Anybody who knows me will know that I crave explanations. It’s likely one of the things that’s so appealing to me about being a scientist. I’ve written about the confusion between explaining and justifying before. In fact, a post about this was one of the first things I wrote for Hitting Bregma. As much as I hate it, so many things go unanswered. Last night, many witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history. What we think we know is that a man named Stephen Paddock opened fire from a hotel room into a country music concert below. As of now, 58 are dead and more than 500 injured (unclear how many were injured by gunshot, and how many were injured in the frenzy during the shooting). This horrific event seems, at least for now, without explanation. For me, that makes it even worse than it already is.
Obamacare set up health insurance marketplaces. It didn’t take over health insurance like some would make you believe, but one thing it did was establish a website, not much different from expedia, where people can compare available insurance plans. Of course, it made some rules about the plans that can be sold on this platform, and each state has its own set of plans, so somebody from NY, for example, only gets to shop for plans in NY. Republicans latched onto this, and said that it hurt competition, because insurance companies should be able to sell across state lines. I’m not an expert in health insurance, so I’m sure I’m missing something (maybe something big), but the whole thing always seemed silly to me. I’m the first to warn against anecdote, and I should probably use my own advice here, but every now and then we all ignore the rules (even our own), so here goes.
The culture war has gotten plenty of new kindling to burn in the form of a protest by a black man. In a totally non-violent, passive way, Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem. It went unnoticed for a while, but eventually got picked up and became a huge controversy. Things got even more heated this weekend after President Trump tweeted things about the kneeling (note, well after Kaepernick stopped playing), and players and owners responded. Even those who supported Trump in the past were bothered by his tweets, and stood with kneeling players to show their support for their players. Of all the things that are fascinating (and deeply troubling) about the whole thing, what I find most telling might be the deep importance of a symbol from the self-declared patriots. It’s a flag, it’s a song. And it’s not like he’s burning the flag (which itself shouldn’t be all that upsetting; the consequences for burning a flag aren’t like burning a building, right?). It’s not like he’s pissing on it, or spitting on it. He’s simply kneeling, quietly. But some are outraged (not hyperbole) by this disrespect for a symbol of America. This got me thinking if there was some symbol that I felt so strongly about, seemingly more so than the thing the symbol represents.
The idea of white privilege made its way into common culture over the last few years. I’ve gotten into several FaceBook spats about whether or not there’s a certain privilege associated with being white. I think the word “privilege” might put people off, and make them defensive, but when you get to the heart of the matter, it’s really about a sense that the world revolves around white americans. It’s common here in the United States to hear people say that we don’t have accents. Of course some do, but when somebody speaks and you can’t tell if they’re from the north or south or midwest of the United States, they are said to not have an accent. But they DO have an accent, and it’s easy to tell that they are from the US (or Canada). It’s that, in our self-centered world, sounding like “us” means being “normal” and not having an accent. We don’t talk about people having an American accent, like we talk about Australian or British or Hispanic accents. We see it in how we talk about food in terms of “ethnic” and “non-ethnic” also. Restaurants are classified as chinese, ethiopian, mexican, burmese, indian…and then there’s the others. Not “american,” just unclassified. All of this makes it clear that our culture, specifically white American culture, acts as if we are the “norm” and everything else is different. Not bad, but not the norm. But these are small potatoes compared to the biggest of all…
President Trump has had trouble getting the GOP-controlled congress to pass signature policies. The Senate failed (by a very slim margin) to repeal Obamacare, and Trump and the GOP leadership clearly do not get along very well. This shouldn’t be a surprise, he didn’t get along with them during the primary season, or the general election either. I don’t think any of that was about politics, but more about personality, and people can only fake their way through those kinds of deep feelings for so long.
So Trump has turned to democrats to try to get stuff done, or at least that’s what his supporters are saying. From what I can gather among my diverse group of FaceBook friends, and outlets like FoxNews and Breitbart, etc, his supporters seem to have divergent responses to his new partnership with democratic leadership. I’m finding this fascinating, and revealing.
Atheists are becoming more open about their atheism. I am, by definition, an atheist, but I think of myself more as a nontheist, mostly because there’s some baggage that comes with the word atheist, and I don’t like baggage. I think what separates me from some (certainly not all) atheists and from some (but certainly not all) believers is that I honestly don’t care what somebody else believes, and I’m not the least bit interested in trying to make believers reject their belief, nor am I the least bit upset or disappointed if an atheist starts believing in God. I honestly don’t think we have much of a choice about it, and none of it is based in fact (either way), so, from where I sit, it’s not like arguing over whether or not gravity is real, it’s like arguing over whether or not dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate. I certainly have a very strong opinion on that, but I’m not comfortable telling somebody they’re wrong if they like milk chocolate better. So what’s my problem with prayer?
Bad things happen. Tragedies happen. When they happen, it’s good to help those affected, and it’s good to think about ways to prevent those things from happening again. If they can’t be prevented, it’s good to think about ways to protect us from the damage they cause in the future. These seem like normal responses, yet so often, doing these things gets blasted as an attempt to politicize a tragedy. I really don’t like that critique, and the critique itself seems to be more “political” than actually talking about solutions and prevention.