Tag Archives: liberal

Guns

11 Jan

Last weekend I took my conceal carry class required by the state of South Carolina in order to be issued a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Given that gun laws are one area where I most often disagree with my fellow liberals, I thought it pertinent to touch on the topic.

The strongest argument I have for why I feel gun ownership is good among responsible adults goes something like this:

If you’re a liberal (like I am on the vast majority of issues), you’re probably familiar with conservatives trying to get rid of something by banning it. Historically conservatives have taken aim at prostitution, abortion, drug use, alcohol, and gambling, just to name a few.

As liberals, we often point out that these are things that you cannot stop. People have done these things since the dawn of time, and will continue to do them no matter how much you try to stop them. Instead of wasting time and money trying to prevent the inevitable, why not legalize it, regulate it, and tax it to limit the damage and promote the public good?

The same it true for guns.

Just as teenagers have always had sex, just as people will always gamble and use drugs, there are people who will always commit violent crimes. In light of this reality, I feel that the best way to address it is to allow the would be victims the ability to protect themselves if necessary.

Disarming a populace does nothing to stop criminals from committing crimes. If anything, it makes it easier as they do not have to worry about people shooting back.

One friend once made the point that, “Guns only escalate the violence.” I disagree. If a person with malicious intent pulls a gun then the violence level has already been escalated dangerously high. A second person pulling a gun in response does not significantly raise the violence level. The worst case scenario either way is that someone gets shot and dies. I would argue that a second gun provides an incentive to lower the violence level. (Mutually assured destruction)

What are the possible outcomes of a senario where a gun is involved?

Say person A pulls a gun with malicious intent (violence level escalated)

1. Person A shoots person B (or multiple people)

2. Person A is somehow talked down by unarmed person B (or multiple people), however, this is unlikely given the power dynamics introduced by the gun in the scenario. Person A is clearly in control, and if they are unstable enough to pull a gun with malicious intent, the likelihood that they’ll listen to reason is slim.

3. Person A pulls a gun with malicious intent. Person B (possibly including others) pull their gun(s) in response. Person A fires, Person B (and possibly others) fire back.

4. Person A pulls a gun with malicious intent. Person B (possibly including others) pull their gun(s) in response. Person A backs down, others back down in response.

In a perfect world, nobody would be pulling a gun on anybody. In every situation the violence level is escalated by Person A pulling a gun. Situation 1 is arguably the worse, where Person A is able to kill people without fear of immediate reprisal. We’ve seen this at school shootings across the country. People are butchered like fish in a barrel.

Situation 2 is the best outcome, but also the most unlikely.

Situation 3 is terrible, but is better than situation 1 since there is now at least a chance that the damage done by Person A can be limited by Person B stopping him. People often point at school shootings, like the one at Virginia Tech, and ask “What if a responsible adult was carrying a firearm? There would have been at least a chance that they would have been able to stop the shooter from murdering 32 people.”

Situation 4, like situation 2, is one of the better outcomes. (Nobody dies) Here at least there is a strong incentive for person A not to proceed down the path they chose by drawing a gun.

I feel the biggest crux of this issue is responsibility.

I am not in favor of handing the mentally ill firearms. I don’t believe in passing out handguns to children. I believe responsible adults should be able to protect themselves.

The question then becomes “What classifies as a responsible adult?”

I would say that a responsible adult in terms of handling firearms is someone who:

Is trained in their proper use and saftey.

Does not use mind altering substances while carrying the firearm.

Does not boast about or brandish their firearm.

Knows that the firearm is the last resort option to be used in life or death scenarios  only.

Attempts to avoid confrontation whenever possible.

The fact of the matter is that some people are always going to commit violent crimes. If someone has decided to commit a violent crime they already have no regard for the law. They are going to get a weapon and commit the crime no matter what the laws say. The only people who obey the law are responsible adults. Disarming law abiding citizens does nothing but make the society a victim rich environment for criminals to prey upon.

If you feel that the outcome in situation 1 is somehow better than situation 3, then there really is nothing I can say to you. Both outcomes are horrible, but I feel situation 3 is the lesser of the two evils given that there at least exists the possibility to stop the attacker.

That’s the personal defense aspect of guns. The second aspect is the political one. At the time the second amendment was written, the colonies were breaking away from their government. Guns were needed to overthrow that government. The second amendment was written partly as insurance should the newly formed government become tyrannical.

Nowadays someone might object to this reasoning and point out that the US military’s weapons are vastly superior to anything a civilian has. True. Back when the 2nd amendment was written, weapons were more of a level playing field. Sure the army had more of them, and more trained people using them, but a musket was a musket and the government could not drop precision air strikes from unmanned drones in the sky.

Again it comes down to giving people a chance. While a civilian’s weapon might not be able to kill as quickly and efficiently as a soldiers, it still kills. French resistance fighters in WWII used cheaply made guns to ambush and kill Nazi soldiers, whereupon they took the better weapons. I am not saying that the American people would be able to overthrow the government with their weapons should the military turn on civilians like they do in Syria (something I just can’t imagine anyone in our military doing), but at least the people would have a chance.

Revolutions never come about from peaceful marches, rhythmic drumming, and being massacred. Revolutions are only successful when the rebels pick up guns and start fighting back. We can only speculate on how rebellions like the Green revolution in Iran would have gone differently if the populace had had the ability to fight fire with fire.

The question of “well how do we know if the rebels are just in their attempts to overthrow the government” is something that ultimately will be left up to the rest of society and the historians.

Karma smarma

7 Apr

Good afternoon boys and girls! Today I want to talk about Karma! Every once in a while I run into someone who proudly touts the fact that they’re a “big believer in karma!” This they usually do with a smile on their lips, a twinkle in their eye, and a bounce in their step! Yes sur-ree! They firmly believe in that warm and fuzzy notion that every good action done will be payed back in return!

And that’s about as far as their thinking goes.

But let’s follow this notion through to its logical conclusion, shall we? Now karma is originally from the Hindu faith, a main tenant of which is reincarnation. You see, karma has two parts to it:

A do good and good things will happen to you.

Do bad and bad things will happen to you.

“What goes around comes around” is a simple summation. With reincarnation, karma acts as a sort of moral equalizer, an assurance of justice in this life or the next. If you do bad things now, sooner or later bad things will happen to you; which brings us to kids with cancer:

Aw, don’t feel bad for this little guy! He’s getting what he deserves! He must have been a horrible person in a past life! So too were his parents! Wow, can you imagine how bad they must have been to deserve to watch their otherwise innocent child slowly die before their eyes? Payback’s a bitch ain’t it? Oh well, you know what they say, “what goes around comes around!”

Whenever someone says they’re a big believer in karma, they most always mean they only believe in half of it, the feel good half.

People who don’t believe in reincarnation, yet who still want to hold onto karma, often try to rationalize this conclusion away. In my personal experience, the majority of these types of people are the warm and fuzzy, liberal “spiritual but not religious” types. The problem is, without the cycle of rebirth, karma loses a lot of its ability to be a moral equalizer. Karma without reincarnation has no good explanation for why bad shit happens to otherwise good people early on in their lives. (Like kids with cancer). These people simply haven’t been around long enough to accumulate enough bad karma to deserve something so horrible.

You could argue that it is a result of the child’s parents’ bad karma, but that is beyond not fair to the child; and karma’s supposed to be all about fairness!

The other problem with the idea of karma sans reincarnation is (ignoring childhood diseases) the notion that you will eventually get what you deserve later in life. All you have to do is take one look around the world to see that that is blatantly untrue! Bad people get away with everything all the time! Just look at politicians, bankers, and child molesting priests! Stalin killed between 20 and 80 million people and lived a life of luxury and power till his last dying gasp. Evil wins every single day while the downtrodden and oppressed are distracted with movies and TV dramas where good always wins out in the end.

No, for these “spiritual but not religious” types their karma is a special karma, one tailor made for what they wish were true: To them, karma mainly focuses on paying back good deeds. In the rare times when it deals with paying back bad deeds, the farthest it will ever go is in giving a speeding ticket to that jerk who cut you off at the stop light. That’s it. No worse “punishment” for simple things that offend the believer in karma.

At best it’s very self-serving. At worst it’s an excuse to be apathetic about achieving justice.

 

What is your “better world”?

23 Feb

Everyone, be they liberal or conservative, want a better world for their children, they just disagree on how to go about achieving that. At least that’s what everyone says, but I feel there is a fundamental semantics issue here. What exactly does one mean by “a better world”? That saying assumes we both want the same thing in the end and that we just differ on the paths, but I think that is a wrong assumption to make.

What do I mean by a “better world” coming from my liberal atheist point of view? Well my better world would be a world where people don’t tolerate corrupt politicians who lie to them, where war truly is the last resort and not the first option. In my perfect world people’s lives would not be dictated by their neighbor’s religion. The government would not institutionalize bigotry, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, or impose religious doctrine. My perfect world would be a place where race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious preference, etc would not matter. Sure if people wanted to take pride in some aspect of their identity that would be fine, but discriminating against someone for that identity would not be tolerated. My perfect world would be a world in which people were guaranteed the things needed to survive, like food, water, shelter, clean air, and medical attention, but where the safety net was not so comfortable as to encourage living off of it. My perfect world would be a world where people were able to speak their minds without censorship. My perfect world would be a world where the government did not try to control your body, be it what drugs you put into it, or when you decide to start a family. In my perfect world the government would work towards improving the lives of its citizens through a strong public education system and strong environmental protection. In my perfect world the rich would not be punished for being rich, but the poor would not be left to die either.

Those are some of the things I have in mind when I think of a “better world”.

Yet when I listen to conservatives, their “better world” seems so….evil to me. I know it’s not nice to paint it like that, but it just honestly does feel like the antithesis to everything I hold to be good and right.

The trickiest part is how they will often use the same words I do when trying to describe a better world, but by observing their actions and how they vote, I’ve come to understand that there is at the very best a serious semantics issue.

I will put this bluntly. Based off of my observations their “better world” appears as follows:

A place world where only landowners have the right to vote, a world where everyone is assigned strict gender roles and forced to conform to them, a world where white men dominate and control every aspect of society, a world where the power of big government is used to police your bedroom and your body. A “better world” where minorities and women know their place, serving white men; a world where the government is the tool of the rich and powerful and where the poor are left to starve off and die for lack of medical attention, shelter, food and water. A world where public education is non-existent and where all the taxpayer’s money is spent buying bigger guns with which to kill people different from the white men. A world of order, control, and conformity, not diversity, change, and uncertainty.  A world where superstition and religion reign supreme, where the existence of fact is denied. A world rife with sexual repression and discrimination. A world where the environment existed solely to be exploited for profit until it was destroyed.

I’ve acquired this impression of conservatives after having watched them fight tooth and nail against promoting equality among the sexes, races, and genders. Throughout history they have always stood against anything that gave power to people other than straight rich white protestant men. They always vote to cut funding for schools and art and to use that money to make bombs. They fight any legislation that would prevent businesses from raping the environment that we all must live in. They fight against anything that would give aid and comfort to the poor who desperately need it, yet they will die defending the richest millionaires in the country. They always seem to fight against immigrants and anyone who is not white. They fight to enforce and institutionalize discrimination, they fight to enable big government to tell you who to love, who to have sex with, when to have children, where to go to church, what to read/watch/listen to in the media, and what to put into your body. They do all this while chanting “personal liberties” with a straight face. They claim to love democracy and yet they cheer people like Joyce Kaufman when they say “If ballots don’t work, bullets will!” and people like Ann Coulter when they say “We need to put more journalists in jail!” A better world would be one where people resorted to murder if they lost an election; where freedom of speech was non-existent and journalists who disagreed with you were thrown in jail??? Sure Kaufman and Coulter are just two people, but they do not exist in a vacuum. Their ideas have sway with a large group of people in the conservative party.

It just feels evil to me, pure evil. I’m not saying that conservatives are evil, I know plenty who are honest genuinely nice people, but I’m very puzzled as to why they think this would be a “better world”. I feel like I’d end up trying to argue axioms with them like suffering is bad.

Is it irresponsible to try and change the world?

18 Jan

A few months back, perhaps a year or so, I can’t remember, I got into a heated discussion with someone over politics and religion. Nothing unusual right? Well it was for me because, at the time, this was a person for whom I had a great deal of respect an admiration for, and to hear this coming from her blew me away. I’ve often thought about what she said from time to time, and it’s always bugged me. We had plenty of fights, but this one really stuck with me.

She told me something to the effect of “It is irresponsible to try and change the world because you might mess it up even more.” Just ponder the implications of that for a moment. Don’t try and improve things because to might make them worse. Sure you might make them better for people, but you could make it worse. What struck me immediately, though I didn’t tell her to her face, was the irony of that coming from her, a woman attending college with me.

She could go to school, she could get an education, she could vote, she could dress as she pleased, do what she wanted, etc. She was able to do all of this and not be married and pregnant at 12 because generations of women before her had the audacity to be irresponsible and fight for change. The next thing that struck me was just how convenient it was for her to be white, upper middle class, and born in the US in the late 20th century when previous generations had already secured the rights she now took for granted. Of course it doesn’t affect you too much if the world stays the same! You’ve already got everything!

And yet I was the irresponsible one for wanting to make it better, for feeling like having the power to change things for the better gave me the responsibility to do so. I’m sorry, but this just boggles my mind. Am I missing something here? Is it really irresponsible to try and make the world a better place because, heaven forbid, you find a way to actually make it worse than it already is?

 

Obama is a republican

9 Dec

You’re only kidding yourself if you still believe Obama is a democrat; he’s come out and made it abundantly clear that he’s a republican. Here is a short list of reasons why:

Tax cuts and unemployed benefits: Obama has fully taken up the republican position that the richest people in the country should be even richer and that poor people can go to hell. For the longest time republicans have been threatening to filibuster everything unless they got the 2 year extension of Bush tax cuts, essentially holding unemployment benefits hostage. (They can afford to wait, rich people don’t worry about paying the heating bill and putting food on the table with winter coming) Well along comes Obama and, not only does he completely side with the republicans, he gives them more than they could ever dream of. Obama’s tax cuts go much deeper than Bush’s. On top of the normal income tax cuts for people making over $250,000, the estate tax is lowered to 35% from 55% (something republicans have been trying to get for decades!) Secondly, the rich get the majority of their money from investments, not from a job salary, and under these new tax cuts the taxes on the major sources of that income will be 15% (Capital gains, dividend taxes, etc) This means the tax rate on the rich’s main source of income will be drastically lower than the tax rate for normal people. In return for ALL this, Obama gets unemployment benefits extended for a measly 13 months, a little over HALF the amount of time the rich got on their tax cuts. The sick thing is that Obama could have easily gotten much more for the poor had he stood up and fought. (For every $1 government spends on unemployment, it gets $1.40 back in economic activity since poor people turn around and spend the money quickly to buy food and other necessities. Tax cuts for the rich, however, only return about $.40 since they are more likely to save and horde their money during bad economic times)

I really have to admire the republicans on this. Their strategy is brilliant! They get Obama to publicly side with their policies and increase the deficit to make the rich richer, then they will turn around and destroy Obama in 2012 by saying “Look! That damn democrat drastically increased government spending and the deficit!!!!” at which point Obama will crumple into tears “Bu..bu..but I thought you were my friends?” Meanwhile, they have Obama attacking the democrats and doing all the leg work for them!

On the Today Show, David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president said of the democrats “If they don’t vote for this proposal, it will be borderline immoral.”  The Huffington post reports the white house is now blaming the democrats, claiming THEY are holding employment benefits hostage in order to deny a small group of rich people a tax break.  This is a massive and brilliant flip. Even though the republicans have been blocking everything democrats want for the past 2 years, and have been threatening to filibuster everything if they didn’t get their tax cuts, it’s now suddenly the democrats’ fault because they’re not caving to republicans fast enough. Fucking brilliant! At the same time Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic advisor came out and threatened “if the democrats don’t pass this bill within the next couple of weeks, it will materially increase the risk that the economy will stall out and cause a double dip recession.” That’s right, if you don’t give tax cuts to the multi-millionaire bankers that orchestrated the economic crash, then you’re responsible for when they do it again.

This one topic alone is a dream come true for republicans. Karl Rove just came out in praise of Obama’s recognition that republican policies were right. Just the other night Bill O’Reilly praised Obama on his segment “Talking points” saying he did the right thing for the country by siding with “us.”

But enough about republican Obama on tax cuts, what about Social Security?

Yep, Obama just helped put another nail in the coffin of Social Security. Obama came up with the wonderful idea to cut payroll taxes (which is the lifeblood of Social Security) for 6.2% to 4.2% ($120Bn cut). Republicans LOVE it because it helps undermine Social Security. Republican Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee astutely pointed out “Once something like this goes into place, a year from now, when it expires, it’ll be portrayed as a tax increase.” This is also brilliant on the part of the republicans! Obama gives them a tax cut from the life blood of social security (something conservatives despise) and they will portray the tax rate returning to normal as an increase. People won’t like that, and they’ll be able to permanently starve Social Security of that money. Brilliant!

Lets move along the list shall we?

No public option in healthcare. Despite 77% of people supporting a public option that would have increased market competitiveness, Obama sided with the big insurance corporations who didn’t want competition. Instead he let the companies practically write the bill themselves, guaranteeing millions of new customers are forced to buy their product, easily making up the cost and then some for the little concessions they had to make like not dropping you if you got sick.

Federal Pay freeze: Republicans love it! What did Obama get in return for agreeing to it? Jack Shit. (It could easily have been a powerful bargaining chip and he just flat out gave it to them.)

An absolute and humiliating farce of financial reform.

No prosecution on republican war criminals who lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, no prosecution on torture and waterboarding (for which we executed Japanese officers after WWII), in fact Obama CONTINUES to use these illegal “tactics” to get unreliable information.

No end to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, no end to “indefinite detentions” where people disappear into a black bag and are never heard from again.

No end to the secret prisons around the globe.

An escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile 92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11 and have no idea why we’re there. (They just attack us because we’re in their country.

Obama reversed his campaign promises and opened up new areas to off-shore drilling, despite the BP disaster.

Obama took a stance against LGBT rights. His administration even went so far as to appeal gay marriage rulings that were made in favor of LGBT rights.

Obama continued and expanded faith based initiatives, giving government money to religious organizations.

Obama just decided to delay EPA enforcement of pollution regulations.

I could go on, but doing this is getting depressing. I think you get the idea. There is no way in hell Obama is a liberal. He should just abandon all pretenses to being one and change the D by his name to an R. Perhaps then republicans will stop whipping him every time he does their bidding. Who knows, maybe he likes the punishment he recieves in the process of serving them. It’s too bad for him though, it looks like he’s ruined his chance of running as a republican in 2012 since so many of the republican base already are scared of him. (He’s doing what they want, but he’s still black, and that’s scary.) One thing is damn sure though: come 2012, throw his ass to the curb.

Passion, zeal, and my history.

28 Nov

I just finished watching The Baader Meinhof Complex on netfilx and found it pretty thought provoking. The movie follows “the birth of West Germany’s Red Army Faction, a radical left-wing terrorist group formed in the lat 1960’s amid a climate of revolution and a fallen generation.” The movie struck a cord with me because back in my teenage years I might have joined such a group if given the chance to time travel. Might have. Past tense.  The movie was in some way a loose exploration of those teenage fantasies.

As a teenager I never fantasized about bombing buildings or assassinating people, but rather I abstractly fantasized about fighting the man and dying for my comrades. I guess I connected with this movie in that I empathized with the characters’ zeal. I could relate with their feelings of oppression, of desperation, and their sense of the injustice in the world.

I’ve been thinking about zealotry a lot lately. I’m wondering if some people are just more inclined to zealous behavior than others. Thinking back, I was always a zealous person. I’m not sure if it was something in my nature, or the result of the time and place I grew up.

The first time I remember feeling a fanatical devotion to something(someone in this case) was when I was twelve. I was in love, or so I thought, with this beautiful girl who lived just a short ways away. We dated for three months before her mother caught us kissing and her father forced us to break up. I would leave roses on her front porch and her father would throw them away. I was determined to get her back, even though she said her father wouldn’t let her date until she was sixteen. I would count the days in my school calendar. Later, I received a tip from her friend pointing me to her live journal. There I found two entries where she detailed how much she disliked me, was never interested beyond a mere crush, and how she had found a new guy. (I printed it out at the time and I still have that worn old piece of paper in a fireproof lockbox, along with other sentimental things)

It was around this same time that I discovered evangelical Christianity. A friend from school was a born-again Christian and he taught me how to pray/mediate. I remember going to special church classes and watching videos that detailed the evils of psychics and ouija boards. My parents, a moderate methodist and an apathetic non-practicing Jew, didn’t see much harm in it; though they were slightly annoyed when I used all my mom’s garlic powder to seal the doors and windows on Halloween in order to keep evil spirits out. The odd thing was that my new found religious faith never really transfered over to politics. I was 12-13 and too busy playing video games and sneaking onto porn sites to pay much attention to politics. I remember standing in my parent’s bedroom late at night watching the 2000 election. I was rooting for George W. Bush, though in the same manner one arbitrarily roots for a sports team in a game you don’t overly care about.

My Zealotry really took off after I met my first actual love. She was witty, intelligent, beautiful, and one of those liberals I had loosely heard about. I have a vague memory of us leaving the mall in her mom’s car at night, and us having some deep political conversation where she converted me to liberalism. According to my memory, which very well may be a complete and unconscious fabrication, she was very proud of herself for convincing me, but warned me saying something like “Careful, there is non more zealous than a convert.” That poorly lit memory has stayed with me all these years.

It was at this time that the focus of my passion was shifting from Christianity to politics. High-school opened me up to new people, new ideas, and I no longer considered myself an evangelical Christian, but some amalgamation of Christianity, Buddhism, and my own spirituality. The city I grew up in was fairly large for Virginia, about a quarter million people. Nonetheless the area I grew up in was very conservative. Throughout high-school I became increasingly politically active as I became ever more aware of just how much in the minority I was. I would print out long political messages on entire sheets of paper and tape them to the back of my car. I started volunteering my weekends at political campaigns, making phone calls, updating data bases, and going door to door. I even went to an anti-war protest with the afore mentioned beautiful girl. I was perhaps most active in yard sign wars.

During election season I would sneak out early in the morning, with my car full of yard signs, and place them at strategic locations I had scoped out the day before. I often did this while blasting Green Day on the stereo. It gave me a huge rush to do this in a very conservative area. I guess I became addicted to that rush. One time I spent over an hour placing about 100 signs early in the morning, only to discover them ALL stolen a few hours later when I drove to school. I was so furious, I couldn’t concentrate at all that day. I then started a tic-for-tat retribution campaign. I kept track of my signs, and stole one in retribution every time one of mine went missing. I even got a large poster, wrote my tic-for-tat war policy on it, placed it at a major intersection where several signs had gone missing, and signed it “The Democrat”. Later I got a phone call from a friend who had watched as someone stopped, got out of their car, and destroyed my sign before his very eyes.

That election season, I think it was 2004 and the second presidential election with Bush, was particularly bad. Not only were my signs constantly stolen, but even the signs on my car were stolen or vandalized. I was even run off the road one night because of a yard sign I had taped to the back of my car. I was shaking, even though I felt the rush. The majority of my teenage years were spent under a heavy siege mentality. This in turn just spurred on my zealotry. I felt like an animal trapped in a corner, and I was determined not to go down without a fight. Sometimes in class I would daydream of setting up a democrat paramilitary fast response team, should civil war break out. I fantasized about us roping in from helicopters or speeding to the rescue on motorcycles, protecting civilians from the conflict. I would even design the patch emblems for our uniforms in the margins of my school work.

During the election seasons I became an avid news junkie. I would turn on CNN any chance I got. Sometimes I’d even watch C-SPAN (a channel that broadcasts the live, and rather bland, proceedings within congress). There was one show on CNN in particular that really struck me: Crossfire. I was amazed at how these political pundits could cite names, dates, statistics, etc from memory. I REALLY wanted to be able to do that. At the same time I was taking Advanced Placement Government in high school and we’d often debate in class. This being the day before smart phones and instant internet access, I sat down one night and spent several hours building a “Battle Binder.” In this 1 inch D-ring binder I created sections for every major issue of the day, along with every relevant name, date, statistic, and talking points. I even included common arguments and refutations. It weighed a ton, but I carried it around with me everywhere I went. I dared other kids to debate with me. Some foolishly did, stating their view on some position, citing some anecdotal evidence about what they heard their dad say, and then I would pull out my battle binder and crush them. They couldn’t compete when I could instantly produce full color charts, timelines of legislation, relevant court cases, you name it. Eventually the other kids stopped talking to me about politics. (I still have that binder in the attic)

2006 was when everything shattered. It was an election year for congress, and I fought hard to get democrats elected. Bush had won a second term, the two wars were starting to drag on with no end in site, and we were starting to learn of the warrant-less wiretaps, secret detention centers, and torture. Well democrats one big that year, I was so elated. They took control of congress and I thought “Now! Now that the good guys are in charge, we can finally stop Bush! We can even impeach him for his war crimes!”

And then nothing changed. Nothing.

This was my first taste of betrayal, and boy was it a spoonful. Here I was, a zealous supporter of the party, willing to fight and die if need be, and I was betrayed by my leaders who promptly caved to every republican demand. It was like being thrown into a pool of icy cold water. I became intensely cynical and bitter. Almost five years later and I still am, though the edge has worn off.

My passion, what was left of it, needed a new seemingly hopeless cause to fight for. By now I had developed a strong love for the underdog. I believed that democrats were the underdog, and worthy of fighting for, but with them in power and ceding everything to the conservatives, that was gone. I needed a new underdog, something with deeper meaning than just political parties.

Enter atheism.

It was my freshman year of college and I was exposed to more world-views than at any other point in my life. It was also the first time I had ever heard of an atheist, or met one for that matter. In fact, I met two. One was a history professor, the other was a friend of a girl I had a crush on. Though I was a wishy-washy feel good spiritualist at the time, I took their advice and began investigating atheism on my own. One of the first people I ran into was Richard Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”. The arguments really resonated with me and his passion spoke to something crestfallen within me. To add to that, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more underdog-ish than atheism. We’re the extreme minority, despised and distrusted by the vast majority of the world. Atheism is hopelessly outnumbered, and there is something deeply attractive in that.

So my passion was rekindled, though tempered by my experiences. While watching that film tonight, I could see a lot of my pre-2006 self in those RAF members. Naive, hopelessly idealistic, reckless, zealots. The whole time I could not help but notice the extreme contrast between how beautiful, sexual, and vibrant they were, and how violent, disgusting, and shocking their actions were. The way the film was shot, I knew we were supposed to at least partially be on their side, but I could not bring myself to support them. Through the use of violence, you watch them transform into the monsters they set out to fight. As good as it might feel to shoot back, you lose the moral high ground when you do, and that is imperative when winning a war of ideas.

My zealotry has been tempered, and that includes my teenage fantasies about fighting. This is especially true when it comes to atheism. Atheists pride themselves on not doing the dumb shit religious people do to each other. No setting off car bombs in cafes, no flying planes into buildings, no shooting doctors, no assassinations, no gang style shootouts. While I still sometimes fantasize of an Illuminati style atheist resistance, violence would be off-limits. I’d sooner shoot my own squad member then let them carry out some act of violence against our rivals. Not only would it only make them martyrs and stronger, but it would sacrifice our moral high ground.

So as a terse conclusion to this abnormally verbose post: It’s interesting for me to think back about how I was in my teenage years. Was I alone in feeling like this? Did other people go through a similar zealous phase? If you did, what made you change? Or is it ongoing? Was this passion and need for a cause some how inherent in me, or a product of the environment in which I grew up?

Radical religion’s war on education

18 Nov

Today I was listening to the Reasonable Doubts podcast and they had a really interesting segment on the religious right’s attack on education. Here is my summary of what they had to say:

It is a well known fact that on average the more educated a person is the less likely they are to be conservative or religious. (Yes there are highly educated conservative and religious people, but the data shows that these people are anomalies)

Education and exposure to different cultures/people/worldviews has a corrosive effect on religious faith and conservatism. The radical religious right’s response to this fact is to isolate their children from the world with home schooling, while simultaneously working to undermine public education. My non-American readers might be shocked to find out that here in America parents can homeschool their children with little to no qualifications or curriculum standards; in essence they can teach, or not teach, anything they want regardless of their own education level.

Often in the United States you will hear defenders of homeschooling put forth statistics that suggest homeschooled children excel in all areas, especially scholastic aptitude tests. The fact is, all of these statics are bogus and poorly collected. There is an excellent article in the Peabody Journal of Education by Dr. Eric Isenberg titled “What have we learned about homeschooling?” In the article Isenberg examines the quantitative data on homeschooling, how extensive it is, and how it is collected and then goes point by point showing that essentially it is a black hole.

We do not have good data on homeschooling or its effectiveness. Why? Because the religious right fought hard to make sure the government wasn’t allowed to collect such data. They deliberately want to keep it as unclear as possible. If data was accurately collected it would show the appalling low level of education these homeschoolers are receiving.

The conservative religious right has set up a system where homeschooled children can go from their sheltered home “education” straight to private religious fundamentalist “universities” without ever encountering an idea or person who might challenge their faith. These students then graduate from these “schools” and are often hired as government aids to work for conservative officials. This was recently very prominent when Bush was in power. A lot of his aids were from these private religious institutions. He legal defense team was made up of “Liberty” “University” graduates, a “school” 10 minutes from where I went to college. This system and it’s goals of raising up fundamentalist children sheltered from opposing view points has a name and a website, “Generation Joshua.” (There is an interesting NY Times Best Seller book by Michelle Goldberg on this subject titled “Kingdom Coming.”)

Another way these religious fundamentalist schools affect the public is through tax vouchers for private schools. Through tax vouchers, the public has to subsidize families who choose to send their children to private schools instead of public ones. The political spin is that this is about “school choice,” but if you see past the bullshit it’s really about back-door public funding for religious schools. Almost all private schools in the United States are religious. The guys on Reasonable Doubts even pointed out that the even some of the few officially “secular” charter schools are actually very religious in their curriculum while remaining outwardly worldly.

Public education is a blight for the radical religious right. Pat Robertson, infamous televangelist and founder of Regent “University”, had this to say about tax vouchers: “They say vouchers would spell the end of public schools in America. To which we say, so what?” Jerry Falwell (the same as Robertson and also founded his own “school,” “Liberty” “University”) had this to say on the matter: “I hope to live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, there won’t be any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!” Luckily the fat bastard died before that could happen, but his minions are hard at work trying to advance his “vision.”

These institutions are bastions of conservatism and religion. Here students are taught what to think as opposed to how to think, and their curricula are carefully crafted to be as bias and twisted as possible. “Liberty” “University” even went so far as to ban liberals. The fact is that the radical religious right’s worldview cannot survive in the free market of ideas. When exposed to the sunlight of different cultures, people, points of view, and education in general, it shrivels up and dies. To protect their fragile children from reality, the religious right sets up system whereby students are exposed only to “approved” ideas. I find it hilariously ironic that conservatives like to claim liberals are like Maoists and Stalinists while they’re the ones with thought police institutions with portraits of Jesus on the walls.

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