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After posting a well-worded invitation to Trump supporters to engage in civil discourse with me, a woman, LR, who first responded with dismissive scorn began commenting on my Facebook page. After some trust building between us, and editing out the participation of another individual, this is the meat of the discussion we had. (I edited her comments for spelling and punctuation and to reduce “noise”. My first comment follows her declaration, in response to the other participant –who carried most of the first part of the conversation– that she has absolutely no second thoughts about her support for Trump.)

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, I’m going to jump in here with an observation. Intellectually, as a student of society and of the human mind, I know that many of the things I believe are wrong. I know that many of the things I am absolutely certain are true are not true. I know that the narratives of reality that form my identity and my relationship to the world around me is laden with defense mechanisms that protect it from critical challenges. And I know that all of that is true despite the higher-than-average degree to which I work to mitigate them.

It’s very hard to act on the knowledge I just outlined above, particularly when engaged with people with whom I disagree. I don’t want to give them that admission as a lever or weapon to use against me. But even in the privacy of my own mind, or in the company of like-minded people, it is hard to own and harder to act on.

That’s why, in the process of creating Transcendental Politics, I increasingly came to emphasize “intellectual humility.” I’m not talking about the appealing personality trait in which one presents as knowing that they’re not special, but rather simply the knowledge that we don’t know, that much that we think we know is wrong, and that some things we are absolutely certain are true are in reality false.

I just finished reading Steven Pinker’s new book, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Pinker and I think in similar ways, share a tendency to be critical of ideologues across the spectrum, believe in the value of reliance on empirical evidence, rational analysis, and a commitment to our shared humanity, wherever it leads. I’m a pretty diligent consumer of information, trained in research methodologies, aware of psychological pitfalls (such as confirmation bias and attribution bias), and yet was surprised that Pinker managed to bring into question some things that I thought were beyond dispute. It was a humbling reminder of how much crap we all have in our minds.

(I’m not suggesting that Pinker is infallible either. There were some emphases, some ways of framing information and conceptualization that I remain at odds with him on, though mostly it is really just more a matter of emphasis than anything else. But I recognize that rejecting data that doesn’t confirm my bias is inexcusable, and some of the data he presented absolutely challenged some of my biases.)

So, I encourage us all, to the greatest extent possible, to come to the table knowing that we don’t know, that we may be wrong about some things we are certain of, that the more we allow reason and humanity to guide us the better, and that our inevitable boat load of false certainties is a major obstruction to doing so.

I didn’t really want to interrupt the flow of yours and EB’s discussion, or attempt to impose my will while trust is still being built, but I just wanted to plant the seed of this suggestion early, just to tuck away in the back of your mind.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, sounds like an interesting book . I struggled with whether to use the word “absolutely,” and in the end decided that that was the most truthful answer for me to give at this time . Nothing of course is absolute, except “Universal Truth” which only the creator of the universe is privy to. I understand where you are coming from. Point well taken : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, first, I want to reiterate that we appreciate your having the courage and integrity to be here, where you knew that you were going to be bombarded with challenges to what you hold to be true. Most people are unwilling to put themselves in that situation. I don’t like putting myself in that situation! (But, we would all benefit, individually and collectively, if we all put ourselves in that situation more routinely.)

Second, I have to continue that bombardment just a little, because not only conservative Republican Jeff Flake, but many others, both publicly and privately, echo his sentiments. The more thoughtful conservative columnists and pundits –George Will, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, most Republican congressmen and senators at some point or another, every living former president from both parties (implicitly or explicitly), virtually every reputable, established news publication in the world, virtually the entire corpus of professional historians, economists, foreign policy experts, anti-terrorism experts, diplomats, and statesmen, the former heads of the CIA and NSA, the former head of the FBI, all echo the sentiment that Trump is a disaster for this nation and world. Historians posted video-testimonials, with reference to historical analysis, to implore people not to make this mistake. Economists and foreign policy experts wrote mass letters signed by the luminaries in their fields with the same message. Venerable old publications that have either never endorsed anyone or have done so only once or twice in the course of centuries came out to endorse Clinton, not because they loved Clinton, but because they recognized how unthinkable it was to elect Trump to the presidency. Conservative papers that had always endorsed the Republican nominee prior to 2016 received death threats for doing the same.

That humility we agreed we all require should give us pause in the light of so enormous, so well-informed a chorus of both the expected and unexpected voices urging the same warning upon us. Can we entertain the possibility that we have ventured into some horrifyingly dangerous territory here? Not an agreement that it is so, necessarily, but a recognition that it might be so?

LR: EB, If you are asking my opinion of (a speech by Flake that EB had posted), which I was already familiar with, and others …. well here goes …. all I can think of is that Flake went on an unhinged tirade of sanctimonious grandstanding . He hates Trump , he was a never Trumper from day 1 , and he wants someone like himself to challenge Trump in 2020 . As my Father used to say ” He has a better chance of being struck by lightning ” Good luck with that : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: If being a “never Trumper” disqualifies all of the conservative voices echoing liberal, academic, and expert concerns over Trump, then all of the most intelligent and informed and venerable of conservative voices, including previous conservative Republican nominees for the presidency and Republican presidents themselves, are disqualified, and the only definition of credibility becomes the refusal to listen to those voices and consider what they’re saying, which is a very dysfunctional definition of credibility.

Isn’t it just possible that the virtually unanimous voices of the world’s historians, economists, foreign policy experts, former presidents, former candidates for the presidency, editorial columnists for major publications, might, just might, have a point that is being systematically ignored by those who prefer not to hear it.

There are really two possibilities here: Virtually the entire universe of people with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise are all engaged in a conspiracy against what is good and true, or that which they are against isn’t actually good and true. Which seems more reasonable on the face of it?

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, all I will say is this: I am very familiar with all of these views. I have been listening for 3 years now. If this Presidency turns out to be the unmitigated disaster that they ( experts ) are predicting, our Constitutional Republic will be strong enough to survive.

Colorado Steve Harvey: I agree that our republic will *probably* survive a Trump presidency, but some of the harm done may be irreparable, and some of it may take generations to repair, and some of it may cause multitudes real harm in the meantime. So, if he is an unmitigated disaster, that is not a trivial concern.

I’m going to risk all of the goodwill we’ve built on a frank, admission, LR.

I personally am convinced that it is impossible for any rational person of goodwill to look at the evidence comprehensively and arrive at or retain the conclusion that Trump is anything other than a travesty that we have to do everything in our power to rectify.

I also believe, from all I’ve seen of you here, that you ARE a reasonable person of goodwill.

By syllogistic logic, if those two premises are correct, you would have to come to the conclusion that Trump is a travesty that we have to do everything in our power to rectify.

Now, given all that, there are three possibilities: 1) Premise number one is wrong because I’m wrong, the world’s historians are all wrong, the world’s economists are all wrong, the world’s foreign policy experts are all wrong, this nation’s living former presidents from both parties are all wrong, the most intellectual of conservative pundits are all wrong, and Trump isn’t a travesty that we have to rectify; or 2) I’m wrong in my assessment of you; or 3) you will, in time, come to the rational and humane conclusion.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, well , apparently the grass roots voters in the swing states and the thousands who went to the rallies didn’t get the “Memo.” Trump was approachable, he worked like a dog going everywhere, he spoke plain english, he was smart enough to know that there was an untapped silent majority out there who was furious over 8 years of Obama’s policies . We are not racists, we are not anti LBGT. I know transgender Trump supporters, educated conservative women. Check out the FB page of Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives , they are in your state. I don’t know what else to say. That’s how he won 306 electoral votes . I went to bed on election night thinking “no way” we are never going to win Pennsylvania which I had determined was crucial. I was just as surprised as you guys . Peace : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, but none of that really gets at the crucial question. Multitudes of ordinary, intelligent, kind people can opt to support and create horrors. We’ve seen that, repeatedly. Among Nazi supporters were kindly old grandmothers who baked cookies for their neighbors…, sometimes even for their Jewish neighbors! That multitudes of ordinary, intelligent, kind people supported and support Trump doesn’t tell us that the analysis of those who are specifically informed on each dimension of policy are wrong, and that the mind-bogglingly abundant evidence of Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, crudeness, incompetence, anti-constitutional authoritarianism, and general malignant buffoonery are all wrong. You said that his many supporters “didn’t get the memo;” that might be exactly right. And those many supporters might just be demonstrably wrong.

That there are some from categories of people the majority of which didn’t support him who do support him is both unsurprising and uninformative. There were slaves who defended slavery; there were women who opposed women’s suffrage; there were even Jews who sided with the Nazis. It is always the case that when horrifying injustice and brutality occurs, some members of those groups that are specifically targeted by the injustice and brutality actually support it. That is not proof that what they were supporting was not in fact injustice and brutality.

Appeals to the proof of the support of large pluralities or even outright majorities are not appeals to truth, or to justice, or to human decency, because we have many, many, many instances throughout history in which such pluralities or outright majorities were clearly on the side opposing truth, justice, and human decency. I would argue that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that this is just such a circumstance.

That’s a lot to digest. Hang around a while and let’s find out together which of the three possibilities I listed is the correct one.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, you are telling me which possibility is correct for me to pick ? I will tell you this: The minute you start to use the Natzi comparison, you lost me. Forget the other stuff like his foreign policy, which I agree with. I was willing to play fair, but don’t try to railroad me. You are not interested in my views. You want to change my views.

Colorado Steve Harvey: I want only one thing: For reason in service to our shared humanity to prevail. If I am failing, in my understandings and actions, to contribute to that, then I want my understandings and actions to be corrected. If others are, then I want the same for them. That is the only thing I want.

As for the Nazi analogy, it was to make a specific point, and that is that the argument that the support of many “good people” is proof that Trump is good is fallacious. My analogy was to point out that that is wrong. That’s all. And, it is.

Now, you are welcome to stay; I hope you do. I will continue to be courteous, and will continue to champion reason in service to humanity. No argument I have made has been irrational, nor has any been in service to inhumanity. If you want to find a pretext to bow out, I understand. If you want to put your own views to the test of whether they satisfy that objective, that would be more admirable, but it is entirely up to you.

Let’s see how good your faith really is; will you find pretexts to reject arguments that have been nothing but factual, rational, and made with a will to serve humanity? Or will you continue to find the courage to allow your own beliefs to be challenged?

As I said, I always welcome having mine challenged, and if you have arguments that can do that, I invite you to snare me in the same trap; I would be most grateful for the favor.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, what if everything that happens, no matter how bad we think is is serves Humanity. Lessons learned. I wonder who you wanted as president?

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, that we are fallible and that the unexpected can occur is a given, but that that should not stop us from, with humility and diligence, making choices based on the best analysis of the best evidence available is a necessity.

I wanted the person of the two in the binary choice available who had the most competence, who was the most emotionally stable, who was the most professional, and who had given the greatest reason to believe that her choices would better serve our general welfare. I didn’t have to love her, or believe that she was without serious flaws; I only had to believe that she was the best of the two viable choices presented. And as I’ve already indicated, I think almost any other human being alive would have been the best of the two choices available, if they went up against the one who prevailed.

As for the fatalism, the suggestion that reason and responsibility may be irrelevant, because whatever we do serves humanity. In that case, we are free to commit acts of violence and predation, to harm others for our own benefit, to be cruel and selfish and reckless and devoid of compassion or mercy. But neither you nor I believe that; we both believe in our responsibilities as human beings, and that is really what we are discussing now; what is our responsibility as human beings, in the context of our role as citizens and sovereigns, and considering what is being done in our name?

LR: Remember these words …. ” we’ll stop it ” that came from the email of the lead FBI agent on the Mueller investigation . That came out in the hearings today . Meaning we will stop the Trump presidency . Some heads are going to roll over there , and that is not Trump interfering with an investigation . That is the top tier of the FBi . They mishandled the Clinton email investigation also . Comey ruined his reputation . McCabe lied to Congress , and Struzk was escorted out of the FBI building today by security . There are also 3 other unnamed agents under investigation. That is what should have all Americans scared, not some crazy allegations that Trump is like Hitler.

My role as citizen was to vote for the person I felt was the best choice to lead this country. I did that, and I have no regrets . My issues were border security , the economy , and foreign policy. 60 million others made that choice also, they have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned

Colorado Steve Harvey: Yes, two FBI agents who were in an intimate relationship opined via email about how horrifying the prospect was that Trump would be elected, a perspective I believe any rational human being would hold. “We’ll stop it” could easily have referred to us all, as Americans, at the ballot box, not in their capacity as FBI agents. As soon as he became aware of those emails, Mueller removed the two agents from the investigation AND released the information himself about the existence of the emails (which were not known to the public or to anyone else who might have released them prior to that). That’s not evidence of a corrupt investigation; that’s evidence of an investigation that is assiduously non-corrupt and incorruptible. Furthermore, it was the head of the FBI himself who sealed the deal FOR Trump, by announcing days before the election that he was reopening the case against Clinton, so if their purpose was to block Trump, and their actions were predictably more causative in the opposite direction, they are either the most incompetent conspirators in the history of the world, or you’re entire narrative is wrong.

Our responsibility is to do as much due diligence as we can, to refrain from ignoring massive quantities of relevant information, and to make choices that are not just appealing to us but that are rationally and empirically defensible. If you think you did that, fine. The election is over, but our responsibility to one another and to humanity is not.

We are interdependent. If someone commits acts of terrorism, for example, and says that that was their choice for how best to serve humanity, that choice can indeed be criticized. Voting for Trump was not an act of terrorism, but it was a choice that has consequences and, like any other choice that has consequences, can be critiqued.

Why don’t we take a break from this, and find more pleasant and agreeable things to discuss in the near future. We can always return to this another time.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, that is only part of the story . The part the left wing media don’t you to hear . More is going to come out, but I am sure you aren’t interested because it doesn’t fit your narrative. That’s okay. It doesn’t really matter.

Colorado Steve Harvey: There are, as always, multiple possibilities, each of which we should consider methodically before either rejecting or accepting it as truth. There is a range of possibilities about the balance of how right and wrong we each are. There is a range of possibilities about the relative reliability and credibility of competing sources of information. And there is a range of possibilities about what will or will not come out, and how accurate and salient it will be.

To determine which among those many possibilities are in fact realities, we would need to refer to arguments made using reason applied to evidence, and not mere assertions. I strive, imperfectly but in earnest, to ensure that what fits my narrative (or rather what my narrative is fit to) is that which reason and evidence recommend as best serving our shared humanity.

If you have an argument to make, I am eager to hear it. If you are just going to make empty assertions, that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean anything until it has reason and evidence to support it. That is after all the trap we set, the one I invited you into from the very beginning.

I want to ask an isolated question, without letting it sprawl out into every other issue. (It helps to be able to focus on one issue at a time rather than shift to another one as soon as the first one becomes uncomfortable, never really dealing with it.) You said that the 60 million people “have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned.” You also were unhappy with my earlier analogy of the tens of millions of Germans who supported Hitler and the question of whether they had “a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned.” But it’s a relevant question, because if there are extremes at which people don’t have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned, then the question becomes whether those who made this choice crossed that threshold or not, and where the threshold is.

I think we can agree that there are choices that DON’T merit respect. Choices to commit acts of predatory violence don’t merit respect, for instance. Choices to support leaders who commit acts of predatory violence don’t merit respect. Choices to vilify whole categories of people don’t merit respect. Choices to support leaders who vilify whole categories of people don’t merit respect. The choice to foment fear and hatred in service to callous and brutal policies doesn’t merit respect. The choice to support a leader who foments fear and hatred in service to callous and brutal policies doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to forcibly take children from their mothers who arrived at your door in terror, fleeing from violence, in order to discourage such mothers from seeking such assistance, doesn’t merit respect. The choice to support leaders who forcibly take children from their mothers who arrive at our borders in terror, fleeing violence, in order to discourage them from doing so, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who calls white supremacists who rioted in and terrorized a southern town, including murdering one counter-protester with a car, “some very good people” doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who bragged about routinely committing sexual assault, and is accused by 19 women of having done so, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who mocked a disabled reporter doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who tries to undermine the free press and convince the American people that the free press is their enemy doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who lies twice as often as he tells the truth, and always to serve his own interests rather than the public interest, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who praises despots and alienates allies, igniting a mutually destructive trade war with tariffs no economist thinks are a good idea doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who, as a candidate, asked three times in a military briefing why, if we have nuclear weapons, don’t we use them, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who has said that he is in favor of nuclear proliferation and wouldn’t care if there were a nuclear war in Asia (which wouldn’t just be a humanitarian crisis on an almost unimaginable scale, but would also destroy the global economy and create a global catastrophe which would be completely disastrous for us as well) doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who said that an American born judge of Mexican descent was unfit to hear a lawsuit against Trump because of his Mexican heritage doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader whose anti-constitutional authoritarian policies have been blocked by the courts repeatedly for violating the protections of fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader whose own racism is evident from his violation of the Fair Housing Act for discriminating against blacks, his taking out of full-page ads calling for the execution of a group of black teens arrested for a crime they didn’t commit, his repeated vilification of Mexicans, his constant fear and hate mongering, his courting of and support by white supremacists (including appoint one as a senior advisor after winning the election), his support of the preservation and continued display of symbols of white supremacy, his exploitation of racist outrage toward peaceful and respectful protests by blacks of excessive use of deadly force by police toward frequently innocent black suspects, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who is economically and diplomatically illiterate, uninformed, incurious, indifferent to the consequences of governing with self-glorifying and dysfunctional bluster rather than with skill or knowledge doesn’t merit respect.

The tragic thing is that this list can go on ten times longer than it already has, this president is such a dramatically unqualified and disqualified individual for the presidency. He has quoted Mussolini, the inventor of Fascism, favorably; he had (according to Ivana in a 1990s interview in Vanity Fair) a copy of “Mein Kampf” on his bed stand; he has bragged about his superior “German blood;” he made his entry into politics by becoming the figurehead of the arbitrary racist insistence that the first black president wasn’t born in America but rather Kenya…. How is it even possible for anyone to insist that it is unfair to them for others to be appalled that they supported this horrid, incompetent, hateful individual for the presidency?

But I don’t want us to be stuck in our being appalled and you feeling wronged by it. I want us to join together to try to be the nation and the people we once were and could and should be again, a compassionate people, a nation that values our alliances and understands the need to mobilize expertise in navigating the complexities of the modern world, a nation that seeks to join people together rather than divide them into warring tribes, a nation that believes in justice and in human decency, a nation that strives to be wise and fair and admirable. I don’t care about your past decisions; I care about your present and future decisions, about whether you continue to double down on choosing to destroy this nation, or whether you will join with all reasonable people of goodwill to correct our course and be a decent and honorable people once again.

This is self-destructive craziness we are in now. Yes, it’s true, I want to shake people like you and shout, “What the hell is the matter with you?! Why are you doing this to us?!” Obviously, you are free to dismiss me and all of the world’s historians and all of the world’s economists and all of the world’s foreign policy experts and all of our nation’s living past presidents from both parties and all of the evidence and all reason and all human decency, and insist that up is down and in is out and even if it isn’t it doesn’t really matter because fate is in charge anyway, all incredibly irresponsible things to insist upon and impose upon this nation and world. You are free to do it, but you are wrong to do it, morally wrong. And I really don’t believe you’re that kind of person, who knowingly inflicts harm on multitudes and knowingly destroys this country we all love. I don’t believe that that is who and what you really are.

So my question is: Are you more concerned with not being criticized for this choice, or with doing what’s right if the criticism is, after all, warranted? Which is more important, your feelings, or America’s and humanity’s welfare?

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, I don’t care about the critics. Call me immoral, call me whatever you want. If you want to change politics why don’t you run for office, or find a candidate of your choice to back? It’s not about my feelings. To me and many others, I guess you can boil it down to one core issue, and this issue was central to us way before Trump arrived on the scene. It’s our issue, no matter who is in office or who is running. The issue is Globalism. I believe in Sovereign Nations, free and independent of any kind of “One World Governing Body.” If America First is appalling to you, and I think it is, you have the right to your opinion. I am sure you won’t like our Governor here in Texas either : ) The Democrats, in my opinion are ruining this Country.

Colorado Steve Harvey: What we’re doing now doesn’t put “America first,” anymore than the Hatfields and McCoys were putting their respective families first when they spent generations killing each other. You subscribe to a zero sum fallacy in a non-zero sum world, to everyone’s detriment, including our own. That’s where the phrase “enlightened self interest” comes from, the realization that to serve ourselves well we must enter into messy cooperative relationships with both friends and foes. People who actually spend their lives in economics and diplomacy get this; people who refuse to recognize the limits of their own expertise not only don’t get it but obstruct the beneficial mobilization of knowledge and experience they lack, believing that their current understanding is the understanding that should govern us, and that the expertise of others is irrelevant. And, if you’ll pardon my saying so, that combination of ignorance and arrogance is the most destructive force in the human world, the author of all our woes.

Here’s the point: I don’t, in general, just believe in random ideological narratives of reality. None of us should. But when you “argue” your position, you don’t argue it at all. Rather, you appeal to some random article of ideological faith. We can do better than that. We can analyze data. We can formulate an evolving, precise, highly sophisticated understanding of reality, and we can use that understanding to govern ourselves intelligently rather than arbitrarily. And that’s the real political divide in the world, between those who believe in our responsibility as citizens and human beings and do due diligence in service to it, and those who don’t. Guess which group is comprised of creative problem solvers and which group, in one form or another, flies planes into buildings and calls it a noble cause.

I’m done. Feel free to stay and chat about the weather. You clearly don’t want to be reached, and I clearly don’t appreciate the plane you’re​ choosing to fly into our building.

LR: I am not choosing to fly a plane into anything. I voted. You don’t like my choice. 2020 is 2 years from now, a lot can happen between now and then, so we will see : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: This isn’t a plane that hits the building just once and the damage is done. It occurs in slow motion, more of the damage mitigated the sooner those who’ve hijacked us either have a change of heart or are simply overpowered. The fact that we have a legal opportunity to overpower you in two years does not mean that it would not be to everyone’s benefit for you to have a change of heart long before then.

I think it’s important to note that this is a familiar historical scenario for the collapse of a republic, going back to the collapse of the Roman republic under Julius Caesar, and through the collapse of the Weimar Republic under Adolf Hitler. The scenario is as follows: An authoritarian populist attracts a large following by promising a return to supposedly lapsed “greatness,” and in the modern scenario by targeting foreigners, minorities, intellectuals, and the press, and countervailing governmental branches acquiesce out of either fear or self-interest in light of the populist pressure put upon them. The republic then becomes a dictatorship.

You wrote in an earlier comment that if all of this is a mistake, the republic will survive it. I answered, with emphasis on “probably,” that we would *probably* survive it, but I have no desire to continue to gamble our freedom and well-being on that very uncertain assessment of where the probability lies. We are in great danger as a republic right now. We really are. This is scary. This is horrifying. And, yes, people can vote their own freedom away without knowing it; they can vote their own prosperity, their own safety, their own welfare away without knowing it. It’s happened many times in the past, in republics that had existed longer than ours has and among people who didn’t believe it possible that that could ever change.

It can. We are gambling everything that we are, everything that our Founding Fathers and every soldier and public servant after them fought and often died for. And for what? To make enemies of friends and to strengthen the hand against us of the enemies we already had? To pretend that a trade war that no one wins and everyone loses makes us greater? To rail against history and the reality of interdependence? This is self-destructive insanity, pure and simple. The urgent challenge facing us as a nation and world –that, as I said, virtually everyone, from both parties and across the ideological spectrum, with relevant experience and expertise not only knows but is shouting as loudly as they can from the rooftops– is whether we can convince enough of those who are deceived or self-deceived to help pull us back from the brink in time

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, contrary to what you may believe about my capacity to understand, I totally understand where you are coming from in the above statement. I have thought deeply about it. My main question to others who I ask about this is “Why are they drawing a correlation between Trump and Hitler?” Now I see from your perspective, but I still think you are making a far stretch here, as far as what is happening or going to happen. I don’t know what else to say : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, as far as I know, I am not saying or implying anything about your capacity to understand. And my analogies to Hitler, as well as to Julius Caesar, are for specific purposes, identifying specific similarities. Since I make those similarities explicit, there is no question of it being “a stretch,” unless you can explain why those similarities aren’t in fact real or relevant.

Again, every position has to be argued rationally and with reference to empirical data to be anything other than an empty ideological assertion. One can believe whatever they want, but, in discourse, the standard should be how well they made their case, not just whether they announced what they believe. My whole point is that reason applied to evidence DOES lead to the conclusions I am drawing (and, frankly, the conclusions shared by virtually everyone else on Earth with relevant expertise or highly developed critical thinking skills), and I make my case why that is so. Simply saying “I have thought deeply about it” is not an actual argument.

I, and a whole lot of other people, continuously lay out in detail exactly why Trump and the movement surrounding him is not just bad for America, but an existential threat to America as we know it, and dangerous to the world. It may sound like hyperbole to you, simply because any such claim is assumed to be hyperbole, but a lot of very non-hyperbolic people are shouting it very loudly, and there are clearly times in history when it has not been hyperbole; lots of times in history, in fact. So, we have to consider the possibility that it isn’t hyperbole now. And if a cogent argument is being presented as to why it isn’t, simply assuming it is out of habit or convenience isn’t really very convincing.

A guy named Dan Kanan (if I’m remembering his name correctly) came up with a notion he called “the tragedy of the belief commons.” The tragedy of the commons is one variation of a set of scenarios in which when each individual acts in their own self-interest, the collective outcome is more harmful to everyone involved than had they been able to act cooperatively in their collective interests instead. (Something very relevant here as well.) But the tragedy of the belief commons is that we form our beliefs more as an expression of allegiance to some social identity we hold, while those beliefs may not actually be (and more often than not aren’t) what actually serves our general welfare.

So, it’s important for each person not just to state what they believe, but to explain why it actually does serve our general welfare. And in a conversation in which one side is doing that and the other is not, the side that is doing it is presumptively the one that has the better claim to be in service to our general welfare, until someone makes a more cogent argument to the contrary.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, my answer comes from my husband who has a Masters in Sociology. Revisionism. Germany the 1930’s was nothing like the USA today. The economy, unemployment, Plus, Germany had never been a democracy, also the Treaty of Versailles, where they were blamed for WWI and had to make reparations and give up land as part of the surrender agreement.

Colorado Steve Harvey: Again, I made specific comparisons, explicitly enumerated. You have not addressed any of them. I can help you out with listing differences, if you like: the de facto national languages are different, the populations are different, the size and shape of the territory is different, the longitude and latitude of the capital is different, the currency is different. There is an endless list of differences, all of which are irrelevant to disproving the validity of the specific similarities I named.

By the way, the Weimar Republic was democratic, and Hitler rose to power through mostly democratic processes.

Though I know it’s not intentional, I’m going to point out that focusing the debate on the tangential question of whether the comparisons I drew to Nazi Germany are warranted, especially without addressing the actual comparisons I made, is a tactic called “pettifogging,” which involves avoiding the central issue by focusing on tenuously relevant tangential issues, like whether the imposition of German reparations in the Versailles Treaty render comparisons of different instances of authoritarian populism moot (it doesn’t), when the real issue is whether our current crisis of authoritarian populism is dangerous to our republic and to humanity (it is).

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, its because the comparisons you made on the surface seem valid , and I can understand them , if you dig deeper into history , ” that dog won’t hunt ” Why are some people losing their minds over this ? Because a non Politician with no political experience was elected President over all the experts .career politicians , and Washington elites. In short , some peoples world was turned upside down and they just can’t get over it.

Colorado Steve Harvey: Okay, I do officially give up at this point. The dog that doesn’t hunt is your willingness to absorb information that utterly destroys any notion of logical, empirical or moral defensibility of the position you hold. You will continue to insist that up is down, in is out, and wrong is right forever, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

You have the entire world population of people with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise trying desperately to get you to open your eyes (and heart) to a reality you have closed them to. You have argument after argument compellingly showing you that you are, frankly, just plain wrong, in every conceivable way. You have most of the party that supports Trump and all of the party that opposes him, publicly or privately, beside themselves in disbelief and horror at what is happening. And it’s all irrelevant to you.

What we have is an enormous quantity of evidence that Trump is an authoritarian populist eroding our democratic and constitutional institutions, our norms and conventions that maintain and preserve them, our international alliances, and our basic human decency, stoking fear and hatred, inciting racist and xenophobic rage and violence (there HAS been a rise in hate crimes). And it’s clear that no amount of fact, reason, or appeal to human decency is ever going to have any impact on you at all.

If you and EB would like to continue this conversation, please feel free to do so, preferably, at this point, elsewhere. It was a noble experiment, asking the question of whether a person dogmatically holding an empirically, rationally, and morally indefensible position but willing to listen to arguments against them could be persuaded to give up that position. The answer, in this case, was no. That’s too bad. But I don’t have an eternity to devote to this experiment. I wish you all the best.

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Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.

A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.

Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.

A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.

As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.

Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.

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Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

Though the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, is still three days away, today is the day to start reflecting on it, on its continuing relevance in so many ways, and on our need to recommit as a nation to that poignant dream of realizing our decency as a nation.

As we look back on recent events and recent developments, on the shooting death of an unarmed black teen walking home from the store by an armed vigilante out looking for “bad guys;” of the response by so many dismissing it as the price we pay for the “liberty” to “protect ourselves,” often informed by our bigotries,  in violent and deadly ways; of the combination of a right-wing drive to reinstate voter suppression laws and a Supreme Court holding making it easier to do so; of the rise of an angry, violent, divisive, and frequently racist political movement in America that loves guns and, by its ideological choices, hates humanity; it’s time for us to once again ask ourselves what kind of a people we want to be.

It’s time to dream again, America, and to shout that dream from the mountain tops. It’s time to dream of a nation in which we are more committed to lifting one another up than to knocking one another down. It’s time to dream of a future, of a present, in which we care that so many are so impoverished, that so many have so little access to basic health care, that so many suffer so much unnecessary violence. It’s time to dream again of being a people whose disputes are defined more by the limits of our reason and decency than by the extent of our bigotries. It’s time to dream again of striving to become a nation, and, eventually, a world, committed more to our shared humanity than to our explicit and implicit hatreds or, just as destructively, our mutual indifference.

It’s time to dream again, to care, to think, to strive, to work diligently on behalf of that which is most rational and humane, that which is most decent and good, that which is most caring and conscious. It’s time to dream again, and, in never-flagging opposition to those base and horrifying human tendencies that ever-seek to turn our dream into a nightmare, tendencies that are so in ascendance once again in this too-often troubled and misguided nation of ours, work diligently, work with all other rational people of goodwill, work in service to our shared humanity, to make that dream come ever-more true.

(Dr. King’s prepared remarks end at about the 11 minute mark of this video, and his “I have a dream” speech, extemporaneously building on a theme he had used a few times in smaller venues, begins just after the 12 minute mark.)

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Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

In response to a Facebook post wondering at the uncritical commitment to Israel insisted upon by the American far-right, and their insistence that any wavering from that commitment is “anti-Semitic,” I wrote the following essay:

Being critical of Israel is not necessarily “anti-Semitic,” just as being critical of America is not necessarily “anti-American” (and, for that matter, being critical of any given religious order, movement, or individual, isn’t necessarily an affront to “God”). Israel and America are both nations, more like than unlike others despite the mythologies surrounding them.

Israel and America have had an important strategic relationship, confused and exaggerated by two religious communities that have become overzealously committed to America’s unflagging and unquestioning support of Israel, even to the point of to some extent ceding our own sovereignty to Israel. Those two groups are, of course, the American Jewish community, which has always been overwhelmingly blindly and fanatically pro-Israel (though not without many exceptions, Jews who are first and foremost humanists and are first and foremost concerned with our shared humanity), and,  now, conservative evangelicals, who have their own religious reasons for feeling a zealous commitment to Israel (having something to do with their interpretation of the requirements for the Rapture, as I understand it, rather than any sincere love of Israelis) combined with their own ultra-conservative, ultra-nationalist leanings.

Israel’s history and pre-history are also both critical threads in a complete understanding of the geopolitical landscape into which it has woven itself, and the moral implications of that choice. The one thing that isn’t relevant to anyone but Israelis themselves is their ancient, religious-based claim to the land: Every parcel of land on the face of the Earth has changed hands –far more often by violently imposed than by peacefully mutual means– many, many times over the ages, and the current legitimate claims of one racial/ethnic/religious group that had been in continuous possession of that parcel for about a thousand years prior to the Israeli colonization and usurpation of that parcel had, up until that point, the far superior claim to legitimate rights over that parcel.

So, one thread in the tapestry to understand is the very legitimate grievance of the Palestinians, whose currently and extant ancestral land was colonized by a group of Europeans who decided to call it their own and create a state explicitly dedicated to their own culture and religion on it, instantly reducing the pre-existing inhabitants to the status of second-class citizens. Another thread of the tapestry is the recognition of the strong and compelling push factors that induced that European population to do so, though the legitimacy of those push factors (i.e., a history of violent oppression, culminating in the Holocaust), as horrific and empathy-inducing as they may be, can’t justify colonizing and oppressing another, unrelated, foreign people. (That injustice experienced by the Palestinians, however, does not justify and excuse their own atrocities committed since the establishment of the state of Israel, a lesson to those who forget their humanity in the midst of their commitment to other abstractions.)

But another fact of our geopolitical history is that it is a story of borders drawn and redrawn, populations placed and displaced, by endless series of combinations of militant initiative and gross injustices, so that once some new formation becomes a fait accompli, the injustice of its formation becomes less relevant than the reality of its existence.  No modern nation on Earth can claim not to trace its roots to the military conquest of other peoples and the drawing of lines in the sand based on that conquest (if there are a few tribes scattered about the world, who still have some identity of themselves as a nation, who never occupied land they took from others, they are an exception to the rule defined more by the circumstances they encountered than by some idealized superior moral quality of their own). For that reason, Israel’s right to exist should not be brought into question; the Israelis aren’t going anywhere, and any agenda that insists they do at this point can only become a source of gross inhumanity.

Finally, there is the issue of the Israeli-American relationship and their combined and separate relationships with the rest of the Middle East and the rest of the world. America quickly recognized Israel’s right to exist, in part to avoid having to absorb millions of European Jewish refugees in the wake of World War II, in part due to the presence of large numbers of Jews in America who strongly favored supporting Israel, in part due to a sense of the inhumanity that had been inflicted on the Jews in the chapter of world history just preceding the establishment of the state of Israel and some generalized debt of humanity to them that that chapter incurred, and, undoubtedly, in part due to recognition of the strategic value of such an alliance. And America quickly formed a strategic partnership with Israel, becoming Israel’s staunchest and invaluable military and economic supporter in return for having a country-sized base of operations and proxy agent in a region of the Earth very much at the vortex of historical geopolitical struggle and conveniently located near the Eastern Communist Block.

This meant that the hatred of the Arab world toward Israel for colonizing and usurping what had been an Arab country became generalized to the United States as well, and, in some ways, raised to a higher pitch against the United States, whose superior wealth and power and secularity all piqued the jealousies and religious animosities of many in that region of the world. America, the rich, secular, militant supporter of the small power that had ensconced itself on previously Arab land, easily became “The Great Satan” in the popular Arab mind (and, yes, the animosity toward America in the Arab world, while far from universal, is very wide-spread).

Our unfailing support of Israel’s own sometimes overly aggressive reactions to their own perceived insecurity has not helped this modern historical animosity between America and the  Arab world. All of this combined with our support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, in order to use them as proxies to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s, and our choice to leave abruptly once that was accomplished, leaving a tribally-contested power vacuum and a whole lot of very deadly state-of-the-art military hardware and weaponry. As a result of that latter choice, a very bloody civil war ensued in Afghanistan, for whose intensity we were in part correctly blamed, resulting in the establishment of the Taliban, who hated us for all of these reasons involving our relationship with Israel; our secularism, wealth and power; and the deadly and bloody ruin we had set their country up for.

So our support of Israel has come at a high price, a high price that we should have been glad to pay if that relationship really were as morally perfect as some pretend it is. In reality, we incurred the enmity of the Arab world in part by taking a very strong side in a complex regional relationship that required more of an honest broker from what is in fact the global hegemon (The U.S.). (The extent that we failed to be an honest broker can also be exaggerated; our shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East has often played a very valuable role in resolving conflicts there, and forging new alliance where enmity had existed, such as between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan.) This is a difficult error to correct at this point, but one which we should strive to correct by taking a harder line with Israel, not rescinding our alliance, but insisting on more restraint, accountability, and accommodation from those often wayward allies of ours.

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One of the subtexts running through the current meta-debate between the Left and the Right is a constant volleying back and forth of accusations and refutations of racism. The Left accuses the Right of racism for a variety of reasons that I partially capture below. The Right indignantly denies it, retaliating with accusations back, insisting that “playing the race card” is the real expression of racism.

Personally, I think this discussion is generally overdone and often distracting, but the thread of validity in the criticism by the Left of the Right, and the reinforcement of irrationality and counterfactuality in the Right’s response, motivates me to give it a comprehensive treatment.

First, it is important to explore the concept of “racism” itself. If, by “racism,” we mean only explicit, overt, self-conscious antipathy toward members of another race, then I’d say that only a small minority of politically active people of either major partisan camp are “racist.” The vast majority denounce such crude racism, and the extant but dwindling population of such unreconstituted racists in the population at large are not a significant political force anymore.

Before I turn to the more implicit forms of racism that I think do continue to play a significant, if not central, role in political affairs, I’d like to emphasize that I think that the ideological thread most prominent in right-wing thought isn’t racism proper at all, but rather what I’ll call “quasi-racism,” an intense in-group/out-group bias, informing a set of beliefs and positions that are very tribalistic, and very dismissive of “the other.” The antagonistic attitude toward numerous non-racial outgroups (though sometimes with strong racial associations), such as gays, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, foreigners in general, the poor, atheists, and, basically, anyone who isn’t perceived to be an in-group member, is one of the most prominent defining characteristics of modern right-wing thought.

Explicit racism, however, is not absent from the right-wing echo-chamber. On a Facebook thread following one posting of the statistic that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be the instrument of the death of a member of the household than to be used in self-defense, for instance, one commenter responded to another by referring to “a group of n*****s raping your boyfriend” (the point being that you’d want to have a gun handy in that apparently representative scenario). On another thread at another time, a southern Tea Partier included among the problems besetting us “ungrateful blacks.” These are not isolated examples: While such explicit expressions of racism are not the norm, they recur at a constant rate on such threads, always, of course, by right-wing commenters slipping over a line many others approach without crossing.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, there was a Facebook wall post of a news story about a trio of “scary” black violent offenders, apparently being used to make the argument that it is understandable that armed vigilantes should go out in their neighborhoods and pursue unarmed black teens walking home from the store  –even if the price of such “liberty” is the occasional shooting death of one such unarmed black teen– because, in their unself-aware but deep-rooted world view, it’s rational to be afraid, it’s rational to presume that a hoodie-wearing black teen walking through your neighborhood is up to no good, and so it is, implicitly, rational to provoke a deadly encounter with said black teen under those circumstances.

In other words, the right-wing insistence that it’s a non-issue that their ideology can lead to instances of overzealous vigilantes pursuing and killing unarmed black teens walking home from the store is an astounding illustration of an underlying –and effectively racist– defect in their ideology. (The contention that it’s a non-issue because it was allegedly self-defense on the shooter’s part neglects the fact that the alleged need for self-defense was indisputably created by the decision to go out with a gun and pursue the arbitrarily “suspicious looking” unarmed black teen in the first place.)

These same people champion Jim-Crow-like voter suppression laws (on a discredited pretext and repeatedly struck down by the courts as unconstitutional), use code words like “Chicago politics” and “ACORN” and other allusions to blacks-as-inherently-corrupt, advocate discrimination against Muslims (and denial of their first amendment freedom of religion rights), frequently vilify and denegrate Hispanics, want to deny civil rights to gays, and, in general, are committed to a tribalistic orientation to the world, in which the small in-group of overwhelmingly white, mostly male, almost exclusively Judeo-Christian bigots opposes the rights and aspirations of the myriad out-groups surrounding them, denying the reality of a legacy of historical injustices and of current inequities, fighting for a regressive, aggressive, compassionless, irrational, barbaric society, in which those who feel well-served by the status quo (or, more precisely, by the status quo of a previous era) fight to recover an archaic -if all too recent– social order more preferential to their in-group statuses.

And they do so by disregarding fact and reason; by dismissing as bastions of liberalism precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze, and contemplate information (which, as a liberal, I take as a complement and as an affirmation of how much more rational our ideology is than theirs); by selecting, revising, and ignoring historical data to serve their fabricated ideological narrative; by ignoring the weight of professional economic theory and analysis (prompting the free-market-advocacy Economist magazine to label them “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical”); by cherry-picking, reinterpreting, and selectively disregarding constitutional provisions and phrases in service to that same ideological narrative; and, in general, by defying fact and reason in service to ignorance and bigotry.

Whether we emphasize the racist overtones, the more explicit in-group/out-group tribalism in general, or just the prevailing ignorance and brutality of their ideology, the final evaluation is the same: It’s a perfect storm of organized irrationality in service to implicit and explicit inhumanity. And it’s not who and what we should choose to be as a people and a nation.

So, how much racism is there on the far right? It’s a moot point; the racism is enveloped by so much more that is the very cloth from which racism is cut that the accusation of racism is too narrow a focus and too much of a distraction. Emphasizing the broader irrational inhumanity that defines this ideological camp both captures and goes beyond the identification of the racist overtones within it.

(For more on these themes, see The New Face Of American Racism, The Tea Party’s Neo-”Jim Crow”, The History of American Libertarianism, The Presence of the Past, Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding, Basal Ganglia v. Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia Keeping Score, and “Sharianity”)

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On a comment thread of a map of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, one poster was adamant that it was completely inappropriate to refer to the Holocaust experienced by those peoples at European colonists’ hands as “genocide,” making very unconvincing legalistic and semantic arguments. After a bit of back and forth, he finally got very angry, and let loose with a rejection of the very notion that there was anything about that conquest that anyone should feel in anyway ashamed of. This was my response:

After all the meaningless noise, we get to the truth: It isn’t the word you object to after all, but rather the acknowledgement of the magnitude of the historical brutality and inhumanity that went into the formation of this nation! We can’t say “genocide,” not because its role as a legal term prohibits us in casual conversation from using the word in a way in which it is commonly used (oops), not because it is an insult to Jews (oops), but because, by god, how dare we insult your ancestors and nation by emphasizing the brutality of its formation!

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? You oppose the use of the word not in SERVICE to “truth,” but in OPPOSITION to it; not because it’s too imprecise, but because it cuts too close to the bone.

We are determined to emphasize, and you are determined to de-emphasize, the very real brutality of the conquest of this enormous nation and the clearing away of the indigenous population, a brutality whose magnitude is not adequately captured by ANY word. You resent the use of the strongest word available, because it gets us one step closer to a sense of the true magnitude of the inhumanity involved, rather than, as you prefer, keeping us one step further away, in the ideologically convenient haze of historical semi-amnesia.

You don’t want to own the past because you DO want to own the present and future. The more we acknowledge the brutality of the past, the less free we are to continue it. That’s what this is all about: A battle of narratives, whether to be the jingoist chauvinists we have too long been and too many want us to remain, continuing to blithely trample on humanity while surrounded by the arrogant and self-serving halos of “American exceptionalism” and “manifest destiny,” or to be a people aspiring to true greatness of spirit and consciousness, recognizing without diminution the errors of the past in service to doing better in the present and the future.

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Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

There is a “liberals are hypocrites” post that is going viral among right-wing zealots on facebook, with thousands of shares and hundreds of comments on some of them, in which a news story about two African Americans who committed a violent crime against a white is, once again, proffered as proof that 1) George Zimmerman was right to pursue and shoot Trayvon Martin, 2) “Stand Your Ground” laws are good and necessary, 3) those who oppose them are trying to turn good, law-abiding (i.e., “white”) folks into unarmed innocent victims of bad, law-breaking (i.e., “black”) folks, and 4) Liberals are hypocrites because we aren’t concerned enough about black-on-white violence.

My following response, which is an expression of sheer disgust at continuing to see this ugly bigotry repeated over and over again, apparently resonating with far too many people, only addresses the first three of these issues. (The fourth can be summed up as follows: There is virtually no one defending black-on-white violence, and no laws bringing into question whether some incidents of it –or, more precisely, acts of violence by those you DON’T identify with against those you DO identify with– can be prosecuted or not. The reason the white-on-black violence of the Trayvon Martin shooting is a larger issue is because there are people defending it as a non-issue and advocating laws that make it more likely to occur more often.)

The news story (about an incident of black-on-white violence), used in this way, highlights the fundamental difference between almost all variations of right-wing ideology and almost all variations of left-wing ideology: The former is firmly rooted in fear and hatred, while the latter aspires to hope and humanity. Those on the right scoff that those on the left would be so naive, though, in reality, hope and humanity is not only a more positive orientation, but, when leavened with reason and information, is also more pragmatic, better serves one’s own self-interest, than the fear and hatred that informs those on the right. (See, for instance, Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems, for one reason why this is so.)

Those on the far-right are blithely indifferent to the death of an unarmed black teen at the hands of an armed white vigilante, because the armed white vigilante, in their mind, had every right to defend himself against any and all potential or perceived dangers, while the unarmed black teen lacked even the right to life, as long as it is one of them rather than the government that deprives him of it. One rationalization that is used is the presumption of guilt laid on the teen due to the possibility that he reacted violently to being pursued, something that these ideologues should respect rather than condemn, if we each have a right to protect ourselves against perceived threats! Ironically, however, they only defend the armed pursuer’s right to “defend” himself, and not the unarmed pursued’s right to do so!

If these right-wing ideologues had any integrity, any consistency, were anything other than implicitly racist hypocrits, they would not point to the possibility that Martin was beating Zimmerman before he (Martin) was shot as justification for the shooting, but rather with approval that Martin was defending himself against the armed individual pursuing him! Why aren’t they chanting that it’s a shame Martin didn’t kill Zimmerman before Zimmerman killed Martin, since it was Zimmerman who was the armed pursuer, and Martin who was the unarmed pursued?

But, of course, that’s not the way their little minds work, because it’s all about who they identify with, and who they identify as their implicit enemy. The armed vigilante is LIKE THEM, and that’s all that counts. The unarmed victim is THE OTHER that they fear and hate, and so his innocence, the fact that he had his life taken away unjustly, is just no big deal. They excuse the armed pursuer, because they identify with him (racially, and ideologically as an armed pursuer of someone he thought was a criminal); they implicitly condemn the unarmed teen to a death sentence without a trial because they don’t identify with him (racially, and as someone who someone like them was inclined to suspect of being up to no good). It’s the very nature of their way of thinking, and the reason why it should be odious to all rational people of goodwill.

What an amazingly convoluted ideology it is that does such contortions to be indignant that anyone would raise any objections to an armed pursuer shooting to death an unarmed teen apparently doing absolutely nothing illegal at the time the pursuit began, but spares no indignation whatsoever on behalf of the unarmed teen who was shot to death! The imagined threat to Zimmerman, who was both the pursuer and the wielder of deadly force in this instance, is more salient to them than the real danger to Martin, who was the pursued and unarmed victim of a shooting death!

What gets me most about this is what it indicates about how far we’ve sunk as a nation. This isn’t just a fringe ideology that a few grease-painted jack-asses adhere to. This has become a mainstream ideology, a cult of implicit violence and hatred justified by fear and generalized enmity.

It goes beyond the rationalization of offensive deadly violence by an armed pursuer against an unarmed victim, justified only by the pursuers “reasonable” fear of crime in general (!), essentially legalizing paranoid racist violence. It goes beyond conveniently targeting those “scary blacks” (as the news story used to stoke the right-wing indignation so poignantly illustrates) whose crimes justify Zimmerman acting as police, judge, jury, and executioner at the sight of a black kid in his neighborhood. It even goes beyond their assertion that there is no racism in America, that their now oft-invoked fear and hatred of those blacks who have not proven that they are not a threat isn’t racism at all, but rather merely the rational response to the “racism” of those who think that laws that facilitate killing unarmed black teens due to a generalized fear of crime are a bad idea.

It includes and goes beyond all of this. It extends to and is fed by the delusion that there is no social injustice in America, that people fare well or poorly primarily by virtue of their own merit,  a notion that is not only absurd on the face of it, but is also thoroughly disproved by statistical evidence (see The Presence of the Past). It combines a blithe indifference to the legacies of history that relegate people to sharply unequal opportunity structures at birth, with the equally blithe willingness to subtly loathe the entire categories of people who, born into such opportunity structures, are overrepresented among the poor. But irrational bigots are not swayed by such things as fact and reason and human decency.

The fact that such a belligerent, inhumane, and just generally dysfunctional ideology can survive as a major ideological strain in American culture is scary beyond belief. This cultural virus has always been with us, but never before in my memory so virulent and widespread as it is today. Anyone who has any desire for us to remain or become a rational and humane people needs to take stock of this, to repudiate it, and to oppose it, passionately and constantly, because it is truly ugly and destructive insanity.

(See the following related essays on different aspects of American racism and xenophobia: “Sharianity” and Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding.)

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Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

(The following was in response to a right-wing poster who had “steam coming out of [her] ears” over some left-wing commentator suggesting that “conservative values” was code for racism. She ended by saying that “we have to take back this country, or we are screwed!”)

You’re right Susan: “Conservative values” isn’t code for racism; “taking back this country” is.

The United States was born with slavery, fought a Civil War to get rid of it (against people who adhered to a very strong “states’ rights” political philosophy, much like a certain political faction of today), then endured another century of Jim Crow, which was abolished in a Civil Rights Movement confronting a new version of that extreme “states’ rights” perspective (much like a certain political faction of today), and has since fought an uphill battle to address the social injustices that remain embedded in our political economy, against a faction which clings to a strong “states’ rights” philosophy.

Or is it “liberty”? A great antebellum statesman wrote a tome called “Union and Liberty,” about the threat of federal tyranny to the liberty of minorities. His name was John C. Calhoun, the minority he was concerned about was southern slave owners, and the “liberty” that was being threatened was their liberty to own slaves. There’s a long tradition in America of using the word “liberty” to mean preserving the advantages of the few at the expense of the many.

You doubt that that’s what today’s use of the word means? Do you know the two peaks in the last century of the concentration of wealth, the inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity? I’ll give you a hint: Both dates are notable for being immediately followed by the two largest, catastrophic economic collapses of the last century. And both dates are also notable for following a decade or two of the ascendance of a notion of “liberty” which favored unregulated, unchecked, predatory redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the extremely wealthy. Those two dates are 1929 and 2008.

And from whom, exactly, are you “taking the country back”? Blacks (except for the few who have become exactly like you)? Hispanics? Gays? Muslims? I see conservative threads insisting that every act of Sharia law somewhere in the world, or every court respecting the free exercise clause of the United States Constitution (which conservatives revere by crapping all over), is proof that we’re being taken over by it. And the uber-lame argument is that Islam isn’t REALLY a religion, but rather a plot for world conquest, which distinguishes it from Christianity by being spelled with fewer and different letters.

Probably the most infamous racist movement in 20th Century world history was one in which a whole country spiralled down into a belligerent hysteria over a group perceived to be “foreigners” living among them, who needed to be rounded up, detained in unpleasant detention centers, and removed, in order to preserve the purity of the nation. And it’s also well on its way to being an infamous racist movement of the 21st century, across an ocean and among people who take offense at being called “racist.”

Yeah, you keep right on “taking the country back,” because we sure don’t want it stolen by all of those “others.” Right?

Yeah, I get it. You mean “take it back” from the “socialists.” The people who helped ensure that the United States Constitution empowered Congress to tax and spend in the General Welfare (you know, the Founding Fathers?). The people who 80 years ago started to put into place the administrative structure and welfare state that has formed a part of the foundation of every single country that partook of the post-WWII explosion in prosperity. The people who passed an overdue Civil Rights Act that established that “liberty” and “property” don’t mean the right to discriminate against people on the basis of their race (a law that Rand Paul said he wouldn’t have been able to support). You want to take America back from the Americans who founded it, who fought for it, who have molded it, and who are it. That’s not “taking it back.” That’s just “taking it.” And we’re not going to let you.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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My current argument is not one about what the substance of our immigration policy should be (I’ve made such arguments in, e.g.,  A comprehensive overview of the immigration issue, Legality, Morality, and Reality Regarding U.S. Immigration Policy, Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding, Basal Ganglia v. Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia Keeping Score, The Nature of the SB 126 Colorado ASSET DebateGodwin’s Law, Revisited, and A Humane & Rational People), but rather about what the process for determining our immigration policy should be. As always, this argument is just one instance of the larger argument that we should commit ourselves to striving to apply reason to evidence in service to humanity, rather than engaging in careless habits that result in the application of irrationality to ignorance in service to inhumanity.

The focus of this essay is one clearly fallacious argument, that is, in fact, the principal argument used by those who take a stand unyieldingly hostile to millions of people, of a certain status, who currently reside in this country (and, by implication, millions more who would like to, but have no legal pathway toward doing so). Debunking this one argument does not, by itself, debunk their entire position, but rather merely forces the debate into a more appropriate framework, where any and all substantive arguments they may have can compete with any and all substantive counterarguments, in a process which best serves our better angels by giving our baser demons fewer shadows in which to hide.

The fallacious argument to which I refer is that the current widespread hostility toward undocumented immigrants and residents, in which these particular ideologues actively participate, is not only legally warranted but legally mandated. Their error is their failure to understand that the law, in the final analysis, is our servant, not our master. (Yes, in an intermediate sense the utility of the law is that it is binding and not optional, but it is designed to be a malleable and adaptable tool rather than, in its particulars, a fixed and permanent shackle.)

As an aside, the irony of this error is one thread of a larger hypocrisy: The people who make it are overwhelmingly the same people who insist that they are the most committed to “Liberty,” while in reality being the most committed to authoritarianism. But that is a topic for other essays (see, e.g., The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism).

The argument frequently invoked by this particular faction, that their hostility is not directed toward immigrants but rather only toward illegal immigrants, and that the word “illegal” conclusively supports their public policy positions on the issues of immigration and residency, reflects a fundamental misconception of the nature of law and the responsibilities of citizenship in a popular sovereignty. They mistakenly believe that a current legal status quo is the definitive refutation of both any public policy arguments that critique it, and any public policy arguments that defend other aspects of the current or proposed legal status quo that they erroneously consider somehow legally prohibited by some presumed inconsistency with the aspects they prefer. In other words, they presume that public policy arguments can’t challenge existing laws that they do like, and, at the same time, can’t defend existing or proposed laws that they don’t like, the latter based on some presumption of a legal prohibition against the existence of any laws which presuppose the violation of other laws. Both of these beliefs are easily debunked, and their mobilization in service to a blindly ideological position easily demonstrated.

Laws are something we make, implement, interpret, modify, and rescind according to processes that are themselves established by law (see The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government)). They do not define what the conclusion of public policy debates and legal processes should be, but rather what they thus far have been. They obligate, with varying degrees of flexibility, individual behavioral compliance, not collective ideological conformity, rigid administrative enforcement, or perpetual universal legal consistency. The fact that laws do not mandate the latter three is in large measure how they evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, values, and understandings.

The response to an argument that we should, within the constraints and according to the guidelines of our current legal framework, alter or reinterpret or modify our implementation of our legal framework, with the counterargument that we can’t because the current substantive legal status quo is different from what the modified legal status quo would be, is like arguing a century and a half ago that we can’t abolish slavery because the right to own slaves is protected by law (an argument which was, in fact, frequently and persistently made). And to argue that we can’t pass laws short of a comprehensive change of paradigm because it would be an affront to that dominant paradigm is analogous to having maintained that we couldn’t have made the morally laudible step of allowing escaped slaves to attain their freedom in non-slave states because to have done so would have simply encouraged more slaves to escape.

Let me be clear: I am not comparing current anti-undocumented immigrant ideology to slavery. Rather, I am comparing the defense of one set of laws that we recognize in retrospect to have been morally repugnant and well worthy of being changed with the defense of a current set of laws that some (including myself) argue is also morally repugnant and well worthy of being changed, in order to illustrate that the public policy debate should focus on the value of the law rather than on the fact of its existence. A debate can and should be had about whether the current set of immigration and immigration-related laws are ideal or morally repugnant or somewhere in between. The mere fact that that set is the current law is irrelevant to that debate.

(It’s worth noting, however, that there are some similarities: Slaves were considered not to be citizens, a perception codified in law by the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision. Abolishing slavery would have admitted this formerly excluded class into national membership. Allowing escaped slaves to attain freedom but not necessarily citizenship in non-slave states would have been analogous to allowing undocumented immigrants to enjoy some of the opportunities afforded citizens and legal residents without being automatically granted that status itself. The 14th Amendment’s establishment of jus soli, the doctrine that anyone born on American soil is an American citizen, was part of the long-unsuccessful attempt to demolish the legacy of slavery, root and branch, and still has implications relevant to immigration policy. Though the differences are greater than the similarities, the fact remains that exclusionary policies that tend to dehumanize those excluded inevitably resemble one another to some degree. See, e.g., Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding.)

It is our responsibility to determine what our laws should be, while also considering how best to implement and enforce the laws that currently are. Those with a zero-tolerance attitude toward undocumented residents, insisting that we are legally required both to in no way accommodate their presence here and to remove them all regardless of the costs (fiscal, economic, social, demographic, and moral), should also, for consistency, insist that every motorist who ever drifts even just one mph over the posted speed limit should be caught and fined regardless of the costs, and that laws which presuppose violations of the speed limit (e.g., prohibiting driving in the passing lane, even at or above the speed limit, on the basis that it obstructs other motorists who might want to pass) are somehow unacceptable (or themselves “illegal”).

Or, to pick a more illuminating example, even though it is illegal to jaywalk, a motorist is still legally obligated to yield to that law-breaker, who is thus protected from some of the negative consequences of his or her infraction by another law accommodating it. (After all, aren’t we just encouraging more people to jaywalk by requiring motorists not to run them over?)

Again, let me be clear: I am not comparing illegal immigration to speeding or jaywalking.  I am, rather, debunking the fallacy that no law can or should exist which presupposes, or even at times accommodates and implicitly “encourages,” the violation of another law. Our laws neither require nor benefit from that kind of rigid consistency: We can, and should, have laws which both prohibit certain activities, and that protect or accommodate those who violate them. Such laws are particularly well advised when the infraction is non-violent and non-predatory, the protection vital to that person’s safety or sustenance, or the accommodation ultimately in the public as well as private interest (such as by giving all residents of the country maximal opportunities to become productive members of society, rather than denying such opportunities and thus increasing the rate of socially, fiscally, and economically costly dependency and predation).

When people oppose, for instance, a law which would allow in-state undocumented high school graduates to attend state universities at in-state tuition rates, with the argument that the current law somehow prohibits the passage of such a law (“what part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?!”), they are inventing a legal doctrine that doesn’t exist (a requirement for perfect consistency among all laws), in order to insist on a particularly vindictive and counterproductive policy position.

Our national debate regarding immigration (as with all issues) needs to focus on what set of policies realized through what legal paradigm best serves our national interests and values. Citing the current legal status quo as an argument in that debate is, in reality, an attempt to insulate preferred elements of that status quo against criticism without having to mobilize any rational or informed argument, or address any rational and informed counterarguments, to do so. At the same time, citing one aspect of the current legal status quo (e.g., the laws against entering and being in the country without legal authorization) as an argument against another aspect of the current legal status quo (e.g., administrative policies not to target for removal those who have not committed other crimes) is an attempt to argue in favor of a change in the legal status quo without having to mobilize any rational or informed argument in support of such a change.

These are not just irrational and, to put it politely, “information-disregarding” arguments in our national debate on immigration policy, but are also instances of a larger contest in American political discourse: The contest between, on the one hand, a commitment to reason applied to evidence in service to humanity, and, on the other, a commitment to irrationality applied to a disregard of the evidence in sevice to inhumanity. It is a contest which those of us who champion the former must win both issue-by-issue, and in more profound ways as well, transcending the individual issues, reaching into the heart of our collective consciousness, transforming with the spirits of reason and goodwill the memes and emes of our own persistent inhumanity.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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(The following is a response to a letter in the December 31, 2011 Denver Post regarding the error of making comparisons to Nazism: http://blogs.denverpost.com/eletters/2011/12/30/those-making-nazi-references-should-check-history/16103/)

1) The aspect of Nazism most reviled, and the reason why it is held in boundless contempt, is the Holocaust, which was an exercise of ultra-nationalist violence against a perceived “foreigner within” (accompanied by a similar ulta-nationalist violence against perceived inferior peoples without, in the name of “Lebensraum”). It is the expression of, and political implementation of, an extreme in-group/out-group bias that is the defining characteristic of the horror that was Nazism. (This in-group/out-group bias was not just directed against Jews, but also Gypsies, Slavs, Serbs, Homosexuals, the poor, trade unionists, and Communists and Leftists, explicitly and repeatedly, which should settle the non-issue of where on the ideological spectrum Nazism fell.)

2) The aspect of Nazism that falls on a spectrum with a mixed historical record is that of “corporatism,” not in the modern sense of power concentrated in large private corporations, but in the sense of the nation as corporation. Japan had enormous post-WWII aggregate economic success with this model, and the social democracies of Northwestern Europe have had enormous human welfare success with a more moderate version of it. Conversely, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and other failed Totalitarian experiments point to the ways in which it can be a horrible and tragic failure. The challenge is not to paint with overly-broad brush strokes when discussing these lessons of history, but rather to look at details and nuances, and to use our disciplines for studying and understanding the systems involved to inform our analyses and comparisons.

3) When making comparisons with Nazism (generally, really, with the Holocaust), it is certainly important to emphasize the scope and relevance of the comparison being made. Nothing in America, at least since the genocide of the indigenous population, compares in degree, and any comparison should emphasize that fact. But if there are legitimate specific similarities to be pointed out, making the comparisons not with a broad brushstroke but rather with a finely focused analysis, and making it not merely to wield a crude rhetorical weapon, but rather to suggest that there are legitimate areas of concern that should be setting off the alarms that the lessons of history offer, then comparison is not only appropriate, but really quite essential.

4) Mike Godwin himself, the author of “Godwin’s Law,” which predicts that the longer a political debate continues, the more certain it is that a comparison to Nazism will be made, emphasized that his point was not that no such comparisons are ever legitimate or useful, but rather that their overuse blunts their effectiveness when truly appropriate by desensitizing people to the possibility of valid comparisons.

5) Nazism is not unique in the history of the world, but is rather our archetypal example of something that happens in varying degrees and forms repeatedly (and not infrequently) around the world and throughout history. To pretend that this powerful lesson of history about one constant threat-from-within to any society, and to humanity, must be deemed forever irrelevant and off-limits, would be a victory for ignorance and a blow against the growth of human consciousness in service to human liberty and welfare.

6) There are indeed some very potent political ideological trends in America today that bear comparison to Nazism, not in degree (not even close), but in kind. Nazism did not emerge onto the world stage as an agent of genocide, but rather as a more modest expression of xenophobic and bigoted reactions to events which undermined national pride and economic security (the loss in WWI and subsequent economic collapse in pre-WWII Germany paralleled by 9/11 and the Great Recession in America today), and gradually, imperceptibly to many, grew into the horror that we now know it to have been.

We must not blind ourselves to its lessons by refusing to heed them unless and until millions are brutally killed; we must instead be mindful of the real lesson of Nazism: That humanity must come before nationalism, that “foreigners” both within and without must not be reviled for being “foreigners,” and that our best hope for the future is to become less chauvinistic, less bigoted, less xeno-homo-islamo-hispano-phobic, more inclusive and accommodating, more committed to reason and universal goodwill, more aware that the welfare of America and Americans is inextricably linked to the welfare of all people and of the planet itself, and, in short, more sane, more conscious, more compassionate, and more rational.

7) I’ve written some essays drawing these comparisons: Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding and “Sharianity”, to name a couple. It’s up to those among my neighbors and fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) lost to these bigotries and hatreds whether they want to continue down that horrible road, or whether they want to choose to be, instead, the kind of people that never have cause to be reviled around the world and in historical hindsight for any lack of enlightenment or humanity.

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