The Recipe for a Shooter

On June 14th, 2017, James T. Hodgkinson walked into a baseball field where the Republican congressional baseball team was practicing and opened fire.  In the end 6 people had been injured and the shooter was killed by law enforcement on the scene in a shootout.  It should be no surprise that this is a situation that can easily be made political.  This was not a random act of terrorism.  The intent was to attack members of the GOP, and the shooter knew who would be at the baseball diamond that day, and the political views of this shooter were that of a “liberal”.

Given the growing unreasonableness on the left, such as the suppression of free speech on university campuses and even outbreaks of violence, it might be easy to say that conservatives are under attack by liberals and that we must increasingly become concerned about liberals.  If we look at the trends of mass shootings over the past 10 years I think we can easily see that this is not a partisan problem.  This is just another of many mass shootings in this country.  Another act of terror of the many that go through our news cycle, where nothing gets done.  But if we want to look at direct response to shootings that were politically based, when Gabby Giffords was shot, nothing was done legislatively because of that incident so it doesn’t seem likely anything will change now.  However, this administration hasn’t been terribly predictable so who knows?

When the name of the shooter was identified, knowing that he shot at Republican politicians, I was immediately interested in who the man was, because I was worried that his political views would be on the democratic side and that in the face of our current administration this might spell trouble for other liberals.  I imagine it is similar to the feeling a good law abiding Muslim must feel when a shooting happens.  Hoping the shooter isn’t a follower of Islam.  My Google search brought me to his Facebook profile.  This was literally a minute after his name had been released by the news.  I immediately saw that he was a Bernie supporter and was anti-Trump and naturally I groaned.  Several posts were public as is typical on any profile that shares stories.  What happened next was something I did not expect.  People began commenting on those posts.  Within a minute, hundreds of comments had been made with the larger proportion of those comments being insults hurled at the shooter.  The ugliness of humanity laid bare before me, and it was painful to see watch some meaningless rage.  One might argue that had this rage been directed to the actual shooter, maybe we could somehow have sympathy for such actions, but the shooter was dead.  The only people that could possible see this was family.  The anger could only hurt people who were only guilty of knowing the shooter.  No information about his family supporting him had been reported.  He could have been divorced, estranged, hated by them.  Perhaps they knew the man he once was and were simply saddened by the whole situation.  They were perhaps as appalled as anyone else at what Mr. Hodgkinson had done, and were simply grieving at the death of a man they thought they knew, or once knew.  I don’t understand people.  Unless a shooter actually killed somebody that I loved, I can’t imagine myself feeling enough rage to do the equivalent of “spitting on his grave”.

But I then reflected on my initial reactions to the shooting.  They were none too virtuous either.  Worried about how my “group” might be perceived in the future.  And yes even the thought of the irony of Republicans against gun laws, paying some penance for their views floated through my brain.  I am not proud of it, but perhaps this is what we’ve become in a society full of these incidents.  Of course, it’s also natural to have such thoughts, but what actions you take are, in the end, more important.  Despite my thoughts I did not get angry and lash out at anybody.  No shame or mocking.  This is a serious and sad incident and that is the most important position we should take on this matter. And as I saw comment after comment pour out I knew there was something important to be learned here, and wanted to take a few days to collect some thoughts and see what that might be.  I am not sure I’ve completely figured it out, but unfortunately I can’t help but worry that things aren’t going to get better here in the U.S. anytime soon.

CNN laid out quite distinctly all his liberal viewpoints, and that he was anti-GOP, and frustrated by the corruption and income inequality in this country.  The entire laundry list describes most people I know in my life who would never do something like this.  And yes, of course you never know, but I can at least say that probabilistically 99% of the people I know will not do something like this.  When we say that shooters like Dylann Roof are racist and that’s why he did what he did, or that Mr. Hodgkinson was a liberal or Bernie supporter and that’s why he did what he did, is this a fair thing to say?  I don’t believe so.  It ignores the many people who share similar views but don’t do these types of things.  We know John Lennon’s shooter was inspired by Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, but we know that millions of schoolchildren have read the book and certainly had no murderous thoughts because of the book.  The first thing that we have to be honest about, if we truly hope to lessen violent crimes like this in our culture, is that people who do these kinds of things are the confluence of more than one factor.  For any one behavior or trait, or any one environmental influence that you find in the shooter, you will find no solution to what makes somebody do this.  In the population of people that represent any one behavior or influence you will find far more non-killers than killers.

I should point out that there is one trait that all these acts of terrorism have in common.  The killer is male.  Yet of course we will still find far more males who aren’t killers, but it should at least make us ponder, what is it about being male through nature or nurture that increases the odds that they will become a perpetrator of these types of mass shootings?

One of the main points to come out about the shooter is his domestic abuse charge.  Why would someone like this be able to legally own firearms?  I’d like to look at this from two perspectives.  On one hand, it’s easy for everyone to get up in arms about a domestic abuser having a gun, given how often women are the target of incidents with firearms, this should be a no-brainer.  And maybe it is, although there are apparently some loopholes as discussed in the Slate article I just linked, but here is the problem:  he was never convicted.  This matters.  It must.  If we simply start denying people rights based on charges, then the rule of law has no value.

On the other hand, women know all too well about this kind of abuse.  It is very difficult to get a conviction for domestic violence.  What happens if your abuser threatens worse if you report them?  What happens if you do report them thinking, well they will be behind bars so I’ll be okay.  But what happens if you report it, but the cop doesn’t take you seriously?  Or the justice system fails you?  In reading about Mr. Hodgkinson’s domestic abuse case (it was against a daughter and a friend of the daughter), the case seemed a bit strange.  Though charged, he was never convicted because the victims never appeared in court?  Why would this be?  Perhaps they knew his temper.  Perhaps he threatened them. These are all likely scenarios and so the question then becomes, how do we deal with this type of person.  If we believe that evidence is still necessary for conviction, how do we get more people to come forward about their abusers?  How do we protect those victims adequately during and after their case, win or lose?  This is a problem we’ve been trying to tackle for years and there has been some progress, but not enough.  The progress that has been made has been a result of the rise of feminism.  Yes you may actually have to become a feminist if you want to make the situation better for those who experience domestic abuse.  And just because I am sure somebody reading this might say men are the victims of domestic abuse too, I shall freely admit that, yes, this is true.  But that doesn’t mean believing in gender equality is going to make you forget about male victims.  In fact, fighting gender stereotypes that oppress women actually makes things better for men.  Narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity also play into why a lot of men don’t get believed when they say they are victims of abuse.

Finally, we can’t ignore the role mental health plays when it comes to these types of incidences.  In reading about the shooter, beyond the domestic violence incidences, it is clear that he has a history of anger problems.  Anger has been linked recently to gun violence (link is an article that links to the peer-reviewed study but is only the abstract).  From the article:

“Swanson believes that it could be more effective to, instead of looking at mental health history, look at a prospective gun buyer’s record of misdemeanor convictions that could indicate impulsive, explosive and violent behavior.”

The paper also has a somewhat alarming graphic about men who experience excessive anger and gun ownership.

This is only one study and hopefully more research will be done in this area.  It seems also relevant then to ask, where does the shooter’s anger stem from?  Something in his childhood?  Is it some chemical imbalance in his body?  Is too much anger a mental health issue?  I would say yes, but there are a lot of people out there who get angry.  Like many things, any emotional reaction you find exists on a spectrum among people.  We could easily find someone out there who has anger problems but not quite as much as Mr. Hodgkinson, and some people with a little more.  Where do we draw the line and say, “this amount of anger is unhealthy, this amount of anger is healthy?”  And isn’t it more on how we act on that anger?  The study points again to convictions, but if there are none what then? How else might we learn about anger issues?  There are still stigmas for receiving treatment for any type of emotional struggle we are going through are still strong, especially for men.  In our society being aggressive and angry is valued for a man.  Such stereotypes imply that if you were to get help you would be seen as weak and less masculine.  Also, many people think of mental illness as only some condition you are born with or as something serious like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or dementia.  Things like anxiety, depression, anger are things people think we should always be able to control.  Unfortunately, this is not the case and excessive bouts of these things, even if it is temporary within your lifetime can lead to some pretty unhealthy outcomes.

So far, I don’t think I’ve said much new, but I guess one of the other facets of this incidents that inspired me to write this post was to look at the political activism of Mr. Hodgkinson.  Here is a person who has been active politically for some time.  He was a local business owner, was constantly engaged in various political causes.  Signing petitions, getting others to sign.  He was wrote opinion pieces to his local paper.  He volunteered for political campaigns.  Despite his anger problems, here is a man who, at least for a solid portion of his life, tried to solve the problems in society through engagement with people and the system on a non-violent platform.  I’ll quote once again from Sam Harris, because I think these words are very poignant here “…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.”  The end of Mr. Hodgkinson’s life are indicative of a man who was suffering mentally.  He was living out of a van, he looked like he was homeless.  Had sold most of his things just to move to D.C.  These aren’t the normal decisions someone makes and at the age of 66, it seems likely that there was at least some brain deterioration going on.  But here was a man who believed strongly about the world not being right, and he wanted to make it right.  And for many years he engaged in that activity non-violently.  Maybe he wasn’t the best representative for his cause, but he also wasn’t wrong.  There has been growing income inequality, the government is corrupt and colluding with the top 1%, and poverty increases in this country.  These are good things to get angry about.  Here is a man who tried for much of his life to use words, and I couldn’t help but thinking of the Sam Harris quote.  The causes the shooter was fighting for really matter, for many of us it feels like words ARE insufficient, and here we have someone showing up with a gun.

I am not trying to make this man seem like some sort of hero, but it made me wonder, given that this was clearly an attack on a political party, what is the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary?  Numbers and organization?  I think the collective population, regardless of their beliefs, can feel helpless as words seem ineffectual in influencing change.  There are so many people in this world and the weight of it is enormous given the rate we can receive information about all the terrible things happening in it.  It’s more weight than our evolution prepared us for, and as one person it can easily feel like the only way to make an impact in it is to really get noticed.  And violence gets you noticed.  Mr. Hodgkinson has far more people thinking about him then he ever did being involved in politics throughout his life.  So when you have anger issues, problems with gun laws, problems with domestic abuse, a patriarchal society, a corrupt government that doesn’t respond to the people, increasing poverty, how many more people like Mr. Hodgkinson will pop out of the woodwork?  Can we stop them all?  Perhaps this is a commonality among all of these types of shooters.  A desire to be impactful in a world that feels unchangeable or a world that is changing with the feeling that it’s leaving you behind.  Either way, the amount of women doing these things is so negligible that it seems worth asking the question why men seem more susceptible to this type of behavior.

There are no easy answers here, and it’s time we stopped pretending there were.  One’s politics and religion certainly play a role, but so many other things do as well.  Let’s not aim for simple correlations and blame that solve nothing.  We know there are societies where this isn’t as big of a problem.  We are NOT helpless when we work together to build something better.  Change, however, does not happen overnight.  It takes patience and perseverance.  I still hold hope that we can find that change through conversation instead of violence, but I won’t lie and say that a worry that violence will continue to rise grows in the back of my mind.  As I think about all those people hurling out rage on Mr. Hodgkinson’s Facebook page, I wonder which angry person is the next to become violent.  Which one of those angry people has a gun, and with the right confluence of factors is the next one to use it.  For all my talk about conversation, I worry that not enough people are listening anymore.

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.

Opposition and Divisiveness

This is going to be a little bit of a rant, so if it seems like I forgot to breathe at times, don’t worry I assure you I’m alright. 🙂

We’ve all heard the tone of those who voted for Trump, maybe they were third party voters, or didn’t vote at all “let’s give him a chance”, “let’s see how he does”, “I am going to support him since he’s my president”.  As nauseating as this can be, there is something worse to me that’s driving me up the wall.

“You’re being divisive”.

This is hard for me to understand.  Look, there is no question that we are a nation very much divided right now, and we need to, somehow, try to unite as a people.  There is no question about that.  During the past 8 years I heard people say all sorts of ridiculous things about Obama being a socialist, death panels, taking away everybody’s guns, and host of fabricated tales mean to discredit the president and his administration.  I tried presenting counter information without name calling.  I did not see their disagreement as divisive, just somebody who wasn’t informed or had a different point of view.  I never accused anybody of being divisive.

Now all of a sudden everybody on the right is concerned about how divided this nation is, and at that by opposing Trump’s terrible ideas we are being divisive.  When the right said they didn’t like the ACA, did anybody tell them to shut up they are being divisive?  That they aren’t helping?  To get behind the president?

I am a scientist.  I try to base my opinions based on something, and defend my point of view.  Sometimes my information isn’t the best and I own up to it.  But when my disagreement is being labeled as divisiveness, this is pure distortion and I will not take ownership of that label.  I’m not being derisive to people personally, but I will challenge ideas that I think are harmful.  And these people who label me as being divisive were never calling out people on their own side for the same behavior.  I mean if you know a large portion of the country is pro-choice…shouldn’t you tell your pro-life friend to stop posting videos of bloody fetuses on Facebook?  Never seen that happen once.  Never seen a Republican tell the birther’s they were being divisive.  I’ve never seen a Republican ever tell another Republican they are being divisive for posting something that the other side disagrees with.  But all of a sudden liberals are all divisive.  We are the ones causing division.

It’s not divisive to make abortion illegal, to normalize sexual assault, to call scientific consensus a hoax, to label illegal aliens as drug dealers and rapists, to build a giant wall, to freeze immigration on refugees if they are Muslim, to say gay people can’t marry the people they love, to say you are going to lock up your political opponent in jail….an entire campaign run entirely on divisiveness.

And because I not only resist those notions, but can defend those positions with evidence and statistics, that is deemed divisive.

Look, I am not saying their aren’t a great deal of liberals calling people names, or calling Trump names gets us nowhere and is arguably divisive.  But posting tips for activism, pointing out hypocrisy, presenting one’s viewpoint in a reasoned manner should not be seen as divisiveness.  One person, who dropped me off of Facebook, even told me that my divisiveness was of the kind that would lead to war.  And this was somebody who told me that she doesn’t vote for any party that doesn’t support banning abortion and told me Trump would restore morality to the country.

So I’m not sure what you want from me.  If it’s silence, that isn’t going to happen.  I am going to keep presenting what I think are informative and well-argued articles, and I am still going to reasonably explain why I think a certain action or ideology is wrong.  People act like I don’t spend a great deal of time trying to understand other points of view, I’ve reached across the aisle more than anybody has reached across to me to understand my point of view and I’ve actually adjusted a number of my positions on issues as a result of it.

So when somebody who denies the existence of climate change is put in charge of the EPA, or a white nationalist is put on the National Security Council, or a completely unqualified person is put in charge of the Department of Education and you are silent about it.  You are the one being divisive.  You are the one who voted for someone who used divisiveness as a tactic to win your support.  I am speaking out because you won’t, because I feel we will all lose at the hands of the people in charge of government.

And in the end, if you still think that’s being divisive, well then I can accept that, because I have no business being on the side of someone who, if they find my viewpoint disagreeable, can’t engage in civic discourse about it.  I still bear you no ill will, but I have a country to worry about and I really don’t have time for your hypocritical judgment.

Rant over.

Post-Election Soul Searching: No Quarter

Well I promised that I was going to talk more about my Trump concerns, but unfortunately there is a little more scolding left to do of liberals, which includes me.  I want to talk about complacency and to do that I am going to start with a short YouTube video.

I don’t like her tone very much, and there are a few points I would disagree with, but much of it is hard to hear, because she’s right.  At least in my opinion. Because I was somebody who when Barack Obama was elected I thought that a black man being elected president was a giant step forward and he was so full of hope I felt it.  I felt it so strongly, that I fell into complacency.

The words of JFK continue to ring true, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  There have been several studies that demonstrate optimism can lead to complacency and perhaps we are all victims of that.  A country this size has many problems and maybe too many people relied on government to fix them all.  The hope and change that Obama talked about was the responsibility of all us.  And as much I really do like Obama.  He had his flaws as we all do.  Hero worship gets us nowhere.  He still bowed down to the establishment more than he should have.  He still continued foreign policy mistakes of previous administrations, and while the economy recovered there was still growing income inequality and many of the American’s at the bottom saw no improvement in their situation.  This article shows that while there was overall growth in employment, the type of jobs and the quality of jobs matter. Hell we have to pay attention to the fact that even a Muslim…nay a Muslim woman voted for Trump.  I mean holy crap!  If you were to make a list of top 10 types of people to not vote for Trump that would have been near the top of the list.  Now while I believe this woman, given her overall viewpoint, seemed to focus on only a couple of issues compared to all the other ones it certainly tells us that the homogeneity that we apply to Trump supporters isn’t right and isn’t helping.

The other point the video makes is that Hillary is not perfect.  There are valid criticisms to be made.  An article I read today gave probably the most important reason she lost, which is that she didn’t offer anything new.

“But, the desire for change last Tuesday was bigger than any worries Clinton was able to raise about Trump. Four in 10 voters said the most important character trait in deciding their vote was a candidate who “can bring needed change” to Washington. Of that group, Trump won 83 percent to Clinton’s 14 percent — 83 to 14!!!!”
She was going to be the first female president, and I think that will be an amazing day when it happens.  But how would she have been any different than Obama?  Nobody had been able to convince me that she was progressive in any way.  And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.  She’s worked very hard in her life and has accomplished a lot.  She’s smart.  But I found her to be reactive, not progressive, not a visionary.  There was no change that was the center of platform that was going to be the answer than many struggling Americans are looking for.  This is just my opinion, and I am sure there are those that would disagree.  As the article states, change is what people were looking for.  A change from the establishment, a definitive improvement on Obama’s policies, a voice that speaks to all Americans and not just the ones in swing states who already support her.  In that desperation for change….well…we got Trump.

You can feel the empathy.
You can feel the empathy  with many memes like this.

It’s unclear to me how much change this really represents, and change can certainly be negative.  I was also desperate for change, but I’ll choose slow decline over disaster any day.  But it is a terrible choice to have to make when you know that establishment politics isn’t working and the only choices you are given is the establishment and outsider who runs his campaign on lies, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia.  And what of those last 3 words.  I know many people are upset at being labeled that way in supporting Trump.  Here is the thing.  If all your concerns were legitimate economic ones, were related to health care costs, or just going for change and wanting to vote for an outsider, why did Trump bother with all the racist comments?  Why did he bother fear mongering about existential threats from immigrants and Muslims?  Why did he say that was going to take away women’s rights to determine what happens to their own bodies?  Why was any of that necessary if, as a Trump voter, none of you are these things?  Why weren’t you critique Trump about it while also praising his strengths? This is what we are all struggling with.  So here is what I want to say to the Trump voters.

Dear Trump Supporter,

I will believe you when you say you are not a racist, not a xenophobe, not a misogynist.  I understand you are feeling like your voice has been demeaned and/or ignored, and that your life hasn’t improved or gotten worse.  I understand maybe you just really wanted somebody you felt was going to cause change.  But here’s the thing.  Your candidate said many racist, xenophobic and misogynistic things.  The very words that came out of his mouth was the worst kind of populism that was intended to exploit your fears and spur your anger.  As a result, you demonized a hardworking woman who, regardless of your disagreements with her views or her ethics, she has served this country for many years, introduced a lot of legislation to try and help people and has been an active voice for equality for race, gender, and other minority groups.  I disagree with many of her policy decisions but I have no idea what it’s like being her, trying to be a woman achieving success in a man’s world of politics.  So now you have voted to put a man in power, who, if he does the things he says we will see the violation of numerous constitutional and human rights.  If he enacts the policies he says he will enact we will see the national debt skyrocket, damage relations with foreign countries, and do great damage to the environment.  And the RNC platform is supportive of many of the things Trump said he was going to do during the campaign. This was the cost of your vote.  For many people that are potential victims of the views Trump espoused during the campaign, they are having a hard time understanding how your vote was not in support of those hateful views, but solely rooted in economic change and health care issues.  You want our empathy and understanding, and you will have it, but not at the expense of injustices acted upon other people.  There are plenty of countries where governments work to make all people happy.  We should not be an Us vs. Them scenario.  It is not moral to say “now it’s time to pay attention to you, and screw everybody else.”  So let me know how I can help you, but if you are asking me to hurt somebody else to do so, I simply won’t do it.

And this empathy that you want, this desire to be seen as a human, and complex, and knowledgeable and aware.  It runs both ways.  While I have seen many of my liberal friends condemning the violence at anti-Trump protests, I have yet to see one Trump supporter that I know is on my Facebook News Feed speak out against any of the bullying and violence from Trump supporters.  The most common responses are “These are Hillary plants”, “What about the violence and anti-Trump rallies”, “Give Trump a chance”, or links to fake stories or pictures about anti-Trump protestors.  Remember we also sat through 8 years of “birther” conspiracy theories, denigrating names towards the president, constant lies about how Obama wanted to take your guns, blaming Obama for pretty much everything, and so when you now say we should respect the new president-elect, please understand how hard that hypocrisy is for us to swallow.  The person you have elected has run a campaign based on division, has espoused hate and vowed to infringe on the rights of many people that we care deeply about.  We will not trade their safety for your prosperity.  So you must also work to find a way where we can all get along or nothing will really get better for anybody. 

Finally, we don’t have to like a person who, in his very own words, has promoted ideas that bring harm to people.  We don’t have to show tolerance to the hate, the authoritarianism, and the lies he told.  The cabinet he is building currently leans towards the idea that he really doesn’t care about the working class and that you’ve all been taken in by a snake oil salesman.  I hope this isn’t the case.  I hope that you can show the same amount of understanding and empathy that you expect from us right now, because quite honestly, looking over the rhetoric from the past 8 years, hearing the hateful chants at the Trump rallies, and the bullying and intimidation that’s been going on post-election, it’s difficult to see why I should be doing all the work in this relationship.  So I’ll refrain from calling you those divisive names and labels, if you work to prove that you are unworthy of them.

With Love,
Libtard, socialist, communist, bleeding heart, elitist, femiNazi, clueless liberal

P.S. And if Trump does become the disaster to American ideals of freedom and equality that he espoused during his campaign, anybody who didn’t actively try to stop him from becoming president in this election is responsible regardless of whether you feel the labels hurled against you are fair.

And finally, because every once in awhile we just need some inspirational words here is the response of Buddhist teachers to Trump’s win.

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The Grand Illusion

It’s difficult to organize thoughts this morning after the election, but I have been getting some thoughtful words on Facebook and from friends that I think are important to express right now.   In discussion with a friend I was saying how Trump was never really successful at anything in life and his success is built solely on the illusion of his brand.  My friend responded “well isn’t that a sign of success?”  As much as it hurt to admit I think he’s right.   He has sold America an illusion, and America bought it.  He isn’t going to build a wall, he can’t bring coal jobs back, he isn’t going to magically fix inner cities, he isn’t going to make America great again.  Especially consider nobody really knows what that means, and how we define greatness is highly subjective.  We went on to discuss this illusion and how Trump’s illusion is really America’s.  Once again I couldn’t help but agree.  I’ve been mulling this thought over for a few hours and really makes sense.

America has branded itself over the years.  The country that can’t fail.  The country that does it right, and that other countries should look to as a model of freedom and democracy.  We sell the American Dream, and people believe in it, even though we have been struggling to deliver that for some time.  And when I say we’ve bought into it, I am talking about all of us to varying degrees.  We’ve even convinced many people outside the U.S. that this is the case. But it is an illusion as grand as the Trump brand.  We aren’t perfect and we’ve got a lot of problems.  There are other countries out there who are doing things better than we are.  We spend more time convincing other countries that we are the strongest and the best, and less time giving our own people something substantive to believe this is the case.  Obama called us the greatest nation on Earth.  Where is the humility?  Hillary referred to half of the voting population as deplorables.  How extreme is that righteousness?  Those of us who see behind the veil of Trump’s brand to what he really is, convinced ourselves that there would be no way Trump could be elected.  I included.  As a nation we have made some great progress at social justice and equality, but we’ve also let far too many people fall into poverty, we had some poorly executed and designed policy, even if well-intentioned.  We’ve made some terrible foreign policy decisions that has cost us money and lives.  And all these things are excusable, but we also refuse to admit it.  Why?  Because we are the greatest nation on Earth.

I believe that to earn that title, we need to have empathy, we need to have courage, and we need to have humility.  We also need to have honest introspection.  We have to create our sense of self-worth over substantive matters.  We have to demonstrate that we are as capable of celebrating our successes as well as admitting and learning from our failures.  These are the values that make for great people, and great nations.  I’m not sure any nation can be said to be there, but some are closer than others.  We have further to go than we’d like to believe, and I hope that in these next 4 years we can break through this illusion and find a way to heal a divided nation.   Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans for not reaching across the aisle.  That’s the beginning of the humility we all need to have.  All of us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation are human.  That’s the love we need to have.  And then we have to ask “How can I live my life so that it helps raise all humans up?”  That’s the courage we need to have.  And we need to keep at these qualities, everyday of our life, because hate, self-righteousness, and fear are always with us, waiting to shake us fragile humans to our core.

Hooked on a Feeling

I don’t plan on making this a long one, but there are some times when you see something where all you can think is Yes.  Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.  Yes.  Yes.  That’s the problem.  That is THEEEEE problem. Yes. We have lots of other problems, but we can’t start to solve those problems until we address this one.  It is not uniquely U.S., but we certainly have a lot of it here.  And it is not uniquely Republican, but they have made it a central theme to their party platform.  If you haven’t watched John Oliver’s piece from “This Week Tonight” on the RNC national convention you should.  For those with less time, I encourage you to start at about 3:39.  And for those with even less time I encourage you to watch when they start talking to Newt Gingrich.  I love that old Newt entirely gave the game away.  I am don’t like the fact that there are far too many in this nature who don’t see that.  For those with even less time I will give you the quotes of the night:

Newt: “The average American, I will bet you this morning does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer…”

Anchor: “But it is…we are safer…and it is down.”

Newt: “No that’s your view”.

Anchor: “Those are facts”

Newt: in articulate mumbling and then “…but what I said is also a fact”

John Oliver “NO IT ISN”T! No it isn’t! It’s only a fact, that that’s a feeling people have”

After John Oliver makes some great points they go back to Newt.

Newt: “The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.”

The reporter argues that his accusation of liberals using these numbers is partisan, but she explains that the numbers come from the FBI, and that’s not a partisan source.

Newt: “But what I said is equally true, people feel more threatened…”

Anchor: “Yes they FEEL it…but the facts don’t support it”

Newt: “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians”.

The fact that a major politician feels his feelings = facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians feel that their role is to appeal to feelings and not facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians intensify and exploit those feelings and manipulate us because of them is a problem.

And while this CNN anchor (sorry I don’t my anchors that well as I avoid the major news channels like the plague) is doing a tremendous job pointing out the flaws in Newt’s arguments, the media frequently also appeals to our feelings and not facts as well.  This is also a problem.

Imagine politicians and media if you presented us with actual information, and actual facts, and we determined our own feelings.  But then we’d be more powerful and government would actually have to answer to the people.  And the poor media would be relegated to actually watching over both us, making sure we remained informed and making sure the people making the decisions remained honest.

Drug users and petty thieves fill our jails, but this crime against humanity continues unabated.

Why wouldn’t we all be liberal?

An article I came across the other day is one related to a common trope out there about universities being bastions for liberal indoctrination of students because of how liberal all the professors are.  In this article Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters (A contributor to the O’Reilly Factor) went to the campus of Cornell to try and talk to students about how much they were indoctrinated after they found out that 96% of the faculty at Cornell have donated to the Democratic Party for this upcoming election.  Mr. Watters was then asked to leave campus by the public relations person on campus and of course this led to the obvious conclusion by Bill and Jesse that Cornell wants to hide their nefarious activities of brainwashing students into their liberal agenda.

One thing that has always bothered me is that by being educated about something this implies that I’m being indoctrinated or brainwashed into a certain set of beliefs, rather than using my own mind to reach conclusions based on those things that I’ve learned.  While it is true that if I am only taught a certain set of facts or incorrect facts then I may reach the wrong conclusion, but what I want to focus on is the real reason why a well-educated person is likely to support liberal principles.

So there is much of this story that is ridiculous so we are going to have to ignore a few things to try and take it seriously:

  • Ignore the fact that both Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly graduated from liberal arts colleges for their undergrad and that Bill O’Reilly graduated from Harvard. Places with a lot of liberal faculty.  And I know in the past there were more Republican faculty, but in the past the Republicans are not quite like the ones we have today.  But somehow Jesse and Bill escaped these liberal indoctrination factories themselves. Lord knows how.
  • Ignore the fact that many of those Democratic supporters likely teach subjects like math or chemistry which can hardly be considered political subjects.
  • Ignore the fact that most academic degrees really don’t have a political bend to them at all. If you are concerned about diversity of viewpoints then at best you want to have that in subjects like economics, or political science.  And this could very well be the case at Cornell.
  • Ignore the fact that most indoctrination is done when the child is young and is done by parents and four years of college is unlikely to change their mind if they have been indoctrinated well into a particular philosophy
  • Let’s ignore the fact that FOX news has no problems indoctrinating their viewership with only one particular viewpoint and merely calls that viewpoint fair and balanced, when it is in fact not.

So let’s first try to understand what liberal means.  The philosophy of liberalism as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

A political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically :  such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)

With this philosophy, individual autonomy is valued and this is not unlike an important tenet that Republicans often talk about which is personal responsibility (which I recently wrote about).  Liberalism also holds that government is a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequity.  I would argue that many Republicans are not against equality, they simply believe that we already have it, and that the only reason certain minorities, classes, genders, etc, aren’t doing well is through their own lack of personal responsibility.  And is equality counter to capitalistic principles?  Not necessarily.  Provided equality refers to equal opportunity, then everyone has an equal opportunity to compete in the market place.  So we can perhaps argue about the specifics about where inequality lies or whether we have it or we don’t, but it would seem that equality its is a goal of most people regardless of party affiliation.

Although many evangelicals would disagree, believing in the essential goodness of the human race is something that at least many more moderate Republicans could get on board with.  Believing in the goodness of the human race is a matter of expectations.  I expect people to be generally good and by holding that expectation people generally are good, or at the very least my own well-being is enhanced by focusing on the good and life (and if more people had improved feelings of well-being it would certainly be a better place).  Ask anybody who wants to give you advice on how to reach your goals and they will say things like “Believe in yourself, believe you can do it, aim high” etc.  So we clearly agree that expectations make a big difference in our achievements.  Thus we should both see no harm in believing in goodness if we want the world to be a better place.  So with the exception of the government role in bringing about equality, what specifically about being liberal are Republicans actually objecting to?  Are any of these qualities specifically bad principles to live by?

Now Bill O’Reilly got his Ph.D. so he must at least know that the professors, like him, had to do a dissertation; a dissertation in which they had to have some sort of hypothesis, and present evidence to support that hypothesis.  But one also has to review prior research that does not support one’s assertion, present it, and critique why you feel such evidence might not be relevant to your specific study.   So why is it bad for professors to hold a philosophy that stresses the importance of researching answers to the questions you have, thinking critically about evidence that is contrary to one’s own beliefs or assertions, and exposing one’s self to ideas that are different from your own?

So how could such people not support the Democratic Party when most of the Republican platform is simply counter to reality through a detailed analysis of evidence.

  • Anthropogenic climate change is real
  • Banning abortions doesn’t reduce abortions
  • Tuitions costs are very high and many of our young people start out with massive debt
  • Money is corrupting the political process
  • There is racial and gender inequality still
  • Less people die by terrorism than by guns yet people fear the former more than the latter
  • The war on drugs is a failure
  • We have a higher percentage of our people incarcerated than any other nation
  • We have huge educational inequality
  • We live in a pluralistic society and one religion cannot dominate, and the first amendment prohibits it from entering government
  • We have growing income inequality and a shrinking middle class
  • Revenue from big business represents a much smaller portion of the total federal revenue than it did during our most prosperous times as a nation
  • We spend more on our military budget than the next 8 nations combined.

So I’m not sure what Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly expect out of highly educated people who are trained to do careful analysis of both sides of an issue.  I am much more surprised when I meet a professor who isn’t a Democrat today.  And if faculty used to be a much better mix of Republicans and Democrats in the past, then maybe it’s also worth asking the question, if the shift towards the democratic party by faculty isn’t the product of indoctrination, but rather a reaction to a party that has simply become grounded in beliefs and rhetoric over scientific and historical evidence.  If a large portion of very educated people seem to think a different way than I do, then to deride and quickly dismiss such a group would only be to my folly.  Maybe I should instead listen and at least carefully consider what they have to say and why they think as they do.