Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

Keep Your Friends Close, But Don’t Unfriend Your Enemies Either

This was a bitter election. The candidates were bitter. The media fanned the flames. And it stretched many friendships as people realized that those they knew and loved supported a bad candidate. Because both of them were pretty bad.

But political polarization has been rising even beyond the terrible candidates that were put up for President, and it’s exposing an ugly side of this new internet world. And the reaction I’ve seen from many in places on Facebook–unfriending anyone who supported the other candidate–is only going to make this worse.

In the old days, you had 3 major networks, and the newspapers. While one can certainly claim that some of those outlets were biased, we each had the same news. We each saw the same stories. At the end of the day, we each worked under the same–albeit flawed–reality.

But in this new world of fragmented media, blogs, alternative news sites, it has now become possible to construct our own reality around ourselves. It’s not hard to get sucked into reading only the news sites with which you agree, watching only the cable news station that supports your side, and surrounding yourself only with information which conforms to your views. And that’s extremely dangerous, because it turns anyone who disagrees into “the other”. Once we lose that shared connection of humanity and start seeing our political foes as fundamentally different from ourselves, it will destroy us.
Trump & Clinton
And this is where unfriending people comes in. We used to make friends through all sorts of ways. Maybe it was through college. Through work. Through shared social activities. And there are of course the bonds of family. You formed friendships and bonds based on things completely orthogonal to politics. And you learned that even though you and your friends didn’t share the same political views, you shared the common bonds of humanity. You could learn to disagree without discord.

But as we’ve become increasingly marginalized and living in “virtual” communities, we’ve increasingly made it possible to turn our private lives into an echo chamber of people who only agree as well. If you only surround yourself with mirrors of agreement, your beliefs are never challenged, never reconsidered, and never truly examined. If your response is to unfriend or mute someone on Facebook simply because they disagree with you, you’re decreasing your own ability to understand what you believe and why.

And that’s confirmation bias, one of the most dangerous ideological filters in the world. Surrounding yourself with only friendly sources of information makes it impossible to figure out when you’re wrong. And we’re all wrong about something. If you can’t figure out when you’re wrong, you can have NO real confidence that you’re ever right.

I’m somewhat lucky in that I’m a libertarian. I didn’t vote for Trump or for Hillary. I don’t agree with Republicans or Democrats. Heck, if you pay any attention to libertarians, you’ll realize that half the time, I don’t agree with libertarians either! If I unfriended everyone on Facebook with whom I disagreed, my feed would be really goddamn quiet.

So I don’t do that. I refuse to insulate myself from those with whom I disagree. I actively read not only the Trump and Clinton supporters in my feed and worked to understand and humanize them, but I try to read ideologically diverse blogs and news sources to insulate myself from confirmation bias. Am I 100% successful? Undoubtedly, no. But I make the effort.

And I highly recommend you all do the same thing. Seek out those friends of yours with whom you disagree. Accept them. Humanize them. Engage them (in productive and non-vitriolic ways) in discussion. You might learn something.

We all need to do this, for two reasons:

  • Despite my provocative post title, we’re not enemies. If you voted for Clinton, a Trump voter is not your enemy. If you voted for Trump, a Clinton voter is not your enemy. We’re all part of the shared society aboard a rock hurtling through space. We’re all trying to do our best, to raise families, to have happy, productive lives. I know great people who voted for Trump, and great people who voted for Clinton. I’m pretty f’ing great, and I voted for Johnson. If we’re friends, I don’t care who any of you voted for. I’ll still happily sit across the table from you, hoist a beer, and toast what makes us friends. (Then I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. Respectfully, of course.)
  • Because the fight against confirmation bias is the hardest fight for any person attempting to remain a free and independent thinker. It’s one of the most insidious forms of bias, and one of the the worst because it lets us believe that we’re right, we’re enlightened, and our ideological opponents are dumb, craven, and wrong. It allows us to turn the opponent into “the other”. And if you’ve studied the most heinous and terrible aspects of human history, bad things happen when we allow our tribal instincts to be manipulated into turning someone who doesn’t look like us, doesn’t talk like us, or even looks and talks just like us but believes differently, into “the other”. That’s an instinct that must be guarded against at all times, for the good of human history.

If you voted for Trump, or if you voted for Clinton, I may not agree with you. But you’re always welcome at my table, at my door, or in my Facebook feed. Because the bonds that connect us as humans and friends are FAR stronger than political ideals.

Safe Spaces Aren’t Just for SJWs

spAs much as I despise Donald Trump, on some level I understand why he has die hard supporters. The most popular reason for this phenomenon is he seems to be the answer to the political correctness of our time. Trump may be many, many, horrible things, but being politically correct isn’t one of them.

Indeed, political correctness is a significant problem in our culture. Participation trophies, zero tolerance, and the very Orwellian PC language in which the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) insist we use in our public discourse are doing great harm to the Millennials. The concept of ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses wraps all of the above (and more) in one tidy bow which infantilizes young adults. Not too long ago, college campuses were once considered the place to debate and explore controversial ideas, now have spaces to protect the precious Millennial snowflakes from debate and controversial ideas.

Yes, the SJWs certainly do suck. I’m sure that SJWs who read the above two paragraphs are angry I didn’t include a trigger warning before challenging their world view but here’s the thing: it’s not just SJWs who retreat into safe spaces nor just the generation raised in this very PC culture. As it turns out, some of the very people who are most critical of political correctness, Millennials, and safe spaces don’t want their worldviews challenged either!

I can’t speak for anyone else’s social media feed other than my own but I have seen people leave controversial comments followed by something to the effect of ‘I’m not going to debate this, if you post something that disagrees with me on my wall it will be deleted.’ Or s/he will simply delete the post without explanation (I’ve seen this behavior from conservatives and progressives alike).

Of course, having different opinions and refusing to debate opinions is one thing; being upset that someone shares an inconvenient fact completely destroying the basis of an opinion is another. Around Memorial Day Weekend, someone posted on my FaceBook wall about how awful it was that President Obama went to Hiroshima, Japan on Memorial Day instead of the traditional laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There was just one problem with this person’s complaint: it wasn’t true. All it took to see if this person had a legitimate beef with Obama was a five second Google search (in the age of information, ignorance is a choice). In fact Obama visited Hiroshima on Friday, May 27, 2016 and visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Monday, May 30, 2016 (AKA Memorial Day).

In response to my posting readily available news articles reporting that Obama attended both of these ceremonies, I received a private message asking me: ‘Why are you always defending Obama?’ I don’t remember my exact response but it would have went something like ‘I’m not always defending Obama but the truth matters.’

The same sort of thing happened when someone blamed Obama for pulling the troops out of Iraq too soon and I dutifully pointed out that Obama was carrying out the troop withdrawal signed by President Bush.

These were just two examples off the top of my head; there are certainly other examples I could have used. As we are getting mercifully closer to the end of the 2016 campaign, conservatives, progressives, and yes, even some libertarians are retreating to their safe spaces refusing to be challenged at all.

The worst offenders IMO are the Trump supporters who are oh so critical of safe spaces on college campuses and Trump himself. The Trumpster divers tell us that all of Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers are to be believed while Trump’s accusers are all liars. Why did they all wait to come forward until a month before election day? Surely, they are all either opportunists and/or working directly for Hillary!

This is entirely possible. It’s possible that some if not all of them are lying. It’s also possible that because the world has now been exposed to Trump being Trump, these women now feel like the public will listen when prior to the leak the public otherwise would not.

Then there’s the issue of Trump’s poll numbers. As I look at my FaceBook feed, I see several Trump supporters posting articles from Trump friendly sites claiming that Trump is polling at 67% to Hillary’s 19%. In contrast, Real Clear Politics, averaging the leading scientific polls show Hillary leading Trump 44.7% to 39.4%.

Of course in terms of the election itself, it’s the electoral college map that matters not the popular vote. How are the candidates fairing on the electoral map? The Real Clear Politics Map is showing 262 electoral votes for Clinton, 164 for Trump, and another 112 are considered toss ups. The candidate who receives a minimum of 270 electoral votes becomes the next POTUS. By my math, that means that HRC is within 8 electoral votes of the magic number in this projection. This doesn’t provide much room for error for Mr. Trump. In order for Trump to win based on the above, he would have to win just about every one of the toss up states and not lose a single state projected to be in his column. If he wins all of the toss up states except for Florida, Trump still loses.

Clearly, either Real Clear Politics with its scientific polling or Trump biased Arizona Freedom Alliance will be proven wrong on Election Day, safe spaces be damned. One would think that but with Trump openly saying he won’t necessarily accept the election results (whatever that means!), he and his supporters will remain in their safe spaces for a bit longer.

It’s not too difficult to see how damaging the safe space phenomenon will be to our culture. Verifiable facts are ignored while rumors and provable falsehoods are considered truth when it aligns with an agenda.

As a people, we need to realize that being skeptical isn’t a bad thing. We must be careful of confirmation bias. We should read articles we disagree with and have friends we can argue important issues with (and remain friends at the end of the day).

And if you want to take a short break in your safe space (we all do, don’t kid yourself), then do so. Just don’t make it your permanent address. One can deny reality but cannot escape its consequences.

Quote of the Day: Honest Debate Edition

popehatOver at Popehat, Ken White makes the point that gun control advocates should have the balls to say that all firearms should be banned instead of using purposely vague or misleading language (as people on the Left tend to do). Using vague, sometimes Orwellian terms tend to creep into other areas of our private lives

I want [gun control] advocates to learn the difference [between ‘automatic’ and ‘semi-automatic’ firearms for example] so I can have some level of confidence that I know what kind of proposed government power we’re debating […]

[…]

Gun control advocates may argue that it’s pointless to define terms because gun control opponents will oppose gun control laws no matter how they are crafted. […] But it’s not a logical or moral excuse for not trying. Urging vague and unconstrained government power is not how responsible citizens of a free society ought to act. It’s a bad habit and it’s dangerous and irresponsible to promote it.

[…]

We live in a country where the government uses the power we’ve already given it as a rationale for giving it more: “how can we not ban x when we’ve already banned y?”

Nationalism Vs Patriotism

gadsden

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States. Americans will celebrate declaring their independence from the British Crown in 1776. Hopefully many will take time to reflect on what their country stands for and what makes it unique in the world.

I recommend reflecting on the idea of patriotism itself. What makes patriotism, a generally good thing, different from nationalism, which usually leads to many terrible things? There is definitely a fine line between the two concepts. Nationalism vs patriotism is one of the oldest arguments in history.

What is a patriotism? Lawrence Reed at the Foundation for Economic Education has an excellent definition.

I subscribe to a patriotism rooted in ideas that in turn gave birth to a country, but it’s the ideas that I think of when I’m feeling patriotic. I’m a patriotic American because I revere the ideas that motivated the Founders and compelled them, in many instances, to put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line.

 

What ideas? Read the Declaration of Independence again. Or, if you’re like most Americans these days, read it for the very first time. It’s all there. All men are created equal. They are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Premier among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government must be limited to protecting the peace and preserving our liberties, and doing so through the consent of the governed. It’s the right of a free people to rid themselves of a government that becomes destructive of those ends, as our Founders did in a supreme act of courage and defiance more than two hundred years ago.

 

Call it freedom. Call it liberty. Call it whatever you want, but it’s the bedrock on which this nation was founded and from which we stray at our peril. It’s what has defined us as Americans. It’s what almost everyone who has ever lived on this planet has yearned for. It makes life worth living, which means it’s worth fighting and dying for.

Or as Benjamin Franklin said, ““Where liberty dwells, there is my country.”

America is more than just a place, it’s an ideal. It’s a land where people are free to say what they want, believe what they want, and do what they want as long as they don’t hurt others or destroy their stuff. It’s a land where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their life. It’s a land where people govern themselves and no government can exist without the consent of the governed.

We believe all men are created equal and are always equal in the eyes of their Creator.

A patriot believes in an ideal, not in a particular place. There is nothing exceptional about a country that has no ideals.

Nationalism on the other hand is all about flag-waving, a particular place, or even a particular ethnic group or religion. It is a mentality of “my country, right or wrong” instead of being an honest critic where necessary of one’s government. It often includes hatred of those who are different.

What worries me is that for far too many Americans this country is becoming less about ideals and more about a place on the map. The second we stray from our ideals is the second America is no longer worth celebrating.

Be a patriot, not a mindless nationalist.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored (Re-post)

dtoe

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

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