Government

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.

Angel investing

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No matter how genius your idea is, or how lucrative it’s potential, success will never be measured as a function of labor. How could it? How do you measure the labor investment of a good idea? Watts? Joules? Calories, British Thermal Units? Do you count the man hours spent at the cocktail/beer/pizza/video game party that generated the good idea?

The point of the Capitalist system is to make it possible for you to bring your idea to profitable fruition. But before that happens you are a drain on society. It’s true. You wear clothes you didn’t make. You eat food you didn’t grow and live in a house you didn’t make. You are a parasite. This is how we all start out. As the ultimate users.

In order for you to be successful you need someone else’s money. Often it’s a bank but, generally, in the case of start ups, it’s an angel investor, one of the flavors of venture capitalism. Someone will come by and shower you with millions of dollars on the hope you become profitable.

So congratulations. You got your seed money. Now you’d better run. Run like never before because you’ve officially began your cash burn. You will burn that cash until it’s gone. Hopefully by the time it disappears you’ve turned a profit and your company has a life of its own. It’s become self-sustaining and productive.

So why did the angel invest with you? Was it altruism or philanthropy? No. And we don’t pretend it was such. It was a cold-hearted and cynical ploy dedicated to obtain wealth. And we’re glad they did it too.

Giving someone the resources they need to succeed is not about “fairness” or “justice” or “compassion”. It’s not something people do because they are moved by plight or circumstance, or because they want to make the world a better place. They do it, in the case of business, because of enlightened self interest.

It’s easy to think of the poor as users and losers. Sometimes that’s fair. Sometimes it isn’t. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Everyone starts out as a parasite, even if it’s just you attached to the uterine lining of your mothers womb draining her physical resources. The concept of the angel investor goes to giving to others based on profit motive. When we think politics or social policy the profit motive is still there but it’s less direct. Some folks never get their angel. The never get to a place of self-sustaining profitability. However it would be the height of arrogance just to castigate others for what we see as their failings rather than as an investment opportunity. It’s why we take the high road and the long view. Because wealth creation can’t happen without it. Unless you can create a self sustaining and profitable individual it represents a net loss for our society as unrealized gain.

Think of it this way. Wealth is built from being building things. Houses, cars, bits of code, whatever. If you have a large group of people failing to live up to their economic potential then we lose out on capturing a part of the wealth they generate. This is how civilization works. People working together for mutual benefit and enlightened self interest. The real world however has created a maldistribution of resources that is ultimately self-limiting unless we can shatter the bottle necks. In that sense we’ll need an angel investor. Lots.

The Hell with Morality

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What is the point of a government? I would say the simplest, easiest answer to the question is, “Governments exist to secure freedoms”.  It certainly is a foundational answer in American politics.  Typically, (especially since this country is insanely religious) these sorts of questions get caught up with morality.  Take a gander at Fox news during a discussion about the minimum wage law.  The discussion is almost certainly focused on whether or not the poor deserve better wages.  On the left you have do CEOs really deserve their obscene salaries?  When it comes to the social safety net there are yet more morality based doubts.  Do the poor deserve to live?  If you talk to republicans you are left with the impression that the poor do nothing but laze around all day playing computer games and eating “bon bons” (when we heard that from a Republican on TV, my wife suggested we commission a study to determine how many of the poor know what a bon bon actually is).  Do immigrants deserve to come to this country?  Do the wealthy deserve tax cuts.  Does anyone deserve a tax cut?

The hell with morality.  It’s a useless metric for determining a course of action, particularly on the government level.  Do the working poor deserve a pay raise?  I no longer care.  As I’ve said before, the point of a minimum wage is not there for the purposes of generosity.  It’s because labor increases the value of a company and you need to compensate your laborers for that increase in value regardless of how low you can bid the wages in the open market.  In theory, the CEOs get their obscene salaries because this is representative of the increase in value they bring to the company.  Obviously the system needs some adjustment.  The government spends money based on the needs and wishes of the voters and upon the assumed wishes of non-voters.  And the voters in this country very worried about waste in this country. In fact, they see waste as intrinsic to the existence of a government. Don’t worry about it.  Waste is a nonsensical construct by which to judge a country.  Any waste that a government produces goes straight into the economy.  People are getting fantastically wealthy off of government waste, which if Republicans are correct, will trickle down to the rest us far more efficiently than if the government tried any other redistribution on it’s own.  In fact, Republicans should be arguing for greater government waste.  This is basically the military’s primary contribution to our country.   Whatever money the government sends into the economy will eventually come back to the government in the form of taxes and fees.  It may take generations, but eventually, it’ll get it back.  If you run out of money you can always make more.  It’s very easy.  I think these days all they have to do is punch in a number and press a button.

This is where we should hear from inflation hawks.  ‘You’ll ruin the country through hyperinflation!’  No I won’t.  Inflation is a meaningless term and it too is often mistaken for theft.  If my wife bakes a pie and cuts into 4 pieces and gives me a slice and tomorrow cuts the pie into 8 pieces and gives me two, has she cheated me?  nonsense.  The pie has undergone inflation.  I’m cheated only if the pie is smaller the next day.  The key metric here is “value”.  If the government truly wastes money, it will eventually get the money back again.  Slowly.  And it will create very little value while doing so.  If the government spends its money wisely it will create great value quickly.  It has nothing to do with morality.  As a government, it’s on incredibly shaking ground to help people based on need, or because they deserve it. This kind of moral judgment is inappropriate for a government. Helping the poor creates adds tremendous value precisely because wealth generation, innovation, creativity, jobs, and so on are mainly done in the middle class and you need that social mobility if your country is going to be healthy.

Most people agree that the government should spend more money on infrastructure.  Mostly because this is such a ridiculously obvious point that anencephalic troglodytes of any political stripe can see it.  Infrastructure creates a tremendous amount of value for the country.  Should the government be spending billions of dollars on turning corn into ethanol?  no because it returns very little value to the economy.  How about tax cuts for major corporations?  Same deal.  Supply side economics works only if there is an extreme cash shortage.  That used to be the case for oil companies, it’s not now.  Where does the government get the money for all this spending?  From taxes of course.  “but… but… that’s my money” some might argue. True but you also get phenomenal value for your tax money in the way of all those roads and schools and stuff we talked about.   In return, the increase in value directly increases your freedom and the value of that freedom.

I love conservativism… hate conservatives.

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I love conservative ideology.  I really do.  The states rights, the small government, the low taxes, the active military, all of it.  I just can’t stand conservatives.  I hate them more than any other member of a political ideology.  Mostly because they are intent on being deliberately stupid and spreading this stupidity like a plague.  Eventually they’ll run their course but not before making life difficult for everyone else.  This Duck Dynasty Phil is a wonderful case in point.

Conservatives are rallying to this banner in the name of free speech and family values.  #IstandwithPhil.  Phil screwed up.  He said something gross (really gross) and stupid and offensive.  I honest don’t know if he knew how offensive he was being.  Maybe these attitudes are just so common among backwards rednecks that no one thinks anything of it, but conservatives, you’re smarter than this.  You know in your heart of hearts he’s being gross, stupid, and offensive and he doesn’t deserve your support.  You’re going to give it to him anyway aren’t you.  You’re outraged that his right to free speech has been suppressed in some way.  Except, it hasn’t.  The government hasn’t swept through with federal agents to jail him for his speech crimes.  The government doesn’t care and that’s the limit to your right of free speech. It doesn’t protect you from getting fired from your job.  It doesn’t protect your employer from outraged citizens boycotting businesses and expressing their outrage.  It just keeps the government off your back.  You know this, but you’re going to vent about your free speech issues anyway no matter how willfully, intentionally, stupid it might be.

Many of you claim to be Christians.  Can you imagine Jesus saying anything like this?  If Jesus ever expressed an opinion on homosexuality it isn’t recorded in the Bible.  But if he did I imagine he’d have given the same treatment to gays that he gave to the woman caught in adultery.  I don’t think he’d go on a rant about the wonders of the vagina and it’s superiority to the male anus.  Or suggest that gay people are inherently propelled into bestiality.   Whatever Jesus was, he was never foul; he was never crude; and he’d be ashamed of the way you treat people.  I’m all for family values.  Private family values.  Going back to the Jesus thing, he told people that public prayers were worthless.  So much so that when I was a kid, I thought I was supposed to literally pray in my closet.  Jesus intentionally separated secular/political spending and religious spending.  He drove the bankers out of the temple.   There is simply no mechanism that Jesus would support for mixing public and religious life.  Yet we see the constant insertion of religiosity into the public and political sphere.  My family values are different than your family values.  They’re unique to me.  I live in a country that values that individuality.  What this means is in an increasingly crowded society you need to pull in your elbows a bit to make room for others.  Specifically this means your public display of religiosity needs to be carefully orchestrated so it doesn’t crowd out my religiosity or lack thereof.  Where’s the line?  Easy.  Ask yourself, is it appropriate for a muslim, pagan, hindu, or any other religious leader to be involved in a religious display?  Then it’s appropriate for you.  If you don’t want an imam to lead a Fajr prayer service in a public school, or have a witch cast a blessing spell then you can’t lead your own prayer service.  It’s either that or be confined to closets when praying (which I’m ok with).

I get tired of the selfish, unending hatred of anyone who doesn’t see your point of view.  This is America, the home of political pluralism, or so we like to think.  Embrace your intellect, fight for your values.  But make the fight mean something.  Don’t throw your energy defending some gross ignorant redneck from the wilds of Louisiana.  Fight the battles that matter.  Seek out real injustice, true corruption and genuine abuse of power.  Root out waste, fraud, and inefficiency. Build a nation that respects a plurality of beliefs and rigorously defend, not the beliefs, but the plurality.  Create a government that is nimbler, more efficient, and more honest so that it can better respond to the needs of the people.  It won’t solve every problem, but it’ll lay the groundwork for the compromises that will.  And don’t be stupid.    That’s all I’m saying.  Don’t be stupid.