In the 1940s we were embroiled in a world war fighting against cultures and nations that were fueled by ideologies that were anything but open, humanitarian or free. Japan was in the throes of a theologically based monarchy supported by an authoritarian military class. Germany had been consumed by Nazi ideology drunk on world superiority and religious hatred of Jews. The Soviets were little better but having been attacked by one of our enemies, became as a result of that, one of our allies against the Japanese, Nazis and Italian Facists. After millions of casualties which destroyed cultures, countries and philosophies and produced mountains of bodies, the war ended and a new world emerged.
We all know the general story of what followed: the cold war, revolutions and coups in distant and mysterious places, the never ending drive by Islamic hate groups to continue the Nazi work of killing all Jews, decline of certain former world powers, the ascendance of others, the self destruction of communism in most parts of the world. On the positive side, we saw the steady advance of science, medicine, literacy and humanitarian movements, counterbalanced of course by the entrenched forces of conservatism, fundamentalism and ignorance. There has been much good and much evil since that world war ended, but until recently, the overall trend had still been positive. But now, it seems, all that human progress may have been an aberration, a momentary high in our civilization, and we are seeing many movements adopting the oppressive and ignorant values of former ages. Are we now saying a long goodbye to tolerance, intelligence, freedoms and appreciations of real differences, and instead breaking into absolutist, self-absorbed and intolerant social tribes?
Perhaps the most divisive and harmful of the forces that continues to captivate the minds of most of the world’s human population is religion. There is little doubt that millions upon millions of otherwise sane people on the planet feverently want everyone to share their own particular brand of medieval theology or be punished, perhaps killed, if they do not. And, to bring their point home, many of those millions are now engaging in outright warfare against and the torture and execution of those who oppose their beliefs. Worse, killing non-believers is believed to be sanctioned by God to the extent that those who die in God’s service will be amply rewarded in the afterlife, a sure fire ticket to heaven.
As far as I can tell, all religions that posit a divine creator who concerns him or her self with the daily affairs of humans, especially their sexual practices and possible thought crimes, is intolerant of all others who refuse to believe in their stories or follow their prescriptions. Most are openly hostile to anyone who refuses and refutes all religions. Atheism is a curse. This is not a problem in itself except they can’t leave others alone and insist on trying to impose their particular religious requirements on everyone else thorough local and national politics, among other means. Some are worse than others as the current global struggle with armed Islamists will attest.
It is almost beyond belief that there exist millions of people, religious and otherwise, who not only do not understand basic science, but who are skeptical of it, suspicious and mistrustful of the role science has played enabling us to live longer and healthier lives, cure disease, provide machines and technologies to enable us to lead better and less stressful lives, travel almost anywhere on the planet, grow enough food to feed ourselves and provide the tools to more deeply understand our world and the universe we inhabit. We have actual medicine and rational, science-based health care, but sadly we also have “alternative” medicine. Alternative to what? If it works to prevent or heal illness and disease, it is called medicine. If it doesn’t, or is too complicated for the simple minded to comprehend, it is called “alternative”. Non-medicine (that’s the “alternative”) must be more of a religion, an article of faith, for its believers because even if a so-called alternative medical practice cannot be demonstrated to actually work, that doesn’t seem to matter. Certain people will continue to believe it works because they want to think it works. Acupuncture, for example, has never been realistically proven to do what its practitioners claim, but still many people ‘believe’ in it. Actual, science-based, peer reviewed studies show no actual medical benefits from acupuncture beyond a placebo effect. Believing doesn’t make it true.
Thousands of people, perhaps more, I don’t know, believe that contrails left in the air from airplane engines when the hot exhausts cause water vapor to condense into trailing clouds believe these contrails are actually chemically loaded clouds dumped at the dictates of some shadowy Illuminati group to either control the weather or our minds. Perhaps both. These people don’t (or won’t) understand basic high school science. Their minds are so open their brains have fallen out.
YouTube, for example, is full of chemtrail crap along with even weirder stuff like the flat-earth people. Yes, there are people so ignorant or stupid or willfully obstinate that they will try to convince you that the earth is actually flat and anyone who says otherwise is part of some huge and evil conspiracy. One mindless splinter group thinks (and I use that term loosely) that this is a result of a conspiracy to hide the existence of God. Which god they mean isn’t too clear as they haven’t given that aspect much thought either. One rut at at time for them.
The gods help you if you should offer any real or perceived disrespect or discomfort to certain individuals or self-defined groups. Some of these groups are composed of privileged unemployed college students pursuing incomprehensible and realistically useless courses of study in our more expensive and prestigious schools. They are encouraged and supported by the faculty and administration in these universities. Want to highlight racism or poverty or religion with some satire? Better wear your earplugs and body armor because that isn’t “safe” and you will be disrespecting something that someone doesn’t want to be made fun of.
Have a different opinion? Be prepared to be insulted, vilified and shouted down, hounded through the halls of Twitter and Facebook, vilified with lies, distortions and profanity on YouTube. If you are unlucky enough to be employed in an institution of higher learning, you will probably end up being fired by weak and myopic administrators. Don’t believe this? Spend a little time on one of the social media outlets, especially Twitter and YouTube. See for yourself.
Look up the videos and Twitter streams about the disgraceful and probably criminal opposition to Ben Shapiro’s appearance at the University of California — on —. The university which should be a bedrock protector of freedom of speech and freedom of thought showed the world that it is exactly the opposite. This University is overwhelmingly liberal both in its student body politics and administration. Mr. Shapiro is a well known conservative. OK. Liberals. Conservatives. Different philosophies. Be interesting to compare and discuss these opposing views. No. Not going to happen, especially at a University for Christ’s sake. Mr. Shapiro might make someone uncomfortable, threaten their safe zone, become the object of aggressive opinion, maybe even have their ideas and cherished ideologies “attacked”. So, solution? Blockade the lecture hall. Assault anyone who might want to attend. Yell. Scream. Cry. Threaten. When that didn’t stop Mr. Shapiro from coming to talk, someone pulled the fire alarm in an unsuccessful attempt to stop him from speaking and empty the hall where he and his audience had gathered anyway. Didn’t work.
I do not agree with all of Mr. Shaprio’s politics or conclusions, but I listen to them first so that I can understand what they are. Then I decide. This is more than the regressive leftists can stand to do. They are offended. Perhaps I may be offended too. But I can handle that and discuss it, then perhaps still be offended. Even so I can still defend his right to express thhis opinions and his right to say them. As someone said recently, “Progressives self flagellate at the altar of non-offense.” Substitute “self signaling” for “self flagellate” and I agree. One of the pathetic aspects of people shouting for their rights to free speech to drown out someone else’s right is that they are mostly signaling to their like-minded brethren (yes, I’m also including women in that category for purposes of non-turgid discourse) that they are members of that particular in-group. Look at me, I hate racists (facists, gays, white men, conservatives, etc.) too. I included gays because they really hate Milo Yiannopoulos who is openly gay, smart, funny and a conservative. The regressives may claim consistency, but they fail at this too.
As Mr. Shapiro noted, the left agenda appears to be stopping free speech. At Amherst, for example, students demanded that anyone who put up posters advertising “free speech” be prosecuted. I’m not sure how these people managed to qualify for a spot in higher education. At Mizzou the campus police wants a call from anyone whose “feelings are hurt.” Maybe this is part of a suicide prevention process. Or just stupid policy on the university’s part. Either way…
You may be a conservative or a liberal or an independent thinker and you may or may not like Mr. Shapiro’s opinions or politics, but you don’t have the right to stop him from saying them or anyone else from hearing them. That’s not being liberal, that’s being facist regressive babies. Go home. Come back when you are ready for an adult education.
It’s like working on Maggie’s Farm.
Not all groups who engage in this kind of social censorship are privileged youth attending expensive universities. Take Ferguson, for example.
The collection of memes tagging what happened at Ferguson as unfair, racist, as normal police brutality tactics still prevails on social media and in the minds of many who heard those memes but did not hear about, nor care to believe, the actual facts as they eventually emerged from that incident. (This is another attribute of the social justice police and social radicals: facts don’t matter. What they believe is all that counts.) The Ferguson facts are out there for those who would like to actually know. I won’t detail them here except to say that physical evidence and the testimonies from people who were actually there at the time show that the police acted within their rights and responsibilities and that the victim was not the gentle giant his supporters claimed. As they say, look it up. Have there been incidents of unacceptable police violence? Yes. Does racism still exist? Of course. But each incident must be evaluated on its actual merits and evidence otherwise we have the situation we are in today. Identity politics.
Freedom of thought? Forget it. Freedom of expression? Not a chance. Freedom of the press? Who needs it? Freedom of speech? Call the cops.
Literacy and knowledge
It is a fool who believes that complex problems have simple solutions. They do not. Complex problems are difficult to resolve because they are complex. How to put men on the moon? Simple, send them in a rocket ship with enough fuel to get them back again. How to resolve the problems inherent in the solution? Very difficult. And complex. How do we free ourselves from dependence on petroleum? Simple: switch to another form of energy like solar or wind. How to resolve the problems inherent in that answer? Difficult, complex, costly in money and in global societal impact.
In order to understand and address complex issues one must be able to know what relevant information already exists, which always involves reading, and reading to a level greater than that of following one’s finger along the string of words on the page, reading with comprehension and understanding. Reading many different sources both pro and con. Being able to acquire, store and understand information stored in written form is an essential element of the intelligent human brain. It goes deeper of course. Remember the complex problem problem. One has to be able to tell knowledge and fact from bullshit. Education and critical thinking are essential tools but it appears that those two components are in danger today. Education is not friendly to information and opinion that trespasses those held to be good by many of our universities. Even worse, those contrary ideas are not attacked in an intellectually fair arena by using freedom of speech and press, but are blocked, vilified and hounded out of contention by their opponents.
Long ago someone noted that information is any difference that makes a difference. A thing that rises above the random noise of existence and gets noticed. Some of these things are good, and some are not. Good is a relative and social construct that changes through time and is mutated and nurtured, sometimes destroyed, by the cultures it inhabits. Are there any human universal goods? This is probably one of the foundational questions of philosophy and remains elusive and relational to this day. With the dominance of the internet, we are now awash in information. Much of this is information that does not rest on any objective standards or evidence but ebbs and flows with the prevailing cultural and political tides, and those tides now are enormous and come at increasingly frequent intervals. Trusting to the social media or web-based opinion storms to provide reasonable and factual information is a fool’s errand. Real information, objective fact and evidence is available there, but one has to be armed with reasonable criticism and skepticism and the time and energy to dig and research in order to find the truth, or the most reasonable positions. Who does this? Certainly not the Twitter warriors or social thought police that have taken control of many of these media.
There are a few dedicated souls who continue to stand for openness, reason and evidence based decision making and truly suffer the slings and arrows of the internet thought police and social and religious thugs who assail their enemies with distortions and outright lies. I salute them will continue to support them and their right to freedoms of speech, thought and press.
A Liberal Says Goodbye
I’ve been a liberal since I discovered the City Lights Books store and the beatniks whose works they published in the 1950s. I am a Viet Nam veteran who thinks now, and thought at the time, that the war was wrong, that we were on the wrong side, but, having been committed we should have fought it better with full support, gotten it done and then let the politicians sort it out. I supported the civil rights movement in the 60s and later on, and think that everyone should have equal opportunities, free education, health care and that the government should take a leading role in making sure that the free market forces did not get the monopolistic upper hand and enforce profit over human values and health. I value free speech, freedom of the press, the real spirit and intent of all the Constitutional amendments including the second one and inherently don’t trust government to have the best interests of the citizens at heart, that it requires close supervision and transparency by the people.
Now, things have changed. Too many liberals have adopted a self-righteousness that I find to be unappealing and counter to actual liberal values. Many have shifted far to the left and become regressively imperialistic and dogmatic and bought into identity politics to an extreme degree. This is wrong and unhealthy. When differences of opinion and healthy debate, even necessary political compromises are decried, insulted and vilified, the game has changed. It’s become “us” or “them” and “them” are likened to monstrous criminals against whom unprincipled, unethical and even illegal acts are condoned. This is wrong whether one is a liberal or conservative.
Being able to listen to, engage and evaluate differences in ideas and information, politics and social philosophies is the mark of a balanced individual, whether conservative or liberal.
Until something changes and sanity reappears, I am done. I will seek out, listen to and engage anyone’s ideas then evaluate those ideas for myself based on reason and evidence. In today’s political and educational environments, that doesn’t make me a liberal or a conservative. I’m declaring myself an independent.
It has been a long time since the 1950 and it has taken a long time to say goodbye to my self identity as a liberal, but the time has come.