The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”

 

 

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He’s at it again. Apparently immune to self-humiliation, a certain self-described “citizen journalist” with a long history of producing dishonest and deceptively edited videos has released another one. His previous efforts have gotten him arrested, sued, forced to pay $100,000, and repeatedly debunked and proclaimed a sham even by (some of) his fellow right-wing fanatics. But he still gets plenty of media exposure for being a fraudulent hack, so he still keeps doing it.  And this time he has a target that his fans are particularly eager to pounce on: CNN.

It’s astounding, and slightly amusing in a perverse way, to hear how often people peg CNN as a staunchly “liberal” network, whatever that means. Mention to one of your right-wing friends or relatives what a cesspool Fox “News” is, and chances are the Pavlovian response will be something like “Oh yeah? Well what about CNN?” During the recent presidential campaign it was common for reactionaries to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. And the current White House Occupant himself, who simply parrots brainlessly whatever he hears from the loony fringe media, has declared the network to be “fake news” and barred it from media conferences.

All of which is supremely ironic; CNN is also a frequent target of criticism by Media Matters, which is devoted to exposing “conservative misinformation”.  In fact, almost every day, Media Matters documents at least one instance of right-wing bias at CNN — evidently the highest frequency of any non-Fox media source. Furthermore, CNN has hired two of the White House Occupant’s lackeys as commentators. And lest we forget, it gave us a decade or so of Lou Dobbs, who, while nominally a centrist, railed against President Obama in a manner reminiscent of Father Coughlin railing against FDR, and now has found a home at Fox. CNN also has offered a frequent platform to the likes of George Will, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Jonah Goldberg, Tucker Carlson, and even Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter.

Of course, the network also has its instances of left-wing bias. But that’s just the point. Whatever its shortcomings may be as a journalistic source (and it does indeed have some) it’s rather balanced ideologically.  The Pew Research Center ranked it slightly left of center based on the ideology of the average viewer:

Network bias

And bear in mind that such a criterion as viewership probably makes CNN seem more left-leaning that it really is, since progressive (“liberal”) viewers face more limited options — as witness the domination of the media landscape by a rabid Fox,  which sends other networks scrambling to match its strides.

So why would the right-wing punditocracy single out such a relatively middle-of-the-road network to externally brand as the flagship of the legendary (and largely mythical) librulmedia? Simple: precisely because it is relatively middle-of-the-road. Establishing CNN as a benchmark for “liberal bias” by playing up its leftward tilts and ignoring its rightward tilts, the manipulators hope to utterly discredit anything even slightly left of center.

Immediately after the fraudulent anti-CNN video was released, White House spokesbot Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that any media criticizing her president is “fake news” and in almost the same breath urged everyone to watch the video, “whether it’s accurate or not”. The head can’t stop reeling from the bombardment of irony these days.

Meanwhile, the White House exploited the video in a fundraising letter (Fundraising?? Wasn’t the point of electing a pampered billionaire so the president wouldn’t be so dependent on the public’s money?), citing it as proof that CNN is “pushing phony news stories to boost their ratings, rile up their (wait for it) rabid liberal base, and take us down”.

It’s a tactic that Eric Alterman describes nicely in his book What Liberal Media?, which is well summed up in a column at The Nation. (It is Alterman, by the way, from whom I have borrowed the strikingly appropriate term punditocracy.) He quotes then-chair of the GOP Rich Bond:

If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.

Right-wingers have carried this strategy to outrageous extremes. They howl about the “liberal bias” of the media any time there is a news report that does not reinforce their narratives and beliefs. It’s all part of a strategy to work the refs, shift the goalposts and tilt the playing field. And it’s paying off handsomely.

The ultimate objectives in crying wolf over the librulmedia are twofold: first, to bully media outlets into being even more right-leaning than they already are, and second, to have mainstream news outlets branded as radically leftist in the mind of the public; and by comparison, then, an unhinged right-wing outlet like Fox will be perceived as … well, fair and balanced.  And we’ve already traveled very far down that Orwellian road.

 

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“Why Does God Allow Suffering?” Still No Answer After All These Years

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Like the proverbial ghost of a murder victim hanging around and crying out to be mollified, the question of why God would allow humans to suffer as they do is one that has haunted theologians and religious philosophers for millennia. Nobody ever has been able to provide a satisfactory answer; some seem to believe they have done so, but all they have done is provide some very faulty reasoning — usually red herrings or circular logic invoking biblical passages. But a satisfactory answer is demanded if we are going to allow the possibility of a deity at all.

Why? Because one of the primary attributes of a supreme being is benevolence. God, we are told, is good. But suffering, by definition, is bad; thus a benevolent deity would not allow it unless He had a benevolent reason. This assumes that such a being would be (a) aware of the suffering and (b) able to stop or prevent it.   And indeed the other major attributes of divinity include omniscience and omnipotence. (Which are in fact inseparable — omnipotence would include the power of being omniscient, and omniscience would include the knowledge of how to be omnipotent.)

Parenthetically, the very concept of omnipotence is inherently self-contradictory. If God can do anything, can He will Himself out of existence? Can He do so in such a manner that He never will have existed in the first place? Can He create an object so heavy that even He can’t lift it? If there is even one such task He can’t perform, then He is not omnipotent. And yet, if there is even one such task He can perform, he also is not omnipotent.

I suppose one might respond that God’s omnipotence includes the ability to resolve such apparent paradoxes, but that really reeks of moving the goalposts. It’s one thing to assume that a supreme being would have the means to actualize the things that we perceive to be true or plausible; it’s quite another to assume that such a being would have the means to obviate what we perceive to be false or contradictory. And if we grant Him an exemption from being required to have the potential for acts that are self-negating, then we are saying it’s okay if He can’t do certain things that we mere mortals can do — e.g., commit suicide.

But for now, let’s treat such complications the way religionists usually do: let’s ignore them. What we cannot ignore, however, is the unavoidable conclusion that if we grant the existence of an omnipotent/ omniscient God, then it isn’t merely a matter of allowing suffering, but of causing it. An omnipotent/ omniscient God would be a creator of all things, including suffering and evil — and their more immediate agents (Satan, etc.).

Some people have tried to skirt around this by suggesting that after He created the universe, God adopted a hands-off policy and just let things unfold on their own.  Doesn’t make any difference; if He set things in motion knowing how every little thing was going to turn out, it’s effectually no different from personally bombing every airport and gassing every holocaust victim.

So why would a benevolent God cause/ allow suffering? The answers that have always been presented fall essentially into one of 6 categories, each of which is quite faulty.

The Job Response

Written around 2500 years ago, the beautifully poetical Book Of Job tells a story in which God and Satan essentially indulge in a bet about what will happen if God’s faithful servant Job is subjected to extreme suffering.  Some people have interpreted this as an experiment on God’s part to learn for himself what effect suffering will produce. But this is absurd on the face of it; an omniscient being would never have any reason to experiment.

Of course, there is another explanation for Job’s torments…

The Nietzsche Response

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously remarked,”that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. And many religionists have adopted a similar attitude to rationalize the existence of suffering. In doing so, they (and perhaps Nietzsche as well) are conflating suffering with adversity.

It’s true that our muscles (physical and otherwise) grow stronger with resistance, and it’s human nature to enjoy challenge and its conquest. But suffering is not merely adversity. It’s pain, torment, agony. Very often, it consists of challenges that cannot be overcome, but merely endured as they get worse and worse. And there are at least 5 problems with pegging suffering as a stepping stone to personal growth.

1. It’s a post facto conclusion

Yes, there are times when we prevail over suffering, and we feel the stronger for it. But to conclude that this must be the reason the suffering exists is to put the cart before the horse. Particularly since…

2. It doesn’t always work.

Suffering doesn’t always leave us stronger.  Very often, it leaves us quite broken. And yes, Mr. Nietzsche, it often leaves us very dead.

3. It’s inequitably distributed.

We all know people who already are perfectly strong and of sound moral character, and yet have had to endure horrible ordeals. Yet we also know, or at least are familiar with, individuals who are irresponsible, shady and downright evil who lead charmed lives, are born rich, scarcely ever endure a day of pain, and even are elected president. If God had designed suffering as a tool for fortification, surely there would be considerably more justice and reason to it.

4. Opportunity is often denied.

There are many, many people who endure horrible suffering in their lives, but have no chance to reap any benefit from it. Many children, for instance, are the victims of terrible violence, disease or calamity. They feel the pain, but they do not have the potential to develop any more strongly because of that — particularly if they die in infancy.

5. It’s all unnecessary.

Even if none of these objections held true, it still would be quite unnecessary for an omnipotent and omniscient God to subject His subjects to torture. Because anything that possibly can be achieved by suffering can also be achieved by other means — indeed by any of an infinite number of other means — just as effectively — indeed even more effectively. After all, He supposedly can do anything, right?  So clearly, He inflicts suffering on us only because He wants us to suffer. And this is hardly the hallmark of benevolence. In other words, it appears that God is either omnipotent/ omniscient, or else He is benevolent — but He can’t be all of “thee above”.

The half-full glass response

Whether or not we derive any other benefit, say some religionists, suffering at least affords us the chance to appreciate our blessings (assuming we actually have any). But the same 5 objections apply to this premise. Above all, God certainly could install in us an innate appreciation for our blessings that wouldn’t require any agony to acquire.

The Black and White Response

Even if you don’t need suffering to appreciate your blessings better, maybe it will at least enable you to tell the difference, eh? So some would argue. But it’s an incredibly silly example of begging the question. If suffering didn’t even exist, why on earth would you need to tell the difference?

The Karmic Response

This one comes from Eastern religious traditions, which have a much broader concept of God than does Christianity. The basic idea is that if you lose an eye, for example, it’s payback for your having cost someone else an eye in a past life. Okay, but that still doesn’t explain why the potential for you to have cost someone else an eye existed in the first place.

The Man Behind the Curtain Response

If all else fails, the religionist is likely to respond that God inflicts suffering just because He does, and it’s not our place to question why; it’s our lot merely to trust that there must be a reason for it, even if there evidently isn’t.

But if God indeed created us, then He created our minds, with their insatiable curiosity. We want to know where we came from, where we’re going, how the universe ticks. How do we benefit in this regard by simply stacking one layer of mystery on top of another? How does it help to say that God created the universe if we don’t know what God is or where He came from? How does it help to say that God wants us to suffer if we have no understanding of the reason?

Of course, Official Explanation is only one of God’s intended functions, but it’s a very, very major one. Another is Succor in Time of Need (although that’s a very problematic proposition too, as we shall see in a future discussion) and in that capacity, His inscrutability actually might be regarded as an asset; in other words, one might believe that it takes an unfathomable being to solve unfathomable problems.

But even that role is secondary to His supposed role as Creator and therefore Official Explanation. And regarding that role, and given the presence of suffering, our (admittedly limited) reason must conclude that one of the following must be true: (a) God does not exist at all; (b) His powers are limited; or (c) He is inexcusably cruel. None of which is a possibility that religionists particularly want to consider.

 

 

 

American Tribalism

Gene Autry

I see a lot of really bad Internet memes and blog posts come down the pike, but an especially egregious one that caught my eye recently invokes the spirit of that great political philosopher and sage prophet… Gene Autry. Yes, that’s right: the Great Singing Cowboy, according  to this titanically silly article, “eerily predicted everything Trump is saying in 1942”. Really? Everything?  Like “I am the greatest at everything, including things I’ve never done” or “Nobody has been more persecuted than me” or “Hillary is a crook?”

Well, let’s assume that they’re using a little poetic license here, and when they say “everything”, they really mean “a couple of things”. In which case, there is sort of a half grain of truth to the caption (but that’s just about the only truth you’ll find in the entire post).

The allusion to Gene Autry involves a song called “Don’t Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You”, which he sang in the film The Bells Of Capistrano. Released when the U.S. was embroiled in World War II, the jingoism of lines such as these is understandable:

If you don’t like your uncle Sammy than go back to your home over the sea, to the land from where you came, whatever be its name, but don’t be ungrateful to me!

But even that is a far cry from what the current White House Occupant and his cult following would have you believe: namely, that (a) dark-skinned foreigners are causing a great many of our problems, and (b) anyone who says otherwise is un-American.

You get a very good inkling of this from the very first sentence of the article:

Patriots, if you ever hear a liberal complain about our country, then just sing them a song.

Notice the very first word: “patriots”.  The piece is supposedly addressed to patriots, but it’s actually addressed to Trumpsters. In the mind of the author, the two are one and the same.  The implication is that everyone who supports the current White House Occupant is a patriot, and anyone who doesn’t is a “liberal” and hates the whole country. This is an old tried and true propaganda tactic called flag waving, which we’ve examined more than once.

What’s really exceptional about this piece of Internet propaganda is that it is constructed almost entirely of straw men. (Please read the previous examination of that propaganda technique if you haven’t already done so.) Herewith is a sampling of the straw found therein:

…we see more and more liberals complaining about our great nation.

There are immigrants who come to our country only to complain about it.

…they tell us how we should live…

Under eight years of Obama, we had a president who did not care about our veterans.

Obama hated our country so much that he literally ignored the pleas of our veterans.

Why does the Left hate our military so much?

Do the Democrats understand that if it were not for our great veterans, they wouldn’t have a platform to spew their awful hatred?

We need to hold the media accountable for ignoring our veterans.

The Democrats love government spending, except when it comes to keeping America safe.

The Left loves wielding the Hollywood sword to try and cut us down, but we have smartened up.

And not that the author has “smartened up” enough to actually care about getting facts straight or anything, but he also has it backward about which party and which politicians have treated veterans most shamefully.

What this article does, in short, is advance the cause of tribalism: the schism of society into clashing ideological or sociological divides. And it is far from the only example. You will hear it over and over and over again from the Cult Of Trumpery: “Liberals hate America”; “Liberals are evil”; “Liberals are stupid”; “Liberals want to destroy you”.

The distinct impression you get is that the main reason, if not the only reason, that a great many of them voted for 45 was simply to “pay back liberals” for some imagined offense or other.  Some have said something like, “Well, we suffered for 8 years under Obama, so now it’s your turn to suffer.”  (To which someone penned an excellent response in an effort to get to the bottom of the “suffering” under Obama.) It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these folks that in their obsession with making “liberals” suffer, they are making everyone suffer, including themselves — for the present, and quite likely for generations to come.

Tribalism defies all reason.  And while it has always been with us, and is perhaps inevitable, what’s really different now is the extreme, deliberate crusade that one particular tribe is waging to make the rift broader, deeper and more toxic.

As it happens, I recently saw another old movie, for the first time in years: Tribes, a film made for TV in 1970. (It’s been sadly neglected and forgotten for decades, despite winning 3 Emmy awards and distinctly influencing later military flicks that are better known, such as Full Metal Jacket and Heartbreak Ridge.) It deals with a hippie (Jan Michael Vincent) who is drafted into the Marine Corps and butts heads with a rock-ribbed drill sergeant (Darren McGavin).

Tribes

In addition to being a powerful drama well worth watching, Tribes is a thought-provoking rumination on the problem of tribalism, which we thought was bad in 1970, but is arguably worse now. At one point, the hippie draftee says, “We’re from different tribes, sergeant. Two completely different worlds. You don’t understand mine, yet you force me to accept yours”. To his credit, the sergeant actually does try to understand the other side of the divide. But another sergeant (Earl Holliman) has nothing but hostility for the young man. He embodies, in other words, the attitude of Trumpsters — talk about “eerily” prescient.

When they were “suffering” under Obama, they were full of rage and loathing. Now that (they think) they are getting everything they want, they are… full of rage and loathing. Perhaps even more so. It’s hard to reason with people who seemingly just live for rage and loathing.

We previously listed some strategies for overcoming the plague of Trumpery, and among them was the importance of trying to “cross the bridge” — i.e., the gap between ourselves and those on the other side of the ideological divide. (Back  in the era when Tribes was made, for example, I recall reading about a softball game between hippies and police. ) Unfortunately, you may find that’s an uphill battle when you’re dealing with people who are obsessed with blowing up the bridges and building higher walls.

“Snowflake”: Anatomy of a Slur

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The popularity of “snowflake” as the cutesy insult du jour is both very interesting and rather disturbing. It’s used, of course, by the Cult Of Trumpery to belittle those who refuse to join the cult, but it’s particularly intended to single out them librulz — on the apparent assumption that nobody else possibly could be alarmed by the rise of fascism in America.

One fascinating thing about this epithet is its astronomical irony. Calling someone a snowflake is meant mainly to suggest that they are fragile, overly sensitive, easily damaged or offended. But the people applying the label are doing so in defense of a petulant toddler who, among many other things, threw a tantrum against Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s merchandise; against the cast of Hamilton for supposedly booing Mike Pence (they didn’t); against Saturday Night Live for lampooning him almost as well as he lampoons himself; and against the media and even the National Park Service for accurately reporting the size of his inauguration crowd (just let that one sink in).

And his fans themselves are often prone to gross overreactions even as they berate other people for being “snowflakes”. Recently there was a viral story about a Massachusetts man who wrote a letter to the editor of his local paper expressing his disgust with a yard sign that said “Hate has no home here”.  A 13-year-old boy penned a response that was absolutely priceless, and gives a person hope that the U.S. may have a future after all. He closes his letter by pointing out the absurdity of someone (supposedly an adult) becoming unhinged over a benevolent yard sign, and then disparaging others for their “snowflake sensitivity”.

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Another characteristic of (literal) snowflakes that may be suggested by this appellation is their uniqueness — it’s become proverbial that no two of them are alike. And there is speculation that the current application of the word was inspired by a line from the 1999 film Fight Club (based on the vastly superior Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name):

You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

And consider the irony of this: if members of the Cult Of Trumpery really are ridiculing dissenters for their supposedly vain perception of personal specialness, they also are tacitly acknowledging that they themselves subscribe to a mindless herd mentality.

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What’s most disturbing about “snowflake”, however, is its white nationalist connotations. It has been widely reported that the term originated in Nazi Germany, where it was applied derisively to Jews because the ash from the crematoriums reminded soldiers of snow falling.

Mind you, there is no solid evidence that this story is true. But then, the Cult Of Trumpery has been more than willing to buy into all manner of unfounded beliefs and rumors: Obama is a Kenyan Muslim; Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi; the Clinton Foundation committed fraud; climate change is a hoax; millions voted illegally; Muslims cheered on 9-11; immigrants pose a threat to the economy and to safety; Obama “apology tour”; death panels; etc., etc., etc., etc. So it’s not very likely that they’ve questioned this myth, either. In other words, it appears that many of them have called people “snowflakes” while believing that the term has its roots in the Third Reich.

Furthermore, there is a troubling etymology that is much more substantially documented. During the Civil War era, it was common for white racists to refer sarcastically to African-Americans as “snowballs” — a usage which already had been around for a century or so — and this later morphed into “snowflakes”. Unlike the Nazi narrative, this one is unquestionably true. (We might note that abolitionists also applied the term to those who supported slavery; but in this usage it was deriding people who perceived themselves as superior rather than deriding people whom the user of the label perceived as inferior.)

So the big question here (aside from why such folks consider it so important to ridicule other people at all) is this: given the widely reported belief that “snowflake” is of Nazi origin, and given its unquestionable racist associations, why do so many people nonetheless embrace it so wholeheartedly?

The Myth of a “Christian Nation”

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It’s one of those things that people just know because they just know: the United States was founded by and for Christians, and all others should go promptly to hell, do not pass Go. Period, no questions asked. Few beliefs are more enduring — it’s been with us for a couple of centuries or so. Few beliefs are more widespread — anywhere from roughly a third to roughly half of Americans believe it. Few beliefs are more harmful — it can lead to the legitimization of brutal oppression and persecution (remember witch hunts?), and to government policies that plunder the environment and engage in reckless foreign policy inspired  by biblical “prophecy”. And as we’ve seen all too well, it helps unscrupulous demagogues manipulate the public with affectations of piety.

Yet the irony is that few beliefs are more easily discredited.

Actually, it’s correct in a sense to say that the U.S. is, or has been, a Christian nation. It has been so by default but not by design.  Which is to say that traditionally, Christians have far outnumbered everyone else in the country’s population, and therefore have been able to get away imposing their will on everyone else and injecting their beliefs into the legislative and legal processes. This has resulted in such practices as forced school prayer, inserting “God” into the Pledge Of Allegiance, using a Bible in official oaths, and establishing ministers as officiators at weddings.

But these things are not, as the government has finally, finally, finally begun figuring out, particularly American. (They are also not particularly Christian, but that’s another story.) First, though, let’s look at the justifications people often cite for buying into the Christian Nation myth.

1. The national motto

Yes, the official national motto is “In God we trust”. But God doesn’t necessarily mean a Christian God, or even necessarily a religious God. (As we’ve discussed before, there are many concepts of just what God means). More important, a national motto has no regulatory power; it’s essentially just ornamental, like the national seal. The latter incorporates the likeness of an eagle, but that doesn’t mean we are required to own, or even like, that particular bird.

By the way, this phrase did not become the official national motto until 1956, at the behest of President Eisenhower, who also had “God” inserted into the Pledge Of Allegiance. The constitutionality of both is highly suspect. In any case, the motto of the Great Seal of the United States, which dates back to 1782, is E pluribus unum. And the spirit of plurality and unity embodied in that phrase is quite incompatible with the theocratic implications of the later motto.

2. The Founding Fathers prayed.

Yes, they did. They also wrote with goose quills, wore powdered wigs, owned slaves and got bled when they were sick. That doesn’t mean they intended it to be incumbent upon us to do any of the above.  Furthermore, prayer is not a specifically Christian exercise, nor is it necessarily even a religious exercise.

3. The Founding Fathers were Christians.

Even if this claim were perfectly true, it would not mean that they wanted to impose their own religious convictions on all posterity. But it’s not perfectly true. Many, if not most of the founders, were immersed to some extent in Deism, a popular rationalist movement in the Eighteenth Century that was connected to Christian tradition but not strictly a form of Christianity, and indeed not strictly a religion at all. Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, dabbled in Deism and called himself a Unitarian; his religious views were so unorthodox that he often was considered an atheist.

4. The Treaty of Paris

This agreement, signed by King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the American states in 1783, formally ended the Revolutionary War. It begins with the phrase

In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.

Aha! Surely we have here an explicit Christian reference in an official document. Apparently so. But what we do not have is a declaration that the “most holy trinity” shall be a guiding force for future generations. In fact, there is no declaration at all (more about that shortly). Furthermore, the United States Of America as we know it did not officially exist yet. It would still be 6 years before the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

5. Allusions in the founding documents

The Declaration of Independence contains a few indirect references to a deity of some sort: “Nature’s God”, “Providence”, “Creator” and “Supreme Judge”. None of these is by any means an explicit invocation of Christianity.  Indeed, these references sound almost more fitting to pantheism than to Christianity. The Constitution itself contains no such allusions. However, Christian apologists have seized upon the manner of stating the date as being “in the year of our Lord” as conclusive proof that the Founders wanted all future generations to bow down before Christian dogma.

I surely don’t have to tell you that such a phrase was an arbitrary convention for framing dates. In fact, that convention (begun in a long-past era when Christianity really did rule the world with an iron fist) has carried over into modern times even among staunch atheists. Until very recently, it was standard (and still is among many people) to specify dates as being either BC or AD.

It was also customary at the time to speak in formal, stilted, sometimes bombastic prose. Such superlatives as invoking a deity were a part of this convention, and didn’t always signal sacred sentiments. Even today, all of us take our leave by saying “goodbye” which was contracted from “God be with ye”, and we think nothing of it. Look at the opening of the Declaration Of Independence. Exactly what purpose does the phrase “in the course of human events” serve? To distinguish human events from equine or porcine events to avoid confusion? It’s mere padding, but it has a ring to it. So does “Supreme Judge”.

Another holdover from this heritage is the habit of designating Sunday as a day of rest. Thus, Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution specifies:

If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a law, in like Manner as if he had signed it.

Apologists in desperation have latched onto this as “proof” that the U.S. is a Christian nation. But this clause does not mention “the Sabbath” or any other religious connection. It just recognizes that government workers, like anyone else, need a little time off.

Note that none of these references (with the exception of the newly minted national motto) is a complete statement. All are merely words and phrases. They may mention a “Creator”, but they do not declare that the “Creator” shall be recognized as the supreme authority of the land. Let’s look at some passages that are complete sentences and actual declarations of policy. They are not nearly as friendly toward the theocratic position.

1. Jefferson’s wall

Thomas Jefferson’s famous utterance about the “wall of separation between church and state” also does not carry any regulatory sway, as it appeared in private correspondence rather than an official document. But it does provide a key insight into the position of the founders, particularly the one who had such a strong hand in founding the new nation.

2. Article 6, Section 3

After the first few U.S. presidents, every one has been a Christian. As have a nearly unanimous majority of other elected officials, national, state and local. Some people think that should be a requirement — in at least one presidential debate, the moderator asked the candidates point blank if they were Christians. But that’s not quite the way the Constitution spells it out. Article 6, Section 3 clearly states:

…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

So how do you propose having an official Christian nation if its official governing document officially prohibits requiring official officials to be officially Christian? The article also states that the Constitution (not the Bible or any other religious authority) “shall be the supreme Law of the Land”.

3. The First Amendment

Even more specific is the opening of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

This section of the amendment is famous for enshrining the right to freedom of religion; but before it gets around to doing that, it first notes that true freedom of religion must necessarily encompass freedom from religion. Religionists often focus on the second part, but totally bury the first part. Sometimes they even maintain that the wording of the phrase (“respecting”) could be construed to mean that Congress can’t pass laws prohibiting the establishment of a religion. But since the wording definitely does designate that Congress can’t pass laws that do establish a religion, such an interpretation is automatically rendered null and void.

Another manner of tap dancing around this amendment is the old “what they really meant” tack. What they really meant, the religionists argue, is that no Christian denomination should be favored over another. That may have been the concern that provided the original impetus for the amendment, but the framers of the Constitution soon saw that the issue was much broader than that. They certainly knew the difference between “religion” and “sect”, and it was the former, and not the latter, that they mentioned in the amendment.

4. The Treaty Of Tripoli

Even though this one’s a bit problematic , it’s still worth including in the mix. Article 11 of this treaty explicitly states:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…

Here the objectors have said that Christian government is not the same thing as Christian nation. Quite so. That’s why we have drawn the distinction between default and design. A Christian nation by design would necessarily have a Christian government.

Another objection is that the original treaty was in Arabic and did not include the above passage. Even so, this is the version that the U.S. Senate read and signed off on. This was in 1797, after the Constitution was adopted. And it was passed unanimously by the Senate. Evidently, the statement that the U.S. government was not founded on Christianity was, at the time, quite uncontroversial.

But now, there are many people who know better. They just know because they just know. And they just know that if you fail to acknowledge the infallibility of what they just know, then you are being very un-American, and are persecuting and oppressing Christians.

Gleanings from Social Media

flat earth

Like most other people today, I spend a certain amount of time perusing social media. Not because I particularly enjoy it, but because it’s a good source of material for this blog. But the down side is that the impression one gets from such outlets is that the present human condition, and the outlook for the human race, are very bleak indeed.

I know someone who literally believes the earth is flat. Literally. She posted the above photo on Facebook not long ago, and declared that the concept of a round earth is a myth promoted by the Great Conspiracy to turn us into mindless drones. And the astronauts? They never really went anywhere. The government has expended billions of dollars and millions of man (and woman) hours and even several lives to advance a “myth” that nearly everyone has already believed for centuries. Oh and she also believes that chemtrails are used to control us, that global warming is a myth, that vaccines cause autism, and probably that Obama is still trying to take away her guns.

I wish I could tell you that she’s alone, but there are many others out there too. Most of them spreading an endless supply of misinformation that swarms the Internet like a plague of locusts. What is perhaps even more troubling is that even the positive and accurate information circulating out there in the hivemind paints a rather grim picture.

For instance, another link I saw posted from the website Daily Kos offers an illuminating explanation for the way “conservatives” in particular are so frequently ensnared in the web of what used to be called fake news before that term was stolen. Basically, right-wing manipulators are playing a game of telephone. And whatever the participants hear, they believe. Unshakably. And permanently.

As yet another link explains, any attempt to introduce verifiable facts to a devotee of alternative facts results in what is called the backfire effect:

As a rule, misinformed people do not change their minds once they have been presented with facts that challenge their beliefs. But, beyond simply not changing their minds when they should, research shows that they are likely to become more attached to their mistaken beliefs. The factual information “backfires.” When people don’t agree with you, research suggests that bringing in facts to support your case might actually make them believe you less. In other words, fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.

Wow. If this is true, and given everything else that we’ve seen on Facebook et al, what conclusion can we draw except that we’re all doomed?

Well, someone else online posted at least a glimmer of hope. And it comes from comments made 300 years ago by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, whom we’ve encountered before:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true….People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In short, if there is any hope at all of encouraging the delusional to actually realize that they are delusional, it lies not in challenging their delusions, but in humoring them as far as possible. That may sound like a slender thread of hope. But it may be the only thread we have. At least if the culture of social media presents an accurate reflection of society at large.

Protests Against Logical Fallacies

vet

By any measure, the Women’s March that occurred on Jan. 21 was a resounding success, with an estimated participation in Washington of some 470,000 and an estimated participation worldwide of about 4 million in more than 100 countries. Accordingly, it has come under attack from Trump supporters –even though the event was not specifically geared as an anti-Trump protest — who have summoned a smorgasbord of logical fallacies as justification for their criticism.

Many Internet memes making the rounds suggested that the marchers were just spoiled whiners and sore losers; one compared the circumstances of American women to the plight of women elsewhere in the world, including:

Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive, no rights and must always be covered.
China and India, infantcide (sic) of baby girls.

Afghanistan, unequal education rights.
Democratic Republic of Congo, where rapes are brutal and women are left to die, or HIV infected and left to care for children alone.

Mali, where women can not escape the torture of genital mutilation.

Pakistan, in tribal areas where women are gang raped to pay for men’s crime.

This is an example of the fallacy of relative privation , more colloquially known as the “not as bad as” fallacy. Its premise is that you have no right to complain if other people have it worse than you. By this reasoning, you have no right to seek medical attention for a broken arm because other people are dying of cancer. And ultimately, you have no right to seek redress for anything, because there’s always theoretically someone who has it worse.

There was also the corollary of this premise, which we might call the fallacy of relative merit or the “not as good as” fallacy. For example there was this photo:

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With the caption: THESE ARE THE WOMEN REALLY MARCHING FOR YOUR RIGHTS.

The implication is that because the march on Washington didn’t require the kind of courage and risk that attends putting on a uniform and putting your life on the line, it’s not a valid campaign for human rights. Again, we could say that essentially nothing is as worthy an action as something else, and thus nothing ever should be done. Fortunately, when this meme made the rounds on Facebook, at least one person responded in this fashion:

EXCUSE Me!!! I am a Veteran…I wore the uniform for 24 years. The only reason I was able to serve is because at some point in history…someone MARCHED to allow me to serve as a BLACK and as WOMAN!!! I take nothing away from those serving today… So there is NOTHING wrong with marching.

The relative privation narrative above even mentions protesters showing up with a “5 dollar Starbucks” in hand, suggesting that if anyone can afford such indulgences, then they have no cause for complaint. That’s a huge non-sequitur, of course. But even if it were perfectly true, it’s based on the false assumption that each of the marchers is there representing only herself/ himself. Which is hardly the case at all; the march was on behalf of all disadvantaged people all over the world.

Another web virus was a video clip of a man purported to be a veteran (which evidently is supposed to make him an authority on these matters) that actually appears to be a commentary on other protests, but it’s been applied to the Women’s March as well. Upbraiding the “crybabies”, (who, in typical cart-before-the-horse fashion he proclaims are “the exact reason Donald Trump won the election”), he throws in several straw men that have no relevance to the actual grounds for complaint, including “You’re causing all this destruction just because your candidate lost” ; “You don’t always get your way”; “Ain’t nothing free”; and “But you want everything”.

His reference to protesters causing destruction could be considered an instance of the fallacy of composition –.a scant handful of protesters (actually masked interlopers who were not a part of the protest proper) had been destructive, so he’s applying that property to all of them. It’s unclear whether he is presenting himself as a phenomenally gifted psychic or a sociologist who’s actually studied the demographics of the crowd, but in either case he’s horribly inept:

None of you put on a uniform, but you’re quick to disrespect the flag, to not wanna say the Pledge Of Allegiance, not wanna recognize the Bible.

In fact, a great many of these protesters have put on uniforms of various kinds, including (as he evidently was referring to) military uniforms. Veterans are often involved in protests, because they often feel (perhaps justifiably) that they’ve been given the short end of the stick. But what difference does it make how many veterans were there? Does this social critic mean to suggest that nobody has a right to exercise constitutional rights who has not personally defended them in warfare? That has never, ever, been a condition for the rights and privileges of citizenship in the U.S.

Whom did he see “disrespect the flag”? What the hell does the Pledge Of Allegiance have to do with anything, and how would he know how many people in the crowd say it and how many don’t? And the Bible??? Who doesn’t “recognize the Bible” when they see it, and how is it in any way relevant to what is going on here? And how does he presume to know the religious convictions and practices of half a million people? It would be hard to cook up a bigger pot of red herrings.

One valid point he makes is that the demonstrations make people late for work. Or is it so valid? One sermon that the critics keep preaching to demonstrators is “you’re responsible for your own circumstances so quit your bitching.” Which is not only irrelevant, but not quite true — it’s hard to blame people who voted for Hillary Clinton as creators of the Trump presidency. But pretend that we all are one hundred percent responsible for our own circumstances. That means that people who are late for work can’t blame it on activity in the street — particularly when they have the capability of finding out about those activities in advance and planning accordingly.

In fact, sometimes we are tardy for our appointed rounds due to circumstances beyond our control. But that applies to a great many types of events, including not only protests but inaugurations. If we used inconvenience to the general populace as a criterion for prohibiting events, we’d never have any large-scale outdoor functions of any kind.

It’s also common for people to respond to the Resistance by saying, “hey, Trump was elected so let’s give him a chance. Every 4 years, people complain about the outcome of the presidential election. Why can’t we all just forget our differences and work together?”

This would have been an excellent speech 4 years ago or 8 years ago, when people were indeed raising a ruckus just because they had an irrational hatred of the guy who won. But it’s the most glaring of false equivalences to try to make a similar case now. The resistance to Trump is not just because the protesters’ candidate lost; it’s because Trump has made it very clear, with virtually everything he says and does, that he is grotesquely unfit for office, and a very real danger to the country and the whole world. It isn’t just a matter of ideological differences; and suggesting such is an effort to “normalize” someone who is anything but normal and healthy. “Working together” with him is “working together” with someone who is doing everything he can to prevent us from all working together.

If you pay careful attention to these attacks on anti-Trump protesters, you’re likely to find more species of faulty logic than you can shake an alternative fact at.