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,

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Another quote about guns

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3580 days ago

From time to time, I add a quote to my quotes list. When I find a quote that catches my eye, I usually sit on it for a week or two to see if I really agree with it. That way my quote list reflects the ideas I truly hold dear, and not just the things that sounded good at the time.

Recently, a friend sent me this quote:

There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order. — Ed Howdershelt

I’ve been holding on to this quote for a while, trying to figure out what I thought about it. It didn’t really inspire me, but I couldn’t figure out if I agreed with it or not. Just tonight I realized that the quote is based in the notion that the first three ideas can come before the fourth. That is false. Without the power of force behind them, the other three don’t survive. It’s the basic ability to defend against aggressors that enables peace among those with that power. The quote works within a society that has already created a basically peaceful and just environment, through force or the threat of force. (Note that an unjust society can also be created through force; the force is merely the means to the end, not a guarantor of it.) In the raw world, without the protection of pre-existing force, the quote seems almost quaint.

Within such an already-stable society, though,I agree that force should generally be the last defense of liberty. But I don’t agree that it should only ever follow after the first three. I’m not going to wait for a speech, a politician, or my neighbor to stop the man intent on killing me.

I think a better quote would have been one that demonstrated that each of the first three ideas depends on the last. That idea rings true with me, and ties strongly to why I believe in guns as a good thing. Without the ability to defend ourselves, and our ideas, none of the rest of it is possible. Guns are simply an effective tool for earning and preserving freedom. Without them, the rest isn’t possible.

As you can imagine, I’ve decided not to add this quote to my quotes list, but I am very glad for the intellectual push. If any you readers care to comment, I would love to hear it. Please just post something here, and I’ll be sure to think, and to respond. Or send me a quote :)

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What the terrorists want

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3847 days ago

Bruce Schneier: “I’d like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute … we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.”

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The War on Terror

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3883 days ago

My “things to blog about” list has had an item named “war on terror” on it for a long time. Inspired by zefrank’s excellent monologue on the subject (the first part isn’t safe for children), I’ve decided that the time has come.

Here’s the gist of it: having a “war on terror(ism)” is like having a “war on reading” or a “war on war.” Terrorism, like reading and war, is an activity, not a physical thing that can be fought and defeated. Anyone, anytime, anywhere can be a terrorist, and there’s no way to stop it all. There’s no way to even stamp out the major things that frighten us, because the possibilities are so endless. But we’re still fighting a war against a style of war that we don’t like. It’s ludicrous.

Terrorism works. In the free-market economy of public emotion, terrorism is a high-risk (death), high-reward (mass fear), low-cost (relatively), easy (there’s a million ways) investment, and as long as it continues to be that way it will continue to exist in the world.

Given the equation above (risk/reward/cost/difficulty), any “war” on terror has to modify at least one part of that equation. Right now, the U.S. government’s focus is exclusively on the “difficulty” part. They’re trying to make it harder and harder for terrorists to pull off their plots, by making it harder to do things like put bombs on airplanes. (This also has a minor effect on the “cost” front because increased difficulty generally leads to increased cost.) But this is just one attack vector – there are millions more. As soon as the cost and difficulty of putting bombs on planes hits some threshold, the terrorists will move on to another target that is cheaper/easier, and we’ll have to start restricting the rights of Americans to try to block it.

There are too many options for the terrorists for us to be able to block them all. There are too many creative ways to cause fear and panic, and too many that are easy to pull off. We’ll never block them all, no matter how much we lock down the country. That’s why terrorism is so effective, and why it is so often the war-style of choice for small groups trying to cause revolutions.

The scary part of all of this is not all the wasted flailing-about on increasing the difficulty of terrorism. The scary part is that we’re also messing with another part of that equation – the reward part. Over and over again, we’ve seen the government, media, public, peers, etc. etc. etc. increase the reward portion of the equation by over-hyping the threat. As the most obvious example, look at the color-coded “national threat level indicators.” The only purpose of such a thing is to tell us “here is how much you should be afraid of some unspecific thing.” Generalized fear is the goal of terrorism, and we’ve encoded a mechanism for facilitating generalized fear into our political landscape. It’s absurd.

As ze points out, terrorism works because it’s easy to do something that generates more fear than it is worthy of. Terrorists hoist us by our own petard, in that our reverence for the free-flow of (unintelligent) information and communication allows panic to spread like wildfire among people who don’t stop to think about what is really going on. (I’m for that free-flow – but my point remains that they’re still using it against us.) Our fear is far higher than is justified by our risk, because the biological roots of our fear-response aren’t designed to wait for our brain to kick in :) The only way to really win the war on terror is to bring our fear in-line with the actual risk, and that will require us to think critically about terrorism and terrorist acts.

It will also require our government to set the example. Leadership, in this case, would best be done by helping us avoid unnecessary fears, not by playing them up.

I don’t have a lot of hope for the improvement of this situation. On the surface, it’s not in the politicians’ best interest to downplay fear, because public fear generally leads to increased governmental power (as is happening in the U.S.). One layer deeper, Bush’s style is to act, not think, and a policy of “think before speaking” isn’t high on his list of capabilities. A layer deeper than that, we see that we elected this man, even though it was obvious that he doesn’t like to think. That leads me to believe that this problem may simply be endemic to Americans, and will never go away. That makes me sad and angry.

And that makes me blog :)

I hope that we can all stop and think about what’s really going on here. I’d like to see a world where we didn’t waste so much energy on this stuff, and the key to that may simply be to get people thinking critically.

Please let me know what you think – add a comment.

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