Defunding the Police to Save Cops

I grew up in a cop family, and the cops in my family are my personal heroes.  My late step-father, Jim, and my step-brother, Scott, have been, to me, the living embodiment of what a cop should be.

That ideal is the cop who wears the badge to defend the defenseless, protect us from oppression, guard our rights, and stand as a defender and ally to every gender, race, and creed alike.  That’s the ideal I grew up admiring all my life.  It’s about selflessness — putting everyone else first, no matter what.

Then George Floyd happened.

It’s taken me some months to figure out how the hell to write about this, because I had to work through my own emotions and biases first.  I’ve also had to work through the filter of my own white privilege.  (And look, I get it — “white privilege” is a loaded term.  All I’m saying is I definitely have it.  In spades.  If nothing else, I  can speak confidently for myself.)

The Cop vs The Police

After spending time to work through it, here’s where I landed: There are people and there is system.  We cannot confuse the two.  People exist within a system, but the system is nonetheless a thing to itself.

There are individual cops — at minimum, the two I grew up with, at least — who are not racist and who in fact oppose racism.  (I was raised to fiercely hate racism, from the KKK to the skinhead to the local yocal who called Blacks “them people”.)

There are simultaneously individual cops who abso-freaking-lutely are as racist as the day is long as suffer no consequences.  If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know this clear as day.  No further explanation needed.

I have no idea what the proportion of each in the nationwide police population is.  I don’t know if most are racist or if most are anti-racist or if most are somewhere in between.  No clue.  What I do know beyond any shadow of doubt is that the percentage of the police population that is racist is far too many.

Then there is the system itself.  Regardless of individual stories, the system is where the root problem resides.  American policing began with chasing down escaped slaves (I was this-year-years-old when I learned this myself).  That’s hardly shocking.  The South’s economy was wholly dependent on slavery, so of course the first police officers were hunting down slaves.  It’s an ugly history, but a true one nonetheless.

I wish we could chalk that up to our screwed up historical origins and move on, but we don’t have that luxury.  In the eras that followed, police more often than not stepped aside during post-Reconstruction lynchings, stood aside during Jim Crow, and stood in the way of 60’s era civil rights activists.

It should thus be no surprise that those roots are still peaking out of the ground again today.  There’s no escaping that the cop who killed George Floyd murdered him.  There was no “oops” — anybody with two working eyes and the slightest understanding of police procedure understands this.

It should likewise be no surprise that there’s a sudden explosion of various police departments outright waging war against peaceful Black protestors.

The system — shaped by laws, traditions, and generations of culture — is the root cause behind this.  The system is bigger than any one cop.  (The history of the system is a huge topic to itself.  I’m touching on it then moving on, but I encourage diving more fully into this topic to better understand it.)

Good Apple, Bad Apple

As pro-cop as I’ve always been, the “it’s just a few bad apples” argument simply doesn’t hold water.  Even after accounting for the reality that American media is bent toward sensationalizing violent events beyond actual reality, the number of incidents of entire departments turning against Black bodies is….mind-blowingly large.

This is also easily a topic to itself, so instead of sourcing every article over the last few months, I’m going to in good faith assume we’re on the same page by now.  Instead, my point is that it doesn’t matter how many good apples vs. bad apples there are.  Nor does it matter how good apples should or should not be fighting the bad apples from inside the basket.  The problem is the basket.  Individual apples do not hold the answer.

My cops were/are good apples.  That I’ll argue to the grave.  But it’s beside the point.  The system is broken.  When the system is broken, there’s only so much any one cop can do about it.

The Police Kill Cops

Herein lies my thesis.  Remember, by “the police”, I mean the system of American policing, and by “cops”, I mean each individual police officer (particularly the “good apples”).

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that cops killing people of color wasn’t at all an issue.  Slavery never happened and racism isn’t an American problem.  Even operating on those assumptions, the fact remains that in today’s policing system, cops are essentially treated as nothing more than expendable canon fodder.

First, cops are underpaid.  I absolutely understand they are overpaid relative to other professions (such as teachers), but the bigger problem there is that most everyone is underpaid to begin with (another topic for another day).  Outside of that context, cops are underpaid if you assume that any job that requires voluntarily risking one’s own life should merit a pretty significant paycheck.   (I always roll my eyes when I see a TV detective go home to his large, fancy, high-rise apartment.)

Cops are (often) under-trained.  Again, assuming our make-believe scenario where no racism is at play, the way-too-many shootings we’ve seen reported can easily — very easily — be chocked up to poor trigger discipline if nothing else.  (Soldiers don’t kill people in fear of their own lives near so easily.)

Police culture has many toxic dimensions to it, which have grown over time.  First and foremost is the “us vs. them” mentality, which divides the entire population into “police” and “civilians” (i.e. everyone else), hence “the thin blue line” between them.  (The irony is that American police are, by definition, civilians themselves.)

That aspect of the culture comes from a real place, mind you, and it’s important that we’re able to see this through empathetic eyes.  Just as an EMT spends their days seeing exponentially more injured and mauled people than everyone else, cops spend their days seeing more evil in people than everyone else.  You may live your entire life without ever (knowingly) encountering a rapist or murderer, whereas the police officer encounters one after another constantly (at least in large-population, metropolitan environments).  The EMT and cop both experience different realities than the rest of us do, and they do so voluntarily so that we don’t have to.

That experienced reality is a poisonous one, nonetheless, simply because we humans, as social animals, are not built to weather such a harsh reality.  It scars the soul.

This feeds into my largest point of concern: the suicide rate among cops is out the roof year after year.

Cops are killing themselves.  If you remember that cops are human beings like the rest of us, then this informs you that something is deeply, deeply wrong on a purely human level.  It means the system is failing and has failed.  There is no greater evidence of systematic failure than this.  Whatever your personal views on suicide, it’s the outcome of a mental health ailment that no human being undertakes lightly.

Time to be Creative

The American culture I grew up in taught me to value how innovative and revolutionary American thought is, and my faith informs me that our human creativity is part of that which makes us in the image of God.  We are only limited in our creativity when we artificially limit ourselves with our own cynicism.

With this in mind, I’m all about defunding the police.  But first, clarification, because, as the rest of the world seems to always be aware, we suck at language.

Defunding the police does not mean simply destroying our defenses and harkening in the chaos of pure unrestrained anarchy.   It means re-imagining police or perhaps replacing the policing system with a new system not born of slave-chasing.  If anything, the flaw in the phrase is that it ends in a period, when in actuality it’s “Defund the police, then do ________”.  The idea is to build a better system to protect ourselves.

If our current system is not only killing Blacks, but also killing cops, then what leg does that system even have left to stand on?

There’s a lot of exciting new ideas in this movement, but one of my favorites is the idea of every cop (or whatever we call our defenders in the new system) being accompanied by a mental health professional.  That alone means the following:

  • Better funding: health professional aren’t cheap.
  • Better cop experience: the cop is no longer forced to pretend they’re a health professional, then go home to deal with their own inevitable PTSD fallout afterward.
  • Cops are exponentially less likely to kill the mentally ill in knee-jerk fear response: not only is that good for the not-killed, it’s good for the cop, who won’t have to carry that death with them the rest of their lives.
  • A new not-born-of-Civil-War-racism system won’t breed racist cops and won’t kill Black lives.
  • A community-driven, community-supported system tears down the “us vs. them” wall.  That’s not just good for the community; it’s good for the cop.  “Us vs. them” thinking is bad for the soul.

The policing system that has produced a majority of cops who suffer profound anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a myriad of other ailments is a system that has failed, just as is the same system that continuously oppresses and murders Black lives.  No one is winning in the current system.  Not the Black life.  Not the cop life.  No one.  In the current system, no lives matter.  Only the system matters (and only the lives that run and profit off the system matter).

_________ Lives Matter

All lives matter.

All lives don’t matter as long as Black lives don’t matter.

Right now, our society has demonstrated that Black lives don’t matter, thus all lives don’t matter.

All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.

Black lives must matter.

“Blue” lives matter, except that phrase is a misnomer.  You’re born Black; you aren’t born blue.  Blue is not a race, so it’s inauthentic and in bad faith to hijack the phrase in such a way.  Cops’ lives do matter — my cops’ lives sure as hell matter to me — but that’s not the right way to articulate it.  Think bigger.

Defunding or re-imagining/reinventing/replacing the system of policing will save Black lives….and cop lives….and, ultimately, all our lives, if not our souls.

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)

 

Working from Home, Part I: Video Killed the Office Star

(A client asked that I create a “tips” guide, geared for a non-technical audience, to help their staff adjust to working from home for the first time.  Figured I’d share it here as well!)

Our current extended period of social distancing has presented us with many challenges, not the least of which is adapting on the fly to a sudden shift to working from home. If this is your first introduction to working remotely, the experience is no doubt a bit foreign if not awkward.

This guide is here to help! Once the initial getting-used-to-it period passes, the tips found here will help you transition into a smooth, comfortable, natural work-from-home experience.

Tip #1: A Dedicated Space

First, a general tip: Good posture with your computer is critically important, especially right now when most

of us are sitting at home far more often and for longer periods of time than we typically would.

It may be tempting to simply crack open your laptop and get to work from any familiar flat surface, such as your dining room table or a surface in front of the living room couch, but if you go that route, you’ll quickly find that hunching over a small laptop for extended periods will only increase your chiropractor’s paycheck down the road.

Instead, connect an external monitor or two (if you have one available), then ensure the monitor is raised high enough so that the center is at eye-level. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to bend your neck up or down in order to look at your work.

Don’t have an external monitor handy? No problem! Simply raise the laptop up off the desk to the point that it’s eye-level for you. You can achieve this using an actual laptop stand or by simply stacking books until it’s at the right height!

Working comfortably with good posture will reduce work frustration and help prevent health issues that can arise from sedentary work.

Tip #2: Lights, Camera, Conference!

Whereas web conferencing is a very handy tool for remote group work, video conferencing is even better. Seeing your teammates’ faces is the next-best thing to being together in person and can help minimize the initial awkwardness of working together from a distance.

You don’t need to prepare to look like a professional newscaster in a studio, but it is a good practice to be mindful of very basic camera angles so that you can frame yourself in the most professional manner possible.

Consider the following options:

  • Try to keep your face in the center of the picture.
  • Avoid angles that require you to either look up or down too much. Imagine how you would face someone talking to you, level with them during the conversation.
  • If you’re using an external webcam, this is easiest option. Simply take care to mount and aim it in such a way that you are properly framed.
  • If you’re using a laptop, remember that the camera is usually located right above the laptop’s screen. That means you can adjust the screen on its hinge so as to raise or lower the camera angle.
  • Phones are the trickiest option, but workable. Try to place and position the phone in such a way so that the camera is near eye-level. It’s best to keep the phone stationary during the call, if possible.

Don’t worry about following these tips perfectly – If you stick to the general idea, you’ll be just fine.

Tip #3: Know Your Surroundings

When working remotely, it’s easy to take our home setting for granted. It’s important to remember that when you appear in a video conference while at home, you’re essentially virtually inviting everyone attending into your home with you.

This requires being mindful of what appears behind you. All it takes is for a spouse or child (or pet!) to unwittingly appear on camera behind you to ruin your meeting (often tragically, albeit hilariously). Likewise be mindful of what’s on the wall or surface behind you. For example, some art we might find personally appropriate may not be appropriate by office standards.

Also be aware that some conferencing solutions – such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to name a couple – provide optional virtual backgrounds to replace your actual background during a call. As many have learned the hard way, these can be activated by accident, so it’s important to be mindful of how you appear on-screen at all times.

Tip #4: Dress for (Remote) Success

Most of us dress differently for work than we do for lounging around the house.  While it may not always be necessary to dress up for the office while working remotely, it is nonetheless critically important to be mindful of what you wear while appearing on camera in a meeting.

Granted, it would be both unnecessary and a bit awkward to wear a full business-professional suit and tie at home in most situations.

Instead, know your audience. If you’re meeting with your own team in which the context of the meeting is pretty casual, then you don’t necessarily need to dress up; just dress appropriate for at least being seen outside in public.

Other meetings, of course, may require a bit more. If you’re meeting with executive leadership, it’s probably an OK idea to spruce up a little.

Tip #5: Face-to-Face-to-…Faces

If there’s one major pitfall above all others when it comes to video conferencing, it’s that your webcam is an unblinking eye that never looks away. This is easy to forget, especially when you’re not the one currently speaking or presenting.

With that in mind, be mindful of your facial expressions. You needn’t go so far as to fake a smile the entire call; rather, simply be mindful of your expressions just as you would if you were sitting at an actual conference table with everyone.

Tip #6: Quiet on the Set

One of the – if not the – most common problems encountered during web conferences is someone failing to mute themselves when others are speaking. Not only is it important to ensure your workspace is quiet from screaming children, chatty spouses, awkwardly heavy breathing, and living room TVs, but one should make liberal use of the “mute” button when not speaking to the group.

For example, when using WebEx, you can hover your mouse over the bottom area of the window to make various option buttons appear, one of which you can click to mute/unmute yourself.

Some headsets have built-in mute buttons as well. These can be especially handy if you prefer to simply tap a real button to mute yourself, but beware: with no visual indicator on-screen, it can be easy to forget if you’re still muted or not.

And Now You’re a WebEx….pert.

Stick to these six tips, and you’ll be acing video web conferences in no time! Proper remote etiquette can make working from home as natural and easy as working in a bustling office – maybe even easier!

In the upcoming parts of this series: staying cyber-secure at home, and soon, special tips for managers who want to keep their remote team engaged. Stay tuned!

Sharing Some Creative Writing!

Thought I’d share a tidbit of creative nonsense: I recently attended a local writers meetup group that met at the Nerdvana coffee shop up in Frisco (a favorite haunt of mine).  The challenge of the evening was a simple free-write assignment in which we were given around 20min or so and nothing but a blank page.  We were given three words, and then were to write a scene about it.  No looking back, no editing, just straight writing for 20 minutes.

Those words were: “return”, “wear”, and “theft”.

Being the snarky sort I am, I just made that my title, and now I give you my 20 minutes of random, entitled:

Return-Wear Theft

“It’s called Return-Wear and it’s taken the nation by storm!  For the first time ever, enjoy a worry-free try-before-you-buy clothing experience!  No more gazing longingly through storefront windows wondering how that cocktail dress might fit you, or if that tuxedo really matches your eyes for that upcoming best friend’s wedding.  With our patented –”

“Freaking proximity ads!” Dex growled as he fumbled for the flashlight he had dropped from the startle.  “How do you shut these damn things off?!”

“Like I know?” Paz shot back in a strained, tense whisper.

“It’s all about the nanomachines, friend,” the ad cheerfully continued.  “Tap your Return-Wear ID into the store display’s Cybertech RealYou Input Reader, and in a flash your Return-Wear Nanosuit will take on the form of that dashing outfit in the store window!”

“Stop talking.  Sign off.  Skip ad.  SHUT—”

“Dex!” Paz snapped as a blonde strand loosened and swept across her sharp blue eyes.  “Just ignore it!”

Dex grumbled.

They were both shoving as many of the “Return-Wear” nanosuits as they could clumsily grab into their black duffle bags.  Displayed in the default storage setting, the nanosuits took up only a few square inches of space each, folded impossibly neatly and stacked 20-30 per pile.

“Dex….” Paz squeezed between hurried breaths, “why the frickin’ frick did we decide to bust into a Cybertech store for our first score again?”

“Do big if you’re gonna dream big, kid.  Wasn’t that the line that overpriced prick’s book fed you?  So…”

Paz’s young eyes narrowed in warning.

“…we’re doin’ big.”  He shrugged, deciding wisely to cut himself off short.

“THANK YOU, VALUED CUSTOMER!”  jolted them both upright as the suit Dax just grabbed shimmered and shifted to life.  “Your 30-day Return-Wear trial starts NOW!!!”

“Oh cra—”

The neatly-folded square of default-gray expanded, pouring itself off the shelf and up Dax’s arm like a tiny reverse waterfall.  Less than a second later, he was sporting a default-gray skin-tight bodysuit.

“Dax Lars, your trial RealYou ID is 127-XJ44!  No commitment required – If you don’t submit a form of payment in 30 days from today, your Return-Wear Nanosuit will disengage and return itself!  Simple and hassle-free, the Cybertech way!”

“What the –”

“Dax Lars, do you consent that your unique biometric data be tracked along with your geo-location implant chip by Cybertech Industries for the next thirty days?”

“What do you mean ‘consent’?!  I didn’t –”

“THANK YOU VALUED CUSTOMER!  Don’t worry about finding a return drop-off – we’ll find you!”

He turned with a knowing wince to meet Paz’s piercing, damning stare of needles, which he could only meet with a sheepish, defeated chuckle.

“It’s not that I’m angry,” her typically mousy voice stated quietly and cooly, “it’s that I’m just really disappointed.”

Bonus Audio Feature!

While I’m pursuing my dream of scifi writing, my best buddy is pursuing his dream of voice acting, so he offered to lend his talents to my amateur-hour piece here for his own practice, and thus I give you the audio drama version.  <— Click it!

It’s Been a Year?

Whoa! My last post was in January?? And it’s December now?!

So…oops.

Thus this post is going up to (a) promise I’m coming back with future posts and (b) haven’t forgotten about the loyal few of you who actually read this!

First and foremost — Gina! You commented on my post back in January, then I never responded because I’m horribly ADD about keeping up with comments. Better late than never: Heck no I haven’t forgotten you, and I can’t put into words how much what you said meant to me. No joke — it’s stayed on my mind all year.

Now, for everyone else — Here’s what’s up:

All the Projects!

I have mostly retreated from both online and real social life this year so I could really, really hardcore buckle down and engage in some deep self-reflection, skill-sharpening, and serious exploration of some personal visions. Life has changed in big — and good! — ways over the past couple of years, especially with my mother’s funeral behind me, which means my family-crisis-managing and family-care-giving days are likewise behind me. That has…opened doors deep within that I didn’t expect.

I have a LOT more physical and emotional energy. I’m in a really good place, so I’ve been capitalizing on it. I started by revisiting some old dreams that I had unconsciously let go of.

Taking a Stab at a Book

So I’ve always wanted to write a book. Science fiction. Weird stuff. If you look back at my previous posts, I have a crap-ton of experience writing right-brained stuff. Believe it or not, I do have a left side, and I’ve been working on waking it back up.

I have no delusions of grandeur or mid-life-crisisy-type vision of being the next big thing or whatever. I just always wanted to do it for funsies, see what happens, so what the hell, gonna take a stab at it. Thus far, it’s mostly been a lot of creative writing courses and book reading and story architecting so I have the fundamentals (structure, narrative voice, themes, etc.) down first.

It may very well suck and you may never see it. But its’ a good exercise for the soul.

Learning to Code

Once upon a time, early-20’s-me waltzed into college with high dreams for a computer science degree. I then took several semesters of C++ and bombed my first attempt at Data Structures (which I’ve learned — way too many years later — is more or less a rite of passage). Growing up always acing classes and not knowing how to cope with not doing so, I immediately gave up and switched majors. As you do.

(Hmm. Future blog post maybe? That topic’s got some history to it.)

Since then, I’ve been doing fifteen years of tech support. Which — don’t get me wrong — hasn’t been all horrible (especially in the higher-end niche areas I’m in now) and the pay has been really dang good…but nonetheless, I didn’t start this journey with dreams of tech support.

I’ve been revisiting (and forgiving) my younger self on this one. I’ve actually picked up a lot on the job over the years, so getting back into coding has been a pretty speedy ramp-up. Earlier this year I released my first-ever application that I developed for my team to use to ease a complex manual process we were having to perform at the time. It was a small amateur-hour little thing written in Python, but it worked (works!), and so that was a major milestone.

Since then I’ve been delving further into Python and Java, with some JavaScript dabbling here and there, all the while fending off imposter syndrome every step of the way. (I may need to blog about that too.)

Currently I’m learning to develop an Android app for myself that I could really make a lot of use of. (I’m a believer in learning by solving actual real-life problems.)

Technical Writing

Certainly the most boring-sounding of my endeavors, but I’ve really developed a knack for tech writing. In its most default form, tech writing is just whipping up software manuals left and right, but I’ve been exploring it in the broader sense in which it can be a real educational tool with some creative personally added for pizazz (I’ve heard the term “content engineer” floated about as an alternative). I won’t bore you with the details here, but I’ve been acting as the unofficial content lead and (only) dedicated tech writer for the product I currently support with hopes that I can sooner than later finally transition from technical support to technical writing. For me, it’s all about making something as opposed to fixing something.

It seems a logical step while I’m pursuing the other loftier grander goals above. It’s fun.

If you want to see what that looks like, you can find my name plastered all over https://guide.blazemeter.com.

I was also featured on my company’s blog here recently.

Tech for Good

Speaking of lofty goals, I’ve always wanted to save the world for as long as I’ve drawn breath. While that’s not gonna happen, I have been researching and learning about possible ways I can perhaps find a way to combine my passion for nonprofit (and profit-for-good), morally-crusading service and my love for technology.

I’ve spent the last year discovering what that landscape looks like (and being pleasantly surprised it actually exists!), which has meant learning about the good work some organizations and companies like the Mozilla Foundation, DuckDuckGo, the Tor Network, Brave, and others have been doing.

And That was 2019

So that’s why this blog went dark for the better part of a year. 2020 is going to be all about taking eeeeveeeeeryyyything I learned this year and making a real action plan out of it. I’m excited.

It’s also been an exercise in trying to learn to quiet myself and listen for what I believe is God’s calling — what exactly that calling is and what a proper bringing-to-life of that calling could look like.

I turn 40 this year! Which, what? I’m pretty sure I’m still waiting to grow up. But I figured, hey, good round number — good a time as any to do some looking back for the sake of moving forward!

Lots more to come! Bear with me! In the meantime, let me know if you’d be interested in me rambling about anything particular on here in the future.

 

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.)

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.

Blessed be the Snowflakes

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matt. 5:5

I see this image a lot, and I’m guessing it’s one of the most prominent anti-“snowflake” memes circulating among the Right. I don’t know who the young lady in the image is or what she’s worked up about. All I know is that I’m being told this is funny. 

Assuming she is a liberal/progressive/similar-term-of-your-choice, allow me to make an observation: from her point of view, chances are she believes she is “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6), likely in pursuit of the fair treatment of others, a desire born of being “pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8), driven by the desire to be a peacemaker (Matt. 5:9).

This is funny?

For the sake of argument, it is possible she is mistaken or in error in her conclusions, or even mowing others down in her zealousness, but if she is what this meme implies she is, then her conclusions, whether correct or incorrect, are born of a desire to do good — born of a good heart. 

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.” (Matt: 5:11)

(Of note: “but she’s not saying it on account of Jesus” does not mean “so it’s open season” — If you think it is, you’ve tragically missed the point of the Beatitudes.)

Christians who have aligned themselves with the Right pass memes like this around while somehow being entirely blind to the hypocrisy of doing so. There is never any time, any place, anywhere that it is appropriate or even permissible to mock another person. Period.

To back that up: I detest everything President Drumpf stands for. Everything. I have concluded he is acting as a self-interested authoritarian destroying the very fabric of our Republic and the closest thing to an American antichrist (read: antithetical to all things Christ-like) I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Despite that level of passion I have, I will not mock the man. You will never see me call him names or make fun of his appearance or anything else of the sort here. This is because I believe Trump is a human being created in the image of God and loved by God who, for as long as he draws breath, wakes every day to a new opportunity to change his course and embrace a better way. None are beyond redemption. I do not mock any blessed creation of God’s.

In fact, among my core beliefs are that all people are created in the image of God and thus each individual is blessedly unique, the greatest commands are to love your God and love your neighbor as yourself, and that we should avoid violence and all forms of hatred at all costs. I am, indeed, proudly a tender little snowflake. 

Making it Personal

You may object that I’m possibly mischaracterizing the person in question, and you may even be right. Perhaps you’ve had some nasty experiences where the everyone-loving, all-tolerant liberal has yelled you down, called you names, and refused to hear you out (it’s happened to me, too). That definitely happens, I think especially among younger people who mean to do good, but lack the discipline to temper their passion, as young people tend to do. It also happens among those who, frankly, have deeper, other issues going on. I don’t say that to excuse anything, but rather to emphasize that that’s not the point. 

How we behave should not be decided by how someone treats us. Any parent who’s heard the excuse “but they started it!” knows this well. 

Let me put this another way: Jesus would never “lol” at anyone’s “meltdown”. 

If you do, then by whatever spirit you’re doing so of…it’s not the spirit of God. 

When the President does it…it’s of the spirit of something else

Finding Our Principles Again

I think the real problem at hand here is at least in part media, especially social media. Now, as a techie myself, the last thing I’m prone to do is blame the technology — it’s a thing and it didn’t make you do anything. It’s how we’re using it — and how we’re being used through it to the benefit of media companies — that’s especially problematic. 

Liberalism and conservatism (and various other -isms) are, at the root of things, for most folks a question of mechanics. I believe most people want to contribute to making a better tomorrow. I believe liberals and conservatives (the every-day kind, not the actually-in-power kind) share this goal. They only differ in the how. If we could get back to arguing the mechanics, this would make for far more meaningful dialogue. Let’s talk about the mechanics and effectiveness of socialized medicine vs. the free market making medicine more affordable for everyone. Let’s talk about the right to a living wage vs. the importance of personal, individual responsibility. Let’s talk about ideas, beginning with a common understanding that we all want the same end, but only differ on how best to get there. 

Who’s having a meltdown at the moment has nothing to do with that.

And just because someone else might have started it doesn’t mean it’s right for you to do the same. 

We’re all snowflakes.

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.