Humorless Budget Report ~ Ben Kharakh

RUSA had a good grabber for their budget meeting: “Where does your money go?” I didn’t stick around long enough to find out the answer to that question. Instead, I left after becoming both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the first hour of the event—overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at me; and underwhelmed by the absence of tools to make sense of it all.

The meeting began with the presentation of a survey regarding what some number of students thought about the current fiscal situation. I say “some number” because the audience was never informed of how many people RUSA spoke to for its survey. I’m not interested, though, in what random students think about who’s responsible for the current state of affairs. I’d care if random students knew how to fix the problem, but then they wouldn’t even be random students; I’m pretty sure we’d all know the names of the people who figured out how to balance the budget and save us all money. But rather than get something resembling a way out, I was given what struck me as a deeply unsatisfying narrative.

I was told that the cost of tuition was going up, that the amount of financial aid was going down, and that banks were profiting from it all. Meanwhile, the Obama administration had passed a bill barring private lending institutions from making a buck off the whole shebang, with the government handling the distribution of funds instead.  So: there was a massive problem and the closest thing to a solution came from the government. My gripe with all this is that there’s no room for me in the narrative besides as being the victim. The whole thing struck me as very disempowering.

Unfortunately, most of the information I get, whether it be print, online, on TV, etc.,  is oriented around problems rather than solutions thereto. I can see the appeal of framing particular parties as “bad guys,”; and it certainly seemed like the audience was none too pleased with banks or the government. But none of that tells me how the banking and lending system works in the first place or what I or anyone else can do about it.

I never found out where my money actually goes— unless RUSA meant the bank (ha ha joke’s on me!)— because I left the meeting early. I was simply too dissatisfied to stick around for the whole thing. So, I went to an open mic at the Red Lion Café instead. I watched the show rather than performed in it, but I felt very excited nonetheless. As a philosophy major, I like having things spelled out for me; as a comedy nerd, I like jokes; as someone that likes a challenge, I’d like to synthesize the two; and as someone who enjoys his sanity, I see no other option.

Philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein is rumored to have said that, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes. ” I can see that for sure. Something makes you laugh, you explain what it was to someone else, and that explanation is the joke. If something strikes you as funny about something serious and you can explain what it was to someone else, then you’ve got some serious comedy on your hands— you’ve entered Bill Hicks/Maria Bamford/Louis CK territory.  And there’s more utility to that sort of comedy beyond the good PR it’ll bring.

The first hour of the RUSA meeting was full of charts and bad news. A few jokes would have made the whole thing not only more palatable but easier to cope with too.  The latter becomes even more apparent when the budget meeting is taken as only a part of all the problems facing America and the world today. If I read nothing but bad news on the web followed by hateful, angry comments and combine that with a sense of impending catastrophe, impotence, and general absurdity, I’d feel awful. But absurdity can be a source of laughter as much as it can be a source of despair. And I’d much rather be full of laughs than dread. Besides, people are a lot more eager to listen to you and share your message if it’s as funny as it is insightful.

I figure that if I’m going to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, I’m going to need my sense of humor to lighten the load. But this sentiment, I would argue, is founded upon a misunderstanding of what it means to be a person. I alone don’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders; all people carry that burden if a person is to carry it at all. And, by the looks of things, we could all use a few more laughs, which is good, because I got me a hankering to tell some jokes.

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JVP Speaks: Wikileaks & Transparency

In the wake of the latest Wikileaks disclosure, how much should we, as people, know? Is there such a thing as knowing too much? Or are some things best left unsaid?

Rebecca Zandstein: I cannot answer what we should “as people” know, but I strongly believe that as American citizens we should be extensively educated on matters that can allow us to become better political activists and voters. The government should not be hiding relevant information on wars, for example, since it relates to those that are representing us and whom we vote for. Information should be disclosed as long as it is not secret information relating to positions, strategies, and informants’ names. Otherwise, just like The Pentagon Papers allowed us to see the corruption within our government [officials]. WikiLeaks allows us to have more accurate body counts in Iraq and shows the public that Iraq is indeed a “bloodbath on every corner”.

Everyone chooses to live and see their own version of reality but in the end there is only one. The reality that the American government sets out for the public should not be masked in an attempt to make the public “safe” and “secure” in knowing untruths. As long as our national security is not at risk, there should not be such extreme restrictions on publications released for the public to become more educated.

Mike Stuzynsk: The problem with the stuff released by wikileaks is that it is shockingly bland.  Australia doesn’t think Iran is the devil–holy shit, no way!  It seems so me like these leaks are really a non-issue and the government is making a bigger deal about it than needs to be made.

Jhoany Benitez: There IS such a thing as knowing too much. Some things are irrelevant pieces of information. Curiosity is not always a good thing; it can lead to paranoia and losing trust. While it is good to know things, it is also a bad thing to know everything. Part of the beauty of life is its mystery.

Ben Kharakh: I endorse the idea of Wikileaks with the hope that the fact that we now know what’s going on will make people change for the better (as opposed to staying the same and just getting better at hiding information). Will this actually happen? On this issue I remain agnostic.

I also think, though, that power should not be focalized in such a manner that individuals are able to affect the lives of so many people so quickly. And in those instances when it’s unavoidable that people become this powerful, I’d prefer that their activity be as transparent as possible so that I know just exactly what’s going on with that power.

Some of the leaked info seemed private and some may argue that, as a result, the information is not inappropriate to know (and in this case I don’t mean people’s names, etc). I don’t buy the whole private/public dichotomy, nor the offline/online distinction. Private stuff is just public stuff we don’t want other people to know about (and I don’t mean your email passwords). And how one behaves in private, methinks, is indicative of how one behaves in public. Unfortunately, too often a lot of the behavior showcased in the cables is treated as gossip rather than a justification for improvement. Although, given that all the starlets the media harangues have yet to better themselves, maybe I’m naïve to expect the same of diplomats and leaders.

Lastly, I’m gonna paraphrase my friend Maximum Barkley (Barkley to the max!) and say that the success of Wikileaks is indicative of a failure on the part of contemporary journalism. The fourth estate, I would say, has dropped a ball in terms of being the party to get this sort of information. Sure, the press is writing article about this stuff, but it’s not the press that’s getting the stuff in the first place. They need to hit the pavement harder!

Brendan Kaplan: I think that as individuals that make up a larger body politic, complete with its own behavior, rationalization process, and mechanisms of action, it is important to understand what that body is doing.

In other words, we need to understand the processes being carried out by society through its aggregation and direction of our behavioral outputs. What is not necessary, however, is to release content beyond that which is not necessary to fully describe the process to which the content claims to be relevant.

In the case of the Wikileaks, it is important for the public to understand the types of practices that the United States carries out. If this could be done without releasing the names of specific dates, then it should be.

Additionally, Wikileaks would be able to take the moral high ground in any argument claiming, “We were vague… claiming that this foreign power is worried about that foreign power. Then the 1st power started arguing and claiming that we were only making it up. We were thus forced to release the details to back up what we are saying. If they had just accepted the truth in the first place instead of trying to lie about it, we would have spared that nasty details”

Basically, process is necessary to understand, and some content is required for individuals to understand process. If content is released that is not necessary to understand process, than that release is done so for publicity or political purposes.

Personally, I think Wikileaks walks a fine line between the two and has engaged in both. One thing is for certain right now though: Julian Assange is in way over his head and is part of something he can no longer control.

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