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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Meet the new boss, completely different from the old boss…

The Genie’s Out of the Bottle

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND)  Any rational person who is aware of actual – as opposed to ‘alternative’ – facts will acknowledge that the Trump presidency thus far has been a chaotic clown show. At one time I believed that the vast majority of people fell into the category of being rational and fact aware; now I continue to believe it is a majority, but only by a razor thin margin. One of the most perplexing facts about the Trump phenomenon is that, at this writing, the percentage of acknowledged Trump voters who now regret their vote is somewhere between 3 and 5. You heard that right. Despite the many anecdotal instances of regretful Trump supporters, 95 to 97 percent of them say they would vote for him again if there were to be an election tomorrow.

This is despite his failures to keep any of his campaign promises, from the Muslim ban, to the Mexican wall; from repealing and replacing Obama care with something better to ‘draining the swamp’. This is despite the almost daily reminders of his utter ignorance of how government works; of what is actually in the trade agreements he claimed were terrible; of diplomacy; of American or world history; of the US Constitution; and of the limits and extent of presidential, judicial, and congressional powers and responsibilities. The Trump base is comprised of the people most affected by losing Medicare, Medicaid, and any of the other social programs to which this administration is laying waste. Well, except for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the subsidies for Public Broadcasting. They won’t miss those. That all those programs are being eliminated or severely hamstrung by budget slashing is being done specifically to help pay for tax breaks and incentives that only apply to the very wealthiest Americans doesn’t even seem to annoy them.

And most bewildering of all, his rock-solid base is not perturbed in the slightest that it’s becoming more and more apparent with each passing day that his election was largely due to illegal interference in the process by Russia. Moreover, his people continue to resist the very idea of a genuinely impartial investigation into what is almost certainly treasonous activity on the part of his closest and most powerful inner circle, and very likely on the part of Trump himself.

What is going on here? How can this scorched earth model of governance be accepted by the very people who are inhaling the smoke and being barbequed by the flames? Why, apart from commentaries like this one being run on the Internet and published in print, is there so little outrage when one would expect there to be millions of villagers with torches and pitchforks assaulting the White House?

The answer is oddly paradoxical. The lack of overwhelming grassroots backlash to Trump’s appalling agenda is due both to the outrageously unprecedented nature of the 45th US president’s shambolic administration, and to the fact that the insanity surrounding and permeating the administration is becoming normalised.

For any constitution or other formalised plan of government to work, the consent of the governed is necessary, and much of the quotidian activity carried out in the halls of government is not covered by a constitution, but is managed and directed by precedent, by tacit agreement, by convention, and by tradition. These need to be respected by both those in government and by those governed; it is impossible for even the most prescient document to anticipate every eventuality and address it with specific rules or even guidelines. For example, the US Constitution does not require candidates for high office to release their personal income tax returns for public scrutiny. The self-evident need for that disclosure was not a failing on the part of the Founding Fathers; there was no income tax at the time and none was foreseen. The first such tax was the Revenue Act of 1861, a century after the signing of the constitution, and it was a temporary wartime measure. The 16th Amendment passed in 1913 established the tax as it is known today. But candidates, by convention and tradition, have been expected to disclose their returns since the post-war period. There is therefore no mechanism (yet) to compel presidential candidates to disclose.

Nevertheless, tradition, etiquette, and convention is so important to the smooth running of government that even Donald Trump assured voters that he would disclose his returns should he choose to run for office. Later, as a candidate, he promised to disclose them as soon as a routine audit was completed. Later still, as president, through his spokesperson Kellyanne (Alternative Facts) Conway, he told the country that he wouldn’t be disclosing them, as his victory demonstrated that the people weren’t really interested. The brazenness of that lie, combined with the tortured logic behind it had no precedent in US federal politics prior to Donald Trump’s appearance on the scene. It was outrageous; it was an in-your-face middle finger to the US citizens and the rest of the world. But it wasn’t out of character. Trump had made a successful presidential candidacy out of outrage and running roughshod over tacitly understood mores, customs, and traditions. Just to demonstrate how outrageous and beyond the pale Trump was prepared to venture, let’s remember Trump’s straight faced assertion that sitting president Barrack Obama, with the help of former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had founded ISIS. Not in any figurative sense, not meaning that their policies had led to the formation of ISIS; no, he insisted that they were the actual and literal founders of the radical Islamic terrorist army.

We have to remind ourselves of that because it is so profoundly delusional. It causes a certain cognitive dissonance because there is nothing in our collective memory to reconcile the fact that such a clearly insane accusation could have been made, repeated, expanded upon, and doubled down on by a man who was only months later elected to the presidency of the United States of America.

Whether by design or by accident, the Trump approach to politics has normalised the shocking, the despicable, the outrageous. Actions taken by this administration, had they occurred under the authority of any previous president, would have sparked a backlash that probably would have removed him from office. The brazen profiteering and self-enrichment that is commonplace under this administration would have led to investigations and impeachment motions. Ditto for the scenario in which a political appointment recuses himself from an investigation into activities in which he was involved, but nevertheless is able to fire the person responsible for leading the investigation. It is even business as usual when Congress, under the control of the President’s own party, refuses to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate charges of espionage and treason at the very highest levels of the administration, despite the overwhelming evidence of a massive conspiracy against the nation.

The problem, no matter what happens next, is that the unspoken rules of the political game have all been changed now. And they won’t be changed back. Just like the first time the word ‘fuck’ was spoken out loud in a movie, a certain Rubicon had been crossed. It has now become normal. Thanks to Trump and his idiot diehard supporters, American politics have been coarsened, campaigns have become blood sports where policy means nothing, promises have no meaning, debate means character assassination, and governance means personal enrichment. Even if Trump and Pence and half the cabinet were to be impeached and imprisoned, the face of political discourse in the US has been forever disfigured. The genie is out and he’s not going back in.

ENDITEM…

Rational Self-Defence

A Legacy

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) My regular readers probably know that I am, to all intents and purposes, a single father of a seven-year-old boy. As such, I spend virtually my entire waking life trying to make sure that my son has a safe and happy childhood. Under our unique circumstances, that proposition is even more challenging than it is for most parents. For one thing, I am 60 and JJ is 7; as well, I am fighting a 128cancer that keeps popping up in unexpected places; JJ also has a classic case of ADHD and is being assessed for placement on the autism spectrum; JJ is of a visible minority and as such is bully bait; our financial situation is precarious as a result of my having had to withdraw from the world of full employment for several years. and because of the over $250,000.00 I spent (mostly on bribes) to acquire the paperwork necessary to get him out of Indonesia and to confirm his status as my son. Nevertheless, my main concern every single day is that I am providing JJ with a good role model and a safe and happy life.

            All that having been said, I am starting to develop a counterintuitive hypothesis: that a happy childhood can have a negative impact on one’s adult life.

mental-health            Having offered that hypothesis, it’s only fair to state at the outset that I cannot claim to have had a particularly happy childhood. My mother was, for most of my childhood, an undiagnosed and untreated manic depressive, and my father, being a narcissist, was a  a control freak. I loved them both very much and acknowledge that they both heroically struggled with their mental illnesses, and that they did the very best they could as parents. I was their sole caregiver in their final years and watched them both succumb to Alzheimer’s; I was there when they each breathed their last. I learned during that stressful period just how tough their own lives had been. Nevertheless, my childhood was not exactly idyllic.

My soon-to-be ex-wife, Yolanda, on the other hand, had a very happy childhood. Her parents are extraordinarily kind people and devoted parents. She has two brothers and a sister who all love one another and consider each other to be their best friends. She was tropical-villagebrought up in a village in a tropical paradise where childhood activities included swimming in the Indian Ocean, a pristine beach being just a short walk from their home, playing in the clove and nutmeg orchards, coaxing monkeys to eat from their hands, and visiting extended family and neighbours who populated the village. Moreover, the Indonesian child rearing paradigm is extremely attentive to the desires and autonomy of children; their wishes and desires are taken into consideration in every decision that might have an impact on them.

But here’s the thing. Adults with memories of nothing but happy times and positive relationships when they were growing up seem to have no reason to question what they accepted as truth when they were children. For those people, lessons learned in lessonschildhood are eternal truths. What their parents did or said while bringing them up is rarely contested, as there is rarely a sense that they may have been less than perfect.

On the other hand, I have said many times, only half jokingly, that my surest guideline for parenting is to ask myself what my parents would have done in a similar situation, then do the exact opposite. Because, even from a very early age, I was aware that my parents were simply wrong about many things, I was never tempted to believe that simply because they asserted or believed something, it must be true. The result of that was that I was always sceptical when I was asked to accept something simply upon someone’s authority. I learned early on to look for evidence in support of claims. I learned to recognise that an expert’s opinion on a matter within his field is evidence but an uninformed and unsupported opinion is just that. I went so far as to major in and then to do graduate work in philosophy because it is founded upon critical thinking and rational analysis of propositions.

I contrast that with those people who had perfect childhoods and would never think of old-wives-talesrejecting their parents’ wisdom. Yolanda, for example, is convinced that the worst thing you can do if you have the flu or even a cold is to drink any cold or iced drink. Her parents taught her that and other Indonesian old wives’ tales as fact when she was a child. Why they did, or where that idea came from is a mystery to me, but it is unquestionably true to her. I often self-prescribe ice cold lemonade when I have a flu; my thinking is that I need liquids, the cold will keep my temperature down, and the vitamin C can’t hurt. Yolanda’s mum tells me that cold would be a shock to the afflicted throat. And that’s the end of it.

There are countless examples of other more or less harmless beliefs that Yolanda and her siblings accept unquestioningly; from their marvellously kind and decent parents, for instance, they learned that eating beer-and-duriandurian (my favourite fruit in the world) with beer is sure to kill you. Having consumed the two in great quantities on many occasions, I’m happy to report that it’s all bullshit. The problem is that some of the well-meant but utterly false notions that children pick up from their parents are not entirely harmless. And the inclination to accept those notions isn’t balanced by any inclination to apply critical thinking to them.

In Indonesia, everyone has a religion; 90% of the people are Muslims and the majority of the rest are Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus. If an Indonesian were to ask you what your religion is, answering that religious_map_of_indonesiayou have none would make no sense. It would be like telling them you have no name, or that you were not born anywhere; one’s religion is a defining characteristic of every person. Consequently, people from wonderful childhoods generally accept their parents’ religion completely uncritically. And that acceptance of the religious beliefs of good parents is not only an Indonesian phenomenon; most people here in the West who claim to have a religion, have the religion of their parents. And among those who share their parents’ religion and feel comfortable enough with it not to spend a lot of time agonising over their faith, my observation is that most will cop to having had great childhoods and to having great respect for their parents.

There are lots of things I would like my son to accept unquestioningly. I’d like him to believe, for one-raceexample, that violence is wrong, that being kind to others should be at the very foundation of his character, that there is only one race, the human race, and all members should be accorded the same respect, that knowledge, understanding, and curiosity are preferable to ignorance and intellectual complacency. However, most of all, I want him to learn to apply critical thinking skills to anything he is asked to accept as dogma.

It seems to me that the things I want him to weave into the fabric of his personality, the decency, kindness, and tolerance, are more attitudes than factual propositions; they can be modelled rather than taught. I therefore have the responsibility of living my life with those ideals in mind, and I must be in a position to articulate them without hypocrisy if their suitability as values ever needs to be discussed. But critical thinking can be taught.

conspiracy-theoristsI need to teach JJ to respect people even if he can’t accept their beliefs. He doesn’t need to respect erroneous claims of fact, but he has to understand that people have a right to be wrong. I also need to ensure that, if people try to proselytise some crackpot notion like young earth creationism, or a denial of anthropogenic climate change, or chemtrails, or Barrack Obama’s Kenyan citizenship, he has the critical skills to see through the bullshit. He needs to know that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, not just extraordinary conviction.

In short, I’m hoping that I can give JJ both a happy childhood and the intellectual ammunition even to dispute my claims when I am in error. And crucially, I want my son to have the intellectual firepower trump-fibscombined with the strength of character to survive in a post-truth world in the event that Donald Trump’s message of evil and hatred prevails this November. Since Donald Trump announced his intention of running for the presidency, truth, facts, reason, and human decency have been under assault; everyone is going to need the skills of intellectual self-defence. Being able to separate the truth from hyperbolic fact-free statements will be more important than it has ever been. I will not have the person I love the most in the world succumb to the coarsening and dumbing down that Trump spearheads.

ENDITEM…

A Moral Choice

It’s One or the Other

Pagun

(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.

ENDITEM…

The World According to Trump

Looking to a Grim Future

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The 2016 United States presidential election is different from any previous presidential political race. Few of the elements that make this election unique are, in and of themselves, completely new to US politics; taken together, though, they add up to an unprecedented political campaign.

            There have been candidates before Donald Trump who ran on an “America First” platform; indeed, the America First Committee formed in 1940 was a powerful pressure america firstgroup whose avowed purpose was to keep the US out of World War 2. Naturally, the group attracted Nazi supporters, including Hitler admirer Charles Lindbergh; The Trump campaign’s use of the slogan is a dogwhistle call to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other race baiting groups. But Trump’s overt racism and in-your-face hatred of minorities was also foreshadowed by George Wallace’s segregationist presidential bid.

            The vitriolic hate speech that forms the backbone of Trump’s rallies is different only in degree from some earlier campaigns. That Trump regularly and unabashedly calls his opponents criminals, bigots, and traitors, that Trump leads his acolytes in chants of “lock her up!”, that Trump routinely encourages violence against peaceful protesters, are all behaviours that are simply quantum leaps more extreme than previous campaign outrages.

            Even Trump’s success in creating a political atmosphere in which his policies are utterly incomprehensible, his statements contradict themselves daily, and in which he is free to lie, to mislead, and to make and double down on outrageous and entirely false and easily disproven accusations, is merely taking old unethical political tactics to their extreme. Candidates have accused one another of a variety of unsavoury actions in previous campaigns, but it took the Trump candidacy before we would see the Barack-Obama-Hillary-Clinton-ISISRepublican nominee stating flatly that the incumbent president and the current Democratic nominee and former secretary of state were literally co-founders of ISIS. Not in any metaphorical or figurative sense or anything, Trump assured us; but literally and factually, actual founders of the radical Islamic terrorist organisation.

            Donald Trump with his “political outsider” pretense is degrading not only the way politics is done in the US, but he is debasing the entire social atmosphere of the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world. In the year that Trump has dominated the media with his ludicrous campaign, the culture of the United States has been demonstrably coarsened and human decency, trump-effecttolerance, courtesy, and critical thinking have receded to the point that they are all treated as the laughable conceits of the cowardly and the pretentious. The emergence of ignorance, hatred, and violent confrontation as virtues can be credited to the account of Donald Trump.

            On this Labour Day, as I am busy gathering my seven-year-old boy’s back-to-school stuff in preparation for Grade Two tomorrow, I am naturally inclined to look toward the future that he is going to face both this year, and over the course of his life. With two more months to go until we can be certain that the Donald Trump infection has been finally eradicated, that future is somewhat uncertain. But I know one thing for sure; the world in which JJ will grow to adulthood is darker, uglier, and more dangerous than it was, even eighteen months ago.

            When I was his age, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylanover the perceived chaos in the world as a result of the baby boom bubble coming into its own. Youth culture was emerging and the previous generation was afraid, was offended, but mostly was bewildered. The zeitgeist was indeed chaotic in the early Sixties. My generation was stretching its wings and flexing its muscles; we knew we wanted change although we weren’t sure what we wanted to change into. But whatever ideas we had about what the world ought to look like, we took it for granted that with cooperation, with dedication, and byhippy3 bringing our energy and commitment to bear, we could make it happen. We had great dreams and endless supplies of hope.

            Before that energy dissipated and our generation scattered and then succumbed to the “me” generation that followed, we managed to accomplish things that today would be considered hopeless tasks. By applying our will and energy, we managed to get civil rights legislation passed in the US, legal segregation was ended, Roe V. Wade made abortion legal, a Catholic president was elected, the Peace Corps was founded, we put humans on the moon, feminism became second nature to most people, environmental issues were raised and became part of the world’s discussion, we managed to turn the world against the Vietnam conflict and forced a president to pull American troops out, and far from least, we held a president’s feet to the fire and forced his resignation for having done politics in the traditional, unaccountable way.

Bookends

Time it was

And what a time it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

Simon and Garfunkel

simon and garfunkel

            But I look around now and I see what my son is going to face and I worry for his future. My son is a remarkable person. Although he can be exhausting because of his ADHD, I’m convinced that I learn as much from him as he does from me. He’s wicked smart; in some things, like places he’s been and people he’s met, his memory is eidetic; he has an autism-related difficulty with language acquisition, preferring to use words in a way that make sense to him, rather than employ the socially agreed-upon syntax. But mostly I am struck daily by his very un-autistic sense of empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others. He is always the first one to run and hug another child who is sad or afraid. He cries when he hears something sad, he is more likely to give his lunch or his toys to someone who needs or wants them, than to monopolise or hoard them as most kids his age do. But he is of a visible minority, being brown skinned; he has speech issues; he is hypersensitive both physically and emotionally; he is very vulnerable.

            He will almost certainly be the target of bullying as he grows up and goes to school. The world that he is now inhabiting is far more likely to treat him cruelly or harshly than it was when I was young, and he is far less equipped than I was to cope with those sharp corners and elbows. The world that Donald Trump exemplifies and encourages, is full of intolerance and hatred. It is a world where walking all overBleakFutureAhead_B our weaker fellow humans is encouraged and admired, where kindness and decency are disdained as weakness or cowardice. It is a world without genuine confidence in the future, or any real hope for improvement as the result of our actions. Idealism, that sense of right and wrong and the value of working to make the world better, simply isn’t a big part of the world at the moment. And it makes me want to weep for him. Since I became a father late in life – I’m sixty and he’s seven – I am increasingly aware that I won’t be around to cushion the slings and arrows of everyday fortune when he is an adult.

            Largely for that reason, I have chosen to spend his critical early elementary school years in a small village in rural Vancouver Island, where we know all our neighbours, where there is a community of artists, hippies, free thinkers, and back to the land people, as well as environmentalists, vegans, and traditional farmers. A place where we often keep our doors unlocked, where neighbours take care of one another and their children feel free to knock on one’s door if frightened, or tired or lost.

            But eventually, when he is better able to accept that not everyone in this world is prepared for a _donald-trump-insanelittle boy who will spontaneously hug a stranger in a queue at the general store because he likes her voice, he will have to take his place in the hate-filled, and intolerant world that we are creating by accepting Donald Trump and his ilk. By letting his viciousness, his narcissism, his pathological inability to distinguish fact from fiction, and his bigotry to slide without instant, unanimous and vocal condemnation, we are normalising it and allowing it to become part of the new world order.

            Where we stand right now, should Trump manage to get himself elected, the world will be a nightmarish dystopia, and one for which it is impossible to prepare because of Trump’s instability and refusal to prepare in any way for the position he wants. But even if, as seems likely, he is trounced and sent packing, his legacy will live on. The world is a palpably worse place for his having occupied so much of our attention. And before the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, the world that my son should be looking forward to being a part of is going to be unpleasant, inhospitable, and a bleak, cold place. For that I can never forgive Donald Trump and his supporters.

ENDITEM….

Licence to Hate

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Political Correctness

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The first time I heard the phrase “political correctness” was some time back in the 70s, and it was used by my then agent to criticise a publisher’s rejection letter. She had submitted a manuscript of a mystery/thriller I had written, in which one of my more unsavoury characters, a debt collection agency owner, was named Lenny Stein. She faxed me a copy (faxes were new and high tech back then) of the rejection letter, as it was actually a personal note and not a form letter. The publisher, rejection-letter-socialin his rejection of one of the few substantial pieces of fiction I have ever written, was positive, if not actually effusive about my novel. He recommended a number of changes if I were to submit it elsewhere and explained frankly why he was turning it down and not asking me to resubmit it to him. He was offended, he explained, by my rampant antisemitism. That Lenny Stein was clearly intended to be an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector, was pure bigotry and intolerable to him.

Ironically, the character was actually deliberately based on an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector with a similar name. The character and his real life counterpart were similar, even in their physical descriptions, right down tpreppy waspo the perpetual dusting of dandruff on the shoulders of their cheap suits. (I wanted him to recognise himself despite the disclaimer). Nevertheless, the publisher was right; the character was clichéd and worked much better when I changed him to a very WASPish Upper Canada College preppy type, slumming in the debt recovery business. But it was my agent who was furious. She said in a very sarcastic tone that the submission had only been rejected as it was insufficiently “politically correct”.

The expression, “political correctness”, as a neologism of the latter half of the 20th Century became part of our everyday lexicon as a reaction to an historical period in which civil rights and racial, ethnic, and gender equality were finally becoming a reality against strong social pushback. By the late 60’s some of the most offensive epithets, slurs which had been commonly deployed in casual middle class discourse, had been suppressed and were recognised as trace hatehe hurtful expressions they always were. But ordinary people no longer felt free to use words like nigger, kike, spic, or broad any more. Civilised and courteous people eschewed language that was likely to offend; the now sidelined derogatory labels were only employed by die-hard bigots, and were used specifically because of their verboten nature when offense was the aim.

But like many other benign and even beneficial notions, the societal pressure to avoid giving offense became an exercise in playing gotcha! People began militantly dissecting the language of others in an attempt to find an expression, word, or phrase that carried the possibility of offending someone or some group. People without the tiniest bigoted bone in their bodies found themselves accused of being insensitive or even of willfully offending when they used a word they had no idea could be interpreted as racist. Someone who had routinely used the word “gypsy” metaphorically, or even simply to describe the people known for their caravans,colourful head scarfs, and fortune tellers, would find himself accused of unforgiveable racism. “Gypsy” was no longer politically correct; the proper descriptive term was now “Romany” people. My suspicion is that not a single Romany person had ever objected to being called a gypsy. As I recall, being a young boy in France in the late 50’s and early 60’s who loved to play with the children of the Romany people when they camped in the fields behind our house, they called themselves “gypsies” or its equivalent in the various languages they spoke.

There is no question that the PC impulse got out of hand, with people demanding the right to go politically correct fightingthrough life in a racially and culturally diverse society without ever being offended. At the height of the PC zeitgeist, I wrote emphatically against the restrictive nature of society’s impulse to stifle others’ freedom of expression. I remember moderating a discussion in which John Cleese (at the time still best known as a Python) very firmly held that he had the right to offend; that offending people was his job and was the job of all social critics and relevant comedians and always had been. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly with him. Political correctness, toward the end of the last century, found itself being disparaged and mocked.

People, while still trying to express themselves in ways that didn’t cause needless pain to others, began to refuse to tie themselves into knots simply to be politically correct. Referring to short people as being altitudinally challenged became the kind of joke critics of PC were making. The pendulum had swung far enough that simply referring to someone as being politically correct was the equivalent of saying they were unimaginative and feckless; that they were prissy prudes; simply put, they had a stick up their ass. clint_eastwood__by_cameron1395-d5spzncIn the current US election cycle, no less an icon than Clint Eastwood called those who reject Donald Trump’s in-your-face race baiting, “pussies” and urged us to “get over it”.

Arch liberal Bill Maher, called his ground-breaking political commentary/comedy show “Politically Incorrect” in an effort to re-humanise the parameters of permissible discussion. (As an aside, he was handed his walking papers for being, wait for it….politically incorrect when he said on his show that, to be realistic, one couldn’t honestly describe the suicide terrorists of 9/11 as being “cowards”. He was right, of course, but the PC police wanted his ass, and they got it.) So now it was the conservatives who were demanding political correctness while the progressives and liberals were rejecting it as stultifying and unreasonably restrictive.

The phrase was never employed in an approving manner; it has always carried some connotation of reflecting a sheep-like mindset, a knee-jerk deference to popular social trendiness. Until fairly recently it had seemed as though political correctness had completed its life cycle and was soon to be consigned to the dust bin of anachronistic language. In the last few years, however, the phrase has come roaring back into the vocabulary. The radicalised right wing has suddenly discovered that no one has had much respect for political correctness for years; that to describe someone as being politically correct is to suggest that their freedom of expression has been stolen from them, and that to abjure political correctness is to demonstrate courage and independence of thought.

Trump and PC           With Donald Trump leading the charge, the right, particularly the alt right, has embraced the disdain for PC and employs its rejection as protective colouration for the most appallingly vile public discourse the United States, and the world, has seen since the pre-civil rights era. They have discovered that all they have to do is preface a statement with the assertion that they refuse to be politically correct, and then they have somehow given themselves permission to speak hatred, racism, sexism, or any sort of disgusting bigotry. Where, not very long ago, even the worst example of a redneck racist hillbilly would have thought twice before using the word “nigger” in public, today, people are openly using it as a taunt and a verbal assault.

By implicitly claiming that the only reason people don’t use that and similar repugnant epithets is that they are slaves to PC; they seek to perpetuate the fiction that everyone has their kind of crude bigotry and intolerance bubbling just below the surface. They want everyone to think that only people of courage and honesty, that is people like them, have the integrity to reject political correctness and state the obvious.

So repulsive and so offensive is the licence they give themselves to speak hatred, that sometime soon, we will start to see a reaction to their hatred of and their disdain for political correctness. I believegood-manners- that PC will be reborn. It will have a different name, or no name at all, but the use of society’s surfeit of PC as an excuse to engage in hate speech and vicious, open bigotry will not continue to be acceptable in normal society. The idea of moderating one’s language in an effort to avoid unnecessary hurt will make a comeback as a reaction against the debasement of public discourse that is a direct result of Donald Trump’s emergence on the political landscape.

I just watched a video some Hillary Clinton hater posted on Facebook. Within the first 30 seconds of the ham-fisted clip, the narrator casually refers to Mrs. Clinton as, “that cunt.” By and large, in the comments, even those who don’t support her or her politics reacted negatively to that kind of offensive speech disguised as merely being politically incorrect. The coarsening of the public forums and the negative reaction to it from more enlightened souls is not a matter of political correctness or its rejection. That kind of political attack is simply too vulgar, to gratuitously hurtful, and too personally insulting to be taken seriously or accepted as anything more than ignorant logorrhea.free speech

Assuming, as we must, that Trump will be soundly defeated and Hillary Clinton will be the next US president, it seems likely that society will generally begin to reject the Trump style of rhetoric. There will be a period during which there will be incessant Trump style attacks on the president, but Trump himself will eventually get bored and leave, and his minions will disperse without him as a rallying point. In time it will once again become unacceptable to use racial or ethnic or sexual epithets; their casual employment in conversation will not much longer be seen as honest and brave. People who read, people who are able to think critically, people who have educated themselves will see through the smokescreen; decency, courtesy, and respect in all our dealings will once again be seen as virtues. All we have to do is send Trump and his knuckle dragging, mouth breathing band of bigots back down to the minors.

ENDITEM…

 

Life With JJ

Thoughts About Fatherhood

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) My son JJ just graduated from Grade 1 and is now home for the summer.  I remember being that age, when the two months of summer school holidays stretched out in front of me like a nearly infinite time, and the idea of being able to do all those things that going to school precluded was intoxicating. Of course this was all in the first week, before boredom set in and moping around Summer Holiday Swithout direction or goals was all that seemed to be available. I didn’t have the Internet to babysit me for hours at a stretch and video games were still uninvented, but there was TV and there were books; nevertheless, the phrase “I’m bored!” became something of a mantra. Being his age is tough; a year or two more will make a big difference. When he’s just a little older, he’ll be independent enough to gather a group of friends and, as a group, find plenty of trouble to get into. But right now, with me being a single father, we are inseparable and he needs me or, in a pinch, another adult he knows, to be within view, or at least earshot.

JJ, after just one week of summer, has reached the point where he hangs around repeating his bored mantra. It may be even more difficult for him, because all he really grasps about what I do every day is that it doesn’t involve me getting suited up and heading to an office or worksite. As far as he knows, video_games_1while he’s at school, I do pretty much what he would do, given a lack of direction: spend the day online. Naturally, he fully expected to pull me away from the keyboard so I could spend the extra hours provided by summer vacation with him.

In the first week of the summer, I got him used to the idea that in the time between driving him to school at 7:30 am and meeting him at the school bus stop at 2:10 pm, I actually did stuff. He’s starting to grasp that in that small window, I manage to put out as much as 2500 words of finished copy; research, write, illustrate, and post up to 1500 words for Pagunview.com; do the laundry, dishwashing, meal prep, and housecleaning; and deal with personal correspondence. He is wise enough to begin to grasp that all that stuff needs to get done despite the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer being upon us. Unfortunately, he also seems to think that my schedule should be reflected by him lying on the couch with his concentration fixed on his tablet watching video game reviews by an assortment of social outcasts, for the bulk of the day.

JJ bike 1JJ having just recently mastered the art of riding his bicycle without needing a steadying hand, I had assumed that we had created a sure-fire pastime for summer days. I hadn’t realised that my watching him ride is as important as him riding in the first place. Living in a very rural area, the friends he is used to seeing daily are scattered and are mostly miles away; just playing with them requires planning and working out the logistics. I’m tempted to be selfish and get some of his friends’ stay-at-home moms to take him on to hang out with her kids for several days of play dates, but the truth is, I can’t reciprocate and take several, or even one, of their kids and spend the day breaking up fights, keeping them out of danger, and feeding a variety of different tastes and appetites. Well, I probably could, but I just don’t think I’m equipped to handle it with the grace and fortitude I’ve seen their mothers demonstrate. So we struggle along, me encouraging him to do something active, him responding that he needs me to join him in the activity. My work suffers a bit, and I’ve adjusted my routine to work more at night in order to spend more of the day with him.

But the extra time I spend with him has made me think a lot about what I want for him in his life, and about what’s important, and what’s just about me wanting a surrogate. Because I love him with a fierce, profound, intensity – a kind of love that, before being a parent, I had no idea existed and would never have thought myself capable – I want him, above all, to be happy. And because my son is very special in his capacity for empathy, his sensitivity, and his inclination to love others, I worry that the world is going childcareto hurt him. Until now, I have protected him from the sharp corners and sharp elbows that are everywhere in this world. But that time is coming to an end; he needs to be prepared to meet the world on its own terms, a little more each day.

I want, as I said, above all, for JJ to be a happy child, and ultimately an adult with a sense of joy in his life. That’s hard for me to help him with because, as one who has suffered from bipolarity  (manic depression) all my life (although only recently conclusively diagnosed and, even more recently, treated and controlled), normal, healthy happiness isn’t something with which I am very familiar. I cannot intuitively relate to the healthy happiness of a well-adjusted child. My memories of my emotional states in childhood are garbled and morbid. But I most certainly know when my little boy is happy or sad or frustrated or angry; and with my relatively newfound emotional equilibrium, I am able to employ parenting strategies that seem to work. They work because JJ and I are so close that we hardly need verbal communication to understand one another.

I’ve given a great deal of thought to how I want JJ to grow up, and to what I’d like him to grow into. I’m not entirely sure of a great many things but there are some absolutes that I consider crucial and which I stress in all our interactions.

Above all, I want JJ to be a good man. I want him to be kind; I want him to consider, in everything he does, the impact his actions will have on others; I want him to be inclusive and accepting of others’ differences; I want him to commit random acts of kindness; I want him to go to bed every night and ask himself whether he has contributed to the net overall happiness in the universe. I want all that for JJ because it is morally the right thing to do; and on a pragmatic level, I know for certain that he will be change-the-worldhappier in general if he has a sense that he has done good things rather than bad.

I want JJ to be strong. I want him to know that real strength doesn’t consist in beating or dominating others but in conquering his own inclinations to do harm. I want him to have sufficient self-respect to be able to stand tall and refuse to be dominated by others; I want him to be prepared to be in a minority of one if those around him are wrong.

I want JJ to discover what he is good at and what he is passionate about. I want him to nurture that talent and that passion, and eventually develop a strategy to make a living doing it. But I also want him to be curious, to read or otherwise teach himself about everything that he might find interesting or intriguing; I want him to develop a lifelong habit of looking into things that arouse his interest. I want him to develop critical thinking skills so that he doesn’t fall victim to those who would attempt to persuade him of falsehoods. I want him to recognise that despite his love for humanity, there are people out there who spread lies, who sell hatred and intolerance; I want him to be intellectually and emotionally prepared to reject their views.

I want JJ to be a man of his word; I want him to believe in integrity and honesty in all his relationships from business to romantic. I want him to be loyal to his friends and always live up to his commitments to them. I want him to help his friends, and even strangers, to the very best of his ability and not expect reciprocation. I want him to realise that being in a position to do something kind and helpful for NoActOfKindnessIsEverWastedsomeone is a privilege. I want him to recognise that the smallest gesture or act of kindness can have profound and unforeseen positive consequences.

I want all those things for JJ because I genuinely believe that if he can embrace those things as essential aspects of his adult character, he will be a happier person, a person who will have few regrets and who will be able to look himself in the mirror and be comfortable. I want those things for my son because I don’t believe that human interaction is a zero-sum game. On the contrary; every one of us has the capacity and the power to improve the world in a small way, every day we breathe of the atmosphere we all share.

ENDITEM…

Offense: Seek and Ye Shall Find

Outrage Junkies

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As we move toward the middle years of the 21st Century (I can’t believe I just wrote that in a non-fiction piece), more and more people are reacting against “political correctness”. The phrase first entered the lexicon in the 1980s and was used in an ironic way. It referred to the increasing inclination toward orthodoxy in avoiding offensiveness in speech and actions. If someone, for example, wrote an article in a mainstream publication criticising feminism, shouts of outrage would be heard from all quarters and those in support of the author’s views would wryly remark that the writer hadn’t been politically correct. The phrase was an implied criticism; it rebelled against a perceived rigidity of culturally approved norms of behaving, speaking, writing, and even thinking. To say that someone was being politically correct was to say that whatever the person was saying was not thought out, was not original, or was not honest; it was saying that only an adherence to orthodoxy was at work. And, equally, to accuse someone of political incorrectness was an implied compliment; it suggested that the person in question was more honest, was willing to speak Bill-Maher-Quotes-3courageously, and wasn’t intimidated by narrow minded opposition.

That ironic phrase, political correctness, was the battle cry of the intellectual renegade who wished to defy convention and speak from the heart; being politically incorrect, at that time, meant being unafraid of censure for going against society’s grain. That’s why Bill Maher used the phrase as the title of his first talk/comedy/political show. And as long as we’re speaking of irony, that show, entitled “Politically Incorrect” was cancelled for being just that.[1]

Political correctness came to mean any position held by someone who was being careful not to offend a group or individual. Political correctness was the recognition that words could hurt, that everyday language had the capacity for causing offense. As reasonable people strived to avoid offending, others began looking for the slightest deviation from PC and calling foul when they found it.

Predictably, political correctness came to be seen as a reflexive kowtowing to outrage junkies. This opened the door for truly hateful bigots and racists to preface their most virulent bigotry with the claim that they were not being cruelly offensive, they were simply refusing to be politically PC Santacorrect. By invoking the despised label of political correctness, crudely vicious demagogues like Ted Cruz and, most obviously, Donald Trump can pretend that expressing their vilest thoughts is heroic in its courageous refusal to be politically correct.

In just a few decades, the phrase has come full circle. When Donald Trump or any other fascist-leaning demagogue begins with the phrase, “I’m not going to be politically correct here…” we can be sure that something of stunning offensiveness is about to be said. Being politically incorrect has reverted to its earliest meaning, but this time without the irony. Being politically correct, insofar as it means couching our language and moderating our actions in such a way as to avoid giving offense, is now a good thing. Being politically incorrect has come to mean being a loathsome human being without consideration for others.

However, those who turned PC into a bad thing, from an ironic way of describing something essentially positive, are still out there and they never seem to rest. The outrage junkies are still lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on anyone or anything that can be shown to cause offense. And the outrage junkies can find offense virtually anywhere.

I just had a pointless online discussion with a woman who had always seemed to me to be reasonably intelligent and rational. She posted a reaction to a news story that went something like this: A man was interviewed after having saved a drowning woman. When asked by the interviewer why he had risked his life to save a stranger, he had replied something to the effect that he realised that the stranger was someone’s mother, wife, or beloved and he couldn’t let her just die. Now my interlocutor was enraged by that man’s answer; she was offended, she said, by society’s inclination to value women only insofar as they are a wife, mother, or whatever, and not as individuals in their own right.

I had commented that I saw nothing wrong with what the man had said and pointed out that men who are killed are routinely referred to as husbands, fathers, and sons; usually characterised by their utility joseph heller quoteat providing for others. She and another woman who joined in insisted that the cases were completely different and that I was being “snarky” and told not to be such a “jerk”.

I put it out there…I don’t think I was wrong. At least I don’t think I was being a snarky jerk. I don’t even think I was being politically incorrect. But it does strike me that if someone finds that a man’s recognition that a woman in peril probably had a family and loved ones offensive, that person is looking for a reason to be offended. If a rather quotidian but heartwarming story of a life being saved by a stranger leaves you with outrage as the main takeaway, I would say that you’re an outrage junkie. And the existence and ubiquity of outrage junkies is the reason PC has become a justification for the most egregious hate speech. The fact that some people, claiming to speak for many others, can find offense in the most innocuous and well-meant comment gives people with hate in their hearts permission to stop even trying to avoid hurtful statements. And that’s where we are now.

If, while we castigate those who genuinely say hurtful things, whether it’s deliberate or simply tone deaf (Donald Trump and his taco on May 5 for example), we also seek to interpret their words in a charitable way, we ourselves will be less angry. When we spend our time and energy trying to find something about which we can claim outrage, we are sure to find it; we’ll look stupid and petty, we’ll justify people not worrying anymore about hurting feelings, and we’ll be a lot less happy than we could be. To be sure there are offensive things to decry, and they are everywhere and easy to find. But if we can’t really find one, instead of manufacturing one, why not be pleased that today was an offense-free day? That would be a good thing.

Bottom line? I’m sorry if this is politically incorrect, but lighten the fuck up.

 

keep-calm-and-lighten-up-4

 

 

[1] The show lost advertisers largely as a result of Mr. Maher’s having said that the 9/11 terrorists, having committed suicide along with their mass murders could not honestly be called “cowards” as president George W Bush had just done.

 

ENDITEM…

An Atheist’s Dilemma

Religion and genius

Pagun

 

My grandfather was a genius. I mean that in the most traditional, unequivocal meaning of the tesmartrm. Just by way of example, he had a bunch of Ph.Ds, all suma cum laude,before he was 25;  even in his 90s, he had never met a brain teaser that teased him for more than a second or two. He was Swiss by birth and he was also Catholic, by which I mean when he was born in the 1800s, he had been baptised and had gone to mass regularly for his entire life. His wife, my grandmother, was of English/Irish/Scots extraction and came from a very religious family; my relatives from her side of the family include, in just one generation, a few nuns, an archbishop (Alex Carter) and a Cardinal (His Eminence, Gerald Emmett Carter). My grandfather’s church attendance was mostly a pro forma affair to maintain tranquility on the domestic front. So thanks to nepotistic connections, I was able to obtain, acquired by my cousin the Cardinal for me, directly from the Pope, what is known as a “plenary indulgence”.

An “indulgence” in Catholicism is sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card; it’s a guarantee that certain sins are forgiven and a piece of your penitential time in purgatory will be lopped off. A “plenary indulgence” is the Rolls Royce of indulgences; it forgives all sins, past or present, and eliminates a purgatorial sojourn entirely. So, I’m good. I never have to worry about putting my bet down on the right side of Pascal’s wager; if it turns out that I’m wrong and Catholic doctrine is cartoon prayerabsolutely correct, I don’t have to worry about hellfire and eternal torture; my sins of heresy and apostasy (along with everything else) are pre-forgiven. An enviable position for an atheist or even an anti-theist like me to be in, I’m sure you’ll agree.

After my grandmother died, my grandfather became considerably more open about his religious views. He was, much like his colleague and contemporary, Albert Einstein, an atheist. As he explained it to me once many years ago when I was in grad school, working on a Master’s in philosophy, he was content that the basic scientific theories were sufficient to allow for satisfactory accounts of things religion is often recruited to explain. He was satisfied that ontology would be covered by the specifics within physics and evolutionary biology; epistemology could be dealt with within the framework of empirical science and the rational investigations of mathematics. People would ask him if it didn’t make sense that, although things got started with the Big Bang, somebody or something had to say “Bang!” And wouldn’t the thing that said, “Bang” be God? He simply quoted Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace and said, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

Although, in the years immediately following the death of my grandmother, he was outspoken on the subject of his newly articulated atheism, after a while he seemed to lose interest in engaging the devout in rational debates; he gave up being a missionary for reason over superstition. Although he still felt, indeed he felt more strongly than ever, that the religion-heavenreligion of his childhood and that of his late wife and most of his family was utterly absurd and, frankly, an insult to any normal person’s intelligence, he also felt that it was wrong to deprive people of a source of comfort and security and give them nothing to replace it. Although Voltaire had said something to the effect that if he rescued someone from a beast that was devouring him, it would be ridiculous to ask him with what he intended to replace the beast, he just couldn’t bring himself to take without giving back.

In my view, that was years of religious indoctrination talking, and talking louder that his rigorous science training. His initial burst of outspoken atheism was more morally correct than his later diffidence; in short, he caved in his later moderation. The fact is that my grandfather was a moralist; he was a militarist, but he was also an uncompromising pacifist who sided with us, the hippies, during the 60s anti-war protest years. He cared for all living things and actually walked the talk; he bought up all the offal he could gather from his butcher and fed the neighbourhood stray cats; he even treated their skin conditions with some concoction he brewed himself. When he didn’t think he was being watched, I have seen him catch a mosquito and shoo it away rather than swat it. And it was that human decency, his profound compassion that initially fueled his vocal atheism.

As a man of intimidating intelligence, and as a human being of morality and kindness, he saw the unmitigated evil that is represented by religion, particularly theistic religions and most specifically, the three big Abrahamic cults. He saw them for what they are and he rejected their tenets as inhuman and deeply cruel. Most of all, he rejected the fundamental house on religionpurpose of religion\; to divide people into the elect and the damned. He saw that as soon as one cleaves to a particular iteration of a theistic creed, one has counted oneself as being among the special few and better than and separate from the rest. Religion is the great divider of humanity into them and us. As a devout pacifist, those divisions were repugnant to him.

In his last years, as he mellowed, he retreated from his overt condemnation of religions; not because he came to accept their pretenses of validity, but because he had come to abhor any form of conflict and confrontation. He would smile and nod when he was lectured by a Witness of Jehovah who thought she had spotted an old, vulnerable, weak-minded widower as an ideal mark. She couldn’t have been more wrong, but he permitted her to babble on in her fallacy-laden arguments for her absurd cult’s dogma. He could have argued circles around her and, by virtue of his superior knowledge of her bible and deeper understanding of her doctrine, he may even have persuaded her of the inherent wrongness of her religious views. He thought that would have been wrong, since she was genuinely trying to save his immortal soul; showing her the errors of her beliefs and thinking would have accomplished little except leaving her bereft of comfort and possibly shunned by her family and congregation.

I disagree. Had I been him, I think I would have taken the bait and opened up the discussion. I would have considered it a victory for the forces of good in the world to have rescued that woman from her imprisonment; for that is what dogmatic religion is. I believe that my grandfather abdicated his responsibility as a rational and compassionate man militantto save others from pernicious doctrine. I believe that the doctrine that he could have argued against is the most destructive and repugnant force in the entire history of the world. I believe that the toxicity of religion has poisoned humanity for thousands of years, and that if religion was treated like any other crackpot notion; given no respect in society, treated with dismissive contempt, and not permitted to influence the public sphere, the world would be an immeasurably better place. The energy and brain power that would be freed up to seek actual real solutions to social problems would have an incredible positive impact on mankind.

My grandfather, though, was too kind to continue to confront those who tried to sell him their snake oil. Out of compassion, he allowed them to enjoy the comfort of their chains; he pitied them, but he didn’t have the confrontational nature needed to fight back against the worst evil at work in the world today

ENDITEM…

 

What I Love About You…

All Honourable Men

Pagun

 

It’s an interesting exercise to watch two of the most thoroughly disliked people in the USA getting ready Dalai Lama quoteto duke it out as their respective party’s chosen nominee for the presidency. Is it something wrong with the system that people who poll as being so thoroughly despised by millions upon millions of Americans can also be their democratically chosen candidates, or is it something wrong with the electorate? Then again maybe it’s the current zeitgeist that permits an utterly despicable bigot and quite probably sociopathic chronic liar rise to the top of one party, while a cold, rather unpleasant professional politician with a long track record of dubious associations and financial dealings nabs the nomination of the other. Either way, the current clusterfuck that passes for the 2016 US election cycle has clearly brought out the very worst in American politicians and in the people themselves.

wallace trump        There is no question that the current contest is ugly, but that is not to say that there is equal blame to be apportioned or that either side is as culpable as the other. Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive nominee is in a class by himself when it comes to sheer, crude, repulsive, human behaviour; there has rarely been a more disgusting person at this level of the American political system.

This public display of human ugliness of spirit raises a number of questions. It makes us think about human qualities, for example, and what characteristics make a person admirable or respectable in a society. Since, presumably, a head of both government and state ought to be admired and respected by the people he represents, he or she must have some personal traits that arouse those sentiments in the no_respect1voters. As we try to understand the Trump phenomenon, we can’t help but be confused; what on earth does Trump’s crazed mob of followers see in the man that is worthy of any admiration or respect? I’ve asked several of them and I invariably get variations on a theme. Their main points are always these:

  • Trump is a great businessman.
  • Trump tells it like it is.

And that’s pretty much it.

Let’s try to deconstruct that, shall we? The first, most obvious point to consider is whether or not there is any truth to the contention that Trump is a great, or even good businessman. And the answer is, well….not really. The man managed to bankrupt casinos. Yes, casinos. If there ever was a business that was tantamount to a licence to print money, that would be casinos. Trump has filed for bankruptcy often enough to suggest that he ought not be permitted to manage a lemonade stand without adult supervision. It has been pointed out that he would be much wealthier than even he says he is had he just put the money he inherited in a bank and lived off a portion of the interest. Of course much of this is speculation since he, uniquely among presidential candidates, refuses to release his tax returns. The smart money says that they would show that his claims of enormous wealth would probably be exposed as more grandiose talk than anything else. And Hillary Clinton suggests that they would show that he pays little or no personal income tax. Either way, it’s obvious that Trump is betting that the fallout from releasing the returns would be worse than what he’s getting from refusing. Must be pretty damn bad.

A secondary point would be that it’s all irrelevant anyway. The skills learned in business and the mindset of a businessman are not the skills required of a statesman and head of state. As the president of a corporation, he can issue orders, rely on his judgment to make rules, form plans, apportion resources.trump BK Not so with a political figure who must work hand in hand with opponents, must forge alliances, and who is always answerable to the people who elected him. Moreover, the very aims of business are different from public service. A business is formed to make a profit for the owners. A nation requires a leader who can protect and enhance the lives of the people. Trump wouldn’t have the first idea of how to do that and wouldn’t have the inclination to do so if he figured it out.

Trump tells it like it is. The Republican candidate is a human id personified. Indeed, he does tell it like it is…if by that we mean like it is in his head. But it seems that his supporters mean by that phrase something else entirely. They seem to think that Trump expresses truths that everyone else is to afraid to speak; that “political correctness” prevents others from saying what everyone is thinking, but that Trump has the courage to rise above that.

Much has been written about Trump’s habitual lying; never has a politician failed so dismally to survive fact checks. Simply put, Donald Trump lies and lies all the time. He is known for telling it like it certainly isn’t. So what they must mean by “telling it like it is” is that he says things out loud that even they, his redneck, racist acolytes are afraid to voice openly. He can be an overt racist and all the closet Trump's baseracists jump up and down with glee; he has given them permission to be hateful and vicious. And then the ones who have always been vocal racists also fall in line because they have been given legitimacy. Tell it like it is? Hardly; tell it like they wish it was, certainly.

So what is it that they find admirable or respectable in Donald Trump? It seems to boil down to his ability to pretend to be competent at something, and his predilection for voicing racist, misogynist, and generally ignorant thoughts.

All of this led me to give some consideration to the question of what ought we consider qualities worthy of our admiration. Many people supported JFK because he was so telegenic; it’s part of modern history that JFK won the debates with Nixon among those who watched it on TV but lost to those who JFK (1)heard it on the radio.

And yet most of us would conclude that good looks are not really a quality for which a person is entitled to admiration. That’s so shallow, we would say; physical attractiveness is merely a matter of having the right genes as a result of a lucky sperm contest; nothing was earned. What we ought to admire about someone like JFK is his intellect, his raw IQ. Except that his intelligence is vulnerable to precisely the same criticisms his looks are. Lucky sperm again; he inherited those smarts and did nothing to earn them.

So what’s left? The most important qualities of all: being a decent human being. Choosing to care about those who have less than you do. Being inclined to elevate others rather than tearing them down; decencygenuinely working for the overall happiness in the world and at the end of one’s life, leaving the world better for having been there.

Those qualities are what makes a person worthwhile; not wealth, not looks, talent, or even brains. It’s the content of one’s character that matters; I’ll even use the word soul here. That is what we should be looking for in a national leader. As head of state, we need a person who has the qualities of intelligence, of knowledge of the responsibilities and requirements of the office; an understanding of history, geopolitics, and domestic policy; he or she needs to understand economics and diplomacy and be capable of eliciting respect from foreign leaders; all of that should be a given, they are minimum requirements. On top of all of that we need someone who carries the virtues of integrity, kindness, compassion, and an instinct for simple human decency.

Have we seen anyone like that recently?

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The choice has never been clearer

The Politics of Demagoguery

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Any discussion of politics during this time of a Donald Trump ascendancy has to touch on the subject of polarisation. It would be virtually impossible not to have become aware of the split in the political thinking of North Americans, with the liberal left on the one hand and the conservative right on the other. Certainly every individual will have considerable nuance attached to the broad left/right distinction but given the two party system of US politics, the dialectical division is the salient distinction nowadays. Nevertheless, virtually everyone identifies with one side or the other, and in the US, most people will define that distinction by whether they are registered as a Democrat or as a Republican.mencken quote

On an individual level, there is a great deal of variation and even disparity among the positions held, the beliefs supported, and convictions adhered to by those who clearly fall on either side of the divide, and these are crucial distinctions even among those who share a place on the left/right chasm. It is the system of US primaries that airs out those differences and helps the parties’ candidates fine tune their platforms to the desires and inclinations of their voters. But during the Bush the Younger and Obama presidencies that left/right split evolved from a political philosophy shortcut that could from time to time be jumped over into an unbridgeable, yawning chasm. There was no more “crossing the floor” as those of us in parliamentary systems would say. And for that reason, the internecine bloodletting that is characteristic of a primary battle has become ruthless and vicious. In the days when an individual felt that it was okay to vote Democratic in one election cycle and Republican in another, the primary fights were never as venomous as they are now that the voters feel that they must vote for the party’s nominee.

However, the Trump phenomenon has thrown a joker into the pack. Looking at the Republican free-for-all that has resulted in the most despised man in America almost certainly becoming the GOP candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, one can see that a lot of the old rules can be thrown out. Amid all sorts of discussions regarding what to do about this upstart, there has been much ink pilled over whether Trump represents “authentic conservative values”, and whether a third party candidate might be introduced to return to those values.

The trouble is that Trump very much represents the core values of the old Republican guard; so krause quotemuch so that an unshakable base of his support would, just as Trump pointed out, not change their views if Trump were to shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. But Trump’s deeply troubling and overt racism, xenophobia, misogyny, authoritarianism, and bigotry combined with his willful ignorance of the constitution, US history, foreign and domestic policy, geopolitics, or anything else that a POTUS might find necessary, have made the remaining thoughtful Republican politicians wonder just what to do.

The last eight years have caused Republican office-holders to abandon any pretense of putting the country ahead of their careers or their political dogma. They have pledged to undermine Obama at every opportunity regardless of any negative consequences; they have even tried to shut down the government in their efforts to show that government itself doesn’t work. Although they have failed in that endeavour, there are actually some Republicans who have a vestigial shred of self -respect and sufficient integrity to question whether they should support their party’s nominee or do the right thing. Their problem is that they see Trump as an outlier and as not being a “true Republican”. In Canada, we’d call that an argument over whether someone is sufficiently pur laine.

What even the best of the Republicans are missing is that Donald Trump is not an outlier or a sam stein quotemaverick at all; he is the logical outgrowth of everything that party has come to represent. Every hateful and horrifying aspect of Donald Trump is perfectly in tune with the written and unwritten policy of the GOP in the years since the Tea Party movement came to Washington.

The right has become the Party of Trump because, given the direction the Republicans were heading made it inevitable. With Trump it is fair to say that the US right has embraced the beginnings of fascism. And that is exactly where the party was heading.

A simple way to test this thesis is to look at exactly what Trump has promised, what Trump’s followers cite as the reasons for their support, and how that differs from or resembles fascism. When you do that, the interesting thing is that you find that virtually everything that the current right supports is, by any reasonable measure, a bad thing; everything they rail against is a good thing. So let’s see, does Trump qualify as a fascist? Or is my calling him that nothing more than typical liberal hyperbole and hysteria?

Authoritarian rule? Check. Remember Trump telling his adulating audience not to worry, that if he ordered his military leaders to commit war crimes, they would fall into place?

Intolerance? Big check. A big beautiful wall? Ban anyone of a particular faith from entry to the country? The necessity of further research to determine if the KKK is racist?

Demagogue? Check and recheck. Have you listened to him?

And what about his promises?

Well, he has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border. His followers love this, of course, but it is a bad idea, obviously. Mexican migration is a net exodus at the moment, so the wall would be counterproductive as well as just being offensive, and, well, silly.

He’ll slap a 25% (or sometimes 40%) tariff on Chinese imports. His breathtaking ignorance of macro-economics and international trade law comes to the fore here. He seems not to be aware of the impossibility of that action within the law or of the fact that, if done, it would implode the US economy as well as starting a catastrophic trade war. Another bad.

He’ll negotiate to lower the US debt. Very very bad. The only negotiating tool he would have is a threat to default. That would cripple the US credit rating and cause an international monetary and financial crisis.

He’ll eliminate the gun free zones in schools and churches and other places of gathering. Bad? It doesn’t get much worse outside of Trump’s world.

The effect of Trumpism on our understanding of 21st Century North American politics is that it is easy to see who is on the left (if you’re an American, that’s Democrat) and who’s on the right (that would be Republican). Just judge a statement or promise heard from a candidate or supporter and determine whether it is morally and ethically right or wrong. If it’s neutral, it could come from either.

If the statement or promise is what basic morality suggests is a good thing – providing aid to our handicapped neighbours, providing medical care for everyone, ensuring that minorities have a fair chance at employment and housing etc., ensuring that working people have a fair wage, extending civil rights to all (including the LGBT community), writing legislation that protects our environment, ensuring that the mega-wealthy contribute appropriately to the country that allowed them to accumulate their vast wealth – you can be sure it’s coming from the Democratic side of the aisle.

But if it is clearly immoral – cutting benefits to the poor and hungry, re-introducing torture, dictating behaviour for religious reasons, discriminating against minorities, aiding the wealthiest while forcing the poorest to support them, damaging to the environment, promoting a particular religion, stacked against minorities – you know it’s coming from Republicans.food stamp cartoon

At this point in the political sphere, one votes not based on simple disagreement as to how to achieve mutually agreed upon aims as Americans once did. Now the methods take second place; the aims themselves are different. There was at one time a shared vision of America; a country of moral leadership, of compassion, of firm democratic principles. Now, the extreme right – the only right that’s still in play – has a whole new vision and new aims as evolved naturally since they were first introduced by the Tea Party faction. And as we look at the Republican Party’s nominee, we can consider those aims and be afraid. Trump’s rhetoric and proposed methods are clearly fascist; but his vision of America as a compliant nation following his lead in bigotry, intolerance, nationalism, and authoritarian rule is also pure fascism.

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