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

Total Control

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “totalitarian” to denote those political systems which were created to control not only the political life of a state, but the cultural, social, and even personal life of its citizens. George Orwell in 1984 described a state where the government decided everything for its citizens and changed the language in order to fit the circumstances it wished to portray. Both authors, one in fiction and one in non-fiction were describing and predicting the consequences of what was coming to pass in the then-new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, particularly under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Control of language is of utmost importance to a state. With that control the state (and those running the state) is able to force citizens to accept its view of issues, policies, and ideas. One consequence of such control is the public shaming of those who do not use the accepted terms either out of principled refusal or simple ignorance. Public shaming is very effective in silencing dissenting voices in the public square. It is also very effective in silencing any discussion or debate around any issue or policy. Disagreement with state conventions, policies, and issues is viewed and described as traitorous and those guilty of such treason must be silenced at all costs. The state and those in control cannot afford to have any of their positions questioned as that will bring to light the contradictions and hypocrisies that exist in the interior of those positions.

These contradictions and the very loud and very strong attempts to bury them is becoming clear in the rising debates around transgender athletes. Weightlifting has had the most public controversies. A transgender woman in New Zealand competed in and won a gold medal in the Australian International in 2017. Another transgender woman had her record expunged from the Raw Powerlifting Federation female records. Both of these women were and are biological men who have taken hormone treatments, but have not had surgery. Under pressure from international advocacy groups, the international sport governing federations have changed their requirements for testosterone levels in female athletes. Testosterone usage has long been an issue in the Olympics dating back to the days of East German female competitors. Testosterone boosts strength in those who take it or have higher amounts of it in their systems. Like men do. Biological men are competing against women and winning. Quelle suprise,

Be aware, none of the controversy revolves around anybody’s right to identify themselves however they wish. What is does revolve around is whether self-identification creates reality. A transgender person is not a biological male or female. Here’s where language comes into it. The word “sex” is used by biologists to denote the physiological differences within a species that allow for that species to reproduce. Without those differences appearing at some point, the species will die. Only amoebas are able to reproduce via self-separation (and even there separation is involved). Higher order fauna (e.g. not plants) must have two sexes in order to continue the species.

The word “gender” was first used as a synonym for “sex” as it was considered less racy. (I’m not kidding. I’m so old, I can remember being told to use “gender” when explaining biological processes.) Now, however, gender is used to describe the outward appearance and self-identification. That’s fine. However, changing the language or insisting that biological sex and self-created gender are one and the same is naive at best and totalitarian at worst.

The insistence that gender and sex be viewed as the same brings up a whole host of other issues. Many of these can be filed as resulting from the “Law of Unintended Consequences”. For instance, if gender and sex are indeed the same, then there is no longer any need for sex/gender segregated sports or organizations. No need for “grrl pwr” or giving girls an extra leg up in science or any other endeavor. If there’s no difference, then all kids and adults can compete for all things without regard to any differences. Language usage will tell us there is no difference. If you see a difference you are guilty of treason and wrongthink.

This is a long and involved topic. I’ll be posting more in the next few days as I continue to mull over the implications and arguments. But, hey! It’s Monday so let’s start the week with some complex, higher-order thinking!

48 Hour Rule

It’s been a busy week; the first week of the semester is always cramped, stressed, and moving at the speed of light or the speed of molasses in January, depending on what exactly one is facing at any given moment. However, I have been generally, in a headline skimming sort of way, keeping up with the news and goings-on in the world. Switching back and forth between our national shenanigans and the Brexit shenanigans, I’m starting to run out of popcorn!

The one incident that did capture my attention was the kerfuffle surrounding some kids at the March for Life and a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips. The original story was based on comments from Phillips, a 64-year old political activist. He said that the kids were yelling “build the wall” (link goes to original story) and using racist comments towards him. And, that story went viral almost immediately with multiple calls for the kids to lose any college admissions, to be expelled from school, to closing the school, to rabid anti-Catholic screeds. In less than 8 hours however, the story was blown apart. Even CNN admits that the video flying around the internet was extremely selectively edited.

Several things have crossed my mind over the last 24 hours regarding this incident. One is that I will be discussing this with my students this week. The second one is, what do we call it when a 64-year old man harasses and confronts teenagers? Isn’t that bullying? Thirdly, you would think that by now, most people would realize that they should wait 48 hours before passing judgement on ANYTHING. Especially if it perfectly fits into a narrative you desperately want to believe.

I posted two different corrections on my FB page, the one from CNN and one from Reason. The response? Crickets. I had hoped that at least one or two people would step up and admit they had jumped in with full-throated condemnation before getting all the information. But, sadly, no. The desire to maintain the fiction that one’s view of something (the political opposition can never be right, even if the story one is relying on is false) appears to be so strong, that, publicly at least, people are afraid to admit they were wrong.

Unfortunately, public admission of falling for such traps is the only way we can begin to heal this great schism. That and telling media types that perpetuate this crap to take a hike.