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What Recent X-Men Comics Can Teach Us About Present (And Future) Politics

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Trying to make sense of politics is like trying to understand quantum mechanics while stoned. The process of governing humanity has always been tricky. Ever since we exchanged our basic hunter/gatherer ways for a more formal system of order, the process has only become more difficult over time. You don’t have to look far to see the complexities and the overall absurdities of politics.

I’ve tried to talk about politics before, albeit with a limited focus on hot-button issues. I never claim to be an expert or an authority on the matter. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. My understanding of politics is as limited as most people who don’t live, work, and breath these issues. Despite those limitations, I still want to make an effort to talk politics in a novel way.

As it just so happens, I’ve come up with just such a way and it involves X-Men comics. Considering how much I’ve written about X-Men and superhero comics in general, this should surprise no one.

More specifically, I want to take the events that have been unfolding in the X-Men comics for the past two years and use it to make sense of the current state politics. I also want to use it to speculate a bit on where these politics might lead us. Again, I am not even close to an expert, but I do believe that art and media have an uncanny way of shining a light on the real world and there are few narratives more uncanny than the X-Men.

The current state of politics, especially in the United States and Western Europe, has been dominated by polarization. More and more, citizens are becoming more tribal. On top of that, people are becoming more divided. That’s not just an anecdote, either. According to Pew Research, the public has become more ideologically split over the past 20 years and it’s only getting worse.

Rather than try to make sense of these decade-long trends, I want to apply it to the politics in the X-Men comics. More than any other superhero comic or franchise, politics are a major driving force for the X-Men, more so than killer robots. Co-creator, Stan Lee, stated that the inspiration for the X-Men was drawn from the ongoing Civil Rights movement that was in full swing in the early 1960s.

Over the years, this idea of mutants being an oppressed minority who were hated and feared for being different has been the driving force behind the X-Men’s story. It is also a big part of what helped them gain such a wide appeal. Some of the X-Men’s most iconic stories come from conflicts inspired by the hate and fear that ordinary humans feel towards mutants.

In the real world, hatred and fear are powerful forces that don’t need killer robots to cause upheaval. Hatred and fear is at the heart of debates surrounding migrants and immigrants. That same hatred and fear is at the heart of the political polarization.

Liberals hate and fear conservatives because they think they want to turn the world into one big plantation ruled by rich, wealthy slave-owners.

Conservatives hate and fear liberals because they think they want to abandon their heritage, punish people for the sins of their ancestors, and micromanage their lives.

In the world of X-Men, humans hate and fear mutants because they think they’re too dangerous, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. On top of that, if they truly are a new species, then that means their survival means humanity’s extinction.

The parallels aren’t perfect, but they are there. Mutants aren’t just a metaphor for any minority who has been oppressed, segregated, and denigrated. They represent just how divided two groups can be. Constant conflict ensures that hatred and fear will fester. However, it’s the events of House of X and Powers of X that the entire concept of X-Men has gained greater political relevance.

In case you haven’t been following superhero comics, the details of these events are many, but the theme is relatively simple. After years of fighting, running, surviving, and being marginalized because of movie rights, the entire mutant race has decided to reorganize themselves into a new society.

This isn’t some exclusive club or superhero team. With help from Charles Xavier and the powerful foresight provided by Moira MacTaggart, the mutants of the Marvel Universe have united within a new homeland, which happens to be a living island. They also have their own mysterious language that only they understand. They are essentially establishing themselves as a new political entity.

In the scope of the X-Men’s 50-plus year history, the idea isn’t new. There have been multiple efforts over the years to give mutants a homeland. One was called Genosha. One was called Utopia. Both enjoyed some measure of short-term success, but both ended up destroyed or abandoned. The reasons for this aren’t important. What sets them apart from Krakoa is the scale.

To understand it in a real-world context, think of Genosha and Utopia as enclaves within a community. They’re akin to neighborhoods in America or Europe that are predominantly populated by a particular ethnic group or religion. Many are quite successful in their own right. Others have become the sites of atrocities and tragedies.

What the mutants are doing with Krakoa in the comics is something bigger than an enclave. They’re not just seeking to be recognized as a full-fledged country, either. Charles Xavier, the X-Men, and every other mutant is building Krakoa to be a society that can function with or without humanity. It’s not land borrowed from humans. It’s land that’s theirs and theirs alone.

That’s not to say Krakoa operates in isolation, as Wakanda once did. They actually seek to maintain diplomatic relations with the world. They even have valuable resources with which to trade. They don’t have to make these kinds of deals, but under Charles Xavier, they do anyway. It culminates in “House of X #5,” in which Krakoa gains formal recognition by the UN.

This is where the politics of the X-Men comics add some necessary nuance to what we’re seeing in the real world. When people feel marginalized, they tend to feel unwelcome. Even if you are legally an American, a German, an Italian, or a Wakandan, being hated and feared by a large segment of the country makes you feel like you don’t belong.

Between divided polls and America’s colorful electoral map, it’s not hard for anyone to feel out of place. The added polarization provided by the internet, social media, and cable news only adds to the divisions and the animosity. As a result, people naturally retreat into groups and tribes where they feel welcome. Whether it’s a political group, a religious group, or an identity, they seek some form of sanctuary.

In doing so, these groups essentially create their own little world within their community. It’s a world that might as well be a separate reality from what others see. It’s how different people can see the same facts, but have wildly different interpretations. Their brains are still working and the facts are still facts. It’s how they apply them to their world that’s different.

Each group feels they don’t belong. They may even feel victimized. It doesn’t matter if the group happens to make up the vast majority of the population. They still feel like they’re the ones under attack, not unlike the X-Men when they constantly confront fearful, hate-filled humans. They act as though they need to carve their own place in the world and defend it at all costs.

This is where House of X and Powers of X can provide some possible insights into the future of politics. To some extent, Krakoa is a natural byproduct of mutants being hunted, attacked, and denigrated at every turn. They tried isolating themselves on islands. They tried living among humans, sometimes in their most populated cities. Now, they’re trying something bigger.

It’s not exactly peaceful and not everyone understands it, which seems antithetical to Charles Xavier’s dream. However, it’s pragmatic in a very political sense. They have a homeland that they can control. They have barriers for entering and exiting that homeland. Nobody who isn’t authorized can enter it. It’s basically the ultimate immigration control.

On top of that, it has valuable resources that the rest of the world wants. The mutants of Krakoa are willing to share them, but only if they respect their new homeland and treat it like a legitimate country with its own culture, laws, and norms. In a world where people constantly attack others for not respecting their culture or norms, it feels like the ultimate endgame of sorts.

Those who want their culture and way of life preserved will only have more incentive to become more organized. If they keep feeling hatred and fear, they may look for ways to simply function without those they feel don’t belong. People won’t just become more ideologically divided. They may end up more divided in a very literal sense.

It’s the ultimate manifestation of our natural tribal instincts. We seek to join, maintain, and protect our tribe from others, be they real or imagined. It doesn’t matter if there are objective facts that show our tribe is somehow wrong or misguided. We still feel inclined to protect it at all cost.

This era of X-Men comics has been exciting. Writer, Jonathan Hickman, has turned the X-Men from just another superhero team into a blossoming community with its own culture, identity, and borders. As an X-Men fan, I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. As someone in the real world who can’t always avoid politics, it leaves me worried about just how divided we’ll ultimately become.

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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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Why Liars, Cheaters, And Hypocrites Get Away With It

We all deal with them.

We all encounter them.

We all despise them on some levels.

Call them any vulgar insult you want. It’s perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change what they do. The liars, cheaters, and hypocrites of this world will keep doing it. They’ll keep lying to your face, cheating you out of money, and breaking promises or precedents without a second thought.

I know it’s a depressing thought. It has become a lot more in our collective faces in recent years, given how political rhetoric has become so heated. Both sides argue with one another. They each lie or cheat to varying degrees. They jump at the chance to call the other out on it, but nothing really changes.

They keep on lying and people who align with their politics buy into it, even when they know it’s a lie. It’s frustrating. I argue it’s gotten even more infuriating in recent years. It does, however, raise an important question.

Why do people who lie, cheat, and break promises keep getting away with it?

It’s a valid question. Nobody likes being lied to. Even kids know on some level how wrong it is. So, why does it keep happening and why does nobody seem to pay a price? Well, the very nature of those questions already answer that to some extent.

In short, people keep getting away with it because they never get punished, pay a price, or face any consequences for their dishonesty.

It’s not a very comforting answer, I know. It’s probably just as infuriating as being lied to. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Think about it. What price does someone really pay for lying? Sure, there’s the accompanying guilt that comes with it, but for some people, that’s not much of a price. You don’t have to be a psychopath incapable of guilt to lie. You just have to be capable of enduring the momentary discomfort that comes with it.

That’s not much of a price for certain people, especially when there’s money to be made and power to be gained. Granted, certain liars and hypocrites will lose credibility with certain people. Lie too much to one person and they won’t trust you, let alone be inclined to do you any favors.

On a larger scale, though, that’s less of an issue. Add mass media and the internet to the mix and it’s basically an afterthought. Right now, anyone can tweet or post some completely dishonest information to any number of major sites.

They could claim a certain politician beat up a child.

They could claim that a certain celebrity sexually assaulted someone.

They could claim that the theory of evolution is a plot by the Illuminati to keep people from finding out about the shape-shifting lizard people that secretly run our government.

That last one is a real conspiracy theory that some people actually believe, by the way. I wish I had made up something that absurd.

Some of these lies may incur lawsuits or blocks, but again, is that really much of a price? Some people can afford frivolous lawsuits. Many don’t care if certain people block them. Even when major websites try to clamp down on it, that only seems to fuel the liars.

That’s another critical element as to why it keeps happening. Not only do liars, cheats, and hypocrites pay little to no price for their dishonesty. In some cases, they’re rewarded. In some cases, the reward is huge.

We may hate hypocrites and liars, but so long as they have something to gain and little to lose, not much will stop them. If they have no sense of guilt or shame, as many politicians and CEOs often do, they have every incentive to do what they do. There’s just too much money and power to be gained.

On top of that, there are some people who want to believe in their lies. Everyone has their own reason for doing so. It often boils down to the lies being more appealing than the truth or reinforcing some position they already have. Whatever their reason, they keep give even more incentives to those willing to exploit that inclination.

I say this not to be dire, although I don’t deny the election last month is a motivating factor. I offer this as a means of adding perspective to those frustrated by the dishonesty and hypocrisy that seems so prevalent, no matter where you look.

There’s a reason it’s there and is a painfully valid reason. As long as the liars, cheaters, and hypocrites we despise keep gaining so much and losing so little, they will continue with their deplorable behavior. They have no reason not to. It’s just the nature of our flawed world.

We can only do so much to make it less flawed. One way you can help is to keep voting, even if it’s just for the least dishonest candidate. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a start.

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How Conservatism, Christianity, And (Failed) Prophecies Created A Death Cult

When it comes to religion and religious people, I have a very simple standard for handling it.

If your religion gives you comfort and fulfillment, then that’s great. More power to you. I fully support you.

If being religious makes you a better person, then that’s great too. I fully support that as well.

If you sincerely believe what you believe and can tolerate others who believe differently, then that’s also great. We won’t have any problems. We’ll probably get along, as I’ve gotten along with many people who hold such beliefs.

However, if you use your religious beliefs to justify being an asshole to other people who don’t share your views, then that’s where I draw the line.

I’m willing to tolerate a lot of beliefs and theologies. I am not willing to tolerate that. Being an asshole is still being an asshole, no matter what deity, holy text, or preacher tries to say otherwise.

I make that disclaimer because there are certain sub-sets of every religion that does this. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves or what holy book they favor, they always seem to emerge. Assholes will find a way to be assholes. Religion just gives them more excuses than most and it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s one of the reasons I tend to criticize organized religion so much.

Religion can be a source of great comfort and fulfillment. It can also be a powerful tool for the corrupt and the power-hungry grifters who will jump at any opportunity to exploit people. Most of the time, it’s just infuriating to anyone with basic human decency. When religious zealots gain power, it becomes a serious concern.

However, there comes a point when serious concern turns into a legitimate, existential danger. It’s one thing for a group of uptight religious zealots to whine about a TV show that shows too many gay characters. It’s quite another when their policies and goals actively pursue the end of the goddamn world.

That’s not hyperbole.

That’s not even me taking their rhetoric out of context.

It’s true. There really is a certain segment of American Christianity that actively pursues a policy intended to bring about the end of days, as vaguely articulated in their holy book. They don’t hide it, either. That’s part of what makes it so scary, both to non-believers and other Christians who prefer the world not end.

This phenomenon is a dangerous and toxic convergence of extreme conservatism and evangelical Christianity. It centers largely around the nation of Israel, a country that has a way of triggering all sorts of extreme rhetoric. I won’t get into the particulars of that rhetoric. That’s not because I don’t think it’s relevant. It’s just impossible to talk about Israel these days without being accused of anti-Semitism.

There’s a reason why even Rick Sanchez got anxious when Israel came up.

All you need to know is that these end time beliefs rely on Zionism. Without getting too deep into the politics or the rhetoric surrounding this term, it’s a catch-all word for the creation and maintenance of a Jewish state in the holy land. Despite the historic presence of the predominantly Muslim Palestinians, these end times beliefs basically need Israel to be there. If it isn’t, then the prophecies in the bible can’t occur.

It’s the primary reason why this subset of Christianity is so dogmatically supportive of Israel, no matter what they do. It shows in polls. According to the Washington Post, half of evangelicals support Israel because they believe it’s important for fulfilling end-times prophecy. That continued support is a key political position for conservative politics. You can’t appeal to this brand of Christianity without supporting Israel.

Now, it’s one thing to dogmatically support another ally on the geopolitical stage. It’s quite another when your reasons for doing so have a basis in bringing about the end of the goddamn world. According to the prophecies that these right-wing Christians so ardently believe in, Israel has to exist in order for the anti-Christ to return and seize power.

Once the anti-Christ returns, the world basically descends into a massive glut of carnage and suffering. Countless people suffer and die. The world, as we know it, falls apart and becomes so objectively horrible that it’s basically indistinguishable from being in Hell. Anybody alive during this time, be they Christian or not, is left to suffer horribly.

Again, this movement wants this to happen. They, the conservative Christian evangelicals that so routinely vote for like-minded politicians, actively pursue policies that bring this suffering on. They’ll justify it by saying Jesus will come in the end and save everybody, as their holy text prophecies. Never mind the many times biblical prophecies failed to come true. These people are willing to take that chance.

It is, by any measure, a death cult. It helps explain why these same conservative religious zealots seem unconcerned with preserving the environment or facilitating peaceful relations in the Middle East. To do so would mean delaying the end of days and they don’t want that. They seem both eager and determined to bring about apocalyptic destruction their holy book depicts.

It would be one thing if these individuals were just another fringe cult in the mold of David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite. These people have legitimate political power. They have an entire political party in their palms. When they’re in power, they have access to nuclear weapons and military force. For anyone who doesn’t want the world to end, regardless of their religious affiliation, this should be troubling.

Death cults are dangerous enough, but one with this kind of influence is especially concerning. As someone who sincerely doesn’t want the world to end, I find this movement very concerning. Like I said earlier, I can respect anyone’s religious beliefs, but when those beliefs prompt you to support ending the goddamn world, how can anyone of any faith honestly respect that?

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Filed under Current Events, philosophy, politics, rants, religion

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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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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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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The (Pathetic) Virtue Signaling Of Those Who Whine About Virtue Signaling

The internet and social media are wonderful. They’ve done plenty of good for the world. People have connected like never before. Knowledge, information, and personal connections have never been easier. These are objectively good things for a social species like ours.

I make that disclaimer because I’m about to talk about one of the biggest negatives that the internet has fostered. I also concede there are far worse negatives. The internet and social media have done far greater harm in certain areas, plenty of which make the news. Some of that harm is just genuinely deplorable behavior. Some is outright illegal.

However, I would argue that one of the most infuriating, yet perfectly activities that the internet has enabled is virtue signaling. I’ve bemoaned it before and for good reason. Virtue signaling is a toxic combination of narcissism, groupthink, clickbait, and trolling. Take everything you hate about the worst people on the internet. Much of it is incorporated into virtue signaling.

It’s the selfish, ego-stroking act of loudly proclaiming that you’re so in favor or opposed to something that you demand acknowledgement and affirmation from total strangers. It’s not enough to just have a strong opinion or do something that’s actually virtuous. These people need the whole goddamn world to pat them on the back and assure them they’re a special snowflake.

There are far worse ways to describe this phenomenon. For my own sanity, I’ll leave it at that. I trust my readers to fill in the blanks without breaking their computer screens. All you need to know is that virtue signaling comes in many forms. Some acts are far worse than others. Like most things on the internet, there’s a spectrum to it.

Like any meme or trending hashtag, there’s a certain range of behaviors that constitute virtue signaling. Sometimes, it’s obvious. You need only see videos and articles whining about how video games, movies, and TV shows are ruining the world by empowering the patriarchy. However, I’ve noticed one particular brand of virtue signaling that’s becoming more common.

Specifically, it comes from the people who are usually the first to whine about virtue signaling. It’s every bit as hypocritical as it sounds, and then some. Virtue signaling is bad enough, but adding hypocrisy to the mix only makes it 10 times worse.

I’ve seen more and more of this pernicious virtue signaling in recent weeks, especially as the NBA playoffs wind down and as the NFL season gets going. It shows up in Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and pretty much any poorly moderated comments section. It usually goes something like this.

“These self-entitled athletes dared to protest social issues! I’m canceling my subscription!”

“Get your damn politics out of sports! Until then, you won’t get a cent of my money!”

“Boycott this league and all the snowflake cucks who work in it!”

“I will never support a league that doesn’t stand proudly for the flag/anthem/whatever political symbol I’ve decided to champion!”

Trust me, it gets worse. It gets much worse.

At the same time, it compounds the cringe. I imagine the people making these comments don’t think they’re virtue signaling. They may see themselves as heroic underdogs resisting some nefarious foe looking to destroy them and everything they care about.

Again, these are sports leagues. They’re a business. They’re main goal is to entertain, make money, and attract the widest possible audience. Sometimes, that audience includes people who aren’t you.

That’s a concept that seems to fly over the heads of everyone who whines and complains about politics in sports, video games, comics, movies, etc. Pick any form of media. Give it any kind of controversial or political undertones, even if it’s indirect. Chances are you’ll get people who call that virtue signaling and some of those people protest by virtue signaling how much they’re against it.

They don’t always see the hypocrisy, but it’s painfully apparent at times. The biggest catalyst, in my opinion, was the very public protest by Colin Kaepernick back in 2016. He stated very clearly that he was protesting police brutality and not disrespecting the American flag or veterans. He belabored and reiterated that countless times.

It didn’t matter. A sizeable chunk of people, who I won’t identify because they make their affiliations all too clear, decided he was this anti-American radical. He didn’t just want to protest injustice. He wanted to ruin America, the NFL, and sports in general. I’ve seen many toxic comment sections and Twitter threads in my time. This was probably the worst.

Again, most of it was just virtue signaling from the other side. Everyone seemed to compete for the right to proclaim they loved America, stood for the National Anthem, and hated Colin Kaepernick with every fiber of their being. They do all of that while calling someone like Kaepernick and other players who protested with him whiny, virtue-signaling America haters.

It’s a cycle of hypocrisy that doesn’t just miss the point. It goes out of its way to avoid the actual substance of what the issue was. Remember, and I wish I didn’t have to reiterate this, the man was protesting police brutality against young black men. That’s a legitimate issue that hurts innocent people. It should be confronted.

Instead, the hypocritical virtue signalers of the internet decide to ignore that issue entirely and make it all about who loves their country and flag more. It’s the digital equivalent of a pissing contest. Everyone wants to yell how much they hate the NFL and NBA. They want everyone to know that they don’t support their league and won’t be watching any games.

First off, I don’t believe them for a second.

I suspect the people who make comments like that will get bored one day, flip through the channels, and settle on a football or basketball game. Nobody will ever call them out on it. Chances are, nobody will ever find out. They may or may not feel a twinge of guilt for the hypocrisy, but they’ll pay no price.

Second, if you go out of your way to post comments in feeds to tell the world how much you hate something, you’re not just virtue signaling. You’re being an asshole of the highest order. The NFL and NBA are not out to get you. They’re not out to destroy America. They just want to entertain and make money. Sometimes, that means catering to a diverse audience.

Certain snowflakes on certain extremes of the political spectrum may hate it. They can whine about it all they want, telling as many people as they can how they’re not going to participate. They’re still the bigger assholes here and considering the scandalous behavior of organizations like the NFL, that’s saying something.

I’m sorry if this rant is dragging, but as someone who’s genuinely excited for football season and doesn’t mind at all seeing athletes protest causes they believe in, this kind of virtue signaling just pisses me off more than most. If you hate the NFL just because they dare to raise awareness of social issues, then I don’t know what to tell you. That’s petty, shallow, and just plain stupid. Virtue signaling is bad enough. Let’s not make it worse by adding whining and hypocrisy to the mix.

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, football, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, rants

Jack’s World: Why Conservatives Make Better Villains (For Now)

The following is a video I made for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video version of an article I wrote a while back. I added and removed a few details to the video. If necessary, I’ll do a follow-up. Enjoy!

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