Generation of Hate Revisited

Years ago, in the early days of me dumping my thoughts on this site, I proposed that we’re living through the most hateful time in history. If you read that post, you’ll see that I don’t mean it in the way that’s most obvious, that people are more hateful than ever, but instead that people feel more hated than ever. I’ve been thinking more about this lately, largely inspired by a series of Facebook posts that have come and gone over the years, but seem to be coming back with a vengeance. Although my premise hasn’t changed, I’m starting to have a better, perhaps slightly more paranoid, perspective about it all.

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No more experts!

Image result for john brennan

I do not like politics of fear. I do not like making policies based on fear. I do not like using fear to play with people’s emotions. But, I am afraid. Genuinely afraid. I see a willful erosion of expertise in this country, and I fear the consequences will be worse than we can imagine. This is not a new feeling, but the removal of Brennan’s security clearance made it especially salient this morning. I recognize that this is a punitive act, and not directed at his expertise, but it’s all part of a bigger problem from my perspective.

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The ultimate symbol of privilege

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…

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Abortion, abortion, abortion…

[Somewhat rushed piece…overwhelmed with work, but trying to stay in the habit of writing, and it’s been a long time. I’m sure it’s full of typos and other problems, but at this point, it will have to do]

I’ve spent a bit of time talking about abortion and abortion rights since Hitting Bregma started (notably here and here). I’m fascinated by it as a topic because it’s so meaningful to so many people, that I honestly see it as the number one guiding issue in our politics today. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this at all, and I would enjoy being shown that it’s not true, but I think the abortion question actually drives many people in one direction or another, and then the other partisan issues take hold. It’s easy for me to imagine somebody being appalled by abortion, leaning toward a particular political identity because of that, and then slowing assimilating with all the other beliefs of that political party. It seems like a key reason, for instance, why a deeply religious Christian would so predictably care about small government, about maintaining strong borders, about a super powerful national defense, about implementing the death penalty, about low taxes (especially for the wealthy). On the flip side, it’s puzzling to me that advocacy of abortion rights does such a good job at predicting where somebody stands on raising taxes on the wealthy, on being against the death penalty, about working hard for minority rights and environmentalism, and about government services for the poor. Of course, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t fall into those more predictable positions. I know plenty who are deeply religious, and guided by this to be sickened by abortion, but put this aside to otherwise favor liberal politicians who are anti-death penalty, pro-helping the poor, pro-helping immigrants, and willing to tax people to make that possible. It would be a silly straw man fallacy to say that I’m implying that this applies to everybody equally, but I find it interesting to see how many people seem to find their political identity by following the pro-choice or anti-abortion trail to the rest of the stuff.

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How often do we see ourselves in others?

I’ve used this blog in several different ways since it started. Mostly as an outlet for whatever random thing that might have crossed my mind that day or morning or evening or in the depth of night. I find myself more excited to write about things that defend a move by government with which I agree, and less excited about criticising moves that I don’t like, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who has read anything else I’ve written that I’ve been less excited about writing lately. This shows up in what’s come out of me on this page lately. An article about our priorities, about the flaw in word usage that might have hurt women’s rights, a jobs policy that sounds good to me. All of this while there are a million ways I could express my dissatisfaction with the current government, and complain about the moves they are or aren’t making. But that clearly doesn’t make me want to write as much as other times. In fact, I’ve been uninspired, actively seeking things to write about, and have been mulling this idea for a while. Some of it is obvious, and some might only be a partial explanation, but as a scientist, I’ve learned to live with partial explanations, and fully recognize that the whole explanation is often too complicated, so we make do with parts. So this is the “part” that I’m thinking about this morning, as I’ve thought out for several mornings over the past couple of weeks:

Can we infer somebody’s inner sense of the world by attributes they ascribe to others? In other words, how deep does the psychological construct of projection go?

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What would Bartlet do?

I have a tendency to think of the world in a two-type model. Of course I know this isn’t true, and I’ve spent plenty of time explaining false dichotomies to people, both in my personal and professional lives, but in a non-literal, knowingly unrealistic way, I like to do it anyway. My wife and I have a long-standing view, for instance, that there are two types of people in the world: people who would lick the plate if it were socially acceptable, and people who wouldn’t. “Lick the plate” is, in many ways, a statement of passion for food, but also for life. The “plate-licker” gestalt reveals a person with a zest not just for food, but for life. Somebody who wants to get every last drop out of the good stuff, and lick the plate. We’ve recognized this (false) dichotomy since early in our life together (we’ve been together for almost a quarter of a century, married for a fifth of a century), although it seems to have become an unspoken thing in the last few years.
I’m certainly not alone in my dichotomization of the world. Others have different splits, cat people and dog people, organized inbox people and those like me with thousands of unread emails, Coke vs Pepsi…we’ve seen these all.
So here’s my false dichotomy of the day: there are people who seek a label, and people who shun them. I’m one who seeks a label, and I think one has finally dawned on me. I’m a “Bartlet Democrat,” and proud of it.

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Some thoughts on abortion

Abortion is a very difficult and divisive issue in today’s cultural and political landscape (that might be an understatement). I am strongly in favor of abortion rights, so I do not come to this with a neutral perspective. On the other hand, I care about people, and many people I know and love are emotionally traumatized (and I do not think that is an overstatement) by abortion. In the worldview of these people, abortion is literally the voluntary, cruel, painful, disgusting murder of a child, a child unable to defend him/herself. I think all of us who support abortion rights need to remember that, and, for those of us who actually care about other people, need to imagine how it would feel if we knew that millions of children were being killed. Imagine there was a foreign country in which babies (make them two months old for the example to work) were being taken to a hospital or doctor’s office and being killed without anesthesia, for no reason other than they were too much of a burden on the parents. That is how it looks to some people who are anti-abortion. Although I do not view abortion that way, I know what it feels like to learn that children are dying, and I can imagine the outrage that I would feel if I did see abortion that way. I think that’s critically important to keep in mind. It’s that recognition that has driven me, for the past twenty years or more, to try to imagine a compromise. To be honest, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into this, but not as much as I could have for two reasons: 1) I am fairly certain there is no compromise, and 2) even if I thought of one, I have no power to implement it. That second one isn’t as meaningful as the first, because, as anybody who reads anything I post knows, it doesn’t stop me from opining on pretty much everything else that matters to me.

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