Today promises to be another day that I typically consider "low-brain" or "bad brain". I went to bed later that I should have, then got woken up by the phone half an hour early when Operations said we had a high ticket to resolve. Five minutes of work proved that it wasn't our department with the problem, that the data center in Atlanta had shut down a computer and not started it again afterwards, and that I really had no reason to remain on the call. Of course, apparently our group is the only division within the company with sufficient end-to-end process analysis skill to be able to say "the software—Supply Chain—ran fine, and the printer queue—Unix Sysadmin—shows the jobs queued, but the print server—Microsoft Sysadmin—isn't responding to pings, so please get these other groups on the call and we'll figure out what else is wrong once that server is online again."
The instant that server came back online, all the printers started working again. Quelle surprise.
The irritating thing about this call wasn't that I had to get out of bed half an hour before my alarm clock woke me. That's part and parcel of being on-call, and there's really not a lot I can say to or about or even against it; that's part of why they pay me the big bucks. What really chafes my chaps is that once I had established that this wasn't a Supply Chain issue, I had to remain on the line for an additional half hour to coordinate the troubleshooting operation. I never outright had to do somebody else's job for that person, but I did have to connect the dots instead of simply being responsible for my dot like most of the other on-calls on the bridge.
If this were a one-off event, I'd chalk it up to exposure or experience or some damn-fool something-something and ignore it, but it feels systemic. If anything goes wrong in the way our subsystem works, not only do we have to prove that it's nothing we did wrong, but we then have to play an active role in diagnosing back up the data flow diagram to find the point of failure and help troubleshoot it. Because we've been heaped with so much downhill-rolling-manure, we've all been forced to become competant in how the rest of the system works, and that means we end up doing at least some amount of other people's jobs for them. If that's what it takes to make product move out the door on time, then so be it, but eventually there's going to have to be a reckoning on this.
Unfortunately, I think that reckoning may be coming sooner rather than later. I had a long talk Friday with one of the people that works in the same facility I do, and he's on the verge of taking another job. If he goes, at least in the short term we're going to be in a world of hurt while we look for a replacement. In the long run, hopefully the impact can be minimized, but there's really no way to predict. The person looking at leaving is every manager's and supervisor's primary or secondary backup. He's the one that does everyone else's job when other people are sick or on vacation. With him gone, there's going to be nobody who can fill in every gap he fills, and that's going to make a lot of people very exposed and unhappy.
With any luck, it will expose a few people who very desperately need to be exposed, and my job will become easier once the burden of carrying them is lifted. In the near term, though, things are going to get mighty rough for a bit, and my patience with this place is going to be even shorter, if that's possible.
I found this essay today from, of all people, Ilthuain. I'm not sure what I was doing there, really. I poked my
nose at it out of curiosity, mostly wondering if the intarweb death of another friend had caused any gloating or cheer, but then I happened to find the aforementioned link, and it cogently and coherently organized a lot of ideas that I myself hadn't entirely processed and assembled them into a readable format. I don't want to bore the masses with a rehash of what the article says, but I do want to sum up the two primary points that struck me upon consumption and analysis:
- This is not my tribe.
I'm stealing this line directly from Lord Fanny, simply because she said it so beautifully and succinctly. Every survey of religious views in this country says that eighty-five percent of this country are self-identified Christians. Eighty-five percent. That's seventeen in every twenty. Think of twenty people in your circle of friends. I am one of the leftover three. Jessie's probably the second.
I suppose I knew this, either intellectually or subconciously, without ever really analyzing it to any great degree. Religious—specifically Judeo-Christian—iconography and symbology saturates American culture to an inescapable degree. It is impossible to have a discourse on ethics in this country without an assumption that religion must be a part of it. Even Israel, a country one would think is inextricably tied with its faith, only has a seventy-seven percent professed belief rate in Judaism. If the Christian Faith were a business, we'd have sued it for anti-trust violations.
Now, consider me and my circle of friends. I think, of all the people I consider "friends and acquaintences," less than half a dozen actually profess to any degree of Judeo-Christian adherence, and much of that is either residual or familial. Remove the "and acquaintences" part, and the number is... one. Maybe two, if you stretch the definitions of both "Christian" and "friend". This culture isn't my culture. This environment isn't my environment. This society isn't my society. Being an American is to a very large extent being at least a lip-service Christian, and I simply am not and have no desire to be.
Again, intellectually, I know about the freedom of religion and the First Amendment and the protections on attending the service of your choice and the like, but I possess no real sense that I or my friends will ever really belong to this culture. What is the likelihood that an atheist, agnostic, shaman or pagan will have a successful political career? Where are the humanist role models taught in schools and not painted as, at best, good people who had the misfortune of not being Christian? Where is the recognition that the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance during a period of nationalist fervor by a frightened Congress struggling to differentiate America from Communist Russian and Chinese interests who had nuclear weapons and weren't afraid to use them?
According to the latest Gallup poll on the matter, this year marks the first time since record-keeping of the like became available that a majority of American people would consider electing an atheist for President, by a forty-nine to forty-eight percent vote. Prior to that, we were the last great minority considered too dangerous to let into public office. Even homosexuals have passed us in electability, at fifty-nine percent. I actually cringed hearing John Roberts ending his confirmation recital with "so help me God", as though it took recognition from a higher power to sanction one's ability to tell right from wrong.
I've seen a few articles that suggest that all this God-talk is ultimately good for us atheists, because the use of the Lord's Name is becoming so vacuous and empty that it's passing into the throwaway stage, the meaningless quip that people add to the end of their speeches to connect culturally with their peers, kind of like Canadians using "eh" at the ends of their sentences. Personally, though, I find it alienating and exclusive. It may be an attempt to connect emotionally with people, but what it does is remind me that I share a culture different from that of "my fellow Americans," one steeped in a very different mythology, one that bars me and anyone who thinks like I do from having any real chance at having a say in how the country works.
- This will never be my tribe.
To be utterly fair, things are changing. That figure of forty-nine percent acceptability is moving up over time; it was less than one in five fifty years ago, and only one in three as late as the 1970s. Despite numerous references to atheism being the "other closet" it's not really a social taboo to admit one is an atheist in public. Sure, it bars me from holding office entirely in eight states including the one in which I reside, but that's still better than three-fourths who say I'm an okay person for the job, right? Maybe there might one day even be an atheist comedy on public television, with sort of funny Bertrand Russell type to play humorously off of a religious friend. The execs could call it "Amazing Grace" and follow a non-believer housewife in suburban America as she tries to navigate the waters of mid-afternoon kaffeeklatsch with her devout neighbors! It probably wouldn't sell in Atlanta, but it might make it in Akron.
However, my question is whether they're changing fast enough. It took the Southern Baptist Convention over a hundred years to apologize for endorsing slavery. How long is it going to take them to do the same for us heathens? Can we even really think that organized religion will ever openly and publicly admit that they have done anyone a disservice by stating that they encouraged people for hundreds of years to think of those who disagreed with their views were not bad people, especially in light of the viral agent within the Christianity meme that propagates itself as the One True Faith? They're having a hard enough time admitting that Muslims and Jews follow the same god as them; why should we expect an advanced timetable given we don't even follow a god?
Then again, it's not really about the atheism. I mean, when all is said and done I'm not really an atheist. I'm an agnostic with shamanistic, totemistic, SubGenius and Discordian leanings, but for the purposes of discussions I cling to the atheist position through the generous application of the Null Hypothesis of "there is no proof for God" and relying on the counterclaim of there being no proof against God to fall under its own weight of assumption. I have a lot of beliefs on the nature of religion as a meta-discussion to religion itself and why people believe what they believe, which in turn are subject to my own meta-beliefs on why I believe those things, and so on and so forth in a Nautilus-spiral of ever-widening assumptions and inductions about the functioning of the human mind.
Plus, even beyond whether it's changing fast enough is the question of whether it can change enough. Not only am I "an atheist," but I'm also a a bisexual, a polysexual, a transsexual, and a minarchist socialist libertarian, and those are just the obvious subcultures, the ones large enough to attract movements to them. Yes, that last really does exist, no it's not a contradiction in terms, and yes I can explain it but you're going to have to give me more room and time than I want to devote right now to how my head works in favor of talking about how my head works differently from those of the heads around me.
Any one of those would be enough to ostracize me from some segment of the mainstream. Two and I'm really pushing it. Three or more and the sigma of my standard and nonstandard deviations becomes so significant that I might as well not compare my culture to that of what most people would consider "my contemporaries." I just don't have a common enough frame of reference. That doesn't make them bad people, but neither does it make me a bad person. It makes me... an outsider. Someone that's just not part of the group, and never will be. At least, not in any time frame that makes expecting it to happen within my lifetime a reasonable goal.
In American history, we're taught that the Southern States left the Union, but what's not so well-remembered by most students is the reason why. Everyone knows it was ultimately "over slavery," but the real crux of the matter is the states traditionally considered Southern, those south of the Mason-Dixon line, realized that if every northern Senator lined up in unified support of a law attacking some facet of the South's economy or way of life, they had the strength in numbers to overturn a presidential veto. In short, they knew that their days were numbered, and that their power to fight back against policies made against them had been removed by the government. They left, not because they wanted to necessarily preserve slavery, but because they knew they didn't stand a chance of getting a fair shake in government.
I don't even feel I have that.
I guess ultimately that my complaint about America—and my single biggest argument for leaving it—is the sense
of systematic and systemic disenfranchisement. It's not that I don't have a vote. It's not that I can't vote. It's that I
know by force of majority rules that my vote will never mean anything on any reasonable scale. This is not just a matter of the voter's paradox. This is, I hope, a very realistic appraisal of the state of American politics as it stands today and a legitimate extrapolation of what is likely over my lifetime. Culture simply isn't going to shift far enough fast enough to make me feel like I ever have a chance to have a say in American politics. Too many things would have to change for me to feel like I'm close enough to the theoretical "center" to even count on the political map.
I took the political analysis at Political Compass. Based on their questionnaire, I come in somewhere between Gandhi and the Dalai Lama for politics and moral views. Actually, I come in slightly more to the left of the Dalai Lama, and slightly more to the libertarian of Gandhi. In contrast, Kerry and Bush both fall in the authoritarian/conservative camp, the only difference being a matter of degree. The only other world leader anywhere close to my ideals was Nelson Mandela, and he spent forty years in jail for his views. Gandhi fought British imperialism his entire life. The Dalai Lama's living in exile and is considered persona non grata among many world leaders because supporting him means losing one billion Chinese consumers. With those kinds of role models, is there any surprise that I "hate America"?
So, I suppose the next big question is... what does one do in this kind of situation? Running to Canada's not really an answer. It's an improvement, to be sure, but it's a bandage, a patch, a temporary fix at best. Canada's an improvement over the United States in terms of political and economic center, but it's still not really an improvement. Europe appears to be an improvement over Canada, but there are other factors that serve as a barrier there, such as language, employment, and citizenship. Perhaps the Buddhist Bhutan might serve as an ideal social environment, but the technology barrier there is so limited that I doubt I could ever truly be happy in such a place despite their governmental mandate to increase the Gross Domestic Happiness of their citizenry.
Where do you go when there's no place on Earth for "your kind"?
The facile answer of "make a place" seems to be about the only real solution. Lunar colonies and breakaway
warrens aside, let this be a declaration of intent. I want to build a place, maybe not a nation, maybe not a state, maybe not even a town, but a place on some scale and some magnitude, that's made for "our kind". I want a Home, a sanctum sanctorum that legalises pot and outlaws Sunday school. I want a twenty-year plan among my friends and family to converge on some place, be it Ontario, Vermont, Maine, the Mariana Trench or Mare Sagitarius, and reshape it into the world we believe we should have. Let's quit talking about wouldn't it be nice and maybe one day they'll let us and get on with the real and fundamental task of worldbuilding.
Get yourself out of debt. Put aside some money for relocation. Buy a motor home. Find a way to telecommute or make yourself employable in any market. Figure out how many people you're willing and able to carry and negotiate with them for coverage while we remake our small garden. Start looking at real estate. Prepare for war.
Someday we'll live among the stars, maybe own a Ranch On Mars.