Category Archives: politics

posts related to government and politics

Denying Your Existence

So just because I’ve seen random things posted on this topic over the past few days…

One of the more ridiculous things I hear spewed forth from people’s’ mouths these days is this ridiculous notion that I have the power to de-legitimize their very being. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would like to have that kind of power… but it’s patently absurd. Why would you even want to grant another person that kind of power over you?

Here’s the thing… if you were born with a penis, but you feel like you are actually a woman… I’m perfectly okay with that. I believe you that you feel like you are a woman. But I do not believe that you are actually a woman. My believing that does not affect you in any way, except insofar as I am not willing to sleep with, date, or marry you.. but there are plenty of women who were born with vaginas that I would not be willing to sleep with, date, or marry either, albeit for different reasons.

What I would say to anyone who identifies as transgender is this: Don’t worry about what other people believe about you. If someone is being an asshole to you, that’s one thing. But if they are perfectly kind to you but just don’t agree you aren’t the gender that you were born with the genitalia of, who really cares? Do you need everyone to agree with everything that you believe about yourself to be validated? If you think you’re a good writer, and I say your writing sucks, does that invalidate your writing? I recognize that your gender is more personal and central to you than your writing ability, but the point remains that what I believe about you has no bearing on.. well… anything, other than my own perception of you.

No matter who you are, I will be kind to you (unless you are a jerk to me, in which case I will still try to be kind to you, but may fail in that endeavor).  If I am aware that you view yourself as a gender different from what I perceive you to be, I will refer to you as that gender out of respect for your wishes. And here’s the thing… when it comes to people who I don’t know personally, all you have to do is effectively present yourself as that gender… and I probably won’t even know. If I see someone who’s dressed as a man but looks a little feminine, or dressed as a woman but looks a little masculine, I’m not going to question that. You do you, and don’t worry about what other people believe about you.

You can demand that people treat you with respect and kindness, but you absolutely cannot demand that people believe particular things about you.

Just my 2 cents.

Here Comes 2020

Tomorrow is election day. Everyone has been telling each other how important it is that they go out and vote… though I’m reasonably sure many of them wouldn’t actually want me to, because I’m not going to vote for who they would want me to vote for… I hope that everyone I disagree with politically decides to stay home. But I mean, you do what you want, it’s a free country… until you decide to vote to change that so we don’t accidentally offend anyone.

I’m sure that on Wednesday we’ll wake up and all the world’s problems will be solved, all thanks to VOTING, in the MOST important election ever… which is every election. Kudos to us.

But really most people don’t know anything about anything, and vote based on subjects they know nothing or next to nothing about, and so we end up with bad policies. But you know, it’s not knowing things that’s important, it’s the voting, so, you get out there and you vote.

Then the real depressing thing starts. With nary a break at all, we’re going to launch right into the 2020 Presidential campaign. Now, to be sure, there will be some bright moments on the way to 2020… any Democratic party primary debates are sure to be a hoot. But, by and large, we’re just going to continue along with all the insanity of the last… I’ll say 3 years. Remember when there used to be breaks from political strife? What happened to that?

Anyway, none of this is very eloquent, but I just felt like I should comment on it.

Now you get out there and you vote in the people that will save us all from imminent destruction. Or you know… don’t. I couldn’t care less either way.

Factual Deception

“I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.”

“I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.”

“I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.”
-Bertrand Russell

The above quotes were all examples that Bertrand Russell gave of what he called “Emotive Conjugation”, which has also come to be known as “Russell Conjugation” (clearly in his honor).  If you are unfamiliar with the term, allow me to try to explain.

Look at his first example above.  Firm, obstinate, and pig-headed are all synonyms.  That is to say, factually, they all mean the same thing.  However, they all have emotional connotations as well, and despite the shared meaning, the interpretation of the person who hears or reads it will undoubtedly be effected by the word chosen by originator.  That is to say, if I tell you that someone is being “pig-headed”, you would likely come away from that statement with a negative impression of the person…  but the negative interpretation is my own, and had you had a conversation with another person in the know, perhaps you would have come away thinking of them positively, that they were firm and steadfast in their actions.

Laying out all the words in direct succession illustrates the point rather well, because when you are looking at them all laid out next to each other, the emotive differences are readily apparent.

The choice of labeling the positive emotion with self and the negative with a completely removed person also seems meaningful.  We are of course almost always understanding of our own actions, and see ourselves in the most positive light. (Of course this isn’t always true, some of us have moments of self-loathing and well, then we might be more negative in our interpretations of ourselves than anyone else is).

Something I have noticed from time to time in my own life is that I will hear something on the news for the first time, and I will come away feeling a certain way about it.  I might even feel like I have a strong opinion about whatever it is at that point.  And then, I start to think about it more, and hear about it from more sources, and generally start to deconstruct the information.  When that’s all done, I’ve ended up on the other side of the issue, probably confounding anyone who I spoke to about it early on in my process.

Consider this clip about pollster Frank Luntz from Penn & Teller’s Bullshit (it’s an old clip, from around 2007 I believe):

As a pollster, he uses language and this emotive conjugation very carefully in order to shape the results of his polls, or as he puts it “get the right answer”.  If you word something properly, people are much more likely to agree (or disagree, depending on what you’re going for). He’s still doing it today, and it isn’t unique to Frank Luntz.  Polls simply aren’t reliable… except perhaps if you know precisely how the poll was conducted and are sure that there is no manipulative phrasing throughout the poll.

Think about some of the emotive political phrases that we have.  Illegal immigrant vs undocumented immigrant is a clear-cut example of opposite emotive phrasing.  Politics is full of emotive phrases, such as “common sense” (often applied to gun control or other regulations), or  pro-life/pro-choice, both of which have implications that the other side is anti-life/anti-choice.

As emotions are a core part of our being, it’s simply not possible for us to stop using this kind of language and speak in neutral language to each other at all times in our daily lives, but, I do think we need to learn to be cognizant of it.  When emotional language is being thrown around we should be careful to deconstruct it before forming concrete opinions.

We should be at our most alert when consuming the mainstream news media.  It has never been more apparent than now that they have failed at being a reliable and trustworthy news source.  It would not be too much to ask for these organizations to refrain from using highly emotive language, after all, they are supposed to be delivering the facts and letting us decide, but as soon as they start speaking in emotive language, they are delivering their opinion along with the facts… and they almost surely know that they’re doing it.

Facts/Feelings

“Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
– Ben Shapiro

“Upon occasion, every now and then, some people get a feeling that isn’t real. They may think that it’s real, it may feel very real, and they may truly believe it’s real, but it’s just a feeling. It is wise to remember that, as important as emotions are, feelings aren’t facts.”
-Barton Goldsmith, PhD

“Anyone who has ever kissed a married man or woman because of a strong “feeling” can tell you this: feelings are, at best, fifth in line to the throne — sultry, like a bearded Prince Harry. But they’re no Queen Elizabeth demanding Prince William stand the hell up during an RAF air display.”
-Lisa Fogarty

I’d assume most people who maintain any level of interest in politics are familiar with Ben Shapiro.  Regardless of your agreement or disagreement with his positions, it would seem hard to me for you to argue that he isn’t an intelligent and principled person.  Remember, it is very possible for two intelligent and principled people to arrive at very different conclusions.  One of the phrases I most associate with him is one he began saying in order to combat the SJW ideology that rapidly permeated through colleges and universities in the past few years, and even seeped a bit into the wider culture: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”  I have no idea if he was the first person to say this or not, but, I think it’s fair to say he popularized the saying.

At some point during my web browsing yesterday, I came upon an article that had a title that hurt my brain: “Debunking the Myth That “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings”.”  If you want to fully understand the remainder of this post, you might want to take a few minutes to read through it.

Done?  Ok, let’s continue.

First, let’s get to that title.  It is, quite literally, saying that it is a MYTH to say that facts do not care about your feelings.  In this context, this title, taken at face value, is saying that the idea that facts don’t care about your feelings is a widely held but false beliefs.  The statement is absurd.  If facts cared about feelings, then facts would change based upon how we felt about them.  I would challenge anyone to provide a single example of where this is the case.  I’m going to go ahead and make the bold assertion that it cannot be done, and then I’m going to move on, because, if you read the article, you know that the article itself never really makes any arguments about this claim anyway.

He begins by seeming to completely misunderstand the meaning of the phrase “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”  He says: “It’s catchy, and a great play on words. But it’s wrong.”  Then he proceeds to illustrate its falsity by pointing out that Republicans, like Democrats (and really all human beings), still sometimes base their arguments on emotions rather than facts.  It’s not that he’s wrong when he says that, it’s that he fundamentally doesn’t understand the meaning of the phrase he is trying to argue against.

Ben Shapiro, and, to my knowledge, no other influential conservative political figure, has never argued that no Republican ever bases their arguments on emotions.  That isn’t what the statement means.  The statement is saying that facts are facts regardless of how you feel about them, and your feelings won’t change the facts.  It implies that facts have greater value than emotions.  It also proposes that arguments based on fact are better than arguments based on emotion.  In other words, ideally, all of one’s positions and arguments are based primarily on reasoned evidence and not emotional response.

Multiple times in the article, he makes the claim that humans are irrational, seemingly in the sense that humans are in fact incapable of rationality.  He includes an interesting quote about how when people are in an over-emotional state they will behave irrationally, or form irrational opinions, but otherwise doesn’t seem to attempt to back up his assertion.   I have no problem at all agreeing that when people are reacting to events that cause extreme emotional states they are prone to forming bad ideas and dangerous policies as a result.  A prime example of this is how congress responded to 9/11, by passing the PATRIOT act, which continues to abridge our freedoms.  Or take a look at the response to virtually any mass shooting (which are incredibly rare, unless you decide that any shooting in which 3 or more people are injured is a mass shooting.  This itself is a great example of forming one’s opinion based on emotions and then attempting to frame the facts to support that opinion).

Whether or not humans are capable of rational thought is very important.  If we aren’t, then by extension science is inherently flawed and anything that it has given to us is at best a happy accident.  That would extend to all of mathematics as well.  It would also mean that there is no such thing as rationality, except perhaps in an esoteric or figurative sense.  Given that it is extremely unlikely that science is fundamentally flawed in that way, given how much it has benefitted us, I feel comfortable using all of our scientific advancement as proof that humans are capable of being rational.

Of course he isn’t wrong that humans also behave irrationally.  It is fair to say that we are not purely rational beings.  We respond in both rational and emotional ways, and the degree to which we do each is largely based on the related circumstance.  Ideally, we are able to keep the emotional part in check.  The closer that we are to a situation, the more likely we are to respond emotionally, rather than rationally, to it.  The mother of a child who died from a drug overdose is unlikely to be capable of forming a rational opinion on the best way to deal with the issue of drug addiction.

During the most recent Presidential campaign, Libertarian candidates Gary Johnson & Bill Weld were on CNN for a town hall, and CNN trotted out such a person to ask them about their position on drug control.  For all his faults, Johnson campaigned on a very reasonable position, that legalizing marijuana would ensure that safe marijuana, not laced with any other drugs, would prevent deaths.  This mother was incapable of hearing anything other than “we will eliminate all drugs so no one can ever use them again”, which is, of course, impossible.

Emotions aren’t without purpose.  It is because we feel sympathy for those who are addicted to drugs that we try to come up with a means to help them.  But basing the entirety of our argument on that emotion accomplishes nothing.

He uses the example of arguments against admitting Syrian refugees to show an emotional argument from Republicans.  I don’t question that perhaps many Republicans arrive there in that way, but, he also sets up a straw man in his argument.  Here it is: “It’s what convinces you that Syrian Refugees are dangerous after reading a story of how the FBI captured one Syrian Refugee terrorist.”  It simply doesn’t follow that if you don’t think we should accept Syrian refugees, then you believe that all Syrian refugees are dangerous.”  People that believe they are all dangerous are certainly among the vast minority, even if you ask only conservatives.  Whether or not they have reached the correct conclusion is irrelevant, but it is possible to arrive at the conclusion that it is not worth the risk to allow Syrian refugees to come here from a rational perspective.

There is one part of the article that I actually like a lot… the section just before the conclusion, where he offers what I feel is quite sound advice regarding working to reduce your emotional level.  Ironically, it is completely in line with the meaning of the quote he is supposed to be arguing against.

Right after my favorite part of the article comes the part that hurts my brain more than the title of the article.  At the top of his conclusion, he writes: “Instead of this brash naïve statement that “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” let’s go with “Feelings don’t care about your facts.”  It’s more inline scientifically, wouldn’t you say?”

No, I would not say.  The statements are equally true and not mutually exclusive.  Facts and feelings very frequently have very little relation to each other.  I might feel that you did something just to spite me, but perhaps your motivation for taking whatever supposed action was completely unrelated to me.  In such a scenario, I feel hurt, but the fact is, you didn’t take said action to spite me.

The remainder of the conclusion is a continuation of his team-based mentality, essentially boiling down to “Nuh-uh, we democrats have the facts and we aren’t basing our arguments on emotion!”  Never mind the fact that he just made the basis of his entire argument that people aren’t capable of arriving at positions based on rationalism.  Obviously, there are intelligent and principled democrats.  There are people in both major parties (and also in minor parties) that hold views that I would argue are impossible to arrive at rationally.  But obviously, the inverse is also true.  Sometimes, a person might have rationally worked out almost all of their positions, but on just one they have allowed emotions to dictate their position.

There are definite differences in the ways that liberals and conservatives think (I don’t know if there are studies that explore other political opinions, such as libertarians, but I’d be interested to see them).  It doesn’t seem that there are any solid conclusions that can be drawn just yet, except to say that there are physical differences in the brain.  Whether it is causal or consequential is, so far as I am aware, still an unknown.

The takeaway is this: Learn to identify when you are responding emotionally to an issue.  Identify why the issue makes you feel that way, identify the perceived problem, and temper your emotions.  Critically and rationally consider the best way to resolve the problem.  Perhaps you will discover the problem is different than what you thought it was in the process.  Follow the facts to whatever the ideal resolution seems to be.  If the facts change, be willing to re-evaluate and change your mind.  If you do this, you will be a principled individual, capable of intelligent and productive discussion.  And then you can save the world from the over-emotional crybabies who try to shout down everyone they disagree with.

Empathy

Several days ago, I happened upon a video called “Against Empathy”, by Paul Bloom… it’s a promotional video for a book of the same name, which I would guess is probably an interesting read, but I have not read.  I am coming at this mostly as my intellectual response to what is in this video after letting it simmer for several days.

That said, I feel it is important for you to watch the video before proceeding, and so I am including it here:

 

After initially feeling that I simultaneously agreed with most of what he was saying but being a bit put off by the idea that empathy is altogether bad, I began to suspect that he’s not really saying the latter.  He is challenging the notion that empathy should be the highest good or our absolute guiding star.  I expect that in the book he probably more elaborately explains that… the video here is meant to be a bit more provocative.  That said, there is a lot worth addressing here.

The idea that putting yourself in the shoes of another, and acting on feeling their pain can blind you to the long-term consequences of your actions to better their situation is one that has gotten us into a number of quandaries in the political realm.  Not the least of which are the wars he mentions in the video.  But just look at what we got with Obamacare.  By any objective standard it has failed, but a lot of people will read that and respond emotionally saying “but more people have health insurance!”  True, but is the insurance worth a damn?  I’m not saying there are no individuals who are better off than they were before, but for the most part, people are paying more money than they should be for less care than they should be getting.  We have the system we have (and even what we had before Obamacare) because of empathy.  And it’s garbage.  (As an aside, we should have a system where insurance is fully optional, and most people would simply purchase catastrophic health insurance…  and pay for things like doctor visits and generic medications out-of-pocket.  When you get insurance companies out of the equation and doctors need to compete, watch how fast prices drop.)

I actually really like his example of the level of care we give to something like a baby trapped in a well vs something like climate change… and it brings to mind the quote: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic,” which may or may not have been uttered by Stalin.  In terms of how the human mind processes it, there is truth there.  Small-scale, relatable issues, especially if they are close to home, are what we tend to feel the most empathic about.  This causes us to misdirect our efforts.  We spend all our resources trying to get a few babies out of the well rather than directing them toward things that are actually much more likely to effect us all.

Warm glow altruism is another major problem, not only as it relates to charity, but as it relates to politics.  People choose their activism based on what makes them feel good.  And so if they can find a person who claims to be oppressed, defending that people gives them that endorphin rush they’re looking for.  I’m not going to call out anything specific here, but the oppression olympics that is American politics needs to stop.

At one point in the video, he calls empathy “selfish moralizing”.  I can’t help but draw a parallel here to the Randian ideology of Objectivism.  To Rand, all people act out of selfishness, and even an act of love is one made out of self-interest.  (If you’re curious, I find objectivism fascinating and think there is often truth in it, but, I certainly don’t agree with Rand on all points).    I do think that is what is happening here.  It feels good to react to everything according to your emotions and simply let them be your guiding star.  However, what feels right is not always the best thing.  What feels right may be illogical.  What feels right may be harmful in the long-term.  Doing what is best for people may not feel as good as doing something that seems good but is unsustainable.

Empathy has a place in our mind.  In terms of day-to-day how we treat people, we should definitely still follow that golden rule.    However, empathy can’t be our highest standard.  We need to temper our empathy with logic and reason, and be cold-blooded when we need to be.  Sometimes the best thing for someone is to not give them what they want.  It can be hard, especially if it is someone close to you, but it’s worth it in the end.

Simplicity

Everything should be made as simple as possible … but not simpler.
-Albert Einstein

Simple style is like white light. It is complex, but its complexity is not obvious.
-Anatole France

All political movements are like this — we are in the right, everyone else is in the wrong. The people on our own side who disagree with us are heretics, and they start becoming enemies. With it comes an absolute conviction of your own moral superiority. There’s oversimplification in everything, and a terror of flexibility.
-Doris Lessing

One of the great detriments to our society is our tendency to over-simplify… well… everything.  It’s an understandable tendency, as simplicity is nice and easy.  When there’s a clear-cut right and wrong, you can be sure about something, and it feels good to be sure about something.

Simple is not always wrong, of course.  Some things are quite simple, and on those issues there tends to be very little diversity of opinion.  For instance, on the subject of murder, you would be hard pressed to find many who would consider it a moral good.  But, when you loosen it up a bit, diversity of opinion, and thereby complexity, will become manifest.  What about, not murder, but killing in self-defense?  In defense of others?  In war?  As punishment for murder?  There are many arguments for and against each of these.   Even with simple beginnings, complexity will arise.

In the current American political arena, I see the oversimplification of ideas on a nigh constant basis.  Presently, I mostly see it on the left, but, to be sure, the right has done so in the past, they will likely do so in the future, and there is probably some issue on which they are doing so now.

The most prominent example of political simplification that I can think of is the issue of illegal immigration, specifically as it relates to Donald Trump.  Ask a leftist why Trump wants to build a wall, and their answer should be obvious to you by now….  “Well, because he is a racist, of course.”  Ah, the height of oversimplification.

Now, I can’t prove that Trump isn’t a racist, though I would assert the burden of proof is on the person claiming that he is, but even if he were, this argument is a bit of a non sequitur.  There is no doubt that America has an immigration problem, and it needs to be resolved.  Will building a wall solve our immigration problem?  No.  That would be an oversimplification.  But (and I’m not saying I think the wall is practical or will be effective), perhaps it is a place to start.

Here is the complexity.  We have many, many laws related to immigration, and these laws are being broken every day.  In many cases, they are being broken by people who are otherwise obeying the law, and that probably most of us would consider to be “good people” if we were to come to know them personally.  However, a law that is unenforced effectively might as well not even be there.  Borders are only meaningful if they are enforced.  Well why should we have a border?  There’s a lot of social safety nets in our country that people could come and take advantage of without ever paying into the system.  It may sound humanitarian to help them, but it wouldn’t take long for the whole of the system to collapse under the weight of it.  You can’t divorce people from their beliefs and culture, and a concentrated flood of a group of people from one location to another would necessarily alter the culture of the destination.    That’s not to say that there is no argument to do away with borders.  Philosophically, I would agree that they are meaningless, just imaginary lines, and that people should be free to live where they choose.  But perhaps this is an idea whose time has not yet come.

Further complicating the issue, there are those who decide to be willfully obtuse, and say things like “people are not illegal” when someone comments on what should be done about illegal immigrants.  Of course people are not illegal, but no one is saying that, and you don’t really think they are, you’re just trying to be clever.  “Illegal immigrant” is obviously shorthand for “Person who entered the country without following immigration laws.”  Such a person is by definition a criminal.

Now, there are certainly circumstances under which a person who came here illegally perhaps should be allowed to stay, but probably in the vast majority of circumstances, they should not.  By the way, I mean this in terms of “going forward”, I think that we have ignored the issue for such a long time that anyone who is here now and is an otherwise law-abiding person should be allowed to stay, if for no other reason than that it would be impossible to deport that many people.  There are also of course an abundance of complexities as many have had children here, and have well-established lives here.

Do you see how it isn’t anywhere near so simple as “people are against immigration because they are racist”?  Hell, it’s not even as simple as “people are against immigration”.  Most everyone thinks that people should be allowed to immigrate here, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be done with no regard for law.  Anyone making these arguments that we are a country of immigrants is making the wrong argument.  No one disagrees with the words they are saying, but they do clearly disagree with what the person means to say.  If you want to abolish borders so that anyone can enter with no controls of any kind, well then, you should be making the argument to abolish borders, not to allow immigration.

These same principles can be applied to refugees and the “muslim ban”, and to things like gun control, healthcare, economics, and nigh any issue you can think of.  If the issue seems simple and without nuance to you, perhaps you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what those on the other side(s) of the issue really believe.

This extends beyond politics and culture and into religion and philosophy as well…  but this is already quite long…  I’ll save that for another time.

There is no moral argument for Clinton/Trump

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
-H.L. Mencken

“In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate-look to his character.”
-Noah Webster

“Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust must be men of unexceptionable characters.”
-Samuel Adams

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force…Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
-George Washington

“When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives.”
-Alasdair MacIntyre

I feel like I’ve seen only one thing when I’ve logged into Facebook for the past week:  Endless posts stating why one  of the major party candidates represents a superior moral choice over the other one.  I’ve even seen some headlines talking about making a moral case for either candidate.  The very idea is laughable to me.  You cannot possibly make a moral case for either of them.  After all, we are talking about voting for the most powerful government official in the country…  and when you vote someone into office, you are without question culpable for the things that politician does when they are put into office.  The excuse of “but it would have been worse if the other one was in there!” won’t absolve you of that culpability.

It’s telling when you find yourself in the position of defending a candidates’ grotesque remarks about women.  There were many things that Trump said during the campaign that I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on, but at this point it’s pretty clear it’s not just that he’s an asshole, he’s a misogynist who also happens to be an asshole.  I still don’t believe he’s a racist, but he does lack empathy of any kind.  He is an authoritarian.  He is an enemy of free speech.  He advocates gun control based on the no fly list (a list that you can be put on without any kind of due process or recourse).  He’s a blowhard.  He’s a rich guy that pretends like he has the common man’s interest at heart, and he’ll say whatever he believes will help him get elected.

To the reluctant Trump supporters out there (which I believe is the vast majority of Trump supporters):  Whether you like it or not, a vote for Trump is an endorsement of all of that.  Voting for Trump is an endorsement of the idea that it’s either OK, or “not that bad”, for a guy to treat women, including perhaps your daughter, as a piece of meat, and talk about grabbing them by the pussy.  It’s an endorsement of the idea that one can act without empathy.  That voices of dissent should not be heard.  That government should be given more power.  That rights can be taken away from law-abiding citizens at the government’s whim without due process.   Even if you are correct, and Clinton represents something even worse, a vote for Trump is an endorsement of these ideas.

Glenn Beck’s recent statement that allowing Clinton to win by not voting for Trump is a moral, ethical choice (http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/10/10/glenn-beck-electing-hillary-clinton-moral-ethical-choice/) was one of the things that spurred me to write this.  He of course was misrepresented in that headline as saying that “electing Hillary Clinton” was an ethical choice…  he didn’t say that.  He said:

“If the consequence of standing against Trump and for principles is indeed the election of Hillary Clinton, so be it. At least it is a moral, ethical choice.”

I would add the converse, that “If the consequence of standing against Clinton and for principles is indeed the election of Donald Trump, so be it.  At least it is a moral, ethical choice.”

That aside, for exactly the reasons I outlined above, he is 100% correct in that statement.  Not voting for Trump is a moral, ethical choice.  Of course, to the partisan that refuses to acknowledge that the 2 party system is not mandatory, voting for anyone who is not Trump, or not voting at all, is akin to voting for Hillary.  And of course, the converse is also true when talking to the Clinton camp.  They would tell you that you are therefore morally culpable for what the other does, if elected.  Such a statement is illogical, ludicrous, and not worthy of any serious debate.  Not voting is a perfectly valid choice.  Voting for a candidate you believe in, whose character and ideas you can endorse, is the only POSSIBLE moral choice.

Now, Clinton supporters… especially you reluctant ones (which, again, I believe to be the majority), I hope that you aren’t feeling too high and mighty right now.  Clinton isn’t as rough around the edges as Trump is.  She carries herself better, and has a certain degree of class that Trump lacks…  but really that’s only because she’s been in the political game much longer than he has.

Clinton represents the height of government corruption.  You needn’t look any further than the recent Wikileaks releases to see why (but don’t worry, we will).  She privately (which is another way of saying “in actual fact, contrary to what she tells you”) opposes same-sex  marriage and gay rights.  She knows that a no-fly zone will result in the deaths of many Syrians, and she supports it anyway.  In addition to that, a no fly zone would likely initiate World War 3.  The Clinton Foundation has accepted money from the Saudis, despite her acknowledgement that the Saudis fund Isis.  (As a side note, Obama recently vetoed a bill to allow victim’s families from 9/11 sue the Saudis.  I’m pretty sure he was aware of this information too.)  She conspired with the DNC to undermine democracy within the democratic party and edge out Bernie Sanders.  She worked with the media (who many have LONG argued are largely in bed with the democratic party, and are now proven right beyond any doubt) to push Trump into the limelight to help ensure he would get the nomination.  I know you long ago convinced yourself they’re no big deals, but those emails of hers and Benghazi are both really big deals.  She most certainly did harass and verbally attack the victims of her husband’s sexual assaults.   This is without getting into anything where speculation is involved rather than hard facts… and yet you ask me how I can possibly think she’s not any better than Trump?

If you vote for Clinton because “at least she isn’t Trump”, you aren’t just voting against Trump.  You are endorsing each and every one of those ideas.  You will be morally culpable.  For a no fly zone that will kill Syrians and God knows how many people if it leads to a World War, for being in bed with the same people who fund Isis.  For undermining democratic processes.  And for attacking victims of sexual assault when it suits an end desirable to you.

You can tell yourself that you’re doing the best thing you can do by voting for a “lesser” evil.  But evil is evil, and voting for evil is an endorsement of evil.  It’s pretty clear that the only thing stopping a 3rd party from getting elected is the fact that so many people refuse to vote for a 3rd party because they are obsessed with voting for something slightly less evil.  Whichever of the major party candidates you support… deep down, you are reluctant to do so.  You’ve found yourself defending things that you would never defend in a friend or family member.

I can’t make you do anything, but I can beg you to follow your conscience and vote for someone who you can give your full endorsement to.  I’m not going to disown you if you vote for Clinton or Trump, but I cannot possibly understand why you would do so, and I 100% believe you are morally responsible for whatever the consequences are should the candidate you vote for gain office.

Tragedy

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

“Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals.”
-Ron Paul

“There is no path to peace, the path is peace.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

What a week it has been.  What turmoil we face as a nation.

After two highly publicized shootings by police, I already was feeling compelled to write something about what was going on, and then there was the shooting in Dallas.  When a person dies there is no way to describe it other than as a tragedy.  Even when it is justified, but especially when it is not.  The jury is still out on whether the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were justified or not.  Perhaps neither was, perhaps both were, or perhaps only one.  From the knowledge I have gathered, I find it impossible to say in Alton Sterling’s case, and I am inclined to think that in the best case scenario, the situation with Philando Castile was a gross overreaction.  More facts will come to light as time goes on, and I hope that if either killing was not justified that those responsible will be justly punished.  But no matter what, both of those deaths are tragedies.

In contrast, it is quite clear that the killing of 5 Dallas police officers was unjustified.  These officers were not in any way responsible for the deaths of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile.  These men were doing their jobs, and protecting the protest of a group that frequently vilifies them.  The Dallas police department performed admirably in the situation thrust upon them, and to my mind every officer on duty acted heroically.  That we lost 5 brave officers to a coward with an axe to grind is a great tragedy.

How did we get here?  I think there’s a few reasons.  Bear with me, I’ll be addressing both issues of law enforcement and protest movements.

Police brutality is a problem in America.  Don’t react too quickly to this.  Most police officers are decent people who perform admirably.  Much of the time, even if an officer makes mistakes that cost an innocent person their life, the officer is still a decent person.  Obviously, there are outliers.  There are crooked cops, and racist cops, and just outright incompetent cops, but these are the minority.

It’s important to note that police brutality is not exclusive to black people.  Not accounting for justified vs. unjustified killings, 49% of people killed by police so far this year were white.  24% were black.  The remainder were some other race.  (source: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database)  Yes, statistically, 24% is higher than the relative population of blacks to whites.  However, statistically, black people tend to be involved in more crime and are therefore more likely to have encounters with police.  As I will get to soon, more encounters with police equates to more death at the hands of police (not because the officers are bad people, but because it creates unsafe situations for both the officer and the civilian).  Violent crime rates in 2012-2013, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, place white offenders of violent crime at 42.9%, and black offenders at 22.4%, which is not far off from the percentages of those killed by police.

It is my belief that most of the time (but not all of the time) when a person is killed by police, it is justified.  It is always a tragedy.  And much of the time, despite being justified, it is unnecessary.  To illustrate my point, let’s think about why police pulled over Philando Castile and had an interaction with him that resulted in his death.  It was a trivial matter, a broken tail light.  Because a person had a broken tail light, he was pulled over, and a situation was created that resulted in a man’s death.  Having nothing to go on other than a video of events happening after he was shot, it’s hard to know if a case can be made that the officer who shot him was justified in the decision.  However, regardless of if he was or not, if a traffic stop was never made, Philando Castile would be alive.    Interaction between police and civilians is inherently dangerous to both parties, and should be minimized.  There is no reason that an officer should need to pull over a driver for a broken tail light.  Safety issue?  Ok, send them a letter in the mail.  That sort of traffic stop is often used as an excuse to stop a car when the officer suspects they might find something else.  Drugs is a big issue.  Want to send police/civilian interactions way down (and stop a lot of the unjustified killings)?  End the drug war.

Obviously, I can’t say no police officer has ever killed a black man where he wouldn’t have killed a white man because he was racist.  But I don’t believe that it is a systemic problem.  Innocent people of all races are killed by police too frequently, and we need to do everything that we can to minimize that number without vilifying police officers who for the most part are doing the best they can at an extremely difficult job.

The organization Black Lives Matter is also problematic.  It is problematic for the same reason that the SJWs of the regressive left are problematic.  Under the guise of fighting racism, it segregates people into groups on the basis of race, or gender, or sexuality.

Specific activists within that community are a problem.  There are more than a few who have a clear hatred of white people.  It’s not hard to see why those people would spring up.  BLM demands that white people all admit that they are racist because, being white, they can’t help but be.  The ideology says that minorities cannot be racist, because they redefine racism to be something that only a person with “power” can be (as though all white people have great political and economic power, and no non-white person does).  When you tell someone that ALL white people are racist, and that blacks and minorities CAN’T be racist, then is it any surprise that you end up with a climate in which a black shooter kills 5 police officers and tells police that he wants to kill white people, especially white police officers?  This is the same group that chants anti-police rhetoric at their rallies.  This is the same group who interrupts and holds hostage events of even people who are ideologically on their side and demands that they be allowed to do whatever they want.

Other than private conversations with a few people, I have long been silent on how I feel about the Black Lives Matter movement.  It’s not that I don’t think black lives matter, it’s that the movement is irresponsible and often ideologically dangerous.  No, they did not encourage or condone the shooting last night, but they did, perhaps unknowingly, contribute to the climate that gave rise to it.

I love my black friends.  I would be devastated if any one of them were to die, especially if it was unjust.  But I cannot support that movement.  I will not ever admit to something that I am not (racist).  I will not agree that a minority cannot be racist (I’ve met some who are, and I’ve been hated by them on the basis of my race).

You can’t solve racism by dividing people up into groups based on their skin color.  You can’t do it by dictating that people who have white skin have nothing to contribute to the conversation.

Racism as an ideology will die out with time.  The best thing those of us who are not racist (the vast majority) can do, is to lead by example, and treat everyone as a fellow human, regardless of what they look like.

Every death is a tragedy, and every life matters.

Finding the Path to Equality

One of the things I have noticed dominating the political landscape for the past week or so is the subject of income inequality among men and women.  I’ve also come across a bit about inequality in other areas of reading and conversation and so that has sort of inspired me to write how I feel about the current state of the world and the attempts of various groups of people to find equality.

Equality in itself is simply a form of justice.  We all want to be treated fairly, and live under the same rules.  I would add to my own definition of equality that we should all be treated according to our actions.  I imagine that there are those who would take issue with that (socialists, for example).  This is to say that I do not think that Human A and Human B are entitled to all of the same luxuries in life in order for equality to be established.  That said, I do not at all believe that we have achieved equality.  And I think that in specific circumstances, everyone is treated in ways that have more to do with their skin color, gender, and income level than on the basis of their character and actions (yes, even rich white men).

It’s also important to point out much of the time a question of “fairness” arises where it’s not really due.  As an example, let’s say there’s a guy named “Bob”, and he invests a bunch of money to start his own business, he works really hard, and he is successful, and makes a lot of money.  Along comes another guy named “Tim”, and Tim decides he too will start his own business.  He invests the same amount of money, works just as hard, and after a few years of struggling to break even, he is forced to shut it down.  Is it fair that this happened?  It’s impossible to answer really, because the question doesn’t apply.  To what are you ascribing unfairness?  The nature of reality?  Can reality be unfair?  The fact is, both of these guys could have played it safe,but they chose to take a risk… and sometimes risks pay off, and sometimes they don’t.

With those clarifications, let’s get back to the first thing I mentioned.  Income inequality between men and women.  The large numbers you see come from statistical information which takes nothing into account but gender and actual income.  The most important thing to remember when dealing with statistics, or whenever someone throws a statistic at you, is that on an individual level statistics mean absolutely nothing.  This is important when considering the issue of inequality because equality has to do with individuals.  Am I equal to you, and are you, in turn, equal to another person?  The moment we start grouping people together we are essentially conceding points on which we might start treating them differently because they are not like us.    That said, there is a gap, but it is a considerably smaller average (it’s about a 5 cent deficit, as opposed to the 23 cents you commonly see cited) when you take into consideration career choice, major, etc.  I do not know the reasons for this gap, and I’m not sure anyone does, but if we would like to eliminate it, I think we are better off trying to identify to social cause and seeking to remedy it.  I don’t believe the cause is a misogynistic culture, as many feminists would have us believe, because, quite frankly, we don’t live in a culture that values misogyny.  If we did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at the national level.  Obviously, misogynists exist, but society looks down on such people.

On a broader spectrum, different groups that have had injustice down to them tend to cling to the tool of the injustice done to them.  That tool, bluntly, is government.  This system of force has long been used to oppress certain groups of people to the benefit of another, and given that it is only able to achieve anything through the use of force, or the veiled threat of force, which would mean nothing if people didn’t know that the force would indeed be carried out, it is unlikely to ever achieve equality or justice.  It is seemingly antithetical that the primary reason people cling to these ideas is to achieve those things.  As a simple example of government not achieving equality, one only needs to look at statistics as they relate to black Americans (and remember, this says nothing about an individual black person).  Statistically, black Americans are much more likely to commit violent crimes, both against white people, and against other black people, then other people groups.   They tend to be arrested much more frequently from drug crimes as well.  The incarceration rate is much higher than their percentage of the population.  This does not have ANYTHING to do with their race, black people are not inherently violent, but it is indicative of a societal problem.   Before the Civil Rights Act, segregation was government policy.  The tool of oppression was used to try to stop oppression.  By degree, oppression has decreased, but a simple glance at those statistics can tell you that government policy is harmful to black Americans.

You can’t force someone to be different than they are.  If you hold a gun to someone’s head and tell them “be this way, or else”, then perhaps you will change the words that come out of their mouth when you are present, or when you might find out about them, but they will not be fundamentally changed.  This is the problem with seeking change through government force.  People simply bury such feelings and it becomes all the harder to really root out the source.  This is why wielding a gun will never bring about justice.

In a strange way, I think a desire for justice against past oppressors tends to cloud the issue and get in the way of achieving equality.  Not long ago I was on a film crew at a location in south central LA, and we had a visitor who insisted on coming inside to go through our trash to get our cans.  In trying to get her to leave, because we can’t have people who aren’t part of the cast/crew there, she immediately jumped to race, as though we were only making her leave because she was black.  She told me it was a black neighborhood, I guess those of us on the crew who were not black were thus not welcome.  I bring this up because I think this woman has a desire to see justice on past oppressors.  The trouble is, those oppressors are dead and gone.  You can’t achieve that justice.  To take out vengeance rightly directed toward slave owners against me or any other white American is simply another injustice.  We didn’t carry that action out.  What happened between our ancestors is in the best, and it’s best left there.  We remember it, and we strive not to repeat it, but we don’t judge each other based on the actions of people who were not us.  I think that a refusal or inability to move on from the past is the biggest obstacle to overcoming this “grouping” of people.  If we are to truly be equal we need to get rid of these vestiges of ancient tribalism.  We need to stop being groups and start just being people. If we can do that, maybe we’ll stop feeling a need to point guns at one another for good.

Lincoln and the Romanticization of History

A couple of nights ago, Jon Stewart had Judge Andrew Napolitano as a guest on the Daily Show.  They discussed the Judge’s views on Lincoln and the Civil War.  I initially learned of the exchange via a post-interview video that was made by Tom Woods, who asserted that while a panel of judges on the Daily Show during their “faux game show” segment were wrong in their declaring what Napolitano said was incorrect, he also provided a source for his assertion.

Before I go any further, I want to say that this topic is one of the primary things I knew I wanted to write about when I decided to reboot this blog, and as it deals with what is to this day sensitive subject matter, it is a big part of the reason I felt compelled to provide a warning that certain posts here may offend.  If it sounds like a topic you would like to avoid, please do, you can always come back when I post about something less sensitive.

One further note: I have nothing but disgust and revulsion for the institution of slavery, and the ideology of racism.  I also make no effort and have no intent to defend the Confederacy, but I do feel it’s important to remember that the States and people who comprised the Confederacy were just as nuanced and real as the States and people who comprised the Union were.  Just as we should not remember Lincoln and the Union as better than they were, we should not remember the Confederacy as being purely evil, although they were clearly wrong on the very big issue of slavery.

Now, here is background material for what inspired this post:

Embedly Powered

And now we can finally begin!

As is obvious, the traditional beliefs concerning Abraham Lincoln are that he was a hero who not only saved the country from disunity and destruction, but in the process even managed to end slavery!  For this he is typically thought of by a majority of people as being the greatest President that the United States has ever seen.  Now, if one happens to agree with Lincoln’s particular ideology, I suppose this could be a valid way to view him.   However, he still was not quite so great as many people remember him, especially in regard to his role of “ending slavery.”

To get things started, let’s see Lincoln’s own words in regards to how slavery related to the Civil War.

lincoln

In the interest of truth and fairness, I will include that contextually this is part of a larger statement, and it ends with the words “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

By no means am I saying that Lincoln did not “wish” or prefer that “all men everywhere could be free,” however, it was not his paramount concern.  While looking back on history we see slavery as  being the issue that the Civil War was fought over, which is patently not true.  It IS true to say that without the issue of slavery that the war wouldn’t have happened, because slavery was the primary reason given by the Confederate states for their secession from the union, and in that way slavery instigated the Civil War… but make no mistake about it, the Civil War was about preserving the Union at whatever cost.

Regardless of Lincoln’s personal beliefs, the mainstream political beliefs for the purpose of not allowing new slave states to enter the Union was not that they necessarily viewed it as being abominable, or because they believed that blacks were equal to whites, but rather because they wanted the west to be exclusively for the white man (if you’re interested in a source on this, it can be found in Tom Woods’ “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History”, I don’t have the time to find the exact quote right now).  This is a big part of why the Confederates seceded, they were going to lose votes in how the Union was run, and they would not be able to protect the interests of their states, which, yes, was primarily slavery.

The big issue in the Daily Show video is over fugitive slave laws.  I won’t argue that for sure that they were enforced by the union during the Civil War (though it would seem logical to assume they were, since in Lincoln’s view the Confederate states never legitimately seceded, and were therefore still part of the Union, and slaves were not freed in those states until the Emancipation Proclamation).  However, I bring it up because if Lincoln’s primary concern had not been preserving the Union, but instead ending slavery, southern secession would have been a huge boon to making that happen.  No more would fugitive slave laws apply to the north, because they would have no obligation whatsoever to the States of another sovereign nation.  This is a viewpoint that many abolitionists promoted.  Let the south secede, and it will be the beginning of the end for slavery.  A shameful fact of history is that the United States is the only country in which slavery was ended through war and bloodshed.  It may have taken more time, and obviously thinking of someone remaining in slavery for longer is a horrible thought, but so is the violence and death and suffering that comes with war.

In discussing that in the end the Civil War did lead to the end of slavery in the US, I just want to be clear, I am discussing the ultimate end results of what happened, and not the motivations… ending slavery was merely a preference of Lincoln, and not the key reason for the war.  Further evidence of this is in the Emancipation Proclamation, which most believe to have ended slavery.  If you take the view that Lincoln had authority over the Confederate states at this time, he did end it in those states, however, the Emancipation Proclamation explicitly frees the slaves only in Confederate slave states.  (Source: The Emancipation Proclamation itself, read it, you’ll find it lists specific states and does not include border states that were still part of the Union: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html)  The border states, which remained part of the Union, were left to maintain slavery solely because Lincoln did not want them to secede.  In fact, one of these States, Maryland, which the Union could not allow to secede as it would mean the capital would be surrounded by the confederacy, probably would have seceded, if not for several members of the General Assembly being arrested for their pro-Confederate views. (Source: http://teaching.msa.maryland.gov/000001/000000/000017/html/t17.html)  Simply to bring this all full circle on the issue of the ending of slavery, the Emancipation proclamation ultimately freed no one, and slaves were freed by the 13th amendment, which was passed by Congress, and had little to do with Lincoln, who merely did his duty in signing it into law, though, to be fair, he was surely not conflicted about it, given his preference for men to be free.

Now, into how I view Lincoln.  I see him as being perhaps our worst President.  I am fundamentally opposed to his ideology of a strong central government.  Prior to the Civil War, and certainly at the drafting of the Constitution, the States all believed that they had the right to peacefully secede at any point.  Post Civil War, the federal government proclaimed the exact opposite.  States could not secede, and in fact the secession of the Confederacy was never valid.    He also was a nightmare economically, as he vastly inflated the money supply in order to fund the war.  As previously pointed out, he  had dissidents arrested to keep state governments from functioning lawfully.  Because of Lincoln’s insistence that the Federal government should be stronger than it was intended to be, and that the Union should be inseparable, we are left with slavery ending perhaps a bit earlier than it otherwise would have, but in the worst way possible.  It created a huge amount of resentment that persists for some even to this day.  Government continued to oppress blacks with Jim Crow laws, and even the way in which these were repealed, trading one government mandate for another, ultimately lead to even more racial tension and resentment.  But that may be a topic for another time.

The Civil War, and the events leading up to, and following it, like all history, and even modern events, is far more complex than how we like to think of it.  People like to think of things in simple matters of clear right and wrong, and when it comes to history we like our heroes to be pure good, and our villains to be pure evil.  However, this doesn’t really happen.  If you made it to the end, I hope you got something out of this, and I’m happy for you to share your thoughts, whether in agreement or disagreement.