The Town Hero

This is another post pulled from Facebook while I wasn’t blogging much. It took me a bit of time to figure out it was related to an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It could apply to so many things.

Once upon a time, there was a town dealing with a hungry dragon. It had all the usual elements of such a town, with scheduled sacrifices, princesses who were somehow exempt from the sacrifice, chaos among the town council, and a hero with a sword.

The dragon didn’t demand sacrifice terribly often. (Honestly, it probably would have preferred goats over village maidens, but no one had figured out how to ask. And after all, they were only maidens.) The timing was regular and long enough that the town eventually stopped panicking and started thinking. They built a fireproof shelter, losing only five maidens during construction. They built weapons (two more maidens, but who was counting).

During this period, the town hero made many rousing speeches. In fact, he spent so much time speechifying that he simply couldn’t help with any of the construction. Opinion is divided on whether the final maiden was lost for lack of labor, but debate is muted and sometimes condemned as helping the dragon.

Finally, everything was ready. The princesses, who had also been exempt from hard labor, of course, helped to provision the shelter. They trained on the weapons. (They understood that the supply of maidens was not unending.)

The hero showed up at the last minute. The walls of the shelter protected him from dragonfire as well as they did everyone else. As the weapons fired, he stepped outside. His sword landed hard on one claw of the harpoon-riddled beast.

“It is slain!”, he cried. Then the town boosted him into the air, carried him back to the square, and made him senator.

The end

The Town Hero
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Let Them Complain

I saw someone on social media yesterday or today say that they agreed with a positive humanist sentiment but weren’t going to post a similar statement on their wall because people would complain. I get it. Sometimes it’s too much or the wrong people to muck with or behavior that goes beyond mere complaints. I’ve been there.

On the other hand, there can be value in staking out territory and letting those people complain about it. I’m not talking about being “edgy” in hopes you‘ll offend people. I’m talking about claiming a space for your values and allowing others to try to make you move.

I think by now everyone’s seen the status quo warriors charging about to combat the great scourge of “complainers”. “You’re always looking for something to complain about. You’re no fun. You’re so negative. Why can’t you just let people be and be happy?” You’ve also seen that this can undercut even the most sound of complaints.

One of the things I hate most about our current positivity culture is the way it lumps all types of complaints and complainers under the heading of “bad things”. If it’s negative, it must be bad, yeah? But complaining about someone’s else private choice of music is a very different thing than complaining that you can’t sleep at night because your neighbors play their music so loudly. There’s an important difference between spoiling someone’s fun because they “shouldn’t” have fun and standing up for yourself that positivity culture obscures.

Unfortunately, I can’t just make positivity culture go away. But while I chip away at it, I can subvert it, and I do. Where I might phrase something as a complaint, I can instead say, “This is what I believe. This is what I value. This is what I want for the world.”

“I want our events to be accessible to all the people we say we want to help.”

“I want to see the work of women in this movement rewarded on par with men’s work, with recognition, power, accountability, and a safe, welcoming environment.”

“I want us to demonstrate the appreciation of expertise that we espouse, particularly in discussions of important matters like human rights.”

When I do that, yes, some people still complain. That’s not going to stop anytime soon for reasons that are a whole other discussion. But by complaining, these people take up the role they try to assign to me. They become the killjoys. They become the people who can’t just let others be (and it’s all the more obvious when I’m stating values they say they share).

I’ve spent enough time on the defensive. I mean, I’ll complain when I can do some good by complaining, but I prefer doing this when I can. I’m happy to throw them off kilter instead.

Try it yourself. Talk about the world you want, the world you’ve trying to build, even when you know people will complain. Let them complain. See what good it does them.

Let Them Complain

The Limits of the Office

This was originally posted on Facebook in the wake of Trump’s at best awkward visit to England. It isn’t terribly profound, but I remain struck by the way Trump’s term in office makes us revisit what we know about governance because he’s so terrible at it.

What struck me yesterday, seeing Trump with Elizabeth, wasn’t that he didn’t know how to behave with royalty. I don’t either, though I’d study up if that were the job I’d signed up to do.

It struck me that Elizabeth is the embodiment of this bizarre, archaic institution of hereditary governance, that she sits on a throne that’s held rulers so bad they’ve prompted shifts in European philosophies of power, that her blood is the symbol of a country that has literally tried to take over the world.

What has she done with that? Mostly she’s embraced the small-c conservatism of the position, remained a symbol as a monarch. That leaves governance to the elected bodies and protects their claim to legitimacy of power. It isn’t a radical use of her power for good by any means, and she’s been very well compensated for it, partly through imperial (colonial) holdings. Still, that long period of stability has produced a real possibility that the British monarchy will end peacefully in another generation.

Oh, and then there was that time WWII happened and she badgered her da (the king) until he let her serve in an official military capacity along with her state duties. This too was largely symbolism, but her country recognized the power of that symbol.

Contrast that with Trump. The United States’ Constitution was written to be a radical change from and challenge to British imperial power. That we recognize many of its failures of imagination and courage now doesn’t change that it was meant to be a manifestation of the ideals of freedom and representative democracy.

Trump, on the other hand, acts as though his power is a divine right, as though any check on it were a personal affront. Anyone who challenges or criticizes him is a terrible person or illegitimate institution. The people who didn’t vote for him must not be real citizens, and he’ll see to it that they’re treated that way. His position is for personal enrichment, and if he sends the people of our country to war, well, so what? He and his won’t be fighting.

I’m not a fan of the queen. It says something about the direness of our situation that simply putting Trump next to her makes me admire her for being more than her position would allow her to be because he is so much less than his demands.

The Limits of the Office

Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics

I was on the Embrace the Void podcast earlier this month to talk about the state of the secular movement. As I discussed the concept of “mission drift”, I realized a problem with the idea. Rather, I realized another problem with the idea. It came up again this weekend, which means it’s time to write about it.

If you’re not familiar with arguments about “mission drift” in the secular movement, it’s a term often invoked by the same people who complain about identity politics. The basic idea is that U.S. secular groups who organize around or work on social and economic justice-related political issues are moving away from the core mission of the movement: maintaining and increasing the separation of church and state.

Those of us who do this activism have spoken at length about why it’s absurd to consider something like good education in science and critical thinking part of the core mission of the secular movement but to leave out feminism and anti-racism. Greta Christina ran an excellent series taking the arguments apart and drilling down to people’s actual objections. However, we haven’t talked in any depth about how ahistorical the argument is.

Organized religious interference in U.S. politics has always been about economic and social justice. That is its entire point. The story of building the religious right is a story that starts with religion being offered as a solution when more honest politicking had failed. Continue reading “Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics”

Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics

A Humanist Imperative Against Fear

I wrote this in 2015 for my patrons. I didn’t publish it then for several reasons. I wanted to let emotions settle so people might be able to hear this better, but there were other reasons I barely remember too. But watching the news of the Amber Guyger trial is making it all too relevant again.

One of the things that disturbed me most in the discussions that followed the terrorist murders of Charlie Hebdo staff early this year was the invocation by atheist activists of fear. It reminded me all too much of the days after thousands lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

I recognize a degree of strangeness to that. The point of a terrorist attack is to create fear in a group of people. It’s unsurprising when this works.

Nor is it surprising that activists would seize on this fear. Fear is an effective motivator, and inertia and indifference are the bane of activists. On top of that, the Charlie Hebdo attack targeted a group of activists who (among other things and using means that we should examine and question, as with any other activists) worked against the political power of Islamists. While not every atheist activist proclaimed, “Je suis Charlie“, it was entirely predictable that many would identify with the targets of the attack.

Still, I was uncomfortable. While I wasn’t as much embedded in the community of the fearful in 2001, it was impossible to miss the consequences of our national fear. In mere weeks and without analysis, we saw law passed that dramatically reduced protections against government surveillance. We were rushed into the Iraq War based on mischaracterized intelligence, a war which arguably increased the danger of radical Islamism rather than decreased it.

In our fear, we made the world a worse place–for ourselves and others. We may even have increased the likelihood of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It wasn’t our goal, but that doesn’t change what happened.

We’re bad at sitting with fear. When we have any choice, our priority is to “fix” our fear, to make it go away. That may mean avoiding a situation that needs our attention. It may mean acting even when we have only poor-quality choices. What acting out of fear usually doesn’t mean is making good, evidence-based decisions that take the humanity and dignity of other people fully into account. Continue reading “A Humanist Imperative Against Fear”

A Humanist Imperative Against Fear

But Voting Is Illegal

I thought we were mostly done with this after 2016. I thought we’d cleaned up the lingering bits of it after the 2018 midterms. But as the push to get people registered to vote in the 2020 primaries and general election ramps up, I’m seeing it again.

“If voting made a difference, it would be illegal.”

There’s just one problem with that. Voting is illegal.

Oh, it might not be illegal for you. If you belong to a population that isn’t over-policed and over-sentenced, if you were born in and have a stable residence in a “nice” (i.e., white and relatively wealthy) neighborhood, if your appearance is unremarkable among the voters at your polling station, then yeah, it’s probably perfectly legal for you to vote.

That doesn’t mean this is true for everyone else. Continue reading “But Voting Is Illegal”

But Voting Is Illegal

Things I Believe About Impeachment

A short list.

  • Public opinion doesn’t favor impeachment of Trump at this point.
  • If Trump is impeached, there is essentially 0% chance of the Senate voting to remove him from office.
  • Running against Pence in 2020 would be substantially harder than running against Trump.
  • The number one achievable political goal at this point, for the health of the country and the marginalized people within it, has to be Republicans losing control of as many governmental bodies as possible, starting with the executive branch but including Congress.
  • A small number of past Representatives who have voted to impeach have lost their seats at least in part because of these votes.
  • Many of Trump’s most damning crimes from an impeachment perspective involve acts that would be legal if he were a private citizen and live in an area of law few people other than specialists understand.
  • Impeachment proceedings will be viewed by some moderate/independent voters as a partisan act by Democrats.
  • Right-wing media, corporate and independent, would use impeachment proceedings to attack Democrats, often dishonestly, and there is a large segment of the voting population that only trusts these outlets.
  • The administration’s response to impeachment proceedings would provoke multiple constitutional crises of various sizes under an untested, very partisan Supreme Court.
  • Most Democrats in the House who haven’t come out in favor of impeachment are considering some or all of these factors and are right to do so carefully.
  • Even given all this, it’s critical for the survival of our constitutional system and many, many people that we move to impeach.
Things I Believe About Impeachment

Putting Sealions to Work

I’ve been gearing up to get back to more regular blogging here for a while without actually doing it. As commenting has shifted to social media, so have a lot of my observations of the world. But I don’t want to be dependent on sites that aren’t mine for retaining the things I have to say, so I’m going to try to put more of this here.

Today, I posted an anonymized snippet of conversation:

Them: If I’m wrong, why won’t you try to educate me instead of saying I’m ignorant?

Me: Have you read the article you’re commenting on yet?

I posted it because it amused me. Then a friend commented that the original sounded a lot like sealioning. Of course, that’s exactly what it is.

This person has already been arguing (read: asserting their opinion) at length. I’ve been commenting mostly short posts in return, pointing out they’ve already told me they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re frustrated because they’re working harder than I am and getting nowhere. So they’re trying to challenge me to do more.

Sealions: You can’t talk about this topic without doing a lot of work to defend yourself.

This person: You telling me I’m ignorant isn’t valid unless you do a lot of work to fix it.

Same argument, slightly different wording.

So why am I blogging this? Because my friend’s question made me realize that this is why sealioning fails so badly around me.

Even before we had a name for this kind of bad-faith arguing, we had sealions. Oh, did we have sealions. And I developed strategies back then that still serve me well dealing with them today. Namely, if someone wants me to do work, they need to demonstrate they’re willing to put in work themselves. Also, they need to do it first.

A lot of people don’t like that last part. Not just sealions, but onlookers too think it’s unfair not to go into this with the assumption people are really there for conversation. I don’t really care. It’s my labor. They’re my conditions.

At the same time, I’m already doing work. These interactions tend to start something like this: Continue reading “Putting Sealions to Work”

Putting Sealions to Work

So You Want a Positive Primary

I hear you. The unending negativity directed at Hillary Clinton over the last several decades certainly didn’t help turn her voters out in 2016. Neither did the disproportionately negative press. All the general cynicism about government made Trump’s “Drain the swamp” palatable to some where it should have been laughable. You don’t want that to happen again.

Neither do I. I’m overwhelmed and anxious about the ongoing harm that needs immediate reducing, and I’m not going to be any less ready to make that vote when I can actually do it in a year and a half.

Come fall of 2020, even if Trump is impeached and not running, I’ll be all about “blue no matter who”. In every election with a moderately plausible Republican candidate, not just for the presidency. The party has shown it doesn’t believe in democratic governance. It needs to be treated as invalid.

But it’s 2019. Still spring for a couple of weeks. And during this primary season, we’re having real, important discussions about what we want our country to be. Continue reading “So You Want a Positive Primary”

So You Want a Positive Primary

On Lefty Gatekeeping

I’m really not ready for 2020 elections talk yet. There’s a lot of work to do just to get that far while remaining a democracy, and watching the hyperfocus on the presidency at the expense of all other politics is like sleeping on 100-grit sheets. With Biden and Sanders.

Still, the 2018 election is done. There are myriad implications to be talked over and contrasted and turned into feelers for this or that potential candidate. So I’ll talk about this now and again as warranted, if reluctantly.

Today’s political thoughts are brought to you by this look at Beto O’Rourke’s voting record.

But Sanders actually did not amass the most left-wing voting record in the 115th Senate. That distinction belongs to Elizabeth Warren. Kamala Harris was No. 2, Cory Booker was No. 3, and then Sanders and Tammy Baldwin are basically the same. Kirsten Gillibrand is closer to the middle of the pack but still more liberal than 76 percent of Senate Democrats.

A rough equivalent to O’Rourke’s record would be Amy Klobuchar, who in the most recent Senate was more conservative than 72 percent of Senate Democrats. She has had a voting record that’s a bit to the right of the median Democrat’s throughout her time as a senator.

What does this mean for what we want in a presidential candidate? That depends on what kind of relative importance you place on campaign contributions vs. turning out minority voters vs. turning out the undecided middle vs. blah, I’m bored now. I’m not here for making big predictions for the future. There are, however, a couple of points I want to make related to this. Continue reading “On Lefty Gatekeeping”

On Lefty Gatekeeping