Absurd Struggle

“Another thing we have learned is that we cannot accept any optimistic conception of existence, any happy ending whatsoever. But if we believe that optimism is silly, we also know that pessimism about the action of man among his fellows is cowardly.”

-Albert Camus, from a speech at Columbia University (1946)

 

Barely three weeks into the presidency of Donald John Trump, one can already hear the exasperation and despair on the lips of so many. It’s as if the weight of exhaustion distorts time, turning days into months, and stretching the future out into eternity. The specter of burnout and despair already haunt us. One cannot help but hear the whispering temptation of surrender, the path of least resistance.

When faced with such prospects, how does one continue to fight and resist? How do we overcome the despair that follows the frustration of failure? Will we be able to continue trudging uphill when the summit is obscured by clouds and the climb is so difficult?

The answers to these questions are wide ranging. Some turn to art, others to faith, and still others to posterity and fame. All of these have their strengths and are sufficient to sustain many. For others, gnawing hopelessness cannot be easily evaded. After all, when I can think of so many ways for us to fail, and so few ways we might succeed, how can I entertain hope for success?

Albert Camus, the French-Algerian writer made famous by his novel The Stranger in the years following World War II, posed this question differently. In his work, Myth of Sisyphus, he begins with a startling assertion: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

For Camus, the question of suicide was a matter of reason; how can we justify bothering with life if we are unable to find reasons that ultimately justify life? Any success we may attain will eventually be undone by time, all projects are subject to failure, and we will all inevitably die, ensuring that even personal meaning will evaporate from this world. How can we persist when things seem so pointless? And if we cannot find a way to justify life as worth living, then there can be no opportunity to even consider other questions, given the stakes.

This led Camus to identify absurdity as a fundamental feature of the human condition. Absurdity, in this context, means for something to lack reason or justification. Any endeavor characterized by this sense of being ultimately pointless is, in turn, considered an “absurd struggle.” While he initially introduces the absurd struggle in its most literal and radical form, he explains that the question of suicide also serves as a broader figurative question of whether we should continue to strive and persist in our endeavors or if we should admit defeat and give up.

These were not abstract ruminations for Camus, but deeply personal questions. The Myth of Sisyphus was published in 1942, as war raged around him in France. He was cut off from his family in Algeria and risking his life as the editor of “Combat,” an underground newspaper that acted as an intelligence organ for the French Resistance (Isaac, 1992). The struggles of the French Resistance must have often seemed absurd – a ragtag network of private citizens organizing to fight the largest war machine and most powerful totalitarian state that had ever been created. How could they hope to succeed when defeat seemed so certain? Why bother fighting if the only possible outcome seemed to be death?

To answer this question, Camus offers us an image from another time: the Ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a king who played a trick on the gods, and so was condemned to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it tumble back down upon reaching the summit. He would then have to repeat this struggle, over and over again, without purpose. How can Sisyphus ever come to terms with his struggle, knowing that he will never truly succeed?

When I consider the image of Sisyphus, I feel compelled to fight on. We stand before the boulder and are presented an ultimatum: to struggle and endeavor onward or to surrender and abandon our aims. If we should choose to give up, we are giving into absurdity, we are saying through our actions that those we wish to fight for do not ultimately matter to us. But when we choose to struggle, we declare in that moment, as we put our shoulder to the task, that what we do is worthwhile. In committing ourselves, we answer the question: Yes, our lives, and the lives of those we fight for, matter.

In the closing paragraphs of Sisyphus, Camus argues that it is possible to struggle onwards, without appeal to hope and in full confrontation with absurdity. He ends the essay, saying, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

This is not to say that our struggle today is pointless. After all, we have witnessed in these few weeks that our resistance has caused enough friction to slow down the machinations of the Trump White House. In some cases, we have even seen officials backpedaling on legislation and executive orders. Instead, it is my intention to help those fighting for a better world understand that we need not resort only to hope, but can commit ourselves to action when hope feels distant. By choosing to act, we create the meaning and value that makes the struggle worthwhile.

Today we face yet another boulder. Shall we rise to the occasion?

Combat (02/07/2017)

Ministry of Truth

 

Intel

 

Gaining Perspective

 

Take Action

 

Inspiration and Comedic Relief

Tea Leaves (02/06/2017)

This feature will provide a platform for sharing information on pending legislation and executive orders, discussion of potential foreign policy developments, and intel on federal officials that might help understand and predict what is to come. Be forewarned some of these pieces may contain more speculation, though we will curate the round-up to ensure that any speculation is based upon facts. “Counter-narrative” items will also be included that contrast other items to help readers reflect and consider the possibilities.

 

“We seem to have lost the very rudiments of intelligence, the notions of measure, standard, and degree; of proportion and relation; of affinity and consequence…we people our political world with monsters and myths; we recognize nothing but entities, absolutes, finalities.”

-Simone Weil, 1946, As quoted by Jeffrey Isaac in “Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion”

 

What in the World?

 

Shining a Light on the Shadows

 

Trickle Down Corrosiveness

 

Brave New World

The Damage Report (02/04/2017)

“One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is no philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.”

-Walter Benjamin, 1940, As quoted by Jeffrey Isaac in “Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion” on p. 26

Legislation

 

Executive

 

Foreign Policy

 

Economy

 

Trickle-Down Corrosiveness

To Be Continued…

Howdy everyone,

First, I want to apologize that Friday’s essay post is going to be delayed. I will be posting it later this week, but it will not be posted today. Sorry for not sticking to the schedule.

Second, I will be posting an update explaining a new schedule and the purpose of each feature later this weekend. This is in part because an old friend of mine will be joining me to post essays for this blog.

Third, tomorrow’s Damage Report will still be posted tomorrow, no worries.

Peace.

Combat (01/31/2017)

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will…When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

-Dorothy Thompson, 1935, As quoted in (Brioch, 2016)

Ministry of Truth

  • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-regulations-idUSKBN15E1QU
    • Alternative Fact: It is “almost impossible” to start a new business today.”
    • Actual Fact: “The creation of new US Businesses has climbed since steadily since 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
  • https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2017/01/19/targeting-the-arts-is-the-laziest-stupidest-way-to-pretend-to-cut-the-budget/
    • Alternative Fact: Cutting funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is part of a “serious effort” to decrease the federal budget.
    • Actual Fact: The total budget of these three programs, $744.7 million, represents only .000179% of the $4.15 trillion federal budget. Cutting this funding does nothing to “seriously” address the federal budget or reduce it. The biggest impact is likely to be on rural citizens whose communities lack the big private donors that make the arts and public news possible in big cities.
  • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-priebus-idUSKBN1560RM
    • The original “Alternative Fact”: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period.”
    • The original “Actual Fact”: Ariel photographs demonstrated a much smaller audience than Obama’s 2009 inauguration and the Washington subway system reported 193,000 riders by 11 am, more than two times less than the 513,000 by that time on inauguration day 2009.
    • Alternative Fact: News Media reporting accurate estimates of the number of people attending the presidential inauguration and protests over the weekend represents a “running war” with the White House and an “attack” on President Donald.
    • Actual Fact: News Media reporting accurate estimates of the number of people attending or participating in an event is, quite literally, the job of a journalist and one of the purposes of the news media. Almost any event or protest that is reported on reports estimates of the number of people involved, if that information is available or easy enough to obtain. It’s part of the fourth estate’s public duty to be a witness to history.
  • https://medium.com/@sarahcpr/this-is-psychological-warfare-dc5beb8dde54#.eex8wgtbo
    • Alternative Fact: The CIA supported and responded with laughter and clapping to Donald’s dangerous remarks and statements that he desired to commit war crimes by seizing oil from Iraq.
    • Actual Fact: The cheering and clapping was not from CIA staff but from a group sycophants Donald has started bringing along to press conferences to provide a “laugh track” of a sorts. What? Ugh.
  • http://gizmodo.com/trump-staffers-are-reportedly-using-private-email-accou-1791625552
    • Alternative Fact: Using a private email account while serving as a federal staffer is a crime that deserves being locked up in prison.
    • Actual Fact: Donald’s staffers are using private email accounts
  • http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/25/politics/reality-check-illegal-immigration/index.html
    • Alternative Fact: Illegal Immigration is a huge problem and is getting worse.
    • Actual Fact: Undocumented immigration has decreased to half of what it was from 1980 to 2008. This actually marks a 50-year low in undocumented migrants trying to cross the border. There has also been a change in the nature of undocumented migration – instead of people seeking economic opportunities, far more are Central Americans seeking humanitarian protection from dangers in their own countries.
  • https://youtu.be/fM8iWOOLlls
    • Alternative Fact: Donald J. Trump is the world’s greatest negotiator.
    • Actual Fact: President Donald is a terrible negotiator and doesn’t understand that international relations is not the same as business.
      • Lawrence O’Donnell does a great job of breaking down how President Donald has already flubbed his first negotiation – to meet with Mexican President Nieto and discuss “The Wall.” Furthermore, he demonstrates why the skillset of business negotiations is fundamentally different than the negotiation and diplomacy skillset of a head of state.
  • https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/tracking-trumps-web-of-conflicts/

Damage Report Updates

Take Action

Taking Perspective

  • How Journalists Covered the Rise of Hitler and Mussolini
    • http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-journalists-covered-rise-mussolini-hitler-180961407/#Q07LA4dAc6gLqC8j.01
    • Many newspapers celebrated the rise of Fascism, crediting it with saving Europe from anti-capitalistic leftists. Some even saw Mussolini as “restoring normalcy.” With Hitler, they saw him as a joke and a “nonsensical screecher.” Beyond this, there are so many similarities to the press coverage surrounding President Donald and his supporters, it is slightly terrifying. Many media outlets also thought Hitler would be moderated or outmaneuvered by mainstream politicians, in part because the lack of substance in his policies and pronouncements would become clear.
    • While media outlets such as NY Times even fell for fascists, some media outlets were critical from the get-go and remind us that they have long traditions of good journalism, such as the New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.
  • What is the legal reality of the emolument’s lawsuit and the Muslim Ban?
    • http://openargs.com/oa39-trumps-muslim-ban/
    • The podcast “Opening Arguments” explained the legal precedent and constitutionality of the current emoluments lawsuit and the Muslim ban on their most recent episode. Really enlightening about what might factor into the way the judicial system will treat these legal challenges to Donald.

Inspiration and Comedic Relief

Citation:

Brioch, J. (2016, December 13). How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved January 29, 2017, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-journalists-covered-rise-mussolini-hitler-180961407/#Q07LA4dAc6gLqC8j.01

The Damage Report (01/28/2017)

While collecting articles for a weekly news round-up on Tuesday, I realized that if the number of pages hits double-digits, then it is necessary to break it up into smaller bites. For that reason, I am introducing “The Damage Report” today. I will post this every Saturday, summarizing the developments under the Trump Administration and the new Republican-majority Congress. I am also going to keep a running archive of each bit of damage done, so that we can keep track of the results of President Donald’s actions and remind ourselves of what might need to be undone once we come out the other side of this disaster.

 

Updated on 1-29-2017 to add a few items that were missed in the initial post.

 

  • Four-month ban on refugees and travelers coming from 7 Muslim-majority countries
    • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-refugees-idUSKBN15B2HL
      • President Donald signed an executive order initiating this ban, saying it is a temporary measure until the administration develops a more “stringent screening process” for not only refugees, but also immigrants and travelers. Due to the ambiguity of the order, green card residents are being advised to consult lawyers before traveling outside the country for fear they too may be barred re-entry.
      • This ban also includes Iraqis who are being targeted for working with the United States. These people served their country and the United States following the invasion of Iraq and President Donald has decided to betray promises to help protect them (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-immigration-iraq-idUSKBN15C036)
      • Separately, President Donald has said he wants the new process to prioritize Christians over Muslims for refugee status, a policy that would be in violation of Constitutional protections of the freedom of religion.
      • Countries who are having visas and entry denied:
        • Iran
        • Iraq
        • Libya
        • Somalia
        • Sudan
        • Syria
        • Yemen
      • It has been noted by many that the countries of origin for the majority of people who have committed terrorist acts in the United States are not included on this list, either because they were US Citizens themselves or their country of origin has business relations with President Donald (https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-trump-immigration-ban-conflict-of-interest/), such as Saudi Arabia.
  • 17 Federal Agencies to be eliminated or facing severely reduced funding
    • http://time.com/money/4639544/trump-nea-sesame-street-budget-cut/
      • This article details budget and purpose of agencies to be eliminated
    • https://mic.com/articles/165980/trump-plans-to-eliminate-25-violence-against-women-grant-programs-as-way-to-cut-spending#.BmKxQ1v3w
      • This article explains the damage that will be done to federal efforts to help women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
    • http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts
      • Proposed cuts are based upon the “skinny budget” blueprint designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation
        • Department of Commerce
          • Programs to be eliminated or transferred to other agencies
        • Department of Energy
          • Decreased Funding
            • Nuclear Physics Research
            • Advanced Computing Research
          • Programs to be eliminated
            • Office of Electricity
            • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
            • Office of Fossil Energy
        • Department of Transportation
          • Significant budget cuts
        • Department of Justice Budget Cuts
          • Programs to be eliminated
            • Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services
            • Office of Violence Against Women
            • Legal Services Corporation
          • Programs with reduced funding:
            • Civil Rights Division
            • Environment and Natural Resources Division
        • Department of State
          • Funding to be eliminated
            • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
            • Paris Climate Change Agreement
            • United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
        • Corporation for Public Broadcasting
          • Privatized
        • National Endowment for the Arts
          • Eliminated
        • National Endowment for the Humanities
          • Eliminated
        • Minority Business Development Agency
          • Eliminated
        • Economic Development Administration
          • Eliminated
        • International Trade Administration
          • Eliminated
        • Manufacturing Extension Partnership
          • Eliminated
  • House rule change clears way to sell of federal lands to private businesses
    • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/19/bureau-land-management-federal-lease
      • Republicans have made a single line change in the rules for the House of Representatives, which can be found on page 35 of the document (http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20170102/BILLS-115hres5-PIH-FINAL.pdf), allows for the transferring of federal lands to a state or local government without new budget authority, without demonstrating that this will not cause a financial loss, and without compensation. Previously, federal lands were considered to have monetary value as assets – like real estate does for an accountant. This line change basically declares they don’t, and thus removes one important obstacle to just giving away protected lands.
      • This change appears to be intended to make it easier for the House to give away federal lands to states, which are more likely to approve private use of these lands or other activities that are likely to damage them. This suggests a likely threat to conservation efforts throughout the country and may cause permanent damage to lands that represent the natural heritage of our nation. State and local officials, in Wyoming and elsewhere, are already discussing potential uses of this land.
  • “National Day of Patriotic Devotion”
  • Threats to have federal government intervene in Chicago if crime rates don’t decrease
    • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-chicago-idUSKBN15907T
      • Via a tweet, President Donald declared he would “send in the feds” if the “carnage” in Chicago doesn’t decrease. He seems to be responding to a newspaper report about murder rates, not the advice of the FBI or the Department of Justice. Furthermore, no one has a clue what he means by “send in the feds.”
  • Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline given “green light” to proceed
  • Threats of military intervention and war over South China Sea
  • CIA Blacksites to be reinstated following a federal review
  • Incoming Attorney General will not recuse himself from investigations of the president, jeopardizing independent investigations of presidential misdeeds
    • http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/jeff-sessions-trump-probes-234087?wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1
      • Our soon-to-be-appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has refused to recuse himself from investigations related to President Donald, for whom Sessions was his supporter in the campaign. This means someone who is heavily invested in President Donald’s success, and has a history of choosing to not prosecute violations of civil liberties, will leave the window open to being involved or directing the “investigations” of Donald’s misdeeds.
  • The White House is no longer recognizing the role of Anti-Semitism in the Holocaust
  • The US Ambassador to the United Nations now threatens foreign nations and the US will be reducing UN contributions
    • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-un-idUSKBN15B1NG
      • The new US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, threatened all the nations of the world that she will be “taking names” of countries that do not “have our back.” She also suggested there are plans to pressure the UN to eliminate programs, in conjunction with a recently drafted executive order that will initiate a review of UN funding with the goal of cutting the voluntary contribution of the US by half.
  • The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security will withhold federal funds from “Sanctuary Cities” that do not voluntarily participate in immigration enforcement.
    • https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/sanctuary-cities/
      • This article by the Washinton Post does an excellent job explaining what “Sanctuary Cities” are, the role of county and municipal governments in immigration enforcement, and what the executive order may mean for these cities. It also reports that federal courts have found time and again that it is voluntary for local governments to participate in immigration enforcement, meaning this executive order likely violates constitutional law (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-legal-idUSKBN15B03H).
    • The Department of Homeland Security will publish a weekly “list of criminal actions committed by aliens” in sanctuary cities
      • https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/01/26/trumps-sanctuary-cities-plan-straight-out-breitbart-radical-right-playbook
        • Despite studies showing both documented and undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than US citizens, the executive order signed by President Donald that seeks to punish sanctuary cities included an order for the DHS to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants, documented or not. This tactic is something that has been proposed or even practiced previously by Brietbart News under Donald’s advisor Steve Bannon and other Radical Far Right groups.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture have been placed under “de facto gag orders.” The Department of Interior has also had temporary gag orders placed on social media accounts and other media relations.