Facts is Facts

I saw an interview on one of the news channels of a corona virus denier. The man said that he didn’t really believe the virus was any worse than the flu. When the reporter countered with the fact that (at that time) there had been over one hundred fifty thousand deaths in The United States, the interviewee responded “I don’t agree with that number.” This one statement reflects the heart of the problem – facts are not opinions.

You can’t disagree with a fact, at least not if you are a rational human being. Perhaps more accurately, you can’t disagree with a fact without dire consequences. If you disagree with the fact of gravity, it will not end well for you. When presented with a fact, our job isn’t to agree or disagree, but to respond. We need to ask ourselves how we are called to respond in light of the fact. Pretending the fact doesn’t exist will only lead to foolish choices. Sadly, at this point in time we see many people making just such foolish choices and paying the price for them. Still the fact deniers continue. Maybe that’s the appeal of denying facts. Maybe you feel quite wise and powerful until you don’t, but then you’re dead so you avoid responsibility for your foolishness. That’s a steep price to pay for a few seconds of delusional certainty.

I believe that part of the reason we see so many people eager to exchange opinion for fact is that we have, as a culture, bought into the idea that we have to be perfect. That idea is fiction, nothing more. We learn from making mistakes, and nobody comes into this world immune from mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn, and to avoid them is to ensure than we learn nothing. It is uncomfortable to fail, sometimes profoundly so, but I have never had a failure that wasn’t a learning experience. Pretending that we have never failed reveals more about us that any success ever could.

Conspiracies and Monsters Under the Bed

When I was a child my brother had a toy robot that would walk a few steps, its chest would fly open, laser machine guns would pop out, and lights would start flashing as it fired at you. After about five seconds the doors would close and the cycle would begin again. It was actually a pretty neat toy, especially for the early 1970s. At night I would have nightmares that Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows lived in our basement and would send that robot toy up the steps. When it fired at me I couldn’t move, and it would walk up to me, lift up its robot arms and grab my calves, inflicting excruciating pain. For those too young to remember, Barnabas Collins was a vampire on a daytime soap opera called Dark Shadows. I’m not aware of any Barnabas Collins conspiracy theories, but if Dark Shadows was on television today I am quite sure more than a few lunatics would think he was real and determined to influence the next presidential election through voter fraud.

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins

As a younger child I believed there were monsters under the bed. My paternal grandmother always used to tell me “don’t let the bedbugs bite,” and since I had no idea what a bedbug was I was pretty sure they emerged from under the bed looking more or less like a lobster. The belief that monsters live under the bed is normal and age appropriate for healthy children, but if a person reached thirty years old and still was afraid to look under the bed that would indicate some serious issues that would require professional help. Imagination is wonderful as long as it is voluntary. If we find ourselves sliding into imagination and fantasy in an involuntary way it can become not very wonderful at all. In fact, it is one of the hallmarks of a delusional state and quite possibly serious mental illness. Imagination can be a very effective way to hide from reality, but that escape comes at a cost. When we find ourselves slipping into delusion involuntarily, we may be in deep trouble.

Over the last few decades, unscrupulous people in the media have sought to take advantage of those inclined to dwell in fantasy, whether voluntarily or not. Most of them have been discredited, but that doesn’t damage their credibility among their followers. To the paranoid, the fact that one of their icons has been discredited actually adds to their credibility. While these people believe their spokespeople are the victims, the real victims are their patsies and those who have been impacted by true tragedy and so are targeted by the Alex Joneses of the world. While to you and me these hucksters and their message are obviously false, to someone who yearns to feel wise and accepted or for whom the world as it is structured isn’t working out for them, the most outrageous nonsense seems an opportunity for them to finally know more than everyone around them. These people need the monsters under their beds to be real. While we might be tempted to reason with them, it won’t work – it will only reinforce their paranoid delusions.

I mention all this because we have a President who preys on these people as well. He is already attempting to lay doubt about the integrity of the upcoming election, despite the fact that the evidence is clear that his election was in part the result of interference from Russia. Of course, the people to whom he appeals will believe him, and won’t change their mind about him (or Sandy Hook) because he makes them feel wise and insightful. Our job isn’t to change people’s minds. That can’t be done because most people’s minds are shut. Our job is to vote anyone who would take advantage of others the way this President seeks to do out of office and to do our best to ensure people like him never find their way to public office again – no matter their party affiliation. That task is so crucial that the future of our republic depends on it.

A Post-Truth World?

Seriously? What would make us think such a thing was even possible? Who would choose a name like that, a name that implies that truth no longer exists? Of course it means that in our world today many people believe that opinion matters more than truth. I reject that notion! I reject the idea that truth can ever not matter, or matter less than opinion. What we have is narcissism run amok, including in the office of the President. What we have is propaganda passing as news, bald faced lies being presented as alternative facts, and attempts to confuse and distort in an attempt to do whatever we want to do without being held responsible for it.

If this is a post truth world, then I think those who assert that notion must be willing to put the law of gravity to the test. When I was a teenager, every now and then someone would drop acid and decide they could fly. Some of them climbed up onto the roof of their parents’ home and “flew” off. The results were predictable and swift. The next week the family would have a ramp built to the front door so that when young Orville Wright was discharged from the hospital his wheel chair could get into the house. Believing you can fly doesn’t make it so, R. Kelly.

Have you noticed how often millennials begin a sentence with “I feel…” and then go on with content we would have introduced with “I think,” “I know,” or “I believe”? Linguistically, for them, feeling is fact. Except feeling isn’t fact, it is feeling and can be influenced by any number of dubious factors. In fact, feeling doesn’t require fact at all, it’s completely subjective. After the big football game, the fans of the winning team feel happy. The fans of the losing team feel sad. Those who are fans of neither most likely don’t feel much about it at all. The fact is that one team beat another. There are not three underlying facts.

The notion of a post truth world cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged. We must have the courage, when we encounter someone who believes their opinion is equivalent to or more important that verified fact, to challenge that idea for the nonsense it is. We might assure our feeling friends that their feelings are valid and we would be happy to discuss them – while reminding them that they are not, in fact, facts. There is much reeducation to be done, and we need to start right away. We don’t want to build any more ramps.

Do Values Still Exist?

Remember values? They were those old fashioned things that gave us a somewhat consistent outline of what we would and wouldn’t do. Most people would say, for example, that killing other human beings is wrong. Other values included the idea that it was a good thing to be honest, to avoid cheating, to act with integrity, to be a reliable friend and a good parent. Most people would agree that stealing is a bad thing and that fairness is good. Sleeping with someone else’s spouse was frowned upon, even if it was a value to which we didn’t universally adhere. A man’s word was his bond, and a oral agreement was binding.

Back in the days when we had values, conservatives generally held forth against what they called relativism or situational ethics. Something that was wrong was always wrong, no matter the circumstances. Of course, that proves a rather immature ethical stance that doesn’t hold up, but they tried. You may hold that it’s wrong to go into another person’s home unless invited, but going into a burning house to save someone doesn’t require an invitation. Today those same conservatives seem to have no problem with deceit and outright lying. All you have to do is listen to a politician to know that neither conservatives nor liberals have any problem with selling the Brooklyn Bridge over and over again. What would be the consequence of acting that way in our own workplace? I suppose that depends on where you work and who your customers are.

One thing is certain. A society without values cannot survive long because a lack of values erodes trust. If we cannot trust one another we will not long be able to live in proximity to one another. In America, our society is polarized as never before, and some would counsel learning to get along no matter the cost. I disagree. It simply isn’t possible to get along with valueless, deceitful fools. What we need to do is rise above this nonsense and vote. Those of us with integrity need to reassert our influence in society and speak truth to power and deceit, reemphasizing the value of character. Nothing less will do.

Who’s the Snowflake Now?

bomb shelterBack in the good old days when I was a child, back yard fallout shelters for the soon to be arriving nuclear winter were all the rage. Those in the know and with the means had them installed and stocked them with canned goods in a kind of pre-survivalist form of denial. Everything you needed to survive, the theory went, could be stocked in your underground hideaway. The fact that it would take hundreds to thousands of years for your neighborhood to be habitable above ground apparently wasn’t of concern. You would be just fine underground, killing your neighbors who tried to access your shelter before you could seal the door. There were countless movies made during this time that played out these scenarios ad nauseum. Funny, though, I don’t remember any fallout shelters including a toilet.

This all sounds great, right? Except that if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that the snowflakeskind of person who would have a backyard bomb shelter would never make it. It was the conservatives who were hawks when it came to war that wanted the shelters, and it’s the conservatives today who are crying about their rights being restricted after weeks (not decades) of staying at home in a decidedly half-ass sort of way. It’s the conservatives who don’t want to wear a mask to protect others and feel the need to strut around with their long guns at their side, something most definitely ill advised in the middle of a nuclear winter. It’s the conservatives who dismiss science in favor of their own opinion and feel the need to reopen the economy at the cost of thousands of lives. Clearly, they would feel the need to reopen the door of their fallout shelter against scientific advice as well. After all, they know their rights.

Nature really does abhor a vacuum, even if it is between the ears of a snowflake.

Why Didn’t God…?

As someone who has been in the religion and spirituality biz for a long time now (cue the old guy jokes), I can tell you that the most frequently asked question in religion is some version of the title to this post. Why didn’t God ______________? You can fill in the blank with anything you can imagine – and people do exactly that. Why did Grandma die, why didn’t God save my puppy, why was I assaulted, why did it rain on my wedding day, why does God allow [everything we don’t like], the list goes on and on. The answers given to that question, sometimes but not always by well meaning people, are almost as numerous as the questions asked. All of them, save the one I am about to give you, are nonsense.

The reason God didn’t do what you wanted or hoped God would do is because you misunderstand the nature of God. It’s not your fault, you got your faulty images from institutional religion. Institutional religion lies to you all the time because it isn’t in the truth business. Institutional religion is in the marketing business. They want to keep you coming back for more and putting money in the collection plate. They try to get you to do that because that’s how they stay in business. Therefore, they will tell you some version of “it’s your fault.” God doesn’t rescue you because you are a sinner, or don’t have enough faith, or love the wrong people, or used to masturbate to a picture of Marie Osmond in a Tiger Beat magazine. These are all wrong answers.

The correct answer is that God doesn’t rescue us, God journeys with us. God isn’t a superhero or a helicopter parent, God is a companion. The vision of God you have been sold is defective.

I will be writing more about this in the near future, but in the meantime you might want to consider every story you ever heard from the scriptures of your religious tradition. If you do, you will find that many of them contradict the teachings of your tradition. You will come to see that institutional religion, and in some cases the authors of scripture, make their living not by telling you the truth but rather by convincing you that their version of God is better than the others. Many times they tell you that right after insisting that there is only one God – a direct contradiction to their marketing campaign. The good news is that you can learn to see for yourself, and clearly!

Compelled to Castrate

It used to be called “inclusive language,” now more and more it’s being called “genderless language.” If genderless language is anything like inclusive language, it will fast become an idol. Allow me to explain…

My first church valued inclusive language to the point where if something wasn’t written that way – even things written long before the advent of inclusive language – they couldn’t hear it and wanted to exclude it from gatherings of the church. They would alter it when they could, and all of our songs were castrated for our protection, but there were ken dolltimes it just didn’t work. If you waltz into a piece of poetry, for example, and set about changing the language to remove the penises (penii?), you change the rhyme and the meter and effectively destroy the work of the artist in service to your own ego. Genderless language, whatever else it might do, does the same thing. Becoming a proponent of it often leads one to look at every piece of writing or speech they encounter with an eye toward gender first. Since in all likelihood the writer didn’t have gender on their mind when they wrote whatever it is you are sanitizing, keeping the world safe from gender is an exercise in missing the point.

Many of us know someone who feels compelled to mention gender or sexuality in nearly every conversation. Statements like, “As a queer woman, I like green beans,” are simply nonsense, yet some people will go to rather cumbersome lengths to ensure we don’t forget their sexuality. To be completely honest, I find such practices profoundly boring. I occasionally listen to a podcast where in more episodes than not one host mentions being a queer woman, another mentions teaching theology in a university setting, and the third mentions having worked in a lay capacity for a religious order for many years. They are more or less equivalent expressions of their unmet ego needs, not all that different from insisting on genderless language. Such practices are extremely boring and obtrusive to me. Go ahead, use whatever language you care to use and find your identity wherever you need to find it. Just get on with it, already, and perhaps we can talk about something of substance!

Let’s Get Real

surrounded by assholesCan I be honest for just a minute? I am talking about being brutally honest and pulling no punches. If this corona virus has taught us anything, it has taught us that we are surrounded by ego maniacal, delusional, narcissistic assholes. There really is no other way to put it that does justice to the level of dysfunction in this country from the White House to the last hillbilly loading his weapons and heading to their Statehouse wearing a mask because they are a curious blend of bravado and cowardice.

You see, normal healthy individuals don’t just decide they don’t give a care about other coronavirus-protest-denver-colorado-getty-200420_hpMain_20200420-043502_16x9_992people’s health and lives, knowingly putting them in jeopardy. Make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what these assholes are doing. They have been presented with the evidence repeatedly yet they choose to ignore it. Healthy, psychologically intact people simply don’t do that. If you need more evidence for the large number of narcissists among us, just look at the ratings of Fox News. Despite encouraging their own employees to do the right things – social distance, stay at home if they are sick, frequent hand washing – their personality-less personalities go on the air and preach the exact opposite. Significantly, their narcissistic audience responds in an overwhelmingly positive fashion. Why? Well, because they are narcissists for whom facts don’t apply. They are people who honestly believe that whatever little nonsense bangs around their twisted narcissistbrains is more reliable than science, more reliable than fact. My question is, if they are so sure they are right then why are they wearing masks? Shouldn’t they be proud, bravely showing their faces? Surely they can’t be covering their faces because of the virus, because the virus isn’t anything to worry about, right? So what is the issue?

Some well meaning but blissfully ignorant people tell us we need to heal the political divide in America. They say we can’t go on with the status quo, but anyone who was raised by a narcissist or married to one knows that they aren’t interested in coming to an understanding but rather expect the world to see the brilliance of their bullshit and fall in line. Much like trying to debate a drunk, trying to reconcile with a narcissist is a fool’s errand. Absent extensive psychological intervention, they aren’t going to be able to change, much less be interested in changing. Instead of trying to rope the wind, what those of us who have contact with reality need to do is mobilize. We need to mobilize to get out the vote, mobilize to pressure our elected officials to make responsible decisions rather than pander to narcissists, and actively protests those individuals and companies that do not comply. It is the only way we will ever see change.

 

Becoming Well Informed

Irony of ironies, now that I have more time for social media, I find that I struggle to tolerate it. With people having more time to post, and posting a lot about the current pandemic, their ignorance is coming to the fore. I find this to be especially true about geekmillennials, and it has nothing to do with their intelligence. Whether they are smart as a whip or dumb as a box of rocks, it seems they have little idea of how to think critically. Added to their tendency to isolate from the news cycle, what we are left with is a recipe for disaster.

At least in part, it’s not their fault. Our educational system has become obsessed with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The reason is that corporations say they need more people in these fields, and I believe them. However, in true American fashion, we have exercised little moderation in this effort and so tended to cut what we in the old days would have called a solid liberal arts foundation from our education. This is true not only at the university level, but also in primary and secondary education. We teach to the test, restrict our curricula to so-called common core materials, and teach to the test. To be quite clear, this is the fault not of teachers but of school boards and administrators across the country. What we are left with is technological social misfits who lack common sense.

One result of this is that news is boring, somehow less than important, as so we pay little attention to it. When we do pay attention to it, we don’t go in depth because we don’t find it very important, and so we are easy prey for the misleading headline. When our friends say something it carries as much weight as the New York Times. We “hear” things and pass them along as fact, revealing our ignorance with startling starkness. We don’t stop to think about the impact of passing along what we have “heard” or questionable memes on our friends, as I witnessed on one person’s Facebook page when he passed along a conspiracy meme that was critical of healthcare workers in the corona virus struggle, suggesting they never get sick and so it’s not real. Of course neither assertion is true. He handsome-man-reading-newspaper-street_23-2147694649never considered that one of his friends is a Registered Nurse on the front lines of the battle.

The biggest problem in all of this may well be that it cannot be corrected overnight. You can’t just pick up tomorrow’s paper and become well informed. It takes time, and it takes practice. It starts with learning the difference between credible sources and propaganda mills. It continues with implementing a healthy skepticism to everything you hear or read, taking care to look at the source from which it came. This is important because if you aren’t well informed you can’t be a responsible citizen. You simply cannot go to the polls and cast a vote in your own self-interest if you lack the ability to discern which candidate represents that self-interest. This doesn’t take hours each day. Ten minutes a day reading news from a solid source, or listening to it, is a good start. It takes work, and you have to commit to it, but if you care anything about your life and the lives of the next generation, it isn’t optional. In fact, I can guarantee you will feel better about yourself.

Fools Driving Disaster

20200323_104650Our nation is being led by a bunch of fools who value their wealth over your life. Let that sink in for a minute. Profits motivate more than science, lies more that facts, hallucination more than reality. Ego rules the day, bluster is valued more than fact, and the very party that prattles on about states’ rights when it is convenient to them are not making noises, along with Faux News a.k.a. State TV, that they the cure may be worse than the disease and shut downs may well have to end after two weeks.

The truth is that an overwhelmed medical system and a skyrocketing absentee rate due to illness will cripple the economy as surely as anything else. We can allow businesses to reopen, but if there aren’t enough healthy people to work they will simply close again in a month- likely for much longer as they struggle to replace workers who will not return. Even for those with microscopic attention spans, limited ability to understand things that cannot be seen, and profound struggles with math, the impact of a forty percent or trumpangryhigher absentee rate is something that people should be able to comprehend – especially if they are wonderful, successful, terrific businessmen.

What we have is a President who was elected by greedy people. For him and his ilk, greed is God, and their primary concern is enriching themselves. Their secondary concern is accumulating power to serve the first concern. Perhaps ironically, many of these people lack the intelligence to stop playing on the railroad tracks, even as the train of pandemic is honking its horn trying to get them to move. We all know how that story ends.