Tag Archives: democrats

Honest Question: Do Political Ads Convince Anyone Of Anything?

Political ads have little persuasive power | YaleNews

It’s that time of year again for my fellow Americans. It’s election season. Now granted, it’s not a Presidential election, which have a tendency to get messy, ugly, heated, and hostile. The last two Presidential elections have sadly demonstrated that. However, democracy is still an important part of the American tradition. That means we have elections every year.

Years like this are what we call “off-year elections.” We don’t elect a President, but we do elect senators, representatives, governors, and various other officials. It may not be as glamorous or high-stakes as a Presidential election, but it’s something I encourage every American to take seriously.

Even if you hate politics and politicians, you should still vote.

If you’re not sure how, depending on where you live, check out this website and follow the steps. It’s not just a civic duty. It’s the lifeblood of democracy.

That being said, I do have one major bone to pick with election season. It has to do with the political ads that seem to run every five minutes on every channel I watch, as well as every video I stream online. Chances are, my fellow Americans are seeing plenty of those ads too. I have a feeling they’re as sick of them as I am.

With that in mind, I have a simple question to those who make these ads, as well as those who can’t avoid seeing them.

Do these ads actually convince anyone of anything?

I promise I’m not being facetious. I’m asking an honest, sincere question.

Has anyone actually been swayed by these ads? Have they ever affected your voting habits in any meaningful way?

I know people tend to be exceedingly partisan about everything these days. There are people who will vote for alleged sexual predators over someone of the opposing party. I know people who are registered republicans or democrats. Their candidate could run over puppies in the street and they would still vote for them.

It’s sad, frustrating, and antithetical to core American principles, but that’s the current situation we live in. It also makes these political ads all the more irrelevant. Seriously, if people are this partisan and dogmatic about their political affiliations, is an ad going to change that? If not, why spend money on them in the first place?

It’s not an insignificant sum of money, either. Running ads on TV and online make up a sizable chunk of campaign costs for aspiring politicians and that cost is only increasing. If they don’t work, then why spend all that money in the first place? What’s the point if it doesn’t change a single voter’s mind?

I suspect that’s not entirely the point of these ads. It might just be the case that these ads are just reminders for people who planned to vote a certain way to get out there and vote. After all, voter turnout has been historically low in the Untied States. While I agree that’s an issue, are these ads really the best way to address it?

Again, it’s an honest question. I’m not trying to come off as jaded or cynical, although I don’t blame anyone for feeling this way after the past five years of American politics. If these ads aren’t helping, though, then I think these questions are still worth asking.

Jaded or not, I still fully intend to vote and I already know who I’m voting for. I encourage every registered voter in America to do the same. Try not to vote blindly, either. Look into each candidate. Get a feel for who they are and decide for yourself whether you want them representing you. It can be tedious, I know, but that’s how you do democracy. That’s how you preserve the core values that make the Untied State of America what it is. Put in that effort, even if you find these ads insufferably annoying.

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Was Socrates Right About Democracy?

Socrates - HISTORY

I am a proud American. I love my country, the ideals it espouses, and the vision it offers for freedom loving people. I consider myself lucky to have been born in the United States. I understand that being an American comes with many benefits that millions of others cannot enjoy. For that, I am eternally grateful.

However, I do not deny that this country I love has flaws. I am a patriot, but I do not overlook or underscore some of the objectively terrible things the United States has done in its brief history. We shouldn’t ignore those flaws. Loving your country doesn’t mean always believing it’s right, good, and just. I know that’s not a popular sentiment among certain Americans, but that’s exactly why I value it.

That same misguided sentiment also has a significant impact on democracy, one of America’s highest ideals. Regardless of your political leanings, that’s the one tradition that America holds more dear. We embrace democracy and empower the people to pick their leaders. Considering how leaders have traditionally come to power throughout history, it’s an admirable institution.

At the same time, it’s not without its flaws. Democracy, in principle, is great. It empowers the people. It allows the people to set the standards by which a ruler is put into power. Given how often power has been abused by rulers, that’s critical for a stable, functional society.

Despite that strength, it’s still worth asking an important question.

What are the greatest flaws of democracy?

I know just asking that will put me at odds with many of my fellow Americans. Thankfully, I’m not the first one to ask that question. In fact, this is a question that has been contemplated since before America was ever a country.

Democracy itself is not an exclusively American invention. Most educated people know that it existed in various forms throughout history, most notably in Ancient Athens. However, even back then, there were some who had major criticisms of democracy, both in principle and in practice. One of the most vocal critics was the Father of Philosophy himself, Socrates.

Now, I’m not a philosophy buff. I couldn’t begin to properly break down all the concepts, principles, and contributions that Socrates made to philosophy and Western Civilization in general. So, I won’t bother trying. Instead, I’ll just focus on what he said about democracy and why he viewed it so unfavorably.

To that end, this video form the YouTube channel, The School of Life, does a nice rundown of Socrates’ biggest criticisms of democracy. Watch it and follow his ideas. You may or may not agree with them, but they’re still worth contemplating.

Again, this is just a brief summary. The nuts and bolts of Socrates’ ideas and principles are far greater in terms of breadth and concept. With respect to democracy, though, his criticisms are fairly concise.

Democracy, namely the kind in which too many uneducated people have a vote, tends to lead towards demagoguery. Instead of diligent, qualified, well-meaning leaders, people will simply elect those who are capable of winning people over with promises and rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if they’re aristocrats or con-men. They just need to sway 51 percent of the population into giving them the power they seek.

I hope I don’t need to cite an example of this happening in the real world. I also hope I don’t need to name names of those who have carried themselves like demagogues in the American political landscape. In fact, there has been a distressing trend of American’s actively seeking to put their favorite demagogues for positions of power.

These are not skilled ship captains or trained doctors, like what Socrates described in his video. These are people who are just capable of persuading a large mass of people that they should wield power. They didn’t train to wield power like a doctor trains to treat illness. They just say they’re capable and it’s up to the people to believe them.

It’s not an unreasonable criticism. Does that mean I agree with it completely? No, I do not.

Does that mean I think there’s real merit to these criticism? Yes, I absolutely do and I think there are ways to address them.

Socrates’ issue wasn’t just with democracy in principle. He was more concerned about uneducated people who don’t appreciate or care for wisdom making critical decisions, such as who should lead a country. Another great philosopher, George Carlin, put it even better.

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

I think this sentiment is more relevant now, especially after last year’s Presidential Election and the horrors of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Me and my fellow Americans have never been more divided. As a proud American, this worries me a great deal.

I still love my country. I want it to be better. I want it to live up to its greatest ideals. However, I don’t think it can do so without taking the criticisms of someone like Socrates seriously.

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Dear America: Yesterday At The Capitol Was Awful (Do Better)

I love America.

I’m proud to be an American.

I believe in the ideals, values, and promise of America.

I don’t deny this country has flaws. No person is perfect, no group is perfect, and no society is perfect. We’re an imperfect species, by default.

All that being said, yesterday was a sad, pathetic day for America. This country that I love showed some of its ugliest blemishes for the world to see and it was objectively awful on every level. The protests at the Capitol were a terrible sight to behold. While this story is still ongoing, it’s safe to say it’s as bad as it looks and then some.

AP: Chaos, violence, mockery as pro-Trump mob occupies Congress

“Where are they?” a Trump supporter demanded in a crowd of dozens roaming the halls of the Capitol, bearing Trump flags and pounding on doors.

They — lawmakers, staff members and more — were hiding under tables, hunkered in lockdowns, saying prayers and seeing the fruits of the country’s divisions up close and violent.

Guns were drawn. A woman was shot and killed by police, and three others died in apparent medical emergencies. A Trump flag hung on the Capitol. The graceful Rotunda reeked of tear gas. Glass shattered.

On Wednesday, hallowed spaces of American democracy, one after another, yielded to the occupation of Congress.

In general, I try not to comment on news that’s still fresh. I also try to avoid getting too partisan when talking about hot button issues in American politics. I understand how this can bring out the worst in people. However, I have to make an exception for yesterday.

I won’t mention names. I won’t even mention public officials or candidates. What the people did at the Capitol the other day was both shameful and pathetic. It wasn’t enough to just disagree with how the election turned out. It wasn’t enough to be angry at the other side for daring to pitch an agenda they didn’t approve of. They had to do the national equivilent of flipping over the chess board in anger because they lost.

That’s not what civilized people do.

That’s what whiny children do.

I want to say you’re better than that, but actions speak too loudly in this case. You act like you’re the “real” Americans. You call yourself patriots, but you mock, whine, and desecrate the people and places that make America what it is. That’s not patriotism. That’s just being an asshole.

Be better than this.

Do better than this.

I know you’re capable of it. I still believe in America’s highest ideals. We’re not measuring up to them now and we just went way too far in the opposite direction.

We need to turn this around.

We must turn it around.

America deserves better than this, but it also needs to put in the work. So, let’s start today.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, rants

Post-Election Day PSA: Do NOT Trust Or Expect Politicians To Solve Your Problems

It’s over, my fellow Americans.

It’s finally over.

Election Day has come and gone. I won’t get into the drama leading up to it or the drama that’s still unfolding, as I write this. I just want to take a step back, catch my breath, and offer some perspective to those who will hear it.

I agree this was rough. I think most others will agree with me when I say this was the most chaotic, divisive, and downright stressful election in recent memory. I’ve spoken to relatives who voted for Kennedy in 1960. They agree that this year was, by far, the worst in terms of stakes, rhetoric, and tone.

That’s saying a lot, by the way.

However you feel about the candidates or who you voted for, I genuinely hope this election has been revealing, to a certain extent. It’s tempting to be cynical about it. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling that way. At the same time, we should also take stock as to why this election was so harrowing, for lack of a better word.

The world is such a messed-up place right now. We’ve got wars, economic collapse, and a once-in-a-century pandemic has that killed over a million people in the span of nine months. Things are bad right now, more so than they’ve been at any point in my lifetime.

Most don’t question that, unless they’re rich and well-connected.

What I do question, however, is why people trust or even expect politicians to help solve these problems.

That’s a notion that, in my opinion, fuels stressful elections like this. An election is supposed to be a job interview for a position for a public-serving official. It’s not supposed to be some expensive spectacle in which we all get behind the candidate who says the right things to just enough people in a handful of swing states.

That’s not democracy.

That’s a bad reality TV show.

Now, it’s tempting to just blame the politicians and that’s understandable. Politicians are easy targets for mockery and they’ve no one to blame but themselves for that. We should criticize them. They are, after all, in positions of power and public trust. They should be held to a higher standard.

That standard, however, should not involve trusting them to fix everything that ails us, from the economy to who pays a fine for when a female nipple is shown during a halftime show. That’s not just asking too much of one person. It’s asinine.

It’s also self-defeating. Politicians make lots of promises and break plenty of them, but let’s not lay the blame entirely on their honesty or lack thereof. They’re only human. Even the most selfless, hard-working politician can only do so much to deliver on every promise. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough personnel to get it done.

That’s not even accounting for the times when politicians make objectively impossible promises. Certain policy pitches may sound like great slogans or taglines, but logistically speaking, they just cannot be done in the real world. It’s not that the sincerity isn’t there. There just isn’t enough people or resources.

Therein lies the source of the great cycle of toxic politics. It goes something like this.

Politician A makes a bold promise. People rally behind them. Politician A get elected.

Politician A cannot deliver on those promises. People turn against them.

Politician B comes along, offering new or better promises. People rally behind them. Politician B get elected.

Again, Politician B can’t deliver on all those promises. People turn against them.

Politician C comes along to make another set of promises and the cycle continues.

It goes beyond party affiliation, political systems, or shifts in power. It’s an unavoidable flaw in a democratic system. An election, by default, isn’t going to elect someone with the greatest governing skill. It can only elect someone with the skills to convince enough people that they can govern.

I won’t say it’s a terrible system. Compared to the alternatives, it’s probably the best we can manage right now in our current environment. However, it is not a system in which any politician, no matter how successful, can solve the problems we want them to solve. Even when the system is working at its best, it’s still limited.

That’s not to say politicians can’t be part of a solution. They definitely can be. A politician can be a facilitator of sorts, either by leadership or by policy. The specifics, though, are best left to people with the right drive, incentives, and know-how.

Whether it involves combating climate change, reducing poverty, or promoting public health, the bulk of the responsibility will still fall on the general public. We, as a people, have to collectively work on these issues together. That’s how any social species within a functional society adapts, grows, and prospers.

The role of government and politicians is always changing. The extent or details of that role depends heavily on the issue at hand. The Presidents we elect, as well as the various legislators and judges at all levels, will always have some impact on how we further our interests. The key is balancing that impact with actual, tangible efforts on our part.

The next four years are sure to be eventful. Hopefully, they’re eventful for all the right reasons. Whatever happens, use this past election as a teachable moment.

Politicians come and go.

Ambitious people will keep making bold promises and breaking them, either on purpose or through no fault of their own. At the end of the day, it all comes back to us. We have a part to play in making our world and our lives better. Let’s focus on doing ours before we trust anyone else to do it for us.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, political correctness, politics

A Message To America After Election 2020

It’s over, America. We did it. The election of 2020 has concluded. We now have a winner and, come January 20, 2021, there will be a new occupant of the White House. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate this. It is, after all, a cornerstone of American democracy.

We, the people, elect our leaders. We don’t always like who wins, but it’s still on us, as a people, to make that decision. I know that sounds cheesy, given these cynical times, but it’s still worth saying.

With those platitudes out of the way, I have another important message I’d like to share with my fellow Americans. It’s simple, succinct, and apolitical. It’s simply this.

Regardless of how you voted, let’s all make an effort to be kinder to one another.

It’s not a tall request. It’s not something that requires great sacrifice or rigor. It’s just a simple act that anyone can do, regardless of their affiliations or ideology.

It shouldn’t seem so daunting, but these past few years have made it difficult to grasp. I’m on the internet every day. I see plenty of instances of horrendous, unbridled hatred. It’s on social media, message boards, Reddit, and even text messages. I won’t offer examples because it’s just that disgusting.

It’s not always political, but for these past few years, politics has been a catalyst for such hatred. It’s no longer enough to simply disagree with someone on a particular issue. The default has become utter and complete hatred of anyone who disagrees with you.

Whether it’s on abortion, LGBTQ rights, party affiliation, or sexy characters in video games, there’s no room for understanding and nuance anymore. Either someone agrees with you or you hate them in the utmost.

That is not healthy.

That is not conducive to a functional society.

Moreover, that is not in keeping with the American spirit.

America was not founded on hatred. No society founded on hatred could ever become so strong and dominant. It takes people living, loving, and cooperating with one another, regardless of differences, to build what America has built.

Have we made mistakes? Absolutely, we have. Every country has, some more so than others.

We’re human. We have flaws. Hatred is one of our most egregious flaws, but it need not be our most defining.

So, with that made, I sincerely hope that my fellow Americans will use this recent election as a turning point. We don’t need to “own” our opponents to vindicate ourselves. We don’t need to hate each other to prove ourselves right. We just need to be kind and make the most of the lives we live, as Americans and as fellow humans.

To that end, I’ll end this message with one of my favorite quotes by John F. Kennedy.

“We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or make it the last.”

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Happy Election Day! Now Vote!

It’s Election Day here in the United States of America. I don’t know how many people have been following the news for the past four years, but even if you’ve somehow avoided it, I hope one thing is still abundantly clear.

This election is a big fucking deal.

Regardless of which party you’re affiliated with or which candidate you support, this is the day where the rubber meets the road for democracy. This is where citizens exercise the power granted to them by the constitution.

As such, I encourage everyone to use it.

I’ve got no larger point to make today. I’ve got no sexy twist to put on it or larger narrative to explore. I’m just going to say what so many others have been saying for months now.

Go out and vote!

Get out there early. Bring water, snacks, and a lawn chair if you must. Stand in line as long as necessary. Just make sure you vote.

This is America. We value democratic principles. Those principles don’t work if people don’t vote. So please, my fellow Americans. I’ll say it again.

Go out and vote!

America will be better because of it. Thank you.

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Has Tribalism And Ideology Supplanted Religion?

If you’re an American, chances are you’re painfully aware that 2020 is an election year. That means that, on top all the other awful crap that has transpired this year, we’re in the midst of a political firestorm that regularly brings out the worst in people. Trust me, my non-American audience. It’s even uglier than you think.

As proud as I am to be an American, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with politics and discourse. I know that’s not saying much. I didn’t live through the turbulent eras of the 60s and 70s. My parents have told me it has been very bad before, but even they admit that this year is a special case of awful. They almost long for the hippie-style protests of the 60s.

I won’t get into why things have become so contentious, although most people can probably discern the most noteworthy source. I don’t have the patience or the sanity to digest that. Instead, I want to offer an observation that I’ve noticed as this election drama has played out. It has to do with both politics and religion, two incredibly divisive forces with a strong basis in absurdities.

I’ve done plenty to highlight the flaws, failures, and outright atrocities that have been committed or justified in the name of religion. I’ve also touched on some of the frustrations and annoyances that manifest in politics. Together, both can be extremely damaging to people and society alike. History has proven that on multiple occasion.

Lately, however, I get the sense that a new kind of zealotry has taken hold. It’s not entirely political or entirely religious. It just take the most destructive elements in both and channels them in a way that inspires some objectively deplorable behavior.

In essence, the same dogmatic stubbornness that often fuels religious extremists has now been applied to someone’s political leanings. By that, I don’t just mean what party they belong to or who they voted for in the last election. I’m saying they now see their political affiliation in the same light some see their religious adherence.

To some extent, this makes sense. Organized religion, in general, has been in a steep decline for decades. The rise of the internet, as well as a more educated public, has significantly undermined religion’s ability to lock in adherents for generations. However, a lack of a religion doesn’t make someone any less inclined to believe absurd, misguided, or demonstrably false concepts.

The same tribalism that often fuels religious rhetoric is becoming a larger factor in politics. I won’t go so far as to say that political ideology is replacing organized religion outright. I just think that same tribalism is becoming a more prominent factor.

It often goes like this. In the past, I often saw discussions like this play out.

Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

Conservative: I respectfully disagree. I think a minimum wage ultimately harms the working poor by limiting the number of entry level jobs.

Liberal: I don’t think the data bears that out, but can we agree to disagree?

Conservative: Of course.

That’s fairly civil. Ideally, that’s how political debates should go. It’s not an argument about whose deity is better and who’s going to Hell when they die. It’s just a simple exchange of ideas to further a discussion about real-world issues. It can get ugly at times, but it rarely ventures into the same damaging extremism that often comes with religion.

That kind of civil exchange now feels so long ago. These days, you need only look at a comments section or a thread on social media to see how outrageous the discourse has become. It tends to go more like this.

Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

Conservative: You American-hating, baby-murdering, politically correct cuck! What kind of Marxist wannabe are you? Get the fuck out of this country! You don’t belong here!

Liberal: Fuck you! You’re a racist, sexist fascist, gay-bashing hypocrite! Go back to Nazi Germany and beat your women somewhere else! You’re destroying America!

Conservative: No, you’re destroying America!

Liberal: No, you are!

Conservative: Fuck you!

Liberal: Fuck you!

I admit, this is a generalization, but it’s not that far off. Between Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and 4chan, this kind of hateful rhetoric is fairly common. Even the street preachers who hold up signs, telling everyone that their deity wants to send them to Hell, isn’t nearly this vitriolic. Anyone who tries to be civil or inject some simple facts into the discussion is quickly drowned out by hateful dogma.

The internet and social media has acted as a catalyst, of sorts. It’s one thing to hold extreme, dogmatic political views. It’s quite another to share them in a community that constantly reinforces, reaffirms, and encourages those views. It’s become incredibly easy to exercise your own confirmation bias. If you have an opinion or want evidence for a crazy belief, chances are you can find it on some dark corner of the internet.

It’s at a point where if you try to criticize someone’s political leanings, it’s not just a point of disagreement. It’s treated as outright blasphemy. I’ve seen it on both sides, although I think those who lean right/conservative are worse offenders. Trying to convince any side that they’re wrong is akin to trying to convince a creationist or flat-Earther that they’re wrong. It just evokes more extremism.

This is not a healthy trend. Religious extremism is bad enough. Plenty of people have died because someone was convinced that a certain holy text was literally true and it was their duty to attack those who don’t agree. To religious zealots, the mere act of disagreeing and disbelieving as they do is seen as an insult, an affront, and an act of violence. That can’t be how we treat politics.

At the same time, the ugly forces of tribalism are still as strong as ever, if not more so in the age of the internet. Those influences aren’t going away anytime soon. Being part of a tribe or group is fine. We’re a very social species. It’s part of why we’re so successful. However, that same force that unites us can also inspire the ugliest kind of hate.

At its worst, it makes view anyone who disagrees with us as a non-person. They’re not sub-human, but they are someone we would rather not have in our domain. It’s not enough to disagree with them. We’d prefer they not even exist in any way that affects us.

It’s a special kind of dehumanizing and something religion has done for centuries, weaponizing the age-old us-versus-them mentality. We can only do so much to temper our tribal nature, but there comes a point where the line between differences and hatred become too blurred. We share this same planet. We also live in countries full of people who don’t agree with us.

That’s okay. We can still be friends with these people. We don’t have to hate, scold, insult, demean, or dehumanize them. That’s a conscious choice we make and, unlike religion, it requires little in terms of indoctrination. As society becomes less religious, it’s important to remember why we’re moving away from organized religion in the first place.

In the same way most religious people are decent, good people, most people of any political affiliation are the same. We’re still human at the end of the day, but I sincerely worry that the increasing ugliness of politics is making us forget that.

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How Mixing Politics And Religion Ruins Both

Some things just aren’t meant to go together. Whether it involves putting pickles on a peanut butter sandwich or wearing a bra with a tube top, certain combinations are just inherently incongruent. At best, it’s messy, unattractive, or unappetizing. At worst, it does legitimate damage to everything that went into it.

In terms of volatile mixtures, religion and politics is probably the worst. There’s a reason why it’s a general rule of etiquette to avoid discussing either in a civil scenario. Both have a tendency to bring out that sense of blind tribalism that’s still hardwired into us and both have inherent flaws that keep even the most reasonable people from having a productive discussion.

That’s not to say religion and politics can never be discussed in a civil, respectful manner. It’s just exceedingly difficult, especially in these very polarized times. However, I am confident in stating that it’s practically impossible to mix religion and politics in a way that fosters greater civility. If anything, it derails any related issue beyond the point of absurdity.

I say this as someone who tries to be reasonable whenever discussing religion and politics. That’s not easy because I’ve made my criticisms of organized religion and certain political leanings quite clear. I don’t deny that I have my biases, but I make a concerted effort to see things from the other side.

When politics and religion mingle, however, I can’t justify that effort. From my perspective, there’s just no way to mix either without them becoming hopelessly corrupt.

It’s not difficult to understand why they become intermingled. Both are powerful institutions with immense influence over large swaths of people. They’re either going to coordinate or conflict with one another and coordination is almost always more productive, regardless of goals.

On paper, it almost makes sense. If you’re looking to strengthen your political position, adding religious elements that resonate with a significant segment of the populace can only help your effort. Even if those same people are skeptical of your rhetoric, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt if you subscribe to the same theology.

When put into practice, however, it’s the logistical equivalent to mixing nitro and glycerin. It doesn’t take much to trigger a volatile reaction. More often than not, that one reaction triggers many more like it. Before long, the corruption isn’t just extensive. It becomes entrenched, so much so that it’s seen as entirely normal.

The best and most relevant example of this is how the religious right effectively entwined itself with conservative politics, especially in the United States. In recent years, even as religious affiliation has declined considerably, the link between religious conservatives and conservative politics has only gotten stronger, much to the detriment of both.

The history of the religious right in the 20th century is well-documented. While there had been previous efforts to effectively codify Christian dominance in the United States, it had always been a fringe position. In fact, there was a time when churches discouraged mixing religion with politics because politics was seen as a dirty business wholly concerned with worldly affairs.

Then, after a combination of major social upheavals and significant scientific advancements, organized religion became more reactionary. The rise of fundamentalism, which was not exclusive to Christianity, prompted certain religious organizations to do more than preach a more rigid form of theology.

To some extent, those organizations had no choice. There’s only so much you can do to convince ordinary people that they should be more devout, denying themselves comfort, novelty, and fun. In order to have greater influence, they need political power. However, gaining that kind of power almost always requires some level of corruption and at that level, corruption is a two-way street with many potholes and blind spots.

That’s not just an opinion held by cynics and casual observers, either. There is plenty of historical precedent that demonstrates what happens when religion and politics cooperate too closely. A cursory glance at the history of the Middle Ages offers plenty of documented evidence alongside absurd, yet historically accurate anecdotes.

It may be difficult to imagine for those who have grown up in secular societies, but there was a time when the Catholic Church was the only game in town and every political entity had to acknowledge that. They were basically a secondary government that could levy additional taxes, except they called them tithes. As an organization, their wealth was beyond measure.

On top of that wealth, the Pope could essentially make or break kingdoms by approving or denying marriages. If you said or did anything that offended, undermined, or in any way inconvenienced the church, they could do more than just condemn you. They could legally kill you and call it holy.

Regardless of the theology involved, this kind of power made the Catholic Church prone to all sorts of corruption. In some cases, it manifested in the election of Popes with decidedly unholy behavior. At one point, the papacy was actually sold between Popes like a high-stakes auction for gold and land.

While stories of organizational corruption can be comically absurd, other types of corruption did real harm. Like any powerful organization, the church dedicates a considerable amount of time and effort to preserving that power and isn’t always reasonable about it. That led to church-supported atrocities that included witch burnings, war crimes, and even animal abuse.

Again, little of these activities can be justified on a theological basis. There was nothing in the bible or the teachings of Jesus that promoted an all-encompassing organization that blurred the line between religion and politics. Most of that occurred through a convergence of various unholy forces that range from political ploys to theological debates. Conveniently, God was always on the side of whoever won out.

After centuries of corruption, other forces more powerful than any prayer or Pope eroded the influence of the Catholic Church. Some would argue that losing the power to make war and influence kings helped get the church in touch with the core teachings of Christianity. I think that’s a tenuous argument, given how dogmatic it is on certain outdated traditions, but I do see some merit in it.

Even with this historical precedent, the religious right keeps making a concerted effort to wield the kind of power that the Catholic Church once did. You need only compare the Republican Party’s platform in 1912, which contained no reference to any deity, to the overtly anti-demographic policies espoused in contemporary Republican talking points.

It’s in that blending of policy and theology in which both ultimately undermine one another. From the religious side, there’s nothing in the bible that demands tax cuts for the rich or bans in stem cell research. However, thanks to being entertained with conservative politics, this somehow becomes entwined with their theology, even if it means ignoring actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

From the political side of things, it means policies don’t even have to have a logical, pragmatic element to them anymore. They can only be viewed in the context of whether or not said policies get or maintain the support of religious adherents. Even when those policies are objectively bad for the environment and the poor, they support them. They’ll even support policies that require a big, bloated government by default.

In a sense, for religion and politics to function alongside one another, both require significant levels of hypocrisy. A religion will have to support policies that run counter to its theology and a political organization will have to support measures that run counter to its principles. The only way to make that work is to make excuses, which only invites corruption.

These aren’t minor complications. These are flawed processes that ensure neither religion nor politics can benefit without undermining themselves along the way. Anything they accomplish must come at the expense of principle or ideology. For conservative politics and religious dogma to pursue their goals, it must in turn use the same draconian tactics of Big Brother, even when it directly contradicts their highest values.

From that perspective, should we really be surprised when politicians with the backing of the religious right turn out to be utter hypocrites?

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, politics, religion

Abortion Restrictions, Personhood, And The Difficult (And Absurd) Implications

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Imagine, for a moment, that an armed government officer shows up at your door and points a gun at your head. The officer informs you that for the next nine months, you will be injected with a generally non-fatal strain of flu that’ll make you feel tired, sore, and occasionally nauseous. Then, after that nine-month period is up, you’ll be given an infant child that you are henceforth responsible for.

Failure to comply with any part of that request will result in you or anyone who assists you going to prison for an extended period. You can protest it all you want. There’s no getting out of it. The government agent keeps the gun pointed at your head the entire time and if you want to avoid breaking the law, you just have to endure.

What I just described isn’t a perfect parallel to the strict abortion law recently passed by Alabama, but it helps illustrate what women are facing in light of such laws. While other parts of the world are liberalizing their abortion laws, certain parts of the United States are going in the other direction. However, the Alabama law represents a new extreme.

Now, even though I’ve discussed abortion before, I want to reiterate that I don’t like talking about this issue. It’s not because I’m a man or because I’m inherently skeptical of movements tied to organized religion. This issue affects everyone, regardless of gender. The principle alone of forcing someone to endure nine months of bodily rigor makes it relevant.

It’s for that reason that I tend to favor the pro-choice side of the debate. There are too many real-world examples of the dire consequences of a society where abortion is outright banned. I singled a former communist country one whose policy is quite similar to that of Alabama’s. However, my feelings on this issue go beyond just the consequences of these restrictive laws.

Even if I agreed with the idea that life beings at conception, I would still be in favor of keeping abortion legal in most cases. I just can’t support an effort that involves the government holding a gun to the head of women and their doctors, prohibiting them from making choices about their health and their bodies.

Now, I already know how the pro-life crowd will respond to that sentiment. They’ll point out that if life truly does begin at conception, then abortion is murder, by default. I’ll even concede that their reasoning isn’t entirely flawed. A fertilized embryo has many of the defining traits of biological life. It even has many traits we associate with personhood.

This idea that a fertilized embryo is a person makes up the bedrock of pro-life arguments. It’ll likely be the argument that’ll likely be used, should abortion access become an issue for the Supreme Court, which many pro-life groups are banking on. Considering how religious and logistical arguments rarely count much in a courtroom, this is their best bet.

There are a many flaws in the pro-life arguments, some of which I’ve touched on before, but this is the one I want to focus on because it’ll likely be cited more frequently as the debate intensifies. I believe that if abortion is ever banned in the United States, it’s because the law will recognize a fertilized embryo as a person.

However, with that distinction comes many implications, some of which lead to unavoidable inconsistencies. As the late George Carlin once so brilliantly illustrated, inconsistencies tend to reveal absurdities. To highlight just a few, here are just some of the questions that we’ll have to answer if we determine a fertilized embryo is a person.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then at what point do identical twins become two individual persons?

This question has implications of its own. Part of the principle behind saying life begins at conception is the idea that when the sperm and egg meet, it combines to create a unique strand of human DNA, which constitutes human life. That sounds good on paper, but when identical twins enter the picture, it breaks down.

Identical twins, by definition, have the same DNA. At some point during gestation, they split into two individuals. At what point does that occur? By what basis are they distinct? If the answer to that is arbitrary, then how is saying life begins at conception any less arbitrary? Once personhood status is granted to a fetus, this will be something the law and doctors will have to answer.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then does one that fails to implant on a woman’s uterus count as an accidental death under the law?

This happens to every sexually active woman, regardless of whether they’re in a monogamous marriage or working in a brothel. Even if an egg gets fertilized, it doesn’t always implant. The reasons for this are many, but if a fertilized egg is a person, then that still constitutes a death. As such, it would have to be treated as such under the law.

Most women don’t even know that a fertilized embryo has failed to implant. Most just end up getting flushed down a toilet, as part of their menstrual cycle. Under this legal definition of personhood, though, there’s no difference between that and flushing a live infant down a toilet. Given how Susan Smith was convicted of murder when she drowned her children, will other women face a similar sentence?


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then how does the state go about monitoring sexually active women to determine how many deaths occur because implantation did not occur?

This ties directly to the previous question. As soon as the law determines that an embryo is a person, it suddenly has a daunting challenge. It must now monitor and document every sexually active woman very closely to see how many fertilized embryos pass through her system, if only to determine how many deaths occurred inside her.

Even with advances in medical technology, it requires a level of invasiveness that even the most totalitarian state in the world can’t administer. There are over 150 million women in the United States. Is the government really equipped to monitor the activity inside every one of their wombs without breaking some very significant laws?


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then wouldn’t any woman who had a miscarriage be subject to manslaughter laws if her actions indirectly caused it?

This has already come up in a few states with restrictive abortion laws. Women who have suffered miscarriages are already being investigated as criminals. Ignoring, for a moment, the difficulty of determining whether a woman intentionally caused her miscarriage, look at it from a personal perspective.

A woman just suffers a miscarriage. She is likely distraught, distressed, and physically weakened. Now, government agents are going to treat her like a criminal and possibly prosecute her for a crime. While manslaughter is not on the same level as murder, it’s still treated as a crime and people do go to jail for it.

That means, for embryos to be considered persons, it must also be necessary to put women who suffered a miscarriage in prison. I don’t think even the most ardent pro-life adherent can comfortably stomach that.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then would that person be legally culpable if a woman suffers complications during the pregnancy and dies?

This is somewhat a reversal of the previous question. There are occasions where pregnancy actually leads to a woman’s death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 700 women die every year in the United States due to complications during pregnancy. In the cases where the infant survives, are they somehow culpable?

If an embryo is a person, then their actions can’t be entirely distinct from that of any child. There are cases in which children get convicted of murder and are punished for it. Even if an infant cannot have intent or malice, their presence inside the woman is still the cause of the complication. That means manslaughter or wrongful death could be applicable.

I know there’s plenty of inherent absurdity in the notion of prosecuting an infant for the wrongful death of his or her mother, but if they’re going to be defined as a person, then that includes the same rights and responsibilities. To do otherwise would just be inconsistent and require the same arbitrary distinctions of which pro-life individuals are so critical.


If a fertilized embryo is a person, then would that person be culpable in the event that an identical or fraternal twin dies in utero, as can be the case in Vanishing Twin Syndrome?

A lot of things can happen inside the womb during gestation. Twins are just one of them, but there are instances where the presence of another fetus causes one to die or become unviable. Regardless of whether it involves an identical twin or a fraternal twin, the legal implications are the same. One person has died while the other has not. Like any other person, it would have to be investigated.

It could be the case that one infant hogged nutrient, causing the other to starve to death. There are also cases in which one twin will absorb the other. Technically, that would make the other baby both a cannibal and a killer. It would have to be investigated and prosecuted as such.


I concede that some of the scenarios I’ve described are absurd. That’s my underlying point. If the pro-life movement gets its way and fertilized embryos are treated as legal persons, then that has consequences that are logistically, legally, and morally untenable.

The bigger picture surrounding these questions tends to get lost among those who simply call abortion murder. However, if those same people got their way, then they would be unable to avoid these questions and their consequences.

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Filed under abortion, gender issues, political correctness, sex in society, women's issues

Why I’m Not Overly Excited About Voting

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I’m bracing myself right now because I’m about to express a sentiment that’s going to put me at odds with a lot of people here in America. It’s a sentiment that runs contrary to some pretty loud rhetoric that has been brewing over the past two years. Some of it has even come from close family members. Knowing I’ll probably upset them too, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m not that excited about voting.

I’ll give my fellow American’s a moment to stop fuming. For everyone else, I think a larger explanation is warranted. Bear with me because these are sensitive times for freedom, democracy, and everything in between.

Today, my country will conduct its mid-term election. It occurs every four years, right in between Presidential elections. These elections are a critical part of the foundation on which the United States government is built. These are the elections in which a sizable chunk of governors, senators, and representatives are elected.

While mid-term elections rarely generate the same voter turnout of Presidential elections, this year is different. The impact of the 2016 Presidential Election has galvanized the passions of both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives seek to maintain their hold on power. Liberals seek to re-establish power after some of the worst setbacks in recent memory. To them, the stakes are very high.

I’m not entirely convinced of that. In fact, I feel like those stakes are so inflated that it makes me feel even less excited about voting. I see people in the media, on message boards, and within political circles calling this election the most important mid-term in history. That makes me suspect they have a narrow concept of history.

Now, I don’t deny the sincerity of those who say stuff like this. I get that they’re genuinely concerned about the direction of the country they love. They have this ideal vision for how they want America to be and getting like-minded people to vote is part of realizing that vision. Whether it’s reigning in the President, outlawing abortion, or legalizing weed, they have a fantasy that they want to make reality.

As someone who writes a lot about the sexy kind of fantasies, I can appreciate that to some extent. When I was younger, I even entertained similar visions. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve become less enchanted by my country’s democratic processes. The reasons for that have less to do with the content of those visions and more to do with the unique quirks of American elections.

The first complications surrounding American democracy, and one that sets it apart from other democratic countries, is that we don’t elect the President by a popular vote. We use something called the Electoral College. Simply put, our votes don’t go towards who we want to be President. They go towards electing the people who go onto elect the President.

If that sounds confusing, then you’re starting to see why I’m skeptical about voting. The logic behind the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago when trying to ensure that heavily populated states didn’t gain too much power over all the others. A lot has changed in 200 years and I’m not just talking about the prevalence of powdered wigs.

Since I became eligible to vote, I’ve seen two of the past three Presidents get elected without winning the popular vote. That means the candidate that got the most votes did not win the election. Call me cynical, but that does not sound very democratic.

To be fair, the Electoral College applies only to the President. Other representatives like governors, senators, and mayors are elected by way of popular vote. While that is more democratic, on paper, the logistics still aren’t ideal. That’s due to additional factors like gerrymandering, a practice that dilutes democracy to the point of watered down light beer.

Simply put, it ensures that your vote only partially matters because you didn’t necessarily pick the candidate. The candidate picked you by making sure you lived in their voting district. It’s a big reason why incumbents have such high re-election rates. It doesn’t matter how voting trends change. All that matters is aligning districts with a certain type of voters.

It’s not quite on the same level as the phony elections conducted by dictators, but it sends a painfully clear message. No matter how passionate you are at voting, there’s a good chance that it has little bearing on the outcome. That doesn’t mean your vote is thrown away. It still counts. It just doesn’t matter and I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion.

Most of the time, you live in an area where the overwhelming majority of people align themselves with a particular part of the political spectrum. Districts located in rural areas almost always vote conservative. Districts located in cities almost always vote liberal. That divide has only widened over the years, especially since I began voting.

Some of that goes beyond direct influences like gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. None of those tactics would even work if not for the predictable psychology of the average voter. In a perfect world, every voter goes to the polls as an objective, impartial citizens who weighs the worth of every candidate. However, we live in an imperfect world full of many imperfect people.

According to analysis of past elections, most people adopt the voting patterns of their parents. It’s not a minor factor, either. By a substantial margin, your vote was mostly determined when you were still a kid. That’s not a flaw in the system as much as it is a flaw in perspective.

If you grow up in a conservative environment, then you’ll vote in accord with conservative candidates. The same applies if you live in a liberal environment. The area I live is pretty liberal, for the most part. I’ve seen the polls for my candidates. The outcome is pretty much a given, no matter how I vote.

On top of all that, and it’s more than enough to temper my enthusiasm for democratic processes, voting in America is extremely inconvenient. It’s not a national holiday. It’s on a Tuesday in the middle of the week and often involves standing in long lines at poorly-staffed polling places. Sure, you can cast an absentee vote, but that process has its own set of complications.

Taken together, I find it frustrating, as a voter. The older I get, the more resigned I’ve become. Each passing year, I see more and more flaws in the system. I see reprehensible human beings and shameless hypocrites win elections, time and again. I also see the list of candidates and groan at my lack of options.

Despite all this, I’m still told that voting is important. Voting is what separates us from tyranny. Ignoring the historical fact that some tyrants come to power through democracy, I’m supposed to believe that my vote will help further the ideals my country espouses. As much as I love my country, I just have a hard time believing that.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m pretty cynical about voting and the current democratic processes in place for the United States. I’m not completely resigned, though. I still intend to vote, but I’m under no illusions. I know it won’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Like renewing my driver’s license, it’s part of my civic duty.

Regardless of who wins and who gets voted out, I can already sense where this narrative will go from here. I have a feeling that as soon as this day passes, the 2020 Election will be subsequently billed as the most important election in history. Just like before, the act of voting will be framed as taking part in a battle against a fascist army led by Darth Vader and Joseph Stalin.

That narrative, in my opinion, will do more to undermine voting than help it in the long run. At the end of the day, elections come and go. Leaders change, politics evolve, and demographics shift the cultural landscape. Not every election will go down in history as the most important. The act of voting in those elections won’t matter that much in the long run. It’s still worth doing, but it’s also worth maintaining perspective along the way.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, psychology