Fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.


–Frank Herbert, Dune

The Bene Gesserit litany against fear is something that has (sort of) stuck with me ever since I first read Dune. I say “sort of” because I never memorized the whole thing, but I did remember enough to remind myself to not let fear overwhelm me and remove my ability to think and act.

This pandemic and lockdown we’re going through right now has brought this litany back to me once more. I do not consider myself a particularly brave person, but I also like to think that I can face things that might be scary or frightening and still manage to function. Lucky for me, I was correct in my self-assessment. While stories about the spread and destruction of COVID-19 have multiplied faster than the virus has managed to infect people, I believe that I have maintained my cool.

This does not mean I am not concerned about the virus. However, I am becoming more concerned about the economic and other destruction that is being wrought in the name of keeping us free from this illness. The information is confusing, conflicting, and constantly changing (how’s that for alliteration?) Masks are for all; masks should be worn by those showing symptoms; masks are not necessary; wear masks any time you leave your house, even in your own car…you are never immune, oh, wait, yes, those were false positives; it will die down in the heat and humidity of summer…no, it won’t. It will come back worse than before…it will come back less than before…

You get the point. A law in physics says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It seems that in the case of media and government bureaucracy reporting, for every report there is an equal and opposite report. What the hell do you do?

Well, I’ve decided that panic and fear are not going to be in my list of possible reactions. I’m watching friends, who are intelligent people, react in outright fear to any suggestion that the economy should open back up. I had a colleague say, with complete sincerity, that she didn’t think that students should be getting jobs at McDonald’s because that was “just too dangerous”. She then amended that to say, of course, if they needed the money…good grief. There is an absolute lack of understanding as to how the economy and supply chains work. I guarantee, these will be among the first people to lament the lack of food in stores and yet still fail to understand how that happened.

First off, reasonable people should be able to realize that the virus, no matter what we’ve heard about lethality, rapidity of contagion, droplets, etc. is NOT hanging around in clouds just waiting for us unsuspecting humans to walk out of the house and into a virulent cloud of infection. Really, it’s not. If you or someone you know is vulnerable, stay home, wear a mask when you go out, avoid sick people. These are things that immune compromised people have been doing for years…most of them quite successfully. If you are sick…stay the fuck home and don’t drag your sorry ass to work no matter how important you think your presence is; we’ve all done that and it’s stupid. It’s how common colds (a corona virus) float around offices. Why do you think daycares tell parents of sick kids that they cannot drop the kid off at daycare? Why do you think daycares are petri dishes of every random illness known to man? If your kid is sick, keep ’em home. But, because YOU are sick, that does not mean I have to stay home for fear of catching it. It is incumbent on YOU to take precautions not to infect others. If I am vulnerable, it is incumbent on ME to take precautions. It is not incumbent on the whole fucking world to protect you or me.

This is a rambling post, but fear is a rambling thing, I think. Again, I don’t think I’m fearful. Rather, I am concerned. Concerned about food supply chains in the immediate and near future, about the economy tanking so badly it takes a decade or more to get back to where we were in January (hard to believe that four short months ago we were at the top of our game), about mental health issues in general, about possible riots and other unrest as governors tighten the screws just as things seem to be waning.

A protest today around City Hall (or as many locals call it Shitty Hall), was met by counter-protestors several of whom held signs and banners saying “Reopening = Death”. Really? You believe we can stay closed permanently? That demonstrates a complete lack of understanding not only of epidemiology (I’m fairly certain they haven’t been out protesting against business as usual during previous flu seasons or during H1N1 or SARS or Ebola) but also of economics and how life and society depends on being able to do business. The government can give you money, yes, but it cannot make food or toilet paper. Only businesses can do that. And, many of those, and those in their supply chains, are closed. What good is government money if there is nothing to buy with it?

We need to overcome our fear of dying, our fear of illness, our fear of life. We need to recognize that people die. And, please. None of this means I or anybody else advocating for reopening WANTS people to die. What we want is to be given a chance to work towards preventing MORE deaths and preventing more AVOIDABLE deaths. Every death is a tragedy for family and friends. But, believe it or not, the world does not, and cannot, shut down for every single death (and trust me…when my father died I was shocked to walk out of the hospital and find people laughing…did they not understand what had just happened??) Fear of death cannot be allowed to overcome and obliterate everything we do.

Do not let fear become total obliteration.

Face your fear.

Let it pass over and through you.

In the end, only you remain.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Don’t Panic!

Are you panicked about coronavirus yet? Why not?? You should and you shouldn’t. It’s getting more difficult to decide what is overblown panic and what is realistic precautionary information. Should you <b>plan</b> on being quarantined? What if you have to? How do you plan for that? The whole situation is scary, uncertain, and seemingly constantly changing. But, I think with the most recent announcements by the president, namely the collaboration between the private sector and the feds to distribute and conduct the testing for COVID-19 will give us more realistic numbers, and give the number crunchers and those who have to respond to the numbers, far more accurate information. The key to damping down the panic is accurate information and we haven’t had much of that since before China announced that this virus. My plea to everybody is please don’t panic.

It’s a very weird dynamic, I must admit. On FB, I’ve seen a lot of my friends insisting that either we’re so complacent that we will all be dead by Easter and the world will end. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are absolutely certain that the whole thing is a hoax, or at least so completely overblown that anybody saying it’s a bad flu should be ashamed of themselves. My take is that rational people recognize it’s somewhere in-between, but I will say I lean toward the it’s not really as bad as we’re being told it is by the media. Remember, the media, no matter how sophisticated they like to portray themselves as, are governed by the mantra “if it bleeds, it leads.” In other words, they <b>like</b> the sensational, emotion-inducing headlines. Dramatic pictures of empty store shelves, long checkout lines, etc. These all contribute to that feeling that society is thisclose to collapsing. And they’re gonna be with you every step of the way through that collapse.

My university has gone all on line for classes as of yesterday in response to some of this fear-mongering. We have a week to gear up and become functional in an on line environment. I understand why the decision was made. And, honestly, I’m looking forward to the increased flexibility in my days. But, at the same time, I think that it was something of an overreaction. It came in response to the cancellation of the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA seasons. It’s as if the president and board of trustees said, “Oh, crap. If the NBA is shutting down, we should too.” I mean, between Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night, everything changed dramatically. I’m just happy I’m not in administration and dealing with the logistics of all of this. Now, I just have to record my lectures.

But seriously. It’s a bit surreal. I went out for a long walk this afternoon. There were a lot of people out. Groups of friends, couples, individuals like me. All kinds of people out, living their lives, out and about. Not isolated, not quietly staying inside and avoiding all human contact. The world keeps going, and life goes on. Compare that to the grocery store this morning. Insanely long lines, carts piled high with 10s of things, panic-buying all the things. There was no meat, no frozen anything, and of course, no TP (what the hell is up with that anyway??) But the contrast was telling. Me, I’m going with continuing on with life and not giving in to panic.

Seriously. STOP PANICKING! That is what’s causing so many of the problems. Just stop. We’re not being confined to our homes, we’re not going to lose power or water. Do your usual grocery shopping. Buy your usual amount of TP. Go for a walk. Play with your kids in the park. And, for my students, do your class work. Me, I’m going to keep putting my classes on line, and post reminders to myself to check in with them from time to time (kidding…I’ll be there on line, every day).

OK, so this was a bit of a rambling post. But, please don’t panic. We’ll be fine. Testing is increasing. Trump has done the right thing in partnering with the private sector to get tests out and available to everybody. (I know that a number of my friends will screech at that comment, but it’s true. This is the right thing to do. Try not to let your hatred for the man cloud your judgment on actions taken.)

Take care, stay healthy, wash your hands, and avoid panic.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Socialism vs. social democracy

Every now and then, the PhD in political science comes in handy. By that I mean, I’ve read some really boring, esoteric, random stuff that goes into a great deal of detail on just about every obscure political thing you can think of. In my master’s program, I took a class on Marx. An entire semester. Read everything the man wrote. All of it. Taught by a Marxist feminist. So, I have a pretty good idea of what his ideas were and where they end up when taken to their logical conclusion.

I’ve also read a whole lot about a bunch of different regime types and ideologies. Liberal democracy, social democracy, electoral democracy, authoritarian dictatorships, fascism, feminism, communism, socialism, gawd…the list goes on and on.

All of this brings me to my main argument here today. Namely, democratic socialism and social democracy ARE NOT THE SAME THING!!

Wait, you say. Yes, they are! I saw a Facebook meme that clearly states that democratic socialism is just wanting all those things we pay for with taxes. Just like the Scandinavian countries do.

No! No it is not! They are most definitely not the same.

*deep breath*. OK, first we go back to Marx. He of the complete lack of understanding of human nature and nationalism. And, bad economic ideas. Marx had essentially a three-step process for moving from capitalism to communism.

  1. Capitalism would build the industrial base for the modernization of the economy and the increasing wealth of society. But, (as he was observing the Industrial Revolution in London), this would result in a great deal of inequality and the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production (businesses) would get wealthier while their employees (workers) would not move up or get poorer. Eventually, the workers would revolt against the bourgeoisie and this would lead to…
  2. Socialism. In socialism (and here’s the important bit folks), the state (government) would now own the means of production (businesses) and provide regulations regarding the economy including wages, prices, production, conditions, etc. Private property (homes, etc) would still be allowed under the socialism phase. Eventually, the state, having regulated everything and created equality among all citizens, would “wither away” leading to…
  3. Communism. In this phase all property and all business would be owned by all citizens in common (the state). No private property, no privately owned businesses. Everybody would contribute to and receive all from the state. “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

I’ll tackle the idea of communism and it’s failure to take human nature into account in a later post. What I want to focus on here, is the “democratic socialism equals social democracy” foolishness.

The Scandinavian countries are social democracies. In other words, they are capitalist democracies that tax at a high rate in order to provide a generous social safety net for their citizens. They are most emphatically NOT democratic socialist governments. These governments do not own all businesses or have planned economies. They rely on private businesses to provide the lions share of taxes (IKEA is not a Swedish government owned business, but it is a big source of tax revenue for them). This is such a misunderstanding in the United States that in 2016 the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen felt the need to clarify things in an address to Harvard University.

“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.

(emphasis added)

Catch that? “…far from a socialist planned economy.” They are market economies. Capitalist. That’s the difference and it’s the “planned” bit that gives most people the hives. Still unsure? Still think it might be a good idea to give this system a go? Run this thought experiment. Think about the last interaction you had with a government official. The DMV? Tax authorities? Paying a parking ticket? Now, imagine that individual and all his/her co-workers making economic decisions for the entire country. Wages, prices, output, imports, exports, tax rates, licensing requirements (wait…some of them already do that), product type and manufacture, product providers, employment decisions. All of it made by that person at the DMV/IRS/city office wherever. That’s socialism. And that’s socialism whether you call it democratic socialism, or just socialism.

As Mr. Rasmussen said, the Scandinavian countries are market economies. They are capitalist in nature. They provide generous social benefits. They are not socialIST.

So for the love of all that’s good, right, and bright in this world, stop conflating these terms. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He wants the state to closely control the economy. For the end result of this idea, please see Venezuela for reference. Most Democratic voters believe that means he’s in favor of social democracy. Based on what I’ve read, he’s not. And, near as I can tell, none of the other Democratic candidates have figured that out.

This has been bugging me for a while now. Thank you for reading. We now return you to your regularly scheduled orneriness.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Offensensitivity

That’s a word invented by Burke Breathed the creator of Bloom County. Some people are just super easy to offend. They’re just looking to be offended. They are also usually extremely clueless and lacking self-awareness. They have a great deal of offensensitivity and excel in looking for and finding offense in almost everyone and everything they encounter. These individuals often post quotes and memes that are designed to show that they “know” what is going on in the world. They are aware and are on to the rest of us. They’re not going to be fooled. What they fail to recognize is that they may in fact be describing themselves and their refusal to see any other arguments. One of my FB friends, who also happens to be an old high school friend, posted a quote/meme from George Orwell:

The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.

I know the political leanings of this friend so I know that this was meant to be a dig at Trump and Republicans. I pointed out that perhaps they should consider that they are the ones hating those who speak the truth, rather than those speaking the truth. Of course, I immediately got challenged. Surprisingly for me, I remained calm and simply pointed out that perhaps they were the ones not listening. I was told that was not possible because “everyone knows” that Trump never speaks the truth. Ah. OK, then.

Stupidly perhaps, I then said, well, being trained in counter-factuals or what-ifs, I was simply pointing out the danger of assuming that you are not the one doing the hating of truth tellers. I’m now being challenged with the usual “well, I guess I’m just stupid, so please, do enlighten me, I’m not trained” extremely sarcastic and over the top language designed to goad. I’ve decided not to respond since seriously, if you can’t figure out what is meant by a “what-if scenario” then you really are refusing to listen, and yes you are the one doing the hating.

I have become so much better over the last few years at ignoring the inflammatory on FB, but sometimes it’s so over-the-top that I simply can’t help myself. I need to quit doing that. It’s not that I’m afraid to lose friends (I haven’t seen most of thees folks in decades and got along fine before they reentered my life via FB.). It’s that I simply don’t want to expend the energy engaged in all things political. I need to spend energy on school/work stuff and I want to spend energy on writing. Getting caught up in ridiculous arguments on social media is simply a colossal waste of time. Nobody really wants to engage in any type of discussion, they simply want to inform you of how stupid and unenlightened you are. Clearly, I know this and yet I still manage to ignore that small voice in my head that says, no let it go, and engage. I gotta figure out a way to make that voice louder.

So, in the end, I will not be returning to that thread. Let them think I don’t have an answer, let my former high school friend unfriend me. It’s immaterial at this point. I’m gong to continue to post those things I find to be interesting or funny or poignant and that’s the end of that.

Pretty good self-assessment if I do say so myself (see what I did there? didja? Huh? Huh?) Anyway, paying attention to what I tell myself and avoiding self-induced stress (arguing with people on FB is the definition of self-induced stress!) will lead to a happier, healthier me.

So, go figure out what you want to spend energy on. Make sure it’s something that makes you happy and not stressed out. My totally obvious words of wisdom for this week.

Image by MoteOo from Pixabay

Brexit, the End Times, & being honest with yourself

So Brexit (the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union) became official at 11pm UK time last night. Shockingly, the rest of the world, including the rest of the EU, did not stop turning. Life went on. Yes, there are a number of details that will have to be hashed out, and trade agreements etc. will need to be revisited, revised, and reissued. However, all of these things are activities that happen every day all around the world. Countries are always revisiting such agreements and updating them to take into account changing circumstances. Nothing new there.

I texted my brother this morning (he lives in Ireland) and received confirmation that the sun rose and the sky did not fall, contrary to the dire predictions coming out of the EU and Remainers in the UK. Boris Johnson gave what I consider to be a good speech on this historic moment. You can watch that here and judge for yourself. Contrary to a large portion of media generated opinion Johnson is not the buffoon they portray him to be (OK, so he needs to figure out a new haircut, but that is not indicative of intelligence or political savvy). And, now, most importantly, he’s delivered on his promises. That delivery stands in stark contrast to David Cameron and Theresa May. The virulent rhetoric coming out of the EU also suggests to me that that body stands to lose more from the exit of the UK than the UK does by exiting. It will be educational and interesting to see how this all plays out.

As Johnson noted in his speech, there will be bumps in the road ahead. Some of them will appear to be large and scary. But moving forward is the only way you get anywhere. To borrow a mantra from the Marines, improvise, adapt, overcome. Here in the U.S. we are seeing something similar. The loud wailing and gnashing of teeth from the left regarding the expected acquittal vote in the Senate on Trump’s impeachment is because they see their control over US politics and culture slipping. They are lashing out in an effort to scare the public back in line and silence those who are publicly pointing out their flaws. The heated and violent-filled rhetoric says more about the speakers than it does about those to whom it is directed.

The same goes here in the US. The impeachment was not the answer. The Senate trial is not the end of the world. In fact I argue that the entire process was far more harmful than anything else the Democrats in Congress could have dreamt up. The screams about shredding the Constitution are a diversion from their own attempts to do just that. Do not buy the rhetoric. If you dislike and disagree with Trump. Find a viable presidential candidate and vote for that person. Honestly, right now, contra all public assertions in support of diversity, etc. the Democratic field is a swath of nothing but old, white candidates. Think about that contrast for a moment. There are rumors that the super-delegates in the D party hierarchy will be persuaded to cut out Sanders (who’s ahead as of today) and replace him with Clinton. If you want instructions on how to destroy your own political party there are no better examples than the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK. Good luck with that.

You know, in 2016 I was relieved that Hillary lost but I was very uncertain what it would mean to have a Trump presidency. Now, I find myself happy with the outcome and ready to vote for him this year. That is heresy to many people. But, I will remind everybody, that you can only be a heretic if you are going against the teachings of a church you belong to. I never belonged to this current socialist vision of how things should be. So, I cannot be a heretic. Rabble-rouser, rebel against the prevailing norms, yes. Heretic no. Politics is not and should not be a religion.

Every belief should be questioned, examined, and analyzed. If, despite the flaws you find, you still find that belief to be the best for you, good. You have thoroughly accepted it despite its flaws. If, on the other hand, you refuse to examine your beliefs, spend a great deal of time shouting them at people who question you and them, and generally stick your fingers in your ears chanting “la la la I can’t hear you” then you are spouting things that deep in the center of your being you know to be flawed and perhaps even downright wrong. Yet for a variety of reasons (social acceptance, fear of thinking for yourself, dislike of personal responsibility) you refuse to disavow those beliefs. In doing this, you are a hypocrite.

Intelligent, honest critical thinkers have no fear of examining even strongly held beliefs. They understand the risks to their belief system but prefer the honesty.

Be analytical, think critically, and be honest with yourself.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Mammoths and living

The following is a comment I left on a post called “Fraying” at According To Hoyt. The post is about how our differences, exacerbated by social media and the apparent need for many people to engage in virtue signalling (showing the world that this is a REALLY GOOD THING or NOTHING TRUMP DOES IS OK IN MY EYES EITHER! or whatever it is that they feel the need to be publicly supportive of or angry about). Because of this need to virtue signal many people believe lies and slander about others that they know personally and have known for years. Years worth of personal knowledge, friendship and shared experiences go out the window with the need to show those whose judgments they simultaneously crave and fear that yes indeed, I’m still totally supportive of this group!
——————————
Just found this today.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/taming-the-mammoth-why-you-should-stop-caring-what-other-people-think

It dovetails right with what you are saying about worrying about how others judge us, *that* they judge us and how we can get out from under that mammoth. Those that believed the slander about you, Sarah, will believe slander about anyone they know because they value staying in the group more than their authentic voice. They don’t realize there is another group “out there” which will welcome them in. Or they are afraid to even go look because of what others might say.

I started writing fiction because of a word prompt you had way back in the summer of 2018. I’m still in academia, but I have a plan and a system for leaving and yes, I’m going to make writing my full time job. I also know I’m going to get laughed at by colleagues. But then, due to events over the last year or so, I’ve already discovered I can’t trust most of them anyway.

Here’s to jumping and knowing the net will appear!
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The linked piece is what I want to talk about now.

The mammoth in the piece is a metaphor for our need for and fear of others’ acceptance of us. The author points out that we all have mammoths in us, but the trick to leading your authentic life and leading with your authentic voice is to control your mammoth.

Leading with your authentic voice, being public with it, is a very scary proposition. You open yourself up to ridicule, harassment, and ex-communication from co-workers, friends, and even family. When I decided to embark on this author journey I hesitated to even tell my husband that this is what I wanted to do. I was afraid he was going to laugh at me and also (very legitimately) bring up the issue of the two of us trying to live on one salary.

In the end, of course, I did tell him. And he was and is extremely supportive (I never should have doubted him. I know he would walk through fire drenched in gasoline for me). Others I’ve told have also been very supportive. A couple have asked me if I plan on continuing in academia while writing, thinking that of course, I will have to do the sensible thing and maintain a guaranteed income. (Did I mention that tenure is a life-time job guarantee and that I’d have to be insane to walk away from that? I did? Well, OK. To continue then.) When I say no, I’m jumping from academia to full time writing, most times friends tilt their heads, think about it for a few seconds, and then nod and smile and say something along the lines of “Cool! That sounds exciting!” I’m discovering that I’m very lucky in my circle of friends and I am beyond grateful for all of them.

So, my mammoth is seriously objecting to my leaving a tenured job for something that is simply riddled with uncertainty. Taming and controlling that mammoth has been difficult and scary. One of the things my mammoth does is indulge in internal conversations between me and what I imagine others will say. Needless to say this exercise does not result in any resolutions to anything, rather it simply ramps up my stress levels. I’m slowly getting that bit under control.

I read the linked piece today and I think it was the last little thing that I needed to convince me that yes, I am doing the right thing for me. I wrote some more on book #2 yesterday and today. Yesterday was a bit of a struggle, but today, things came easily. I’m not really sure yet where this book is headed (I have a vague idea, but no specifics), but I’m sure it will wind up someplace really fun and interesting. And, it should be a good story getting there.

I will no longer run my life and my ambitions according to those who are too buried by their own mammoths. I am listening to my authentic voice and giving it room to breathe and grow. It is not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding in a multitude of ways and I can’t wait! There’s a system or method to my madness and I’m heading out.

Living by the saying “Jump and the net will appear” is scary and exhilarating all at the same time. But I think this is the best way to truly live and I’m going for it.

Do it! Don’t let your mammoth smother you and don’t let the mammoths of others sit on you.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Seeing what you want to see

There have been a number of issues in the news today that read like a “how-to” guide for deluding yourself about reality. By that I mean that many people are reading and becoming outraged by news stories on just about everything. The most common refrain I’m seeing on FB (my statistically inaccurate anecdotal survey tool) and hearing in conversations with colleagues is “I knew it! I knew s/he was corrupt/crooked/treasonous/lying/ evil/hypocritical/wrong/stupid/moronic/racist/sexist/homophobic!” or “Of course they hate him/her. S/he’s telling the truth/speaking truth to power/taking down the elites/ standing up to bullies/ supporting LGBTQ community.” Confirmation bias is seeing what you want to see.

These reactions come from all sides of the political sphere. Lefty/progressive friends hold up Greta Thunberg as a modern day Cassandra on climate change and Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi as bravely standing up against Trump the Thug. Right/conservative friends tend to understate some problems and overstate others. Although, truth be told, from where I sit, those on the right (aside from the Never Trumpers who seem to think that if they disavow Trump enough the Left will somehow come after them last) are far less likely to be sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming.

Let’s take the two main issues in the news today (tomorrow it will likely be two different issues given the rapidity with which the news cycle can spin). First off, Greta Thunberg and climate change. This child has stated that she is on the autism spectrum and suffers from depression. Her parents have money and clout. So, when she stated that the idea of climate change depressed her they encouraged that (I’m not making this up, you can read interviews with her. I’m not linking them because if you truly care about this issue you care enough to do thorough research…even if that research leads you to conclusions you don’t like or didn’t expect). So, Greta’s parents pulled her out of school and sent her on a world tour of developed countries (European and the US) to yell at them about how it’s all the adult’s fault for climate change. She’s 16, people. She’s not a meteorologist or a climatologist or a geologist or anything but a depressive, on the spectrum 16-year old girl. Who travels first class, sailed on a multi-million dollar yacht across the Atlantic and generally has her speeches and life scripted by her parents and other so-called “responsible” adults around her. Her parents in particular are making millions off of the exploitation of their daughter. This is not an “out of the mouths of babes…” moment. This is a 16-year old girl being manipulated instead of helped. Stop enabling her abusers.

The other issue dominating the news cycle (the media is spinning in place trying to keep up with what they should be screaming about today) is the impeachment inquiry begun by Pelosi et al. That one is fun too. Pelosi failed to follow House rules and put the initiation of the impeachment inquiry to a vote (probably because she knew it would fail), and changed the House rules in August to prevent Republicans from participating in any discussions regarding the inquiry. Adam Schiff received the whistleblower complaint in August, but only just now acted on it. The CIA changed the requirements for filing a whistleblower complaint from requiring first-hand knowledge, to admitting hearsay….in August. I’ll take manipulation of the system for partisan gain for $1,000, Alex. Abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous. Trump is rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, but Pelosi, Schiff, and the media are actually trying to undermine our political system and they’re doing it out of spite.

And, for anyone who thinks impeachment will ruin Trump’s presidency, I refer to you Bill Clinton’s impeachment. It didn’t ruin him. All’s it did was rile up the electorate and stop all responsible government functioning for six months. And, that’s what will happen this time. If you support Democrats and don’t like Trump, you should ask yourself why Democrats are doing everything in their power to help Trump win re-election. Because that is the way things are going right now.

Confirmation bias is running rampant on the left and seemingly everyone is caught up in it. That is going to make the shock even greater when things don’t turn out the way they expect. Brace yourselves. It’s gonna get ugly and it will come from the Left.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Don’t be crazy

I’ve seen the comment “all the Democrats had to do was not act crazy and they can’t even do that” several times on Instapundit. It’s completely accurate. The latest kerfuffle for Ds comes from the so-called “Squad”. Four of the newest representatives who are now presenting themselves as the face of the Democratic party: Ilhan Omar, AOC, Rashid Talib, and Ayanna Pressley. Omar is on record with multiple anti-Semitic remarks. She’s gone well beyond simply criticizing Israeli government policy as many have argued. She’s made flat-out anti-Semitic comments. Talib has said, on a radio show no less, that she is comforted by the thought of the Holocaust. Really?? AOC has compared the holding facilities at the southern border with the Nazi concentration camps. Problem with that comparison is that nobody in those holding facilities is a U.S. citizen who has been deprived of rights, property and liberty, and shipped off to a camp. That may seem like a fine line to some, but it’s a huge freaking difference if you’re honest with yourself and if you actually have an understanding of the history of WWII and the Holocaust. It’s disingenuous at best and disgustingly ignorant and yes, anti-Semitic, at worse.

Why do I bring this up? I’m teaching a class on genocide and politics in the fall and I have to teach American politics in the spring. I know these issues will arise and students will question things. It’s important to remember what happened in WWII and to never allow it to happen again. The detention centers on our southern border are most emphatically not “concentration camps.” Are they luxurious accomodations? No. Are they comfortable? Probably not that much. Are they necessary? Well, sadly, yes. I am not sure why both US citizens and those arriving on our border seem to expect that they can simply walk in and make themselves at home. No country allows that kind of immigration. Even Germany has returned to closed borders after the fiasco of 2015 when they allowed one million refugees into the country without any sort of vetting or processing. It was a nightmare. Go look up the rapes and assaults in Cologne and the comments by the mayor of that city (a woman) saying that women needed to be careful what they wear so that they don’t get assaulted. Victim-blaming at its finest.

The Democratic Party has tried to paint Trump as the perpetrator and cause of all the issues now confronting us, including the nasty political commentary and anything they can think of. The reality is that as Instapudit writers have noted, all they had to do was not act crazy and they can’t even do that. They have fallen for Trump’s rather clever Twitter trolling. They cannot resist the bait. The thing is, by responding, they are falling for his trap and are saying out loud what they’ve never said in sunlight before. They’re contradicting themselves every time he tweets.

Take the latest kerfuffle he generated with his tweet saying that some “Progressive Congresswomen” should go back to those countries they came from, fix them, and then come back here and let us know how they did it. Please note, he never named anybody, Dems did that. He did say “come back and show us how you did it”. Dems ran with the “all but one of those women were born here.” Again, he never named names…Dems did that. They fell for that hook, line, and sinker. Conservatives have checked their virtue boxes by publicly noting that they found the comments racist. They declared that he should have let them destroy themselves and not said anything and that now Pelosi was compelled to defend the Squad. They skipped over many of the same things…including the fact that Pelosi does NOT want the Squad to be the face of the Democratic Party. What Trump has done with his tweet and response has been to force Democrats to publicly, in daylight, either accept the crazy or deny it. They can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist.

Pelosi will have to do something if she wants to continue to lead her party. She will have to shut down the Squad or at least figure out a way to discredit them or even better (for her), allow them to discredit themselves. As it stands now, the Democrats are self-destructing in a most spectacular fashion.

As we move into the second half of 2019 and politics ramps up for 2020 (damn we have an insanely long lead time), I’m going to invest in popcorn futures and sit back and watch the show. It’s gonna be fun!

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Compassion vs. viewpoint

Compassion is not simply vehement expression of a point of view.
Theodore Dalrymple.

I ran across this quote last year (school year) at some point and it struck me as immensely simple and yet it captures something that we as a society often ignore. The loudest voices crying out about conditions of migrants on our southern border (this is the topic that seems to bring it out the most. OK, and homelessness on occasion) have never been to the border nor are they among those donating on a regular basis to organizations working there. It’s not easy to visit the border, and you cannot simply visit a migrant ICE camp/detention center. Many, if not most (please note, I did not say all…) of those making snarky, highly disapproving comments, or posting the latest meme du jour, are doing so only to “prove” that they are compassionate, loving people. However, simply screaming that this is a terrible thing, that these are terrible conditions does not make one compassionate. It makes one loud, and deaf to any possible solutions beyond “Don’t do it that way!”. So, what can be done? I’m not asking for or suggesting that I have solutions to the border crisis (it must be one now since CNN has finally used the word “crisis.”) Rather, I’m asking or talking about how does one deal with the loud, yet inactive, compassion-mongers?

Pointing out that such conditions have existed on our southern border for at least 10 years does no good. The vehement expression folks on both ends of the political spectrum prefer that such conditions be the fault or creation of “those guys”, not “us.” Politicians are too busy using (and essentially maintaining) deplorable conditions for their own benefit. Re-election bids, fundraising, again…pointing out how compassionate they are (while voting down some bills because the other party sponsored it and by God they are not going to “betray” their constituents by voting for something “they” created!)

I argue that this turn towards “vehement expression of a point of view” has resulted in the virtue-signalling culture we see on TV, on social media, and hear from celebrities and politicians. “See? I’ve noticed this and I don’t like it. OK, I’m done.” It’s useless and pointless, except that it keeps Twitter from banning you and YouTube from demonitizing you and your friends, followers and fans from abandoning you as a do-nothing loud-mouth. The same virtue signallers are also the very same people who often and frequently call out those who do not do the same. Or, they jump on some small, insignificant comment, word use, or whatever, to deflect from your actual point and to deflect from the fact that they got nothing in response. My cousin actually did this to me last week. I used “they” to refer to a group that had been under discussion for at least 10 minutes, and he had to jump in with “Now, don’t say “they” it’s not all of that group.” I looked at him and said, “That’s not what I said. It should be clear from the context of this conversation that I am referring to the group under discussion for the last ten minutes.” He just nodded, but at least he quit with the virtue signalling. But then, it’s what he does. Fortunately, he doesn’t do it often. But, I do think I was the first in the family to call him on it.

Another way people do the “vehement expression” thing is to put signs in their windows and bumper stickers on their cars. You know the ones…you see them all over. Not just “Black lives matter”, or “Blue lives matter”, but those “Hate has no home here”. Those signs. Those views are obviously important to those individuals, but why must it be announced to the world? Is it not enough to know that you don’t hate? Or that you don’t support police brutality? Or that you do think the police are not all evil? Why is it so important to be publicly vehement in the expression of your point of view? How have you diminished the problem with your bumper sticker?

I try to deal with or shut down virtue signalling with comments like my response to my cousin or the simple question of “Well, what do you propose?” That forces those doing the calling out to think about solutions rather than scream about the problem without offering any alternatives. Of course, the signaller may simply continue screaming as they actually have no answers or suggestions and do not want to admit that. Coming up with coherent responses involves thought and too many people avoid that as too much work.

Vehement expression/virtue-signalling does not advance the conversation, nor does it create any workable solutions. It’s designed to make the speaker look good in their own eyes (see, I said I don’t like it, that makes me a good person), and in the eyes of those they seek to impress (whether that actually works is up for debate). I try to pay attention to what I say when I express an opinion or a point of view and make sure that I can actually back up my opinions with facts. I also try to make sure my compassionate view can be supported by compassionate work (this is more difficult, but it’s more effective than simply getting louder).

In the end, yes, you can feel compassion about issues you can not immediately affect. However, to be a compassionate person, you need to do more than yell louder or unfriend someone or change your FB profile picture. You need to act with compassion where possible. Respect people and start from the idea that they mean well and are doing their best. Don’t make assumptions about their motivations or otherwise. Let them show it in their actions themselves.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Opinions and balance

Hanging out with a friend and former student this weekend. He’s been in the Middle East and Europe for a few deployments and just got back from a nice long trip with his mother exploring castles in the UK. I am always amazed at how many students I stay in contact with over the years. It’s been 17 years since this one graduated and we’re still in contact. Pretty cool. He’s definitely more conservative, or I guess charged up about the current president than I am. We have some agreement points and some disagreement points. The funny thing is that when I hear some sort of less-than-accurate comment and call him out on it, the professor-student relationship re-establishes itself. I don’t mean to do it and I don’t think I’m overbearing about it, but it just happens.

My teaching philosophy has always been to give students the tools to think for themselves and think critically. I have never told them what to think (unlike some of my colleagues). Nobody does well with somebody else telling them what to think. Facts and events are subject to interpretation. That’s how we work as humans. We all have our own lenses and we interpret through those lenses. As the meme goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, however you are not entitled to your own facts. I would add that if your interpretation of events leans to the conspiracy side of things you might want to review your lenses. Conspiracies of hundreds or even just tens of people are usually spectacularly unsuccessful.

Confirmation bias is another problem we all have. We engage in confirmation bias when we take those stories that confirm what we know to be true and ignore those facts or other interpretations that contradict our known truths. People who self-identify as liberal/progressive and only read or watch MSNBC are engaging in confirmation bias; same goes for those who self-identify as conservative and watch or read only Fox News. Confirmation bias doesn’t just happen with politics, although that has become more evident recently. We engage in it in many different areas of life. We want our preconceived notions to be supported. It provides a sense of order and stability in a confusing world. Knowing that we are not alone in our opinions also feels supporting. Most humans do not do well psychologically or emotionally in a world of constant confusion and chaos or in a world where we feel we are alone in our opinions.

Identifying and breaking your own confirmation biases is difficult, but not impossible. It means admitting that you have biases first of all. (We all do; anybody who tells you that they are completely bias-free is lying or lacks any level of self-awareness). Once you admit to biases, you have to either own them or work at overcoming them. It’s OK to have biases (I don’t like fried eggs and I will never eat them no matter what. No way, no how. Yes, I’m biased.) Parents are biased in favor of their own kids; we’re human. Humans are flawed, but we are also good (when we want to be) at recognizing our flaws and working to fix them (assuming that fixing them will not lead to some sort of self-destruction).

I’m always working to identify my biases, note when I’m engaging in confirmation bias and figure out why. I’m not always successful, but I keep going. I think that my training as a researcher and experience as a professor has forced me into those considerations.

How about you? What confirmation biases have you noticed? Do you try to change those?

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay