The Theory of Opposites (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Amendment One)
The Internet is lit up with hand-wringing about a referendum in North Carolina regarding the passage of a referendum aimed at making gay marriage illegal in the state forever more. On Facebook, Twitter and in the comments sections of all the usual Internet hangouts, well-thinking people are lamenting this step toward a new Dark Ages, a further deepening of injustice, a coarsening of society. After all, North Carolinians voted overwhelmingly for a measure that would limit the definition of marriage to one man and one woman, excluding all other forms, specifically the national drive toward same-sex unions that will open the institution of matrimony to gay and lesbians. Surely, people are saying, this is the end of progress for the friends of equality and human rights as far as people see it today. Woe betide us, and lament!
These activists should take a deep breath, because they are actually seeing the penultimate sign of victory for their stated cause. It may not seem that way at first glance, but the overwhelming referendum in favor of an explicit prohibition of gay marriage is actually the last step before gay marriage.
I call this the Theory of Opposites. Let me explain.
All over the world we see institutions over-stepping in order to defend turf they have already lost. People tied to antiquated cultural beliefs are making quite a bit of noise these days. They are marshalling their forces like never before to pass legislation and demand secret government powers and more, all in defense of horses that have left the barn and cats that are out of the bag. Wherever you see the most egregrious behavior in defense of something, it is because the opposite is the megatrend with the most importance.
This Theory of Opposites is certainly at play here in the gay marriage front. Homosexuality is now widely accepted in most societies, or will be soon in the future - which is why the attacks are intensifying. The fact is, younger generations do not care about homosexuality as a threat to societal stability; their parents may, but the kids do not. Moreover, we live at the point in history when it is likely most pleasant for gay and lesbian people. Centuries ago, open homosexuality would have provoked ostracism or death in most societies. As recently as a few decades ago, homosexuality was subject to regular police harassment, specifically at all-male bars. At the very least, violence toward homosexuals was tolerated in ways it was not toward other populations in society; they were “asking” for it.
Today, we are certainly witnessing a concentration of legislative action in places like North Carolina, where the last set of marriage definition sought to forbid inter-racial marriage - and California, home of Prop 8, where the descendents of Utah polygamists banded together to make sure people adhere to one lifestyle and set of beliefs, clearly attempting to set a world’s record for irony. And with this is a sign the war is almost over. Glee is on TV, featuring gay high school-age characters, and it produces a minimum of freak-out. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy came and went a decade ago. Ellen Degeneres has been out of the closet for nearly two decades. Girls are going to the prom together. For a few hot minutes, the Republican candidate for president had a gay guy running his foreign policy team. Iowa has allowed gay marriage along with South Africa, Mexico and Spain. And look, if corn farmers, the guys who used to have apartheid, and the guys who invented the word "machismo" have gotten over guys and girls shacking up with whomever they love, the game is over.
The Theory of Opposites is at play in proliferation of drones and robots for the purpose of “target killings” of “enemies” of the United States and other nation states. All this crazy drone and robot activity appears at first to be the precursor to a scenario in which America will take over the world with a robot army that looks like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, only viciously murderous. Don’t worry - yet. The Theory of Opposites states that the attempt of one country to automate its war-making efforts is not a sign that it will go insane and take over the world, but rather that it really can’t.
Look - Iraq and Afghanistan may be the last time the United States will put boots on the ground in a conventional war in your lifetime. Sure, the Pentagon “analysts” on Fox News sure play it straight-faced when talking about how great America’s wars have gone, and they even rattle a saber or two at the perennial Persian bad guys while they talk about how much “progress” has happened.
Don’t be fooled. The U.S. Military’s latest foray into Central Asia has been an unfathomably costly disaster. Hundreds of thousands have died. Trillions have been spent, and will be spent in the near future, when you consider the lifetime costs of rebuilding depleted equipment and caring for the thousands of injured for the rest of their lives. Tragically, the United States’ reputation as a basically positive force in the world has been torn and tattered. But most importantly, we’re running low on oil. The apparent peak of world petroleum supply will be devastating to anybody’s intentions for World Domination. Getting tanks up and running, keeping supply chains for men and machines, airplanes, mobile hospitals - it all needs oil, and the Central Asian debacles likely took place in the last decade of ready, cheap, available liquid fuel. General George S. Patton said famously, “My men can eat their belts, but my tanks need gas.” That hasn’t gotten less true, it’s gotten more true.
So why all the dreams of robots and light, unmanned aircraft running around to zap individual bad guys? Because the days of sending hundreds of thousands of teenagers with rifles are over. That oil will be better spent carting our aging populations around and I suspect people in the halls of power around the world know it. Robots and drones are becoming the new faces of force projection, not because of a dystopia on the way - but because it’s all we will be able to afford.
SOPA and PIPA were roundly decried on the Internet as the arrival of a new jackbooted regime of info-authoritarians. They even turned off Wikipedia to get attention to this most precarious moment for democracy, ruining the efforts of millions of cut-and-paste school assignments and creating an outpouring of very sternly worded comments on Huffington Post. And the Good Guys won!
The Theory of Opposites tells us that the info-authoritarians are not really that close to winning - and they know it. The ham-fisted legal attempts to let a few companies control parts of the web with minimal oversight was really the sign that our current institutions will not be able to keep control of the power of computers, especially not where antiquated issues of copyright are concerned. The Powers That Be must try to keep their reputation going by giving people the impression that they can still keep a hold of information using copyright - a five hundred year old legal concept designed to keep a monopoly on the printing industry - and using the power of the legal system, which is largely bought off through money and not justice in most countries, and which is completely ill-designed for global issues.
Here’s the reality - if you have anything resembling a smart phone, you have a super-computer in your pocket. The price of memory is still falling; ditto for the price and capability of processing speeds and network bandwidth. Humanity is still rocketing toward a future where every person can keep and exchange every single bit of information ever generated by our race. The institutions we currently employ for a variety of activities - educational, economic, legal, medical and more - are grossly unprepared for the reality this will generate. Are the laughably obsolete companies that control a shocking percentage of the world’s intellectual property, both cultural and scientific, attempting to hold on to their societal position with one last grasp before we figure out that the walls are really down? Is it ugly looking? Will chaos result, mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together? Maybe - but I am currently thinking along more positive lines.
So the next time you see a group of aging bigots band together to pass one last flailing constitutional amendment against a group of your friends, take a deep breath. If you see some lobbyist group try to buy your political representative off to pass a law by which they get to control the color blue and the numbers one through six, just shake your head and smile. If it seems like the world is over, maybe you’re right, but not in the way that you think. Remember the Theory of Opposites, and the fact that a new era is on the way - much to the chagrin of some who like the illusion of control.
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