Speaking up

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57 days ago

Note: I thought long and hard about what to do about Trump, and decided that personally reaching out to my family, many of whom are Trump supporters, was the best thing I could do. I wrote the email below and sent it. I thought it might be important or useful for other people, too, so I’m sharing it here. Feel free to do with it as you like.


This email is about Trump. I know email isn’t the best way to publish political thought, but I’m trying to do what I can about a terrible situation, and this is the most valuable thing I can figure out to do (that I’m not otherwise already doing). I’m writing this to save myself, my family, and all of you – so I’m willing to break a norm.

Please read this. Do it as a personal favor to me, even if you think I’m being dramatic, or wasting your time. I’ll owe you. Do it as a personal favor to yourself, so that when you look back on this moment, you don’t feel ashamed.

Trump is headed for a coup. Either an explicit, overt one, or a fumbling, oh-we-didn’t-really-notice-until-it-was-too-late-that-he’s-unstoppable one. He’s moving very, very fast – it will be over within a few weeks. It doesn’t matter if you agree with his stated goals and plans; converting our country into an autocracy will not be good for any of us. Think about what it would mean to have a president who was accountable to nobody, and nothing – not to his prior statements, not to his political party, not to any court.

If this idea is at all surprising to you, that’s why I’m writing this email. It’s going to be over before you’re even ready for it.

If you’re angry at the “idiots” who created this situation, that’s why I’m writing this email. You’re part of the problem. I’ve been part of the problem, too. I’m trying to dig my way out from under that mistake.

Even if you totally disagree with all of this, I’m desperately asking you to pause now for a minute and think about what things would be “over the line” for you – what things could Trump (or any president) do, that would be clearly wrong and irreparable? What things are so far out of “normal” that they’d clearly indicate that something is very broken, and that he’s uncontrollable? Write those things down. If he hasn’t already crossed that line for you, look back at that list periodically. It will help you realize when “the next little thing” or “the next thing that’s too heavy to face” is actually across that line.

Now ask yourself – is banning a group of people, based purely (and overtly) on their religion, or country of origin, over the line? What if that group of people has exactly zero history of ever killing us in terrorist attacks? What if none of the countries-of-origin of the 9/11 attackers were on the list? What if all these immigrants already have to go through an 18-to-24-month vetting process across multiple federal agencies before they are allowed in, so all the statements about needing “more vetting” or “they’ll sneak in” are just outright lies? Would those things be over the line? Would causing all this pain and suffering, just for personal political gain, be over the line? What about all these other worse things, that are going to happen?

Please realize that at some point in the near future, any rights you have – yes you, a middle-class white person – will cease to become “rights” and will only be “by Trump’s benevolence”. As interpreted by his cronies. And driven by their personal motivations. Without consequences for their terrible actions.

Whatever he can do to any marginalized group (e.g. Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, gays, etc.), he can do to any group (i.e. you). He will be able to grab any one of you/us and make us homeless, helpless, powerless – without recourse.

His regime is doing exactly that with Muslims, right now, via DHS and the 100-mile border. (The 100-mile border was the thing that was over the line for me, years ago – well before Trump.) And DHS is clearly supporting him. But for middle-class white Americans in general, he doesn’t quite yet have the political foundations yet to get away with it en-masse. But that’s coming.

Note that I don’t care whose fault this is, and I don’t think “Democrats” are somehow better, and I’m not at all concerned about what we should have done before now. I don’t care about Trump’s stated goals for the country and whether they are good or bad. I don’t care whether each individual executive order is a good or bad idea. I care about what they all mean, collectively. I care about the complete destruction of our democracy, our safety, and our freedom.

The whole system is fucked, and it has been for a long time, and this is just the consequences playing out. But now that we’re here, we have to survive it, and ideally we do so with some semblance of honor and dignity.

If you want my advice on what to do about it, here it is: think of every “enemy” you can think of – Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, rich people, poor people, “terrorists,” whoever – and just… let go. Stop imagining them as enemies. Remember that they are people, and they have jobs and kids and backyards and games… and the only reason they have different values and viewpoints than you is that they have different experiences and history than you. Neither side is right. There aren’t even sides. There are just people, and all people are just trying to get through life. Take some time and try to understand why they would think the way they do. Assume that they all started as good actors, and imagine the circumstances that would have had to exist to make them the way they are. Imagine if you’d have turned out differently, in those same circumstances.

(Note that this viewpoint isn’t incompatible with needing to kill people, sometimes. But it is incompatible with doing it out of hatred.)

Imagine what your life would be like if you suddenly found yourself in a group that most people saw as “the enemy”. Imagine if you had to live through that. The only reason that isn’t your life, is the luck of your particular circumstances.

Go back up and read that article I linked above under ‘You’re part of the problem’. It’s advice from someone who has been through this before, and failed. He says that we need to make more bridges, not fight more enemies. Making enemies is what Trump wants us to do.

That article says we have to work together to limit this president to only those powers that we want every president – even ones we vehemently disagree with – to have. We don’t have to stop them (Trump and all future presidents) from doing all the stupid things they’re going to do. We just have to work together to ensure that no president – now or in the future – has more power than it is safe to let him (or her) have. Even if you agree with Trump’s current goals and actions, ask yourself – do you want a future president, that you disagree with, to have this much power? This is the foundation of our democracy – that we limit the power we grant to our government – and we’ve been failing to do so.

Then do the most important thing you can do: reach out to the people around you – especially the people you usually think of as “enemies” – and get them to see that we’re all in danger. We’ve all been played for fools. We’re all being tricked. We’re all in this together.

Maybe getting more of us onto the same page, will be enough.

With love and concern,
Nathan

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More about religion

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2740 days ago

Preface

My good friend Matt recently started a blog, and has been writing very regularly and often. Much more than I do, in fact :) And it’s been great for me, because he often posts things that make me think, or that I disagree with, and I become motivated to reply. That, in turn, forces me to think through my ideas, and to finally publish them online – which was really the original point of this blog, even though I mostly haven’t done that.

One of his recent posts was about humanity, arguing that “…left to its natural state, [it] will break a little bit each day…” and that “…we need to do something proactive each day to alter that trend.” I agree with the latter idea, but disagree with the former, and Matt and I are currently debating the topic in the comments on that post.

As I was drafting one of my replies, I finished making my point, and then just kept typing, because this topic is the perfect lead-in for another topic that I have always wanted to blog about: my views about the value, and the problem, with organized religion. But that topic doesn’t really have anything to do with Matt’s original topic, so I have chosen to post the second half of my comment here on my blog. My hope is that this post can stand on its own, but it will probably help if you go read through the thread on Matt’s blog first.

As always, I welcome comments, so please feel free to reply.

The actual topic

As mentioned in my first comment to Matt’s post, I often think about whether humanity is naturally positive (or not). Those thoughts arise because I regularly encounter situations where someone or something is implying that humans are inherently bad, and need to be fixed, or saved. I reject, and loathe, that idea.

Yes, we all have feelings that lead us to do things that are bad, or that we have been taught are bad. And those feelings must be controlled. I believe that. We are biological creatures, with a sloppy evolutionary history, and we have vestigial feelings and impulses that can be harmful.

But we aren’t going to change our biological natures (except maybe through physical or chemical or biological means) so we just need to learn the best way to live with them. And when a person is faced with a problem or weakness that can’t be changed, then their only (and best!) option is simply to accept the weakness and learn to mitigate it. And as a society, we have learned to mitigate many of our weaknesses: we teach our children good manners, and we have laws and punishments designed to deter crime, and we try to provide for all people so they don’t end up feeling like they have to do bad things, and so on. If you look at history, I think we have gotten much better at mitigating human weaknesses, both as individuals and as a society.

This idea ties directly to religion. I believe that most religions “get” this, and are actually structured to naturally help people do what I described – mitigate their weaknesses, and move on to better things. And in playing that role, I am in favor of religion. The part I don’t like are all the guilty feelings associated with the process. People shouldn’t feel guilty about the way they are; imagine telling a retarded child that they are bad (and should feel guilty) for not being smarter. And yet that is often what religion teaches us – that we are “bad” and that we have to use religion to “be saved.” I disagree. We have “impulses that can lead us to do bad things” and we have to “mitigate those impulses in order to not actually do bad things” – and we don’t have to have religion to do that. As humans, we just are what we are, and debating whether that is right or wrong is pointless.

It’s a subtle difference, but it is one that drives me crazy. I hate the notion that religion has absolute truths, and that people have to have religion in order to become better. It’s misleading. Religion has good advice about how to behave, and people should follow that advice in order to be the best they can be. But religion is a framework that helps us learn to do that, not an end in itself that we have to participate in if we want to be “good.” I really like the framework, and the lessons – I just hate that they are wrapped in dogma that makes it seem like each particular religion is the only one with the right answers, and that you have to join in if you want to be a good person.

It would be much better if we just learned that we have to accept our weaknesses and move on to do more important things like helping others, teaching, building new things, or raising a child. Again, those are things that religions typically teach us, but still shrouded in the notion that we need to be “fixed” either before, during, or after we do those things, and that just pulls us away from the truly valuable lessons.

And now, having thought through all that, I realize why I am so intrigued by Buddhism: because it doesn’t suggest that there is only one source of truth, or that we are naturally bad; it just says “people should always strive to get better, and here are some ways to do so.” That’s exactly what I think a religion should be.

On a related note: my notions of God also tie in fairly well with the Buddhist understanding of Karma, so maybe I really should take Matt’s advice and get up off my butt and learn more about Buddhism :)

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