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A favorite argument of the Confederate monument defenders is that those who are trying to take them down are destroying history. They we are whitewashing it. That we are making future generations ignorant of history by destroying them, and that they will be the poorer for it.

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My governor, Governor Abbot of Texas, just weighed in on this issue on Wednesday.

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.

What my governor, and all like him overlook, is that these monuments were never about history.  History is best taught in museums, in schools, in books, in articles, on historical tours, all of which can provide the context and details that will allow a person to understand the history.

A stone or metal statue can and does do none of that.  What they do instead though is show what values a society values   They provide a tangible form to intangible societal beliefs and ideals.

This is something that those who created and raised these monuments understood.  It is why they so often have inscriptions that make this very plain, such as that that once was on the Battle of Liberty Place monument (taken down in 2017).

McEnery and Penn, having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed bb this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant –Governor Antoine (colored).

United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.

Values, not history is what is being shown here.

The same holds true for the vast majority of other statues and monuments. When not explicitly inscribed in the monument, it is explicitly inscribed in the words of the newspapers and speeches of the time on why this or that confederate monument was raised.   A testament to white supremacy.  A testament to white superiority.

This should be something so obviously true that there should be no dispute. A monument to honor the Confederacy – an almost country created to preserve and protect the ideal that whites can own blacks as easily and as morally as they can own a dog and the ideal that whites are supreme race – can be nothing else.

These were not monuments to men and history. They were monuments to the ideals of white supremacy. Their primary intent was not to remind people of a historical person or event, but rather to remind both whites and blacks of their place.

These monuments were raised to promote the values of the Klu Klux Klan. They were raised to promote the values of Jim Crow.  They were raised to promote the values of white supremacy.

Those values are, or should be, our shame now.

 

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Judgement Day

Immediately after former President George H. W. Bush’s death I was surprised by how many people were happy that he had died, and at the vitriol aimed at him in death from those I normally agree with.  Now, most people either said nothing or gave respectful recognition of his passing.  However, there were too many of the rejoicing responses for me to ignore.  So, I wrote this and used his death to reflect on how judgements should be made. And to defend George Bush the man.

Judgelment Scales and lady

First, if we are going to pass judgement on a person, and make no mistake that is what is happening here, in order for that judgement to be fair and just you need to consider all of that person’s words and actions.  Additionally, and just as importantly, their words and actions need to be considered in the context of their times, their culture, and what was happening at the specific time they said those words and took those actions.

Before I go further with this general discussion, cause I can already see some leaping ahead and thinking I am going to excuse the inexcusable by referencing the times and thus tuning me out, let me point out some actions of President George Bush that many might not be aware of in regards to just one issue, that of gay rights.

  • He endorsed civil unions for same sex couples, despite the Republican Party platform against it.
  • He not only passed the American With Disabilities Act, he did so making sure that there was anti-discrimination language in it that would protect those suffering from AIDS. The Washington Post reported President Bush saying , “Once disease strikes, we don’t blame those who are suffering . . . We try to love them and care for them and comfort them. We don’t fire them, we don’t evict them, we don’t cancel their insurance.”
  • In 1990 he signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act. This act, for the first time on the federal level, recognized sexual orientation as a protected status.

Now, was he a strong supporter of gay rights?  No.  Definitely not.  Was he a total enemy and all his actions evil in regards to gays?  Again, no.  The reality is more complex.  And that more needs to be considered when rending judgement on a person.

So, now to turn to someone else to illustrate what I am trying to say here before going back to George Bush.  Darwin.

Darwin was totally in tune with his times in regards to his views on woman and their Darwin mondkeyplace in society.  That is to say he was a thoroughly misogynistic and patriarchal man of his times.

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.  Descent of Man

However, in addition to this, he was also one of the greatest scientists in history.  He was a devoted and loving father.  He spoke out against slavery and for blacks, and worked to end slavery.  He supported his local community and neighbors with his time and money.  He was a good friend to many.  He tried to be fair in his dealings with others, including Wallace when suddenly seeing that Wallace too had come up with the idea of natural selection.

So, how do we judge Darwin as a man?  How to decide whether we should mourn or rejoice?   Because of his views on women and their place in society should we be glad that he finally died?  Do we consider him a moral failure?  Is humanity better off with him gone, and would have been even better off if he had never been born?  Was Darwin a man only his family could mourn?

The same mix of good and bad, of being ahead of, totally of, and behind one’s times, can be seen in almost every person, both living and dead.  Lincoln is another good example of such   He never believed that blacks were the equal of whites, did not think that blacks and whites could live together as equals, would have been horrified at the idea of interracial marriage being considered normal, would have put keeping the country whole over abolishing slavery if that had been possible.  Should we then rejoice that he died so soon into his second term and judge him an immoral monster unworthy of being recognized by a national holiday?

Yin Yang

This mix of good and bad, of being in large part a product of one’s time and culture, is not just a trait of the powerful and prominent.  It is a human trait shared by all of us.  The difference is their actions and words reach and impact many more people than what yours and mine do.  Their shortcomings and mistakes (and being human mistakes will be made, more than once) impact more people.  The difference between them and us is a matter of degree rather than quality.

In our judgement of people, do we now expect those in power and in the limelight to consistently and on every issue to be able to transcend the limits of their times, their "I've never quite figured out how it works. For years, you're on the right side of history, and then one day, you're not!"society, and their upbringing?  Do we expect them to be able to peer into the future to determine on which issues society is going to change and what was once right is then determined to be wrong?  Further,  for the politicians, do we expect them to stand firm on every issue and not compromise or hide their true feelings and thoughts on every issue (if so, then they would become terrible politicians, ineffective and quickly out of office as this is a trait all politicians need to survive and accomplish things whether terrible or wonderful).

I don’t think so.

Yes, there are some failures that are so large, so monstrous and horrible, that the rest of the person, the context of the person, no longer matter when it comes time to render judgement.  We all know of such people.  Hitler. Stalin. Pol Pot.  But it is not just the great and notorious, this applies to the everyday people that no one except those immediately impacted by them know about too.

However, the words and actions of the vast majority of humanity – both the famous and powerful as well of the unknown everyday person –  are a mixed lot, with most such born from their times and culture and a few rising above and a few below, but whose failings do not rise to such a level that those times and that culture and their own fallible human nature should not be taken into account when rendering judgement.

 

 

So, to George Herbert Walker Bush. How should he be judged? prezbios-ghwbush-434c5ccf

I see nothing in his life to cause celebration that he is dead.   I have mentioned some of the acts he did that furthered gay rights, even though he was far from a gay rights supporter.  Let me mention other things he did.

  • One of the most politically courageous things he did was to increase taxes when he saw it was necessary. Even though the right thing to do, this act was what lost him the election.
  • He had a Democratic Congress that he worked well with and compromised with to get good things done: the ADA, updating the Clean Air act by working with environmentalists and Democrats, and more.
  • No matter what you think of why he got involved in Kuwait against Iraq, and there are arguments both ways, he did so well. He went in with international support.  He had limited objectives, obtained them, and then got out even though many were strongly calling for him to take out Saddam Hussein, and then criticizing him for not doing so.
  • Despite what many think due to Kuwait, a hallmark of the George Bush presidency was a strong preference to using diplomacy over force. It was his first choice. Bush helped to bring the cold war between the Soviet Union and the US to an end by such actions as increasing economic aid to Russia and its former satellite states to help speed up the demise of the communist bloc.
  • He ensured the removal of the Berlin Wall. He helped in the reunification of Germany, pushing for cooperation between not only East and West Germany but also the US, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain.  President George Bush’s proposal for reunification that was adopted included admitting Germany into NATO and granting the Soviet Union four years to withdraw from East Germany.
  • In Somalia, President Bush deployed United States forces to help ease the crisis there due to famine and economic depression. He provided food, water, and refuge.

And then there is George Bush the man.  He was polite.  He treated people with respect.  And yes, I am aware of the groping.  I have addressed that in a blog on the Me Too movement a year ago, and yes it is a mark against him.  And he has several marks against him.  And several marks for him.  In the end, I do not see any of those against him rising to the levels where we can dismiss his times, his culture, and the political needs (he was more socially liberal before joining in with Reagan and before having Buchanan challenge him in the primary) when rendering judgment.

There is more that could be said, there almost always is.  But, this should be enough to show that George Bush was not a monster whose death we should be glad or, or regret it not happening sooner.  He was a good president, but not a great one.  He was a good president who I often disagreed with, one who had seriously good accomplishments and who also made some seriously bad decisions, and who I voted against both times he ran.  I disagreed with his stance on abortion rights, preferred a stronger support for gay rights, was appalled at his remarks about atheists, and had differences on a host of other issues.  But, he cared for his country, for the people of the United States, and tried, and often did do what was best.  And, even more important, from what I can see, he was a good man.  And the last Republican president that I could actually respect.

For myself, I mourn and regret his passing.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

 

Shakespeare was undoubtedly one of the greatest wordsmiths of the English Language.  Quite likely the greatest. However, he did get some things wrong. While the words quoted above wonderfully summed up the feelings of Juliet for Romeo and their love’s dilemma, it fails when applied to the world outside of this play. In other words, how we label a piece of the world, whether inanimate matter, living matter, people or ideas , effects our perception of that bit of reality.  And from that perception, what we think should be done when action is required.

For example, calling the people in the Caravan that is approaching and starting to reach our border “invaders”, “violent criminals” and other such terms will bring about one set of responses (the one we currently see on our border).  Calling them “refugees” though brings up another set of possible responses.

Of course, no matter the label each side should be checking that label against the reality to see if it there is truth in the label or not.  However, that is the funny thing about labels.  While they are usually the result of a particular point of view, they then start to reinforce that view.  Labels are the ways in which we often decide which piece of reality is important, which piece of reality is not; which argument is sensible and which is not; what interpretation of the facts are correct and which ones are wrong.

We see this famous picture and have at least two different responses.  Alan_Kurdi_lifeless_body

One sees Syrians as being Muslims and Muslims as being dangerous radicals who pose a threat.  They see falling towers, beheadings and suicide bombers. For such, this is tragic, but nothing we can do anything about because to try to take them in would pose too great a danger to the United States of being taken over by radical Islam.  Further, the thing to do is keep them there, near their home and far away from us. Besides, they really should be fighting for their own freedom instead of being cowards and running.

The label here is Muslim.

Others see this child and have the label as Dead Child, and for them the response is different.  Theirs is what can be done to alleviate and help, not reject and push away.

For those who see Muslim, they focus on the news about terrorist attacks by Muslims and violence in Europe due to massive immigration from the Middle East. They discount any stories or information that goes against this narrative, or that tries to provide a larger and more complete picture.

For the Caravan, those who label the people in this group as invaders and bad people find this image of greater importance storming guatamalan border

 

than this

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And, of course, for those who see them are refugees, the views are reversed.

 

Now there are ways to determine which label is more correct.  However, getting people to process this information is the tricky part.  Labels are one of the many ways we use to process great loads of information and to deal with our complex world.  We can’t do without such tools.  The problem is when we are not willing to seriously question our labels and insist they are right no matter what.

This is, of course, easier to type than to actually do.  This labeling is an automatic process for us, and we are, as a species, not given to questioning strongly held views. It is difficult to determine when yours are wrong and when they are right.

However, I think that anytime you see pictures of others suffering and children dying, and your labels allow you to blow it off and ignore it, then you really should start to question those labels.  Your humanity is at risk if you don’t.

Thanksgivings of an Atheist

Many theists tend to make fun of atheists who celebrate Thanksgiving.

During a November 2009 debate in England sponsored by a rationalist group known as Intelligence Squared, Richard Dawkins admitted that when he looks at the Milky Way or the Grand Canyon, he is overcome by a profound feeling of thankfulness. “It’s a feeling of sort of an abstract gratitude that I am alive to appreciate these wonders,” he said. “When I look down a microscope it’s the same feeling. I am grateful to be alive to appreciate these wonders.”

To whom does an atheist like Mr. Dawkins express such gratitude?

I’m by no means the first person to point out this conundrum. In fact, the Internet is peppered with failed attempts to justify an atheistic celebration of Thanksgiving. Atheists insist they are not ungrateful. They confess that they feel thankful, and they clearly sense a need to avoid the ignominy of brazen ingratitude on a cosmic scale — especially at Thanksgiving

“The Atheist’s Thanksgiving Dilemma” by John MacArthur

Fair warning, I am about to write another “failed attempt” on an atheist Thanksgiving.  And, thankfully, since I am an atheist and everything is meaningless and pointless to me, I will ignore MacArthur and write on.

Failed-Attempt

Let me start from the beginning, my personal beginning.  My parents, Neal and Mildred.  If Mary Poppins was right and “Well begun is half done”, then I was well done indeed.  No one could have asked for a better mother or a better father.  Loving and caring, not only of myself and my brother, but of others, including the stranger.  They set an example for me to follow.  They were supportive of whatever my brother and I wanted to do and be and did not try to make us over into their dreams and hopes.  Even when I became an atheist these devoutly Christian parents never rejected and never withdrew their love and support.  They might not understand or agree, but I was their son, and, despite my beliefs, (both political and religious) they saw me as a good man.  And I was also thankful for something of importance in regards to parents that I think gets overlooked, they were not perfect.  Perfection is not a human trait, and they were wonderfully human in the best possible way.  I am thankful for the both of them and miss them greatly since they passed away earlier this year.

Next, my younger, annoying, exasperating, and loyal and loving brother.  We grew up to be very different people.  I love to read.  He loves to fly. I am very liberal.  He does not talk politics (but I suspect he is more conservative than I am).  However, we share parents who we both loved and valued.  We care about others and we are both care strongly about our families.  During our lives we have helped support the other through bad times.  He is a good sort of annoying younger brother, and I am thankful for Carl.

Of course, life is not just about who you start your life with, but also about those you meet on the way to your final destination.  In this case, the best and by far the most important, person, and the one I am most grateful for, is my wife.  I honestly never imagined that I would be lucky enough to meet and then live with a person who knows me so well, and loves me anyway. She has supported me during good times and bad. She makes bad times better and good times outstanding.  She showed me how to be a good father and a better man.  She is fun to talk with and to just be with.  I am very thankful for Dindy.

First comes love, then comes marriage, now comes Bill and Dindy with a baby carriage.  My children are what I  am thankful for next in this chronological listing.  Two beautiful baby girls who grew up into two wonderful women who I am proud to acknowledge as my daughters.  Despite the sleepless nights, both in infancy and, for at least one, one memorable moment well past infancy, the few frustrations, the worries, worries, and the worries (parents worry a lot)  I am very thankful to have both Fritha and Jaala in my life, as well as their spouses, Andy and Sarah.

I am thankful for having two very young children still, who are very grand indeed.  Brent and Gwen make me laugh and are a source of wonder and amusement.  And I am also thankful that being a grandfather means that I get to have a great deal of fun with them and then stick their parents with the more difficult parts (which, by the way, they handle beautifully).

Of course, there are friends and others who I have not named here who I am also thankful for, for there are many people who have influenced me, bettered me, helped me.  These include the many four footed friends throughout the years, from my first dog Lassie, to our current crop of five cats and three dogs,  who, along with the irritations of cleaning up, feeding,  and letting in and out and in and out, provided me companionship, fun, and unconditional love.

Now, there are many things I am not thankful for, things that have caused me pain and frustration and sadness and sorrow and worry; my parents recent deaths being among the recent ones.  Others include serious illnesses, financial strains and worries including being close to absolute poverty, living in a city that we really do not care for (but in a beautiful house and a large yard).   Deaths of other family members and friends. But, I’m thankful that even with all of that, the balance tips easily towards having a great deal more to be thankful for.

Let me also say that, like Dawkins, I feel a sense of awe at the universe and its workings, and am thankful that I live in a time and at a place that allows me to better understand this wonderful universe.  And am even more thankful that those workings allow for a self aware, intelligent being such as myself to exist.

Yeah, I know what Mr. MacArthur thinks about atheists and this feeling of thanksgiving.  However, he is wrong.  Thanksgiving is much more about how we feel and relate and says much more about us as humans than it does about God or the universe.  And to Mr. MacArthur, let me just say Bah, Humbug.  I am thankful for this chance to do so.

Let me start with a confession.  The title above is not my own.  I stole it from an article I got from the most recent Chuck Colson Ministries Breakpoint Edition.  I stole it because this title sparked the idea for this blog.  Of course, the article in Breakpoint was about abortion, Planned Parenthood and politics. Mine uses the same title but applies to to the question of what does being Pro Life really mean?

Let’s start answering this question with a question.  Is being Pro Life only about abortion? Is that the only qualification for being able to wear the label of Pro Life?  If so, then it seems that a serial killer could call themselves Pro Life as long as they are for killing only after the person has left the womb.  I decided to pay a visit to the largest and oldest right to life organization in the United States – The National Right to Life Committee to determine what being Pro Life means to them.  From their mission statement:

The mission of National Right to Life is to protect and defend the most fundamental right of humankind, the right to life of every innocent human being from the beginning of life to natural death.

………….

National Right to Life carries out its lifesaving mission by promoting respect for the worth and dignity of every individual human being, born or unborn, including unborn children from their beginning; those newly born; persons with disabilities; older people; and other vulnerable people, especially those who cannot defend themselves.  Our areas of concern include abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the killing of unborn children for their stem cells.

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That seems to be a nice definition of what they mean by Pro Life.  However, if so, I very often see a severe disconnect between their mission statement and the views of those who call themselves Pro Life.

They say that they promote “respect for the worth and dignity” of “unborn children from their beginning; those newly born; persons with disabilities; older people; and other vulnerable people, especially those who cannot defend themselves”.

Sounds good.  But it seems that for many, and probably for most Pro Lifers, there should be a caveat put on this statement.  Good for United States citizens only.  And for some, only for some United States citizens.

I am sure that there are those who are Pro Life who are concerned about the immigrants, both illegal and legal.  At the same time it is true that most of those who see illegal immigrants solely as threats and not people, those who expressed no concern for the separation of child from parents of those coming to seek asylum in the United States, those who cheered putting our military on the border to repel those fleeing violence and extreme poverty are Pro Life.  Or call themselves that.

The same for those refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and other areas.  The Syrians for example.  The majority of those cheering Trump shutting down the refugees from those areas to almost nothing also call themselves Pro Life.

Syiran refugee

It seems that these Pro Life people believe the only lives worth respecting are those of United States citizens. No others need apply.

Now, I had thought to put in about not caring for the poor, but decided not to.  Often these Pro Lifers do care, but they support policies and groups that harm the poor.  But, that is not due to not caring, but due to having definite political and social ideas about what is best for our country and what the best way to help consists of.  I can disagree strongly on their way of “helping”, but their way is rooted, in the end, in wanting to help.  Usually.

However, there is one area that always totally befuddles, irritates and frustrates me.  There is one area of the abortion issue where, theoretically, those of us on the Pro Choice side and those on the Pro Life side could come together; reducing the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions.

Providing cheap, easily obtained contraception has been shown time and again to be the most effective way to reduce abortions.  Not by a little, but by a lot.

However, time and again, most of those calling themselves Pro Life oppose measures to make this happen.  Many oppose contraception in general, or at most, allow only condoms.  Others fear that single women will engage in sex if provided reliable and cheap (or even free!) birth control.  Others do so out of a political ideology.   They oppose our government from providing free birth control as well as opposing our government requiring insurance to cover the costs of birth control.

From this, it is clear that reducing or eliminating abortion is not really their first and foremost priority. It is also clear that respecting the worth and dignity of those in need of such contraction is not a priority for them either.

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Given the United States centric view of many of these Pro Life people, and given that most of them oppose providing and supporting the most effective means of reducing abortions, and,also given that most of them support providing the worst and least effective type of sex education, I have a hard time with them calling themselves Pro-Life.

It seems to me what respect and rights that the great majority of those who wear this title allow all people seems to be shallow and very limited.  The lives of all does not seem to be of paramount importance to them.  So much so that I really have to wonder, do they really deserve the title of Pro-Life?

Let the Circle Grow Unbroken

It starts with your family.  Your parents, your spouse, your children, your uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins.  These are the people that we care most about, that we love, work for and protect.  This circle has been with us since we first evolved into being.

But, who we care about and who we help does not stop at relatives.  Neighbors as well as  those we meet at school and work are in that circle too.  While we may not care for them as strongly as we do those who are part of our immediate family, we care enough to help them in times of need and troubles too. And consider them as one of us too.  This too has been part of our circle since we first evolved into being.

From there, the circle has continued to grow.  It is part of our nature.  We evolved as a highly social animal and creating societies is the way our species has survived.   We live in groups who work together, care for each other and help each other.  And protect each member from those  outside our circle, the other.  Even others of our own species since they can be competitors for food and other resources, and so a threat to our group’s survival.

“4 At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. We completely destroyed[a] them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying[b] every city—men, women and children.”  Deuteronomy 3: 4-6

Doré_Agag

““The Christians gave over their whole hearts to the slaughter, so that not a sucking little male child or female, not even an infant of one year would escape alive the hand of the murderer.”  Contemporary account of the taking of Jerusalem in 1099.

 

Right now let me say that although I am using  European/American/Judeo-Christian examples because those, due to where and how I was raised, are the ones I am most familiar with, the same can be found all over the world; on every continent and in every country and religion.  This is not unique to a region or a religion or a culture.  No one is innocent of being human.

One thing happened through the years .  Due to us being not only a highly social animal but also highly intelligent, the size of our groups grew.  From the original family groups to tribes based upon familial relations to cities of many different family groups to city- states to nations, our circle of who was us and who was not; of who we protect and care for grew. Family and immediate neighbors and friends remained first and foremost. But now others who were none of these also mattered and needed to be protected.  Sometimes from the others without, sometimes from the others within.

women-children-holocaust-photosOne of the most prominent more modern day examples of this was the Holocaust, in which over 6 million Jewish men, women, and children died.  Along with them were others outside the circle  others not fully or even partly us – Gypsies, homosexuals, and many others.

Today we see this happening in so many areas still.  Over 140,000 Muslims were sent fleeing from Myanmar and hundreds killed due to persecution for being other.  In China, a Alan_Kurdi_lifeless_bodymillion Muslims are held in internment camps.  In Egypt, there are continuing attacks upon the Coptic Christians, the most recent being upon a bus.  Those outside our circle are dangerous  and fair game to whom no sympathy can or should be given. Their pain and their deaths do not matter.

Which brings me now to the United States and our response to the Caravan slowly approaching our borders.

I realize that we cannot take every person fleeing persecution, violence, and extreme poverty.  I also agree that we do have enemies who would like to come into the US to commit crimes, and so those coming in must be checked and vetted.

However, today, too many of us are treating those who are fleeing death and destruction, who are looking for someplace safe to raise a family as if they were active threats.  No sympathy can be given.  No feeling for these, our fellow, humans can be felt.  They are not us. They are outside our circle, and so are a threat to us.  Their pain and their deaths doe not matter. Separating families and jailing children is OK, because they are outside our circle.  Sending the military to repel these hordes is OK, cause they are outside our circle.  They are totally other deserving only our fears, scorn, and threats.

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Let me end this by saying that, as I said earlier, I know we cannot allow everyone into our country.  But, we do need to allow those who are in need in as we can.  We need to treat all coming to our country who are searching for safety and opportunity, whether legally or not, as human beings first and foremost and not as totally other.   Let the circle of our humanity be large enough to include them too.

What’s a Government Good For?

My next two blogs are going to be on two fundamental outlooks that often lie at the base of our current state of discord and acrimony.  Note, I am sure that there are more, but these are two that I have seen in play over and over again and are fundamental to our national disagreements.  By fundamental I mean they are the reason why we so often can agree on facts but not on what they mean or what should be done.  They also, though, explain why we so often disagree on what the facts even are, with some people the-dressaccepting some and others rejecting the same facts.

The first of these issues is the question of what’s a government good for.  Speaking very broadly, there are two views on what a government is good for.  The first sees it as a necessary evil.  The other sees it as an adaption of our small society writ large. Let me start with those who believe government to be a necessary evil.

Those who believe this tend to value the self – sufficient individual as the ideal.  Their focus is primarily on an individual’s rights and freedoms, and all the rest is seen as a possible threat to those rights and freedoms.  Now, this is not to say they are antisocial or don’t recognize the necessity of humans forming groups and societies for protection and support.  They do.  However, they want each individual to have sole and total control over being a part of and supporting that group.  These are the people that view taxation as theft – possibly necessary, but still theft.   Let’s call these individuals the Individualists.

Along with this belief in government being, at best, a necessary evil is the belief in the self-sufficient individual.  They believe everyone should be able to get by on their own without “handouts” from the government (private charity is OK).  Having the government provide unneeded, in their view, services only creates a people dependent upon the government and not able to be self-sufficient and thus at risk of losing their liberties.

For Individualists, the federal government’s purpose is to protect its citizens against other governments, to provide for public safety with law enforcement and courts, and for infrastructure that cannot be done by smaller groups.  Anything beyond this is a threat to individual liberties.  And the bigger the government, the bigger the threat. The list of those government organizations that create this risk varies from one Individualist to another, but usually includes most or all of the following areas– education, the environment, welfare and economic safety nets, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, government laws regulating workplace safety, food safety, drug safety, NASA, science and so forth.  While those thinking this way may acknowledge that these government organizations may provide some benefits, they also believe that the restrictions they impose on individual choices, the threat they pose to individual liberties, and the fact that, to them, large governments cannot do anything well, more than offset any possible benefit they provide.   Because of this, bigger government, whatever it is, they’re against it.

spinning dancerWhich means that to those who believe this, the same facts showing some benefits from a certain government program won’t have the same impact or meaning as it does to those who believe differently. After all, it comes attached with some serious, from their point of view, downsides.

To take an example to show how this works, consider climate change.  Individualists often know that if they accept man made climate change as real then big government is a necessity in order to deal with this issue.  Because of this they become extremely skeptical of the reality of climate change and often view climate claims and arguments as nothing more than a cover for big government.  Even if brought to acknowledge its reality, they would often be against any actions being taken on the twin basis of big government being the greater danger to human rights, and, at the same time unable to deal effectively with anything of consequence anyway.  When combined with the other foundational difference that I’ll discuss in my next blog on next Wednesday, they will deny, downplay, distort, and twist evidence and willingly believe falsehoods over truths.

And this is even more true about multi-national agreements and organizations such as the UN and NATO and the EU.  They believe that such entities of necessity take away or limit the essential rights and liberties that are the birthright of every person.  Now, in a minute I’ll discuss what an essential right and liberty is, and the question of are some rights more essential than others.  But, first, let me go over the other side, the one that sees big government as an extension of our smaller societies.  For fun, let’s call them the Socialists (which is how many Individualists see such people, usually wrongly so).

Socialists might start things off with a nice, short definition of humans as being a highly intelligent and highly social animal.  Living in some sort of society is a necessity for us, for various reasons, and is part of our survival kit.   As a result of this, we have empathy for and concern about those within our group.  Historically that has been restricted mainly to family groups.  However, as we became more and more successful as a species and developed into larger and larger societies that encompassed a greater diversity of people, our definition of who was a part of the group and who was not changed too.

Even our earliest societies had rules that were followed with consequences for not doing so.  They had ways to make decisions when decisions needed to be made that affected the whole group.   This nascent government went beyond just protecting each individual’s own personal rights.  They insured fairness and promoted peace within the group as well as the welfare of all of its members. In most, for example, hunters shared the meat they caught with the whole group.  The well and able would help those members who were sick, old, and infirm.  In other words, this primitive government expressed the values of that group.

While our societies are much more complex today than then, with a much more complex government now than then too, the ideas and principles behind the reasons for government are still the same.  To protect the group and ensure its survival.  I, and those like me, us Socialists, believe that those who believe that government is an essential evil are only half right.  It is an essential.  And while it can also be evil, it can also be an essential good.  It depends on the shape and form of the government.

For Socialists, government services such as healthcare, education, worker safety, EPA and so forth are a necessary part of any good government and reflects the values of our society.  The values rooted in our ancestral family groups – taking care of each other.  Just as the smaller family groups were concerned with all members of their community and their wellbeing, so should it be today.  To not take care of the group is to harm our society and ourselves.   The difference is in size and complexity.  Where in the original small, family groups there was a great deal of homogeneity, and getting most or all to agree was simpler, doing so in our large and diverse society is more of a challenge.  But it is one that has to be met, and often is, in order to remain true to who we are as a species.

268991-declaration-of-independenceNow, let’s delve, briefly, into definitions of essential rights.  For the Individualists, essential rights seem to encompass almost every decision a person can make.  Any restriction on a person’s ability to do what they wish is an infringement of their essential rights.  When faced with such restriction in the name of furthering education, promoting better health, and so forth, the Individualists sees a “nanny state” working to take over all decisions from the individual so that the individual becomes nothing more than a government controlled robot.  .

For Socialists, essential rights can be divided into two types.  The first type are those rights that help the people to control the government.  These would be the rights to vote, of free speech, of a free press, and of assembly.  The second type are those that relate to the individual; the right of conscience, right to privacy, the right of association.

The Socialist does not see that having a restriction on some choices is a violation of an essential right.  First, we as a society, we the people, have to make laws the will protect and promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We the people have to make laws that will protect not only us, but future generations.  Environmental laws.  Labor and food safety laws.

We the people recognize that not being able to turn your one acre lot into a concrete parking lot due to zoning laws is not an infringement of rights.  It is the actions of a people to ensure that flooding is controlled during heavy rains (one of the reasons why Houston flooded so badly is due to it not having zoning laws and concreting too much land).

We the people recognize that requiring inspections of meat and food plants is protecting the health of our nation.  We the people recognize that building codes is self-protection.  We the people recognize that laws requiring handicap access is not a nanny state but an effort by us to ensure that all of our citizens have a chance to be independent.  It is not a limitation but a way to promote independence.

Socialists recognize that as long as they have the essential liberties mentioned above, the rights that give control of the government to the people then the government can be used to protect the rights of the individuals.  Government then, properly formed and vigilantly maintained, is a way for us to protect ourselves and to ensure that all of us have a chance for an independent, full, and meaningful life – even the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, the marginalized.

A short summation of the difference between Individualist and Socialists is that the individual is the measure of all things for the Individualists.  Their rights and freedom of choice is paramount.

For the Socialists, the group is what is most important.  However, they also realize that in order to protect and promote the group, individuals have to be protected too.

Let me end this by saying that the picture painted here is true, but simplistic.  Further, there are a multiplicity of views ranging from one extreme to the other.  But, despite this, I think it useful to keep this in mind when trying to understand why the other person is not convinced by your facts.  Especially today when the extremists have so much power.

On this particular July 4th I think it appropriate to check over the state of our humanity.  Patriotism I am not worried about.  We have lots of that. In fact, we are overflowing with patriotism. So much so that many people are justifying immoral and inhumane actions in the name of God and country.  Or, just country.  Either is equally bad.

Our imperfect founders founded an imperfect Republic, one that imperfectly provided 268991-declaration-of-independencerights.  Imperfect because at first they were given only to white males.  It was imperfect in also not requiring that the states hold to the same standards of individual liberties, so that states could and did restrict freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.  And let us not forget, many of these states also restricted who could be called human.  And being imperfect, it was immoral.

To our nation’s credit, we have gradually made our government, our system, less imperfect.  First, through a Civil War that resulted in the abolishment of treating people as property and, at least on paper, gave all males the same rights. In practice, not really.  Another 100 years would pass before another great upheaval would result in significant gains being made in providing equal rights to those who were not white.  And even today we are still working to finish the job.  Or were.

Women.  When the 14th amendment was passed eliminating slavery, it defined “citizens” and “voters” as male. No women need worry themselves about such things as rights.  That’s what husbands are for.  It would take marches and protests and work and perseverance and the breaking of many laws on federal, state and local level before the 19th amendment was passed and women also got the right to vote. However, just like blacks, that did not make them equal.  Although we have made progress traveling down that road leading to equality, we have not arrived yet.

And then there is the other, those that were not born here but who come to work and live. Many of these fleeing persecution, oppression, extreme poverty, and death. We have always had a mixed record on that.  At times welcoming and winning a reputation as a beacon of hope.  So much so that France gave us a lovely lady to honor that ideal.  At other times though, treating the immigrant – the Irish, the Chinese, Eastern Europeans, the Jew etc. –  with scorn and derision, as second and even third class citizens.  Often on a par with women and blacks.

This included the others who were here before us, the Indians.  Treaties broken, massacres given, lands taken, peoples moved.  And then families separated. This time with the intent into turning them into good little white folk instead of allowing them to remain red skinned savages.

And the Japanese.  Driven by fear and racism, during WW2, we took all of our citizens of Japanese decent and put them caged them in communities surrounded by fences and guards.  Citizens treated as enemy.  Men, women, and children.  Although, small comfort, they were kept together as a family and did not face the Sophie’s Choice of either choosing to stay confined or being expelled from the US.  I guess that their citizenship did count for something at least.

And I have not even touched on all of our history here.  Just enough to show that we have been an imperfect bearer of liberty.  Still, we have been a bearer of liberty.  We GettyImages-515177534-Horizontalhave over our history expanded who we considered a citizen with the full rights of citizenship.  We have also, much more slowly, expanded our ideals on who is the same sort of human as us.

Which brings us to today.  To this Fourth of July.  Over the years we have erratically and inconsistently, expanded who deserved the liberties and rights of being a citizen.  We have also erratically and inconsistently expanded our ideas on who was fully human and who was not.  And combining the both, we have also, even more erratically and more inconsistently, expanded who deserved to come to the US to both work and to join.

Today, we are in retreat.  Retreat in regards to who deserves to be considered a full citizen deserving of all the same liberties and protections as the white Christian male.  The transgendered, the gays and lesbians who have so recently started to make progress have had that progress come to a halt. Not only a halt, but are being pushed back towards being made second class, at best, citizens again.

Retreat in regards to keeping, never mind building on, the gains made by minorities and women in achieving the equal rights given to white males from the beginning.  Retreat in regards to a woman having control of that most precious possession, herself.  Retreat from the idea that our government is neutral in regards to religion and cannot and should not favor one religion over another.  Muslims are being singled out.

And fear of the others is increasing, stroked by our President and his administration and, unfortunately, finding ready tinder in the souls of too many citizens.  Instead of treating those who come to our country, both legally and illegally, as human, they are being treated as non-human threats.  Threats we can deal with however we chose, no matter how inhumane.  After all, morality only applies to US citizens.  Everyone else is fair game.

Our founders set in motion a process that would expand not only liberty and rights, but also expand our moral treatment of others, our recognition that the others are humans, just as we are, and so deserving of being treated with respect and dignity.  As I said, it has been an uneven and jerky process, filled with stops, reverses and often glacial slowness.  But, despite this, in the long term, progressing forwards and expanding who we include as human.

Unfortunately, we now live in a time where progress has stopped and we are being walked backwards.  Where the other is no longer considered fully human. Where the job of ensuring those considered fully human is considered done and over with, and even overdone.  And so progress stops for the minorities and women.  And often reversed, as it is for those of differing sexualities.   Instead of expanding what  it is to be a human being fully deserving of being treated humanely and with respect, we are letting fear and anger restrict our definition of who is fully human and who is not.

Whether this will someday become just a stain on our national history, a stain  like many others we bear, or whether this will become the new reality forever and ever amen, is up to us to determine.  And I take hope in seeing how many are working hard to make sure this is a stain and not a permanent reality.

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Much is made of civility today.  Mainly by those who are restricting our definition of who should be fully recognized as human; from those whose leader insults freely and often, treats others poorly, who lies constantly, calls for violence, is vulgar in his treatment of women and others, who has cheated others; from those who denounce “political correctness”, which is often and usually just treating others who differ with respect and as equals, so that now they feel empowered to insult and abuse those they consider a threat and inferior.

For myself, I am a believer in civility.  To a point.  In the past, during the past of my own life, with past administrations, whether Republican or Democrat, whether liberal or conservative, we never reached that point.   Today we have, or at least have started to. Due to the dangers posed by this administration both by words and deeds, it is time to become a bit uncivil (it is not an all or nothing thing).

In the past I would not have supported confronting members of an administration when they go to restaurants, when they go to movies, when they go to the theater.  I do now.   This is not a call for violence.  This is not a call for an unlawful overthrow of our government.  It is, though, a call to let our government know in no uncertain terms that what they are doing is not only wrong, that their actions and words not only harms our nation, but harms our humanity.  It is a call to use the tools of democracy to overthrow this government – by petition, by contacting representatives in a tsunami of emails, letters and calls, by taking to the streets, by registering to vote, by voting in all elections, by attending town hall meetings, by contributing what time and money you can to those assembled to protect our freedoms and our humanity and by direct confrontation of this administration who are promoting this harm.

 

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“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

My own personal take is that we have too many good  and moral people in the United States, that we have a sound system of government, that we have a long history of surviving traumas, that an actual civil war or revolution will not happen.  Violence on the scale of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests may occur, but I do not see a full scale violent revolution.  Or Civil War.  Although there are commonalities, Trump is not Hitler and our government and history not the same as 1930 Germany.  However, does an evil and threat have to reach the scale and scope of a Hitler before civility is no longer the chief concern and stronger actions taken?

This Fourth, celebrate what our founders created, what we have over the years laboriously and with a great deal of suffering and blood, created by protecting that creation.  Celebrate by Resisting.