Changing World, Unchanging Perceptions

Every year the world changes, but in the beginning of human culture the changes would have been few and slow. But technology, even stone age technology, increases the rate and scope of change, and humans now have more technology than ever, to the point where, at present, the world changes far more quickly than do the perceptions of most people.

Those changes create perceptual conflicts. The other day someone commented on this blog that most Americans don’t live in cities. For most of U.S. history, that was true – up until 1920. Since then the population in “urban areas,” which includes small towns, has increased from half the population to over 80%. Some might say that denser and larger cities still hold only a small percent of the population, but since 2010, the top 48 urban areas, i.e., the big cities, have held more than half the U.S. population, and the suburbs, while growing, only hold 25% of the U.S. population. Yet a significant large percentage of Americans still hew to a more rural or suburban perception of where people live, and that perception strongly influences their politics and voting behavior.

More than a few months ago, I made the observation that the substandard minimum wage was effectively a subsidy for corporations and for small businesses. I won’t say that observation was disputed, but it’s a fact that’s been ignored or minimized, and recent changes in habits and demographics support my observation. Why are there so many low wage jobs going begging? The direct reason is that not enough people want to work for those wages, and there are several factors.

First, legal immigration of people who will accept those wages has been reduced and greater emphasis on requiring legal credentials [real or forged] has reduced the number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. who can and will work, because getting caught working illegally will result in deportation.

Second, fewer and fewer young Americans are willing to take such jobs, and the reason they won’t is that they don’t have to. When I was that age, to be able to do what I wanted to do required cash. Any form of entertainment required money – for movies, drive-ins, taking girls out on a date, gasoline and insurance for my old 1952 Ford, even for clothes because, back then, clothes mattered, and while prices were much lower, without income, I was essentially isolated, except at school. Technology has changed all that. Teenagers today don’t have to meet personally; they have cellphones. They have more access to almost costless entertainment on any given day than my generation had in total over their entire teenage years. They don’t date, for the most part; they hang out. They’re not as interested in clothes, and, in real dollar terms, basic clothing is cheaper. All those changes mean that they need far less money for their non-scholastic pursuits. Then, too, because the job market for skilled professionals is getting tighter, many college students opt for professional “internships,” rather than part-time jobs, to increase their attractiveness after graduation. All this means that far fewer teenagers and young Americans are interested in taking what they regard as shitty low-paying jobs.

Americans and small businesses, in particular, have come to depend on goods and services created by cheap labor, subsidized by the ever-decreasing real value of the minimum wage. But with automation and technological change, those small businesses often can’t afford either to pay more or to adapt. Larger businesses automate and hire fewer people at all pay levels, where real pay is lower, except at the very highest levels.

The growth of cheap and personally selective mass communications, as I’ve noted earlier, has reduced social cohesiveness and increased political polarization, and that polarization has resulted in zoning and political climates that reduce the amount of affordable housing for poorer Americans, and that often means they can’t afford to live where there are jobs because those jobs won’t pay for higher lodging costs.

The massive growth of fossil fuels has created increasingly negative environmental effects, but, until recently, despite scientists pointing out the problems, most people’s perceptions wouldn’t allow them to see or accept what was happening, particularly when the need to reduce pollution costs jobs in high-polluting basic industries such as coal and oil and where the jobs that do exist are fewer and require greater levels of skill.

The real danger is that people can’t or won’t mentally accept, adapt, and react constructively to the rapidity and scope of the changes created by our growing reliance on technology and that they’ll react angrily to those changes which affect them adversely and ignore or take for granted the hundreds of changes that have improved their lives – and those reactions are based on perceptions of a world that no longer exists… and one that sometimes never did.

And to top it all off, technology has also massively increased the production and distribution of highly effective firearms at a time when frustration and anger are increasing.

We’re seeing that anger everywhere, and I don’t see it vanishing any time soon.

Perspectives

Over the past few months, and even in the past few days, I read and heard a fair amount of Republican rhetoric about how the Democrats are all to blame for the current inflation and economic problems and that, when pressed, because Republicans seldom mention it willingly, how the Democratic House is making such an unwarranted big deal about this little demonstration on January 6, 2021.

Frankly, that disgusts me. When an outgoing President tries to overturn an election both parties at the state level agreed was fair and legitimate and something like 147 Republican U.S. Representatives support an attempt at a legislative coup supported by a large and violent demonstration and invasion of the Capitol Building, it is a BIG DEAL.

Republicans are always citing the Constitution, yet they were the ones trying to overturn the Constitution. I’d say that’s a very big deal. Yet with three or four notable Republican exceptions, they can’t even talk about it, except to minimize it. And the fact that right-wingers across the country continue to attack everything they don’t like as unconstitutional strongly suggests that they know little about actual Constitutional law, only what they think the Constitution says, and could care less about what it really means.

Not only that, but such statements and rhetoric convey quite clearly that the Republican leadership only believes in democracy when Republicans win elections. Election races that Democrats win are illegal and corrupt.

Fox News and other right wing news organizations won’t televise the January 6th hearings, most likely because doing so would cost them ratings and support because too many Republicans have swallowed the Trumpist Koolaid.

Oh, and about all that excessive federal spending that spurred inflation? Guess what? Most of it occurred under Trump’s watch, and, anyway, the Republicans supported everything that passed. But, of course, the Republicans can’t admit that, either. Or that the Trump tariffs also boosted that inflation.

A Few Questions

How did we as a society get where a woman wanting equal rights and control over her own body is an “ultra-liberal,” and where “traditional family values” mean legally subordinating a woman’s rights to government [usually male] control? And where those who trumpet “family values” the most strongly are the ones most opposed to programs for poor families and neglected children?

Or where the vast majority of “conservatives” are opposed to actual conservation and push for more fossil fuels development – or at the least oppose reducing dependence on fossil fuels?

Or where “fiscally-conservative” Republicans support as much federal spending for government programs as “spendthrift” Democrats and people don’t recognize it, especially Republicans?

Or where “progressive” Democrats seldom, if ever, can make any progress because they’re so scattered that they can never focus on the most important issues, like eliminating de facto discrimination and getting equal pay and equal rights? And why are there so many outcries about the “proper” pronouns and “improper terms” for ethnic groups and so few about poor pay and working conditions?

Why do parents and politicians focus so much on children getting into and paying for college when at least a third of those children haven’t been well enough educated to succeed in college?

And why do so many Republicans feel that teenagers who aren’t old enough to drink alcoholic beverages are old enough to be trusted with firearms capable of rapid-fire mass murder?

Why do so many businesses complain about the shortages of capable and trained workers when they routinely use downsizing and reductions-in-force to remove older capable employees? [Might it just be that the experienced and capable employees make more money, and businesses – especially in the computer, financial, and high-tech electronics fields – don’t want to train younger people and can’t find cheaper good workers?]

Why does the pharmaceutical industry get away with profit rates nearly twice those of similar corporations in other fields at a time when drug prices can bankrupt the average family? And why does Congress let Big Pharma manipulate formulations of established drugs solely for the purpose of forestalling generic competition?

Why are states with dominant political institutions and/or political parties most interested in reducing individual rights the very states most likely to cite “states’ rights” in support of such discrimination?

Overreaction to Overreaction

The long and often passionate reactions to the previous post provide a fair amount of support for its point.

I never advocated taking away guns, even AR-15s, but when I suggested that perhaps magazine sizes and modifications were excessive, there were accusations, an insistence that Americans needed to have mass-murder weapons as a last defense against domestic “tyranny,” and comparisons to gun control by Nazi Germany. But the plain fact was that Germany relaxed the gun control measures imposed by the Versailles Treaty of 1919 in 1928, well before Hitler came to power. In 1939, long after Hitler came to power, the Nazis did change the laws to forbid firearms to Jews.

And there was the straw man argument that other weapons kill – which they do, but not anywhere close to the continuing, persistent magnitude of death by guns, except, again, the domestic automobile, which we regulate heavily, with the result that the death rate has been more than halved since its peak in 1969. Yet no one seems to think that those life-saving measures have restricted their freedom that much.

Then there were the citations of law – most dating back a century or two – with claims that they support pretty much uncontrolled possession of firearms, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that some restrictions on firearms are Constitutional. All these also ignore the fact that in fact firearms were restricted at the time of the Constitution – restricted to white males, largely land-holding white males. The Founding Fathers also provided the mechanisms for change in what they wrought, which suggests rather strongly that they never intended the Constitution to be an unchanging iron-clad straightjacket.

Since that post, we’ve had yet another mass shooting by a man – and since virtually all mass shootings seem to be by angry men, perhaps we should just limit the possession of weapons of mass murder to women, except that would then create even more angry men with yet another motive to play self-appointed vigilante for grievances real and imagined.

I’m frankly getting tired of the hue and cry from the far right claiming that even comparatively minor restrictions on weapons and who can use them is some massive reduction of freedom. Those opposing some control of on such weapons are all too often the same crew that cite “right-to-life,” but somehow seem to think that massive restrictions on women are justified, but minor restrictions on gun owners are not.

I suggested a few restrictions on who could use what kind of firearms, and the reaction was, as I pointed out, an overreaction, the same kind of overreaction now occurring in Congress, with the likely and predictable result that no real change will occur and that the mass killings will continue.

Overreaction

Recent discussions on this blog and in the public media on subjects such as abortion, gun ownership, and opioids have something in common, and that’s a manifestation of overreactive absolutism that appeals to the politically active extremes who control each political party.

While I still believe a majority of Americans are at heart moderate, from what I see, that moderate majority is shrinking, for a number of reasons.

There’s a growing distrust of the other side, fueled by the extremists on both sides. The gun control/safety issue is one example. With almost 400 million firearms in the United States and the second amendment, there is NO WAY the “left” is ever going to take your guns.

So the question is really about how to increase gun safety and what restrictions are reasonable to reduce gun violence and the associated carnage. The only real use for an AR-15 with large magazines and anti-personnel rounds is to kill people. So equipped, it’s not a hunting weapon; it’s not a target or sport shooting weapon; it’s really not a self-defense weapon [how many people can or should sleep with something like that close at hand and use it accurately and effectively in the middle of the night?]. No homeowner needs hundreds of rounds for self-defense, and anyone who thinks that is either self-deluded or excessively paranoid, and might well be exactly the kind of individual not to be trusted with hundreds of rounds and a rapid-fire weapon.

When a teenager buys two AR-15 type weapons and hundreds of rounds in a few days, that ought to set off red-flags everywhere. The fact that local police in Uvalde didn’t want to confront a single teenager with that kind of weaponry should suggest just how dangerous it is.

Driving a car requires getting a license [and passing tests to assure minimum competency] and having a vehicle with features equipped for safe usage. It doesn’t stop millions and millions from not driving, and we still kill tens of thousands of people on the highways every year – but you don’t get to drive tanks and armed APCs on the highway.

Societies don’t work well without limits on excessive personal and corporate behavior, nor do they work well when everything is overcontrolled.

Yet on the question of firearms safety, somehow it’s all about the unfounded fear that the feds and the left are going to take away guns, rather than about what reasonable and practical standards and laws need be enacted for public safety.