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Musings on Politics, The Tea Party, and America's Rampant Electile Dysfunction

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    Sunday
    Mar292015

    How to Talk to a Far-Right-Winger

    First a word of explanation.

    Please note that the title of this essay does not refer to a “conservative,” but to a “far-right-winger.” As I’ve said many times (most recently with a certain virality), the two terms are in no way equivalent. Far-right-wingers are anything but conservative; they profess some of the most radical and ideologically driven agendas of any on the political landscape.

    Got it? Okay. So now onto the question under review. How DO you talk to a far-right-winger?  

    Answer: You don’t.

    I'm serious. Just stop. Don’t bother. You’re wasting your breath. 

    Michael Shermer, in his fantastic book The Believing Brain, reminds us that despite the scientific age in which we live, the brain is fundamentally a “belief engine.” And on top of that, 

    [o]nce beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes…. 

    In fact, you may be doing even worse than wasting your breath. Every argument you have only makes their beliefs stronger. Don’t believe me? Take a look:

     

     

    It’s true. Turns out that talking to anyone with extreme views is rather like struggling with those little finger-trapping toys that were all the rage when I was growing up. 

     

     

    And the likelihood of a “belief reversal” (as Shermer calls it)?  Practically nil. It is “as rare as a black swan.”

    So if you can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) talk to a far-right-winger then how, pray tell, are any of us supposed to erode their ideas, positions, and power? Well, I have an answer for that, too.   

    Talk even more with people who agree with you. And talk even more even more with people who sort of agree with you some of the time. Why? Well, for pretty much the same reasons, which boil down to this: the more you believe something, the stronger that belief becomes.

    Why is it important that beliefs become stronger amongst those of us who are rational and thoughtful (whether conservatives or not)? Simple again—the stronger the belief system, the stronger the need to do something about it—and that means that people who are more emotionally invested do more of the most important thing any of us can do, and that’s vote.  

    That’s right. Vote.

    It makes sense, really, if you think about it. If we accept axiomatically that a far-right-winger is never going to change opinions or beliefs, then the only thing we can do is out-vote them. And we do that by encouraging more people to believe just as strongly in what the far right rails against—and getting them to vote. Concerned about the environment? Get out and vote for it. Think the minimum wage needs to go up? Get out and vote for it.  Want to end corporate welfare? Get out and vote for it. Want money out of politics? Get out and vote for it.

    So stop banging your metaphorical heads against the wall. Start having constructive conversations with people who think more like you do; make the change happen by getting more and more people fired up enough to vote against the far-right-wingers. 

    So stop it. Stop fighting with others who only want to fight. Instead start talking with others who will do something about it

     

    P.S. This same advice goes for just about any extremist. That would include far-left-wingers as well, particularly anyone that insists on using that V-for-Vendetta mask as their Facebook profile picture. Also just about any conspiracy theorist (birthers, 911 truthers, vapor trailers, Roswellians, Illuminati-ists) or those who swear by crystals, astrology, chakras, and oxygen bars. Double for those convinced by creationism or believing that homosexuality is a choice.  I haven’t quite figured out what to do with the anti-vaccine crowd, though….

    Sunday
    Mar222015

    If it’s not “Climate Change,” then What Should we Call it?

    For some time I’ve recognized an emerging need from Florida, and as a writer, editorialist, and all-around pretty good guy, I’d like to offer my help.

    The struggle is once again over the term “climate change.” Many in the country—though it seems the sentiment dominates in the south, southwest, and Bible belt—don’t much like the term. They did for a while when it superseded “global warming,” but now even the alliteratively watered-down version has grown unpalatable, no longer meeting the generic (and non-anthrocentric) needs of those on the far, far right.

    It’s tough to control language, though many have tried. We have my favorite example,  the redefinition of “zero” when it comes to trans fats, along with North Carolina’s decision to change the definition of the word “measurement” when it comes to sea levels. Bur for true mastery we must turn to fiction. George Orwell wrote this frightening bit in 1984:

    "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten."

    George writes in the same chapter that "It's a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words.”

    It’s the capital “D” that always gets me.

    In “Politics and the English Language” Orwell also pointed out that “Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”

    He could have been talking about what just happened in Florida where Governor Rick Scott, apparently frustrated that language control hasn’t gone far enough, has issued a so-called “gag order” regarding the use of certain words in an attempt to eliminate them from the dialog. The words he no longer approves of? “Climate” and “Change.” Particularly when used together. And particularly in that order.

    Think it’s a joke? Think again.

    But we desperately need to talk about it. An editorial in The Orlando Sentinel says that “gagging the experts in his [Scott’s] administration would be particularly outrageous, considering scientists say Florida is among the most vulnerable states to climate change.” Administrators, however, say that there is no such official gag order, though it seems pretty clear that something is going on. “Gov. Rick Scott and his staff insist his administration didn't ban the use of the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ in official communications,” the article reads. However, “the regulators said the directive came by word of mouth from their supervisors.”

    So what’s a southerner to do if they want to write/speak/pontificate on this most important of topics? As the clip below shows, unintended humor quickly followed in the wake of trying to talk through and around the topic: 

    It’s clear, though, that myriad journalists, newscasters, pundits, and dinner-table-conversationalists will need more options. And so, as a public service, I offer the following alternative phrases for those who wish to talk about it, but fear somehow that they’ll be overheard by the wrong people. Should you find yourself stumbling over the phrase “climate change” in some accidentally public forum, you can try one of these instead:

    • The Gulf Expansion Program
    • The Reshaping Florida Initiative
    • Inland Migration
    • Stream and River Expansion
    • Land Re-salination
    • Why Johnny Can’t Swim
    • The “C-words”
    • Incremental Sweating
    • Angry Weatherbirds
    • Planet-F**king
    • Coastal FOXification

    and my favorite:

    • Scott’s Folly™

    One final note: I’ve written over and over and over again on the importance of knowledge, science, and facts, and say here again: Objective truth must not be politicized. Global warming, or climate change, or [enter euphemism of choice here] is real. It is not a conservative issue nor a liberal one. It’s humanity’s problem, not ideology’s, and humanity needs to join together in solving it.

    Wednesday
    Mar182015

    Because I'm a Conservative--Part Two

    My recent blog post, “Because I’m a Conservative,” has garnered a surprising amount of attention. Much of this is due to the vibrant community over at Coffee Party USA’s FB page and the cross-posting support from Egberto Willies. But that’s not all of it: I’ve found links and comments all over the place. I am marginally disliked at Auburn University, for example, while readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch generally approve of me. I even found a discussion in a comment stream over at The Blaze, which prompted a FB message from Glenn Beck himself (or at least one of his staffers).

    There were so many comments in so many places that I couldn’t possibly respond to them all. But three patterns emerged: those who took me for a closet liberal (many); those who agreed with me and bemoaned the loss of reasonable conservatism (also many); and those who basically told me I was full of shit (very few, thankfully). Running through it all, though, was a request that I share my views on a few more topics, ostensibly to help people determine into what category I properly belong.

    I’m okay with that (and I want to respect my readers). I’d mention, though, that the topics in the original post were intentionally chosen so as to prompt discussion over the label “conservative,” rather than how they might define this particular Incredibly Minor Public Figure.

    But here goes anyway. I hope this (still incomplete) list of viewpoints answers many of the questions raised:

    I like business and I like capitalism. Both get a really bad rap these days. I know there are many rotten apples out there, but isn’t it interesting that we only hear about those and not the good ones? I’m reminded of an old joke about a newspaper headline you’ll never see: “More than eight million New Yorkers survived the day without incident.” Every day, hundreds of thousands of companies don’t do anything wrong except meet their goals, take care of their employees, and try to make a few bucks. They deserve our respect and support as we provide the environment to encourage innovation, stability, and—yes—profits.

    I am strongly against abortions, but recognize the reality of the situation: Abortion is and will be. The more important question for me is how we will provide the safest, healthiest, most nurturing environment to, first, encourage/enable people to avoid unwanted pregnancies and, second, assure them that if they find themselves in such a situation, they have all options available to them.  Being against abortion, by the way, doesn’t mean being against choice. I would never presume to come between a doctor and his or her patient, nor between a patient and his or her God.

    Education in our country is dying the death of a thousand cuts, and I find myself repeatedly angered at the position of the unions as they insist on protecting bad teachers, and of school boards that refuse to leave important decisions to the professionals. Something new is needed. Because of this I support charter school models, school choice, and even a small level of corporate involvement in public education. Some of it may work and some may not, but we have to try, to experiment, else our educational performance on the global stage will continue to suffer.

    I believe we should carefully manage immigration while accepting the reality (again!) of the millions who are already here. We should not split up families nor subject anyone to some Kafka-esque bureaucracy, but at the same time we should not provide unauthorized immigrants with the same benefits as everyone else, nor should we open our doors to anyone who wants to come in. We would do well, first, in attending to our own tired, poor, and huddled masses. There are certainly enough of them.

    Oh, and I want big money OUT of politics, because the most important—the most “conservative”—tradition we have to preserve is the principle of “one person/one vote.”

    *****

    P.S.: I’ve also seen multiple comments expressing curiosity as to my voting habits. I’ve generally been on record, and you can read my views here, here, and here. There are probably a few voting decisions I’d take back if I could—particularly my vote for McCain/Palin—but not that many.

    Special P.S., for Egberto. I’m guessing these are some of the ways we’re different….. One of the ways we are definitely the same, though, is in understanding that reality must be a factor in any policies, and that blatant blindness to those realities is simply foolish.

    Sunday
    Mar152015

    Because I’m a Conservative

    Author’s Note: I’ve been asked more than once why I identify as a conservative and why I think conservatism is valuable and important. I offer some exposition on the topic below. It is not given as any antithesis to alternatives; it is not a “conservative is better” diatribe. It does, however, illuminate a key point: “conservative” is just another word hijacked by those that are anything but….

    Because I’m a Conservative, I believe in a strong separation of church and state. As Eliade wrote in The Sacred and the Profane, “the sacred always manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order from ‘natural’ realities.” We do a disservice to the truly sacred when we force it into Caesar’s world. What is sacred to me is between myself and my Maker—and forcing that into the public square diminishes both of Us.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I care about the environment. Whether prompted by the Bible or by our own sense of morality (itself a part of the sacred), we are stewards of this earth, and we owe it to ourselves and our children—and to the plants and animals who cannot protect themselves from us—to provide not just good stewardship, but as perfect a stewardship as we can conceive.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I support gay marriage. I believe that a family with two loving parents is a benefit to children—and to parents. Kids get to see loving interactions (important to their development and world view) and parents can both join with—and rescue, when needed—each other, having a close friend with whom to share the thoughts, feelings, joys, and stresses of life, amplified even more with children.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I care about personal responsibility. Too often, though, the term has been re-interpreted to mean “taking care of #1” when personal responsibility should also include ownership and accountability for what goes on around me. That means I have a responsibility to understand the plights of others, to recognize when and how I might contribute to such ills, and to do what I can to correct them, to create a fair and level playing field where everyone has the same chances given the same efforts.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I care about reasonable gun control. For me, a key component of traditional conservatism is feeling safe and secure, knowing that risk is minimal, and understanding what to expect of my neighbors. Randomly politicized gun-waving does nothing to further this cause, instead making us feel less safe, less secure. There is nothing “conservative” about walking into a store armed with semi-automatic weapons; it is egocentric, narcissistic, and dangerous.

    Because I’m a Conservative I care about knowledge. Through the ages much has been learned, discovered, explored, and revealed. Not all of it has been good for us, but much of it has. And learning begets learning, all of which raises us up. To be conservative is not about the worn-out equation of ignorance and bliss, but about recognizing that our greatest assets include both our souls and our minds, and encouraging the growth of both equally. They are, after all, both a part of us, and handcuffing the one in favor of the other only insults each.

    Conservatism, I strongly believe, is not a bad word or a bad ideal. It is, however, a term misunderstood. Those who label themselves conservative today seem most often not to be conservative at all. They have, in reality, a highly radicalized agenda, one set on taking us backwards. It is that direction which seems to imply conservatism, but it shouldn’t. Radicality lacks a vector, and should be known only through the severity of its proposed changes. To roll us back to a time when religion alone led us, to a time when white skin alone defined the rules, to a time when only the few owned nearly everything, is radical and not, axiomatically, conservative.

    For those of you who embrace the roots of conservatism, I urge you to continue to do so. For those who seek to call out conservatives, I ask that you recognize the difference between those of us who are, and those who have stolen the terminology from us and bastardized it for their own specious use. And for those of you who claim the role of conservative but so clearly are not… well… I ask nothing of you, for you have already shown us who and what you are.

    NOTE: I recently put up Because I'm a Conservative, Part 2, which may also interest you....

    Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

    Saturday
    Feb212015

    The New Terrorism

    Frequent visitors to my blog know that few things irritate me as much as when “they” co-opt language in a way so subtle that the rest of us barely notice it. I’ve written, for example, about the so-called “war” on just about everything, whether women or Christmas or religion or unions or teachers or poverty. I’ve also exposed the ways in which legislatures redefine such simple and obvious words like “zero” which, thanks to tremendous efforts from certain factions within the food lobby, now no longer means “zero,” at least when it comes to trans fats. We’ve also seen “global warming” morph into “climate change,” which seems rather like telling your dog that he’s getting “neutered” instead of “castrated.”

    All of this blather is preface to my latest anger: the narrowed use of the word “terrorist,” a word Oxford defines as “anyone who attempts to further his [sic] views by a system of coercive intimidation,” but which popular American usage has redeployed to mean “any Muslim we’re afraid of.” It feels like a combination of mass hysteria (something we Americans are quite good at, at least if you judge by what we did to Japanese-Americans during WWII, for example) and calculated (if opportunistic) planning by those with that unique combination of power and prejudice that too often serves as the fuel on which our country runs.

    Yet as we fall into our comfortable semantic sleep, real terrorism, Oxford-style terrorism, is all around us, and I think it’s time we called it out:

    • Somewhere today there’s a new mother cradling an infant girl in her arms, wondering what she can do for the next year, where she can go, to keep her child safe. She worries that her neighbor’s children, or a child in the park where she pushes her stroller, or the school-age daughter of a cousin, may not be vaccinated. She lives in fear every day, ticking squares on a wall calendar, waiting for that first year to pass so she can get her child the protection she needs.

    • Somewhere today a father and son are looking at toys in a big box store when around the end of the aisle three men appear, each with semi-automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. The child gasps; the father moves in front of the boy to shield him, not knowing—and unable ever to know—whether this is the time when it’s not just a political statement but, instead, bullets will fly.

    • Somewhere today a family farmer out west—one of a steadily shrinking minority—anxiously reads reports of expected drought, drought that presumes to linger for years. Meanwhile a midwestern mother wonders whether the schools her children attend are built to withstand the ever-increasing number of tornados, each seemingly more severe than the last. Further east a middle-aged and apparently healthy man in a Boston suburb collapses while shoveling more snow than the area has ever seen in a single month. All of this, so the overwhelming evidence shows, results from man-made global warming.

    Tell me truly, each of you: do you have more to fear, personally, from religious extremists than you do from any of those who contribute to the scenes just described? And if not, then why are the latter “terrorists” and the former just “people?”

    Yes, my words are harsh. But I sat with young friends recently who worried for the children they plan to have some day, who carry around with them an anxiety—a terror—that we are creating a world in which there are shadows around every corner, shadows that tell us to “be afraid.” And anyone willfully contributing to that fear, blindly claiming that they are only “raising the question” or “revealing the truth” or “having the debate” are terrorists, too, in every meaningful sense of the word. They daily terrorize millions and millions of people, attempting to further their views “by a system of coercive intimidation.”

    What else would you call intentionally exposing newborns to deadly diseases, or walking into a K-Mart fully armed?

    I imagine the responses even as I write. I’ll be accused of “false equivalency,” of “being an apologist,” of needing to “wake up.” But it isn’t and I’m not and I don’t. I’m well aware that the acts of those whom today we narrowly define as terrorists are abhorrent. It’s not that acknowledging them as terrorists is wrong. But acknowledging only them as terrorists is.

    If you don’t vaccinate your child without sound scientific and medical reasons, you are a terrorist.

    If you carry weapons without concern for how it frightens others, you are a terrorist.

    If you actively promote denial of climate change, you are a terrorist.

    It’s time to accept the true definition of the word, and label all who terrorize with it.

    (And my list, I’m sure, is not exhaustive…. Any thoughts?)