Listening to the Blues

The current election has shifted a lot of attention away from the issue of police violence, but in searching through some of Sam Harris’ podcasts I found an episode that I found to be very very engaging.  If you want to get the perspective from a well-educated, well-trained police officer (Scott Reitz). I highly recommend listening to this podcast (Episode 25 of Waking up with Sam Harris). I felt it was important to hear this side of things.  I am a big supporter of the black lives matter movement as well, and my goal here isn’t to delegitimatize what is a very legitimate movement, but if we are also in the business of solving problems we need to hear from police officers, and we need to understand what problems they see.

Most people I know are even-minded about the issue.  They know most cops are good people.  They recognize that police are an important part of our society, and they don’t want to see police die.  They also know that there are bad cops, and there are systematic problems with the justice system that need to be addressed.

He raised a number of I think important issues about cops that I found very information.  For instance he said that the difference between the minimum proficiency requirement that cops need to have, and what a good cop needs to have are far apart.  But there is no training you can take for better shooting skills, or better hand to hand combat skills, unless you do it on your own time and own money.  He talked about why cops often fire so many shots at a target.  It’s simply because the hit rate is only at like 13%.  They are trained to take many shots at a subject.  There have been also many changes on how police do their job that have made it harder.  The choke hold for instance which killed Eric Garner, was outlawed, and perhaps for good reason given how it might have impacted somebody with certain health issues.  Garner being no exception.  However, what Mr. Reitz said was that the removal of a cops ability to use this method, took away a main method of incapacitation often used previously.  He also talked about how often tasers and other incapacitation method’s fail.  It was mentioned how recruitment standards have fallen greatly in who they accept.  When he first became an officer in the 70’s he said it was typical for police officers to have university degrees.  This is no longer the case, so standards are being lowered in terms of who they accept.   He was also agreeable to the idea that there are just a lot of cops who shouldn’t be cops.

There were a couple of places I disagreed with Mr. Reitz in the podcast and I wanted to discuss in a little more detail.  At around the 50 minute mark they discuss the topic of “back talk to officers, disrespect, how you should deal with illegal actions by a police officer”.  Mr. Reitz’s advice is that you don’t know the kind of day or week an officer has had.  They see the darker side of society, they often work long hours, and starting off your conversation with a police officer in a combative way, even verbally is a recipe for escalating the situation.  I am not sure that I necessarily disagree with this advice.  But what I started thinking was the following:

  • Nobody likes being treated like a criminal if they’ve done nothing wrong.  Nobody likes having their rights violated even if they have.  Nobody deserves to be shot just for a traffic violation.  I guess in the end, it’s not a reasonable excuse to me that the cop is overworked, or that he’s had a bad week or day that I am somehow asking for abuse by not being as passive and compliant as possible.  That’s victim blaming, and I can agree that to some degree cops are also victims of a system that isn’t giving them the training or the workload to reduce their stress levels.
  • Following from that, why is it not on the cop to think that maybe this person is also having a bad day or week? We are usually not going to be in the best of moods when we are pulled over, but if this is just a small bad incident in a line of bigger ones our attitude may not be great either.  Isn’t possible that a black person might just have felt racially profiled one too many times in his or her life, that they are in a bad mood?  When two people who are having a bad day meet. Right and wrong still matter.  The cop has as much responsibility to act right as the person does.  I think that, and Mr. Reitz seems to argue this at times, is that we are probably better off recognizing the reality that cops face, and that most of them aren’t particularly well-trained, and don’t necessarily have a lot of experience.  Sometimes you do have to be smart over being right.
  • Finally and most importantly, the idea that an officers wrong actions can be rectified after the fact, is not necessarily a guarantee. This is a big part of the frustration expressed by the Black Lives Matters movement.  The wrong actions of the cop, are supported by other cops, and are supported by judges.  In many criminal cases people can’t afford lawyers and they are often bullied into accepting a plea bargain by an overworked public defender and prosecution.  So there is frustration here by many.  They’ve seen what has happened to people they know, especially those with less financial means, and for many, even though they may be putting their very lives in danger by standing up to a cop, don’t have faith in the rest of the system to protect them.  I think we have to recognize this reality as well.

Another area they talked about was gun control.  Sam Harris I think tried to get him out of the practical side of things and just look more at ethics, but I suspect Mr. Reitz is extremely pragmatic, because I think you have to be in his line of work.  As I’ve argued before I think that the love of guns here is something that you have to accept to be in the U.S., but that we can try to fight for a society where we don’t them as much.  Anyway, Mr. Reitz supports the ownership of guns for home protection, but is less than enthusiastic about open carry or conceal carry.  I would expect most cops feel the same way.  In regards to personal protection, I can’t argue in some ways with the idea that a gun is an equalizer.  There are very bad people out there, and they are far meaner and stronger, and having that gun, just in case, is a practical solution to the problem.  Mr. Reitz seemed to take it as a given, however, that those of us in positions where we might be worried about the worst, would still see owning a gun as the only solution.  I know many people who have been victims of crimes, but not all of them seek guns after.  When you come from a place with very few guns, or where it’s more difficult to get one, even when bad situations do happen, guns aren’t the first thing we think of to be safe.  I think that it’s a very American attitude to think that a gun is the only solution.  And the type of violent crime of a complete stranger coming into your home to do unspeakable things to you and your family, while possible, is rare compared to people being victims of homicide or rape by people they know.  I guess it raises the ethical question of: How far do we go to let people feel safe, knowing that a very small percentage of those people would actually be victims in a situation they could have stopped with gun and knowing that the large amount of guns it keeps in society makes more gun violence possible?

I found Mr. Reitz to be quite reasonable and well-informed overall.  He believes that guns should be in lockers and only for hunting or home protection.  Because he also accepts the reality that few people are likely to get the training they need to be able to use a firearm well, and to have practiced shooting targets, and to store and care for it properly.

In the end it was nice to listen to a conversation that was substantive in which the right things were being discussed.  So often on this very important issue we don’t get to have this conversation, because it immediately turns into things like “Cops are heroes!” or “Banning all guns is against the second amendment!”  Imagine if we could always have such thoughtful conversations, we might be able to solve problems that might meet the concerns of both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.

In the end I really appreciated Mr. Reitz’ perspective.  I imagine it is generally impossible not to be impacted when your entire career has been dealing with hard cases and the worst of people, even if it’s just a small percentage of the population.  It’s great that he has remained even-minded and thoughtful about his own job.  I really can’t imagine how stressful it is.  In a way we have perhaps made strides in more sensible policing from a policy point of view, but I think when you want to put more public safety and compassion into policing (which is the right thing) that does impact its structure, and what type of resources we have to put in.  To make it work we have to support better training, better mental health support, higher qualifications.  An acquaintance of mine here, when I talked about the attack on public education, said it’s not much better for the police either.  Nobody wants to pay taxes, nobody wants to support the institutions that make for a better society.  Mr. Reitz summed up his thoughts on policing today by the following quote:

“Most police officers out there feel overwhelmed with the demands on them…[we’re saying to them] ‘I want you to hazard your life, but I want you to be really careful in defending yourself’….it’s hard”.

If you have time give the whole thing a listen.  If not, keep trying to have good conversations about this, because it is important.

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In the Beginning, Part II

Voice of God whispers in Adam’s ear.

“Wake up Adam, wake up.  God has a surprise for you!”

Adam groggy from the divine anesthetic, “What?  What’s going on?”

Well all those animals seemed to be rather interested in their own affairs, and quite frankly, with the exception of may be the…” consults stone tablets written by Adam…”the chimpanzee and the…er…dog,” God ponders for a moment wondering what God spelled backwards is,”really didn’t seem like a great helper worthy of the impeccable qualities imparted to you by your creator.” God gives an imaginary tip of the hat, “So here you are….yooooooouuuur helper!!!”  God had a little light shine down from above in a rather showmanshippy sort of way.

Adam is a bit stunned, and upon seeing the first naked person of the opposite sex, he learns a little bit about a previous dangly body part.  Fortunately, shame hasn’t entered into the picture.

“Name her Adam, name her as you did the animals!”

The newly created being seems to demonstrate a mixture of frustration, and fear.

“Um…okay…but er, can you tell me why my abdomen is hurting?”

“Oh that’s just a little leftover pain from the rib I took out of you.  Let me take care of that.”  God sends a warm glow of light towards Adam and after it passes into his abdomen, the pain is gone. “Do you like that effect? I’m working on how best to impress people with my awesome powers.”

“Yeah.  Impressive.  Listen before I name this helper over here.”  Points to helper, helper has an I’ll give you a piece of my mind look, “I’m a bit concerned that you’re taking body parts of mine to make new people.  Why didn’t you just create this person from the dirt like me?”

“Symbolism!”

“What?  What does that mean?!”

“I want you two to have a special connection.  A piece of you, to make her.”

“But why a rib?”

“Because you have lots!  Well 12 pairs.  It varies a bit.”

“But I think I’m having trouble breathing.  You might have nicked my diaphragm”

“Nope you’re fine.

“How many more people are you going to make like this? I assume all my parts aren’t expendable.”

“Nope this is the only one I’m making from a body part.  She’s special. I wanted her to share your genetic code.  Symbolism!!”

“Yes, well I still don’t quite get that.  So anyway, how are we going to make more people?”

“You are going to love it, and so is she!  You see that bit down there that stood at attention like a worshipper obeying his Lord God?  Well you are going to put that thing inside of her?”

God points to the nether regions of the newly created being and a little light begins to glow like a little star.  The new being looks a bit stunned and frightened.

“Is there some sort of hole there?  I don’t really see anything.”

“Of course there is…it’s um…well…don’t worry, when the time comes you’ll figure it out.  Insert tab A into slot B.  Pretty straightforward.”

“And that act just makes more people like us?  Do they pop out from behind bushes or something?”

“No no, it’s much more fascinating than that.  See you have this fluid inside of you and when you put your bit there, into her bit there,” more starlight twinkling on the requisite body parts, “it’s going to feel great.  Then you are going to reach this amazing moment, say my name a lot, and in the height of ecstasy expel this fluid into her.  There are these little swimming things in your fluid you see, and they are going swim and find this egg in her, fertilize it, and about 9 lunar months later, you are going to have this tiny baby pop out.”

Newly created being looks horrified.

“Does she also reach the height of ecstasy at the same time, because that would be pretty awesome?!”

“Um…well no.  I mean she could, but really she’s quite complicated, and you know as long as your…er…fluid gets in there.  You get to have a baby! Or well she does technically.”

And so what is this baby thing?”

“Well it’s like you, but at a very early stage of development, so it has to learn and grow up into you…or…er…her over there.”

“So does this baby talk or anything?”

“Not at first. It learns to talk!”  Good looks quite impressed with himself.

“Okay, but it’s able to like go around the garden and feed itself though right?”

“Well no.  It can’t really walk at first.  Or grasp anything.  Can’t really see more than 3 inches in front of its face, and it will take a good month or two before its eyes can follow objects around. Oh also it can’t chew, owing to not having any teeth. It will be quite a few years before it can really fend for itself reliably.”

“That’s horrible! Well what I’m supposed do with it?!  How do I feed it!?”

“Well see those two lumpy bits on her chest?” God makes her nipples begin to twinkle.

“Yeah I quite like those.” Adam gives the newly created being a toothy grin.

“Well when the baby is born, they produce milk and she just gets the baby to latch on to the nipples and, pardon the expression, those babies can suck like a demon.”

Both Adam and the newly created being look at the breasts with a completely disgusted look on their face.

“Oh stop it you two…it’s a beautiful experience, just you wait.”

“Alright, so what we can make a baby any time I put my thing into her?”

“Um…sure.  Don’t worry about the details yet.”

“And so this thing, it like grows in some sort of a pouch or something?”

“Yeah…I guess. Sort of.” God points to the abdomen of the newly created being and makes an nice red glowy area. “You see it’s going to grow right around here and her belly is going to get bigger and bigger.  Inside her is something called a womb, where the baby develops.”

“And so it grows until what? It just sort pops out of her?”

“Nope…it just sluices out her, easy-peasy.  In the same place where you put your thing in to make it.  That’s efficiency!”

“So 9 months of gestation and several years of basic doing every little thing for this thing is more efficient than just popping new people out of the dirt?”

“Adam! It’s a miracle!”, rebukes God.

“Sorry Father.  Okay, well…this all sounds like a lot of responsibility.  Maybe we should get to know each other a bit better first.”

“Alright, alright, well listen, you need to name her.”

“Hmmm…well she’s made from me, and I’m a man.  But she’s got a womb.  So wombman?  No, I don’t really like the phonetics there.  How about woman?”

God rolls his eyes, “That’s the type of naming creativity usually attributed to me.  Okay, well I guess let’s go with it.  But I still think you are missing out on the whole symbolism part here, but in any case, now that you have woman, you may leave your father and unite with her as one.  That’s what I was getting at here.  Wish you were a little brighter, but I guess subtlety is learned.”

“Okay, well this all great Father, but does she talk, she really hasn’t said anything thus far.”

“Well I created her to be a helper, I didn’t think she needed to talk.  She just needs to do what you tell her to.”

Woman looks back at God incredulous.

“Don’t get me wrong Father, I appreciate the thought, but you’ve given me the ability to choose, I think she should have it too.”

“Are you sure? Because you know life is pretty confusing as it is?”

“I’m sure Father, and give her a voice too.”

“Okay, but listen as soon as I give her free will and a voice, I’m going to hit the road.  I know anger. I’ve been in some pretty good rages myself, and she looks like she’s about to burst.  I prefer to think of this garden as a peaceful place, so I’m going to shape some glaciers or something.  I’ll check back with you later.”

God creates a little ball of light that travels quickly towards woman and as soon as it hits her it envelops her body.  Then with fire in her eyes she looks at Adam and then over to God and starts walking over to God.

“Explain the rules to her Adam.  Byeeeee!” and quickly vanishes.

Woman has arrived.

That Which Survives

I was thrust into a conversation recently where I debated a Christian fundamentalist on morality.  Particular why would we care about well-being, that only an existing divine moral authority would give us that imperative.

It seems obvious to me that morality is born out of need to learn how to survive best.   And this of course would be different for different species.  An intelligent life that evolved from frogs might simply have large litters and leave them all to fend for themselves and have completely different morals that made sense for their particular mode of survival.  For us as social primates we have our own set of behaviors that make us most successful.  I was then asked over and over again, “Why survive?”  As if the answer could only be some supernatural force at worked.  And yet it seems to me that survival is just the nature of life.  I would go so far as to say if the nature of life was not to survive, there wouldn’t be life.  It’s sort of the very definition of life.  I would imagine that this is part of the definition of life we can most agree on.

Thus it also seems obvious to me that as a species of primates who have evolved to survive rather well through cooperation, we survive best when we are compassionate and kind to others.  Building bonds of trust and empathy are not only some of the most long lasting relationships, but also the most gratifying to our own well being.  But clearly it can’t be so obvious, because there is a lot of the opposite going around.

I started to think that maybe there are two extremes of the type of person you can be.  You can be one who thinks the least of us slow us down and prevent us from living in that wonderful future utopia, or you can one who thinks that it difficult to know who the least of us is.  And that everybody, to a certain extent, has something to teach.  Hopefully, that thing they have to teach isn’t what not to do.  But even those are lessons well learned.  Of course most of us are not those extremes.  But we’re all hoping to be more like one than the other.  I think the former can be measurable shown to be illusion, but if you think the latter is easy to achieve you’d be fooling yourself just as much.    I can personally say that there are moments when the illusion seems simpler, and you find the appeal of the black and white view, even if you know that could never be you.  The latter is the path of humility, a path that asks you to accept uncertainty as property of nature.  Not only must you tolerate it, you must actually welcome it and embrace it.  Such a path can be a painful journey, but the well-being you gain from prostrating yourself under the endless sky of uncertainty, baring your soul to the universe, is immense.  Because it really is the best way to see the stars.   It’s always just seemed apparent to me that humans were naturally kind creatures, because it always seemed to me the reason why we’ve survived until now.  I hope I’m not wrong.

In the Beginning. Part I.

“So, um…Lord?  God?  Sounds a bit formal.  But I mean you created me from dust and all, so dad doesn’t sound great either.  Father…er…hey thanks for putting me in this garden.  It’s gorgeous I have to say.  I mean I don’t know much about…well anything yet, but I imagine it has everything a guy could need.”

“Yeah don’t worry about that Adam you’re set up pretty good here.  This is basically paradise.  I’ve put the Tree of Life here, you will literally never die here and you can just enjoy it forever.  Oh and I also put the…” God speaks really low in a mumble, “…ledge here as well…ood…evil” mumble mumble, “…perish..”, speaks really fast, “Don’t touch it.  Okay and moving on.”

“Lord. God.  I…er, didn’t catch what you just said there.  What else did you put here.  It sort of fell apart after you told me about the Tree of Life.”

“The Tree of Good and, er, Evil.” God looks sideways with feigned innocence.

“The what?  Good and Evil?”

“Yeah, bit of a nasty tree really.  I know seems a bit incongruous with the whole everlasting life and paradise vibe, but it sort of contains wisdom, knowledge, sort of gives you a lot of my ability to learn from your mistakes and improve and get smarter over time so you’ll become more and more like me.  Listen, I don’t recommend it.  You eat the fruit and you’ll die.  Really moving on.”

“But!”

In the commanding voice of God, “MOVING ON!

“Alright, alright.” Adam hangs his head down.

God shifts uncomfortably, “Sorry about that, but the truth is that we really have…or er…rather you have a lot of work to do.  Okay, confession time.  You know how I’m all-powerful and all-knowing yeah?  I mean I can literally make anything happen.  But, the thing is, I’m not exactly good at everything.  Does that make sense?”

“No, but I was literally just created, and I’m not allowed to eat from a certain tree.”

Alright, alright, point taken.  Well let’s say you know a lot of stuff, but even knowing all that stuff it can be hard to convince somebody of your point of view.  Oh or, let’s say I know everything there is to know about carpentry, you know like I read all about it in a book, you know…book smart, but in general I’m just not very good at it.  Can’t build a table to save my life.  Fortunately I can just think it into existence and it happens, thus I appear to be a master carpenter, but if I actually had to do the work, the results would be terrible.”

Adam with all the confidence of a young child who wants his father to think he is smart replies, “I think I understand, especially if I knew what carpentry was!  Or a book!”

Yeah, um…well one thing I’m very good at is creating.  I’ve created a lot of things on this planet, beasts of burden, all manner of wild animals, birds.  I’m pretty certain I made the insects too, it just doesn’t seem to have been overly intentional. Well anyway, here’s the thing Adam.  Your Lord and God, just isn’t very good at deciding what they should be called.  And if I’m completely honest, I kind of feel my time is better spent thinking about other things.  I mean my consciousness is pretty massive and can do a lot of important stuff.  Do you know what I’m getting at son?”

Adam smiles sweetly and shakes his head.

“Well Adam, you are going to have to name every living thing I created.”

Adam’s jaw drops. “Wait…Father.  This doesn’t make any sense.  You named me just fine!”

“Actually your name is just a bit of word play, it actually means ‘earth’ as I made you out of dirt.  You see? Not terribly inventive.”

“Wait my name means dirt!?”

“Well it also mean red-skin, for the color of your skin.  Words sort of have lots of meaning. Ambiguity is something you are going to LOVE!  Either way, you’ll admit that my names are far too logical and less than inspirational.  So anyway, here’s your etching tool,” God blinks his eyes in a fun and magical way, “and there is a pile of stone tablets to write on.  In case you want to make any notes.”

“Oh my, God, there are thousands of tablets there!”

“Yeah, well you know everything is provided for you.  And everybody needs a job. Purpose is important Adam.  I created this whole universe for you, so it seems only reasonable that you could do this for me.  Right?”  God grins unconvincingly.

“I don’t know anything about naming either!”

“Hey I’m not completely abandoning you, you don’t have to go and find all the creatures.  I’ll bring them before you.  Watch them behave a little bit and I have a feeling that your creativity will kick in and you’ll come up with a great name.  You’re my greatest creation after all.  I know you won’t let me down.  Consider yourself the first biologist!”

“Alright, enough with the pep talk Father. Let’s get to work.”

After several days…

“May fly, fruit fly, black fly, horse fly…”

“Why horse fly?”

“Don’t know, don’t care.  Tsetse fly, dragon fly…”

“What is a dragon?”

“No idea. Crane fly, sandfly, mosquito, midge”

Several more days…

“Oryx, lynx, ibex, fox, minx…”

“You seem to be using a lot of x’s there.”

“Yeah, I get on a streak, it flows.”

“But that doesn’t sound all too inspired.  I mean I could have done that.”

“The thought never occurred to me Father.  Pelican, Pigeon, Penguin, Puffin.”

Several more days…

“Weasel, beaver, otter…”

“Great pace Adam.  You’re knocking them down one every 10 seconds we’ve hit near 300,000 of these things, we should be done, in about a week or two.”

“Father, I’m running out of names.  I’m literally just trying to alternate vowel and consonant sounds to come up with names.  I just called something an el-eph-ant.  I’m lost at sea over here.”

A look of “Uh oh” washes over God’s face.

“What!?”

“Well as it turns out, I completely forgot about all the animals in the sea.  I’m think it might be a bit longer than week or two.”  God gives a sheepish grin, which he can now do since Adam already named one of the animals a sheep.

A couple of months go by (It is not clear that months had been defined for the lunar or solar calendar at this point, but one can be certain that for Adam it was a very, very, long 2 months).

“Well done Adam!”  God quickly reads through all the tablets and makes a mental note (God can do those sorts of things and remember it)

Adam asks in a beleaguered voice, “So what now father.  Do I get to wander the world and see these animals in their native habitats?”

“Er, no, you’ll be staying here. But you’ll get to hang out with the near 100 species that are in the garden!”

“One hundred?!  Well why did I bother naming all these animals I won’t even see?  I’m the only person around to even see ANY animal!”

“Calm down.  I’ve got great news for you, quite related to that point actually.  I’m going to make you a helper!”

“I just named like 8 million animals, and NOW you decide to bring me a helper!?”

The stress is getting to you son.  Probably should have let you have a day of rest.  I did give myself one after all.  I might be omnipotent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good nap.  Although I can assure you that creating the universe was much harder.  Anyway, yes in retrospect it would have been more useful to do this last task as a bigger team, but I assure you, you’ll forget all about that when you see her!”

“Her?”

“Quiet son, your Lord God is going to do a little surgery.”

God applies His divine anesthetic and Adam falls into a deep sleep.

In the Words of Sam Harris re: Trump

I have wanted to do a blog post on Sam Harris for some time.  I’ve had trouble sort of knowing where to begin.  My first introduction to his work was his short book, or perhaps long essay, on free will.  I found him to be an excellent thinker.  Then I noticed that he was being attacked a lot by the left and I wanted to learn why.  Like many great thinkers, they can seem unfeeling, and I do think there have been many instances where atheists like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris have been taking completely out of context.  For them ideas are not something that can be handled in a sound bite.  They like to break down arguments into their components and take a line of reasoning in a particular direction and test it out.  And I can see why people find distaste for Dawkins at times, and after reading a lot of Sam Harris I can see why there is distaste for him as well.  But I would say if you don’t like Sam Harris it’s because you haven’t really read what he has to say and have been going by what critics say about him, or you find what he has to say uncomfortable.  He is critical of the left, even though he himself is clearly a liberal.  Like me, he is against bad ideas.  And he is very good at reasoning what is a good idea and a bad idea.  In this era of identity politics it seems like there should only be us and them and Sam Harris is trying to find common ground.  Trying to promote reasoned discourse.  I connect with him for this reason, and I connect with him because he is scientifically minded, and I find him to be brilliant.  That doesn’t mean that I always agree with him.  I’ve come to a place in my life where I feel sure enough of my intelligence that I can even disagree with someone I find profoundly brilliant.  I’ll tell you this much though, if you are a liberal, you do yourself a disservice if you’ve written him off.  Whether you end up agreeing or disagreeing, if you want to be liberal and progressive, truly try to take in what he is saying and follow his logic, it will at the very least lead to some quality introspection.  Proving him wrong through reasoned arguments will make you richer than dismissing him on an emotional level.

The main reason for this post is that I was listening to his podcast called Waking Up With Sam Harris, and there was a segment that was so wonderfully said that I had to transcribe it and share it.  I know myself, my wife, and many that I know have been feeling this sense of complete disbelief at Trump’s win.  Not that Republican’s won, but Trump in particular.  It’s so obvious to many of us what a complete liar and con man he is, and he’s not even a good one.  It makes 100% sense why many people would vote for almost any other Republican candidate, but in many ways Trump still remains a mystery to many.  We can read story after story about why Trump won, but in the end, there is still this sense that many other politicians could have also had this appeal.  Anyway, Sam Harris here simply breaks it down perfectly and provided structure to my disbelief in all this, and why I find Trump as such a dangerous person to be president of this country and why I worry about our future and wonder if we, as a nation, can head in the right direction once again.  So without more of my rambling I wanted to share these words with you from episode #64: Ask Me Anything 6.

“There is a difference between truth and lies.  There is a difference between real news and fake news.  There is a difference between actual conspiracies and imagined ones.  And we cannot afford to have 100’s of millions of people, in our own society, on the wrong side of those epistemological chasms.  And we certainly can’t afford to have members of our own government on the wrong side of it.  As I’ve said many times before, all we have is conversation…you have conversation and violence.  That’s how we can influence one another.  When things really matter and words are insufficient, people show up with guns. That’s the way things are. So we have to create the conditions where conversations work.  And now we’re living in an environment where words have become totally ineffectual.  This is what has been so harmful about Trump’s candidacy and his first few weeks as president.  The degree to which the man lies, and the degree to which his supporters do not care, that is one of the most dangerous things to happen in my lifetime, politically.  There simply has to be a consequence for lying on this level.  And the retort from a Trump fan is “Well all politicians lie.” No.  All politicians don’t lie like this.  What we are witnessing with Trump and the people around him is something quite new.  Even if I grant that all politicians lie a lot.  I don’t know if I should grant that.  All politicians lie sometimes, say…but…even in their lying they have to endorse the norm of truth telling.  That’s what it means to lie successfully in politics (in a former age of the Earth).  You can’t obviously be lying.  You can’t be repudiating the very norm of honest communication.  But what Trump has done, and the people around him get caught in the same vortex, it’s almost like a giddy nihilism in politics, you just say whatever you want.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s true.  “Just try to stop me”, is the attitude.  It’s unbelievable.

Finding ways to span this chasm between people, finding ways where we can reliably influence one another, through conversation, based on shared norms of argumentation and self-criticism, that is the operating systems we need.  That is the only thing that stands between us and chaos.  And there are the people who are trying to build that, and there are the people who are trying to take it down.  Now one of those people is people is president. And I really don’t think this is too strong.  Trump is, by all appearances, consciously destroying the fabric of civil conversation, and his supporters really don’t seem to care.  I’m sure those of you support him will think I’m just winging now in the spirit of partisanship.  That I’m a democrat, or that I’m a liberal, but that’s just not the case.  Most normal Republican candidates, who I might dislike for a variety of reasons like Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, or even a quasi-theocrat like Ted Cruz, would still function within the normal channels of attempting a fact based conversation about the world. Their lies would be normal lies, and when caught there would be a penalty to pay.  They would lose face.  Trump has no face to lose.  This is an epistemological pot latch.” (Sam Harris then describes what a pot latch is: a Native American practice of burning up your prized possessions as a way of showing how wealthy you are).  “This is a pot latch of civil discourse.  Every time Trump speaks he’s saying, “I don’t have to make sense.  I’m too powerful to even have to make sense.”  That is his message.  And half the country, or nearly half, seems to love it.  So when he’s caught in a lie, he has no face to lose.  Trump is chaos.  And one of the measures of how bad he seems to me is that I don’t even care about the theocrats he has brought to power with him, and there are many of them.  He has brought in Christian fundamentalists to a degree that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, and 10 years ago I was spending a lot of time worrying about the rise of the Christian right in this country.  Well it has risen under Trump, but honestly it seems like the least of our problems at this moment.  And it’s amazing for me to say that given what it means and what it might mean to have people like Pence and Jeff Sessions and the other Christian fundamentalists in his orbit, empowered in this way. ”

Resist my friends.