human condition

Dear Conservative Christians

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About gay marriage, or as it’s henceforth known — marriage, we know your very unhappy. You feel betrayed by the Supreme Court. Your pal Scalia wrote that there had been a “putsch”, or coup, and the Court Justices were acting like “nine rulers” over all America.   You believe that contrary to all reason the Court has dramatically and undemocratically redefined marriage in Obergefell v Hodges. After all, it’s happened before. In 1967, the Court ruled 9-0 that marriage now included mixed race couples. In strictest honesty, that was an even greater and more undemocratic than Obergefell. In 1967, the approval rate of interracial was less than 20%. Far less than the approximately 50-60% approval that gay marriage enjoys today. This was from a time, still in living memory, when people of color were considered less than human.  In a day, marriage became about the growth and prosperity two people instead of entire tribes. So yes, it was a big deal. 

However, I have good news. The Supreme Court did not redefine marriage; it undefined it. You consider the question of gay marriage, and homosexuality in general, to carry great moral weight. This is fantastic. It truly, genuinely is. The reason you should embrace the Obergefell ruling is that the Courts have said clearly and unambiguously that the government will not and cannot define morals for you. Perhaps I’m mistaken. Maybe you do want the government telling you what is and isn’t moral. Again, I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that you want to decide questions of morality for yourself. That is exactly and explicitly what this ruling does.

Now, you’re not totally wrong. You have indeed lost some freedom here. Inasmuch as the government can’t tell you what is moral, neither can you tell others. I know this is a favorite hobby of evangelicals (the clue is, after all, in the name) but your moral values can no longer impede the lives of others. If you think homosexuality is immoral, so be it. Don’t be a homosexual. That’s the end of it. You can’t lock up a person for being gay anymore, and you haven’t been able to since 2003.

If you really truly believe in the righteousness of your cause, you must convince the rest of us by you living it daily. Having the government force your dictates on to others is aggressively antiChristian, quintessentially antiAmerican, completely counter-productive.

Obergefell is a victory for you. Celebrate it with enthusiasm. Failing that, have a heart

human_heart

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Fear and change

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Starting with the secret Muslim socialist Kenyan Birtherism, conservatives have gotten so terrified and so paranoid that I’m afraid they will respond in the most human way imaginable. That they will inevitably resort to hysterical violence. Each of their conspiracies are more crazy than the one before.  At this moment, we have such a huge swath of Texas believing they’re about to be invaded by our own military for some obscure reason. So many believe this so strongly, they’ve convinced their governor and a leading presidential contender/actual senator to treat them seriously. This is after Michelle Bachmann said with a straight face and in all seriousness that Barack Obama will bring about the apocalypse.  These are the same people who pointed weapons at federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch. (Thank god the government stood down.  The Bundy Ranch Massacre would not have made a good headline.) and shortly after those same nutters shot several cops. Somehow I don’t see the Tea Party taking themselves out like Jones Town. I see them needing to exercise their demons using high caliber weapons. If you listen to gun rights advocates, the number one reason they will tell that they need all these guns is to protect themselves from an overreaching government. This is a uniquely American phenomena. No other government on the planet would allow people to stockpile weapons for the express purpose of destroying or resisting the government. But in these uncertain times, this is what is necessary for them to feel safe. And there in lies the key. 

If you look at history we’re in the middle of a transition. For thousands of years men have invented myths and religions to help explain the world and provide a sense of order and direction. And religion is really good at coming up with feel good bullshit about how the world was made and how it works. 

Eventually, sometime around the late Iron Age-early medieval period, government began to compete with religion in what it can tell people to do, and how it made sense of the world.  The clash was long and horribly bloody with no clear winner.  Religion and government more or less agreed to a compromise and thus began The Enlightenment. Since then there have been successive industrial and scientific revolutions that have gradually displaced religion and government from people’s lives. People have more freedom now than ever before. People are healthier and wealthier than at any point in human history and the twin institutions that we’re used to relying on, have proven themselves completely inadequate –if not thoroughly corrupt.  

The problem is science is, by definition, uncertain. In fact, it’s uncertain with a very high degree of precision. The government certainly can’t provide a comforting narrative. I think people beginning to realize there’s no quick fix, no handy ideology for the economy. Terrorism can’t be fixed with a strong military or shadowy police state. Environmental problems now have a global reach and global problems aren’t as simple as locking delegates in the same room in New York’s most architecturally boring building. It means talking to the “bad guys” because ignoring them or blowing them up simply won’t work. Even long standing traditions are under assault because they’re terribly oppressive and that’s no longer acceptable. If you chart the progress of freedom during the last 100 years here has been tremendous growth. But it hasn’t been easy And there are no guarantees. Obama isn’t the first President to promise change. They all do that. But he embodies that change by virtue of his skin color, his personal narrative, and his view of the world.  It’s this combination of racism and generalized anxiety that is causing such an extreme reaction to his relatively banal politics. 

Humanity has yet to embrace this new found power. It’s still looking towards institutions for meaning and direction.  It’s still rejecting that meaning, freedom, and liberty because they don’t have the strength to resurrect them as internal constructs. So many are afraid. This latest conspiracy theory is just a focused outpouring of fear and uncertainty.  Change is hard and we have the duty and obligation of ensuring that change comes to all.  The more we resist change the harder it goes for us. The less control we have. It’s time to seize control of our own emotions, our will, and abandon the need religion and governments to provide meaning and direction.  I don’t expect this to happen.  I fully expect that people will grow old and die clinging to their outdated beliefs.  But where there are children, there is hope.

Baltimore Riots #blacklivesmatter

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Mr. Centrist will not be writing a blog on the recent unrest.  It’s not that I have no opinion or no feeling on the matter.  It is not that I am not outraged over the things others, often white, have said to castigate and dehumanize because I am.  It is simply that I feel that as a white person of means and privilege this is not my story to tell.  If you care at all, if you have a thirst for knowledge and insight about this situation, there have been literally thousands of thoughtful people providing insight that I could never hope to measure up to.  It’s not my story, It’s not my stage.  I will silently stand by my brothers and sisters as they tell their story and I urge you to listen.

How to treat your children like employees

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Ear pulling

 

There’ll never come a moment where parents come together and say to themselves, “Hey, that was easy, I’m glad we’ve got this child rearing thing all figured out.”  But in so much as we may not have everything figured out, we do have a lot figured out.  The challenge usually comes in the implementation rather than complete conundrum.  Yet, while this is true, there are a number of parents who are still in the dark on a couple of issues, particularly in America.

The problem I think, stems from the fact that parents are unwilling to treat their children as human beings.  This country bears witness to parents who train their children with such outdated strategies that dog trainers now get better results with dogs than humans have with other people.  Parents must move out of this mindset that children are not property or pets, but little people.  People who have rights, responsibilities, and are motivated by very similar things as adults, and should be treated like adults.  Obviously I don’t mean had a five year old the keys to the family car or give a 12 year old a credit card.  Of course I also wouldn’t hand the reigns of a multinational corporation to my doctor, or trust the CEO of my bank to cut out my tonsils.  We give each according to their gifts and ability.  Children must learn and be taught.  They grow, just as adults continue to learn and be taught.  We grow, though in other ways.  Hopefully.

Like adults, children deserve respect.  We do not hit adults. Why? what’s the moral imperative here?  It’s is one of personal autonomy.  More than being moral, it’s practical.  Violence begets retaliation and, if for no other reason, it’s illegal.  There are more reasons, it’s beyond the scope of this blog to list them all.  When we seek to control an individual through violence, we’ve taken something from them.  We have damaged them.  In the short run, it’s easy to control children through shouting, threats, violence (hitting, slapping, spanking), or physical domination, but it’s nothing short of abuse, just as it’d be for adults.

We do not shout at other adults.  Not if we seriously expect to have a reasonable dialogue or to solve problems.  Sure, we can have verbal fisticuffs but they are neither practical nor productive.  They are certainly not the hallmark of reason and civility that we strive to teach our children.

More important, how we treat our kids are how they are going to treat others.  Your answer to a noisy child is to shout and tell them to shut up?  Your answer to a chaotic situation is their answer to a chaotic situation.  When we seek to control children through force instead of reason and dialogue we see a couple of things.  The “control” that this kind of coercion doesn’t persist once the parent is gone.  You will not solve the bad behavior, you just displace it where it will continue to have consequences.

The second consequence of an authoritarian parenting style is it fails to teach kids how to deal with conflict.  Children will treat their siblings and other with the same kind of coercive methods they have learned from their parents.  Except the consequences are different.  Children don’t posses the same power imbalance with each other that they have with their parents.  So a child who has learned to control a situation without reason or dialogue simply escalates the situation.  Since a child obviously can not challenge an authoritarian parents, he has no idea what to do when his own attempts at authoritarianism doesn’t work.  He’s told his friend to shut up, but his friend gets angry and does not shut up.   Now what does he do?  He tries again with stronger language, because that’s what happens when things don’t go as planned in an authoritative household.  If the situation hasn’t completely escalated out of control, it certainly has now.

Now something else happens that the kid does not expect.  Parents do not suffer consequences from their use of authority.  Children do.  As your kid’s teacher I now have to step in and correct this behavior, which the child does not understand because it’s the accepted form of behavior in his house.  Even if that was not a consideration, he’s now crippled his relationships with his friends.  Because he’s learned an authoritative style of conflict resolution, he has no tools to seek rapprochement.   You precious little baby sincerely believes that he has the right to demand others be his friends.  When they decline his generous offer, he’ll seek redress from the teacher in the belief that as an adult I can enforce his whims.  Just like you can demand apologies, and other kinds of feelings at home.   He or she will be confused when I tell them there’s nothing I can do.

There’s a very excellent analogy to the parent child relationship.  It’s the employer/employee relationship.  In the workplace there exists a power imbalance between bosses and their employees.   That’s one reason why it’s exceedingly difficult for a boss to date an employee.  It’s possible for a boss to yell and shout at employees but it’s unlikely to be productive.  The relationship has rewards, responsibilities, and consequences for all parties. Conflicts must be resolved through dialogue.  The difference is that you can’t fire your kid.  But you do need to treat them with the respect you would give another person.  You need to work things out with your kids.  Obviously it doesn’t mean being a doormat any more than your boss is a doormat when conflicts arise.

A moment in the cafeteria

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In the cafeteria today it was loud and noisy.  Exactly as loud and as noisy as one would expect from a cafeteria. One kid, however, definitely stood out.  He was a small kid.  He was kneeling in his chair looking out over the crowd of children flowing in and out of the room and he was vocalizing at the top of his lungs.  He was hard to miss.  It sounded a little like barking.  Not imitative of a canine, but very loud, sharp vocalizations. I was subbing for another teacher and I was there, nominally, to maintain some sort of order. It was way over the top so I thought about shushing him. Buuut is a loud kid in a room that’s already loud and noisy really worth the fuss?  It’s a cafeteria not a library. As I gave the kid a second look, I saw he had a cochlear implant, so I let him be.  He seemed happy enough, so I don’t think he was in need of help or hurt or anything that would require a teacher’s attention.  Just by the look on his face it seemed like he was happy to see friends.  I’m also given to understand that this technology has difficulties in these exact situations so I have no idea what his perception might be, or how to communicate precisely with him if I tried, as in, “It’s ok to yell and shout so long as you do it a little bit quieter”.  I’m not sure that’d make a lot of sense for a fully hearing typical kid.  I wonder if the sounds he made made sense to him.  In his mind was he forming fully functional words and phrases.  Did he know he was barking?  Was this a quintessential moment of childhood where if you’re loud and happy it doesn’t necessarily have to make perfect sense? Perhaps a member more familiar with the deaf community can answer.  So, he wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t hurting anyone else, and one kid, even a much louder kid, in an already loud place didn’t seem like a huge deal.  Even without the implant I’d have probably let it slide. I am sooo not picky about these kinds of things.  But it did make me pensive about the how variable perception can be.  How even under the best of circumstances between (supposedly) reasonable adults, communication can be hard.  How we relate to each other, or sometimes not.  How isolating differences can make us (if his implant was off or nonfunctional for all I know his barking might have been the only thing he might have been able to hear) or how differences can bring us together and make us stronger.  Again, no point really, just kind of sharing a moment from my day.

A Liberal Guide to Free Speech pt 2

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It’s not my intention to infuriate Liberals, particularly since it’s a group I sympathize with most strongly.  Yet it is an imperfect group, and there are issues that need to be addressed.  In a way the Liberal movement has been a victim of its own success, particularly in its approach to dialogue.  The issue is complex because there’s a lot to be legitimately offended about. Disappointingly, without easy obvious targets the Liberal movement has fractured and largely turned on itself. Yet there are still so many battles to fight.

I think one of the reasons for this is the issue of Privilege.  Privilege is a very real, very serious issue.  Please believe me when I say I’m not questioning its existence, presence or its power over people’s lives.  Privilege absolutely needs to be confronted.  However, more times than not, confrontations over Privilege often do little more than scuttle any hope of meaningful dialogue.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if meaningful dialogue is an actual goal from the Liberal wing of modern politics. Liberals, from this centrist’s perspective, are quite happy to chat about the evil’s of the oppressor, and ecstatic to protest conservative demagoguery, but caught between the right-wing menace and the liberal echo chamber is everyone else that is being actively excluded.  I would consider this one of the primary causes for why the Liberal movement has stalled in the last few years.

Nor am I being hyperbolic.  Many many times I have heard from my liberal friends that other voices are not welcome.  They aren’t interested in “educating” people who have questions.  Men, white people, straight people Christians, etc are frequently told quite literally to shut up.  The consequence of this behavior is that if you are a member of a Privileged class, there is absolutely no way for you to have a dialogue except with other Privileged people.  This is extremely unhealthy.  I understand why minority groups feel the need to do this.  How they want a space where they feel their voices won’t be marginalized by “outsiders” and so forth, but by excluding those who wish to be a part of your struggle you have drastically and unnecessarily weakened your movement.  The outright hostility minorities hold for their friends is incredible and unfortunate.

It also goes hand in hand with considerable outrage.  The anger from the left has created a very punitive atmosphere that trickles down to personal interactions.  Innocuous comments flare up and escalate.  Internecine squabbles over terminology and nomenclature shatter productive relationships. Overzealous protective impulses alienate support networks.  And a shocking lack of humor.

The truly annoying fact is that liberal and minority groups aren’t completely wrong.  Jokes and humor have been used to degrade and shame for far too long.  How many office perverts have tried to get out of a sexual harassment suit by saying “I was only joking”?   Derogatory terms such as “retard” or “midget” obviously deserve considered condemnation.  However, if you’re spending all your time making sure everyone has the latest list of what you can and cannot say to people you will only exasperate anyone who isn’t you and you will fight with anyone who has a slightly different list.  Any dialogue is going to be shut down and liberals will run a campaign that comes frighteningly close to censorship.

Micro-aggressions are another frustrating path where no one wants to microaggress, and I fully acknowledge the cumulative damage that microaggressions can have.  But there’s no mechanism to constructively deal with them either, and that isn’t fair.  I have an example. As a white male, people ask about my ancestors all the time.  My geographic lineages, my history going back generations.  This is not an unusual conversation for me, but having this exact same conversation with someone that is part of a minority is frustratingly delicate.  I have no idea how to have this conversation with someone without callously tripping over a sensitive issue.  So… I avoid the conversation.  But, pretty soon if you avoid enough conversations your isolating yourself from minorities and you get yelled at for that too.  You can’t talk to people, and you can’t not talk to people.  There has to be away to repair and address the cumulative impact of micro-aggressions without having to magically know what is and isn’t offensive.

Finally, mansplaining.  I’m sorry feminists, but this word has to go.  If, for no other reason, that it’s just a terrible portmanteau.  More importantly, it’s one of the most needlessly effective methods for shutting down a conversation.  Let me illustrate.  A man makes a comment.  The feminist, quick to anger, tells man how his comment was offensive.  The man, genuinely confused, says, I don’t think I’m being understood, allow me to clarify my statement.  Feminist says: now your mansplaining.  There is no other comment the man can make that won’t contribute to this perceived mansplaining, so understood or not, conversation is over.  In fact, I’m well aware of the fact that this entire paragraph or the entire blog could be tried, convicted, and executed as just one more ignorant man mansplaining things.  Since the Privileged are not given that benefit of the doubt for different possible interpretations for any given statement and they are actively excluded from minority spaces, all too often conversations turn into frustrating exercises in bridge burning.

There are meaningful battles that need fighting, but the unending, hypercritical, perpetually angry, constant exclusion and intentional lack of dialogue in liberal ranks needs to end.  Liberals must be willing to incorporate new ideas, perspective, and language if they want to craft a successful agenda and their allies are crucial to that endeavor.  The constant internal bickering needs to be set aside.  It’s time to embrace imperfect allies.  Remember, embracing imperfection is something your allies must do as well.

Dear Senator Cornyn

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Dear Sen Cornyn believe when I say that at this moment I’m finding it difficult to accord you the respect due a senator. You removed Civil and Human rights from your Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.  This action, symbolic as it might be is astonishing, backward, regressive and idiotic. Our civil and human rights are NOT derived from the Constitution but the reverse. The Constitution merely elucidates A FEW of the rights we already possess. In a time where BOTH parties are justifiably concerned with civil and human rights to strip the name violates any lingering vestiges of trust that you have anyone’s interests at heart.  I’m not sure this the result of a continually failing Texas educational system or some sort of deeper pathology.  Do Civil and Human rights have no meaning for you?  They can’t possibly, you deliberately mutilated the sub-committee to make exactly that point.  When a world cries out for justice your response is our humanity is of no value? Our value to this country is meaningless?

This is the value of our Constitution: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it”  —  Justice Learned Hand

Throughout our long history the Constitution has never prevented us from doing great harm people.  Do not place so much faith in the Constitution now that this blind inhuman adherence to your values will prevent you from using the Constitution as a weapon or from abusing vast numbers of peoples.