Tag Archives: politically correct

Censorship Vs. Accountability: Know The Difference

I hate talking about censorship.

I hate talking about “cancel culture,” a term I think has all the wrong connotations for all the wrong reasons.

I am a proud American and I believe in free speech to the utmost. I will gladly fight for that freedom and support those who do.

I say all that because, in wake of the terrible events at the Capitol recently, there has been a lot of whining from certain people. I won’t name names. I’ll just note that they’re whining and ranting about censorship and cancel culture. Watch the news for more than five minutes and you’ll know who they are.

Now, I don’t want to go on an extended rant about why censorship is different from not being allowed to post on your favorite social media site. Make no mistake. There is a difference. There’s actually a lengthy legal framework behind what constitutes censorship in a purely legal sense.

I’m not a lawyer, nor am I smart enough to break down the various complexities about censorship, cancel culture, and the various cases attributed to both. I doubt any point I make will change anyone’s mind, especially if they’ve been affected by perceived censoring from either side. Even so, I still think a point is worth being made.

In watching this debate, I’ve noticed something that’s both peculiar and revealing about this issue. Whenever there’s a case of alleged censorship or cancel culture, those who bemoan it only complain when it’s used against them.

For instance, say your favorite politician who you vote for and vocally support was kicked off Twitter, Facebook, and all major social media platforms for rhetoric that incited violence and spreads damaging disinformation. Chances are, you’re going to defend them more than you would if that politician was someone you vocally opposed.

Yes, I realize this is not a subtle example. It still gets the point across.

Those same people might not raise an eyebrow if there was a case of an gay couple who denied service at a bakery. They might also be perfectly fine with laws on the books that actually ban atheists from holding public office. Those are both actual cases of discrimination, but it’s happening against people who they don’t agree with, politically. As such, they don’t care or actively support it.

On the other side of that coin, the same people who celebrate certain politicians from getting kicked off social media will loudly support boycotts and bans from certain individuals speaking on campuses. They’ll also whine about a certain scene in a TV show or certain media depictions of minorities.

The absurdity is the same. The only difference is the target and the political affiliation of those complaining about it. It’s just tribalism at its most basic. You support and make excuses for the people and things you support. You protest those you think are against you. There’s no logic to it. It’s all based on who you support or hate.

With respect to those who actually do get censored, there’s also another side of that coin. While I am a vocal proponent of free speech, I also believe in accountability, especially for people in positions of power. It’s one thing for me to say something stupid on social media. It’s quite another for someone who is an elected official.

Those words carry a lot more weight. When someone in that position encourages anger, outrage, and protest, it can lead to real world actions. We saw that at the Capitol. Real people suffered and died because of those actions. In that case, there are consequences.

When you incite violence against others, that’s not free speech. That’s a crime. When your words lead to tangible harm and destruction, that’s something that you are accountable for. It’s not censorship. It’s not cancel culture. It’s just accountability, plain and simple.

If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand free speech and what it really means. Now, with respect to tech companies removing certain voices or having a bias, that’s another issue. It’s complicated and requires more nuance than simple whining.

However, when it comes to powerful people just wanting to use social media to exercise their power, that’s different. Powerful people must be held to a higher standard. If not, then people far less powerful will pay the price and we can’t have any kind of freedom in a society like that.

Also, blurring female nipples is still bullshit censorship. Can we at least agree on that?

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, extremism, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

Shaming Vs. Criticism: Why The Difference Matters

Let’s be honest. It’s very difficult to have honest, civil discourse with anyone these days. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Try expressing any opinion about any issue that’s even mildly controversial. Chances are you won’t spark a civil discussion. You’ll likely trigger a flame war, especially once Godwin’s Law comes into play.

Now, I’m not going to blame all of this on the internet and social media. I don’t deny that it plays a role, but let’s not miss the forest from the trees here. We, the users of these tools, are the ones driving the content. We’re the ones who guide these discussions towards angry, hate-filled outrage. The medium is only secondary.

There are a lot of reasons why civil discourse is so difficult, but I want to highlight just one that has become far more prominent in recent years. It’s an objectively bad trend and one I genuinely believe we need to reverse. It involves this inability to distinguish shaming someone from criticizing them.

It goes like this. Two people connect, either in person or via the internet. They have a disagreement. When there’s criticism, it tends to go like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: Why do you hold that opinion? I don’t understand how you could.

Person B: Well, it’s because of X, Y, and Z.

Person A: I don’t disagree with Y and Z, but I take issue with X.

Person B: Why is that?

Person A: Well, it goes like this…

Ideally, both people in this exchange get something out of this discourse. Person A offers Person B another point of view. Person B has their opinion challenged and they’re now in a position to defend it. In doing so, they may reaffirm or question their position. They may even convince Person A of the merit of their position.

That’s a healthy level of discourse, guided by fair and civil criticism. There’s certainly a place for that. I even see it on social media from time to time. However, that’s not what makes the headlines. It’s the shaming that usually generates the most noise. Shaming is very different from criticism, both by definition and by practice. At its worst, it goes like this.

Person A: I hold Opinion X.

Person B: I hold Opinion Y.

Person A: What? You’re a horrible human being for holding an opinion like that! You must be a fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick!

Person B: Fuck you! Your opinion is a goddamn atrocity! Only a true fucking asshole fascist Nazi prick would even entertain it! You should be fucking ashamed!

Person A: No, you should be ashamed! You should lose your job, your money, and all manner of sympathy for the rest of your fucking life!

Person B: No, you should be ashamed! You should cry like a baby, get on your knees, and beg everyone like me to forgive you! And you should also lose your job, money, and any semblance of sympathy until the end of time!

I don’t deny that’s an extreme example. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’ve seen stuff like this play out. I’ve seen it in comments section, message boards, Twitter threads, and Facebook posts. It’s not enough to just criticize someone for holding a different opinion. People have to outright shame them to the point where they’re mentally and physically broken.

In some cases, people look for that kind of rhetoric. Some people just love trolling others by posting opinions they know will piss people off and start a flame war. They don’t care about civil discourse. They just care about riling people up. It’s what gives them a cheap thrill.

Those people are trolls. The best thing anyone can do is ignore them.

They’re also in the minority. They may be a vocal minority, but they are the minority. Most people, in my experience, are inclined to be civil. They’ll give people a chance, even if they don’t agree with them. Things just go off the rails when they interpret criticism as shaming. It’s not always intentional, either. Some people just frame their criticism poorly, which sends all the wrong messages.

Whereas criticism is impersonal, shaming evokes some very basic emotions. There’s a tangible, neurobiological process behind it. It’s linked heavily to guilt, an objectively terrible feeling that most people try to avoid at all costs. Shame attempts to impose guilt. While there are some things we should definitely feel guilty about, holding certain opinions is rarely one of them.

Does someone deserve to be shamed for how they voted in the last presidential election?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for believing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was a terrible movie?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking certain female characters in media are too sexualized?

Does someone deserve to be shamed for thinking they shouldn’t believe every claim a woman makes about being sexually harassed?

These are difficult, emotionally charged issues. With that kind of complexity, there’s going to be many points of criticism. Some have real merit and they should be discussed. That’s how we learn and make sense of our world and the people in it. Once shame enters the picture, though, the merit tends to vanish.

The problem is that once the shaming starts, it escalates quickly. It doesn’t even need to escalate that much before a person stops listening and gets defensive. At that point, there’s basically no going back. It’s less about understanding someone else’s perspective and all about defending yourself.

That’s not a metaphor, either. Like it or not, people take their opinions seriously. Attacking them with words, even if it’s through a computer screen, still feels like a physical attack on some levels. You’re not just attacking an opinion, anymore. You’re attacking a person. You’re throwing metaphorical punches that have non-metaphorical meanings to those you’re attacking.

With that in mind, look at it from a purely instinctual level. When someone is physically assaulting you, is your first inclination to engage in a reasoned, civil discussion? For most people, it’s not. You go into survival mode and that often involves attacking the attacker.

You throw your punches.

They throw theirs.

They call you a fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

You call them a worse fascist, Nazi-loving bully.

There’s no logic or reason to it. Once emotions override everything, criticism becomes a moot point. It’s all about hitting back to defend yourself. It’s not about being right. It’s about survival, at least from your brain’s perspective.

If there’s one silver lining, it’s that people get burned out quickly on this kind of discourse. You can only hear two sides call each other fascist for so long before the rhetoric loses its impact. It also gets boring. It takes too much energy to sustain that kind of hatred towards someone you don’t know. Most people who aren’t trolls have better things to do with their time.

As I write this, I understand that we live in contentious times. I see the same heated debates online and in person as everyone else. I know that civil discourse is a scant and precious commodity at the moment. That’s exactly why we should make the effort, regardless of what opinions we hold.

Once we stop shaming each other for daring to think differently, we’ll realize just how much we have in common. We don’t have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to like one another. We can and should still be civil with one another. That’s the only way we’ll make any real progress.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology

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

A Band, A Song, And A Music Video That Has Aged Too Well

It’s a sad fact of life. Certain movies, TV shows, songs, toys, and products just don’t age well. For every timeless classic, like “Citizen Kane” or Mozart operas or Betty White, there’s an “All In The Family” or “Gone With The Wind.” That’s not to say these pieces of popular media are bad or should be censored. They just have a cringy impact in today’s climate.

I love classics as much as the next guy, but even I can’t deny that the lyrics for songs like “Brown Sugar” or “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones have some distressing connotations. I don’t judge anyone who still enjoys those songs or loves the Rolling Stones. Let’s just acknowledge that times change, societies change, and certain media just doesn’t fit anymore.

That being said, it’s also possible for something to age a little too well. Again, I’m not just talking about Keanu Reeves or Betty White. Every now and then, you revisit an old movie, show, or song that doesn’t just fit right into the current cultural climate. It almost fits too well.

That’s how I felt recently while going over some old music. I was updating my workout playlist when I came across some old songs I had from Rage Against The Machine, a band I hadn’t followed closely since high school. In re-listening to some of those songs, I realized two things.

One, they still rock. They rock every bit as much as they did when I was a teenager.

Two, their music has aged way too well in the current political climate.

Now, if you know anything about this band, the kind of music they play, and what they stand for, you’re probably not surprised. Rage Against The Machine is not subtle. Their music is very political. It always has been, going back to their formative years in the mid-1990s.

They’re anti-authoritarian, revolution-heavy act that you don’t see much outside the heyday of the hippie era in the 1960s. As a teenager, I didn’t appreciate that kind of political rhetoric in music. At the time, the only politics I cared about involved how many snow days we were allowed at school.

Now, having grown up and become painfully aware of the current state of politics, I find myself appreciating Rage Against The Machine even more. I know it’s a couple decades too late, but it’s still profound. Just listening to the songs I have, I feel like they could’ve come out today and be just as relevant.

The best example that I came across just happens to be my favorite Rage Against The Machine song of all time, “Sleep Now In The Fire.” When I hear this song, it blows my mind that it came out in 1999. It feels so long ago, but it still rings so true.

Even the music video, which I remember seeing on MTV regularly, has aged remarkably well. I would argue it aged too well. Just see for yourself.

To anyone born after the year 2000, please take a moment to appreciate what the band did here. They defied a decision made by New York City. They played on the steps of the Wall Street Stock Exchange for this video. That could not happen today. In a world after September 11, 2001, they wouldn’t get off with a fine or a warning. They’d go to prison.

Then, there are the lyrics. Just take a moment and read over these lyrics. How much more relevant are they now compared to 1999?

Yeah
The world is my expense
The cost of my desire
Jesus blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
So raise your fists and march around
Just don’t take what you need
I’ll jail and bury those committed
And smother the rest in greed
Crawl with me into tomorrow
Or I’ll drag you to your grave
I’m deep inside your children
They’ll betray you in my name

[Chorus]
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

[Verse 2]
The lie is my expense
The scope of my desire
The party blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire

[Pre-Chorus]
I am the Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer
The agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire

[Chorus]
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire
Hey, hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

[Verse 3]
For it’s the end of history
It’s caged and frozen still
There is no other pill to take
So swallow the one that makes you ill

[Pre-Chorus]
The Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer
The agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire
Yeah

It’s downright eerie. The whole song is about how the rich, powerful, and well-connected can get away with anything. They lie, cheat, and steal with impunity. They’ll pay lip service to revolution and change, but never hesitate to throw people in a fire if they get out of line.

It feels like a perfectly dystopian indictment of the current political rhetoric. People on both sides of the political spectrum, liberal and conservative, jealously protect their power and influence. They’ll tell people what they think they want to hear, stoking hatred and fear, all while enjoying the fruits of their position.

Regardless of your politics, you can’t help but appreciate this kind of hard-hitting message. It feels like we’re always at the mercy of the rich and powerful. They play political games. We’re just brought along for the ride.

Rage Against The Machine was making music about this long before the internet, social media, and cable news made those politics so hateful. They dared to rage against a corrupt system before it became a common tool of political theater.

They warned us.

They yelled it out in song.

We didn’t listen and we should’ve.

At the very least, they still rock.

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Filed under Current Events, media issues, music, political correctness, politics, YouTube

Happy Columbus Day (And My Honest Thoughts On It)

First off, Happy Columbus Day!

I know that’s a somewhat political statement these days, but I’ll say it anyways, just to get it out of the way.

I’m not saying it to be political. These days, I try to be very careful about statements that can be even partially construed as political. That’s just the nature of the times we’re living in. We’re so divided, defensive, and tribal that it’s hard to see anything we don’t agree with as a politically-motivated attack.

As a result, Columbus Day has taken on some very political overtones in recent years and not in a good way. It used to just be a day to celebrate the landmark voyage of a famous explorer from the 15th century. That voyage, regardless of the politics surrounding it, opened the door to a new age of exploration between the Americas and Europe. Some believe that is worth celebrating.

On the other side, there are those who rightly highlight the negative impacts and outright atrocities that Columbus’ voyage incurred. If you were a native living in the Americas at the time of his arrival, you had no reason to celebrate. The man ushered in an era that saw the utter decimation of the entire native population.

He was also, even by the standards of his time, quite the asshole. He took slaves. He wasn’t exactly popular with his crew. He might not have been the worst offender of his time, but he certainly didn’t raise the bar.

Like many historical figures from the distant past, Christopher Columbus was a complex figure. There’s a lot we’ve come to know about him, especially in recent years as the less savory parts of his story have become more accessible. With that knowledge and the benefit of hindsight, a critical question remains.

Should Columbus Day still be celebrated as a holiday?

I admit freely that, for most of my life, I saw Columbus Day as little more than an extra day off school. I didn’t know or care much about the man or his story, beyond what I was told in school. Since then, I’ve tried to keep a balanced perspective on him.

If you want a fairly comprehensive assessment on who Columbus was and how we should judge him in the modern era, I recommend the rundown from the YouTube channel, Knowing Better. He does make his biases and opinions very clear, but he still gets the point across.

If there’s one take-away worth gleaning from this video, it’s that we can appreciate the achievements of Christopher Columbus. We can even acknowledge the impact he had on world history, for better or for worse. However, celebrating him as a holiday at this point has connotations and implications that just don’t work in the modern era.

Columbus isn’t history’s greatest monster, but he’s not someone who deserves a state-sanctioned holiday in a country that has a diverse population, including groups that suffered greatly due to Columbus’ legacy. For that reason, I think at the very least, the name of the day should be changed.

Some have proposed calling it Indiginous Peoples Day to celebrate the legacy, as well as acknowledge the hardships, of the Native American populations of the Americas. I would certainly be on board with that.

Perhaps we can call it something more generic like World Exploreres Day or Unity Day. While Christopher Columbus may have been an asshole, he did succeed in one critical area. He took a major step towards connecting the world. Whether they called it the old world or the new world, the result was the same. We are now one world because we dared to explore and connect.

That, in my opinion, is worth celebrating and we can do it without glorifying Christopher Columbus.

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Filed under Current Events, political correctness, politics, rants

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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Doing The Right Thing: Results Vs. Motivations

Recall, for a moment, an instance where you were faced with a difficult choice. You had a pretty good idea of what choices were right and what choices were wrong, but could not be completely certain. What choice did you make and why did you make it? What motivated you to do what you did? What were the results?

We’ve all been in situations like that at some point in our lives. Most of the time, it’s mundane. It effects only us and those in our immediate surroundings. In those instances, motivations tends to be basic. You make a decision you feel works best and you deal with whatever consequences that occur. However, when it comes to larger decisions by people in powerful positions, it tends to get more complicated.

Those complications have become a lot more visible in recent years, due to the internet and social media. Now, if you’re a rich celebrity or in a position of power, your choices are always scrutinized. Doing the right thing is not just a matter of morality anymore. It’s an added complication for public relations and advertising.

People will do the right thing because it’s good for their image.

People will do the right thing because it’s for a cause they believe in.

People will do the right thing because they’re being pressured, criticized, or condemned.

Whatever the case, the decision is usually the same. Even the moral components of the decision are the same. It’s just the motivation that’s different.

With that in mind, and given the dynamics I just described, I have one more question to add to this issue.

When it comes to doing the right thing, how much or how little do motivations actually matter?

It’s a relevant question in a connected world where it’s painfully easy to overreact. Recently, I speculated on the reactions to the recent news that the Washington Redskins were changing their controversial nickname. It didn’t take long for those speculations to become real.

Less than a day after this announcement was made, people were already saying that it was too late. Even if it was the right thing to do and was the desired result that advocates had fought for, it’s somehow not enough. They’ll point out that the only reason the name was changed was because major sponsors pressured it.

That point is probably valid. If the franchise stood to lose a great deal of money over clinging to its old nickname, even if they sincerely believed it wasn’t offensive, the economic pressures were just too great. When it comes to impassioned pleas versus financial pressure, money usually wins out.

It’s unfortunate, but that’s the world we live in. Money talks louder than outrage. It always has. It always will. No matter how much we resent that, that’s not something we can change right now. Regardless of how you might feel about that system, the question remains.

Does it truly matter? Advocates got their wish. The name of the team is changing. It might not be changing for the reasons they want, but it is changing. Isn’t that enough?

Do the results matter more than the motivations? We can never see, touch, feel, or measure someone’s motivations. We can only ever experience the results. One is tangible. The other is not. Which matters more to you?

I think it’s a relevant question because those continue to complain, protest, and whine about the team are only doing a disservice to their cause and future causes like it. They’re setting it up so that, no matter what their opponents do, there’s no way they can ever appease them.

If they don’t change the name, they inspire more outrage and criticism.

If they do change the name, they’re still subject to outrage and criticism because they didn’t do it soon enough or for the right reasons.

How is that fair? How is that even logical? If anything, that kind of approach only gives everyone a good excuse to never engage with opponents. They know there’s nothing they can do to placate them, so what’s the point? Short of getting in a time machine and undoing history, there’s literally nothing they can do.

Either results matter or they don’t. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not happy with the results, then you’ll never be happy with anything.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Pursuing A Dream

Today is a day in which we remember a dream. In a world that’s full of hard truths, fake news, and gross injustices, we need that dream more than ever. It’s a dream I like to think that humanity has always had on some level, but it took a remarkable man named Martin Luther King Jr. to put it into words that will resonate for generations to come.

In general, I don’t like talking about politics. I’ve written about sensitive issues before, but I honestly think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think it’s possible to change someone’s mind by just debating the issues. I also don’t think it’s possible to convince someone that they’re wrong through discourse alone. It’s not impossible, but it’s exceedingly difficult.

Dr. King did something remarkable during his tireless pursuit of justice and civil rights. He confronted hatred, but he didn’t fight back with it. He dared to inspire, appealing to ideals greater than politics or tradition. He presented a dream of a better world. He preached a message of hope and love. It might not have changed the minds of his opponents at the time, but it inspired generations of others to pursue that dream.

It’s a dream that’s still worth pursuing. Some may argue that we’ve regressed. I respectfully disagree. While we haven’t made as much progress as most would prefer, signs of progress are there. There’s still room for improvement, but the dream is relevant as ever. As Dr. King himself once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

If you need another reminder as to why that dream is still important, you need only listen to Dr. King’s most famous speech. It’s a speech that made the dream feel real and it’s a dream worth pursuing now and for generations to come.

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When Is It Okay To Tell Someone To Grow Thicker Skin?

offended-7

When I was a kid, I played little league baseball. My father also volunteered, being a lover of baseball and an all-around awesome guy. It was fun. I enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t that good. However, I still thought I was better than the majority of the kids on my team. I’d been playing baseball with my dad in the backyard for years. I had developed those skills more than most.

Then, one year, my skills started to slip. In my defense, that was also around the time I developed asthma. I still thought I was good, but there’s only so much you can do with those skills when you’re coughing and wheezing half the time. As a result, my coach had me bat next to last and made me play outfield, which I took as a personal affront.

I know he wasn’t trying to insult me, but I took it very personally. Being a kid, I gave him and everyone around me a bad attitude. When I told my father about this, I thought he would be on my side. Instead, he wasn’t having it. My dad was not the kind of guy who rewarded bad attitudes. No matter how much I told him the coach’s decision upset me, he had the same response.

“Can’t hack it? Get your jacket.”

That became a mantra of his. At the time, I hated it. As I got older, I came to appreciate it. On the surface, it may seem harsh, especially when it’s directed a kid in the context of a little league game. However, it conveys and important lesson while indirectly raising an important question.

When is it okay to tell someone they need to grow thicker skin?

I believe this question is more important now than it ever was when I was a kid playing little league baseball. With the rise of outrage culture and numerous controversies on issues that rarely warrant controversy, I feel as though my father’s wise advice is more relevant than ever.

That said, answering this question isn’t simple. I know it’s tempting for anyone annoyed by political correctness to just brush off outrage as coming from thin-skinned, over-coddled snowflakes. That is, after all, a popular perception among the most vocal critics of outrage culture. However, that recourse ignores some important caveats.

It’s one thing to tell an over-privileged college student majoring in underwater basket weaving that they need to grow thicker skin. It’s quite another to say the same thing to a wounded veteran or a rape survivor. Make no mistake. Those over-privileged professional whiners exist and they deserve both criticism and scorn. They’re still the extreme cases. Most people operate in that vast area between extremes.

To illustrate, consider the following example. You’re on a stage telling a story in front of a large group of people. The story isn’t political, nor is it an attempt to convince someone of a particular worldview. The story contains some difficult themes, including references to graphic violence, sexual abuse, and racism. It doesn’t have to be based on real events. Those themes just have to be sufficiently graphic.

After you’re done telling the story, a small segment of the audience comes up to you and tells you they found your story to be deeply offensive. They claim that the simple act of you telling a story caused them real psychological harm. How do you respond to them?

For some people, their first inclination will be to apologize to them and everyone else who felt offended. This is often the first recourse for any celebrity who tends to make a public gaff, of sorts. It’s an easy option and, at the very least, will mitigate some of the outrage, but it has the added effect of derailing serious discussions.

For others, the first inclination will be to brush off those who are offended and tell them to grow thicker skin. There are certain individuals who make this their primary response. They tend to be less concerned about hurting peoples’ feelings and often criticize those who are easily offended. While that may be warranted in some instances, it can often come off as callous. In some cases, it devolves into outright trolling.

Whatever the recourse, both responses have the same flaw. They ignore the actual substance behind those who took offense to the story. It generalizes the nature of the harm they claim to have endured. It essentially lumps the offense that some thin-skinned college kid feels with that of someone who has legitimate issues.

Without those insights, any apology or lack of apology will make light of any genuine offense someone endures. Those details are necessary in determining who needs to grow thicker skin and who deserves a sincere apology. In essence, the right response is determined on a case-by-case basis and that can get both tricky and cumbersome.

Say one of the audience members took offense because they felt the story glorified the current and historical oppression of women by way of patriarchal traditions. Someone harmed by anything that vague definitely needs to grow thicker skin.

Say one of the audience members took offense because they’re struggling with a legitimate mental illness and parts of the story caused them significant distress that required medical intervention. In that case, telling them to grow thicker skin isn’t just insensitive. It’s downright malicious. People with legitimate medical issues can only do so much to manage their reactions.

It can get a lot more complicated. One of the audience members may have endured a real trauma in their lives and while they’re not on medications, they’re still struggling and hearing the story opened some unhealed wounds. In this instance, an apology is warranted, but only in the context of acknowledging someone’s real-world issues. You can’t tell them to grow thicker skin, but you can encourage them to heal.

Maybe there’s another audience member who just says the story was patently offensive and is too heavy on outdated stereotypes. They’ll angrily rant at how certain elements denigrated their heritage, their culture, and their race. It’s not just that the story was offensive. They believe anyone who tells it is as bad as those who made it. This person may be sincere, but they could also benefit from growing thicker skin.

There are any number of ways someone can claim offense. Some are legitimate, but most are contrived. As a general rule, any offense that requires someone to be offended on behalf of other people is questionable at best and insincere at worst. It tends to happen whenever people try to make broad claims about cultural appropriation or stereotypes.

Even if certain generalizations about cultures are legitimate and certain stereotypes have a basis in fact, the offense is still taken personally. The very fact that it exists is an affront. That’s usually another sign that thicker skin is at least part of the solution. It’s one thing to abhor racist acts. It’s quite another to abhor that it exists at all.

Everyone is wired differently. Some are just more easily-offended than others. That’s an inescapable fact of life in world that’s diverse and has the technology to over-react to anything that anyone may say. Even with those caveats, it certainly helps to discern those who suffer real harm from certain rhetoric and those who really need to grow thicker skin.

There are some criteria that can help us make that determination. It may not help in every case, but here are just a few.

If someone is offended by the fact that something exists, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended by mere opinions of other people, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended on behalf of an entire group, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended because other people can’t know the specifics of what offends them without reading their mind, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended by something that was not intended to offend or harm, then they need to grow thicker skin.

Again, these are just general guidelines and there are certainly exceptions to many. However, if we apply these standards to my story as an upset little leaguer who took offense to his coach’s decisions, then my father’s reaction would be appropriate. In that situation, someone is right to tell me that I should grow thicker skin. Moreover, I became stronger and more mature as a result.

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The (Unequal) Gender Politics Of Divorce

debt-and-divorce

There are a handful of words that evoke a special kind of dread. I’m not just talking about racial slurs, crushing insults, or George Carlin’s famous seven dirty words. There’s one word that evokes dread that transcends race, gender, and political affiliation. That word is divorce. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing.

I can personally attest to the impact of that word. I have many close friends, relatives, and family members who have gone through divorce. I’ve seen, first-hand, how devastating it can be to individuals and their family. It can be every bit as devastating on children as well. While there is certainly a benefit for spouses and children who escape an abusive relationship, there can still be lasting scars.

Most people agree that divorce is a pretty traumatic experience. It is very much the antithesis of the love, connection, and intimacy we seek in others. It is against everything I generally write about on this website. However, divorce is a significant part of our society.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that the old “half of all marriages end in divorce” saying is not in line with the data. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate in 2015 was 16.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages. That actually represents a significant decline since the 1980 when the divorce rate was nearly 23 per 1,000 marriages.

Whatever the rate is, the effects of divorce are still devastating and heartbreaking. Those effects also get lost in a lot of doom-saying surrounding marriage and the state of the family, which is often led by religious zealots and reactionary pundits. Beyond even the tragic and painful stories surrounding divorce, there is another element to it that often goes overlooked.

Unfortunately, it has to do with gender disparities and I’ve learned in the course of writing about this topic, this often brings out some heated debates. I expect that to hold true more than usual on this issue because it’s already so emotionally charged. On top of that, there’s plenty of data to show that when it comes to marriage and divorce, men and women are not on the same page.

The first major indicator of that disparity is shown in who does the proposing. Even in today’s more progressive climate, men are still the ones who propose 90 percent of the time. Despite the many running jokes about men being afraid to commit, they’re still the ones who pop the question. While more and more women are starting to propose, this gap is still significant.

The second indicator, which I’m sure is going to inflame ongoing gender conflicts, has to do with who initiates divorce. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 80 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Again, that’s not a trivial gap. That implies there’s a major disconnect at work and it’s not getting better, even as more people remain single.

The reasons for women initiating divorce are many. I don’t want to get too deep into them, but there are many conflicting narratives. There are those who see marriage as a tool of patriarchal oppression and divorce is tool of liberation. On the other side are those who claim marriage is just an institutional tool that women use to exploit men for resources with divorce being the oversized sledge hammer.

With the added complication of no fault divorce, alimony laws, and child support, there are more legal mechanisms than ever to rub salt in the wound that is divorce. It’s not enough for a relationship to end and for romance to fade. Involving lawyers and lawmakers adds multiple layers of heartbreak and frustration to the mix.

This is where the gender divide can get especially hostile. On top of the disparity in who proposes and who divorces, there’s also a significant divide in how these laws affect each gender. Even though women have gained much more economic independence over the years, 97 percent of the ex-spouses who receive alimony after a divorce are women.

Add the ease of no-fault divorce into the mix and there’s a painful incentive for women to initiate divorce. If the choice is staying in a boring marriage or leaving with some money without having to prove any wrongdoing, then who could blame someone for taking that option? It’s still heartbreaking and hurtful, but people are going to respond to incentives, regardless of gender.

It certainly hasn’t helped gender relations. Many unabashed misogynists will cite how many women receive alimony and use that to claim that all women are manipulative psychopaths who only see men as a wallet or a sperm bank. Those kinds of generalizations are crude, but when you can cite real-world cases of unapologetic gold digging among women, it’s easy to see where that hatred comes from.

Personally, I don’t believe that hatred is justified. Most men don’t see women with that kind of hostility. In principle, alimony exists to protect women who would otherwise be in poverty after divorce. That is reasonable and well-intentioned. In practice, though, it’s a legal tool that can be abused and further foster hateful attitudes.

The data for who gets primary custody of children is just as striking. According to Census data, 82 percent of mothers get custody after divorce. That same set of data also notes that this stat hasn’t changed much over the past 20 years. That, in my opinion, is the most frustrating aspect of this issue.

Despite all the other changes and trends we’ve seen in recent years with feminism, men’s rights activism, and evolving trends in marriage, there hasn’t been much change in the overall narrative. Even as feminists bemoan patriarchal oppression and men’s rights activities protest gender-driven injustice, the rhetoric rarely translates into meaningful change.

I understand that some relationships are just doomed from the start. I also understand that the nature of romance is changing in accord with culture, society, and law. However, the lack of change in the fundamentals of how we pursue marriage and manage divorce is confusing and even a little infuriating.

Women seek, and have gained, a great deal of rights and protections in pursuing their own path within a more egalitarian society. At the same time, they still hold onto traditions surrounding relationships. They still expect the man to propose and to support her in the event of divorce. I doubt that’s out of malice. This is just what we, as a society, consider normal.

At the same time, men are pursuing their own brand of rights and protections within this society. Issues like father’s rights and reforms to family courts all have a place in pursuing a more equitable system. Even so, men still expect women to play a certain role within a relationship while assuming too much about their own role.

It’s an untenable situation. Society is guiding the genders in one direction while they’re pulling towards another. The old narrative surrounding divorce is just not compatible with the one that’s emerging. The situation today is very different than it was in 1908. Laws, culture, and even the economy are changing the factors that guide divorce. The only thing that doesn’t change is the pain of a broken relationship.

As it stands, men and women both seem to want more equality in the tragic realm of divorce. However, they each seem to have very different ideas of what constitutes “equality.” The narrative, as it stands, is built around men pursuing women and women deciding when that pursuit is over. Anything that deviates from that is seen as abnormal or absurd.

Every relationship is different. Every individual is different. There are probably some women out there who divorce out of blind hatred and there are men who marry women they have no intention of loving for the rest of their lives. There are plenty of vindictive people out there and divorce is a weapon that needs no sharpening.

The late, great Robin Williams once said that “Divorce is like ripping a man’s genitals out through his wallet.”

Feminist, Gloria Steinem, once said “You become a semi-non person when you get married. The surest way to be alone is to get married.”

These attitudes nicely reflect the current gender divide when it comes to divorce. Until that gap is narrowed, the heartbreak and hatred inspired by divorce will only get worse. Men and women have enough reasons to clash with one another. Divorce just makes it worse by giving that animosity legal powers.

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