Jonah, the whale, the Ninevites, and the far right

There’s a story in the bible about this guy named Jonah. You’ve likely heard of him. And, you’ve likely heard of his encounter with a whale, or big fish, or the Loch Ness Monster. Whatever. This story is largely immaterial; it’s a preamble, like The Hobbit is to Lord of the Rings. However, unlike LOTR, most people never get to the important part of Jonah.

The whole whale incident was because Jonah was very reluctant to go and preach hell and damnation to the people of Nineveh. After he was thrown into the sea by frightened fishermen, swallowed by something, then spat out onto a beach smelling of dead fish, he had a change of heart, and went off to preach.

After he got done doing his Jonathan Edwards bit, lo and behold, the Ninevites repented! You’d think Jonah would have a bit of job satisfaction, or even pride at his powerful delivery, but no–he was torqued. He had really been looking forward to God smiting those guys, and after all he went through, he was ready for some real fire and brimstone. But, God forgave them, because after all, they repented.

So…

Lately I’ve been reading and listening to some of the far right political nonsense, and the attitude started reminding me of the Jonah story. I’m not correlating liberals with Nineveh, or anything like that, and definitely not suggesting that the far right have been asked by God to preach whatever they’re preaching. What I’m noticing is the tribalistic attitude. With Jonah, it was him and God against the Ninevites (whether they repented or not); with the far right, it’s them and God against the liberals/Democrats, whether they’re right or not.

It’s pure tribalism. If a Democrat did anything that a Republican would have done a couple of years ago, it’s still socialist evil. It doesn’t matter that Bush, Bush, or Reagan did or said the same thing. If a Democrat says it, it’s evil, and they need to be destroyed. It seems that Democrats could even agree with the Republicans, but somehow they’d still be wrong.

Two can play…

I know that you’re already out there thinking, “Democrats do the same thing!” and, yes, they do. Tribalism runs both ways, and it’s always wrong (at least the attitude). Tribalism is nothing more than a big ad hominem–judging the man rather than the argument.

However, most liberals I know would gladly agree with a conservative–even a far-right conservative–should they be on the same side of any issue. I’ve even spoken positively about Trump the 2 or 3 times he did something I could support. It’s not common, but he has made a couple of good calls in the last 3 years. And, there are quite a number of Republicans who have said and done good things, and that needs to be celebrated.

The far-right media, however–Fox, Breitbart, and dozens of youtube nutjobs–have created such a divisive situation that for a Republican to ever agree with a liberal (heaven forbid Obama!) would be tantamount to treason. The result is the same kind of tribalistic attitude that our friend Jonah had about the Ninevites.

And the moral of the story…

If we are ever going to get back to working together, we (all of us) need to stop demonizing those different from us. At least listen to what they’re saying and judge the words, not your emotions. Don’t be like Jonah. No one wants to hang around with someone who smells like dead fish.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Support Hillary Clinton

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Democrat. I don’t ever remember voting Democrat–the first Presidential election that I could vote in was when Jimmy Carter was running. Though I liked him as a person, I don’t believe I voted for him.  

I have never liked Hillary Clinton. In fact, I liked her less than I liked Bill.  I seldom could bring myself to watch or listen to them.  I have been one of those who believe that Hillary is at best a liar, and possibly a criminal.  And, I have been one of those who has secretly hoped that one of the rumors about her would be proven true, and her political life would be over.  It bothered me that she of all people would go down in history as being the first woman to be a major party candidate for President. Like many other conservatives, I was emotionally biased against Mrs. Clinton.

And then there was Trump, who was funny for a short period until I realized a lot of people were taking him seriously.  I believe that Trump is a liar and a fraud. I also believe that he’s incompetent, ignorant, a bigot, a narcissist, and a loose cannon who is fundamentally dangerous.

The Turning Point

One night, I was watching an episode of “Black Sails,” the Starz show set as a prequel to Treasure Island, when there was a very interesting exchange between the characters Long John Silver and Billy Bones.  At this point in the story, both knew than Captain Flint was a liar and a murderer, acting solely out of his own self-interests.  Billy asked Silver how he could serve under and support such a man. Silver’s reply was that even though he hated Flint, he knew that Flint was a more than capable captain and their best hope at surviving the situation they were facing. 

I immediately thought of Hillary Clinton, and the logic of Long John Silver’s analysis cleared away the fog, and I looked at things logically.  

Hillary, unlike Trump, has the necessary qualifications to be President. She has 8 years of White House experience, plus having been Secretary of State. She probably has more respect around the world than Obama. And, she’s not crazy. She may have ego issues, but that can work for a leader: She won’t let the country fail, because that will reflect on her.  Trump, at least so far, doesn’t seem to care. His MO is to blame someone else, proclaim his greatness, and move on.

Bill will also be a great asset as First Man (or whatever). He obviously will have the most experience of any First Spouse, and in spite of my not liking him personally, I always admitted that he was, in fact, a pretty good President. And neither of them are going to dump the country, as it’s not in their best interest.  

And, Hillary has consistently been the most truthful candidate of this election (that is, of the statements made throughout this election cycle, objective analysis has found her to have been the most truthful).  Then, there is the point that in spite of the myriad attempts by her enemies to find some skeletans in her closets, none have been found. 

So, this is the process by which I overcame my avulsion to Hillary Clinton.  And considering I find Trump’s policies (such as they are) morally repugnant, I will have no problems voting for Clinton.  And I actually expect her to do a pretty good job.

Guns and Dodgeball

IMG_0180.PNGI, like many others, were saddened last week by the news of the shootings in Roseburg, Oregon.  It didn’t take long before I was also angered by the rush of extremist responses over guns.  It seems that for many people, the battle over gun control took precedence over grief and empathy.  And like many others, I have followed the news reports fairly closely as facts are revealed. While I have seen countless rants about gun control and the 2nd Amendment, I haven’t seen one person examine the issues at hand, to try to determine what, if any, types of gun control could have prevented a wacko from killing people.

What I saw was this: As soon as the news made the rounds, people all over the country rushed to their side of the gun control issue, like kids choosing sides at dodgeball, and began hurling meaningless slogans at each other. There has been no meaningful discussion, not that it would be of any help to the victims and families. I’ve not heard one thing that I haven’t heard since LBJ was in office. I remember, because when I was a kid I had a political ad hanging in my room that showed LBJ, LadyBird and Hubert dressed as gangsters, with the slogan, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

That’s as far as the discussion has gone in most circles.

Now, common sense tells you that taking away guns from the honest, sane people won’t stop the evil, crazy people.  It also will tell you that if crazy people don’t have guns, they can’t shoot anyone.  Common sense will also tell you that you can’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things. I did some research, and it seems that the claim that there is a knife attack in England (who has gun control) every 4 minutes, and the rate appears to be climging.  And as we’ve seen here and abroad, it’s incredibly easy to build a workable bomb. You can find plans online.

Laws will dissuade reasonable people from doing evil things. They won’t stop the unreasonable. I don’t have a firm position on gun control.  I believe in the 2nd Amendment, but I think background checks are an obvious necessity.  Do some gun control methods work?  Is it possible to enact some gun controls but still protect the 2nd Amendment?  I don’t know, because people are too busy yelling to really examine the issue. I’d like to find out, wouldn’t you, even if it doesn’t agree with your current belief?

Human beings need to pick sides, to join tribes. One of the aspects of tribalism is to adopt a position of “I’m right, and you’re wrong” (cue “For What It’s Worth.”).  Some call it “polarization,” but it’s simply resorting to a tribal mentality.

For a tribe, tribal identity is everything. This in itself prevents meaningful dialogue. For anyone to really get anything done, they have to be willing to risk their tribal identity and start thinking for themselves, entertaining new ideas, and going in new directions. This is the case with nearly every major issue in this country. Tribalism is preventing any meaningful work from getting done, and it’s costing the country in ways that can’t even be quantified.

And it makes me angry.  But then, I always hated dodgeball.

Why the Supreme Court is Right about Same-Sex Marriage

Over the past couple of days I’ve read a lot of stuff about Friday’s Supreme Court decision on the Obergefell case. Some of what I’ve read has been thoughtful, but to be honest, much of it hasn’t.  I understand that there are people who have strong feelings on the issue, and will react one way or another without any actual understanding or opinions on the legal issues involved, and that’s okay.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  The Obergefell decision actual makes this point:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

However, I’ve also read some things that are positively wacko, claiming things like the Supreme Court didn’t have the right to make this decision, or that it will result in the end of the world as we know it.

The Supreme Court’s job – when they do it properly – is to rule on the constitutionality of an issue. They are not to make moral or emotional decisions based on their own whims or feelings, but to look at the specific issues that are sent to them, and apply the Constitution to those issues.

In this case, I believe the Supreme Court not only made the correct decision, but that they made the only reasonable decision.  They were looking at 2 issues: Whether a state could deny marriage rights to same-sex couples, and if same-sex marriages would be recognized in states where same-sex marriage was not legal.  The court looked at the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens.

It should be noted that the Supreme Court is not a religious institution, and looks at marriage from a legal persepctive, not a spiritual or religious one. And the Constitution doesn’t care how your religion defines marriage (or we would have to ask, “which religion?”). It is a legal definition, not a spiritual one.  And marriage, from a legal standpoint, means having certain rights relating to things like insurance coverage, taxation, citizenship, and estate issues.  Equal rights to marry essentially means that these various legal benefits are now available to everyone involved in a committed relationship.

The ruling is not going to result in more same-sex couples cohabitatng. It simply meand that they can’t be denied the same legal rights as other couples. And, under the 14th Amendment, that is correct. Basically, there is no Constitutional basis for denying same-sex couples these rights. The decision also means that the confusion created by marriages in one state not being recognized in another state will not be an issue.  Under the Constitution, and by simple common sense, it would seem that this is the only reasonable decision the Supreme Court could have made.  If we still believe in equality under the law. Some may not like it, but equal rights are equal rights.

Endnote: I am making no comments here about whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong or how the Bible is to be interpreted. I am only saying that according to the Constitution and the laws of the land, I believe the SC decision was the correct one, and it is a civil rights victory for the LGBT community.