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A Moral Choice

It’s One or the Other


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As the US presidential election approaches, and the summer of Trump turns into the autumn of everyone’s discontent, political pundits and our audiences have much to reflect upon. It is widely acknowledged that this year’s election cycle has been profoundly unusual if not entirely choices-unique. Thanks to the ego of a deeply disturbed narcissist with too much access to money, the world has been subjected to a disgraceful display: the celebration of the very worst in human nature, and ugliness, that ought to be suppressed, elevated to become the new normal. Nevertheless, in a desperate search for a silver lining, one thing comes to mind. In the United States, the choice between Democratic and Republican candidates is now quite simple.

            What progressives, liberals, and left leaning people in general have long suspected turns out to be true. There is a demonstrable moral difference between the polarised political left and right; the intransigent right wing has demonstrated its complete dearth of moral principles. If basic human morality with or without reference to any mainstream religion is part of a voter’s character, that person simply cannot vote for a Republican candidate.

            The right has always championed toughness, and has wrapped itself in self-righteous proclamations of its own clear-eyed realism. Austerity measures are the right’s go-to solution for any austerity-measureseconomic downturn. Cutting social programmes and throwing the most vulnerable members of society under the bus is considered ‘tough love” and defended as necessary, as fair, and as encouragement to the slothful to get up off their asses and contribute. The right routinely votes down anti-discrimination legislation as intruding on religious or economic freedoms. The right has traditionally led the country into wars and then, with equally falsely justified fervor, cut veteran’s benefits. School lunch programs, food stamps, health care, Planned Parenthood are all left wing initiatives and all are constantly under siege by the party that claims fiscal responsibility as part of their DNA.

            And, of course, it’s all a crock of shit. Imposing austerity measures at a time when interest rates infrastructure investmentare virtually zero, the economy is sluggish, and when the country is in desperate need of vast public works investment, are like a medieval surgeon bleeding a patient to treat anemia. An enormous injection of cheap capital would put billions of dollars into circulation, provide countless well-paying jobs, and, not incidentally, restore the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. The investment, according to economic analysts, would be repaid within two years of its inception and would continue to pay dividends for decades.

            The economic warriors who are quick to whip out their broadaxes when they see a programme that benefits the poor or the marginalized, see nothing whatever wrong with giving tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to wildly profitable corporations who pay their employees starvation wages, forcing corporate welfarethem to apply for food stamps – which are on the chopping block because the right considers such programmes to be coddling the lazy. Bottom line? The taxpayers are subsidising corporate CEOs and their billion dollar payoffs as well as their payroll. If a company’s employees need government support to live on their paycheques, the taxpayers are covering that company’s costs of doing business, and their employees are being blamed. Republican lawmakers argue that the people shouldn’t have to support underemployed citizens; they seem to have no problem asking those same taxpayers to pay for billion dollar wages and bonuses for contributors to Republican election campaigns.

            For decades now, the Republicans have been able to lie with barefaced unabashed aplomb and wmdnever be held accountable. George W. Bush’s war was justified by a simple policy of lying. There were no weapons of mass destruction despite the administration’s assurances that they would be found immediately upon invading. There were none, and they knew it. That kind of lie, which led to the deaths of countless innocent civilians and thousands of US soldiers, is the worst kind of lie. It wasn’t fudging, or exaggerating, or shading the truth; it was a flat out, straight in-your-face made up fact. The people were deliberately deceived to gain their support for Bush and Cheney’s mercantile interests and there has never been a reckoning.

            And on the subject of barefaced statements that are precisely the opposite of factual reality, the Republican party, as noted above, somehow manages to perpetuate the myth that they are the party of fiscal responsibility while the Democrats are all about “tax and spend”. Since back when the Reagan fiscal conservativesadministration tanked the economy by the imposition of the fatuous and self evidently ridiculous “trickle down” theory of enriching the rich, Democratic administrations have consistently and successfully attacked the budget deficit and the national debt, only to see the next Republican president piss it away. Bush the Younger inherited a balanced budget and more than two hundred billion dollars in surplus from Bill Clinton. He managed to run up several trillion dollars in debt after spending the surplus in record time. But, don’t fret, Haliburton did very well out of the war, and Bush got to wear a cool flight suit when he declared “Mission accomplished” a decade and more before the US pulled out. But that deficit is the windmill that the Republican legislators pretend to tilt at out of fiscal responsibility.

            All the foregoing and a great deal more can be laid at the Republican’s doorstep, and their mendacity and hypocrisy is obvious to anyone who watches anything other than Fox News. (Here’s a little true fact that you won’t hear from anyone in the GOP: amid the handwringing and discriminatory legislation proposed by the party of “family values”, in the storm of freaking out over the possibility of a transgender citizen using a washroom that corresponds to one’s current gender identity, the truth is that, statistically, you or your children are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed by a Republican senator than a transsexual person in a public washroom.) And as far as morality is concerned, let’s not forget the voter suppression methods employed by the GOP against minorities; let’s remember also the gerrymandering that Republican states have openly engaged in. Space and time simply don’t allow for an exhaustive list of the moral lapses that are central to Republican politics.

            But having said all that, until 2015, there was still a slim possibility that someone of decent moral character could rationalise supporting a Republican candidate. Somehow, with a healthy dose of sophistry, one could conceivably argue that a vote for the Republican candidate was not a moral abdication. But that is no longer the case.

            Donald Trump has made his entire pitch based on the most repugnant and morally reprehensible ryan racistpolicies and promises. He is an unashamed bigot of the very worst stripe. He encourages hatred and he deliberately instigates violence. Independent fact checkers have measured him as lying in 80% of the statements of fact he includes in his speeches. The very worst aspects of humanity are his calling card. These characteristics are not incidental to his appeal; they are the very basis and the raison d’etre of his candidacy. Apart from his hateful and rather malleable pledges to round up and deport 11,000,000 residents, to build his wall and make Mexico pay for it, to deny entry to an entire religion and to register and monitor those already here, he simply has no policies. He has slogans, he leads chants, but he has no domestic or foreign policy; an attitude is not policy. All he has is the hatred that he feeds off.

            And that means that if one supports Trump, one supports racism and hatred. One cannot support Trump in any way and justify one’s morality. If you vote for Trump, you vote for racism and bigotry. Not to put to fine a point on it, but if you support Trump, you are a racist.Dark side

            If you are not a racist, if you have any inclination to see yourself as a moral and decent human being you can’t vote for Donald Trump. There is no more avoiding the fact that to vote for the Republican nominee in 2016 is to choose evil. Welcome to the dark side.



Why the Trump faithful are impervious to reason



(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Progressives, liberals, and especially registered Democrats are bewildered by Donald Trump’s ability to commit every sin against political orthodoxy and human decency imaginable angun trumpd yet, not just survive, but actually thrive. Each time the Trump campaign, or Trump himself, does something that would end anyone else’s political career, let alone candidacy, his followers, far from abandoning him, seem to become even more firmly committed to seeing him elected to the presidency of the United States. Trump famously bragged that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote; the record of the campaign thus far would suggest that the boast might not, like most of his claims, be entirely empty.

Examples of this phenomenon are plentiful. Joe Biden’s presidential aspirations were crushed as the result of his having plagiarised a part of a speech. Trump’s wife is treated like a victim for having been called out for plagiarising a speech by one the Republican’s most frequently attacked targets, the wife of Barack Obama. Who else but MockeryDonald Trump could mock a human being with a disability and be cheered by his fans? Who else could continue to repeat an utterly debunked lie, time and time again and not have it affect his numbers negatively? Does anyone think that Hillary Clinton could maintain her support if she refused to release her tax returns? What about if she had promised to do so several times and then simply reneged? Could anyone but Trump, with utter impunity, flip flop on every contentious issue and then claim he has in fact been completely consistent? What is it that makes Trump invulnerable to any reasoned argument or to any empirical evidence of his compulsive lying? Why can’t his supporters see the obvious?

The answer is actually quite straightforward and reflects the type of campaign Donald Trump has run and will continue to run right up until November. Trump’s supporters are impervious to rational arguments because of this principle: You can’t reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into. If someone holds a position that he settled on because he was no thinkingpersuaded by rational arguments, by supporting factual evidence, and by critical thinking, that position can be successfully challenged by raising rational counter-arguments and presenting fact-based evidence that outweighs the original and opposing rationale. But if someone holds his position because he is committed to it out of fear, hatred, or other powerful emotions; if his position is clung to because it feels better than to abandon it in the face of reason, all the rational argumentation and fact-based evidence in the world will have zero effect. Trump’s supporters can’t be persuaded by reason because reason isn’t what makes them Trump supporters; if reason could persuade them, there wouldn’t be any Trump supporters left.

Moral reasoning has no effect on those people either, and for the same reason. Although their rhetoric is laced with moral and ethical condemnations of Hillary Clinton and anyone who rejects Trump’s hate-driven movement, those attacks are nothing more than protective colouration. His followers weren’t persuaded of Trump’s suitability to lead the nation by their moral consciences. To look at Trump through a lens of moral or ethical reasoning would unquestionably cause a sense of revulsion in anyone who believes that even a minimum level morality is a reasonable criterion for choosing a national leader. But one needs only a cursory look at the language and behaviour of the Trump faithful to see that anything resembling conventional morality is virtually absent. They weren’t persuaded by any ethical or moral calculus, so they are impervious to moral or ethical arguments against their views.

angry cartoon            The Trump ascendancy is strictly a result of a calculated and very effective appeal to the basest emotions of an ignorant, vicious, and hate-filled segment of American society. Trump launched his campaign by targeting those Americans who feel that they have been sidelined by the march of civilisation. Trump’s base; angry, poorly educated, white males; was elated to hear someone blame their personal failures on an identifiable minority. He gave them permission to scapegoat minorities and to stop worrying that they might be the cause of their own misfortune. Don’t educate yourself, he was telling them, and don’t put any real effort into coming to terms with the 21st century; blame Mexicans. Or African Americans, or Muslims…you’re off the hook. This was seductive music to their ears.

As soon as they bought into the fairy tale he was spinning for them, a couple of things happened. They felt good; they felt better than they had when they thought correctly that their current malaise was of their own makingvalues. They saw that there were others like them; they found solidarity in the certainty that the other losers in the crowd felt as they did and they reinforced and propped up each other’s most vile and repugnant viewpoints. They followed Trump’s lead and gave one another permission to voice the cruelest and most hateful, dark thoughts that popped into their heads and pretended that by expressing bigotry they were courageously eschewing “political correctness”.

They cannot be talked out of their support; they are junkies who need Trump because he is the only person who can give them their guilt-free fix of overt hatred. For one of them to consider rationally anything that Trump promises would interfere with the rush he gives them. Reason would be the ultimate buzzkill. They are a lost cause to rational, moral, or ethical persuasion. The only hope for an America that could ever be respected again is if people who don’t find pure, unadulterated fear and hatred to be reasonable starting points for a rational decision get out and vote against what Donald Trump, in his latest and greatest swindle, is peddling this time.





Is Dialectic Dead?

When did “consensus” become a dirty word?


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Anyone who spends a great deal of time, as I do, reading online news feeds, news analysis, and op-eds is bound to be fed up with the hyperbolic headlines that herald fairly pedestrian stories.Jon Stewart and The Daily Show headlines Headlines, intending to draw in web surfers and current affairs junkies, all too often promise something rare and explosive if you click on it, then routinely turn out to introduce a story of mild interest at best. Internet headers are papered with expressions like “explosive revelation”, “epic rant”, or “complete meltdown”. Clicking on these screeds brings you to stories of mind numbing tediousness and utterly devoid of anything explosive, epic, or even complete.

On the internet, the number of clicks a page receives determines the value of that page and, in aggregate, the worth of the site. The owners and webmasters couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you read the cretinous drivel that supports the headline; as long as you clicked on the page you’ve done your job. Headlines are now breathless, overblown, and misleading; they are an insult to their readers’ intelligence and an affront to anyone who cares about journalism.

Nevertheless, the hyperbolic headline is an indication of the depth to which political discourse has descended. Overstated claims, describing molehills as mountains, and screams of outrage at the slightest hysteria from trumpprovocation are all part of the dialectic. Political positions have become like those headlines: overblown, shrill, uncompromising, and extreme. Political positions have become extreme, not in an effort to increase one’s click-through rate, but to eliminate the possibility of compromise. To stake out an extreme or radical position helps to ensure that no common ground can be found; compromise thus becomes impossible.

Bombast, in the expression of a political position or in a demand made in the political

'That's what i hate about being a caveman. Everything has to be carved in stone!'

sphere, has become so commonplace that those who express their views in extreme language have come to believe their own rhetoric. That which was once either simply florid language on the one hand, or the expression of an initial negotiating position on the other, has become a bottom-line non-negotiable demand. Today, all stances assumed in the political sphere have become unalterable and carved in stone. An uncompromising position is the only type of position we see at this point in social history.

Compromise, the backbone of civilised society, the very essence of culture and non-confrontational relations, has become anathema. Where compromise used to be taught to kindergarten children as a necessary social skill, today, and particularly by those on the far right, compromise is seen as synonymous with defeat and surrender. Insistence on seeing one’s most extreme demands acceded to without the slightest alteration, modification, or moderation is the new standard in public discourse. Stubbornly refusing even to consider an opposing view is seen as integrity; loyalty is defined as an unthinking rejection of anything that differs from the party line. It doesn’t matter how extreme the party line, or how benign the contrasting idea, refusing even to consider it is seen as a virtue.

In the US, the infiltration of the Republican Party by the Tea Party faction was the watershed moment of TeaPartythe new politics of absolutism. They came roaring into Washington on a wave of support for their evangelical fervour and their rejection of the traditional way of doing politics. Drunk with their own success, they demanded that even (or even especially) their most outrageous and radical ideas be accepted, and they simply would not compromise or retreat even fractionally from those positions. The result was acrimony in discourse and gridlock in Congress.

But they went even further in their refusal to compromise; when they were given, as the result of negotiations, what they demanded, they simply staked out a position that was even more extreme and refused to back down from that as well. They waged a tireless war against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), even though it was a compromise on the part of the administration and the Democrats in Congress, and was, in fact, the health care reform recommended and supported by their own party before the Tea Party came to prominence. As long as the other side was willing Thinking gop styleto accept it, they wouldn’t; it was too much like capitulation to their minds.

So polarised has the political world become, actual thinking has become suspect. If someone is thinking about the implications and consequences of their views, the possibility of considering modifying them is raised, and that will never do. Polarisation has become so extreme that political philosophies and viewpoints have become secular religions and to apply critical analysis to them is to commit heresy.

And, as politics becomes similar to religion in its adherence to immutable doctrine and dogmatic cohesion, religion becomes increasingly political in its insistence on imposing its doctrine on the body politic. This is seen most graphically and most dangerously in the rise of a faction of extremists within Islam.

The radical jihadists, who form a tiny minority within Islam have persuaded many in the western world that they speak for all Muslims and their savage actions are supported by all or most Muslims. The acts Terroristsof brutal terrorism the radicals carry out against western targets are intended to raise the anger and fear of Islam as a whole; they want westerners to hate and fear all Islam so that their warped and vicious heretical Islam will dominate. And, here in the west, we find some politicians playing into their hands by blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few. And what those politicians don’t mention, since it conflicts with their views, is that jihadist terrorism kills and injures far more Muslims than western Christians. To acknowledge that Muslims are the vast majority of victims of jihadist terrorism would contradict their lies that the west is in a war with Islam rather than the truth: that extreme Islamic jihadists are in a war with the rest of the world.

The hyperbolic headlines, and the polarisation of politics and religion that they reflect are seen in the increasingly radicalised evangelical Christian movement here in North America. Christian radicals, who are increasingly disconnected from anything like the mainstream interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ, have taken to manipulating politics by trying to persuade the media and their consumers that they represent the views of the majority. Precisely like ISIS.

The positions staked out by the Christian right include a rejection of the doctrine of separation of church and state; they insist that Christianity is the religion of the United States and that legislation, education,

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church hold anti-gay signs at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Veterans Day, November 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

and daily life should reflect that. Disconcertingly, they insist that their right to practice their religion is being compromised by having to obey the same laws that the rest of us do. They insist that the existence of legal same sex marriage is oppressive to their religion. They demand the right to practice their religion by discriminating against various groups, most notably the LGBTQ community. They demand that the rest of the country provide, through tax breaks, financial support for their institutional bigotry. There is no room for compromise, and their rhetoric becomes more strident and more extreme every day.

What can be done about this gridlocked and hostile state of affairs? Are we doomed to keep spinning our wheels as we push against one another? Will public discourse remain nothing more than two opposing sides shouting slogans and epithets while nothing gets done and forward momentum dies? Only a few things come to mind.

In the first place, we can read news media that carry opposing views. In an effort to avoid being locked in an echo chamber in which we only hear our own thoughts and ideas parroted back to us in different words, we can actively listen to what the other side is saying. We can choose the media we really pay attention to by eschewing the ones with the overblown and bombastic headlines that sparked this column, and instead turn our focus on the outlets with restrained and moderate headlines; the content under those headers is likely to be more thoughtful as well. We can develop our critical thinking skills and apply them both to what we read about hot button subjects and to what public figures actually say.

demand-evidence-and-think-critically-17But most of all, to get out of this trap of strident and hostile gridlock caused by a refusal to back away from extreme views, we can avoid voting for candidates who fan the flames of fear and anger; we can reject the politics of polarisation and dogged adherence to extreme and exclusionary views. We can decide that our culture of inclusion and cooperation is worth saving. We can reject those who harangue us with the notion that we need to treat everyone who is different from us with cruelty. But the simplest and perhaps the most important thing we can do right now, today, is reject people who seek high political office on a platform of easily debunked and consistently repeated lies. We can reject those who appeal to the very worst in human nature and we can support anyone who is willing to consider opposing views, to apologise for mistakes, to correct factual errors, and to assume the best in people rather than the worst. We can refuse to fall into the trap of voting out of despair, out of anger, out of fear and hatred. We can have faith that if we reject fear and hatred, there might just be a chance to renovate our civilisation and have a society where we work together constructively and cooperatively.

All of that is much harder to do than to relax into the comfort of groupthink and tribalism; but if we want to back away from the abyss just in front of us, we have to have the courage to do what’s right.



What a Time it Was

Misunderstanding History


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Brexit’s cheerleaders on one side of the Atlantic and presidential candidate Donald Trump and his faithful on the other share a yearning for a halcyon past that never existed. They all want to retreat from globalisation, they want their countries to be free of people whom they don’t understand and who are therefore scary, theLeave-It-to-Beavery want to go back to an imagined Arcadian period that, in America, looked like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, or Happy Days. What they fail to grasp is that those were television comedies and not documentaries depicting real life in the Eisenhower/Kennedy period. (One way I could always tell that Leave it to Beaver was a fantasy was that Barbara Billingsley could, with a straight face, deliver a line like, “Gee Ward, don’t you think you were a little rough on the Beaver last night?”)

The back to the future crowd consistently refuses to grasp the reality of today’s world and, as a result, cannot really be expected to understand the reality of an historical period they only know through pop culture. The world today has transcended national economies and is now operating on a global scale; King Canute demonstrated clearly that one cannot hold back the tide and yet the wishful thinkers are standing there with the waves lapping their tender parts, demanding that the waters recede. The reality is that the only elements of that period we could possibly bring back would be the ones that we would hate; the ones they really want are the purest fantasy.

The want to see a return to a time when Dad would come home in a suit from work in an office where he did something or other, to a suburban colonial or ranch style house, where his kids would be safely playing unsupervised in the neighbourhood, and be greeted by a perfectly coiffed trophy wife who had dinner on the stove, and his pipe, slippers, and martini waiting.

What they tend to forget, or, in the case of the younger back to the futurists, what they never knew is that in the 1950s, the little pill called Miltown was the 3rd most prescribed drug in the United States. Miltown was the very first mother's little helpereffective tranquiliser and the country’s first real blockbuster drug. Those Stepford wives were zoned out and so compliant largely because they kept running for the shelter of their mother’s little helper. Contraceptives in pill form didn’t yet exist, so unwanted pregnancies and high-risk illegal abortions were at epidemic levels. Polio was rampant as were scarlet fever, Rubella, and a whole assortment of diseases for which rational people now inoculate their children.  Everyone smoked; lung disease was killing people with depressing regularity. We are speaking of a time when, under Republican President Eisenhower, taxes on the upper income brackets exceeded 90%.  The McCarthy witch hunts and blacklists were features of those Elysian Fields. This was a time before the Voting Rights Act, even before the Civil Rights Act; racial segregation was not only acceptable, it was the law in southern jurisdictions. Sammy Davis Jr. routinely performed in venues that he couldn’t enter with the rest of the Rat Pack and had to use the back service doors. The Korean War and then Vietnam were causing civil unrest. This wasn’t just Happy Days and American Graffiti; it was also The Wild One; it was Blackboard Jungle; it was Rebel Without a Cause.

Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers notwithstanding, it was a time from which we have escaped through technological, scientific, and social progress. We have moved beyond those times by applying human ingenuity, a consensus of compassion and equality, and the lessons learned from history. It is not a time to which rational people would wish to return. Of course, that last sentence had to be qualified by including the word “rationalrockwell”; there are plenty of reactionaries who see the period through the lens of their bewilderment and alienation. The real world of the 21st Century is complex and frightening beyond their ability to grasp, or even in which to participate fully. For them, that period seems like the ideal restore point in this great program. Supporting and even voting for fascism is seen by those outcasts as a way of hard crashing the system and restarting at a point where, in their paranoid delusions, everything is ideal.

The historical reality is that the period which is being held up as a time when all was perfect was so stultifying, so unequal in its distribution of rights, of wealth, of freedom that it inspired and launched one of the greatest social backlashes in history. The post war period, the baby boom, spawned the revolution of the 60s; the convulsive rejection of the values and norms of thesegregation period so nostalgically yearned for was a direct result of the inane, shallow, and dehumanising zeitgeist. Far from being the apotheosis of civilisation, the post war period was the nadir of western society in its social stratification, its complacency and self satisfaction, its intolerance, and its blindness. A revolution was inevitable and, sure enough, it happened.

The current politics of false nostalgia are curious. There is, on the part of the burgeoning ultra conservative movement, a desire to return to a time that never existed in the form they seem to remember. They want to revive the period after WWII in America as the time with which they feel they can best identify. But for some reason they are doing their level best to elect a leader who is far more reminiscent of politicians in Europe in the 30s. Donald Trump in America in no way resembles Dwight Eisenhower; he is more closely aligned politically to the strongmen, demagogues, and fear mongers of pre-war Europe.

Mussolini and Hitler rose to power on a similar wave of xenophobia, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, violence, and Benito and Adolpcentralised power; every one of their election strategies would be recognised today as Trump’s game plan, if they had any historical knowledge. Promises of making their alienated and whiny base powerful and superior to the mongrels who are taking their jobs resonate again today. Their desperate desire to dominate, their conviction that they are the long suffering victims of minorities who get all the breaks while honest white people suffer courageously, their belief that Trump will wipe the slate clean and eliminate all those who stand in the way of their divine destiny to be at the top of the heap; all these are precisely the unrealistic promises implicit and explicit in the speeches at fascist rallies in the 30s.

And, like the crowds enthusiastically raising their arms in salute and swooning at the rhetorical flourishes of their beloved leader, they couldn’t care less that their leader is a charlatan, an empty sack who lies with every breath. Their loyalty to the cause cannot be diminished by facts or by demonstrating unequivocally that their leader really is a racist, a bully, and a demagogue. That’s why they love him. All the characteristics that would disqualify anyone else are the very qualities they love about him. He calls Hillary crooked; the crowds are willing to reject her on suspicions that have been investigated for 14 years without finding anything. Their leader on the other hand is currently under indictment on criminal fraud charges and is likely to be charged in more frauds and they love it; proves he’s a good business man, apparently.

It’s up to those Americans who possess a scintilla of wisdom, a modicum of education, and a human soul to reject the politics of fascism. That political philosophy has failed and is recognised for the evil it embodies. So thoroughly rotten was fascism in the last major go-around that it is fair to say that WWII was the last truly righteous war; the last time one could truly say that it was a battle against true evil. And that’s an evil that is raising its ugly head once again.


Everything is Political

Everything is political


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A friend and I were in a queue at a liquor store the other day, talking about how much our respective cars contributed to global warming and why, besides the cost of gas, it would be a good idea to car pool whenever possible. The guy in line ahead of us paid for his purchase, turned to us and said (and I quote), “Fuckin’ libertards”, and walked out to his pickup.

Now, my readers know that I am an unreconstructed liberal and always have been; this was far from the first time my leftish bent has been disparaged by a conservative. No, what made me take note of this particular encounter wasn’t even the somewhat arrested word choice which comprised the epithet; it was the fact that my (apparently) conservative interlocutor had deduced my political leanings from an overheard conversation that never once came anywhere near touching on politics. A little later it occurred to me that not long before that odd moment I had been referred to as a liberal by someone who had read an article I had written. The column’s  subject? Atheism. Not anthropology, not sociology, certainly not politics. Logic was the underlying theme of the piece. Still, I was immediately branded a liberal.

Always quick on the uptake, it has gradually dawned on me how many subjects which have nothing to do with politics have become politicised. And by politicised, I really mean polarised. At the moment that polarisation amounts to: Left or Right. In this era of sound bytes, instant polls, forty-five second news clips, and as-it-happens reaction to breaking news via Facebook, much nuance has been lost; an entire political philosophy can be decided upon by simply agreeing or disagreeing with a retweet. And apparently an entire political philosophy can be deduced by reading a Facebook post or overhearing a non-political conversation.

I do it. You probably do it too. If you overhear people ridiculing the concept of evolution and agreeing that the world was created six thousand years ago, I’m willing to bet that, if we all were Americans, they’d be registered Republicans. If the people we overhear are inclined toward the view that basic human rights ought to be extended to the LGBT community, we would quickly tag them as Democrats. The lines between the political and non-political have become blurred to the point where they are now virtually invisible.

The age of the universe or the explanations for its beginnings are not a political issue…that’s a purely scientific issue. Or for those who don’t believe in science, a religious one. Whether dumping hundreds of tonnes of toxic material into the atmosphere every day has a discernable effect on the planetary climate is not a political issue, that’s clearly a matter of science. And in this case, it doesn’t even matter what one’s religious views are, it’s outside of that realm, too. But extending human rights to the LGBT community is Obsessed with politicsa purely political matter. And, nevertheless, the political opposition to such an understanding of equality before the law is almost invariably justified on religious grounds.

Evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Steven Jay Gould proposed his doctrine of “non-overlapping magisteria”, a notion that religion and science can be reconciled by acknowledging that each has its place and its own subject matter. The idea is not terribly different from Christ’s own suggestion (Mat. 22.1) that what’s Caesar’s is Caesar’s and what’s God’s is God’s. That doctrine was an easy way for the religious to avoid confrontations with the scientifically inclined. There would be no need to stand on opposite sides of the town square (or liquor store) hurling epithets at one another. And the religious could go to church while rational people could continue their explorations in realty. The problem is that the religious have demanded a place at the table which they have constantly condemned as heretical.

What it all comes down to is tribalism. We have an expression that sums up the problem. The expression “the religious right” makes the problem clear. “Right” is a political position. And when that word is modified by the word “religion” it tells us that we have intrusion, far more that Professor Gould’s “overlapping”. The religious have taken the view that not only is important that they be saved, but that they insist on overlapping into everyone else’s magisterium. To further those aims, they buy into any political viewpoint that permits them not just to to practice their religion but to keep trying to indoctrinate the rest of us into their Iron Age world worldview.

And once they have bought into a particular political party’s political philosophy, they swallow the whole bolus; they can’t seem to separate the secular from the religious from the scientific. So, if you go Republican, you have to go full Republican. You’re against abortion? Fine; you have to be for prayer in schools, you have to believe that climate change is a hoax, and that a cartel of liberal intellectual elitist atheistic Jews controls the media’s content.

Interestingly this not a real example of the polarisation of political viewpoints. On the left, there are all sorts of nuances, shadings, and degrees of toeing the party line, while the right demands a homogenised espousal of the whole megillah. And as the fight for the right to contest the presidency of the United States heats up, it becomes more and more manifest that even some extreme right wingers have tried so hard to swallow that lump of nonsense that they’re looking around, desperate for a Heimlich maneuver, perhaps in the form of a newly self-reinvented Paulperrycarlson2 Ryan.

If the Republican party goes down in flames as expected (and predicted by me) at this point, they will have eight years to try and rebuild. The first thing they should consider doing is to form a party with actual ideals and positions; a political party that doesn’t demand that you abandon all reason at the door. A party whose platform consists of many planks, some of which people can buy into, some of which they can reject. A party for whom one can vote and still disagree with part of what they represent. But mostly a party that is clear as to what is political and what is not.