic to gaming and world creation.

I suspect that these panels were intended as the beginning of a longer story.  But standing alone as they do here, they're tremendously creepy.  (Especially when they're recommended by a person who's scornful of the detachment from reality of fundamentalist Christians and conservative Republicans.  Let her who is without sin ...)  Partly my alienation is probably generational, though I grew up on superhero comics and I know the appeal of infantile fantasies of omnipotence.  Dorothy Dinnerstein's The Mermaid and the Minotaur gave me useful insights into what they mean and why they must be outgrown.  If you want to indulge in them -- and it's valid to do so as recreation -- you must have a critical distance from them at the same time.  I don't see that critical distance here.

Democracy Now reported today that Senator Bernie Sanders is inquiring whether the National Security Agency is spying on members of Congress.  The NSA replied reassuringly that "members of Congress have "the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.'"  Which means none at all, so that's all right then.  Just asking!

Emptywheel has a useful post today on corporate media / corporate government attacks on Edward Snowden, particularly the allegation that he violated his sacred vow to be obedient and keep government secrets.  (Similar attacks were made on Chelsea Bradley Manning, you may recall.)  First, as emptywheel points out, the documents Snowden signed as a government contractor do not contain any such provisions.  Snowden recently argued (via), quite reasonably, that by revealing those secrets he was defending the Constitution.  There has been talk about an offer of "some kind of amnesty" to Snowden, but emptywheel sensibly dismisses it "as I think he could never accept the terms being offered, it arises in part out of NSA’s PR effort, and distracts from the ongoing revelations." Real amnesty or clemency would be acceptable, but who in his right mind would trust the Obama administration and the national security to offer the real thing?

But it popped into my mind as I read the post that there's an echo in the attacks on Snowden of the attacks on Phil Robertson, who was suspended by A&E because his offensive remarks about homosexuality and African-Americans and teen brides violated his sacred contract with his employer.  Those arguments came from liberals, at least some of whom approve of Edward Snowden's actions, but many of whom don't.  As I've argued, the control that corporate entities and other private-sector employers want to (and largely do) exercise over their employees is just as disturbing a threat to liberty as repressive actions by the government.  Vague and open-ended promises of compliance in order to get a job are about as morally (as opposed to legally) binding, it seems to me, as the open-ended giving of consent in the marriage contract, which was used for many years to justify forced sex in marriage.  (A wife had already given her consent to her husband as part of her sacred wedding vows, so she couldn't shirk her marital duty until death did them part.  It seems that many institutions like to extract open-ended commitments from weaker parties in contracts.)

Which reminds me, last night another liberal friend posted a link to a post -- from the corporate business rag Forbes, yet! -- about the blowback to some corporate CEOs after they announced they were going to cut back on workers' hours so they wouldn't be eligible for medical insurance.  The post mainly discusses "brand identity" but also mentions that some chains have seen declining business and therefore profits as a result of their contempt for their employees.  Papa John CEO John Schnatter, says the writer, "was forced to publish an op-ed piece where he sought to convince us that he never really intended to cut back worker hours but had simply been speculating on what he might do in response to the legislation."  This isn't exactly news, but I'm pleased to hear that the public's memory is ill-disciplined enough that these businesses are still feeling the pain a year later.

But it occurred to me: if Phil Robertson could be suspended, however temporarily, for bigoted remarks that only potentially affected A&E's ratings and bottom line, shouldn't Schnatter and other CEOs whose political agenda has demonstrably embarrassed their companies and hurt stock prices and profits be disciplined too?  Surely their employments contracts have clauses about such things. It would never happen, of course: CEOs get their salaries and stock options and bonuses even when they run their companies into the ground.

Finally, speaking of bigoted remarks, at the end of Alternative Radio today our community radio station played a song by Santee Sioux singer/songwriter John Trudell, "Bombs Over Baghdad."  I don't know if it was part of the program or a space-filler before Democracy Now, but a few lines caught my attention.  I've bolded the ear-perking bits:
Bombs over Baghdad, Bombs over Baghdad
Bombs over Baghdad, Dancers of Death
Murder in the air, with the next breath
Macho Queens selling war-makers toys
Raining Destruction, Good Old Boys
Death bringer In Queen George's Eyes

Read his lips, war-maker lies
Ah, once again a progressive shows his righteousness by calling his enemies queer.  How very Sixties.  It's good that Trudell is so harshly critical of the invasion of Iraq -- not all Native American singers have been -- but what is this fag-baiting about?  Understand, I'm not calling in the drones, nor am I saying that Trudell is a monster beyond redemption; I'm not calling for a boycott of his music; I'm saying that he's a homophobe and should called to account for it.  This isn't a white vs. Indian issue: some two-spirit folks should have a talk with him.

(That's the St. Joseph Lighthouse on Lake Michigan, encrusted in ice and snow.  Someone posted the picture to Facebook; I don't know if he was the original source. [P.S. Turns out the photographer is named Thomas Zakowski.)