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The Generation of Generalization

2013-spring-comic-issue-11-lactose-intoleranceSo I heard a rumor that a teacher at a local school (I’m being deliberately vague) is making broad judgments, during class, about parents and people who vote for a particular presidential candidate.  We all really like this teacher, and to some extent I don’t even disagree with their opinion.  And yet I am very unsettled by this.

I’ve been asking myself why it bothers me so much.

I think it’s because it feels like updated McCarthyism.

And because, especially when it’s passed down from a teacher to students, it is a form of thought police, stifling disagreement, discouraging debate, exchanging critical thinking for mere intellectual fascism.

And because the pet error of our generation is the insistence that disagreement equals stupidity.  More than that, disagreement may even represent a sort of dangerous, idiot evil that needs to be put down by force, if necessary.

We’ve all bought into it by degrees— the generation of generalization.  We pride ourselves in holding two entirely contradictory ideas in our heads: “bigotry is bad” and “all X people are Y”.

It can manifest in endless ways:

All Trump voters are racist idiots.

Liberals are all intellectually-dishonest cowards.

White people ignore police brutality.

Black people riot and loot.

Christians are anti-science haters.

Nickelback listeners are tasteless rubes.

Did that last one make you smile?  Does it seem OK to generalize based on musical taste?  Like some generalizations are harmless?

That’s pretty sad.  The ugliness of generalization– of bigotry– is fractal.  It’s the same vicious shape no matter how small and seemingly harmless we reduce it.

It’s a rotten, invasive little seed of prejudice that can’t be planted in just one corner of our intellectual garden.  It takes over.  It taints, then becomes the entire garden, obliterating all other consideration.

We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that the easiest way to feel big is to stand on someone else.  We think it’s OK, because we don’t make it a person, we make it some generalized group or demographic or voting block or sexual orientation or cultural category.

We think that judging a person is evil.  But judging people– based entirely on superficial group affiliation– is just fine.

Maybe even our moral duty.

In our world, people aren’t different from us because they’ve had different life experiences that have formed alternate views and opinions.

They’re different because they’re stupid, and immoral, and dangerous.  Period.

I don’t want to be misconstrued on one thing, however: People can be wrong.  Their life experiences may have fostered perceptions and approaches and attitudes that may indeed be completely mistaken, inaccurate, and even destructive.  But it’s the grand ego of our generation to insist, first and foremost, that difference equals stupidity.  Nothing less, and absolutely, positively nothing more.

So that, I think, is what bothers me about a teacher making broad, categorical judgments about “everyone who votes for X”.  Not because I like X, but because it perpetuates an ugliness that is already way too prevalent.  Personally, I think this mentality— the generation of generalization, the doublethink that bigotry is only bad if it’s bigotry against the wrong people— is a much, much bigger threat to society than any presidential candidate could ever be.

How a Regular American Could Become President With One Unusual Message

newyorkcity_crowd_shutterstock_160644944I call myself a conservative, but I’m really not that different from most of my liberal friends (of whom there are many) when it comes to the things we care about.  I also identify pretty consistently with my libertarian friends as well, and can even share some common ground with my few Socialist pals.

In every case, we can be friends and have good discussion not because we agree on how things should get done (that rarely happens) but because we do agree on why things should get done.

If I ran for president, I would probably end up on the Republican ticket, somewhere in that murky historic middle ground between Abe Lincoln and Donald Trump, and yet my strongest statement would be this:

I have more in common with the typical Democrat voter than I do with the typical Republican politician

My message would be that I respect and share many of the concerns of the rank-and-file Democrat.  And when my fellow Republicans arose in affronted surprise, I would remind them: we don’t fault our Democrat friends for caring deeply for the poor and underclass, or the environment, or those who’ve experienced unfair hurdles or discrimination in life, blocking their path to the success and liberty we all strive for. These are all worthy concerns, and we share them.

The problem is that we’ve conflated our good Democrat neighbors with the bad Democrat politicians, those who’ve exploited their constituents’ passions, and responded with bloated, flabby government programs that rarely succeed in alleviating the problem (assuming they were designed to succeed in the first place, and aren’t merely weak attempts to appease a Democrat electorate that they believe is too stupid to look past the “good intentions”).

To Democrat Americans, I would say loudly and repeatedly: you are my allies, and I am yours.  What you care about matters deeply, because these are things we should all care about.  We may often disagree on the how, but we will find a way, because we do agree on the why.

And to the American Democrat, I would go on: You don’t really hate your Republican neighbors the way you’ve been told to by your leaders and culture.  Your leaders need you to hate, because it translates to votes and viewers.  And I understand the allure of hating “the villainous other”– we all do.

Because hate often feels righteous.

And yet really, you don’t hate your Republican neighbors, whose deepest concerns are to protect the core goodness of our culture, to be free to have reverence for their faith, to respect the boundaries of personal responsibility, to fight for everyone’s freedom to choose their own path, and reap the possible rewards.

What you, my Democrat friends, rightfully hate are the bad Republican politicians who’ve exploited those causes for mere power, with little intention of assuring fairness of opportunity for everyone, who’ve catered to the lowest denominators of greed, and the tiniest, ugly percent of an otherwise wholesome constituency.

Our enemies are not each other.  If I were president, I would listen to the concerns of all sides, and work as hard as possible to find workable solutions for the good causes that we all share.

We have harbored distrust and animosity for so long that it’s become a virtue of our respective camps. 

And the truth is, we aren’t wrong in our distrust and animosity.  We’ve simply allowed the politicians– and the media that feeds off them like a remora feeds off a shark– to turn the focus of that mistrust onto each other, instead of them.

Because let’s all face the facts: Democrat or Republican, they’ve all had decades to get this right, and all they’ve accomplished is maintaining the status quo, living off our trust like vampires, spending all their energy working to make us hate each other, distracting us from their own deliberate incompetence.

Hillary wants to be president of the Democrat half of the country.  She is unabashed about this.  Trump wants to be President of what remains of the Republican half of the country, bullying for them while rubbing everyone else’s noses in their loss of power and influence.

What we need is a president who is the president of everyone.  Who understands and commits to the belief that the American citizen, regardless of party, has worthy concerns, and should never be punished, or ridiculed, or excluded for them. 

We won’t often agree on how to do good things.  But it’s time to focus first on the fact that, deep down, we, the American people, all do want good things, both for our families, and our neighbors, and our communities.

For too long we’ve submitted to politicians and the media pitting factions of American people against each other.

We have to stop defending our bad politicians as if they somehow represent us and deserve our unflagging loyalty merely for having the proper letter in front of their names.

They do not.

We all have common ground, but those who gain from division have done everything they can to hide that from us.

Because part of our common ground is that it isn’t our Democrat or Republican neighbors who are the problem.  The problem is the politicians and media who’ve fed off making us believe so.

So talk to your friends from opposing perspectives.  Make a point of finding the common ground, because it does exist.  Avoid the all-too-easy impulse to focus on the differences in the how, to mock and belittle and argue.

Get out of the intellectual prison-camps of extremism that our politicians and culture have herded us into like the cattle they believe we are.

Let’s be united again, in purpose.  Let’s be Americans first, before Democrats and Republicans.

If we can rise to a higher nature and do that, if we can remember that we agree on the why, then the how will eventually come.

If I was running for president, that would be my first and most oft-repeated message.  My guiding principle.  My deepest vision.

It may be naive, and the hurdle of overcoming our easy hatred and division may be so high that we cannot leap it in one election, or even one generation.

But anyone who aims for anything easier or lesser should never,ever earn our vote.

What Siri Taught Me About Understanding Existence

 

I consider myself a skeptic—that is, someone who examines and questions his beliefs and perceptions.  And yet I’ve never felt quite comfortable in the community of Skeptics (big S).

Upon reading an article by (and about) Skeptics, I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ll spoil this whole blog post by giving the answer now:

Skeptics are only skeptical of the sources they’re inclined not to trust anyway.

This is not true skepticism.  In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite.

The thing Skeptics ignore is that there has to be more than one way for humans to ascertain truth about the world.  The Skeptic relies exclusively on Intellect/Reason.  What can be seen, measured, proved, and repeated.

This is a comfortable place to be, admittedly, because we live in a culture that reveres (perhaps even idolizes) science.

sciencelastsupper

“I don’t care how many decimal places you average the check down to. Did you see how many drinks Hitchens had?”

But there must be at least two other avenues by which humans perceive the world.  For the sake of simplification, let’s call them Heart/Emotion and Spirit/Revelation.

(And with that, all my Skeptic friends have already checked out.  For the rest of you, hang in there.)

These three methods of understanding the world are like three techniques of getting directions to a place: satellite navigation, a paper map, and asking a bystander.

Intellect/Reason is like using satnav to get somewhere.  It’s precise, bloodless, and (ostensibly) utterly objective.  I myself prefer satnav.  I’m happy to let my phone tell me when and where to turn.  I trust the science behind it.  I respect and understand, if vaguely, the reliability of satellite triangulation married to the most perfectly scanned and catalogued maps of planet earth that have ever existed in human history.

But then there’s Heart/Emotion, which is more like the paper map in the glove compartment: trustworthy in and of itself, but always subject to the interpretation of the reader.  My wife prefers a paper map, something she can unfold in her hands and translate with her own brain, wedding what’s on the page to her own skills and experiences.

And finally there is Spirit/Revelation, which is most akin to stopping alongside the road and asking a stranger for directions.  With this method, one is no longer relying on their own personal skill, experience, or rationality but is trusting instead on an outside source of knowledge.

directions

“Turn right at youthful idealism, hang a louie at unresolved guilt, and just follow the signs for middle-age resentment. Easy peasy!”

Now I’ll be honest: it’s very easy to see why Skeptics ignore (and even belittle) the second two methods of understanding the world, placing all of their emphasis firmly on Intellect/Reason.

Heart/Emotion, just like a paper map, is entirely subject to the skills of the individual parsing the data.  The person reading the map/feeling the emotion may be accurately responding to the input while simultaneously completely misinterpreting it.  Some of the worst fights my wife and I have ever experienced have revolved around misread directions, both of the cartographic and emotional variety.

Spirit/Revelation is even easier to dismiss.  This is why most men are stereotypically loath to ask directions.  It’s perceived as surrender, a sign of weakness, even a defeat.  Trusting an external source of revelation is not only seen as unreliable, but as an offensive abdication of one’s own competence.

Thus, I can’t exactly blame the Skeptic for ignoring everything except for Intellect/Reason.  In the same way that I would be happy to never open another paper map or ask directions ever again.  I love my satnav.  I trust it.

And yet, embarrassingly enough, satellite navigation has failed me on more than a few occasions.  It’s directed me to the center of an industrial park loading dock instead of the pizza place I was looking for.  It’s missed destinations by many blocks, all while insisting I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  It has sometimes tried to take me to entirely different cities.  It will insist a destination doesn’t exist at all if I input the name in a way even slightly different than it understands.

In short, satnav is imperfect.  Cell reception can be sketchy, the data can be input incorrectly, satellite map information can be confusing, even to a computer.  (Consider, for a moment, the invisible island that Google maps insists is there.)

googlemaps

“Go home, Google.  You’re drunk.”

Similarly, let’s be honest: Intellect/Reason can lead us astray as well, or bypass some truths altogether.

For example, back in Copernicus’ day when the debate was about the center of the universe, some scientists argued that everything revolved around the earth using very reasonable, scientific logic: parallax.  They knew that if the earth was moving around the sun, the spaces between the stars would shift throughout the year as the earth changed position relative to them.  Since this was not observable, science dictated that the earth was stationary.

Of course, just like with my satnav, it wasn’t the science itself that was wrong, but the tools of implementing it.  The scientists of Copernicus’ day didn’t have sensitive enough equipment to measure the parallax of the stars.

The tools of Intellect/Reason are necessarily limited.  There are some things they simply cannot measure or understand.  Science may be able to show why hunger chemically affects the chemical balance of a human brain, but it’s no good at helping me discern if my wife is truly mad about the lawn needing mowed or if she’s just hangry.

hangry2.gif

That’s where Heart/Emotion come in.

Heart/Emotion, like reading a map, can be unreliable.  But that’s only if my interpretation is clumsy.  The emotion, just like the map itself, is accurate in and of itself.  It’s my duty to learn how to interpret the data in a reliable and meaningful way.

And there are essential things I can learn via that study that no amount of “in a quarter mile, turn right” satnav will ever teach me.  Emotional data, like a map, can illustrate the subtle topography of human interaction and the psychological distances between ideologies (and how they might loop back on one another).  Emotional truth helps me understand and relate to my wife and kids and friends.  It provides the mechanism of empathy, compassion, romance, and persuasion.

But what of Spirit/Revelation?

This method of learning about the world and existence is much maligned (and understandably so) because it isn’t as simple as asking a bystander how to find an address.  We all know how to choose a reliable source for directions.  We ask the wizened gas station jockey, not the wino on the corner or the toddler in the playground.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple when it comes to revelation about life and existence.  Sources for revelatory knowledge can seem nebulous, numerous, and even mythical.  But this may be because we are no longer trained in the art of divining (pun intended) the spiritual equivalent of the gas station expert from the homeless meth addict.

Like learning to reliably interpret emotions, learning how to test and translate knowledge obtained via Spirit/Revelation is largely a lost art, either because we think it’s silly (the Skeptic) or because we trust anything and everything (the Mystic).

But the fact that this method is the least understood and/or the most clumsily engaged is not a legitimate reason to ignore it.

Imagine if we applied the same logic to an electron microscope or a DSM manual.

The thing Skeptics love about Intellect/Reason is that knowledge gained via this manner is shareable.  It can be documented and repeated.

Knowledge gained via Heart/Emotion and Spirit/Revelation is much harder to share.  But this cannot mean it is less valuable or useful.

That would be like saying love is a myth because I can’t make you love what I do.clamato

(What I love.)

So, circling back to my first paragraph: the problem with Skeptics is that they are people inclined toward one method of knowledge happily applying skepticism to the *other* methods of knowledge.

And to be fair, this is the same problem with Mystics.  And Romantics.

We are all inclined to prefer one way of learning about the world over another.  And we are all wired to wholly exercise that method and let the others languish.

But what if truth can only be really approached when we find a way to balance all three methods?  When we find that sweet spot between Intellect, Heart, and Spirit?

What if real skepticism means using all three methods of knowledge to hone and test the others?

Let’s take it a step further: what if Intellect, Heart, and Spirit are a little like Rock, Paper, and Scissors?  Each with their own individual strength and weakness, but undefeatable as a trio?  What if our ability to approach truth is only really honed when we are capable of engaging any of those three options, each tempered and bolstered by the other?

This is possibly where modern society falls down the hardest—the thing that future cultures will most laugh at and lament about us.  From Neil Degrasse Tyson to Bill Nye, to “I Fucking Love Science”, we’re so in love with the smug superiority of Intellect that we’ve become abject puny weaklings when it comes to Heart and Spirit.

We’ve removed all but one tool from our toolbox of knowledge.

We throw the same hand every time we play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

And no matter how superior we may feel about it, we’re the worse for it.

So to end this on an upshot, let’s practice with another tool.  Next time you want to throw Rock, try Paper.  Next time you want to dismiss a belief because it hearkens to a source of knowledge you dismiss, consider it anyway.  Next time you agree with something because it corresponds to your preferred tool for understanding the world, be skeptical.  Test it against another way of divining truth.

I dare you.

Challenge yourself.  Practice the far more difficult skills of interpreting your Heart and Spirit.  Get uncomfortable with some new ideas.  Instead of poking at other people’s stupid beliefs, try to find the stupidity in your own.

Because no matter what, it’s there.

Oh man, is it ever.

Just like with mine.

At the intersection of heart, mind, and spirit, maybe just once…

try ignoring your satnav.

10 Differences if “Downton Abbey” had been made for American television

I know I am several years late to this party, but I’ve only recently discovered Downton Abbey.  I had no idea of its power, otherwise I never would have approached the event horizon of its attention-absorbing black hole.  As it is, my wife and I are irreversibly sucked in.  We shall be spat out only when we run out of episodes on Amazon Prime or the brilliant BBC wonks stop producing it.  Curse those amazing Brits and their fantastic casting, self-loathing rapier wit, and unimpeachable writing!

But it got me wondering: what would Downton Abbey have been like if it had been produced by Americans, for American TV?  I’m pretty sure the following list sums it up.

—————-

10.  Bates murders Thomas in the first season, accompanied by a pithy one-liner (“somebody’s going DOWN in Downton…”). He then develops a taste for vigilantism and goes to London in search of Jack the Ripper.

bates

“… and after that, it’s that Carmen San Diego broad…”

 

9.  Lady Edith is slowly transformed into the unpredictable Kramer-esque breakout character with an over-used, buzz-worthy catchphrase: “Mary! Kiss my kippers!” [laugh track]

downton-abbey-edith-590x350

“I received a letter today from cousin Urkel…”

 

8.  Sarah O’Brien is revealed to be distantly related to Nelly Olsen from “Little House on the Prairie”. There is a crossover episode.

Siobhan-Finneran-368097

(Why Mary is blind and Cousin Albert gets on Drugs)

 

7.  Dabney Coleman plays “OverLord Grantham”, a vicious, abusive industrialist making gilded-age wealth on the backs of child labor and gleeful pollution. His nemesis is an inexplicable environmental rights solicitor played by Kate Winslet.

lordgrantham

“Carson, when will the orphans be served?  For dinner?”  [evil cackle]

 

6.  They have a torrid love/hate affair in the third season.

4titanic1997hdripxvidacp

“Slightly better than floating on a headboard in the Atlantic.”

 

5.  Matthew Crawley uses the family fortune to build “Titanic Too, the Sequel”. He accompanies it on its maiden voyage and is shipwrecked on an Island. There, he builds a weird hatch and a button with a timer attached to it. He has a polar bear for some reason.

lost

[sniff] “Smells like new money.”

 

4.  Carson the Butler spends his free time solving murders in nearby villages with the help of his sidekick, a cockney street urchin played by Jaden Smith. During season four, they briefly leave Downton Abbey to attempt their own spin-off series called “Carson and the Kid”.

carson

“Pray, inform the constable that we have located Lord Mustard’s candlestick. It was in the Library.”

 

3.  The entirety of season five is a self-contained story arc in which aliens invade Downton intent on abducting Lady Mary as their queen. Her parents are ecstatic about this plan, but Mary screws it up somehow by being horrible. Aunt Rosamund is revealed to be a giant praying mantis wearing a human suit. The aliens wipe everyone’s memories and leave, thus nullifying the entire season.

season2_characters_slideshow_rosamund_04.jpg

“Those aren’t feathers.  They’re my antennae.”

 

2.  In season six, Daisy the scullery maid witnesses the Dowager Countess using a magic wand to turn a teacup into a frog. She doesn’t tell anyone, but suddenly starts wearing a burgundy-and-gold knitted scarf and calling the family “My Muggle Lord and lady”. The Countess pays for Daisy’s silence with Leprechaun gold.

0*k1T6xzO6p9Z7PP4r

“Have the chauffeur drop her off in Knockturn Alley.”

 

1.  In the final season, the entire family moves to Dallas, Texas and gets into the oil business. Cora miraculously gets pregnant with a son, whom they name “John Ross”. Downstairs, everyone starts calling him “J. R.”.

Larry-Hagman-as-JR-Ewing--006.jpg

[sniff] “Smells like old money.”

 

I’m Rock, You’re Water (A Love Story/Fable/Social Commentary)

intro

Rock and Water had a complex relationship from the start…

Water spent most of her time running along streams and rivers, tossing waves around her oceans, occasionally getting into hurricane rages about this or that, and often pouring herself out as life-giving rain over the land.

Rock spent most of his time sitting perfectly still and doing not much of anything except being heavy and hard, thereby providing the backbone for everything from mountains to molehills, from garages to castles.

Rock and Water couldn’t be any more different, and yet they both tended to respect each other, being equal parts of the world, and being equally necessary and worthwhile, albeit in extremely different ways.

Of course, unsurprisingly, sometimes their mutual respect turned sour. Sometimes Water got into Rock’s cracks and froze and broke him apart. “I spent two hundred million years getting into that shape!” he would exclaim.

notcool.jpg

And sometimes Rock was made into a dam that blocked the flow of Water’s rivers. “Just because you’re happy to lie around all day, do you have to stop me from moving!?” she’d shout at him. “Just look at my tributaries! They’re getting all fat!”

And sometimes there were deep jealousies between them.

One day, while Rock was contenting himself as a giant boulder on a hill, he watched how Water cascaded wildly down a nearby cliff-face, crashing into a deep pool below and roaring with laughter all the way.

showoff

He mustered every ounce of his complicated stony geology and melted himself into lava, committed to joining Water. Hissing and burning everything in sight, he delighted in his molten form, convinced that Water would be impressed at just how liquidy he could be.

Unfortunately, as soon as he joined Water on the cliff-face, she erupted into angry steam. “Get away! You’ll ruin everything, you big stupid clod!”

“Fine! Be that way!” Rock sulked, and solidified again, blocking the water flow. The few chunks of stone that did make it over the cliff looked pathetic as they tumbled like bricks, making ugly splashes in the pool below and sinking straight to the darkness of the bottom.

A few millennia later, Water felt some jealousy of her own. Rock was always being made into amazing things, from mountains to mansions. “I can be just as constructive as him,” she challenged herself.

showoff2

Summoning all of her hydro-dynamic energy, she solidified into a lake of solid ice. Inspired, some humans turned away from the Rock, choosing instead to cut Water’s ice into huge blocks for building. They constructed a hotel out of her and lit her with hundreds of lights. She looked positively ethereal, shining in the snow like a crystalline castle. “Rock never looked as good as this,” she said smugly. “I can be hard and beautiful.”

hottub

And yet, despite her beauty and hardness, the humans who came to visit never stayed long. They exclaimed about her beauty, but complained about her coldness. And soon enough, the seasons changed and no matter how hard Water tried, she couldn’t maintain her solidness. She melted away with a deep, angry sigh of weariness.

Rock laughed a little smugly, knowing that the things built from him lasted thousands and even millions of years.

A different time, Rock tried to assume a majestic expanse like Water’s oceans, turning himself into a massive desert. It had waves, just like the ocean, but they were much harder and slower.

itchier

No one sailed boats on Rock’s sandy waves. The humans mostly avoided the desert ocean. Virtually nothing lived there. Rock sighed angrily, knowing that his plan had failed, but being Rock, just left his desert lying there anyway.

Water saw how richly moss grew on Rock’s boulders and mountains, carpeting them with lush green. She tried to lay still long enough to grow some moss of her own, but hers was a stagnant scum that stank and stifled her depths. Within a few decades, she threw the moss off and started running again in disgust.

rack

And yet still, Rock saw how Water frolicked on the beaches, and he longed deeply to join her. He watched the majesty of her hurricanes and respected her. He felt her give herself to the land as rain, and he yearned for her.

“She’s more regal and beautiful and dynamic than I can ever hope to be,” he told himself.

Water, for her part, looked up at Rock’s imposing mountains and admired him. She saw the things built from him and respected him. She saw his steadfast reliability in the face of constant changing seasons and pined for him.

“He’s more solid and unscalable and immutable than I will ever be,” she sighed in her deepest heart.

Silently, they loved each other. They were equal in importance, in beauty, in strength. And yet, the more they tried to express their mutual admiration and affection by trying to be like the other, the further they pushed apart.

Water, when she tried to become Rock, was brittle and cold. Rock, when he tried to become Water, was destructive and searing.

eww

Time went by. The years drifted into millennia. And then, slowly, a realization began to dawn on each of them, separately but similarly.

They were drawn to each because of their differences. And they were both only the best of themselves when they embraced those things that made them so different.

And further, they realized that it was when they were both completely themselves that they complemented each other and loved each other best.

Water could not frolic on the beach without the reliable bed of Rock’s sands. She could not cascade into waterfalls without the comforting strength of Rock’s cliffs.

And Rock could not be carved into his most impressive canyons over the centuries without water’s gentle, dynamic influence. His beauty was the shadow of hers, molded imperceptibly over time, made soft in the only way that he could be, by constant, gentle pressure.

Amazingly, both Rock and Water came to the same epiphany at the same time: they were only able to be their best selves when they allowed their other to be as different from them as they were made to be.

Water still resented Rock’s stubbornness. And Rock still chafed at Water’s persistent flowing energy. But with patience and an occasional eye-roll, they settled down together. They loved each other for their immense, necessary differences, not as bad imitations of themselves, but as their equal and opposite.

Rock scattered himself as boulders and stepping stones and rocky beds along the many miles of Water’s favorite, most curvaceous river. Together, they made rapids and shallows, circling pools and swift cascades, waterfalls and babbling currents. She laughed all day under the influence of his immobile solidity, and he softened over the years, his boulders losing their craggy viciousness and his stones becoming smooth as pillows, glittering under Water’s crystalline embrace.

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They were utterly different, and sometimes they still drove each other crazy. But they were the best themselves when they were together. They knew this, and reveled in it.

And it only took a little over four billion years.

Last Word on the Refugees (in 34 words)

Refugees this and refugees that.  It’s taken over social media and so everybody has to have an opinion.  It’s like a nuclear arms race of memes.  As usual, no one really wants to be persuasive and change minds, they just want their side to be king of the moral hill.

I won’t be posting any memes.  I won’t be pretending “Jesus was a refugee” or claiming that all Muslims are terrorists.  Amazingly, I have an idea that the truth is a lot more nuanced than your average gotcha bumper sticker that makes one side all smarmy and the other side splutter at how inane it is.

I will say I do think that it is, within reason, our duty both as Americans and (for those that call themselves such) Christians to help the refugees in whatever way we can– with the obvious caveat that we should screen as well as possible (which I doubt is really all that well).

But here’s the thing, and this is as close to a meme as I’ll come, so maybe I should put these 34 words in a fun, over-sized font:

If you haven’t opened your front door to let your local homeless population camp in your living room, maybe don’t dictate to us that we do the equivalent in our communities, states, and nations.

It’s not quite so easy being charitable to the homeless when it’s your own front door, kids, fridge and wallet on the line, methinks.

I’ve offered this challenge (in a hopefully much more respectful tone) to several of my friends who are very vocal about the issue and not gotten any direct response to it.

Well, one did suggest that I couldn’t be a follower of Jesus.  Guess I’m kicked out of that club.

Again, I DO THINK WE SHOULD HELP THEM.  But stop pretending that the people who struggle with the safety and financial and cultural repercussions don’t have legitimate concerns.  They’re probably the ones paying for it, who have kids they’re worried about, who already have communities full of struggling families, who may even BE one of those struggling families, so show them some patience and respect.  Let them know their concerns are legit, and it may be a hard choice, but that’s what it means to sacrifice for our neighbors sometimes.

Or, maybe, just keep feeling all superior and self righteous.  I’m sure that will work out just great for both your soul and our culture.  The refugees probably don’t much care.

Of Guns and Gardens: Why the Problem is Probably You.

I never cease to be surprised at the smug hypocrisy of the people who most loudly condemn the flower of gun violence while most ardently fertilizing its root.

It’s a pretty simple analogy.  The flower of gun violence is crazy killers walking into schools or churches or whatever and shooting them up.  So what’s the root?

You won’t like it.  The root is modern culture.

modern-familyNot Modern Family.  OK, maybe a little.

It isn’t popular to say, but we’ve torn down every societal bulwark of mental health. We’re more bombarded with media now than ever in human history, from the Internet to television to music to video games, and the message we absorb is pretty seamless.

We’ve made fame the ultimate measure of value.  We’ve made death into entertainment.  Religion is a joke for stupid peopleTraditional heroes are gleefully torn down.  Humans are animals, mere accidents of biology, as insignificant and pointless as dust mites.

We’ve reached that stage in societal evolution where we’ve become so enamored with the idea of how enlightened we are that we blind ourselves to the ways that “enlightenment” has poisoned us.

DeliciousTeaAt least Iroh asked the question.

And make no mistake: we’re all poisoned by it.  Not just the weak-minded killers who snap and go shoot up schools.  We all have guns in our heads, whether we point them at others or at ourselves.  We all thrash for meaning, yearn for significance, but find nearly every traditional avenue of significance bulldozed by mockery and noise.

We used to strive to be like our heroes, but today those heroes are systematically dismantled and discredited.

We used to aim for pleasing our God, but God doesn’t exist anymore, and people who believe in him are uniformly condemned as small-minded, anti-intellectual haters.

We used to have a thing called patriotism, which while often flawed, gave us a sense of community and shared mission.  Now we enjoy the destruction of that unity.  We relish blaming the larger tribe, and happily participate in the deliberate fracturing of that tribe into smaller and smaller exclusive cliques.

We used to have science and intellectual curiosity and the pursuit of challenge.  Now we have “scientific consensus” and endless floods of grant money assuring nothing less than seamless agreement.  Now, perhaps for the first time in history, ignorance of the opposition’s argument is lauded as an intellectual virtue.

There was a time when media purveyors recognized the responsibility they carried.  Now, we bristle at the slightest suggestion that maybe not every message is worth proclaiming, maybe not every entertainment is worth the cost to our overall mental/moral health.

Instead of taking responsibility for the mental mines we’ve buried in our cultural landscape, we whine shrilly about censorship.

We insist that violent video games don’t lead to violence.  That hateful lyrics don’t cultivate hate.  That deconstructing traditional values doesn’t deconstruct traditional morality.

And then, when violence and hate and amorality show up in our playgrounds, we are shocked.

kw-shockedscaredWe blame the guns in the hands and ignore the guns we’ve buried in our culture’s hearts and minds.

We’re a nation of abject fools.  We deliberately scatter tacks all over the floor, step on them, and blame the office supply store.

We encounter a hopeless culture penning a suicide note and help it by banning pens.

And somehow, amazingly, we feel smugly self-righteous about it.

We enjoy blaming gun owners, despite the fact that, traditionally, they are the ones contributing the least to the culture that grows killers.  They tend to be the same people who’ve been saying for years “what about not making death into entertainment?  What about not singing about killing and rape?  What about a God who made people in his image and gave them significance?  What about ascribing to be like heroes, even if those heroes are part myth?”

ronald_reagan_riding_a_velociraptor_by_sharpwriter-d55rsh7Everyone knows Reagan never rode a velociraptor. He rode an Allosaurus.

You know the people who’ve been saying those things, right?  They’re the ones we’ve been mocking and belittling and stereotyping for the last few decades.  Incredibly, they’re the ones we’re blaming now.

Gun violence is the flower of a long, vicious vine of narcissism, meaninglessness, deconstructionism, and irreverence.

Any gardener will tell you: when you encounter a poison weed, you don’t just chop off the flower.  You don’t just hack away the leaves or even the vine.  You have to rip that thing out by the root.

If you ignore the root, the poison plant just grows back bigger and stronger.

Personally, I’m throwing down the gauntlet.  From President Obama on down: if you think the solution to gun violence is more gun control, not only are you not helping the issue, you’re making it worse.  You are the problem.  It isn’t just a mistake to focus on the poison flower and ignore the root.  It’s criminally irresponsible.  Any further blood is on your hands.

quote“But it can’t be that America creates and distributes more of the world’s popular entertainment than any other nation on earth, ever, in history. Who said that? Have them removed.”

Let’s be perfectly, brutally blunt: The next time a broken lunatic walks into a school and starts shooting, it will be partly your finger on the trigger.  Why?  Because you blame the gun in the hand, not the culture that put the gun in the heart.  Because you enjoy that culture too much to really consider what it cultivates.

So how do we stop this?  How do we seriously and deliberately take control?

Simple.  We stop consuming the poison culture that we’ve been feasting on.

If enough of us stop consuming it, they will eventually stop making it.

I don’t have a lot of faith that this will happen, of course.  I’m an optimist, but a realist, and I don’t have a lot of faith in human nature.  It probably won’t ever happen globally, or even nationally.  But it can happen in your own heart.  It can happen in our individual families.  And if it does, who knows?  Maybe it will spread.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

It may be a small thing, but at least then, the next time some tainted soul with a gun in its heart finally takes a gun into its hand, you can at least know you didn’t contribute to the poison root that grew it there.  Your finger isn’t partly on the trigger.

You can be more than a self righteous prig nipping at the poison petals.  You can be the gardener, digging out the root.