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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Did God Put Trump In Power?

            There are some topics I have shied away from tackling on this blog because they were brought to mind by specific things said or done by friends – friends who have at times commented on my postings, so I know they read at least occasionally. In describing these incidents it would be clear to them that I am directly talking about their beliefs and behavior, and I have not wanted to offend them. But the pressure builds over time and accumulation, and so we have reached a point where I am unwilling to let the latest outrageous statement go uncontested.
            So here we go.
            A friend recently made a claim that, essentially, it’s OK to vote for racist demagogues if you like his other positions, because God gives rulers power anyway. So if a new holocaust happens, it’s just God’s will.
            This is horseshit.
            Now, I understand that there are people who actually believe this is the case. I know it says it in your fairy tale book.
            But it is demonstrably true that elected officials achieve positions of power because of decisions people make. That is what voting is. Even if you think your god visibly anointed rulers in the past, it would be beyond delusional to claim that anything resembling a supernatural intervention to elevate a person to national office has ever occurred in a Western democracy. People seek power, and people give it to them. You see it happen. You can trace the exact mechanisms by which it happens, and you choose to deny it to absolve yourself of the moral responsibility for your choice.
            When you vote for someone who gives every indication that he will use it to persecute people, you are responsible when he does. Not your god. Not fate. You.
            When you tell your friends who are members of the group whom the leader you chose has promised to persecute, your friends who are legitimately scared he will follow through on those promises, that it’s just God’s will if that happens, you aren’t saying to them “I’m a faithful servant of my god.” You are saying to them “I care more about these other issues than I do about what happens to you, but I sure as hell don’t have the fortitude to accept moral responsibility for that decision.”
            Everybody in a democracy bears moral responsibility for the actions of the governments they elect. Especially when they are the actions those leaders promised to commit while campaigning. You do not get to pretend you are not responsible for the parts of the platform you didn’t like by pawning it off on your god. You chose the issues you wanted to prioritize, you decided that achieving them was worth the price of accepting the parts you didn’t, and you, DEMONSTRABLY YOU, chose to empower the leader who would carry it out. You take the bad with the good, and you accept your own culpability in doing it.

            You may think “…but God’s will…” absolves you, but the rest of us don’t. No god picked our President. The American people did.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Why Don’t You Just Kill Yourself?

            Sometimes a theist will say to an atheist something along the lines of “If you think life is so pointless, you should just kill yourself.” Some of this, I think, is just trolling and nastiness; essentially getting angry and telling us to kill ourselves as a juvenile response to whatever argument is happening at the time. But some, I get the impression, is a genuine inability to understand why atheists in general don’t want to kill themselves. Some people really don’t understand how we can see any value in living, absent a god.
            And I gotta admit, I reflect that attitude right back. I don’t understand why anyone who genuinely believes that they’re going to an eternal paradise after they die would want to continue living. Maybe someone who’s reading this will help me out on that.
            But to get back to my perspective on the original question: if atheists think life is so pointless, then why don’t we just kill ourselves?
            Well, first of all, we don’t actually think life is pointless. I’ve discussed this in a bit of detail here, but it’s worth reiterating a bit. In general, atheists don’t think life is pointless or meaningless, just that any meaning we derive from it isn’t something imposed by some outside entity. Many of us don’t see that kind of meaning as being terribly desirable or even sensible.
            But even if life were pointless… what would be the point in killing ourselves? I mean, if life is pointless, is death any less pointless?
            I have no reason to think death is something I should desire. I mean, first of all, most of the processes of actually dying seem like they’d be pretty damn unpleasant. Plus, there’s a lot of stuff I still want to experience that dying will definitely take off the table. And even though I go through periods of being depressed, there’s still stuff I look forward to doing or experiencing. Even when things seem to be going pretty shitty, there’s still stuff I look forward to doing or experiencing. Hell, sometimes just getting to my next pizza is more than enough reason to go on living a few more days. I mean, I like pizza. Come to think of it, I kinda want one now. But I don’t have one. Guess I’ll have to refrain from killing myself at least until I get pizza.
            Trivial, right? Living for pizza? And what happens once I have one? Won’t I have lost my reason to live? Clearly not, because there’s always something else to look forward to. Really, that’s all it takes to want to keep on living: feeling like there’s something else to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be anything of world-shattering importance. It just needs to be important enough to us to want to experience it. That’s all.
            And what does death have to offer in place of those experiences? As far as I can tell, nothing. Literally. I mean, I don’t really have much reason to think I’ll exist at all after I die. Death will be literally the end of all experiences for me. It’s a weird thing to try to contemplate, this idea of not existing anymore. Obviously, I wouldn’t be suffering – the end of all experience means all experience, whether good, bad or indifferent. I simply won’t be. I suppose it’s not something to be afraid of, but it’s not really something to look forward to either.
            Of course, I could be wrong. There could be some form of afterlife, for all I know. I haven’t really heard of one that I’d want to go to. I suppose, if there was some kind of eternal afterlife where there actually was an infinity of new experiences to look forward to, that might be desirable. But no religion seems to be offering that as an option, and (more importantly), none have convinced me that the versions they’re offering actually exist.
            So, if I were to kill myself, at best I can look forward to nonexistence, and from there it descends into progressively less desirable forms of post-life existence (yes, that includes versions of heaven). While I can imagine having such a painful life that the idea of not existing starts to seem preferable, that’s just not the place I’m at. This life is all I know I can have. And, gosh darn it, I still want to go on living.