Monday, May 15, 2017

Should We Ban Sharia Law?

            From time to time, people in some segments of American government and society make calls for the banning of Sharia law. For those unfamiliar, Sharia is a body of law that has grown up in majority-Muslim countries based on the commands and requirements of the Koran and the Hadith. It actually varies a bit from country to country, depending on how the local power structures interpret the requirements of Islam, so it’s a little difficult to nail down exactly what it is. But, nonetheless, a significant portion of Americans seem to think it needs to be banned in order to prevent things like female genital mutilation, child brides, and wife beating. But mostly, so that Muslims will know in no uncertain terms that they are officially unwelcome here.
            But here’s the thing: most of the stuff that would actually make sense to ban is already illegal, and if Sharia has somehow managed to invent some forms of abuse that aren’t addressed under current laws we have the option to address those as needed. Most of the rest of it are things we’ve generally decided it’s not the government’s business to regulate. You may feel like Sharia’s rules on dividing up inheritances are pretty shitty, but we kind of take it for granted in America that it’s up to the deceased how to divide up his property on his death. Dietary rules are also part of Sharia. Gonna ban people from not eating pork? Gonna ban people from not drinking alcohol? Gonna force people to charge interest whenever they loan someone money? How would that work, exactly, given that many versions of Christianity and Judaism include similar restrictions? Would you ban people from refraining from eating certain foods or drinking certain drinks only if they do so because of Muslim rules but not if they do so because they just don’t want to? Or if they are following (for example) Jewish dietary rules? Clearly that kind of thing is unworkable. Oh, yeah, and it’s also unconstitutional.
            Oops! That niggling little thing: the Constitution. Remember the establishment clause of the First Amendment? Do you think, possibly, that it might be a “law respecting an establishment of religion,” to place a blanket ban on all the behavioral rules of a specific religion? Think that might be somewhat infringing the religious rights of Muslims? Perhaps?
            Or maybe you’re concerned that Muslims would legislate Sharia onto the rest of us if it weren’t banned. Well, currently Muslims make up only about 1% of the population of the U.S., so it’s hard to see them coming up with the kind of legislative majorities that would be necessary to pull that off. But there’s another little secret you may not be aware of: that’s already illegal. Once again, the First Amendment. Just as the government isn’t allowed to ban people from practicing their own religion, it’s also not allowed to force people to practice someone else’s religion.
            I know there’s a grand tradition in this country of ignoring that last part, which may explain some of the confusion. You see, trying to use the government to force religious practices on people who don’t share your religion is the right-wing Christians’ shtick. These are the same people who regularly call for the banning of Sharia law. And it’s a case of creating their own problem, because this is the same group that has been, by leaps in bounds, the most dogged and the most successful in eroding the secular legal principles that would allay these concerns.
            After all, it’s hard to argue that American law prevents the imposition of a particular religion on the populace, when it’s your goal to impose your own religion on the populace. It’s hard to argue that people can’t ignore laws that conflict with their religion, while demanding the right to ignore laws that conflict with your religion. It’s hard to argue that religious laws don’t trump national laws, while regularly electing officials who claim your religious laws do trump national laws. It’s in this context of denial that the American Constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of and from religion that is the only context where a Sharia ban makes any sense.

            So, diatribe aside, I don’t believe we can or should ban Sharia. While it contains many examples of what I would call bad ideas, even horrific ideas, it also contains some that are reasonable and worthwhile and some that are just not worth writing any legislation about one way or the other. It’s a lot like other religions, in that way. In my opinion, such a ban would be unconstitutional, entirely inconsistent with American traditions of religious freedom, and cruelly alienating to Muslims for no good reason whatsoever.

Friday, May 5, 2017

How Do You Justify Inference?

            There’s an argument I heard the other day that I don’t think I’ve ever addressed on here: God is necessary in order to justify scientific inference. Let me see if I can summarize the idea for you.
            In scientific investigation, it is a baseline assumption that the universe will continue to behave in the future as it has behaved in the past. This is the assumption that allows us to make predictions based on data we have collected – i.e. this has to be true in order to make scientific inferences. After all, what good does it do to collect data about (for example) the strength of gravity and how it relates to mass if gravity might simply cease to exist tomorrow? How can you calculate satellite orbits, if there’s no reason to think gravity might not reverse itself five minutes after launch? It’s essential to believe that the universe will continue to behave the way it has in the past for any of that to make sense.
            But, the argument goes, how do you justify believing that? If you go for the obvious – that it’s an assumption that has always worked for us in the past – isn’t that circular? You can’t justify believing that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future just because it always worked in the past.
            So, how do you get out of that circle?
            Here’s where God enters the argument. The claim being made is that the only possible justification for believing that scientific inference is valid, the only possible way out of the logical circle, is that God has revealed to us that the rules of this universe are constant. Therefore, doing any science at all (or, really, acting in any way as if the world is going to continue being just as coherent a second from now as it always has been in the past) is tacit admission that God exists.
            So… where do I begin?
            As far as I can tell, we don’t know that the laws of the universe won’t change; not in the sense of having absolute logical certainty of it, anyway. We act as if they won’t, because we have no choice.
            Or rather, you have the choice to act as if the universe is a sensible place where the future will continue to behave much like the past, or you can curl up into a catatonic ball and ignore everything going on around you until you starve to death. You can act in accordance with your observations of the world you live in, or you can die. That’s it. This isn’t a revelation from God, it’s a practical reality. Living things that act like none of their past experiences can inform their future actions die, and those that act like their past experiences are relevant to their future actions at least have a chance to survive.
            But it’s more than that. The alternative – that the rules of the universe are subject to change and we have no access to the reasons for this to happen – means we die and there’s nothing we can do about it. After all, as fans of the fine-tuning argument are fond of pointing out, if the rules of the universe were anything other than what they are, we couldn’t exist. If gravity changes, the earth’s orbit destabilizes and we all die. If inter-nuclear forces change, our body chemistry fails and we all die. If electromagnetism goes haywire, our neurons fail and we all die. These are not possibilities we can act on or prepare for in any way, and on the other side of such eventualities we simply cease to exist, so for purposes of determining our behavior they are utterly irrelevant.
            And even if there were to be a fundamental change that we somehow survived, we’d have no choice but to try and learn how the “new normal” works – a process that will require inference from our new observations.
            So, to summarize, we do not seem to be able to have absolute certainty that the laws of the universe will continue to be in the future what they have been in the past, but we also seem to have no choice but to behave as if they will. Whether it’s true or not, we are stuck with the assumption that it is.
            Now, that can be a very uncomfortable position to be in. The idea that the universe around you could possibly just cease functioning, and that you have no way to know that this won’t happen, can really suck if you dwell on it too much. Most of the time we just kind of casually accept the assumption that the universe will keep working and don’t dwell on it. And really, we’re kind of used to operating with a certain amount of uncertainty. After all, I can’t guarantee that I won’t get hit by a bus on the way to work on any given day, but I get up and hit the road anyway. We don’t need absolute certainty in order to function.
            So the argument falls apart there, since it’s built on the assumption that we need absolute certainty to act on inference. But we don’t need it, and we don’t have it. We just have reasons to want it, and those reasons are solely to assuage our own feelings of uncertainty.
            And that gets to the fundamental conceit of the argument. Essentially, it posits that human certainty is so fundamental to existence, the universe is so very much “about us,” that an “out” for this logical uncertainty must exist. Existence itself owes it to us. Humanity is so important that it simply cannot be true that we can have no choice but to accept something fundamental about the universe and yet not be absolutely certain about it. If the only thing one can think of that will give that certainty is a god, then that god must exist. The argument centers “making humans existentially comfortable” as the fundamental trait of the universe that determines what is real and what is not.
            What’s weird is that the person who was making the argument seemed to know it. When confronted with the fact that the argument “I believe God exists because I’m certain inference is valid, and I’m certain inference is valid because I believe God exists,” is circular, he acknowledged this was true. He just claimed that it’s a “good kind of circular,” because it allows him to have a consistent worldview. In other words, it makes him feel good, so he’s willing to accept it even though he knows it’s logically fallacious.
             OK, whatever. I suppose that if it works for him and he understands the limitations, fine. So why even bother to write about it? Well, because it’s not really an isolated case. It’s part of a frustrating class of arguments that has been cropping up a lot under the heading of presuppositionalism. They all pretty much take the form of “Idea X (scientific inference works, solipsism isn’t real, logical absolutes are valid, etc.) is so fundamental that I can’t imagine functioning without being certain of it. I can’t logically prove Idea X is true. But if I assume God renders Idea X true, I can pretend to be certain of it. Therefore, God exists, everyone who accepts Idea X must also accept that God exists, and anyone who says differently is lying.” It’s that last bit that takes the argument from bad to offensive.

            This is one of those apologetics that is all but guaranteed to frustrate and annoy atheists. Because it’s not actually an argument. It’s not actually trying to convince anyone, and, when pressed, even flatly acknowledges that it’s not convincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe. Its claim is that it doesn’t need to convince anyone, because everyone already believes it. It’s crafted for the sole purpose of creating a bubble of delusion for the believer by casting literally everyone else as liars. It’s utterly alienating; great for walling people off from each other. But as an actual argument for the existence of a god, it’s an abject failure.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Is the Design Inference Really That Simple?

            I was listening to yet another iteration of the argument from design the other day, based on the idea that design is the simplest explanation for the fine tuning of the universe. The fine tuning argument, for those who don’t know, is based on the idea that there are several fundamental constants inherent in the physics of the universe that could not be varied from what they are by anything more than the tiniest fraction without the entire universe as we know it being rendered impossible. For example, if the gravitational constant were much higher than it is the universe would have collapsed on itself within seconds of the Big Bang, and if it were much lower gravity wouldn’t be strong enough to form stars and galaxies. That’s just one example among many, and the argument goes that there are just too many variables that have to exist in too small a range to be mere products of chance. Therefore, concludes the argument, the inference that there was a designer for the universe is the simplest explanation.
            But is that really a simple explanation?
            I had heard this “simplest explanation” argument in a debate I was listening to, and the debater’s opponent didn’t address the topic in the way I might have. I won’t go into his argument, though, since I flatter myself that you’re reading this because you want to get my thoughts rather than just my regurgitation of someone else’s.
            And, in my opinion, there’s no reason to think “design” is a simple explanation at all.
            Have you ever designed something? You probably have, even if it was only something as simple as an arrangement of furniture in your living room. As an engineer I design things for a living, so I’d like to think I have a little bit of insight into the process. And, let me tell you, there’s nothing simple about it.
            You see, when looking at any aspect of a designed thing, the answer to the question “Why is it like that?” is never “because it was designed that way.” There are reasons for every decision that goes into a design. Every aspect of a design is meant to solve a problem or achieve a purpose. Even something as simple as a hammer, you can ask and answer a lot of questions about it. Why does it have a handle? Because it acts as a lever to multiply force for less effort. Why does it have a flat face? To provide a stable striking surface. Why is the head made of hardened steel? So it isn’t damaged by repeated impacts against iron nails. Why is the handle shaped the way it is? To fit in a human hand.
            Of course, you could answer any of those questions with “because it was designed that way,” if you wanted to, but to do so would be a dodge. It doesn’t explain anything. Because even if there is a designer, he/she/it still has reasons for the decisions that were made. Those reasons will be related to the nature of the designer, the task it’s trying to accomplish, the constraints within which it has to work, and the problems it has to overcome in order to get there. All of that stuff is complicated, and trying to stop at “because it was designed that way,” is just an attempt to hide that complexity. Or to hide from it.
            It seems, in these sorts of arguments, that there’s a buried assumption that conscious actors don’t do things for anything as mundane as reasons. As if merely slotting in a conscious entity serves as an explanation in and of itself. Or, at the very least, that the reasons that a conscious entity does something are simply beyond our reach. So designers, being conscious entities, are an explanation, by themselves, full stop. And never mind the fact that this isn’t really borne out by any of our experience with conscious entities.
            There’s another aspect to it, as well. You see, all of our experience tells us that designers, in and of themselves, are complicated. Name something that you have ever seen consciously design anything, and I guarantee you that it is a very complex entity. Hell, even the things we can’t prove are conscious, yet appear to design and build things (e.g. ant colonies) are pretty damn complicated. We’ve never, ever seen a simple designer, and everything we have ever witnessed suggests that such a thing may not even be possible.
            I’ll just add one more thought, here. Given that anything exists, it exists in some state at some point in time. An explanation for how it came to be in that state should, ideally, account for why it’s in that particular state and not a different one. But no matter what state any system is in, “it was designed that way,” is equally applicable to all of them. Which means it still doesn’t actually explain why we have this particular state.
            The universe appears to be a complicated place, and we don’t have any direct evidence for why or how some of those complications came to be the way they are. For that matter, we don’t have any direct evidence for whether they even could have been anything other than what they are. We can’t see (at least, not yet) what determines the gravitational constant, for example. But to infer a designer as the answer doesn’t simplify the problem in any real sense. It just hides the complexity behind a wall of possibly unwarranted assumptions. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Are You Touched by the Babies in the Womb?

            Have you ever seen the following script?

Two twins were talking in the womb:
Tell me, do you believe in life after birth?
Of course. After birth comes life. Perhaps we are here to prepare for what comes after birth.
Forget it! After birth there is nothing! From there, no one has returned! And besides, what would it look like?
I do not know exactly, but I feel that there are lights everywhere … Perhaps we walk on our own feet, and eat with our mouth.
This is utterly stupid! Walking isn’t possible! And how can we eat with that ridiculous mouth? Can’t you see the umbilical cord? And for that matter, think about it for a second: postnatal life isn’t possible because the cord is too short.
Yes, but I think there is definitely something, just in a different way than what we call life.
You’re stupid. Birth is the end of life and that’s it.
Look, I do not know exactly what will happen, but Mother will help us…
The Mother? Do you believe in the Mother? !
Do not be ridiculous! Have you seen the Mother anywhere? Has anyone seen her at all?
No, but she is all around us. We live within her. And certainly, it is thanks to her that we exist.
Well, now leave me alone with this stupidity, right? I’ll believe in Mother when I see her.
You cannot see her, but if you’re quiet, you can hear her song, you can feel her love. If you’re quiet, you can feel her caress and you will feel her protective hands.

            This was making its rounds a little while back in social media circles, accompanied by gushing comments about how beautiful it is. And it was kind of aggravating to me, because from my perspective it’s ugly and dishonest. Let me explain why.
            Now, obviously, this is meant as an analogy to belief in a god and the afterlife, with one baby representing the “atheist,” and the other representing the “believer.” Which brings me immediately to the first reason this little vignette is both ugly and dishonest: Atheist Baby is a blatant asshole. His questions aren’t honest inquiries, but simply set-ups for insults that he delivers with strident exclamations. You’re supposed to dislike Atheist Baby because he has a shitty personality. By contrast, Believer Baby is portrayed as calm and reasonable and likable. This is pure emotional manipulation aimed at making the reader like Believer Baby’s position better because they like Believer Baby himself better. It also plays to the stereotype that atheists are just nasty, condescending jerks.
            The other dishonest thing it’s supposed to do is distract you from the fact that both babies are arguing in exactly the same manner. Each one is simply declaring things that they have no way of knowing. One is being a jerk about it, and the other is being nice, but they are both doing the same thing. Of course, here’s where the author cheats: he always has Atheist Baby assert with absolute conviction and contempt things that we know are wrong, and Believer Baby assert in a reasonable-sounding and friendly manner things that we know are true.
            And that’s the trick. The author is trying to make you think that this analogy of birth and life is comparable to real questions about death and the afterlife. There’s never any reason given in the story to think that either baby could possibly know anything about what happens after birth. But the author, and anyone reading this thing, lives in the world that Believer Baby is describing. Believer Baby says correct things only because the author knows they’re correct and puts those words in his mouth. Atheist Baby says incorrect things only because the author knows they’re incorrect and puts those words in his mouth.
            The thing is Believer Baby could have spoken any nonsense at all, and Atheist Baby would have had exactly as much reason to believe it as he has to believe what was actually said in the story. It’s the fact that you already know what happens after birth that the author counts on to get you to skate past the fact that Believer Baby hasn’t actually justified anything he said. The author wants you to believe that, because Believer Baby is right about birth, then you ought to accept that religious believers are right about death. Which is why it’s funny that I’ve found this story on different sites promoting different religions, each of which have different beliefs about what the afterlife is like. The story is, conveniently, vague enough to be useful to promote pretty much any afterlife you want.

             All of that in addition to just the practical questions about the story itself. Such as:

·         How do these babies even know about birth in the first place? They would never have been in the womb to see one.
·         Where did Believer Baby get the idea of walking? It isn’t even a concept that would make sense to someone whose only experience is floating in a cramped uterus.
·         Are we supposed to think all this knowledge was inherent, or mystically imparted? If so, why was only one baby gifted with the knowledge of what the outside world is like, when both were gifted with the knowledge of what birth is?

Further, the analogy of birth with death is just a bad one because they are very different processes. An observer in the womb sees a completely different situation during birth than an observer in the world sees during death. If you were watching a birth from inside the womb, you would see a physical baby moving through an aperture in a physical barrier. You’d probably still hear their voice from the other side, suggesting they continue to exist in some other space. You might know little to nothing about it, but there should be little doubt that the baby has gone someplace else. It’s literally just like someone walking into another room – a change of location rather than a change of state. Whereas in death, the dead person physically remains here, but has lost the quality of being animate and able to interact volitionally with others. You don’t see him pass through anything, you don’t see him going anywhere, he didn’t leave. He has changed state without changing location. This is just a terrible analogy.

            This is not a beautiful story. It’s ugly from its core. It’s a deception, and a manipulation, based entirely on using unpleasant stereotypes to hide bad reasoning. And it is those things, even if you ultimately agree with what it’s selling.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Is Trump Like Moses?

            It’s been kind of weird, seeing Christian reactions to the election of Donald Trump. Of course, the big headline grabber has been how Evangelicals turned out for him in big numbers. And I’ve seen several Evangelical leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham) encourage their followers to think of Trump like Moses or David from the Bible, in that he is a flawed leader who will nonetheless lead God’s people to greatness. Separately, John Hagee told his followers that God would punish them if they didn’t vote for Trump.
            Now let’s be fair; Trump may be a pathological liar, possessed of the empathic capacity of a starving velociraptor, openly using his new office to generate income for his businesses and who’s perfectly willing to stoke xenophobic hatred and pander to the basest instincts of a deeply bigoted, fearful, and angry voter base… but he’s never actually committed genocide. So it’s not really fair to put him in Moses’ or David’s league. Although, who knows? Maybe all he’s lacking is the political power to ascend (descend?) to those heights (depths?).
            But that’s not really the point of this post. You see, on top of all of that, I’ve seen other Christian articles (such as this one) claiming exactly the opposite: that the Christian god didn’t want his people to vote for Trump, and that saying God caused the election outcome serves only to drive people away from Christianity. The article I just linked goes so far as to claim that “Crediting Donald Trump’s win to God is the best conceivable argument for someone rejecting faith.”
            Which brings us, at long last, to the point of this post: how would anyone know which view is right (or even if either is)?
            See, here’s the thing: both sides of the argument are talking about the opinion of the same God. One side can tell you that the God of the Bible, who created the universe and sent his son Jesus to die for your sins, wanted Donald Trump to be President of the United States of America. The other side can tell you that the God of the Bible, who created the universe and sent his son Jesus to die for your sins, would never want Donald Trump to be President of the United States of America. I have no doubt that representatives of both sides sincerely believe their view. They each read the same Bible, they each pray to the god they believe is represented by the stories it contains, and yet each come to exactly opposite conclusions about what that God wants about a pretty substantial topic.
            How do you tell who’s right?
            Sure, you could listen to their arguments. Each will cite Bible verses, and the strength of their personal faith, and the results of their prayers for guidance. Ultimately, the only one of those you can verify for yourself is the Bible verses. And sure, you’ll find in there declarations of a God who espouses love and acceptance to support the “God wouldn’t endorse Trump,” camp. But you’ll also find declarations of a God of religious intolerance and draconian law to support the “God would endorse Trump,” camp.
            You’ll also find a God who is perfectly comfortable declaring a general rule, and then issuing directly contradictory orders in specific situations. After all, “thou shalt not kill,” and “thou shalt not steal,” occur in the same story where God orders the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites and steal their property. So there’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that even if you understand the general rule properly, it’s not possible that God ordered a specific violation of it. Even if, for example, one camp could demonstrate conclusively that the God of the Bible wouldn’t want someone like Trump to rule a nation in general, there’s no way to demonstrate that he didn’t want Trump specifically to rule this specific nation in this specific circumstance.
            At the end of it all, whatever arguments either side presents, the only thing you will have will be arguments. The one thing you will not have is a definitive statement from your god saying, expressed clearly enough to be understood by everyone regardless of their political or religious beliefs, to the effect of “I do/do not endorse Donald Trump.”
            Now that’s a pretty weird problem to have, don’t you think?
            And you know who doesn’t have that problem? Everyone.
            Every person who actually exists can clearly express their position on that question in such a way that everyone else knows the answer. Ask me if I endorse Trump? No, I don’t. No matter what your beliefs are, you can read this and come away knowing that I don’t support Trump. Send anyone else you like to read this, and they’ll come away knowing the exact same thing. Doesn’t matter if they are liberal, conservative, Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, pagan, or atheist, anyone and everyone who reads this can tell that I do not endorse Trump. I can record it in audio or video form, write it down and sign it in front of you or in front of witnesses you trust, or on video. I can tell you personally. If I sat down in a room filled with a dozen people from vastly different backgrounds who all entered the room with different preconceptions of whether I would endorse Trump, every single one of them would leave the room knowing that I don’t.
            If there were a group of people out there sincerely dedicating themselves to doing everything I wanted them to do, and those people actually spoke with me, I could tell them clearly enough that not a single one of them would have voted for Trump.
            No god can do that. Or, at least, none seems willing to. Why?

            In one of the links above, the author claims that “Crediting Donald Trump’s win to God is the best conceivable argument for someone rejecting faith.” I disagree. I think the fact that he can sincerely believe that his god does not endorse Trump, while another Christian can sincerely believe that the same god does endorse Trump, makes a much better argument.

Monday, November 21, 2016

What’s Wrong with the Hamilton Cast Statement?

            As I’m sure many of you have heard, Mike Pence attended a performance of the musical Hamilton, after which the cast read a statement to him asking for the administration of which he is a part to govern on behalf of all races, religions, and orientations. Naturally, there has been an uproar from the right, and from the president-elect himself, over the indignity of poor Mike Pence for having been subjected to such an appeal. I happen to disagree with that position – I wholeheartedly support the right, even the duty, of the cast to use their platform to make an appeal to our nation’s elected representatives. If Mr. Pence thinks he is entitled to go to any public place and be free from appeals on his policies, then he signed up for the wrong job.
            I do, however, have a teensy problem with the appeal itself, the wording of which I have quoted here.
“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical, we really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.
Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show. This wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men [and] women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

            I don’t disagree with that sentiment at all. I do, however, feel that it fails to capture the nature of Pence’s position on the rights of the LGBTQ and non-Christian communities. And I should qualify this by saying that everything I’m about to write is based on the assumption that Mike Pence truly believes his professed religion, and doesn’t merely say the things he does because he believes it’s what he needs to tell his base in order to get and keep their support. But even if he doesn’t personally believe it, much of his base does.
            You see, when you ask Mike Pence to govern on behalf of the rights of people of all orientations and creeds, you may think you’re asking him to defend things like marriage equality, separation of church and state, religious tolerance, and anti-discrimination policies. But that’s not what he hears. In Mike Pence’s world, rights are things granted by his version of the Abrahamic god. And since that god does not say that people have the right to gay marriage, to identify with a gender other than their genitalia seem to indicate, or to worship other gods (or even a different understanding of his god, or no god at all), Mike Pence does not believe those rights exist. When he supports legislation curtailing those things, and even actively persecuting LGBTQ people and (for example) Muslims, he actually believes that he is still defending their rights. Those things simply aren’t a matter of rights to him.
            The problem with Mike Pence is not that he hates LGBTQ people or non-Christians. The problem with Mike Pence is that his god does. In Pence-world, you don’t have a right to be gay, or trans, or bi, or pan, or poly, or Muslim, or atheist, or Hindu, or Buddhist. Furthermore, if society says you legally do have those rights, that makes it likely that more people will act on those orientations, and those people will go to hell and suffer for all eternity. To that mindset, actively persecuting LGBTQ people and/or non-Christians is an act of tough love, because it lessens the likelihood of them going to hell. Pence doesn’t believe he is denying you a right; he believes he is potentially saving you from the wrath of an infinitely powerful being that will pour out infinite torment on you otherwise.

            So that, in my opinion, is the problem with the Hamilton cast statement. It fails to take into account the world view of the fundamentalist Christianity that Pence espouses, and therefore ends up failing to ask for what it intends to be asking for. Whether it’s a genuine failure to understand that mindset, or out of an excess of politeness in showing respect for Pence's religious convictions, I believe that the statement simply missed its mark.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Do Liberals Keep Saying The Election Was About Bigotry?

            In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, I have seen a number of his supporters protesting the accusation that their choice to support him was about bigotry. “We’re not racists!” they say. “We’re not homophobes, xenophobes, anti-Semites, or religious bigots! This was about corruption, and an economy that has abandoned us to despair!” So… why does the left still say that you’re racists, for example?
            Well, for one thing, the folks on the left aren’t the only ones who thinks you voted in favor of racism. So do these guys:

            You recognize them, right? Do you deny that those guys are racist as fuck? Do you deny that their support for Trump has been vocal, visible, and courted by the Trump campaign?
            Or what about the guys who did this?

            Do you think they don’t believe you voted for anti-Semitism? How about the folks who did this?

            Do you think those folks don’t think you voted for oppression of LGBTQ people?
            Your own coalition thinks you’re racist. The difference between them and the anti-Trump folks is that they praise you for it. They see your endorsement of President Trump as endorsement of their values, as evidence that what they say out loud is what the majority of Americans really believe, and as permission from American society to act on it.
            And is that fair to you? Does that mean you are a racist, or a misogynist, or a homophobe, or a religious bigot? Fuck, I don’t know. I’m at a loss.
            I get that there are large segments of the country who feel abandoned. I know that many of you feel that Clinton, and really the political establishment in general, are irredeemably corrupt. I get that some of you see no future for you or your children in the economy that system has built. That’s a lot of despair to carry around, and those are weighty issues. And the fact of the matter is, nobody gets the perfect leader who agrees with them on everything. We all have to weigh the pros and the cons, and decide which prices we’re willing to pay to achieve which outcomes. And Trump was the only candidate promising you a radical change from the policies that got you to where you are. There was no “Radical, non-bigotted,” option in the general election. So you had to choose. Take common cause with the white supremacists, the misogynists, the homophobes, the xenophobes, and the religious bigots in a bid to change what you desperately believe needs to be changed. It’s a devil’s bargain, but maybe it really was the only one left to you. You chose to take it that bargain, and I didn’t. But I never felt that level of desperation – who’s to say that I wouldn’t have been voting alongside you if I did?
            But it was a racist bargain. Racist, not in the sense that I believe everyone who made it feels genuine antipathy for those who are different, but in the sense that it will – in fact, already has – increase the exposure to oppression that those people will experience.
             Part of the problem is that I don’t believe Trump can deliver the prosperity he promised you. I don’t believe the he even cares all that much if he does or not, so long as he can look like a winner. So it’s not a bargain I can see as worthwhile. It’s easy for me to see Trump’s election as a vote for bigotry for its own sake, because I don’t believe the benefits that price was supposed to purchase are likely to accrue. I hope I’m wrong about that part. I really do.

            I’m seeing a lot of “I’m not a racist! I’m not a misogynist! I’m not a religious bigot!” I’m seeing a lot of “Ha ha! My side won!” I’m seeing a lot of “You’re irrational for being scared.” I’m not seeing a lot of “I disavow the white supremacists, religious bigots, and homophobes in the Trump coalition.” I’m not seeing a lot of “I promise to stand with you against them if and when those emboldened by my vote come for you.” I’m not seeing a lot of “You’re safe with me.” Please do that. If you genuinely, really voted for Trump as a Hail Mary against a corrupt system rather than in support of the bigotry and hate his campaign nurtured, please do that. You helped put genuine fear into a lot of people – please help to take it away.