An Evening To Remember

She opened the car door and stepped out.  Had someone been watching they would have thought it was one of those intentionally shot, sexy scenes as a bare leg clad in a sexy black pump hit the pavement.  As the rest of her emerged she was the vision of beauty and elegance.  Her carefully chosen evening gown with the slit up the left side was sure to catch the attention of many, but it wasn’t because she was vain.  She simply had good taste, and liked to look good for a special night out.  Her husband was being honored today.   Her husband had won another big case.  Civil rights cases were tough to win, and he had been winning it for the little guy for years now, in several high-profile cases.   When she had met him, it seemed they were just heading to a normal upper middle class future, with the normal rate of advance as lawyers.  But practicing law was different than learning it.  As having a family came into the picture, her passion for the law was less.  She had been offered being partner at her law firm, but it just didn’t seem all that appealing.  She also saw how much her husband loved practicing law, and how good he was at it, and it wasn’t a difficult decision for her to pull back and practice law part time.  Children and family meant something to her, and she knew that she would never find enough happiness in her career to compensate for not seeing her children more often.  They would have had no trouble affording a nanny, but it killed her thinking about a stranger spending more time with her children than her.  They would still be very comfortable, they had a nice house, and a good life was about more than money. She hooked her arm in his and walked together into the venue for the evening.

It was a reasonably big crowd as they entered the room.  People were dressed to kill, and she was equal to the task.  Some familiar faces approached them to welcome them.  She felt a bit like a celebrity as she saw more people swarm towards them.  This was their life now.  They had made it.  They were doing positive things in the world, and she had the right balance in her life in terms of career and family.  But as the people came and went the focus was not on her.  There was requisite smiling and small talk.  Even genuine heartfelt warmth.  There were good people in the room, but even they wanted their time with the man of the hour, and in many ways conversations with them were the worst.  “What was it like to be married to such a great lawyer?  How proud are you of your husband?  Did you think he would win the case?”  She tried to remain positive.  Of course he would be congratulated, schmoozed, networked, and charmed for his accolades.  What else did she expect?

She expected to be seen as important.  She expected to have value.  The way that she saw herself.  Was it so hard to believe that as talented as her husband was that he might have married someone equally talented, with equal intellect, and with an admirable moral center?  The magnificence of her dress felt like it was fading into the scenery.  She felt like an object attached her husband’s arm.  No one seemed to see her as having value, even when she knew that it wasn’t true.  She could put up with it for night though.  Right?

But if this case was any indication, he would become busier and he would get bigger cases, and his fame would continue to grow.  She realized in that moment she would not be putting up with this for one night.  It wouldn’t stop.  How long could she take being solely defined by her husband’s career and success?  Why didn’t it matter that the only reason her husband had so much time to be a great lawyer and have two children was because of her?  Why didn’t the excellence in the choices she made for her life, marriage, and family, make less difference than his?  And she was invaluable as someone to talk to when he’d come home and talk about his cases.  After all she was a lawyer too.  It wasn’t her husband’s fault society was like this, but she couldn’t help but wonder if it even entered his head to think about these things.  If he was he’d make more of an effort, wouldn’t he?  She wondered, if the situation was reversed, would any man be treated with as much indifference as she felt from others right now?  Suddenly she was jolted out of her grim analysis.

“What a stunning dress!  It must be nice to buy such expensive clothes after your husband’s big win!?”  She nodded and smiled and hoped that she look convincingly gracious for that horrible compliment.  She had the dress for several years and she could afford it all on her own.  It was like people thought she had suddenly been invented for the purpose of accompanying her husband.  She expertly stopped herself from crying and made an excuse to her husband to go to the lady’s room.  She stared in the mirror, not knowing whether a flood of tears or pure rage would come next.  It dawned on her that the rest of the evening would be spent wondering whether it was better to just continuing being small and hide in a hole somewhere, or to be visible in the crowd but still feel alone.  She decided the former was the easier choice, but then she’d have let this superficial group of people chill her into hiding.  She was better than that.  It might be a hollow victory, but she held her head high and walked out again.  There was a loose line of people waiting to talk to her husband.  Eventually they would sit down at a table to eat, and he would give everyone else their undivided attention.  With the grace of an empress she crossed the room and sidled up next to him.  Outside darkness gave a respectful wave goodbye to the dusk, and inside she was content to be the stars shining through the night, even if the heads in the room were too heavy to ever look up.

Can Multiculturalism Work?

What is multiculturalism?  Here is something that I am for, and think is a positive thing, but a recent interview I listened to made me wonder if I was perhaps defining it differently than other people.  Not that I am necessarily wrong, but it is perhaps a term that easily lends itself to some interpretation.  Perhaps part of the reason is a definition of what we consider culture likely also varies from person to person.

The argument has come up many times in Europe and North America in response to the Syrian Refugee crisis that multiculturalism doesn’t work.   My father-in-law in Poland has even joined the parade of fear over refugees and said he’s against “multy-culty”.  Many Americans describe the U.S. as a melting pot and promote that as an important part of a successful nation.  But are we really a melting pot?  It’s clear when you look around there are plenty of cultures celebrating events that are important to them.  Whether it’s religious holidays, whether it’s going to the church or temple of their religion.  There are also plenty of restaurants catering to different ethnic cuisines.  We can see the evidence of different cultural norms among African-Americans and among Hispanic groups.

So, what is it that we are actually afraid of changing?  It seems that when most people say multiculturalism won’t work it’s targeting specific values that another culture holds, or is perceived to hold that is different than values held already in the country.  But since there are clearly many diverse cultural practices that go on already that don’t bother anybody is it reasonable to say something so broad like multiculturalism doesn’t work?  I don’t believe so.  That doesn’t mean that bringing in other cultures into your own society won’t have problems.  Part of the reason why the story of immigration keeps repeating itself with one generation of immigrants being criticized by the generations before is that we generally don’t trust what we really don’t know.  But we live in the age of information so there should be a bunch of stuff we do know.   So let’s take a look, and for a little bit, ignore the fact that often in these situations the experiential knowledge goes a lot further than book knowledge.

When it comes to refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan let’s face it, a large majority of these immigrants are going to be Muslims and fear of Islam is at a high today.  While extremism exists in every religion right now, a good portion of it is coming from Islam, so perhaps there is a good reason to have more fear, even if that fear compared to other things we have to fear in this world, are exaggerated.  Once again I don’t want to get into any No True Scotsman arguments, because we can say extremists are not truly followers of Islam, but they claim they are so let’s go with the idea that whatever religion people claim they are affiliated with that’s their religion.  It’s true to say that whatever small percentage of Muslims we bring into this country that are jihadists, the more immigrants we take, the numbers go up.  So I think this is always worth paying attention to since a society should always be aiming to reduce violent crime.  But for now let’s just throw away the extremist views and look at these societies in general.  We have very traditional values.  Women do not have equal rights in Islam.  They are expected to dress modestly because they are a temptation to men.  They try to protect their followers from information that would cast doubt or refute tenets of their religion.  Their governments do not have separation of church and state.  Islam has strong rewards for commitment to the religion and strong punishment for those who are apostates (both on this plane of existence and the other ones).  They have no tolerance for homosexuality.  Do any of these qualities sound familiar?  They should, they are the very similar attitudes held by a large portion of the religion right here in the U.S.  What’s very odd about it, is that the same people who have so much in common with all these potential new immigrants are the most against them coming in, and it’s the left that is happy to important such illiberal values into the U.S.

Now before you fight me on this, let it sink in a bit.  If this is the case, what’s going on.  Are we all very confused?  No, but perhaps we are a little confused.  First of all we shouldn’t expect two very similar religions to coexist happily.  It’s easy to see why to very conservative groups with slight variations on “The Truth” don’t want to share space.   It’s also not hard to see that Islam doesn’t have a high degree of tolerance towards free speech, something that many, if not most on the right, consider to be one of our most important values as an American. It is also isn’t difficult to understand why people on the left would be side with Muslim immigrants.  Certainly, when it comes to the refugees there is going to be a great deal of desire to reduce human suffering.  But let’s say, to a large degree many people, whether they support immigration or not, are moved my human suffering.  From an ideological point of view, we’d expect many people to be sensitive to the oppression they’ve endured at the hands of religious intolerance, racism, and misogyny. It’s not completely irrational, therefore, to be against allowing large groups of people that are experiencing oppression and suffering to be painted with a broad-brush stroke simply for being different.  We’re all too familiar with what happens when such attitudes persist in a society.  We know the harm that stereotyping can play and how it closes doors to meaningful conversations which can lead to an exchange of ideas and mutual understanding.  There is value in diversity and adding some might not be a bad idea.  This at least for me is at the heart of a multicultural society.

My concern is that we seemed to have reached a level of political correctness where it is not okay to criticize Islam, out of fear we will be supporting attitudes on the right.  And I would like to believe that there are many people on the right who might be similarly scared of expressing empathy to humanitarian crisis in the Middle East in case they are seen as supporting the left.  Identity politics is not helping.  We have to have some honest conversations about what we can tolerate in terms of diversity and multiculturalism.  As a liberal there are certain harmful views that I will not tolerate in any culture, and do not want to see them increasingly practiced in my country or any country.  Many of the Syrian refugees are very educated, which is helpful, but harmful cultural practices, particularly attitudes towards gender or sexual orientation are not dependent on the level of education.  It’s not unreasonable to be against importing illiberal values into our society, just as it is not unreasonable to be intolerant to illiberal values here.  It seems clear to me that multiculturalism is not impossible, but it does have limits and if you claim to be a liberal it’s of value for you to recognize that.  And on the right, the level of xenophobia and fear of terrorism is also highly disproportionate, dishonest and is not helpful to meaningful conversation.

I come from Canada and am proud to say that is one the few if not the last country that largely embraces multiculturalism, but this does not mean that we tolerate every cultural practice.  Canada can boast some of the most progressive imams in Islamic society who actively speak out against Islamic extremism.  I wonder if Canada’s inclusive attitude towards different cultures has anything to do with that?  And I am not under any illusions that racism or bigotry is absent in Canada.  It’s still a problem.  It takes time to solve such problems and I think Canada has made some impressive progress.  Growing up in Canada my view of multiculturalism was that you retain the best of your culture and adopt the best of Canada, and the nation simply gets better.  As someone who is biracial I never struggled about whether to consider myself Indian or white, I always just thought of myself as Canadian, because Canada recognized the value that other countries have brought with them to Canada.  To me, this is one of the principal differences between Canada and the U.S.  Canada definitely thinks we have some lessons for other cultures, but we are humble enough to recognize that maybe other cultures have something to teach us as while.  It seems to me that the U.S. has an attitude that it only needs to teach others, but has nothing to learn from them.  Such an attitude seems to be held by many Americans on the left and right because it seems to play out in identity politics as well.   Maybe, in the end, whether or not multiculturalism can work all depends how willing each culture is willing to listen and learn.  This is a value that we all need wherever we may live.

My Flash Fiction

So after reading my friend Esme’s wonderful flash fiction that she published in 101 Words, I decided to give it a shot myself, as it seemed like an interesting challenge to try to create a story with only 101 words.

I am proud to say, they liked my story I  was published too.  I would like to believe that I am as excellent a quality of writer as my friend, but it may also be that they’ll publish almost anybody.   I shall believe the former in order to keep my friend’s spirits up. 🙂

Without any further ado, follow this link for my story.

A Quick Post about Russian Interference

I just listened to an interview today with General Michael V. Hayden on the Waking Up podcast with Sam Harris, who is the former director of the CIA and NSA.  It was short and very educational.  Sam Harris’ last question was about General Hayden’s view on the Russian Hacking scandal.  This is what he had to say and I thought it was worth transcribing.

“The Russians did it. It’s a high confidence judge of the American intelligence community.  They did it to affect the election.  They stole the data, and they washed the data through our friend Julian Assange and some other platforms, and then they put out an army of trolls to touch the data so that Google’s algorithms thought these were trending things so that they would come very much into our consciousness, so it’s incredible technically.  It’s called a covert influence campaign.  It’s the most successful covert influence campaign in the history of covert influence campaigns.

Now I do point out, as somebody who used to run the CIA, I can’t claim that my agency has never been involved in something like this in its history.  Covert influence campaigns do not create fractures in a society, they exploit fractures in a society and make them worse.  So I think the first teaching point after I walk away saying the Russians did this….is shame on us for giving them the opportunity…by being so fractured in our political discourse.”

I, Science

Around the nation tomorrow, there will be marches for science.  Why should that be so?  We might understand marches for women, or marches for a minority group, but why should scientists march?  We make only 5% of the population, it’s clearly a small proportion of the workforce.  I am sure I could build a compelling scholarly argument for the importance of science, but rather than go about it mechanically, I’ve decided to talk more about my relationship with science and why it’s so important to me.

Like many children I enjoyed books with different animals and learning about their characteristics.  I remember watching many an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  I had a book on whales that I love to read a lot, and one on dinosaurs.  I remember learning about the different planets.  I found the colors of the planets, the sun, so stunning.  Different atmospheric compositions led to vastly different looks.  I marveled at the thought of looking up at the red sky of Mars.  I used to capture a variety of insects in jars.  And while I would certainly not encourage such behavior from my child without proper care and the hopes of setting it free, I marveled at the structure and behavior of such creatures.  When I look back on these memories, I have hard time imagining every child not being like this.  Maybe it was a precursor to what I would eventually become, but there seems nothing so natural as wanting to observe the world around us and learn about it and wonder how it works.  How can one not marvel at the array of colors that nature provides?  How can we not wonder at the flight of some creature and the scurrying of others?  How can we not be fascinated by the massive size of the blue whale, to the little aphid that seems but a speck in your hand?  I am certainly not an expert in child behavior, but I have watched enough children to know what observers they are.  And while they may not understand all they see, they are constantly looking.  It seems to me the essence of science lies in the very heart of who we are as humans.

From at least my early elementary age, I remember being fascinated by thunderstorms.  Seeing the lightning streak across the sky was nature’s fireworks and I loved every minute of it.  Often peeking out the window at night, and occasionally sneak out at night so it under the ledge of our house to watch the thunderstorms.  My very first introduction to meteorology was in grade 6 when we learned about different cloud types and how different cloud types could often be predictors to the type of weather that was coming your way.  For some reason I found that fascinating, but I know there was also an aesthetic quality to clouds that I found beautiful.  Their variety of shapes and colors depending on the position of the sun.  To this day I still look up at them and they seem almost beautifully magical floating there.  My first real act as an atmospheric scientist at around adolescent to early teens.  I say this because my observations were recorded mentally over probably a couple of years.  Thunderstorms in the prairie of Alberta are seen a long way off and I noticed that when a line of bubbling cumulonimbus clouds was on the horizon the wind was always blowing towards the clouds, yet the clouds kept getting closer.  After enough observation I saw this as simply a fact, and knew when to tell my family to prepare for thunderstorms.  Often adults would question me, saying “you’re wrong kid, the wind is blowing the other way”.  Of course I wouldn’t learn why this was the case until university, but it gave me some pride to recognize patterns in such a way.

My mother was always good at supporting me asking questions, and even better at showing me how to find those answers.  In those days it was the library.  How easily today I could have looked up the answer as to why wind blows towards the thunderstorms before they come to you. Kids today really have it so much easier, but they also have to deal with a lot more misinformation than I had to deal with in a library.   She taught me a lot about research and to look for answers in multiple places to make sure there was some consensus.  Though she didn’t have an advanced degree, she was always one to have questions herself and research the answers before forming an opinion.  Although she never said so explicitly, I think it was important more to see that our own senses are not enough to really understand how things work, and having information from other sources can help us answer our questions and make better sense about what we see.

When I look back, the ingredients it took for me to become a scientist seem rather organic.  Parents who encouraged questions and were curious themselves, made science feel like it was no extra effort.  School was effort at times, and I didn’t understand everything easily, but it never stopped me from finding it all quite interesting.  My favorite subject in high school was actually biology.  I loved learning especially about organ systems.  The way the body works and maintains itself still amazes me to this day.  So while there may be some combination of genetics that works in my favor, I find it hard to understand how we aren’t all scientists.  Not by profession, but just by nature.  I think, that regardless of my job, science would be a part of my life.  It has already helped me immensely in understanding so much and answering so many questions, and knowing that there is always more to learn is rejuvenating because it means that maybe I will learn something and it will change my whole outlook.  It means that what I do today, because of what I have learned, might be something that I never saw myself doing before.  I used to think that it was sad that I could not learn everything there was to know.  Beyond the impossibility of that task, I think life would go stale quickly if there wasn’t newness.  Science may not bring certainty, but it does bring to the fore previously unknown possibilities and who can say that does not make life more fulfilling?

Some people think that science removes mystery from the world and thus makes it less exciting.  It was in the 8th grade that I decided to become a meteorologist.  I can tell you that a thunderstorm today excites me to less than it did when I was a child.  In fact now, when I look at a thunderstorms I see equations and physical laws floating around like code from the Matrix.  I see into the cloud and in my head see interactions between droplets and crystals that I never saw when I was a child.  I understand the magnitude of the forces that meet to produce this wonder of nature, and I feel the weight and power of it, in a way I never could have as a child.  It is like the difference between falling in love with someone, and the deep intimacy and friendship that you develop after you’ve known that someone for many years.  It is love with depth, it brings a lasting feeling of happiness and well being.

Somewhere a child has nowhere to turn for answers to the questions they have.  Somewhere a child is told not to ask questions, or is simply told what their parents say is the truth of things, and that questions are dangerous.  Somewhere parents have decided that their girl shouldn’t be educated, or that science is not for girls.  Somewhere a teacher doesn’t understand science themselves and thus kills the joy of curiosity and learning in their students.  Somewhere a group of politicians have decided that memorization-based exams are the important metrics to determine funding.  Somewhere a television show is making scientists seem irrelevant and worthy of ridicule for finding excitement in discovery. Somewhere a journalist is completely misrepresenting a scientist’s findings.  Somewhere a government is denying the findings of scientists to help rich people make more money.

These things make me sad.  I see no reasons why we can’t be a society that is constantly asking questions.  We have a tool for answering those questions that we know is reliable.  It is so pervasive now that we don’t even recognize all the ways it shapes our lives. If we supported that scientist in all of us, the one who first makes their appearance at the earliest of ages, the power and value of this tool would be immense.  It helps us ethically and morally.  It helps us fight oppression and inequality.  Science is the only thing that has no politics, no religion, no race or culture.  It truly is for everyone, and in everyone.

I see the March for Science as not just a political statement.  It is about showing the value for curiosity, for education, for discovery, and for wonder that we seem to be losing.  Our government has become one which seems to think it has nothing to learn.  One where opinion is as valid as fact.  One where there is no consequence for lying.  I don’t blame Trump for this alone, he may be the penultimate in this dangerous attitude, but it has been bleeding into our society for some time.  The March for Science is a march for progress.  A march that shows we care about our fellow human, and that we value science as a means to reduce suffering in the world.

I say all this, not because I am a scientist and I worry about my job.  I say this because it is my lived experience.  I say this because we all intrinsically know that change is the only truth in this universe, and that time makes a fool of the arrogant who think they have nothing more to learn.  I say this because history is full of the darkness that follows when we rest our futures on superstition and falsehoods.  Finally, I say this because I do think there is significant evidence that human-induced climate change is the scientific issue of our time, and threatens our very existence.  It challenges us like no other issue, because it cannot be solved by one nation.  It cannot be “felt” on a day to day basis.  It is the essence of science because it takes us beyond the narrow field of view that we each individually possess and asks to widen the lens and reach out into space and time, and think big.  If we cannot do that, the story of humanity becomes a tragedy.  I, for one, refuse to let it be, because I know we can do better.

 

Progress and the Monsters that Hinder Us

There is an idea, or perhaps several that I’ve been struggling with for the past few years.  The election of Trump has certainly elevated my thoughts on this matter.  It started as the issue of political correctness became controversial.  There were starting to be more and more rumblings that things had gone too far.  Not just from conservative pundits who complain about every ounce of liberal criticism, but from liberals as well.  Often from satirists and comedians whose life’s work comes from criticizing conservatism and extreme right wing values.

It seems, in my own experience, I start to see more and more people on the left become abusive of the people on the right.  It doesn’t even seem like it’s because they’ve been offended first, but are being offended for other people, and thus feel justified in shaming others.  Now perhaps we have always had a group of people who have been quick to take offense, and that this age of social media has simply brought such people to the fore.  Just as social media has been quick to enhance a culture of shaming which probably already existed.  Perhaps the allure of being able to shame people anonymously and with greater volume is too great for many of us to resist.  Keep in mind,I am not just making a criticism of people on the left here. Because for all their talk about “liberal snowflakes”, if the right was just this “let it slide” group of people who just kept their nose to the grindstone, I think social media would look much different.

The idea that has been bouncing, increasingly more violently in my head, is to what degree we create the monsters we despise, and to what degree to we become them ourselves.  Many of us have listened to or read analyses by various pundits and scholars about how right wing movements are on the rise and there are some who would blame this on the left.  Part of this could be in support of neo-liberalism, but some have suggested that this is due to a more aggressive liberalism that is trying to force a certain viewpoint on others.  An example of that is written in a critique of a New York Magazine piece in Salon.   Look I don’t want to make this another self-examination piece where I am going to blame the left for the ills of today.  I am not going to let off the hook harmful ideologies on the right which have no place in civil societies either. It’s well documented that the right has used fear and misinformation to exploit people and for the most part I feel like the left is simply trying to react to increased levels of irrationality, but not necessarily in a rational way.  Politicians are of course not the only ones to use fear to persuade people.  Corporations and the media all do it as well, and so to a certain degree all of us live at a certain level of fear most who are my age or older didn’t grow up with.

I worry about universities becoming places that disinvite speakers due to social media pressure and protests from students.  Such things are certainly a function of the corporate model that universities are being run as also, but it is a concern that students would be so upset to hear what someone they disagree with has to say to actually prevent that person from speaking.  This article is from 2016 and only in the U.S. but it is happening in the UK as well.  This year we had protests turn violent at Berkeley because of professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and a twice this year a pro-police speaker, Heather MacDonald had talks canceled or dangerously disrupted and was unable to give her talk.  I believe bad ideas fester in the dark.  I would rather have bad ideas challenged in an open forum.  Allowing people to speak at universities doesn’t legitimize their claims, it tells young people that in the real world you are going to face a diversity of views and people that hold them and that you must be able to absorb them and answer them with rational and evidentiary arguments.  

Today, I listened to a podcast, and heard yet another critique of Merkel (from a liberal) for letting in so many refugees and that this is the fuel the right-wing parties need to take over many European nations and possibly lead to the collapse of the EU.  Even if Islamic terrorists acts are small in comparison to the amount of good that helps the refugees opening borders so freely is dangerous.  The overarching argument being that so much compassion leads to a blind spot, where political moderation would be more prudent for long term stability.  From a political standpoint, I find it hard to disagree perhaps, but as an individual who also recognizes the cost of not helping people who are suffering it leaves me feeling helpless.  If compassion leads to the rise of nationalism and racism, and I believe in the value of compassion as one of our most valuable human traits, then I must at least ask the question, “Is it enough if our heart is in the right place?”

Since I believe we can live in a more compassionate society, and that human society has trended towards greater compassion, I want to be able to see that movement continually.  Maybe in the long arch of history it is our fate to take two steps forward and one step back.  And these back steps may be half a human lifetime.  Furthermore, perhaps in some places things go back for longer, while other countries that were back start to move forward.  So globally we may still be moving forward, but all moving at different rates.  The fact remains, that as an individual, while I can be pleased that the average moves forward, I still am not content to let the society that I most directly live in fall back.  What can I do?  How must I behave?  And how can I promote positive behavior in others?

An important part of my journey in life was to understand the brain.  My inspiration for doing so occurred when I met with people who had diametrically different world views, and where no amount of evidence would sway them.  That journey was a great one and it gave me a greater understanding of how people come to believe the things they do.  But I still find that in the everyday things we generally want the same things, and that we are all quite similar, so I find myself wondering how common ground is to be found.  I guess, it is just who I am that I can’t give up on the idea that we are all human and that we have more reasons to work together than to work apart.  And so it is this lens that I find myself wondering, “Even if some minds can’t be changed, how do we make sure that the problem doesn’t get worse?”  It seems to me that 20 years ago, someone like Trump would have been laughed at to the point of just being a lopped off as to one of those crazy eccentrics who runs for president but nobody takes seriously.  Many of us were of that very mindset in the primaries, myself included.  But it also seems to me that the left has changed as well.  I don’t remember a group of people on the left that behaved the way we have seen either.  I don’t remember universities preventing speakers they disagreed with from speaking.  I certainly don’t remember riots over it.  I don’t remember the name calling and the shaming, and the dehumanization of people we disagree with.

It’s perhaps a chicken and the egg, but it seems like as the divide has grown such that the fringes grow too.  In my mind I see this being plausible as a normal statistical distribution morphs into a bimodal one.  Have the terrorists been winning?  Sending the west into a spiral of fear, where the existence of one extreme, requires that we oppose it with another?  Is the “alt-right” a response to an “alt-left”?  Or vice-versa? Are most of us just living in such a state of fear that we, on average, feel a greater need to be part of a certain camp, where it’s “us” against “them”?

There was an excellent little article by George Orwell I read a few months ago, that he wrote in a London newspaper on fascism.  A word we’ve seen a lot lately and reading this article made me realize how easily the word was thrown around then too.  In trying to define the word, the most common definition that he thinks people could agree with is bullying. I think if we’re honest with ourselves we can think people who fit the description of a bully, and they aren’t all on the right.  I’ve heard the political spectrum described as a horseshoe and that there is a place that the left and right meet, and that’s at fascism.  Communist Russia and Nazi Germany might have come from different political philosophies, but I think we can agree that the style of governance was very similar in its oppressiveness and cruelty.  The fact remains that no matter how right someone might be the way in which we deliver that truth matters.  If I say it is better for you to be kind.  That statement is true.  But if I, in convincing you, try to shame you, push you around, call you names, surround you with a bunch of my friends and make threats, I think the importance of kindness would be lost.  Yet this is the kind of behavior we see every day: people on both sides being jeered at and dehumanized for being wrong about something.  There are too few attempts to educated and reason.  Plenty of getting angry and ridiculing others.  I maintain the belief that rightness divorced from empathy is ultimately unhealthy, even poisonous at times.  We’ve all been wrong about things, and at times we’ve been ignorant or misinformed about some pretty basic information.  We’ve also been guilty of letting our emotion override our rationality.  This is part of being human.  So even when you believe that someone is wrong about something, even dangerously wrong, it doesn’t make them any less human.   We have easily duped and plastic brains that are subject to the influences in our lives.

As I quoted recently in a post about Sam Harris’ thoughts on Trump, we have two choices in influencing others: conversation or violence.   Is shaming and ridicule conversation?  Or is it more of a violence of the mind?  Even if we can say it is still not violence, it feels like unproductive discourse that will make violence more a necessity.  I am not a pacifists to the point of saying violence is never the answer, but I am constantly going to be looking at how we can avoid it.  Free speech, provided it is not inciting violence, is one of our most important values.  It is the one value that allows us to self-correct peacefully, and challenge ideas that cause harm.

I am not sure how this post will be perceived.  Whether it appears balanced in its criticism.  I guess, it seems to me, that fascism is growing in both political directions and that somehow they are a reaction to each other.   A reaction to fear perhaps, and as fascism grows the fear gets worse.  Can we find a way out of the positive feedback loop?  Maybe the other guy started it, but as the divide grows that origin seems to matter less than trying to figure out how to end it.  As a liberal rooted in all people enjoying basic human rights, I wonder how we defend those values while loving those who attack such values at the same time so that they know those values can improve the quality of life for all.  But one thing is sure to me, if we can’t live by the values we claim to embrace, then a progressive liberal society doesn’t seem achievable.

In the Beginning, Part IV

Woman approaches Adam with fruit in hand.  Adam is bent over next to a rock outcrop.

“Adam, I have returned.  I have something for you.”

“I have something for you too.  Check this out.  There is this creature that seems to have been preserved in this rock over here.  I don’t even know what it is.  I named every animal, and this wasn’t one of them.”

“Hmmm…that is weird.  But listen I have something more important.  Here let’s eat this fruit.”

“Oh okay.  I guess I am a bit hungry…er…wait.  Where did you get this fruit?”

Woman gives a little smirk, “Where do you think?  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

“Oh no…no.  We can’t eat this.  Our Father, He had one rule.  That’s it.  Seems pretty clear cut and not a whole lot to ask.”

“Don’t worry Adam.  A talking snake explained it all to me.  We have to eat this fruit.”

“Wait…what!?  Talking snake?  Are there any of those hallucinogenic frogs I named hopping around?  How can there be a talking snake?”

“How can you make a person out of a rib?  Listen we wondered before why He would have put the tree here, and you said He probably knew we weren’t going to touch and so He didn’t think it was important where he put it.  Well what if He put it here, because He wanted us to eat it?”

“Well why would He want us to eat it, but tell us not to eat it?”

“You said you had a lot of questions.  So do I.  Curiosity.  We have loads of it.  These questions burn within us and we want to find the answers to those questions.  That’s how He made us.”

“That’s some pretty good reasoning.  But why can’t we just ask Him and He can explain it to us.”

“Weren’t you listening Adam about making children.  Children grow into adults.  At some point children have to leave the guidance of their parents and make decisions for themselves.  Every home feels like paradise when you’re a child, but this can’t be our home forever.  We have to grow up.”  Woman does her best God impression, “Symbolism!”

Adam’s eyes narrow and his expression hardens, “Alright, let’s do it.  By doing this together we’ll be husband and wife, right?!”

“Oh shut up, and eat the fruit!”

Adam takes a fruit from woman and they both take bites.  Chewing slowly and swallowing.

“Adam, do you feel anything?”

“No nothing.  What about you?”

“I don’t feel anything either.  I thought, for some reason, that I would suddenly understand everything so much better.”

“Yeah, me too.  This is kind of disappointing.”

“You don’t think he just put the tree there as a test to see if we would obey him, and that the tree had no special powers at all do you?”

“No.  That would be kind of cruel.  God wouldn’t do something like that.” The fossil Adam was holding slips out of his hand making a cracking noise as it hits the ground.

The winds begin to shift northerly and pick up speed.

“It’s getting a bit colder Adam.”

“Yeah, well I have noticed the daylight hours gradually getting shorter, so I expect weather patterns will start shift, but also you seem to be naked.”

“What!?  I’m naked?!  Clearly you’re the world’s first crack detective too.  No shit I’m naked.  So are you!”

“Ack…you’re right…I am naked too.  I guess I knew that…but I don’t think I want to be naked anymore.  It doesn’t feel right.  How do we get less naked?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe we should cover up our…um…naughty areas.  I don’t feel like we should just be exposing them for everyone to see.”

“Who’s everyone?  We are the only two people on this planet.”

“I don’t know, let’s just cover up.  I’m going to go find some big leaves.  Maybe from that fig tree over there.”

        Fig leaf only legal as clothing in 12 states.     Warning: Do not check wristwatch while     hiding your nakedness.

“Fig tree?  What’s a fig tree?”

“That tree over there.  You got the animals…I decided I’m naming the plants. Let’s go.”

Woman and Adam walk over to the fig tree to find some suitable leaves.

“Adam, I’m feeling a lot of shame right now…like I need a big leaf to cover my behind, and I feel upset that the leaf   has to be so big.”

“I feel shame too.  Like I need a big leaf to compensate for what seems to be a sub-par dangling appendage.”

“So thus far eating that fruit has only led to feelings of shame associated with a negative self-image.   I don’t know about you, but I’m also feeling regret.”

“Yeah me too.  Being an adult sucks.  I don’t even know who I want to impress.  My motivations are so unclear to me right now, I….wait…do you hear something?”

Woman and Adam stop what they are doing and they hear the sound of rustling leaves and the voice of God humming a merry tune.

Adam whispers, “He’s here!  How come he doesn’t know we already broke the rule?”

“I don’t know.  Inflated sense of self-confidence?”

“Let’s hide!”

“Hide?  What good is that going to do if He’s omniscient?  He’ll know where we are.”

“Just do it! Quick over here among those trees!”

God stops in His tracks and tilts his head listening.

“Adam.  Is that you?  Where are you Adam?”

Adam whispers to woman, “See, told you hiding was a good idea!”

Adam!  I have divine hearing.  I know you’re in the garden somewhere.”

Woman whispers to Adam, “He placed us in the garden, and He knows we’re in the garden somewhere?  I see where you got your detective skills from.”

“I think I should answer Him.  He’ll find us eventually.”

“Fine…but he should have found us immediately as an omniscient creator.”

Adam steps out from behind the trees.  “Oh hey, God. We’re over here.”

Aaah…Adam.  Woman.  How are things been going?  Getting along?  Make any babies yet? Um…wait…why are you holding fig leaves over your naughty areas?

“Well…er…we weren’t sure who it was in the garden and well we were naked and so we hid.  You know…I didn’t want anybody pointing and laughing at me.” Adam blushes.

“Wait!  Who told you, you were naked?  Those are precisely the lust-filled concepts I didn’t want floating around your heads!”  God’s eyes glance towards the Tree of Knowledge. “Have you been eating from the Tree of Knowledge?!  There are two less fruits there than there should be.  I am very good at counting.  The book I’m writing right now even has a chapter called Numbers.  Out with it children.  No lies!”

“Well Father, I was just taking a look, and well this snake came along and really explained it all quite clearly and you know, it just seemed to make sense.”

“Snake?!  I think I know the culprit.  Hold on.”  God vanishes in a puff of awesomeness and returns holding the snake with its stubby little legs waving in the air.

“Alright everyone.  It’s punishment time!”

Adam asks, “Why do You look so gleeful Father?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve never done it before.  New experiences are hard to come by.  Okay now….snake!  You have deceived my creation and for that I am removing your legs and forcing you to crawl on your belly!!”

      Picture of snake eating dust not available.

Snake begins to slither around rather impressively climbing up and down trees and curling around woman’s legs.

“I rather like this…”

“What!?

“I mean punish me no further!”

“Yes…well I curse you to eat dust!”

“Well that would actually make my work easier since dust is everywhere, but I still feel rather hungry for small rodents.”

“And you will now be enemies with mankind.  You will bite at their heel and they will stomp you on the ground!”

Snake slithers up woman and speaks in her ear, “Well we’ll just stay out of each other’s way then yeah?  Seems simple enough?”

Woman responds, “Sounds reasonable to me.”

“Quiet woman!”

“Excuse me.  Woman’s voice will not be silenced.”

“It will.  To punish you for what you’ve done, giving birth will now be of the greatest pain!  And pitocin will not be invented for many years to come!”

“What?!  You want me to populate the human species but are making giving birth the most painful experience in my life.  You’re a sadist you are.  Whatever happened to forgiveness?  Isn’t that a better way to treat your children?”

God thinks about it for a few seconds….”Nope.  Also, I’m not done.  I’m also turning the civilization into a patriarchy.  I wanted everything to be equal, but because of what you’ve done I am making women beholden to their men.”

“What?! Are you kidding me?”  Woman gives an exasperate look and turns red with anger. “Well considering you made me a nameless helper for Adam over there, it probably wasn’t going to get much better anyway.”

Adam woman turns and says with a comforting smile, “I promise to use my power over you responsibly.” Woman gives him a dirty look, killing the grin instantly.

“Adam!  Don’t think I am done! You also ate the fruit against my command.  I curse you to become a farmer.  You will till the earth and eat from it.  It will be hard work and much that grows will have thorns and thistle requiring you to wear thick clothing so that you get very hot and sweaty while you work.  Your diet will mostly be vegetarian in nature due to it providing the maximum amount of calories and nutrition per square foot, and you will eat until you die returning to the earth enriching it with organic material for new plants to grow and continuing a never ending cycle of death and life.”

“Actually that doesn’t sound too bad.  Makes you really appreciate each moment and strive for a better life while you have it.”

“Yeah Adam, I like this part.”

Adam turns to woman and smiles. “I shall name you Eve as you will be mother of all.  And though large amounts of toil and incest lie before us, we’re going to make it.”

“So finally I get a name.  Not bad actually.  But I reserve the right to come up with one of my own if I find something better!”

Adam capitulates, “Fair enough.”

“I just want you to know children that this hurt me more than it hurts you.  I really didn’t want to do all of that, but you forced me hand.”

“Stop victim blaming,” responds Eve, “well…what next?”

“I am sending you out from paradise and you will be cut off from the Tree of Life forever.  But before you do that I am going kill a few animals and make you some clothing.  It’s cold out there East of Eden and I don’t want you to get sick.  Besides people will start dropping like flies once you domesticate large mammals.”

Adam and Even watch incredulously as God slaughters a few animals and skins them. Using a little bit of omnipotence to speed the tanning process.”

There you go, and I put in an extra set so you have something to wear while washing the first set. Now here’s a pack of seeds to start off with as well.  They’re all labeled.  I put them in this little pouch I made from that dead deer over there.”

God snaps His fingers and they are magically transported next to a large river.  “Well good luck.  I’ll make a few appearances again just to make sure everybody is aware of my awesomeness.  Byeeee!”

“Well Eve, I guess we got some seeds to sow.”

“Yeah.”  Eve looks around.  “We’ll probably need something to dig with, let’s see if we can find some tools of some sort over by those trees.”

Adam starts to remove his clothing.  “Those weren’t the seeds I was talking about.”