A Kinder Politics: Reclaiming Political Language

My friends, at the heart of today’s blog is one goal: If you’re an adult who has been a life-long Democrat or Republican all of your life, like your parents before you, and with no interruptions caused by a period of personal exploration, then you do not have a belief system of your own.

Let me be clear: You do not believe what you say you believe; rather, you believe that your family’s beliefs are right, whatever those beliefs are.

What I am NOT saying: Your belief is wrong.  I’m not even saying your family’s belief is wrong.  I am also not saying that you must swap over to the “other” belief (in fact, assuming their are only two belief systems is another deeper problem entirely).

A belief cannot be your own unless you’ve challenged it, wrestled with it, and engaged it in heated debate inside your own mind.  A belief cannot be your own unless you’ve explored, understand, and can at least empathize with other beliefs.

I want to encourage you to grow deeper and wider by establishing your own belief that is uniquely your own.  More importantly, it will help you engage others in a kinder, more thoughtful manner.  If you do, you’ll find  you have so much more to offer the world around  you!

I’m sharing this because it’s what helped me iron out my beliefs.  When I started writing about my own effort to figure it out, I made a mess of it and what I wrote was hilariously inaccurate and incoherent.  My second follow-up attempt wasn’t any better.  (I’ll tell you where I stand at the end of this article.)

Liberals, Conservatives, and Progressives, Oh My!

I want to begin this discussion by redefining political words that are commonly and tragically misused in our American lexicon.

If you want to make this a fast read, the first paragraph for each term is a simple definition.  You may skip over the rest if you’re in a hurry.

These are my own definitions, but they are not made up; they come from a few years of research and wrestling with each of them during my own journey.  I also want to caution that this is my best understanding up to today.  While I have done my homework, I am nonetheless not a political scientist.   Please correct me if I misrepresent something on accident and I will update this piece accordingly.

Without further ado:

https://thefederalistpapers.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/b6num_fcaaa-mwo.jpg
Pictured: You have no idea who this is and the statement is literally the opposite of liberalism.

Liberal – A liberal, a word derived from the base term “liberty”, is someone who to some extent or another values the freedom of all people to live and do as they see fit.

Both major American political parties — Democrats and Republicans — are liberal.  For example, the right to bear arms is a liberal value.  Very few Americans are not liberal.

A liberal is not someone who governs purely by arbitrary emotions, hates America, or is anti-religion or anti-tradition.  Any individual or group can have those personal traits, but that has nothing to do with liberalism itself as a political philosophy.  Anyone who tells you this is lying to you via clever propaganda.

Conservative – A conservative values preservation and tradition — often both of government and economic structures and processes as well as social norms.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/a0/3c/a5/a03ca5c9b6e0b709beaf6be2f9bd2998.jpg
Pictured: ironically liberal values.

Preserving traditional marriage is a conservative value, as is preserving a social class structure.

 

Here’s where it can get muddy: being a conservative also includes a question of what you’re preserving.  For example, in an American context, preserving the right to bear arms is conserving a liberal value.  This means you can be a liberal and conservative simultaneously.  Republicans are both.

A conservative is not by definition a bigot, racist, or “redneck”, nor do they necessarily demand a theocratic state.  Any individual or group can be those things and propaganda will try to convince you that all are.

Progressive – If you google the term, you’ll quickly discover that it’s difficult to find a clear, concise definition, but suffice it to say that a progressive pursues social progress, emphasizing the continual advancement of society.

Progressing society toward greater equality among races and genders is a progressive goal.

Consider that most progressives are (probably) liberal (at least I can’t think of any examples to the contrary), but not all liberals are progressive.  That’s not as weird as it sounds — Pursuing greater equality is progressive (advancing society forward) and liberal (advancing the rights of people to live as they please).  Remember, however, that a liberal may also be conservative.  While a progressive may desire, for example, dismantling capitalist markets, a liberal who values the liberty of free markets may oppose this.

For the most part, a conservative cannot be a progressive.  Preserving old traditions and hierarchies is generally in opposition to advancing society ever-forward, since the latter requires anything and everything being on the table for potential change.  Mind you, I am sure there are exceptions I’m simply unaware of.

A  progressive is not by definition a communist who hates America.  Propaganda will try to convince you that all are.

Speaking of communists, let’s talk about popular propaganda like this:

LIBERAL PROGRESSIVE Nothing More Than Fancy New Labels for an Old ...

I am not a communist so my expertise on the topic is limited, but I do know communism the political philosophy is on the left because it aims to free people from tyrannical, centralized authority.  Communism in practice in the Soviet Union was hardly on the left.  Stalin was a viciously violent authoritarian, placing him very far on the right in a very centralized authority structure.  The USSR was anything but liberal or progressive, making the above meme very deviously dishonest.

Right or Left?

That right and left are not the same as conservative and liberal does not make our ability to engage these topics any easier.  Let’s see if we can clear this up too.

Right – Right-wing politics have their origin in those who sat to the right of the king during the era of the French Revolution.  The right values hierarchy and authority.

For example, a right-wing person will usually prefer a single, centralized authority, be it a king, president, or fuhrer.  They prefer a highly structured hierarchy.  When someone says “they should know their place”, that’s a very right-wing sentiment.  The right is historically on the side of the monarch and the socially elite.

Conservatives are often right-wing, espousing values such as “law and order”, but not all conservatives are necessarily right-wing (libertarians are often less so).  Conserving some American liberal values is certainly not right-wing.

Left – Left-wing politics are born from those who sat to the left of the monarch.  The “leftist” values liberty for all, free from centralized authority.  The French Revolution was certainly a revolt of the Left, as was the American Revolution, because they rejected the central authority of a monarch.

Democracy, republicanism, socialism, communism, anarchism, and some forms of capitalism are all somewhere on the left side of the spectrum.  Monarchy, authoritarianism, fascism, dictatorship, and feudalism are on the right.

Not all liberals are leftists.  For example, classic old-school Republican liberals may espouse that all should be free of tyranny, but they still prefer a very rigid hierarchical government, albeit perhaps a smaller one.  The right to bear arms is a liberal value, as is the concept of free markets, while the call for “law and order” is a value held tightly by the right.

Notice how these are all on a spectrum, meaning these definitions are not absolute.  For example, communism and some forms of anarchism are about as far left as you can go.  Fascism is about as far right as you can go.

It’s not a simple spectrum, though.  Oh boy, does  the internet lavish itself in misinformation on this one.  Graphics like this are a dime a dozen:

What is the difference between the left wing and the right wing ...

…and are absolutely hilariously wrong.  Anarchism is far-right?  Most variants of anarchism is about absolute freedom, placing it more often than not at the far left end of the spectrum.  Fascism, which places the citizen into the service of the state, is always far on the right.

Stop looking for graphics of the spectrum.  These ideas cannot be so neatly defined that we can line them up on a neat little arrow, especially because there are left and right versions of many of these political philosophies.  Anarchism includes variants such as anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism, the latter being far less left than the former.  I just mentioned previously that communism is leftist in theory but Stalin was as hard-right a centralized authority as they come.  Libertarianism likewise has far-right and far-left variants within it.  These cannot be neatly lined up.

You are not Simple

These concepts are all difficult to categorize because people are not so simply defined.  That’s a good thing!  Our infinite unique variations are what make us creative and beautiful, and I believe this will eventually lead us into a better future, if only slowly.

Don’t be intimidated by this stuff and don’t turn away from it.  Our politics affect everyone’s every day lives.  Our choices — including the refusal to make a choice — affects others.  We have to stand somewhere.  We don’t have to select one of the above categories, but we can use them to inform us as we figure out what we do choose to believe.

So What am I?

I am likewise not so neatly defined, but I can tell you that:

I’m a liberal.  I believe every single person should be as free with as much liberty as possible.  I believe all of us should be free to follow or reject whatever religion we fancy.  I believe we should be free to live as we see fit by whatever personal morality we prefer.  I believe these freedoms should only be restricted to the point that no harm is done to others.  “Your freedom ends where mine begins.”

I’m a progressive.  I’m an eternal optimist who believes we can and must do better together.  I believe that as we grow individually, we also grow together.  We are inescapably social.  I want to see us send ships into space while at the same time learning how to enact higher morals that protect the equality of all.   (As a Christian, I find this inseparable from my faith in humanity as God’s creation.)

I’m a lefty.  I am very much against strict hierarchies where arbitrary “classes” of people are ranked as deserving more than others, and I’m likewise against a centralized authority that all must be unquestionably subservient to.  (This is also inseparable from my faith, which inspires me to be resistant to “authorities and principalities”, if you will.)

I’m an independent.  I have long refused to align with a political party.  I do not want to fall into group-think, nor do I want to be told that another group is my enemy or in any way inferior.

I am passionately opposed to our current president’s actions, because his actions oppose my every value I just described.  I reject insults.  I reject cruelty.  I reject division.  I reject “othering” my neighbors.  I reject bitterness.  I reject the promotion of greed in the image of a man who stands against the backdrop of literal pillars of gold.  I do not hate him, but I do oppose everything he’s doing, and I take no joy in doing so.  I believe in us, and I believe we are better than this.  I believe he, like us, can do better, too, if only his eyes could be opened.  (That’s another blog for another day.)

I’m humble and cautious, though, in that I don’t discount conservative wisdom.  I never want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  In other contexts, such as with religion, I have some rather conservative views: I really dig the wisdom of ancient scriptures and liturgical tradition.  I like feeling some sort of connection to the people who came before me.  There is always a place for tradition and old wisdom when that tradition does no harm and that wisdom has not been discounted as we’ve learned more about ourselves.

Most importantly, I believe I am flawed and will always have incomplete knowledge.  I do not believe in my own right-ness over others.  I’m not better than you, not by a long shot.

None of this is a zero-sum, all-or-nothing game for me.  Life is nuanced, so must our politics be as well.

When I engage people in politics, regardless of who they are or what they believe, it’s about invitation, not condemnation.  Let’s be better people together.

Fox News Lied About my Church

Quick post today.  I need my conservative/moderate/centrist friends to understand this.

(Disclaimer: I offer no partisan bias.  I am a passionate, party-less independent.)

I attend an Episcopal church here in Dallas, which has been my happy church home for  a few years now.

This week, St. John’s Episcopal church in D.C. suffered a basement fire during protests.  So that we avoid any news bias, here’s the official word directly from the church itself.  That link was posted by the church’s official Twitter account.

Dear Parishioners,
We are writing from the Parish House where we’ve been able to fully assess the damage from last night’s protests.
As we know many of you have already heard, there was a small fire in the parish house basement. Thankfully, it appears to have been contained to the nursery—though, as you might imagine there is smoke and water damage to other areas of the basement.
We’re very happy to report that the rest of the church and parish house is untouched except for some exterior graffiti, which the city’s graffiti team has already covered up.
Fire investigators are still working, but once they are done, we have a crew standing by to secure the buildings.
Please know how grateful we are for the support and messages we’ve received in the
past days. Please continue to pray for our community and our country.
In peace,
Rev. Rob Fisher, Rector
Paul Barkett, Senior Warden
Jeff Hanston, Junior Warden

Here’s another official post from the church on the matter:

The protests that began peacefully grew to something more, and eventually a fire was lit in the nursery, in the basement of Ashburton House.

Like many of you perhaps, I had little access to information about how bad the fire was while it was happening. It felt horrible to see glimpses of smoke rising by the stairs to our entrance on national TV, and then to have it confirmed with an up-close video showing the flames in the basement.

Fortunately, it was in fact completely extinguished. I just assessed the damage as best I could, in the semi-dark and with a flashing, bleating alarm system that I could not figure out how to shut off. My ears are still ringing, and I am still coughing a bit from various fumes I inhaled. But I am happy to share with you that I could see no other real damage besides that one room, and quite a bit of graffiti and debris around the exterior of the church. Protestors easily could have done a lot worse to our buildings, but they chose not to do that. (The damage I saw to other nearby buildings illustrated this point.)

None of this changes our purpose to be an instrument for God’s work through all of this, and in fact now more than ever. I pray for our collective wisdom, grace, courage and compassion as we move forward into what God is calling us to do and be next.

You see acknowledgement that, yes, this was a result of protests, but nonetheless protests the church supports, and look — the damage was mitigated and minimal.  The church has no ill word to offer protestors in the wake of this.  Fair?  If you suspect I’m being biased, look over the church’s statements on  your own.  Don’t take my word for it.

Now look how Fox News twisted this event to fit their partisan narrative:

As authorities clashed with demonstrators for the third straight night, the parish house connected to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House was set on fire late Sunday. The parish house contains offices and parlors for gatherings. The basement, which was also torched, is used for childcare during church services, and had recently undergone renovations.

What was a minor fire quickly put out is now phrased as the church being “torched”.  Interesting word choice.  But hey, maybe I’m being picky — fair enough.

But wait — Fox News included a link in that statement above.  Click the “set on fire late Sunday” part.  It leads to this post on  Twitter:

Antifa is burning down the historic St. John’s Church by the White House. It’s completely up in flames.

Fox News officially linked to a Twitter post explicitly blaming Antifa for burning down the church.  Well.  That description escalated quickly.  Wait…Antifa did it?  We Episcopals said nothing about Antifa.  Why did Fox News add that (in addition to staying the church burned down, which — um….You guys realize it’s still there and just fine, decidedly not burned down)?

Let’s see where this goes next.  From the same article:

Separately on Sunday, Twitter suspended the account of Antifa, the left-wing group that Trump branded a terrorist organization earlier in the day. The suspension came after Antifa urged members to go into “white hoods” and “take what’s ours.”

Click the link on the word “suspended“.  The post states:

As of right now @twitter is suspended @antifa_us.
Thing is, “antifa_us” was a fake account…created by white supremacists, specifically the group Identity Evropa.
Fox News lied — not only lied, but lied in an unapologetically hateful manner.
Look, I don’t endorse Antifa.  As I stated in my previous post, I advocate nonviolence.  But this wasn’t Antifa.
I want you to understand how real and — in my case — how personal this is.  The Episcopal church itself spoke out against this twisting of the narrative:
This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.
Fox News used what happened to the church I belong to to create a false narrative — “fake news”, to borrow a popular term.  This narrative ironically and tragically goes directly against what the very mission this church is all about.  This is overt, purposeful deception for the purpose of propaganda.
Friends, it brings me no joy to share this stuff.  I was once a hard-right conservative, Republican, and a huge Fox News fan.  The process of learning the truth was painful and I grieve to this day.  I was fooled for years.  We have been fooled.  We have been played for fools.
(Apologies for the bad spacing/formatting on this one — WordPress is being weird with how it’s handling line breaks and <br> tags at the moment.  I haven’t quite figured out how to sort that.)

Riots: the Language of the Unheard

Riots are bad.

Wait — Don’t comment yet.  Bear with me.

The modern western (particularly American) way of thinking — the way we whiteys have grown up to think — is very black-and-white.  Ironic word choice, yes, but I mean morally black-and-white.

“This is good.”  “That is bad.”  Black and white.

Unfortunately, it’s robbed us of our ability to think critically and empathically.  Tragically, it’s a simplistic way of thinking that’s been perpetuated by our media, politics, and churches for far too long.  What’s good is good.  What’s bad is bad.  The end.

Except it’s not.

We must understand nuance in order to right the ship that is our broken society.  So —

Riots are bad.

A riot is bad because something horrible has happened to a group of people, and that horrible thing has perpetuated on and on unchecked until it’s reached a boiling point — a point in which people are so profoundly wounded, rejected, and ignored that they are to a point of desperation where violence is the only option left by which to make their voices heard.

Rioters are not bad.  Not in the broad sense.

I am personally a pacifist — at least mostly a pacifist.  I’m not an absolutely all-situations-no-matter-what kinda pacifist, but I am the kind that advocates nonviolent resistance if the option is at all available —

for me.  That’s the caveat.  It’s a code of nonviolence I apply to myself — and I am someone who is not oppressed, not subject to violence, and not fighting to advocate my case for something as simple as being allowed to walk down the street unharmed tomorrow.

I don’t say others should follow my code because I don’t know their experience.  My code is inevitably born of my experience.  Life isn’t that simple.

Dr. King, my fellow Jesus follower, stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  Reflect on this a moment.

Think of your house rules.  No yelling, right?  Your kids get in trouble for that.  Does your kid get in trouble if they yell because, say, you knocked your coffee over by accident on them and they yelled out in pain?

I hope not.

Yelling (generally) is not ok, but if someone yells out in pain — you stop and listen.

It’s not the best analogy, and that’s totally on me for a lack of creative insight on my part.  This is far, far, infinitely worse than that, because what we’re seeing is a group of our neighbors who’ve been yelling in pain for a veeeerrrry long time, and we (as a society) are simply not listening.

So imagine: you yell because you’re burning, but no one’s even acknowledging you.  What do you do next?  Maybe you….knock something over to make them pay attention?

Breaking things is bad.  Sure.  But really, would you blame them?

This is how empathy works.

Riots are people screaming in pain because they protested and protested and protested peacefully (since the 60s and far beyond, people!) and we haven’t listened.  The gains they’ve made since the 60’s have been…tragically, embarrassingly, inhumanely small.

If it weren’t for being an asthmatic in the middle of a pandemic, I would have joined the Dallas protest — even as  I say that, my privilege in being able to say it isn’t lost on me.  So please understand the nuance in my statement: If a riot were to start, I wouldn’t throw a brick.  I’m a pacifist.  It’s not my way.  But I would understand why they’re doing it too.  And I would try to love them more as a result.  I offer only a hug, an ear, and a shoulder to the brick-thrower.  And if a brick were to hit my house?  I can afford fixing the window.  May I step outside and hug the brick-thrower.  (I live in the kind of upscale neighborhood where — frankly — it would be merited.  I’m not even gonna pretend otherwise.)

My response is not “stop it!  It’s wrong!”  It’s “I hear you.  Tell me how I can help.”  One of those — when everyone joins in the response — stops a riot in its tracks.  Look no further than Flint (of all places!) for evidence.  (Seriously, read the link.  It makes me giddy.  This is what I want so freaking bad.)

But what About…

Let’s see if I can knock these out all at once real fast:

I love all the cops in my life.  I grew up surrounded by cops.  My step-brother is a retired officer and my personal superhero.  I’ve known quite a few who joined the force to protect everyone of all colors.  They want to help and that’s how they believe they can best help.  I hate that the police system is rigged against Black people.  (If you’re ever interested, I’d be happy to tell you all about how we could dismantle and rebuild that system for everyone’s betterment.  As we say in tech, the real solution is to uninstall Windows and replace it with Linux.  [Side note: I hope at least one person gets that joke!])

I love all the poor and oppressed.  Not all of them are Black.  Some are even white.  I know a lot of white folks living bad times!  We’re not talking about that here, this time.  We should talk about it.  And I do every opportunity I get.  But not right here, right now.

Yes, there are cases of police killing white people.  That is also a problem, and we should talk about it.  I’m not talking about that right here, right now.  (Again, I’d be happy to tell you all about my answer to that!)

Not all rioters are expressing pain.  Some join in just for the chaos or loot.  I am not talking about them.

All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.  All lives matter to me.  All lives should matter.  In our system today, all lives don’t matter equally; therefore, all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.  We can confidently and proudly and joyfully declare all lives matter once we show that Black lives matter, and what a beautiful, wonderful day that will be!

Other groups are discriminated against.  They deserve their own spaces, too.  This space is not the space for that, but there should be a space for it.

File this phrase away in your head: We do not rule by the exception.  There are always exceptions.  There are always “but, what about”s.  We deal with them, yes, but we don’t rule by them.  That’s Making Rules for Groups of People 101.

Depending on what background you come from, you may not like that I used the word privilege.  It’s politically loaded, right?  If you’re interested in my take on it, I’ll be happy to explain it.  Remember: reality is nuanced.

BTW, I’m the Whitiest Whitey

Black friends: You’re beautiful and I love you.  I hope I did this topic ok-ish justice.  I’m not particularly skilled at addressing this topic.  If I spoke wrongly anywhere, I’ll be happy to adapt it.  I’m writing to my fellow whiteys about a topic I have no experience in.  I’m listening, and more importantly, I want to help elevate your voice using mine.  May my privilege be in your service.

A closing thought: I believe the one all-powerful, all-loving God of all that exists came to Earth in the form of a person of color — as a minority oppressed and murdered by the Roman state.  The God I worship wore brown skin.

My Comment Policy

My blog is a safe space.  No cruel arguments.  Questions are good, though!  Speak in honesty, humbly, and lovingly.  If my fellow whiteys post something mean (by my standards, not your standards), I will simply delete it.

If you see a mean comment, please don’t jump in and start a fight; instead, let me know, and I’ll delete it.  This is because, ironically, a fight can distract from those who have smaller voices, and I want smaller voices to have the table here.

Finally — If all you, fellow whitey, got from reading this is the whole entry is full of crap, then…We’re not friends.  I don’t care who you are — that’s the kind of disagreement I deem irreconcilable.  Do us both a favor and walk away.

(That’s assuming there are comments to begin with, mind you. :D)

 

I’m Pro-Life & Pro-Choice, and “Panetti” was Made-Up

First, to the few of you actually reading this thing, my apologies for the extended lull in posting. I’m working on multiple projects at the moment, for which blogging has temporarily taken a back seat.

Today, though, I want to present to you my take on a topic because of how it hits particularly close to home for me.  It is not an I’m-write-and-they’re-wrong stance, but rather an invitation to deeper reflection and discussion of the topic.  For the sake of ethos, I want to open this with a personal anecdote.  It’s probably going to feel a bit off-the-rails going in, but bear with me — this will culminate to my point regarding the topic at hand.

My mother was pressured to abort me.

During the ’70s, my teenage mother was a bit, shall we say, promiscuous, for lack of a better word. (To be a teenager is to be riddled with impulses, regardless.) One such fling resulted in my fetus announcing its arrival early in the year of 1979.

Now, an important side note: Be aware of the the culture of the ’70s, even the early ’80s that followed. To be a single unwed mother back then was to be more of a pariah than even today. It was even more so of a scarlet letter on the forehead that what we’re accustomed to.

With that in mind: My arrival was not just a damning visible scar on my mother’s reputation, but it was a disgrace to my entire family’s honor (again, seen via their cultural moral filter of the day).

My grandmother, a highly-revered matriarch in my family, wanted none of this and pressured my mother to abort me.  My mother — all her other faults notwithstanding — refused.

There was a whole chain of shame-driven events that followed like dominoes, none of this which I’d learn about until my mid-20’s.  This progression of bad decision followed by worse decision culminated into a deceitful narrative I grew up my entire youth believing that all revolved around a fictional, murdered father figure who never existed.  This whimsical narrative (a topic for another day) to cover up a past they were collectively ashamed of went so far as to provide me with a fictional legal last name.  (Yes — “Panetti” is made up.  Were convention followed, my last name would be “Barton”, after my actual father, who is in fact still alive, though denies relation.) 2022 Update: Haha just kidding on that whole “Barton” thing — Years of detective work since this post fully disproved that previous lead (insert facepalm).

Where am I going with this?  Two personal conclusions:

One – I enjoy being alive.  I am not a fan of the idea of having been aborted.

Two – The dominant norms of fundamentalist evangelical Christian conservatism leaned in favor of my abortion.  I understand my anecdotal experience to be a microcosm of the culture of the day.  Before you rise to debate that conclusion, consider: were fundigelical conservatism not driving societal morals, there would have been no shame in being a single mother to begin with.  That much is undeniable.  Catalyst.  Reaction.

If you doubt the influence of conservative fundigelicalism even still, then I present anecdotal Exhibit B: when I finally learned of this in my mid-20s, that truth was accompanied by a rather cutting claim from another paving-hell-with-good-intentions family member that the “sins of the father” (in this case sex outside of marriage) are a curse carried by the son, and that I myself, by extension, was ripe for sexual sin because of theirs.  This was in the early 2000’s, not the ’70s.

Now only was it their shame then, it was my shame now.  What?

My story is not unique (save the over-the-top fictional dad part).  My story is shared by countless others of my generation, else I wouldn’t dare suggest my anecdotal experience is adequately instructive.

Today, fundamentalist evangelical conservative Christians are insisting that abortion is murder and must be illegal.  Full stop.

Something doesn’t add up here.

To put it another way: the need for abortion to arbitrarily save face — a problem created by fundigelicalism — is a problem that must be solved by fundigelicalism.

We have a word for that in psychology when such a claim is made to an individual: gaslighting. “It’s your fault I made you do that, and only I can fix this by punishing you.”  This is gaslighting on a macro level, moving across multiple generations.

2022 Update: So, funny story — the entire 2nd half of this post vanished into thin air, never to be seen again. No idea what happened, though I suspect my recent WordPress migration might be to blame.

Anyway, the short-short-short version: “Pro-choice” doesn’t mean “pro-abortion”; no one actually wants more abortions. Abortions are always unfortunate, but (a) are sometimes medically necessary and (b) the abortions-for-birth-control archetype is a strawman. I’m pro-choice in that I support a mother’s choice based on her own best discernment and I’m pro-life in that I support building a community that provides access to women’s healthcare, including affordable-if-not-free after-birth childcare so, that they can make the best choice possible. 

The two are not at all mutually exclusive. The controversy was fabricated for political gain and nothing more. I’ll write a new piece on this to go into detail. (Mind you, what I’ve said here still paints this too simply, but it’s the short-short-short version.)

Guns N’ Illness: Part 1

My stance on school shootings is that there is no problem with gun violence in schools, so nothing needs to change and everything is just fine…

…says nobody.

Much the same as I did in A Non-Crazy View of…”Obamacare”, I like to open a discussion with something absolutely everybody agrees on: There is a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or conservative or Christian or atheist or whatever — all of us agree there is most definitely a problem. We Americans are united on this conclusion. Isn’t that some good news to open with?

With this common ground established, then, let us respect in each other that we only differ on how to solve the problem. That’s ok. Disagreement is good. Disagreement and debate are how we sort through multiple partial solutions in order to reach a more complete, truly effective solution.

Because there’s a lot to discuss here, I’ll restrict today’s entry to the liberals’ solution of gun control. Next round, we can talk about the conservatives’ focus on mental illness.

Before moving forward, I want to get an unfortunately necessary disclaimer out of the way so that the discussion can’t be derailed by the distraction this truth brings:

Partisan Politics is Broken

Yes, there are clearly and unquestionably Republicans who’s successful bids for office were thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association (NRA) lining their pockets. This means the politics on the public stage get bent toward the moneyed interests of the NRA instead of the interest of constituent voters (regardless of how much the two align or don’t). The Democrats have the exact same weighted dice in other arenas. Politics on the public stage is largely the voice of money and, depressingly, more theater than problem-solving.

This post is not about that, because to discuss/debate topics on that foundation is an exercise in futility and exactly why Facebook debates on such topics run about in endless, exhausting circles. Instead, what this post is about is how we can start to collectively address this problem ourselves. Despite the reality of moneyed politics, we do still have some degree of influence on our representatives, and that influence grows stronger the more locally you focus. You might not have the ear of the President, but you can much more easily pester your City Council or local school board.

With this in mind, when I talk about conservatives and liberals, I’m not talking about Paul Ryans and Nancy Pelosis. I’m talking about you. I often find that Democrats and Republicans I meet in person are far more nuanced and thoughtful than their talking head counterparts on TV. In other words, and more so than ever under our current President, I regard public, media-covered politics as theater and everyday engagement with people around me as reality.

You with me, liberal and conservative friends? Then with that out of the way, let’s engage this topic properly.

They’ll Just Do It Anyway

So I’m going to begin approaching this aspect of the topic by establishing a presupposition: With laws, we are only ever reducing the probability of violence, not removing it. To expect there to come a day in the foreseeable future where every single last person is guaranteed to never harm children en masse on school grounds again is an exercise in the absurd. Instead, we try to make it harder to accomplish the goal of shooting up a school so as to reduce the frequency of such incidents. For now, that is the best we can do, but that alone is a pretty darn big step forward. Fair enough? So keep this foundational idea in mind as we trudge through this muddy water.

First, let’s address the extremes. “Making guns illegal will only ensure that only the bad guys have guns” is a short-sighted, ridiculous argument, unless you’re an anarchist. By that logic, murder should be legal because murderers are criminals by definition and will thus break the law and murder anyway. But no, that’s not how laws work. Laws are not made based on an assumption that criminals will obey them. That’s not why we pass laws. Instead, the idea is that the harder it is to get (certain types of) guns, the more hoops the would-be shooter has to jump through, and hopefully, ideally, this rise in difficulty will prevent some from succeeding. Yes, criminals can use the black market, but not every criminal has ready access to the black market. The black market is harder to access than, say, Wal-Mart.

Let me stress again: The idea is not that a new law will make “criminals” stop because now it’s illegal. It’s about manipulating probability by raising the difficulty.

Good Guy With a Gun

This is an interesting argument, and I have to confess it appeals to me on some level. This is a curious reverse solution of the liberals’ pitch for tighter gun control in that the conservative argument is to arm more “good guys” so they can fight back. This shouldn’t be wholly dismissed; concealed carry training and better yet, veteran police officers and soldiers with experience bring some real defense to the table. Returning to the idea of manipulating probability, it makes sense that this could serve as a deterrent, again “raising the difficulty” and hopefully weeding out some would-be shooters.

There is, unfortunately, a problem with this: Defense by its very nature is a reactive solution. A police officer or trained civilian cannot spring into action until after something has happened. Awesome as our defenders may be, they are not clairvoyant, and some police officers will caution you that police don’t show up typically until after the crime occurred. We do not live in the world of Minority Report. What this means is that an armed response is a response to something that has already happened — at earliest, a would-be shooter pulling out his gun, but more likely (as was the case with last week’s shooting), they cannot respond until after one or more innocent people have been slain.

It’s thus critically important that while this is a solution, it is a solution that minimizes the body count after the fact; it does not prevent the attack.

One may argue, however, that such a solution would also serve to deter. Who is going to open fire with armed security present, or better yet, armed civilians all around? This question overlooks the ongoing pattern of these shootings: they are murder-suicides. An attacker who goes in ready, expecting, and even desiring to die is absolutely not going to be deterred by anyone else being armed.

I know a number of people with concealed carry licenses, and I do feel safer around them. They know what they’re doing, are well trained, and have a real, deep compassion for defending innocents. This should not go ignored, and while I do not believe the “good guy with a gun” is a solution unto itself, I am open-minded about it being a component of a larger solution.

Note: I am omitting from this discussion the idea of everyone being armed willy-nilly. It should be obvious that responding to an active shooter by starting a Michael-Bay-style gunfight is only going to introduce friendly fire to the mix. This helps no one. Instead, I am willing to be open to not so much the idea of the “good guy with a gun” but the “very well trained professional good guy with a gun”.

There is nonetheless a grave risk inherent to this solution: even trained humans make mistakes. Innocents can still be caught in the crossfire. Again, remember, I am framing this as manipulating probability, and this is one variable in that equation. We are balancing the probability of an armed attacker along with the probability of an armed responder’s ability to spring into action without making severe mistakes.

The Liberal Solution: Gun Control

I want you to keep one core idea in mind as you consider the liberal approach to this topic: liberalism is based on the root word “liberty”, so a liberal more often than not tends to seek solutions that preserve one’s liberty. You may find this contradictory in the current context since gun control is obviously restricting liberty, but the key here is to recognize the catch 22 at play: the liberty to own whatever guns one pleases vs. the liberty to live free of the threat of violence.

The liberal is faced with the dilemma of trying to restrict one liberty to preserve another liberty, thus weighing one liberty as intrinsically more important than the other.

There is a myth I want to clear up here: some conservatives have long feared that liberals want to take guns away from everyone. This is incorrect and a misunderstanding that really spread like wildfire during the Obama years. Liberals do not want to take all guns away from all people. Yes, there will always be exceptions, and I’m sure there are some on the far-left fringe who do want to go that far, but they are not representative of mainstream liberalism, at least here in the U.S.

Instead, the liberal typically wants to tighten the boundaries on gun ownership. This usually means banning weapons that are designed to kill multiple targets in a short amount of time, i.e. automatic and/or semi-automatic weapons. The liberal is thus largely uninterested in your shotgun or hunting rifle mounted in the back of your pickup truck. This is a common misunderstanding of the liberal approach, but pause and consider for a moment: you don’t have any old-timey pictures of an AR-15 mounted in the back window of your pickup truck, do you?

The liberal is usually only interested in the type of guns that keep appearing in actual mass shootings. I would ask that regardless of your own views, that you at least give them credit here that if nothing else, on the surface this seems to make sense, at least to the layman. If “Object A” makes an appearance every time a bunch of people are gunned down, then there’s some logic to turning one’s attention specifically to “Object A”. The liberal thinks that if automatic rifles can be removed from the open market, then our would-be shooters — at least those without shady backroom connections — are left to open fire on groups of people with their shotgun or hunting rifle, which likely isn’t going to yield the same result.

(Note: There is some important discussion going on out there about how certain types of weapons are severely misunderstood by laymen, especially the AR-15. This is beyond the scope of this post only because I can only cram so much into one post at the moment. I ask instead that you grant some empathy and if nothing else, understand the layman’s point of view for the time being. Of course, this nuance does need to be addressed in full, though I doubt I’m able to do the topic justice myself.)

They’re Coming for Mah Guns!

So now what do we conclude? Is it time to implement some restrictions on gun ownership? If so, how far do we go with implementing restrictions, and how much is too much?

There’s a lot more to discuss here, so let’s pause here and digest what’s on the table at this point, then return to this topic in the next installment. I want to address other dimensions of this debate such as mental illness, the liberty of the responsible gun owner, the American-specific concept of a self-governing people necessarily being a self-armed people, and possibly other factors I may have neglected thus far.

For now, I hope I’ve made the case that no matter how you decide to approach this topic, there is no clean, simple, easy answer. We need to get away from constantly villainizing each other and instead at least recognize that though we may be on radically different paths toward a solution, we are all trying to find a solution. We all care about this. We all want to fix this. Let’s not forget our common ground.

My Political Stance, Part Two: Uh, Forget Part One?

The whole point to my writing these entries on here is mostly theraputic. I have no grandiose delusions of actually being a notable blogger or embuing anyone with actual legitmate wisdom; rather, I want and need to practice writing and organizing my internal thoughts.

So that said, my last entry two months ago was really, really bad.

But that’s ok — it served its purpose to me at the time. My mistake was to try to approach my own disjointed lack of a political stance and try to outline what my political stance was, which proved to be an exercise in futility, first and foremost because I simply just didn’t know what I was talking about. I tried to approach a complex political science topic as a layman very much not versed in the political sciences.

So with no further adieu, I present to you:

My Political Stance (Revised!): Part Only: I’m Stuck (Spoiler!)

Here’s the deal guys — This is what I know I’m not at the moment:

I’m not a conservative. Change is the very spice of life. Being stuck in “the way things have always been” never ends well. Older is not superior to younger. I’m not going to literal hell for challenging old ideas. I do think traditions can be good and I do think tossing traditions and old established tidbits of wisdom out the window willy-nilly is certainly throwing the baby out with the bath water, but I don’t think that alone qualifies me as any kind of actual conservative. Above all, I am bothered by conservatism’s tendency to lean toward some flavor of authoritarianism.

I’m not a progressive. At least I don’t think I am? I don’t actually know what a progressive actually is. Seriously, not kidding here. It’s a topic that I find the more I research it, the less I think I actually get it. I do believe in equality for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or whatever other sub-category of people you can think up. I admire plenty of progressive folks. I believe we’re better off embracing change and the future instead of planting our feet squarely in the past (and our heads in the sand), but I don’t think that necessarily makes me a progressive. Above all, I worry that progressivism might suffer an error of how more so than an error of what; I fear it may be short-sighted, unaware of possible authoritarian consequences of some of its mechanisms.

I still stand by my conclusion in Part 1 that I’m probably some flavor of classical liberal. I do fiercely believe in the freedom and autonomy of the individual. I am passionately anti-authoritarian; however, I also recognize some authority (ideally a bare minimum) guards us from a hazardous Wild West anarchy. For example, if you want to marry the same sex, two people, five people, the state of Virginia, or a cardboard cutout of President James A. Garfield, you should be free to have at it — just as long as you don’t pester me about it and allow me the same freedom to do my own thing. On the other hand, I worry about the long-term consequences of classical liberalism run a muck (or perhaps libertarianism) resulting in our society’s inability to ever achieve anything majorly significant while we’re wildly on entirely different pages. It took more than a handful of people to win the space race, after all.

So there you have it. I have no flipping clue what the heck I am because I have issues with literally everybody, apparently.

This is, in summation, why I more often than not refer to myself as a moderate or at most, a moderate somewhere on the liberal spectrum. I mostly want the government to stay out of our business, but protect our rights. Assist those in need, but not lord over us. Let us rule ourselves, but not to the point where we each individually wander off into an ironically collective oblivion. Rid society of the evils of prejudice, but not by forced homogeneity.

I do want to point out one very important detail here, though: note my stances outlined here have nothing to do with who I hate. I have been referring to ideas, not people.

I don’t feel I really have a place to fit in, here in today’s political climate.

My Political Stance: TL:DR Version (Part One)

Anytime I weigh in on politics on Facebook — which I try to keep to a minimum, as Facebook is hardly the medium for thoughtful discourse — I almost always tell people “I’m neither liberal  nor conservative” and/or “I’m a moderate”. That is partly true, at least best I can figure, but the breadth of my stance (and probably many folks’ stances) is far more nuanced. So, for anyone bored enough to be interested, here’s where I actually stand on all things politics. It’s long, complicated, and nuanced all over the place, so today’s entry will simply be Part One with more to follow.

(Disclaimer: My stances have evolved over time and likely will continue doing so as I become more educated in topics and learn to clean up my verbiage. This and related entries will either be updated or appended as time goes on, accordingly. Also, I’m totally am amateur on this topic and may not entirely know what I’m talking about.)

So today I’ll get the first obvious question out of the way:

Liberal or Conservative?

I’m both to varying degrees, but I lean more liberal. The problem is most Americans conflate liberal with Democrat and conservative with Republican, but that is not an apples-to-apples alignment.

I am a liberal in that I believe fiercely in the unalienable rights of the individual. I believe each individual is a unique person with unique beliefs who should be fully free to express, pursue, and advocate for those beliefs as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others.

I’m pretty down with classical liberalism. I am passionate about civil liberties and economic freedom for all. “Live and let live” without the government deciding for us how the individual should live their lives, and provide economic freedom for all individuals to pursue their own endeavors without having to belong to a nobility or special class in order to access such opportunities.

I’m also a conservative (I think?), but I disagree with the broad definition of American conservative presented via Wikipedia, which is:

a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, support for Judeo-Christian values, free speech, moral absolutism, economic liberalism, anti-communism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of Western culture from threats posed by ‘creeping socialism’, moral relativism, multiculturalism and liberal internationalism.

I disagree with half of that list (I underlined above that which I do not believe), so I don’t know what that means for my idea of conservatism. My understanding of my flavor of conservatism is I believe in preserving those traditions which define our history but are not harmful to anyone. For example, I think maintaining the structure of government as outlined in the Constitution is a really good idea, but I’m really glad the age-old tradition of slavery (which, needless to say, was extremely harmful) is over. I’m for slow, gradual, thoughtful change as the default setting when time is not of the essence. The abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement are examples of when time is not a luxury and change must happen swiftly, but when those aren’t the kind of stakes on the table, I’m all for slow change just so that we’re careful not to forget who we are and where we came from — and more importantly, so that we know exactly what change we’re bargaining for and for what  ultimate purpose at the given moment before we pass a point of no return where “oops” is too late to say in the face of the unforeseen consequences.

I’m for conserving the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I don’t know of any modern body of American conservatives I’d touch with a ten-foot pole (the Tea Party creeps the crap out of me), so I really don’t know what kind of conservative, if any, that leaves me to be at this point.

Here’s where it gets really muddy: I propose what is liberal and conservative is mostly defined by the point in time the question is asked.  With this in mind, I might be a conservative liberal, but I don’t fully agree with what’s outlined in the linked description there, either.

What do I mean by defined by the point in time? I mean that during the time of the American Revolution, the idea of denying a monarchy and establishing a country of self-rule of the people was wildly liberal. Then, the conservative stance was to side with the long-established monarchy, which was to adhere to a very firmly grounded tradition at the time. Yet today, conservatives by and large claim to advocate for the preservation of individual freedom, private property, and rule of the people, which today is to hold to long-held tradition and the established system. So in other words, I propose what is liberal today is conservative tomorrow, at least in terms of the liberal ideas that stick.

For these reasons, when speaking in the shorthand, I tell people I’m moderate, but even that word is problematic. There isn’t a well-defined “middle” line that if you cross it from one direction, you’re conservative, and if you cross from the other, you’re liberal. It’s a spectrum, so “moderate” is to say “somewhere in between those two extremes”, which, in truth, I would argue most of the populace resides on. But what other concise way is there to say “quite a bit of this, a little of that”?

I could go on for a few more hours on this question alone, but I think this is a sufficient start, for now. For Part Two, I’ll delve into where I stand on the “Left or Right?” question (which, no, it’s not the same question).

A Non-Crazy View of…Immigration

Remember when Reagan advocated amnesty for illegal immigrants and open borders?

Rather than […] talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here, and when they want to go back, they can go back, and […] open the border both ways […]

The above is taken from a 1980 debate between Reagan and Bush Sr. Both 1980s conservatives would be regarded as bleeding heart progressive globalists by today’s standards…perhaps paid off by Soros for bonus points.   And one of these two men is the dude one of our political parties has all but elevated to sainthood.

He had more thoughts on the topic later in 1984:

Because people are losing their minds over the topic nowadays, I’m going to discuss immigration.  This is a weird topic to me, and I disagree with pretty much everybody on it.  I like to think this is because the “views” presented today in media are extreme caricatures that misrepresent the issue.

 

Americans Like Multiplying

What I find really, really bizarre about the form the topic has taken today is that we seem to have forgotten that we have always been about Americans promoting American values and inviting more people to become Americans because that has a net result of more Americans.  More little flags in more little yards.  More workers for more jobs.  More democracy.  More voices singing quaint little patriotic songs as eagles soar overhead.  Remember when we were all about anybody and everybody packing up and coming over because even if your life to this point sucked — especially if it sucked — we’d take you in because once you become an American, we’ll make you awesome?

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The idea has always been that every incoming immigrant is just a new American in the making, a proud new convert to the world’s shining city on a hill.

I honestly can’t imagine any modern context employing the words “wretched refuse” that wouldn’t end with building a wall.  Today, we’re trying to make America great “again”, which is confusing given that…

 

Isn’t the U.S. of A. the Cat’s Pajamas?

Or, to borrow a phrase I hear over and over again on a certain conservative talk radio show, “the greatest nation on God’s green Earth”?  (As an aside, how can it not be great and be the greatest simultaneously?)  I grew up being led to believe we’re kind of a big deal.  We’re the leader of the free world.  Home of the American Dream.  Big houses with picket fences.  Home-runs and hamburgers and 401k’s and everyone has two Hummers in their driveway…

Yet we get pissed off because other people want to bail and head over our way?  Heaven forbid someone want to live a better life here.  And for those especially desperate, given their far worse states in extremely non-American lesser countries devoid of flashy little flags in front yards, can we blame them for throwing caution to the wind and trying to make it into the Dream however fastest they can, be it legal or not?  Would you not be tempted to fudge the rules if you were stuck on the other side?  How is it we’re not excited about how flipping eager they are to abandon their homeland and slap “made in America” on their foreheads?

That’s not to say I’m proposing we go “screw it, anything goes now”.

 

You Can’t Ignore Laws

We can’t ignore laws.  If we could, then we could just will-nilly do whatever we darn well pleased, because the words of the law would just be arbitrary letters on paper, such as the letters on the paper of “8 U.S. Code § 1182 – Inadmissible aliens“:

An alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General, is inadmissible.

That one sentence is really what the whole mess boils down to.  That is the letter of the law and that law is settled, so we have to obey it.  That’s how laws work.  So if someone crosses the border in any way other than that which is “designated by the Attorney General” (which is to say, dudes in suits), then they have broken the law, and can’t hang out with us.

But wait!  That law is unjust, deporting parents and breaking up families, you racist fascist!  Well, hold on, that’s jumping the gun.  I said that’s the law and we have to enforce the law else laws mean nothing.  I didn’t say it was right.  As the infamous Edward Snowden would be quick to remind you, legal does not always mean moral.

What we can’t do is expect law enforcers to just pretend this law doesn’t exist.  What we can do is debate the moral rightness/wrongness of the law, then advocate for changing that law if necessary.  You can push for the judicial branch to strike down the law or the legislative branch to change the law.  Is that fair to illegal immigrants here?  No.  Do I wish it was?  Yes.  Does anyone care what I think?  No chance in hell.  You have to change the law; ignoring it is not a solution.

 

The Law is a Mess

I propose the heart of the problem is that the system for becoming a legal immigrant is a mess of red tape and hoops to jump through.  To get your big move rubber-stamped by the powers that be may very well take thousands of dollars and years of waiting.  So, honestly, do you blame someone, who’s current neighborhood challenge is staying alive, when they conclude they can’t wait that long and afford that much?  How in the world do we expect “the homeless, the tempest-tossed” to fork up that kinda funding and just hang tight a “few” years?  Are we going to propose changing the saying on our iconic statue, and if so, isn’t that the exact opposite of being conservative?

Has it occurred to anyone that perhaps we would have fewer illegal immigrants if we made legal immigration reasonably accessible?  Do you stay patient waiting at the DMV?

I’m not saying go all crazy with open borders so people can just run on over on a whim, but isn’t expecting them to win a bureaucratic war of attrition a little bit much?  Is that really the only two options on the table nowadays?

Why aren’t we encouraging folks to be anxious and eager to become Americans?

 

Make America Peppy Again

The whole motto of the current President, “Make America Great Again”, is the dumbest pile of bologna to come along in a while in that it’s literally the exact opposite of what we needed to hear.  The conservative Republicans of old were all about telling you how freaking amazing our country is.  They would point to the “flood” of “illegals” and say, “See?  We’re so awesome, they can’t even wait to get here legally!”

No one’s saying that.

That’s the problem.

 

Update 02/10 – I felt it worth adding a disclaimer in case my writing skill failed to imply the message accurately.  If any of the language here strikes you as particularly ‘Murican’ or nationalistic, it’s sarcasm.  I was trying to speak, with a bit of hyperbole, from a point of view I grew up drenched in during the 80’s. 

 

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