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.

54 thoughts on “Progress and the Monsters that Hinder Us

  1. That’s one big can of worms man.

    Yes bad ideas fester in the dark. Yes we need compassion. Yes we need to be careful as to what too much compassion can lead to. I don’t know why but the Tribbles episode of the old Star Trek series popped into my head…

    I feel like a certain level of verbal confrontation is a necessary part of life at all levels. For many reasons. First and foremost no one cares for being on the short end of the stick. If you don’t speak up, no one will hear you.

    I don’t have time to delve into this any deeper, but it’s a start. 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you SD. I think part of thinking about these things comes from just starting to have lived a long enough life to notice larger scale trends that might not be as visible to the younger mind. Or maybe I’ve edited out certain things from my memory to fit my world view. Both are possible. In the end I am not sure I’ve come to any conclusions, and I am probably guilty of putting a larger weight on my shoulders than I can possibly bear, but I think that we need to all start thinking about it more, and try to be more mindful of how we push back against an ideology that I truly believe is harmful, by being at least, in behavior, the very type of person we are trying to defeat. Maybe ugliness is the only way to beat ugliness…I would like to believe that’s not the case, because I am not sure that any ugliness on the side of victory necessarily moderates itself to a more egalitarian mindset.


      1. There are times when ugliness begats ugliness. I moved around a lot as a kid, and always being the new kid in town made you a mark for the local bully. I learned that I like my chances pretty well once I started standing up for myself. But I took some crap before I figured that out. I am talking here obviously in a physical sense.

        Diplomacy however, is certainly preferable IMO, but in some cases diplomacy just will not work.For whatever reason many people are impervious to facts and reason, especially when an ideology is involved. You can talk till you are blue in the face to a global warming denialist (or insert denial here) show them facts/data/consensus, but nothing will work till you whack them on the head with an empty gas can, then explain the carbon contained in the gas that was in the can is now is the atmosphere. 🙂 Some people need a little more than visual aids. Other people won’t listen to reason at all and come after you with bad intentions no matter how many times you tell them that you aren’t looking to pick up their girlfriend…

        Believe me, I’d rather discuss things in a calm cool manner and avoid confrontation. Some days you just don’t get that option. Some days on the internet (a guy that goes by SOM comes to mind) you encounter such a loudmouth jackass knowitall that does nothing but spout B.S. that you know perfectly well is coming straight out of the back end of a bulls behind, and you just can’t help but call them out on it. Some days you encounter someone that is open to discussion and exchange of ideas. (though rarely) Some days we can talk like you and I are doing now.

        There is so much shit out there, in so many places, some of it intentional. Some of it an honest uninformed mistake. Some of it pure troll behavior just looking for a tizzy.

        We can’t hide from it. We also can’t run from our problems/issues, I know all too well they can keep up with you no matter how good you run. Best we can do is call it out when we see it. And be diplomatic as possible. Until that option runs out. Then it is up to us as individuals how we handle it after that.

        One thing for sure, and I have said this to many people in many difficult situations, “it ain’t your load to carry”

        In response to “putting a larger weight on my shoulders than I can possibly bear.”

        So, don’t let it be 🙂

        “I am not sure that any ugliness on the side of victory necessarily moderates itself to a more egalitarian mindset.”

        In a broad sense yes. Hard to see the bigger picture though when someone is looking to punch you in the nose, or goes after scientists and their data, or legislatively screws the environment, or tell you that the piss in your cereal is really whole milk. We can see the bigger picture, but I don’t think we can live it unless we are in a position to legislate. All we can do I think is chip away at the edges when we can. And hope for the best. Diplomacy is good, till it isn’t. So says SD.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Great stuff SD. I am enjoying this discussion so I hope you don’t mind me continuing even though I don’t really disagree with what you said, these questions with no one size fits all answer I always feel are worth teasing out a little more.

          As I mentioned to Pink what separates the SoM example, or the bully example is the collateral damage. If standing up to a bully and giving him a few thumps back required you to lob a bomb at him that killed a few other students standing nearby I think we could agree that this might lead to more problems than it solves, even if that bully really needed to be put down. If the families of those who were part of the collateral damage start lobbing bombs at you, the situation is going to get uglier. I agree though that there are certain situations that leave you with no choice. Nazi Germany seems like a good example. And of course on an individual level there are clearly homicidal maniacs who will just kill you for no other reason than they want to. There is little we can do to help them. Although we know even such people are still suffering from some sort of mental illness, traumatic childhood events and/or psychopathy. It’s a physical malady of the brain. Some day in the future we may be able to heal such people. Putting them down may not be the most reasonable solution then. But I doubt modern technology can ever solve a psychopathic dictator who has manipulated a large group of people to point their guns at you.

          There is definitely true malice out there, and while 99% of bullies are ones just acting out because of there father’s backward views of masculinity and are projecting because they themselves have been bullied at home, there will be the rare bully who will not back down and will just come back with more “firepower” and beat the living daylights out of you. Antagonism even when you aren’t the initial aggressor might make things worse. But maybe there was still no other choice if you want an end to that behavior. Maybe taking the beating of a lifetime gets the kid locked up and is the only way to get rid of the bully. Perhaps all we can do is fight the good fight on higher moral principles and win or lose, believe that the ripples of that fight will have a long term benefit.

          I guess, and this is something that I realized through my discussion with Pink is that maybe what’s really bothering me is that we’re really spending our time attacking the wrong enemy. If we are going to have some ugliness maybe we should reserve for the true malice. While there are some Trump voters who certainly have it, it’s certainly not all Trump voters. And just like solving the problem of bullies at school in the long term we need to get ugly against antiquated and morally harmful views of masculinity, instead of spitting bile towards the average Trump voter, we should probably turning our attention elsewhere. And maybe, like SB said, Milo is an acceptable example of that, but I feel there were more options to take initially before destroying property in a violent riot. If you’re a liberal and you stand for things like free speech and see education and intellectualism as having value, to demonstrate an inability to put those values into practice has consequences as well.

          I’m rambling a bit, so I’ll stop. lol And not carrying the weight on my shoulders is easier said then done! I heard something about growing up with an alcoholic can give you a savior complex. lol Maybe in the end I just feel like when push comes to shove, that’s a good time to test our higher moral values, and I’m not certain we’re putting our best foot forward right now, and even becoming the thing that we say we hate. And maybe that’s understandable because we are afraid. And have good reason to be. If we are to fight with violence, let’s hope we can direct it in the right direction, and have revolution over civil war.


          1. As per the first part of your reply, of course context matters. 🙂 And yes bullies usually deserve concern and pity, as their lives are miserable at home. It took a long time for me to figure that out, but it’s hard to see when one makes you a target.

            I feel where you are coming from, I do. My wife and I are both chomping at the bit to attend a march, a rally, a town hall, any damn thing just so we can participate in something! There is so much going on now and we are just so far away from everything living in the sticks. We want to do something. Just no avenue in nowheresville.

            The bullies are even passing me by…(which is probably just as well, Im no spring chicken anymore lol, but I still carry my confidence from experience, I will always have that)

            I think what we, and I mean those of us who can, need to do is get involved. Go to the town hall and let em have it. Go to the marches the independent meetings. I would not want to be involved in a riot, or a property damage event… But there are plenty of positive ways to put our energies to work. And this is the kind of action that actually has the power to make a difference if we as a people continue to stand.

            Now if they would just have an event here within driving distance and not cause more than a day or two of work missed (the wife works, I’m retired with a back issue)… I have never envied those living in high population centers until now.

            Blogging is probably a limited outlet, it may make us feel like we are doing something in some sense, but lacks tangible measurable success. I don’t know what to do really. I live smack in the middle of bible belt Trump country. I did meet an atheist, liberal, democrat, bass player recently, we are collaborating on some recordings but honestly this is the ONLY person I know here who shares a similar outlook on life. So me, the bass player and the wife, that makes three of us lol. We would make an awfully short parade/march…

            I still say diplomacy is great, right till it isn’t 🙂 And I should clarify it is more a metaphor (as far as blogging goes) for not being afraid to speak up, call them out, ask them for their data, their facts, their references, nail them down. They get mighty uncomfortable then for some reason.


  2. Don’t worry, you were balanced, and it is a tough one. Extremes can hardly ever be good. To take an extreme position is to force the other person to sink their heels in. Generally speaking, not a helpful place to be if progress is to be made. That being said, how is one truly supposed to act when, for example, evangelicals publish positions directly contravening the accepted science of climate change (see The Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming)… Not because they have any evidence to support their opposition, but because their belief system demands they take this opposing position. That’s madness, and there can be no room for tolerance when the stakes are just so high. Similarly, I was appalled with what happened with Obama’s Supreme Court pick last year. Are liberal’s supposed to just roll over and say, “well played”? I could well be biased, but I do see the great portion of blame here being at the feet of the right wing. Blame, though, doesn’t lift the game. What lifts it is common causes…. but we have to all agree on that, which seems to bring us right back to the original problem.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I don’t think there is any belief system in the world that requires its adherents to deny AGW. The Cornwall Alliance offers no doctrinal defense of their declaration and have less than 4000 signatures. So I don’t think you can make the case that this a requirement of their belief system or that they represent evangelicals in any meaningful way.

      I have assumed that the Supreme Court nominations went exactly according to plan. The Republicans must have known when they blocked Obama’s pick that politically speaking, the Democrats would be forced to reciprocate, leading to either the “nuclear” option or sacrificing their nominee.


        1. That’s a very persuasive chart. The correlation between support for evolution and support for environment is uncanny. Lack of support for evolution among evangelicals is understandable since it has theological implications; however, I don’t understand why there would be such lack of support for the environment. I have always assumed people who oppose taking action on climate change, do so for selfish reasons, but the chart would suggest there are ideological elements, although I have no idea what they are.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It leaves me scratching my head, too. If you read the Cornwall declaration, and other evangelical writings on the subject, it appears to be based on two things: 1) total denial of science because of the whole “creation” problem facing theists, and 2) if they admit man is killing the planet then that, to evangelicals, seems to negate the presence of a supreme overlord.

            It’s irrational and sad and, unfortunately, thoroughly destructive.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Well in some ways at least they are consistent. Rejecting all of a science as opposed to just picking and choosing the science they think is real. Of course that’s ignoring the obvious science that makes up their everyday lives. lol

              But yes it seems that if 2) is true that you must thus negate everything you do, because if man is pushing a shopping cart than means God isn’t controlling that shopping cart and thus must not exist. lol I mean I assume God could control a shopping cart if He wanted to. lol

              Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks John. Those are good words, and I agree with you, as I mentioned to Steve below that I think there is pretty good evidence to support that right wing fundamentalism is the starter of this fight.

      I agree that the stakes are high as well, and so for certain issues my emotion often does overwhelm reason, knowing something is right and when I am in the face of someone who cannot even concede an inch of it, I fall back to a less than productive mode of communication.

      But how fast can societal progress be made be made. No matter the volume of information on the particular side of an issue it has no mass. Society does, and it has to be moved. If we push faster than society can move, does it lead to more resistance? Is there an optimal level of push that minimizes suffering while enhancing a maximum number of people’s lives? It feels like we are in a moral train track puzzle, where whatever we do we know there is going to be some level of body count even when we are making the best decisions possible.


  3. So many points, all taken. Social media bringing the termites out of the woodwork to flaunt their jaws anonymously, chomping away at whatever offends them? Absolutely. The dumbing down of ‘Murca by allowing a few insidious or outrightly critical Tweets (made by said termites) to cancel university speakers? Without a doubt. One step foward, two steps back? Without question this has been the means to human ‘progress’ thoroughout recorded history.

    Love John’s comment that certain people, anyway are speaking/acting out “Not because they have any evidence to support their opposition, but because their belief system demands they take this opposing position.” My family is full of such followers, sadly. I think the reemergence of Christian Fundamentalism that began its upswell shortly after Trump took office speaks to some of the issues you raised in an, er, fundamental way.

    What to do, what to do … Discourse becomes moot when many cannot even understand the concepts of sharing ideas – for said fundamentalists (having been raised that way), I can tell you it’s beyond frightening to contemplate coloring outside rigid lines. Bridging differences in order to arrive at viable solutions and reach a concensus requires, I think, a certain level of education and informed discourse. I wonder if it’s possible to reclaim propriety after dismanteling any sort of civil society.

    And I’ll leave it at that. Aloha, Swarn.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your comments Bela. I think the end of your comments signals the only way out I can see, and that is education. I was listening to Lawrence Krauss, and of course many others have argued that the teaching of critical thinking skills, specifically how to distinguish between good and bad information. He argued that schools used to be the main repository for information, but with the internet that’s no longer true and we need to be educating the young to be better and sorting out the information from misinformation. I couldn’t agree more. Are we destined to only solve problems in this generational sort of way, even when we have the scientific knowledge to know better now? Perhaps. I certainly can’t argue against the importance of giving children a better and more meaningful education for the world we live in today, but this makes me even more worried about this war on education, Betsy Devos, and the anti-intellectualism. I mean I imagine fascism is predicated pushing anti-education agendas and that feels like a battle we cannot lose even if we lose others in the short term.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, the degradation of education has been in the works for years now, this admin is only ratcheting it up to a frightening degree. And you bring up a valid point in saying the internet has changed the game considerably. However, I’m still a huge fan of the classroom and the interaction that takes place there, ideally. I was blessed, as were my daughters, to love learning largely due to fabulous schools and teachers. I just don’t think a solitary internet search can come close, not that you’re suggesting that. Teaching kids to research, to reason out, to discern – these are all badly needed with this ever-widening Stepford element of society. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance used to give me the same deadening feeling – repeating by rote what became even more meaningless with each repetition.

        Aloha, Swarn – carry on, as I know you will! 😉

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh I agree. The teacher still plays an important role, especially in that face to face setting. It’s invaluable. Yeah I was merely suggesting that the curriculum might change it’s focus so that it’s less about packing them with information and more about trying to decide what is good and bad information. It’s challenging though because ultimately I do think that exposing students to large amounts of knowledge is important, but perhaps it’s not as important as teaching them how to learn given the ease in which information is available to them. And given how easily they can be misled by an internet that is not going away, we need to find space for this in curriculum somehow.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Agreed with all, only you teach at the undergrad level, no? Shouldn’t they already have that ‘how to learn’ well under their belts by that time so as to begin focusing on their major, i.e. increasing their knowledge in a fundamental and yes, well rounded way? Or has education disintegrated to the point where kids are admitted to college without any basic learning skills at all? Or am I completely naive?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I do teach undergrad’s and yes this change to curriculum should be offered at much younger ages. I posted an article recently of some teachers teaching these skill successfully at a 6th grade level. This is where it needs to happen. It’s not right now…at least in a systematic way.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. I like John Cleese’s quote from Robin Skynner:

    When people can’t control their own emotions, they have to control someone else’s behaviour.

    That seems very apt for what is going on. Personally, I almost completely avoid social media because I don’t have time for all the nonsense (my co-worker explained safe spaces and trigger warnings to me today). I wonder how much of your experience is made a bit more extreme than the typical experience with working in the university environment and being a heavy social media user. That being said, I recently watched a TED talk (the talk was a couple years old) with a woman who grew up in the Westboro Baptist church and ultimately had her eyes opened by what she called her “Twitter friends”, people she had confronted on Twitter who ultimately won her over with their calm and measured responses to her own aggressive verbal attacks. So Twitter can be a force for good.

    On the other hand, I also recently listened to an interview (interview was a few months old) with Carol Off (CBC) and Jordan Peterson (University of Toronto). Peterson was opposed to a proposed bill (which has now passed) that he believed could allow classifying as hate speech: not referring to someone using the pronoun of their choice. I’ve listened to Carol for probably eight years, and she was uncharacteristically biased in her interview, trying many times to get Peterson to say that he refused to use non-standard gender pronouns, and never trying to clarify his position. It was as if she was making a point of showing how left-wing she is, that if she seemed sympathetic towards someone who was right-leaning she would be betraying…something? At least, that is how it seemed to me.

    All that to say, it seems to me that people are entrenching, becoming increasingly intolerant, extreme voices are getting louder, being willing to be convinced is seen as some kind of sin. For my own part, I have decided to mostly ignore a lot of the nonsense and only engage with people I have actual influence over and write the occasional letter to my member of Parliament. It may not be the most altruistic approach, but it allows me to maintain sanity.

    Although I am hopeful, I am not convinced that we will emerge from this better for having gone through it. There’s nothing to say we can’t go two steps forward and ten steps back. The dark ages lasted 800 years. The collapse of the United States and even Western society is a plausible outcome in the years ahead.

    Also, do you honestly believe that the United States has ever lived by the ideals it claims to believe?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great words Chris. Social media definitely has it’s pluses and minuses. Maybe mostly minuses, but I do think we have to navigate through a new area of social media that makes a tool that we make fit to our needs, rather us conforming to the social media design. I think you’ll find this article quite interesting.

      Interestingly I have been listening to Sam Harris’ podcast and Jordan Peterson has been on twice, so I’m fairly familiar with him. I am not sure what I think about him. He is well educated, but he seems to sort of have different interpretations of things that seem a bit strange. I know he’s a Christian, but to hear him talk sometimes you wonder how he could be given that he accepts a lot of science as fact and seems to take most of the bible at least not literally, which I am not overly against, but it would certainly make him more unique than most Christians. He had also talked about what he was fighting in Canada. It seemed a bit far fetched that not using the pronoun could possibly be considered hate speech, but then again I also found myself agreeing about the law being unnecessary given that I really don’t think this is a big issue compared to actually hate crimes that get committed against transgender people, and that to even have the energy to put into this law seems strange given that there seem to be more important issues to pass laws over.

      I do think the U.S. has lived by the ideals that are in the constitution. But of course you have to remember that a progressive document, in a conservative time yields different results. But actually the constitution has been extremely powerful in extending rights to other groups, and thus you could say that the U.S. has lived according to the ideals as set by the founding fathers….although as enlightened as they were, I am sure they would still be seen as fairly conservative today. But it doesn’t mean that their principles weren’t at the many in the U.S. have tried to apply them throughout U.S. history.

      Also FYI, I had come to learn in the not too distant past that there were no real dark ages. That’s a bit of a myth, as there were advancements and progress during that time…but perhaps it was on average a bit slower. However the Ottomans were doing pretty well. Which I why I said that maybe we will go 10 steps back while China or India become the progressive culture. I think they still have a ways to go, but you know what I mean. 🙂


      1. You could have warned me that the article is about 20 pages long! I should be sleeping or working or something… Interesting read nonetheless. It really struck me in the way they were describing how different apps are designed to keep you coming back, the same way processed food is designed to keep you from feeling satiated. By the end they were comparing apps to junk food. I can definitely see the similarities. I think you say it well, social media needs to fit us; we don’t need to suit social media.

        I’ve listened to a few Jordan Peterson talks. (My co-worker is a bit of a fan.) He has an awkward style that I think can be misinterpreted as aggressive. I’ve yet to form an opinion on what I think of him overall, but he usually has an interesting take on things, if nothing else. I wasn’t aware that he’s a Christian.

        You make a good point about the constitution. I was thinking along the lines of, if all men are created equal and have inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, how can these things be justified: slavery & segregation, installing puppet dictators, Guantanamo Bay?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I knew you’d enjoy the article and that you preferred deep understanding over brevity. 🙂

          In regards to your last question it’s a good one. It would seem that even forward thinkers have their blind spots. I mean Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery but he certainly didn’t feel black people were equal to whites. Yet one could certainly say he was progressive for his time. Unfortunately it does seem that morality on average progresses over the slow march of time, and no one person can be beyond his time by a significant amount.


  5. The current liberal bashing of conservatives is, in my opinion, a delayed response to the conservative bashing that began before there was social media. The phenomenon that was Rusk Limbaugh is a good marker. Prior to Mr. Limbaugh, bashing of liberals had few column inches anywhere and no distinct voice. Before the Gulf War (!) I found his radio show and actually enjoyed listening to it as he lambasted caricatures of liberals (Femi-Nazis, etc.) At first this seemed in good fun but then I noted a commitment to lying that caused me to turn him off. He then became almost 100% politics in focus but kept bashing the liberal side as clueless, etc.

    There was no particular response from the left-wing media (as that has always been a lie–to true conservatives, the truth has always been left-wing.

    With the advent of social media, the anonymity provided right-wingers cowed into keeping their mouths shut due to social pressure (Why can’t we call a nigger a nigger?) now had voices not subject to social pressure, in fact they could bask in the amounts of social outrage (impotent rage) that they could provoke. And now we have liberal bashing of conservatives … anonymously.

    This escalation of rage in the debate serves only one group: the oligarchs already in control of the government. While our heads are spinning around, we aren’t addressing our sole problem (the one solutions to all of the other problems must lead through) … them. For them Donald Trump, the master distractor is a god send.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment Steve. I agree with you. When I look at things like the Southern strategy, and the promotion of a Christianity that amplifies the fire and brimstone mentality while fear mongering about other existential threats from immigrants, or terrorism and the like, it definitely seems to me that the right wing has made this bed we are now laying in. Yet I can’t help but worry that our response is only making it worse. Was that an inevitability, is that part of the plan from the right? Either way we have to wake up from this psychological exploit or I do feel we are doomed to violent conflict. One that I can only hope reason prevails, but there is no guarantee.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, reason prevailing. A primary focus of my 40-year teaching career was the promotion of “rational decision making.” I retired a defeated man. Too many Americans are “wedded to shooting from the hip.” (I have been noticing lately how many American metaphors involve guns and force … too many.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. As a Canadian I too have noticed how prevalent guns seems to be in every facet of life. Even people who might be allies on many issues, see gun rights as so fundamental there are no persuasive arguments to convince them otherwise. In my mind there is no discussion that devolves more quickly into nonsensical arguments than one about gun control. It does seem to be tied to the national identity in an unhealthy way.


  6. Pingback: Bashing Conservatives | Class Warfare Blog

    1. Thanks for the ping back Steve. And I agree that ultimately divisiveness serves the oligarchs, because when we are pointing fingers to the side, we never look up to see the real problem. I think liberals are somewhat better at remembering to look up. That’s what Bernie’s campaign seemed to be largely about. Stop blaming your fellow American, there are people screwing all of us over. But then Bernie lost, and Hillary who is part of that oligarchic hierarchy played right into Trump’s hands by getting into the mudslinging with the other side. The real irony here from the right is that they didn’t even elect someone who is truly a right wing conservative, they elected the oligarch, and that is why myself and many others I know find Trump to be far more dangerous than a Pence or Cruz.


  7. I think the abuse on both sides has always been there. Growing up listening to right-wing caricatures, I rejected it because it didn’t fairly represent the left. The left did the exact same thing, characterizing people who preferred conservative policies as being racist, bigoted, etc. All that has changed is that media now uses these characterizations to bypass reason and prompt specific emotional responses from people.

    While it sometimes is concerning to see students protesting speakers, I cannot fully fault them. The speakers you cited were ones that specifically have profited off of emotionally manipulating speech. Should they be able to complain of their success? Should universities help spread this kind of speech which is designed to bypass reason and appeal to our baser instincts?

    The answers to these question are not easy because it asks people to do more work in evaluating speech and ranking it in order of preference. It involves recognizing speech which is designed to manipulate and not inform. And it means having to figure out how to hold people responsible for their speech.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks SB for your response. While I am certain it’s always been there to a degree, on both sides, I am I guess less convinced that the left has aimed to systematically demonize liberalism in quite the same way. But perhaps I’m wrong.

      In regards to your points about those speakers I mentioned, I agree they are as you say, but if they have been invited by the university, or by a group of students at a university, they should get to speak. Now I am not saying other groups of students shouldn’t be free to peacefully protest them, but that they should be prevented from speaking at all because they are being yelled at during their talk, or that security is needed to escort them from the building. That’s a different level of behavior that I think we can agree is not really healthy, even if we don’t like what they have to say. Forcing such people to express themselves in an academic forum seems like a good way to make them lose face. Violently chasing them off campus seems to only strengthen their arguments.

      Interestingly I’ve just been listening to a podcast that talks about persuasion and how we can be manipulated. It seems to me that if there is any place where meaningful discussion about rhetoric versus logic can be had it’s at a university. If there is any place where we can expose these people as frauds, it would be at a university. Persuasive manipulators are in the world, they have to be faced, and they have to be faced in a way that reduces their strength. It’s not clear that trying to silence their free speech is the way to do it. Even if one could argue that they might wish for your free speech to be silenced.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose where we might disagree is that I can’t fully blame a group of people for reacting viscerally to speech that is designed to get them to react viscerally. While historically this country has held the crowd responsible for remaining non-violent, I still think that ignores the bigger problem of speech that is designed to circumvent that defense. To be clear, it does not excuse a mob’s violent reaction to any speech, but I think it does indicate that we are crossing a threshold where our historical rules are becoming useless.

        Essentially I am suggesting that our media is filled with people who are able to scream “Fire” in a theater without saying the word outright. Work not only needs to be done to educate students on using their reason instead of violence, but also on calling out this speech for what it really is: attention-grabbing for no intellectual purpose.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Sure, and someone like Milo is trying to rile people up. Tomi Lahren is similar. These people are getting people outraged and exploiting that without paying any consequences for doing so. I don’t disagree with you, but such people should be easy to expose as frauds. And if it makes you upset that there are no consequence for them to spout their vapid garbage, answering with violence or the fear that things will get violent at your campus should they give their talk, seems to be counter to your goals of weakening them. In a way you can can think of it as verbal terrorism. Let them send you into acts out of fear and they win. And I guess because I feel very strongly about the value of a university for being able to debate and challenge ideas, even bad ones, it is especially harmful to the future of such institutions which are already under assault by conservatives as bastions for elitists brainwashing the young against good old American values.

          And I by no means think that those people should be invited to just give a talk and walk away. I think universities, if they are going to have these people, have it as a debate format, where students can here arguments from both sides. Force them into a situation where they have to use scholarship to defend their views and give students ample time after to challenge them with questions.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I agree that they need to be exposed as frauds, but I think reaching out on the university level is a bit late. What I think I’m driving at here is a different issue than you originally raised (so I’m probably being off topic). If I could express my underlying value more succinctly, I’d have to say that I believe the public needs to be empowered to evaluate speech on a university level.

            Unfortunately, not everyone has or wants access to a university education, and universities right now are less interested in educating the populace as a whole. That would need to change, otherwise only students, faculty, and maybe a local community could benefit from a rigorous discussion. Such an undertaking is not easy, especially with large sections of the public inherently biased against higher education.


  8. Very interesting topic- although I’m not sure the goalposts are reasonably placed.
    When I was younger it was important to me that I not be labelled a deviant, ill, fundamentally flawed, defective human being, just for being gay. Now the people who were comfortable pushing those myths and using those labels feel “oppressed” because that variety of propaganda and fraud has been deemed unacceptable by much of society. Have we gone too far? I don’t know. Why don’t we ask women being paid less than men, why don’t we ask transgendered people who are still ridiculed and don’t even have the right to respectful treatment. How willing would Prof. Jordan Peterson be for me to call him it rather than him? How about Professor It? Could I call him that in his class in front of his other students? Or is the right to choose pronouns/treatments reserved for certain classes of people which don’t encompass the transgender?
    I’m afraid we’re talking about utter manipulation. Trump style.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pink, thank you for your excellent words here. Your point is well taken. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that we should let anybody who would not afford gay or transgender people equal rights off the hook so to speak, my question is more of a philosophical one. We know for instance that with individuals that the “backfire effect” is real. That the more definitive the evidence you face somebody with the more rooted in their own beliefs they become. It seems to me that this is somewhat true on a societal level. The harder one pushes, the harder the push back. So when we look at the progress made by the LGBQT movement over the last 30-40 years it’s been incredible, but can progress too quickly lead to a situation in which the pushback is strong enough to reverse that progress. When we look at the rise of Trump it seems that the danger to reverse years of progress by women, LGBQT communities, and other minorities is close. It seems we are at a critical moment where the wrong step might make that a reality. Would it be better to take only half the number of refugees if it means not allowing an actual fascist party to gain control of the government? I guess what I’m really talking about here is cholateral damage. Are we heading for civil war in which the collateral damage would be high? Or is this where a way to avoid that through a more tempered approach to progress?

      And you are very correct that I speak from a position of privilege where certainly there are many who have suffered for long under right wing conservatives and I certainly am not telling anybody to stop fighting but am only looking for a better way to continue that fight without possibly losing everything. Like I said, maybe I too am in the grip of fear, but I genuinely worry about the increased suffering that may occur should right wing movements gain more traction, considered they are rooted in nationalism and white male heterosexual supremacy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jim Crow laws were a response to the post slavery period- such is the backfire effect. But are you suggesting a sort of half-abolition would’ve spared African Americans from what they endured in that period?
        That’s my problem with this variety of argument. The implication is if people only know how to be sufficiently subservient then they might perhaps be treated in a less disrespectful way. That’s not good enough.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Good point. However we could also find historical examples of push back that were far more violent and perhaps worse than what had happened before. But of course I have a hard time seeing a better course of action. I personally would still be Merkel and try to help as many refugees as possible, but if the EU collapsed and a nazi party were elected in the country who decides to round up all muslims in concentration camps, might make me wonder if half the amount of refugees might have spared more lives in the end. Like I said in the post, perhaps that’s just life. Two steps forward and one step back and I should be happy with it, but to me also to accept that is similar to your half abolition argument. Neither one seems good enough to me. Maybe there is no realistic solution. But even post-slavery it was people with money who turned white and black against each other who were coming realizing that they had common causes and struggles. Maybe that’s how it happens. When progress is made, and people are raised up, rich people lose some of their power, because more people are becoming empowered and they are the ones who try to turn us against each other. I don’t know I’m obviously rambling.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Sure. Which is part of the reason why I supported Bernie Sanders so strongly. The fact remains that we are busy bashing each other instead of turning our attention in the right direction. That’s part of the point of this post is that we are wasting our energy to combat people who maybe aren’t the enemy, but may become the enemy when we dehumanize them. But maybe that would be a better focus than my ruminations in this post. A call to unite against the real enemy.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Fighting Anti-Intellectualism and Propaganda | Amusing Nonsense

  10. Knee-jerk reactions and hyper-sensitivity simply create a circus of people kicking shins and private parts! What does that accomplish? 😛

    “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”
    — Adlai Stevenson

    “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
    — Noam Chomsky

    Provocative post Swarn, thank you and well done! I find I am in 100% agreement and aligned with you on all points Sir. ❤

    I very much enjoy E.O. Wilson's point-of-view of humanity's, or Homo sapiens, truest purpose… and as anyone interested who watches this great 6-min interview, keep in mind that humanity is absolutely inseparable from our environment and this planet's health to sustain, let alone Homo sapiens caring for each other! HAH! (eye roll)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I wonder if a lot of these online political slagging matches are as much a form of entertainment (for those involved) as any deeply cherished ideology. How many of them are actually prepared to act, to stand in front of the tank?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I often think that when debating abortion, especially with evangelicals. They love to throw out the words “murder,” “killing,” “genocide,” but if they truly believed those words they should be on the street chained to women’s health clinic doors. I know if I thought an actual genocide was taking place I’d be there at ground zero trying to stop it… Not tapping words out on a computer and acting all pious.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Makes me think of this little nugget from Scott Adams’ God’s Debris:

          “Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in support of that belief. Rich people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone would be frantic to determine which religion was the true one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions.

          “A belief in God would demand one hundred percent obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of this brief life on earth. But your four billion so-called believers do not live their lives in that fashion, except for a few. The majority believe in the usefulness of their beliefs—an earthly and practical utility—but they do not believe in the underlying reality.”

          I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “If you asked them, they’d say they believe.”

          “They say that they believe because pretending to believe is necessary to get the benefits of religion. They tell other people that they believe and they do believer-like things, like praying and reading holy books. But they don’t do the things that a true believer would do, the things a true believer would have to do.

          “If you believe a truck is coming toward you, you will jump out of the way. That is belief in the reality of the truck. If you tell people you fear the truck but do nothing to get out of the way, that is not belief in the truck. Likewise, it is not belief to say God exists and then continue sinning and hoarding your wealth while innocent people die of starvation. When belief does not control your most important decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief in the usefulness of believing.”

          “Are you saying God doesn’t exist?” I asked, trying to get to the point.

          “I’m saying that people claim to believe in God, but most don’t literally believe. They only act as though they believe because there are earthly benefits in doing so. They create a delusion for themselves because it makes them happy.”

          Liked by 3 people

          1. That’s so on the money, John — great quote. I sometimes to go to evensong at nearby Wells Cathedral because the music’s so good, and so really get this business that the believers aren’t really that at all. William James looked into this business of religious-belief-as-pragmatism in his magisterial work on religious experience, as doubtless you’re aware. Thirty years ago I was nudged towards Buddhist meditation by an English Christian prison chaplain who wrote a book called Instead of God! He knew the game was up.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. It’s an interesting point to ponder, and I agree with John that even if there is sincere belief in what they say, the relative degree to which that belief impacts their behavior varies. It’s probably more true to say that for any sincere belief that someone holds, the degree to which they act on that belief varies greatly. It seems that largely such people suffer from a form of narcissism, where they would simply judge others, and feel that since they believe the “right thing” and you believe the “wrong thing” they are better than you, will get their heavenly rewards. So there is definitely a deal of entertainment there, but I would say that entertainment factor is even more insidious because it’s a joy of judging and shaming. Something that I think far too many people relish in. You’ll see many an atheist calling a Christian an “idiot who believes in a fucking sky fairy”.

      Sam Harris is big proponent of the beliefs and ideas we hold influencing our behavior, and I think this is where the heart of the criticism against him lies. He often has conversation on this topic that are very much like the nature vs nurture discussion in which I think it’s hard to disentangle the degree to which a belief impacts our behavior, because I think there are environmental factors that make a different in how we act on the beliefs we hold. In the abortion example that John mentions for as many people who think abortion is the worst crime ever committed by humankind, the amount of people doing something about it are few. I have no doubt though that if all of a sudden it was allowable to punish those who had abortions or performed abortions by stoning them, a lot of those people would be participating. Perhaps that says something dark about us, that we’d rather punish than save. So I do think the degree to which people are willing to step out of their lives to do the right thing morally or ethically is small. That’s even true for us secular folk. There are some ethicists who think we should all be doing as much as we can to reduce suffering in the world. I’ve been learning about ethicist William Macaskill who has an organization geared towards helping people maximize the good in the world and he has decided that no matter how much money he makes he will stay at a yearly income of 40,000 pounds. Few us are courageous enough to do that and use any surplus income to better the world in such a dogmatic way.

      Anyway, sorry this got a bit rambly, but that’s only because you are so good at writing you can write very little and make me think of a lot of things. So I blame you! lol

      Liked by 1 person

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