11/13/99

(The following was originally posted to my personal Facebook page as a “note” on April 29, 2015, a few months before this blog was started. It was written in response to inflammatory language being used to describe people protesting several controversial legal decisions involving US citizens who were killed by police. I am reposting it here because it’s still relevant, and for ease of access. Because while I hope there will be no more incidents like the ones that inspired this post, well…let’s just say I hope I never have occasion to share this again. — MNW)

The year was 1999. The date was Saturday, November 13. I was a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The Razorback football team was playing the much more highly ranked Tennessee Volunteers at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. I had student tickets for every home game (they were sold in a little booklet before the season started, and it seems like each ticket was a dollar apiece), and even though I was fairly certain the Hogs were going to get creamed by Tennessee, I wanted to walk the couple hundred yards down to the stadium from my dorm and watch the game.

But I had a part time job, and I had to work that day. I considered blowing work off, and a couple friends encouraged me to blow it off, but I decided to go to my job and work. As I said, I figured the Hogs were going to get beaten, anyway.

So I went to work. I was a cashier at a fairly large retail store across town from the U of A campus.

But this particular Saturday, for whatever reason, there were a whole lot of cashiers scheduled to work, and nobody collecting shopping carts from the parking lot.

Maybe the cart pushers skipped work to watch the game. I dunno.

At any rate, I wasn’t on a register that afternoon and evening, I was pushing carts.

And as an aside, next time you’re at a big retail store with a huge parking lot, for the love of all that’s decent, park your flipping shopping cart in a flipping cart corral. Pushing carts is a hard enough job without having to walk all over the place collecting carts people were too flipping lazy to flipping push fifty flipping feet to a flipping cart corral. But I flipping digress.

And after a few hours of pushing carts past impatient drivers and people standing in the way for no reason and that sort of thing, I got to thinking “I took a job as a cashier. I didn’t sign up for this crap” and whatnot. And after I got off work a few hours later, sweaty and worn out from performing a job I did not sign up for, I was roundly pissed off and ready to go to bed. My only solace was that somehow the Hogs had upset Tennessee 28-24.

And so I went back to campus, parking like a half mile or so from my dorm, slogged back up the hill to Yocum Strokem, and went up to my room.

The exact details of this evening aren’t clear, but some time after I got back to the dorm, maybe even the next morning, my roommate and other friends from my wing of the dorm started telling me about the celebration I had missed out on.

After the clock ran out, after the Hogs won a game nobody expected them to win, fans rushed the field and tore down both goalposts. The goalposts were then carried to Dickson Street (an area just off campus with bars and restaurants and places like that), where they were propped up and climbed on and photographed and people just got drunk as hell and had a big ole time until the wee hours of the morning.

Me, I was sleeping in my dorm room, aching from pushing flipping shopping carts all day.

Before I get to the quasi-political point I am going to make with all this, I would like to say, unequivocally, that going to work that one Saturday is one of my biggest regrets in life. It’s one of those “if I had a time machine” moments, no doubt. I don’t hold anything against anybody who took part in those celebrations, I would have been right there with you, had I not been pushing flipping shopping carts all flipping day.

But having pushed said shopping carts in lieu of watching a football game and tearing down goalposts and carrying them off gives me a nitpicky little advantage regarding recent events that I am positive will make at least a few people mad at me:

I can say, with a totally clear conscience, that I have never participated in a riot of any sort.

Before anybody starts cussing at me, let me remind you that this was a riot I would have taken part in, had I not been pushing shopping carts on the other side of town. I don’t hold anything against anybody for having taken part in this riot; actually I am sorta jealous of the people who did.

Take away all your misty watercolor memories of those golden college years, take away how much fun you had that day, take away all that sort of stuff. What happened that Saturday in November of 1999, there in Fayetteville?

A mob of people (many of whom were intoxicated) destroyed public (or at least university) property and created a public nuisance until the wee hours of the morning.

And why? Because a football team won a football game nobody thought they would win.

Sure, nobody got killed, and I am confident at least a few people got arrested for public intox and/or being a minor in possession of alcohol; sure, there have been riots after other sporting events that caused way more damage…

But a riot is a riot. And if you find it morally acceptable for sports fans to destroy property after a sporting event (this happens when home teams win and when they lose), but somehow find rioting after controversial legal decisions and/or killing of citizens by police morally abhorrent…

Do you see my point?

I am not talking to any one person or group of people. I am talking to everyone.

And just to remind you, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, if I had a time machine, and I could go back to November 13, 1999, I would totally blow off work and probably spend the night in the drunk tank after climbing up a stolen goal post down on Dickson Street. I’m not saying anybody was wrong or immoral for taking part in that, I would have, too, if I hadn’t had to work that day.

Anyways…

SELECTIVE OUTRAGE FROM THE RIGHT (AS IF THIS WERE A NEW THING)

Something I find hilarious about support for those militia guys in Oregon…actually a couple things:

1. The people who they are allegedly “protesting” on behalf of — the Hammonds, who were convicted of arson — have said they don’t want to be associated with the protest,

and

2. Many if not most of the people who support the Oregon “protesters” also supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Why is that hilarious? Because the main complaint towards the government with regard to the Oregon “protesters” is that the government allegedly took land from farmers. These “protesters” are standing up to an evil regime that takes hard-earned land away from upstanding Americans, and so on and so forth.

Many supporters of Keystone XL were apparently blissfully unaware that many people lost their homes because of Keystone XL. And many more would have lost their homes if it had been completed.

Where was the uproar on the right about that? Where were the armed militia men, bravely storming into public buildings, looking for a game of shoot-em-up? Where were the endless idiotic memes? Where was the outrage over hardworking Americans being relocated to make room for an oil pipeline to Canada?

It didn’t exist. It never happened.

Nobody on the right gave a shit.

I dunno. I find that sort of thing hilarious.

BLACK VELVET, AND THAT LITTLE BOY SMILED

Let it be noted that I was unsure whether to categorize this blog post under “Politics” or “Philosophy.” It has to do with both. I am not sure how long this post will be – I am not doing any extra research for it, rather I am merely putting to virtual paper things I have noticed over the past couple years regarding two diametrically opposed philosophies: Evangelical Christianity and popular atheism. But as these two philosophies have, of late, reached startlingly similar conclusions regarding international politics, and as that confluence of opinion is what I am writing about today, I suppose I will place this post under “Politics.”

There, it’s settled.

First, a little biographical info about yours truly: I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. I have many friends and family members who are quite active in the church, and I love and respect them greatly. I also have many – though admittedly not quite as many – friends and family members who are atheists. Many of them would call me a stupid tree-hugging hippie for saying so, but I also love and respect them greatly.

So again, I am not here to argue the merits of one philosophy over the other. And I hope nobody takes issue with my labeling these two things as “philosophies.” If anyone does, let me explain what I mean by “philosophy”: I mean it as a mode of thought, one that influences one’s actions and day-to-day life, for good or for ill. And I want to stress that I don’t mean any of this as an insult to anyone, I am merely relating my own observations. I might see you (whoever you are) a little differently than you see you, and conversely you might see me differently than I see me. I invite you to comment to your heart’s content on how you see me, either here in the comments section, or on my Facebook page. It is possible that all my observations are incorrect. At any rate, this post is not directed at any specific person, it is rather directed at specific philosophies. And as any philosophy worth having is a philosophy worth critiquing, I hope not to lose any friends – in real life or online – over this post.

A little more biographical info about me: I quit going to church with any regularity in the early 2000s. The principal reason for this was that church had become less of a place that encouraged me to be a better person and more of a place where I was told what to think, who to vote for, and that sort of thing. Perhaps it had always been that way to a degree – I remember impassioned sermons from my childhood on the evils of gay people, for example – but following 9/11, politics and church became so intertwined I just couldn’t bring myself to go anymore.

For example: it was widely preached that every Muslim in the world supported Osama Bin Laden. It was widely preached that Islam and Islam alone was responsible for all the evils in the world, and that the only hope for the future was to either convert every Muslim to Christianity, or else to just bomb the daylights out of them.

Meanwhile, then-President George W. Bush was praying on TV, spouting similar nonsense left and right, taking money away from education and putting it into “faith-based” programs, talking in oversimplified Orwellian terms like “axis of evil” and “the terrorists hate freedom” and that sort of thing.

If memory serves, there was a dramatic upswing in church attendance in the years following 9/11. There are probably many articles written about this already, but I theorize that this dramatic upswing was due to fear as much as it was to anything else.

People wanted to know why the terrorists “hated freedom.” People wanted to know why 9/11 happened. And even though the mastermind behind the tragic event had specific reasons why he talked 15 fellow Saudi Arabians, two men from United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian, and one Lebanese fellow into perpetrating the attack, and even though this mastermind specifically said that he was protesting US involvement in the Middle East, nobody seemed to notice that he had done so.

To be sure, I am not trying to justify 9/11 to anyone. I want to make that crystal clear. What I am trying to do is point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 had actual tangible geopolitical motivations for doing what they did. And yes, while radical Islam was definitely a factor there – they would have been less likely to intentionally kill themselves to make a political point, I venture, were there no promise of a blissful afterlife – it was not the only factor.

But Evangelical Christians didn’t want to hear that. They didn’t want to hear that people in other countries had been affected negatively by the actions of our government. They didn’t want to hear that the USA was not, in fact, universally loved and cherished by everyone in the world.

I want to pause here and say that I am not “anti-American,” nor do I hold any sort of “anti-American bias,” and I don’t hate myself for being American, so if anything like that is bubbling up in your psyche as you read this, I advise you to go take a cold shower and compose yourself.

What I want you – as in you, whoever you are, wherever you are, you, the person reading this right now – to realize is a very simple fact of life, one your parents should have taught you as a child: not everyone is going to like you, no matter how good of a person you try to be. Something you say, something you do, no matter how well-intentioned, is going to piss somebody off. It’s a cliché, sure, but put quite simply you can’t please everyone. That should go without saying, but it unfortunately doesn’t most of the time.

This is true on a personal level, and it is also true on an international level. Even if we assume that the USA has never taken any military action that wasn’t for “the greater good” or whatever, somebody somewhere is going to be offended by that action. Somebody somewhere is going to have a friend or family member who was killed by US forces, somebody somewhere is going to have their livelihood disrupted by economic sanctions the US imposed, somebody somewhere is going to be pissed off that the US took the leader they liked out of office and replaced that leader with someone they didn’t like.

It doesn’t require any sort of “mental gymnastics” or “guilt” or “self-loathing” to acknowledge this. Strictly speaking, it requires all three of those things to deny that this is the case.

“Hold on,” the reader may be thinking, “I don’t remember any Evangelical leaders talking about ‘mental gymnastics’ or anything like that. What are you getting at, asshole?”

At the same time, roughly, that Evangelical pastors and politicians were promoting the idea that the US had never done anything anywhere in the world ever that could possibly motivate anyone to dislike us or want to do harm to us, and that Islam was by nature evil, and every Muslim in the world supported terrorism, another philosophical/political movement was gaining steam: the “New Atheist” movement.

I don’t know who coined the term “New Atheist,” but originally the definition was, essentially, “an atheist who actively speaks out against religion.”

And I want to make it clear that I am fine with the idea of atheists who speak their mind about religion and the harm it can do. I support that fully. I support free thought, I support free speech, and I support science and reason. I agree fully that until the world stops basing its decisions on religious ideas, we’re never going to advance as a species.

And here, someone could make the obvious argument, one I have already made, that without the promise of an afterlife, the 9/11 hijackers would have been less likely to have hijacked planes and crashed them. Islam was certainly a factor.

Just like Shinto – Japan’s native religion – was certainly a factor in the phenomenon of Kamikaze pilots.

Just like Christianity – yes, Christianity – was certainly a factor in motivating Adolf Hitler to try to kill every Jewish person in the world.

Just like Buddhism – yes, Buddhism – was certainly a factor in motivating the South Vietnamese people to side with the Viet Cong.

(To explain those comparisons, “Kamikaze” translates to “divine wind” in English. Kamikaze pilots believed they were doing a divine service to their native land by giving their lives to defend it. Do a quick Google search on “religious views of Adolph Hitler” to find quotations about how he believed he was serving God by killing Jewish people. And, if you have a couple hours to kill, watch the film “Hearts and Minds” on YouTube. It’s a documentary about the Vietnam war, and one Buddhist monk states [I am paraphrasing] that as long as the US remained in Vietnam, attempting to change Vietnam to suit its own ends, the Vietnamese people would continue to fight. And indeed they did.)

And here it may appear that I am, by pointing out that religions other than Islam have played roles in various wars, siding with the New Atheists. But somewhat perplexingly, this is actually where my views and those of prominent New Atheist thinkers part ways.

For example, many New Atheists conveniently overlook the fact that the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were at least partially motivated by George W. Bush’s religious beliefs. God told him to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Bush actually said that.

Whether he truly believed it is irrelevant. He used it to reduce a complex geopolitical conflict, one that began a long time before 9/11, to a simplistic “Islam is evil” argument that Evangelicals just ate up with a spoon. And so did, amazingly, those beacons of “science” and “reason,” the New Atheists.

Although they’ll deny it, of course. Their thinking, they will assure you, is completely and totally motivated by “reason.”

As a supporter of reason myself, I would like to say that I admire the desire to think only in terms of reason. But I would like to also state, unequivocally, that it is impossible for anyone to base every decision and every judgment call on “reason.” It is impossible. It is, indeed, a consummation devoutly to be wished, but it is not something that is possible.

The most rational person on the planet is still subject to emotion. And like it or not, “fear” is one of the most influential emotions there is. For politicians – and for that matter, for writers who wish to sell books – it is also one of the most useful.

To be sure, New Atheist writers have exposed a great deal of terrible things that happen in the Muslim world. For that reason, I salute them.

But I have to call “bullshit” on their assertion that “Islam” is the sole cause of all the problems in the Middle East. And also on their delusion that US intervention in the Middle East had nothing to do with the religious beliefs of Americans.

I salute them for elevating science and reason over superstition. But I criticize them for the simple reason that this has inadvertently led them to believe that science and reason motivates everything the US and the West does. This is just as simplistic of a worldview as the one Evangelicals promote. This worldview posits that the actual, tangible, real-life military exploits of the US and the West have no effect whatsoever on the world.

The single most common rebuttal this worldview produces, when, for example, it is pointed out that Islamist terror has actually increased since the “War on Terror” began, is that whoever points that out “hates America,” has an “anti-American bias,” or simply suffers from “guilt” or “self-loathing.”

Try to wrap your head around that: if you, an American, acknowledge that not everybody in the world loves and cherishes you simply because you are an American, it means you hate yourself. This is presented as an argument any time any Westerner critiques US and/or Western military intervention overseas.

Here’s an analogy: let’s say you’re driving your car through a residential neighborhood. You’re obeying the speed limit, you’re not intoxicated, but you happen to glance down at your phone for a second, let’s say. You don’t see the dog bounding into the street, chasing an errant tennis ball, and you run the dog over, killing it.

The owner of the dog is standing in his front yard. He saw you look down at your phone, and just for the sake of argument let’s say this person has a high-resolution security camera on the front of his house, and this camera captures not only your car running over the beloved family pet, but also you taking your eyes off the road to look down at your phone, or at any rate to look down at something in your passenger seat.

The dog owner takes you to court, presents evidence that you were negligent, shows your negligence and its bloody result, but you insist that you are innocent. You refuse to apologize or even acknowledge, despite clear evidence, that you were in any way at fault. Your defense is that the late dog’s owner simply does not like you. It isn’t anything you actually did, he’s just an asshole and he hates you because he’s an asshole. You were not at fault in any way.

This is, essentially, the common worldview shared by Evangelicals and New Atheists. That the US and the West have never ever actually done anything that people in other countries could potentially get pissed off about, and that anybody anywhere who complains about US and Western intervention is simply an irrational asshole. And also, if you happen to be an American or a Westerner, and you happen to point out that some people in other countries might not like it when the US and the West invades them, well, you hate yourself. It’s mind-boggling, the level of selective blindness involved in this worldview.

The majority of people from these two groups never interact with each other. The majority of people from these two groups think that the other is their sworn enemy. They don’t realize, for the most part, that their views on international politics line up almost perfectly. They don’t realize, for the most part, that their shared selective blindness is a direct result of their seemingly opposing philosophies.

Many Evangelicals think that the only way to end conflict in the Middle East is to either convert everyone there to Christianity, or, alternatively, to bomb the daylights out of them.

Many New Atheists think that the only way to end conflict in the Middle East is to either convince everyone there to be an atheist, or, alternatively, to bomb the daylights out of them.

Because, both groups believe, people in other countries welcome bombing raids. People in other countries are ecstatic with joy and thankfulness when the US and the West flies overhead, dropping bombs and blowing stuff up. Anyone who dislikes the US and the West for flying over their country and blowing stuff up, both groups believe, is simply either evil or else suffering from some sort of mental defect.

Think about this: how angry were you on 9/11? How great was the feeling that you had been violated, that everything you had ever known and loved was now put in danger? How much hatred did you feel toward the people who perpetrated 9/11?

I know I felt a lot. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but it certainly made me angry. I felt like the sanctity of my nation’s borders had been violated, for sure.

And that was from one single attack. It was a tragedy, I am not saying it wasn’t, don’t attempt to twist what I am saying into something it isn’t. What I want you to understand is that people in other countries do not simply welcome invasions and bombing raids as a show of good will, any more than any American welcomed 9/11. It does not require you to feel guilty to acknowledge this. It does not require you to hate yourself or hate America to acknowledge this, and it most certainly does not require any sort of “mental gymnastics” to acknowledge this.

Acknowledging that you have – even unintentionally – caused harm to someone else does not equate to “self-loathing,” no matter how many times anyone claims it does. It never has, and it never will. It is quite simply part of being a grown-up. A five-year-old might be forgiven for refusing to acknowledge that he hurt someone by pushing them down, but an adult shouldn’t be.

Let’s be adults, eh?

I hope you all have a nice day.

To The Trump Supporter

I watched most of the Trump rally last night on CNN, and something became painfully apparent to me.

Before I tell what that something is, I want to first say that I am not trying to run anybody down. If you like Donald Trump, that’s your business. I can think of about a million reasons why you shouldn’t like him, but instead of making a long list of things that aren’t going to convince you of anything anyway, I am just going to point out one thing about last night’s Trump rally. Specifically about Trump’s speech at the rally.

Though Trump talked for what seemed like an eternity — the crowd cheering when he mentioned people they liked and booing when he mentioned people they didn’t like — he did not once actually mention anything about actual policy he plans to enact if he’s elected.

I take that back: he mentioned something about his idiotic “build a wall” plan to secure the Mexican border. Oh, and he mentioned that he would have a really nice, luxurious door for all of the legal immigrants to come through.

Other than that, the rest of Trump’s speech was simply him talking about how popular he is. He mentioned his reality show “The Apprentice” several times. He talked about how news outlets talked about how other candidates (such as Ben Carson) were “surging” in the polls, and even though he (Trump) was much more popular than he was, news outlets didn’t say he was “surging.”

The vast majority of the speech was eerily reminiscent of self-aggrandizing, crowd-manipulating speeches given by pro wrestlers and pro wrestling promoters. You know, where the guy would come out, talk about how cool he is, run down a few rivals (“I’m not allowed to say their names. Can I say their names?”), and get the crowd whipped up into a frenzy?

That’s what the Trump rally was. It was not a legitimate Presidential candidate telling about his plans to improve the country. It was a celebrity bragging about his own popularity. It may as well have been a WWE event, no disrespect intended to the WWE.

There was no substance whatsoever. No concrete plans for anything. Oh, and when he mentioned how those “hedge fund guys” would be paying “their fair share” if he got elected? Did you notice that he didn’t mention what “their fair share” is? Do you realize that Trump is infamous for running businesses into the ground, manipulating bankruptcy laws, and coming out financially ahead? Do you honestly think he’s going to go after the dishonest types of people who HELPED HIM STAY RICH?

Of course he isn’t. He has no intention whatsoever to punish high-level economic corruption. Trump is the poster boy for high-level economic corruption. He appeals to working-class white voters for three simple reasons: he is white, he is a loudmouth, and he is a TV star. Nothing he has done in the business world or on the reality TV circuit qualifies him to be president.

He is entertaining. He makes vague promises about making the country “better,” of making the country “strong again,” and this appeals to white, working-class voters because they are still under the horribly mistaken impression that the country has not been steadily improving since Barack Obama took office in 2009. The USA, domestically and abroad, has seen a dramatic upswing during the Obama administration. If you, the Trump supporter, do not believe me, do a Google search on the US economy. Do a Google search on job growth.

Hell, do a Google search on deportation levels. The Obama administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants over the past few years. That should appeal to any rational person who thinks illegal immigration is a problem in the USA.

Of course, if you think “a big wall” with “a luxurious door” is a solution to any problem, you’re probably not thinking rationally to begin with.

Anyways, to the Trump supporter: next time Trump gives a speech, try not to get swept up in the excitement, or whatever it is that he inspires in you. Try your hardest to see if he is giving any concrete plans about what he will do as president, or if he’s just standing in the ring with a microphone, riling the crowd up, a la Vince McMahon of the WWE.

And if this post inspires you to actually look at Trump with a critical eye, and if looking at him critically makes you figure out that you’ve been manipulated — not only by him but by the party he (ostensibly) represents — well, put your new knowledge to good use: vote Democrat.

And do not — repeat DO NOT — attend a Trump rally, run down to the podium, and whack him over the head with a folding chair. I know it’s tempting, but even though Trump is attempting to turn American politics into something akin to pro wrestling, well, just do your best to contain the urge to help him do so.