Sunday, November 27, 2016

Of Right and Wrong

Oh, Abraham! Confounder of children.

I sat in the car after Mass while my dad went into the store to get a Sunday paper and a box of doughnuts. This was usually my favorite part of Sunday; the Sunday funnies, the doughnuts, hanging out with my dad. I would emerge into the sunlight from the dark, fragrant cathedral with the weight of sitting still for two whole hours lifted from my body.

But this Sunday, the weight lingered...

So... Abraham was going to kill Isaac?

Yes, but God didn't let him.

But he was going to?

Yes.

And that was the right thing to do?

Yes, but God was never going to let him actually kill Isaac. It was just a test.

To see if he would?

Yes.

And it was right that he would?

Yes, because nothing is more important than God. If God tells you to do something, you do it!

Even if God tells you to kill your son?

Yes, but God wouldn't tell you to do something bad. He never actually told Abraham to kill Isaac.

But it was a test to see if he would?

Yes.

And he passed the test?

Yes.

Because he would kill his son?

Yes, but that's not the point. God was never going to let him kill Isaac.

But that very much was the point for me.

Looking at the story now, as an atheist, I can pick it apart in all kinds of ways. If God is all-knowing, why would he need to test Abraham to begin with?

But as an eight-year-old child who firmly believed that there was a God and a Heaven and a Hell, this story was life-altering.

I knew that killing Isaac was wrong. That being willing to kill Isaac was wrong. And sitting in that car alone, I saw hell-fire and burning and the wrath of Almighty God, but I resolved that I would never be willing to kill Isaac, no matter what. That was when I first began to consciously part ways with God.

This really gets to core of how individuals differentiate right from wrong, regardless of religion or culture or time period.

Most people will do what they're told.

Some people will not follow an order they know is wrong, no matter who gives it.

Most people need to know that someone is in charge in order for the universe to make sense to them. They need authority, they need order, they need rules. That authority can be God, a monarch, Science, Capitalism, Pope Francis, Charles Manson; so long as there is a system in place and someone is in charge, they can sleep at night knowing that there is order in the world.

And then there are the people whose moral code transcends any authority. These people are in the minority.

Chaos doesn't phase me. I don't need order.

Maybe we are energy beings, more than the sum of our parts, maybe our time in this physical existence is part of a grander scheme that we cannot even fathom.

Or maybe we are an accidental coagulation of polymer chains languishing on a meaningless piece of rock hurling through a vast vacuum of space for no reason at all.

Either way, I will still never be willing to kill Isaac.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Truth. Justice. Knowledge.

As we came into the primaries for this election season, I was dusting off the old blog, ready to have lots of online debates with strangers. I eagerly laid out my core beliefs ahead of time as a starting point.

But then, for the first time in my life, the whole political circus just drained me. I honestly couldn't find an intelligent word to write about what our political system has become.

The result of that nightmare of an election season, that Donald Trump is president, left me speechless.

Breathless.

But I pulled myself together and resolved to fight.

To be clear, I am not here to debate whether or not the Trump administration is poised to become a fascist regime or whether our political and economic system has already been primed for just such a power grab.

I am no longer operating under the assumption that the system can be repaired.

My focus is on survival.

Not my personal survival, but the survival of truth, justice, and knowledge, which are the first casualties in a fascist or authoritarian government.

There will always be upheavals in human civilization. There will always be periods of growth and periods of destruction brought on by a confluence of internal factors (politics, economics, war) and external factors (environmental disasters, disease epidemics). When we find ourselves in a period of destruction, those of us with the foresight to recognize when the point of no return has been reached, need to start planning for a different kind of future.

How do we preserve our most sacred ideals in the hope that when the dust settles and we again enter a period of growth, we can start from the highest possible point of truth, justice and knowledge?

Most importantly, we need to recognize that the struggle will be fought on a daily basis in a hundred seemingly inconsequential ways, and we need to understand that giving up any ground at this point will result in monumental losses.

Every attempt to mainstream and normalize the Trump administration must be resisted, even after they have fully transitioned into power and resisting becomes dangerous. Refuse to accept racism, sexism, corporatism, and xenophobia. Refuse to accept the suppression of intellectuals, free speech, human rights and the media. Refuse to accept the increasing militarization of the police. Refuse to accept that might makes right.

Understand that the apologists who want to "wait and see" will be fully indoctrinated, so start distancing yourself from them immediately. These are the people who will quietly look the other way as atrocities happen; they are already normalizing and accepting the unacceptable, and they will continue to do so. Do not believe that when things get bad enough, they will suddenly wake up to the reality of the situation. They are not waiting to choose a path; they have already chosen.

Start identifying people and organizations who already understand what is happening and are ready to mount a resistance.

Know your principles and do not compromise on them.

Be vocal about your principles as an example to others; keep that light alive no matter how dark it gets.

Keeping the light of truth alive is more important than my comfort.

Keeping the light of justice alive is more important than my security.

Keeping the light of knowledge alive is more important than my life.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The tipping point has already been reached.

As much as I have tried to express that the dire situation our country is currently in did not happen as the result of one election, that this was decades in the making and is currently a worldwide trend toward dangerous far right ideologies; I also need to stress that fascist totalitarianism is something that, once the scales are tipped ever so slightly in its favor, sets off a cascade systemic changes at breakneck speed.

One of the fundamental errors that people commonly make when believing that something like the Holocaust could never happen here, that Americans would never allow something like that happen here, is the notion that there was something fundamentally different about the German people; some inherent personality flaw that we Americans do not possess. That idea was proven wrong with the Milgram experiments.

But the other mistake is that we would have time to stop such a cascade of events once set in motion.

I'll stay on the Hitler example because most Americans are familiar enough with that bit of very recent history.

In 1934, Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany by President Hindenburg. The decades leading up to that moment were rife with political and economic strife, and the people of Germany were impoverished and angry. And not just Germans; this was a global trend. Sounding familiar so far?

Within months of Hitler grasping that thread of power, the Dachau concentration camp is opened for political prisoners. Before the end of the following year, Hitler will name himself Fuhrer.

Game over.

So for all of my liberal and middle-of-the-road friends who want to wait and see what happens; you need to wake up to the reality of what has already happened.

For everyone who wants to call their Senator, or boycott something, or pray for the electoral college to save us: you need to stop wasting your energy.

The tipping point has tipped, and it's all downhill from here.

Start organizing accordingly.

Lying in wait...

Way back in the year 2007, I was sounding the alarm about the unfathomable breach of Constitutional civil liberties enacted by the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act.

Quick update:

2009
The Military Commissions Act was revised by a Democratic Congress to remove the statute that denied detainees the right of habeus corpus; meaning that detainees must have the right to challenge their detention in a federal court.

While that fixed one major criticism of the law, the Military Commissions Act can still be used to classify a US citizen as an "enemy combatant" and thus be subject to a secret military tribunal rather than a public trial.

2013
Due to the whistle blowing intelligence leaks of Edward Snowden, government officials were forced to address the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance tactics used against every US citizen, surveillance which had previously been justified by the Bush Administration using the The Patriot Act. The drafting of the USA Freedom Act begins.

2015
On June 1st, most of the provisions of the Patriot Act expired.

On June 2nd, the USA Freedom Act was passed. Originally intended to replace the Patriot Act with safeguards to protect the civil liberties of US citizens from government overreach, the watered down version that was able to pass Congress offers very little to reassure anyone concerned about freedom in the USA.

For instance, the USA Freedom Act has a lot of provisions for "oversight." That sounds great, but who is actually in charge of overseeing these issues of surveillance and the secretive FISA court and who can and cannot be designated an "enemy combatant?" All that oversight, it turns out, falls on the shoulders of the Attorney General, who is a political appointee of the President.

2016
President Trump taps Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and Mike Pompeo for CIA director.

But don't trouble yourself worrying about all this now. These are freedoms you lost almost a decade ago.

All that potential dictatorial power, lying in wait for a potential dictator...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hold on to your light. It's about to get dark.

One thing I try to steer clear of on this politics and religion blog is fear mongering. My goal is to encourage people to think, and I don't believe that people are very good at thinking when they are afraid. With that in mind, I would like to expand on my last post, The end of the world as we know it.

The end of the world is never really the end. At least, it hasn't been so far. As Robert Wright points out in his brilliant work, Nonzero; if you take a step back and look at history as a plot diagram, the overarching plot is a straight line onward and upward. The rise and falls of civilizations are more like peaks and valleys in the overall march of human progress. I elaborated on this point a bit more in, "Fear not, citizens! The Barbarians are at the gate."

Admittedly, my initial reaction to the unfathomable reality of a Trump presidency was less than constructive. I considered all the political activity I've been involved in over the years, and the time I've spent writing this blog as a massive exercise in futility. What's the point? I am but a whisper in the noise, and of the people who do hear me, how many listen?

But then I remembered that giving up is the only way to really fail. Allowing the powerful to take everything away from us without a fight is to actively assist them as they destroy everything I value and everyone I care about. The world as we know it is coming to end. This is not the result of a single election, but the culmination of the way human beings have always operated. The question now is who and what will rise from the ashes?

How can we ensure that on the darkest of days there will still be a flicker of light in the distance?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I am going to dedicate my efforts to finding those answers and passing them on to whomever will listen, even when it seems like no one is listening at all. I have to believe that the sun will rise again, no matter how long the night may be.

The best immediate advice I could find right now is this article by Sarah Kendzior called "We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump."
"Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.


Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.


Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them."
As I was thinking about my goals with this post and with this blog, I was frustrated that we seem trapped on this merry-go-round of making the same mistakes over and over. We have all this recorded history with the blueprint of our demise written out very clearly; why do we still fail to see the signs until it is too late? But then I thought about how we are always able to climb out of the rubble and rebuild, and each time around we recover more quickly. Maybe that is because we do learn from our past.

So, as we hope for the best over the coming years, let us prepare fervently for the worst.

I welcome all comments, even those of disagreement. If any of you have articles you want to share, please send them to me. I also welcome guest posts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The end of the world as we know it.

In the context of my last post, The Death of the Alpha Male,  I feel like we were in the process of one giant leap for mankind and slipped on a banana peel.

Literally.

We elected a giant orange ape for president.

But taking a step back and looking at everything I have written on this blog in the almost decade I've been writing it; I'm not surprised at all.

I've already talked about the state of our economy and what needed to happen to fix it (and didn't).

I've talked about the tangible danger of hate speech and how it thrives on the internet.

I've talked about the transient nature of civilization and the fact that when we inevitability drop the baton someone else will pick it up and run with it.

So, here we are. I've said my piece. I've been right about all the things I didn't want to be right about.

What happens now?

Will this be a small step backward from which civilization will quickly rally, or will man-made ecological disasters bring us closer to an extinction level event?

A couple days ago my son was telling me about all the exciting advancements to come in computer technology and virtual reality, while the future I envisioned was more like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Here's hoping that he's right and I'm wrong.

I really, really want be wrong this time.