The LEGO Movie: How To Build A Bridge

My last post got me thinking about why I liked The LEGO Movie so much, and it occurred to me that along with the more cliche tripe the movie spouted (The Wise Child, Everyone Is Special)* there was a more subtle point that was made, which really is a good thing for children to learn, and a wise thing even for adults to consider.

In what might be considered the turning point of the film, Emmet, our putative hero, is disrespected by everyone on his own side. He doesn’t have the talents and skills they do to build whatever he imagines. If it weren’t for the prophecy, they wouldn’t even let him near them.

But then Emmet does a fascinating thing. Without ever conceding the rightness of their cause (freeing LEGOland from the tyranny and perfectionism of the evil Lord Business and stopping his plan to Krazy Glue all the sets in place), Emmet points out the inherent weaknesses of the Master Builders: Firstly, they are all such individualists that they cannot formulate and stick to a coherent plan of action as a group. Secondly, they are so dedicated to looking iconic, all their activities are easily tracked and recognized.

The strengths of Lord Business’s robot collective follow from that: he doesn’t need to rely on Master Builders (admittedly, that’s partly because he imprisons and mind-controls them) to be powerful: the instructions allow even people like Emmet to be part of building awesome things. Moreover, he can get things done consistently.

And Emmet then proceeds to use the lessons he learned following instructions to sneak through Lord Business’s security and harness the Master Builders together as an effective team. He acknowledges the strengths of his opponent, and uses them.

It is a valuable lesson to teach our children that opposing someone does not mean denying that they possess any worthwhile attributes. We must teach them that any person, any system, including themselves and including systems that they must defend to the death — like a representative democratic republic, just to name one — has its own strengths and weaknesses to be celebrated and compensated for. They have their admirable qualities, and their despicable qualities. This is a lesson for adults to bear in mind as well. Obviously, it would be a terrible thing if, within our own nation, we descended into such distrust and antipathy for one another that we started treating one another as vermin to be destroyed (ahem!)

I could go on, but I feel that my readers are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions from here. He that hath an ear, and all.

*Although given the comments about “stuff you might find on cat posters” it’s a safe bet the writers knew exactly how cheesy they were being, and were more than willing to poke fun at their own theme.

The Politics Of The Future

This may be a dangerous post to write, but what the hell.

The old saying goes that you shouldn’t talk politics or religion on mixed company. Of course, lots of science-fiction deals with politics and religion, but most of the time, they are utopias or dystopias that extol the virtues or expose the dangers of whatever systems the author feels like dealing with. And so the political systems of the future are full of Empires, as in The Mote In God’s Eye, or Star Wars. For democratic socialists we have Star Trek‘s Federation, and for libertarians we have Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold.

Historically, though, we see that “new” political systems tend to be 1) surprising and 2) not all that new. The two examples in recent history that have achieved success in spreading throughout the world may be worth looking at, here, which are the American-style constitutional republic and the Soviet-style one-party socialist state.

It’s worth remembering that in 1787, there were no functioning large republics or democracies in the world. It was widely believed that such a thing could not work. And yet not only did the American system thrive, its Enlightenment ideals spread through the European states, encouraging their liberalization over the next centuries into functioning republics themselves.

In 1917, the chaos of World War I led to the Soviets seizing control of the Russian Empire. While this system did not thrive in the same way, it certainly spread, and resentment against imperialism and colonialism and the inequalities found in capitalism ensures that it continues to have its supporters despite its disastrous legacy of approximately 100 million directly killed.

Of course, it’s quite possible to argue that neither of these things are precisely “new” forms of government (and that communism isn’t a government, but an economic system, which is both true and stupid, since it’s an economic system that necessitates and advocates a certain style of government), but if that’s the case we might as well go all the way and cite the Iron Law Of Oligarchy: All governments inevitably devolve into oligarchy. But that ends the discussion I’m interested in, which is this:

Is there any room for, and are we capable of imagining, a truly future system of government, one that has never been attempted, or has been attempted only on a very small scale? Honestly, there are only two examples I can think of, one of which has become cliche and the other that’s unclear. In the first, we have Government By Computer. This is almost always a dystopia, as the idea of being ruled by a hypercapable God-machine is rather frightening on its face. The other is Dan Simmons’s hyperdemocratic All Thing in his Hyperion novels, in which there is a fairly direct democracy mediated by the equivalent of the Web. However, this government does elect an Executive that runs humans space, so it’s not really as direct a democracy as all that.

Edited To Add: I can’t believe I forgot to include Ursula LeGuin’s excellent The Dispossessed, which is unique for me in that it a) imagines a form of anarcho-socialism that I actually find semi-plausible, and b) admits to flaws in such a society that significantly hurt the protagonist without being c) dystopian socialism. 

I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this, as well as being directed to any works that explore this that I’m not conscious of.

I Have No Enemies…

There’s an old story about Josef Stalin that alleges that the Communist leader and mass murderer called for a priest on his deathbed. Seeing as Stalin had been a terror to the Church, the priest tasked with this duty was frightened, but determined to tell the truth. In a shaking voice, he told Stalin that he must forgive his enemies. To his surprise, the dictator smiled and said, “That will be quite unnecessary, Father. I have no enemies.” Finding this impossible to believe, the priest summoned his courage and asked how that was possible. Stalin replied, “I’ve had them all executed.”

I watched the James Bond film, SPECTRE last night. It was pretty much a uniformly awful movie, with a predictable plot and nothing in it that hasn’t been done before and better by earlier Bond movies, notably the superb From Russia With Love, which the screenwriter had obviously seen approximately 472 times, but had failed to understand.

One of the worst features of the film was its depressing predictability: James comes home to find that “C,” a new politician, is considering dropping the 00 program entirely in favor of electronic assets. It is clear within 5 minutes of his appearance that C is either the ultimate bad guy of the film, or in direct cahoots with him, and C is indeed unmasked as a traitor in the service of Blofeld (whose motivation was apparently to dominate the world because he was jealous that he had to share a few hours of his daddy’s attention with James when they were both teenagers, which makes him the most ridiculous temper-tantrum thrower of a world-dominating villain since Anakin Skywalker in Episode II, but I digress).

The reason I bring it up is because it really highlights the feature of what seems like a lot of movies these days: anyone troubling the hero must be the worst villain imaginable. It seems as if it is no longer possible for the hero to be saddled with someone who is (even temporarily) perhaps an asshole, but on the same side. For C to consider dismantling the 00 program, he does not have to be a traitor. He can still be a problem James has to solve, of course. In fact, he’s a much more challenging problem if he is loyal, because then James can’t simply kill him.

Movies weren’t always this way. As recently as Pirates of the Caribbean it was perfectly possible for the heroes to have opponents, such as, Captain Norrington, who are kind of assholes and who have to be circumvented, but who are, when it comes down to it, on the same side against the pirate-zombies and who are reasonably brave and not traitors.

One of the most extreme examples of the decline in this sort of thing is the mockumentary CSA: The Confederate States of America. A much better film than SPECTRE, it imagines a Ken Burns-style alternate history in which the United States was defeated and wholly assimilated into the Confederate States in a short Civil War, after which slavery was legal up to the present day. That this is a dystopia is obvious, but the screenwriters take it to such extremes as to imagine the United States being sympathetic to Hitler in the 1930s while at the same time going to war with Japan in the 1940s. How this bit of political gymnastics works out is never explained. The film even goes so far as to have the Confederate States sneak attack the Imperial Japanese Navy in Tokyo Bay on December 7th, 1941.

You can see what they have done here: the Confederate States of 1941 must not only be evil, (as, granted, they surely would have been), they must be so evil that they cannot experience the injustice of a sneak attack themselves. They are literally incapable of being wronged. If the Japanese had launched the war as they did historically, and bombed a Confederate fleet at Pearl Harbor, then we might, horror of horrors, be forced to imagine that something even worse than a Confederacy might exist. Like people who might, say, perpetrate the Rape of Nanking, which of course, the Japanese did.

I see in these films a symptom of something I find to be ugly and dangerous. The idea that being challenged in our preconceptions and beliefs about what is best (or worst) is equivalent to an attack that must be met with lethal force and no shred of mercy. And that is indeed frightening.

From Somewhere In Orbit

A Report on the Curious Culture and Religion of the Acirema

As we approach the anniversary of a certain election, I have chosen another column to reprint.

A Report on the Curious Culture and Religion of the Acirema

by

An Alien Visitor

As told to

G. Scott Huggins

Dear Sirs, Mesdames, Glooquot[1],and  Mechaniqa[2]:

I submit herewith my xenological report on the most curious culture to inhabit planet 73SXB1089, called in the major local language, Dirt. The most powerful economic and military culture on the planet is that of the Acirema, who have evolved a religio-political system that I believe to be unprecedented in the known galaxy.

The institution of the God-King is, of course, well documented and known to us all, the hallmark of a thousand primitive cultures. What sets the Acirema apart is their particular variant upon this theme: in their common religion, the central ceremony is the election, every four years, of a God-President. This is a very complicated process, and affects every aspect of Acirema life. The Acirema religion is atypical in many ways, the chief being: 1) The religion has aspects of both monism and dualism. 2) The religion relies on both faith and magic. 3) They deny that they share the same religion. 4) They deny that it is a religion at all.

Overview:

The Acirema overwhelmingly belong to one of two sects. They have many names among themselves, and among each other, both self-glorifying (for their own sect) and pejorative (for the other). However, the two names that seem to be most in use are the Tarcomed and the Pog. The two sects claim to be as different from one another as possible, but for at least the past few decades their actions have grown more and more indistinguishable, to the point that only experts can tell them apart. The two sects themselves, however, vehemently deny this, so it is instructive to look at the major similarities.

Dualism:

Both sides, every four Dirt years, throw all of the efforts of their disciples into electing the next God-President, which is always one of two Chosen Prophets, one from each sect. Yet both sides have agreed that no God-President shall be elected more than twice, regardless of how well he performs the office. It is an article of faith that this would lead to corruption, as if eight years were not long enough a time to be corrupted. The disciples preach to the masses, who are at least nominal followers of the sects themselves, in order to encourage them to participate in the voting ceremony. The devotion of the masses does lie in some doubt, as it has been many years, if ever, that even half have participated in the actual ceremony. Yet even those who decline to participate in the ceremony itself (which is surprisingly prosaic and unmystical, being simply a matter of counting votes and then multiplying them by a formula based on place of habitation) devote quite a bit of time to watching and listening to the disciples, and chanting formulas in support or dissent of the two sects’ Chosen Prophets. Each side is certain that only their Chosen Prophet, as God-President, can save Acirema from poverty, war, corruption, and tyranny, while the election of the other Chosen Prophet will bring about all these things. So in this sense, the religion is dualistic, with the true believers of each sect certain that the other’s Chosen Prophet will be a God-President of Evil and Darkness.

Monism:

However, once in office, the current God-President is praised (by the disciples of his own sect) for all good things that may happen within the realm of Acirema, while he is universally reviled (by the disciples of the other sect) for all possible bad things. Even those who claim to follow neither sect generally attribute the good or the bad to the decisions and the character of the God-President, whoever he may be. In this sense, therefore, the religion of the Acirema is monistic, as everything that takes place is an aspect of his rule. The chief priests, who go about instilling this belief in the worshippers, are called the “media,” not because they mediate between the people and their God-President, but because they are the only mediators of His decisions and statements to them.

Faith and Magic:

It would be natural to assume that the Acirema might fear and revere their God-President’s power simply because it is vast and unlimited like that of any tyrant, but a short review of their Law (which is indeed fairly well-enforced, though not commonly well-understood or thoroughly read) reveals that this is not so, and that the power attributed to him is entirely based on superstition and faith. The best example of such faith is the miraculous control that they attribute to the God-President over the economy. Yet a cursory review of their Law will show that the God-President has very little power over their sprawling economy, not even the power to make laws. That power is vested in a temple which, every two years they fill with what appears to be a college of wizards (also divided into Tarcomed and Pog sects), who try to influence the economy by what I can only describe as legislemancy: a series of written spells designed to make those who have elected them richer, and those who support their opponents poorer. The spells are so arcane that even many of the wizards no longer know their contents, let alone their eventual consequences. The practice does have this advantage for them, however: since no consequence of the legislemancy can ever be known for sure, there is no effect that cannot be successfully claimed as a triumph for one sect or the other. It is therefore understandable (and one of the last remaining signs of sanity in Acirema culture) that the people’s distrust of these wizards is such that the Acirema have given their temple a name that can mean both the opposite of progress and indiscriminate sexual intercourse (proving that for all their other faults, the Acirema are skilled wordsmiths and ironists). In recent years, the sectarian wizardry has grown more and more oppositional, and the result, of course is that very little gets accomplished. This seems to have been designed into the system by the authors of the Law, who were quite obviously wiser than the current Acirema. This congress, as they call it, however, serves only to reinforce their faith in the power of the God-President.

Identity of Practice:

Both sects have therefore given to the God-President more and more power, seemingly unaware of the fact that the power they give to the God-President that they support carries over to the one they oppose. Both sects encourage their God-President to fight the other sect to the uttermost, both beseech him to wield the full force of the Law without mercy over the other sect, and both call upon him to see that he extends the force of the Law and his powers of government so that more and more of their money will be taken and spent by the government.  So in this way, we may see that the religion they practice is truly the same.

Denial of Faith:

One must be careful, however, when traveling among them, never to refer to their religion as such, for both sects will violently deny that it is a religion at all. While much variance on the matter exists within each sect, the Tarcomed are most likely to deny that such a thing as God exists, which may account for their devotion to (or hatred for) the current God-President, as they have no other deity in which to repose their trust. However, even more curious are the Pog, who generally profess to worship another, and far older god. A review of the local literature revealed that this alleged god supposedly came to Earth as a man, and preached love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all of which are markedly absent from Acirema religious debate, aside from the fact that both sects do claim to possess these qualities, while believing their opponents lack them entirely. However, as neither the Pog nor the Tarcomed spend even a quarter of the time discussing or practicing the tenets of this minor “religion” as they do their major one, we may safely discount this quaint folkway as having any real effect upon their actions or beliefs.

Conclusion:

The Acirema are, for now, in a very strange and possibly dangerous religious phase of their culture. There is some evidence that in the past, a saner approach to politics, and we may assume, religion, took place, in which the Acirema recognized that policies rather than superstition and sectarian purity were more likely to affect their economic and diplomatic fortunes, but few, if any of that generation survive today, and since age is not well-respected among the Acirema, any testimony from them can be dismissed as “reactionary” and “out-of-touch.” We may only hope that their children may be as much wiser than the current Acirema as their ancestors were, and hope for more fruitful contact at a later time.

[1] Untranslatable gender

[2] Intelligent machines

One Last Hopeless Plea: The College

Dear Electors:

Well, here you are. You have the chance, some of you, the ones who live in states where your faithlessness will matter, to change the outcome of this election. To take it away from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and boot it to the House of Representatives, where perhaps someone more qualified might be considered. And you, by casting your electoral vote for someone other than either of these two horrendous choices, you can allow the House to consider that person for President.

Much has been made of the idea that the Electoral College violates the will of the people. It of course does no such damn thing. It is meant, as Hamilton wrote in Federalist 39, to make certain that the election of the President is determined both by the people AND by the states, so that the President is chosen both Nationally and Federally (and if you don’t grasp this distinction and why it matters, please don’t bother commenting).

But of course, as stated in Federalist 68, the function of the College is also to prevent “foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”

It’s rather plain that Russia has done this. Oh, not that Trump is a willing puppet in their pay, as such, but certainly he is their candidate of choice. I can only ask if we really feel that it is prudent to elect a man that Russia so ardently desires to see in the Oval Office? You are the safeguard against that:

“But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. … Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias.”

That’s YOU!

And if we must discuss the will of the people, I would point out that the primary election proved that neither Trump nor Clinton is the choice of the people of Kansas (where I live). That would be Sanders and Cruz. And Kansas electors are NOT BOUND by the state to vote for anyone but who they think is the best choice. So, Kansas Republicans, why NOT vote for Ted Cruz. I mean, what have you got to lose? It’s not as though the Republican-controlled House is going to elect Clinton, right? If you vote for Cruz and DON’T throw it to the House, we get Trump. And that’s almost certainly what’s going to happen. Never in history have rogue electors decided an election. But then again, never in history have we elected a man as unqualified as Donald Trump. But hey, at least you won’t have been to blame for him. But if enough of you go rogue then maybe — MAYBE — we get Cruz. Or Kasich. Who for all their faults are at least semi-sane.

Come on, Kansas. And all you other good Republicans and Conservatives out there. Let’s make history  in a good way.

From Somewhere In Orbit

Fear Itself: Why I Wear The Safety Pin. A Promise.

When Franklin Roosevelt said that the people of the United States had nothing to fear but fear itself, he was speaking of the fear of failure that had locked the United States into the Great Depression. Because people were afraid that all businesses would fail, they would invest no money, and without investors, no businesses could succeed.

Today, in the wake of last month’s election, we have many fearful people. Truth be told, we had many fearful people before the results of the election. The fear has not changed, for the most part. But the quality of the fear, and how it is being expressed, has changed immeasurably.

I was wrong about the way this election would turn out. The only consolation I have about that is that I was in very good company. But the reasons for my error are a topic for another time. It is apparent to me, and, I think, to many others, that one of the reasons the election played out as it did was the fear that permeates our society: the fear that caused us to be so very nearly evenly divided, and the fear that caused us to back two such hugely unpopular candidates.

It is my belief that this election turned out the way it did for two closely related reasons: that many people are afraid, and that we do not care that other people are afraid. I cannot tell you how many of my friends who chose to support Donald Trump did so because they believed that the government of the past eight years has actively scorned their fears.  And they were told by supporters of that government that if they were afraid, it was because they were stupid or because they deserved it. And now those people voted for Donald Trump, and the result is that we have a whole other set of people who are afraid of what will happen to them. And already I am hearing Trump supporters, and others, disparage those fears, as if they are not worth having. I greatly sympathize with the people who do have those fears, because as I said before the election, Donald Trump has said things that, I believe, any person who cares for Constitutional government should be afraid of.

Now, I think it is plain that many of these people have already experienced cause to be afraid. My friend, Jim Hines, wrote an eloquent request to those of you who chose to support Donald Trump in this election. I think it is well worth reading. There are many people out there who have been emboldened by this man to do and say terrible things. I can add some. On election day, a friend of mine, who is black, had his tires slashed while he voted. I don’t know if that was politically or racially motivated (he himself did not say), but if I were him, I would think so. At church two weeks ago, a friend told me that his adopted cousin, from Colombia, who has been a citizen since childhood, was told by no less than four people this week that she could “go home now.”

This angers me beyond my capacity to express. The Republican Party was the party that freed slaves. It was the party of Abraham Lincoln. If conservatives stand for anything good in this nation, and we had damn well better, it means that we stand up for the rule of law. It means that we stand up for the rights of our citizens. It means that we protect them from anyone who would dare to harass them based on their religion, their skin color, their ethnicity, or their expressed political views. Conservatives follow and uphold the laws. We do not break them, and we do not support, by action or inaction, those who would break the law because they are on our “side.” Such an attitude is the betrayal and antithesis of ethical conservative  principles.

I did not support Donald Trump in this election. If I have not made that plain over the past few months, I do not know how to make it plainer. I did not vote for him. I do hope, desperately, that I am wrong about the kind of President he will be. Nothing would make me happier, in four years, if I could say here, on this blog, “I was wrong. Donald Trump was a wise and just President, and I am happy to cast my vote for him in the 2020 election.” I didn’t think Hillary Clinton would make a good President. Had she been elected, I would be saying the same thing about her.

Nevertheless, I am a conservative. And because I am, I am less likely to feel the negative effects of this election personally than my fellow-citizens of other races, genders, religions and orientations. And it is vital that we stand up for them. It is vital that we stand up and say: “You are Americans. You have God-given rights, enumerated in our Constitution, and we will defend you from all of those who would seek to violate those rights.” We absolutely must do this, for two reasons: Firstly, it is the right and moral thing to do. If you supported Trump, do you remember how it felt, just weeks ago, when certain Clinton supporters called you evil and breezily expressed their hopes that a liberal Supreme Court would make you suffer simply for voicing your beliefs? Liberals are afraid that a conservative Supreme Court will do the same, and much more, to them. They are afraid that they will be rounded up and imprisoned based on their religious beliefs or their sexual preferences.
If you’re happy that what you feared won’t come to pass, that’s natural: no one sane should blame you. But if you’re glad that they are afraid? God help us all. Because we can’t have society, let alone government, when half the nation is scared to death of the other half. Secondly, if you fail to protect the opposition when you are in power, you are just asking to be shown no mercy when they are in power. And they will be in power again. Not in 2016, and maybe not in 2020. but someday. There is no permanent conservative majority, here. The liberals made the mistake of thinking history was on their side: that was one of the reasons they lost. Conservative Trump-supporters had better not make the same mistake!

We will never move away from this terrible election until our nation learns to reject fear. And we can never reject fear if we refuse to take each other’s fears seriously. And this is the moment for conservatives to do this, because we are in power (or at least people THINK we are, which is the only thing worse than actually BEING in power). Because the Trump voting was largely motivated by fear, this is the time for conservative Americans to stand up for something better. We must stand, at all costs, for protecting our fellow Americans. And that is why I will wear a safety pin. It says, specifically to those who fear, that I will stand for their safety against any who would harm them. No, it’s not much. No, it doesn’t make me a wonderful person; I don’t expect any damned applause for it; it’s the least I can do. It is only the beginning of all I am willing to do.

The limits of what I am willing to do, I can’t know. I don’t think anyone knows until they are tested. But for now, please understand that I am willing to do what I can to help you feel safe. If you need my expertise on history and politics, I will share it. If you need to tell someone you are afraid, I will listen. If you need help because someone is threatening you or violating your rights, please call on me and I will do whatever I can. Whatever you need me to, to the limits of my ability.

I do not think that now is the time to panic and leave the country. If I did, I would be making arrangements to move, right now. I do think that it is time to be watching our government very closely. I do not think that we are about to go down one of history’s darkest roads, but I think we are closer to that than we have yet been, and it concerns me deeply. So know this: no one takes my fellow Americans off to prison or throws them out of the country in violation of the Constitution without getting past me and my family. That’s what this country is about. If it should come to that, we will shelter you, we will hide you, and we will shield you. To this we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. We would consider it, as Corrie ten Boom’s father once said in WWII Holland, “the greatest honor that could come to our family” if we were to lay down our lives for you. And I believe the vast majority of my fellow conservatives are with me on that point.

Fortunately, such extremes as concentration camps are not yet happening. I hope they will not happen and will do whatever I can to prevent them from happening. But what concerns me more immediately is the disdain I see from some conservatives about even expressing concern for those who are frightened. Tell me: since when did not giving a shit about people become a conservative value? I mean, I get that a lot of conservatives are tired of being undeservedly called bigoted racist misogynists (I sure am), but surely the answer isn’t to BE all those things? Even if it were not morally wrong (which we know it is), it’s not in our interest. Andrew Carnegie said that keeping people loyal to capitalism required providing “ladders on which the aspiring can rise.” And if Donald Trump’s election shows us anything, it’s that WE NEED MORE DAMNED LADDERS! How on Earth can we conservatives surrender concern for people to the left, as “their” issue? Friends, that’s as stupid as when the left decided that “patriotism” was somehow a thing that right-wingers did. I’m unbelievably frustrated by this idea that caring about people makes us wimps. It’s what would make us worth voting for, dammit!

Bobby Jindal once said that the Republican Party had to “stop being the stupid party.” Whatever you think of him, he was right to say that. And conservatives have to stop being the party of not caring what people are afraid of. It stops here. It stops with me.

Call on me, Somewhere In Orbit.

To My Fellow Evangelicals, A Last Plea Against Trumpery.

I am writing this, my last political message before the election, to my fellow evangelicals. I do not believe there will be much of value in it to any non-Christian readers, unless you wish to see a dialogue between Christians. Here I am going to lay out my reasons that I believe that no Evangelical Christian (indeed, any Christian) should cast a vote for Donald Trump. I will also answer some common objections to these reasons.

Firstly, I would like to point out that Donald Trump has, throughout his life and public appearance, acted in a manner that is utterly opposed to Christian values. He has treated his employees and those he has contracted with abominably, cheating them of what was agreed to. He has lied about his own words. He has remained ignorant of the Constitution and its tenets. He has degraded people in public, both specifically and generally: he has insulted and quite possibly assaulted women, Black Americans and Mexican-Americans. It is terrible that he should say these things while claiming to be a Christian. It is equally terrible that he should become a Christian and not seek forgiveness for this behavior and take steps to repent of it.

Secondly and moreover, by acting this way, Donald Trump has become a caricature of what many non-Christians, both in the United States and in the world, see in the Evangelical Christian culture. We are accused of being centered on white, middle-class American culture rather than on Christ. We are accused of not caring for the poor, and not caring about the abuse of women. If we embrace and vote for this man, it will be a damning and convincing proof to a generation who are already more than half-convinced that we care more about our middle-class comfort and our political icons than we care about Jesus Christ and about our fellow man. More importantly, he becomes our witness to the world as the kind of politician we support.

And I will point out that those who claim that Donald Trump is anointed by God to lead us are resting on an unscriptural and unhistorical interpretation of the Bible. While it is certainly Biblical that God can (and has) used flawed, and even unbelieving people as his leaders, no prophet has anointed Donald Trump, and their claim has absolutely no basis in fact. It would be far more relevant in this case to remember the many examples in Scripture of God punishing those who did believe in Him, but nevertheless broke his commandments. They were not blessed for performing empty rituals before God. But Micah said (4:8), “He has shown thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: but to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” The Trump who violates contracts does not love justice. The Trump who threatens to sue his accusers (even suing false accusers would be wrong, but these are almost certainly telling the truth) does not love mercy, and the Trump who will not admit that he needs forgiveness is not walking humbly with his God.

The only reason left to vote for Donald Trump would seem to be that he could hurt Hillary Clinton. But can he?  I would like to point out that according to any reputable poll, Donald Trump cannot win this election. In order to do so, he would have to take almost every state that is even close to voting for him. These polls have not been wrong in recent memory, and it is unwise to suggest that they are wrong now. Therefore, I suggest that all the arguments for voting for Donald Trump that imply that he is the only candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton are invalid. He cannot defeat Hillary Clinton. True, he will come closer to defeating her than any other candidate, but that doesn’t matter. If you are jumping a 15-foot cliff, it matters not at all whether you jump two feet or twelve feet. You will not make it to the other side. Donald Trump will not be President.

Now someone might respond to this argument and say, “That is only true because of people like you who are voting third party. You should trust God to do a miracle and vote for Trump!” That’s a false objection for three reasons: Firstly, national polls suggest that Hillary already has a majority of voters behind her. Secondly, if that is true about Donald Trump, it is true for all the other candidates. Those who vote for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin are under no obligation to change their votes simply because Trump voters will not change theirs. If defeating Hillary Clinton is indeed the goal, Trump voters can do that as well, and achieve the same goal. And if the issue is trusting in the power of God to do miracles, then He can do them whether I vote for Donald Trump or not. He could elevate anyone to the Presidency, including myself. And if we want God to do a miracle, wouldn’t it behoove us to vote for a man whose heart is closer to God’s than Donald Trump’s?

If it is true that Trump cannot win by our efforts, then the only thing left to ask ourselves is, “what sort of person do we want to stand behind? How can we attest to the character of Christ by our vote?” We must act both as wisely as we can, and we must act as morally as we can. And while there may be those who say, “it is a wise strategy to vote for Donald Trump so that we can show the nation that Hillary Clinton is opposed by a united front,”  I would point out that strategy cannot be our idol. Our Lord said that we were to be “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” And Donald Trump is anything but harmless. And there are strategies that do not involve winning this election. Frankly, even if Trump COULD win this election, voting for him would be bad strategy: It would alienate further those we are commanded to win for Christ. It would be impossible for us to get rid of him in four years (whereas we may very likely rid ourselves of Clinton in four). And it would put the blame for electing a bad President directly on our own heads. If we must HAVE a bad President, at least let it not be our fault!

The strategy that we must want, as Christians, above all else, it seems to me, is not to find ourselves back here in four years. Not to once again have to choose between two evils, one who claims to support us while spitting on our values, and the other who openly boasts of wanting to change our values to her own. And in all US history, there is only one way we have seen to do that, and that is for a third party to win states. It happened in 1892, 1912, 1948, and 1968. And each time, one of the major parties underwent a great character change, absorbing the values of the third party. An there is only one candidate that is capable of winning a state: Evan McMullin is quite likely to win the state of Utah. Therefore, I suggest it would be wise to vote for Evan McMullin.

Now some might say that while it is wise to vote for McMullin, is it really Biblical to support a Mormon? Well, first of all, if you’re considering voting for Trump, I’m guessing you likely voted for Romney, in which case, you have already crossed that particular bridge. Second of all, Mormon beliefs, while we consider them to be scripturally and theologically unsound, are not much ethically different from our own. But judge for yourself: McMullin’s positions are here. And finally, who is our neighbor? Have we forgotten the good Samaritan? He was, by Jewish lights, a heretic, and yet his acts made him a neighbor to the wounded Jew. Surely Evan McMullin, who shares most of our beliefs, and could make our issues heard again, is not unworthy of our respect.

Friends, I am not the only Evangelical who is speaking out against Donald Trump others have said it better than I. Join us. Vote against this man who is poised to do us such damage. Stand up against him: he is far more damaging to our witness than anyone else in this election could ever be.

A Plea to Conservatives On Behalf of Evan McMullin

I am writing this, my last series of political messages before the election, to my fellow conservatives. There will be little in it of value to liberals, except, I hope, a useful insight on how some conservatives think.

Over the past year, I have listened to a number of arguments for voting for Donald Trump. None of them have convinced me, and I remain adamant that conservatives should NOT vote for Donald Trump. I am going to attempt to answer those arguments here. The arguments may be summed up as follows: that we must vote for Donald Trump because he is a conservative. But he is not. The National Review says so.That we must vote for Donald Trump because he shares our values. But he does not. That we must vote for Donald Trump because he is the only candidate that can defeat Hillary Clinton, whom we cannot afford to allow to become President.

Now many of my readers at this point are doubtless thinking that as much as they agree with me, they cannot afford to have Hillary Clinton win the next election. They feel compelled to vote for Donald Trump because he is the best chance of stopping her. And they are both right and wrong. Certainly, Donald Trump will get the second-highest number of votes (both popular and electoral) in this election. But all reputable polls indicate that Hillary Clinton has already won. It is not even close.  Therefore, I suggest that the argument for voting for Donald Trump because he is the only candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton is invalid. He cannot defeat her. True, he will come closer to defeating her than any other candidate, but that doesn’t matter. If you are jumping a 15-foot cliff, it matters not at all whether you jump two feet or twelve feet. You will not make it to the other side. Donald Trump will not be President.

This leaves us with only two questions: How do we want to display our character, as Conservatives, to the nation? And what should our strategy be?

On the character issue, voting for Donald Trump is, quite frankly, playing into the hands of the radical Left. He has become a liberal caricature of what conservatives are “supposed” to be. He has advocated racism, religious tests, limiting the freedom of the press in defiance of the Constitution, in suggesting that assaulting women is fun, dishonoring gold star families, in hinting that riots and assassination are legitimate political tactics. Have we forgotten who we are? We are conservatives! We who vote Republican vote for the party of Lincoln, the party of the 13th Amendment, the party of honorable service and courage in the face of those who would seek to intimidate the weak! We do not engage in tactics that are beneath us! And if we seek to win at ANY cost, no matter how base, no matter how violent, then we are not worthy to lead the United States of America. No, not even at the cost of a Clinton victory. It would surely be better to lose to the enemy than to become the enemy ourselves. Once our nation allied with Stalin. Do we remember the consequences? Republicans should remember the results of that Democratic bargain better than any! We should not and cannot tolerate Donald Trump’s subversion of our character, and if we vote for him, we are complicit in that subversion.

On the strategic side, the truth is harder to swallow. Many Republican voters, in their rush to embrace a candidate because of what he was not (an “insider” that they distrust because of Republican failure to bring them economic prosperity or victory in the culture war) failed to realize that he WAS in fact inexperienced in government and used to operating in a business environment where his money mattered more than his appeal to large numbers of people. This played into the Democrats’ hands and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Frankly, even if Trump COULD win this election, voting for him would be bad strategy: It would alienate the minorities we MUST win to our cause. It would be impossible for us to get rid of him in four years (whereas we may very likely rid ourselves of Clinton in four). And it would put the blame for electing a bad President directly on our own heads. If we must HAVE a bad President, at least let it not be our fault! This election is lost, and conservatives are not getting it back. So we are left with taking the long view.

The strategy that we must want above all else, is not to find ourselves back here in four years. We need to fundamentally change the Republican and Democratic Parties. And in all US history, there is only one way we have seen to change a major party, and that is for a third party to win states. It happened in 1892, 1912, 1948, and 1968. And each time, one of the major parties underwent a great character change, absorbing the values of the third party. And there is only one candidate that is capable of winning a state: Evan McMullin is quite likely to win the state of Utah. Therefore, I suggest it would be wise to vote for Evan McMullin. We must vote against the horrors of this terrible election so that we and our children will not be trapped in it again in four years. And in eight. And in sixteen.

Will McMullin win? No. Not this year. There is a remote chance that he could throw it into deadlock and toss the election to the House of Representatives, but that’s no more likely than a Trump victory. Hillary Clinton is, and I shudder to say it, the next President of the United States regardless of what we do. But McMullin can and will redirect national politics if he wins votes in the Electoral College. And consider in what position a solid conservative who won the first third-party electoral votes in fifty years  — after a mere three months of campaigning – will be in four years from now. McMullin will not win the Presidency in 2016. But what about 2020? Please join with me, and vote for Evan McMullin.

A Plea to My Fellow Kansans On Behalf of Evan McMullin

evan

In 1892, the state of Kansas stood at the cutting edge of a new political movement. The Democrats and the Republicans were mired in a deadlock over issues that the people of Kansas cared little about. The things Kansas did care about, such as the adoption of silver-backed currency, was an issue that neither major party felt was important enough to be worth their time. Who, after all, cared what the little farmers and small-town workers in Kansas thought?

Then, Kansas took the extraordinary step of giving its ten electoral votes to General James Weaver, who ran not for the Republicans or the Democrats, but for a new party calling itself the Populist Party. Kansas led the way, taking Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and North Dakota with it to send the message to the major parties that the people of the Great Plains would not be told that their concerns would have to take second place to what the rest of the nation thought was best for them.

James Weaver did not win the election. But his loss shook the Democratic Party to its core, and caused William Jennings Bryan to adopt the entire Populist platform as the Democrats’ own in the next election. Kansas altered the course of the national conversation about politics. And over the next two decades, four amendments to the Constitution – including the right to directly elect our Senators and Women’s Suffrage – would follow as both Democrats and Republicans realized that the people of Kansas were a force that they could not ignore.

Not all of these changes were positive, when looked at in hindsight. Indeed, the Eighteenth Amendment’s Prohibition goes down in history as a failure. But that misses the point: The point is, that by taking a stand against those parties that would take it for granted, Kansas – despite losing THAT election – won for itself and its people a stunning political victory that would put our issues at the heart of the nation’s politics.

Now we, the people of Kansas, are in a similar situation. No one in the nation cares about us and what we think. The Democrats largely revile us as stupid hicks who will always vote Republican because they think it appeals to the motives they say energize us: racial and religious bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and an unreasoning defense of the 2nd Amendment. They don’t care for the liberals of Kansas either, since their votes will never matter. Republicans, on the other hand, take us for granted, telling us that we must vote for whoever they dangle in front of us. Even a lecherous fool like Donald Trump, lest we be sacrificed to Hillary Clinton’s cronies.

But the people of Kansas have already shown themselves, this year, to be better than this. It was not we who stuck the American people with a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. We voted for Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders.  We did not swallow the Democratic lie that they were running a fair primary election, nor did we accept the media’s shoving of Donald Trump down our throats by giving him free advertising in the name of telling the story they thought would get them the most attention.

But now that Kansas faces the general election, we seem poised to give our votes to Donald Trump, the man we rejected, who has returned in triumph to the top of our ballots, and who rather contemptuously expects our votes as the only legitimate way to show that we do not want Hillary Clinton for President. He demands our votes, as a kind of homage, paid to the Republicans, who for years have promised us they would represent our values in Washington.

And what both parties fail to understand is that this is why Kansas, overall, does vote Republican: because we believe that it is more important that the President direct the nation than it is that he makes us prosperous: we can do that ourselves. Even liberal Kansans know this: it’s why they voted for the Bernie Sanders they believed in, not the Hillary Clinton who could easily win. But most Kansans vote Republican because the Republican party says it will represent the values most of us share (the Democrats openly tell us we are backward and wrong), and we believed them.  But have we won any of the values Kansas is nationally known for supporting by voting Republican? Has Roe v Wade been overturned? Has religious freedom expanded over the last thirty years? Of course not. Why should the Republicans care to do any of these things when they will have our votes regardless?

And what will we get if we do vote for Donald Trump? We will get, overwhelmingly, three things we do not want. Firstly, whether we win or lose, we will alienate the swing voters, who will rightly see that the Republicans of Kansas are willing to vote for an abusive, bullying and dangerous thug who is utterly ignorant of the Constitution, simply in order to stop Hillary Clinton. Secondly, if he should win (which all polls say he cannot, but more on that later) we will be stuck with him not for four years, but for eight. We will not be able to withdraw our support in 2020. And all his mistakes and sins will be justly laid at our feet: the feet of Kansas conservatives. But that isn’t the worst. The worst and final thing we shall get, if Trump should somehow win, is a New York businessman, exactly the kind of man who does not understand agricultural policy, nor does he understand any economics except that which involves moving money around to his advantage via manipulation of the markets. He neither understands the military nor its uses, and treats those who have made the ultimate sacrifice with contempt. Is this the kind of man who is likely to understand, much less care about and defend, the interests and values of the people of Kansas?

Now many of my readers at this point are doubtless thinking that as much as they agree with me, they cannot afford to have Hillary Clinton win the next election. They feel compelled to vote for Donald Trump because he is the best chance of stopping her. And they are both right and wrong. Certainly, Donald Trump will get the second-highest number of votes (both popular and electoral) in this election. But all reputable polls indicate that Hillary Clinton has already won. It is not even close.  Therefore, I suggest that the argument for voting for Donald Trump because he is the only candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton is invalid. He cannot defeat her. True, he will come closer to defeating her than any other candidate, but that doesn’t matter. If you are jumping a 15-foot cliff, it matters not at all whether you jump two feet or twelve feet. You will not make it to the other side. Donald Trump will not be President.

This leaves us with taking the long view. It leaves us in the position of having to act boldly, as our ancestors did 124 years ago, and vote for another candidate, a third-party candidate, so that we can once again send the message that we will not be ignored, and we will not be dictated to by two parties who are determined to treat us like a dull and unloved child. We must vote against the horrors of this terrible election so that we and our children will not be trapped in it again in four years. And in eight. And in sixteen.

We can, if we have the courage to face the facts with open eyes, and the vision to look beyond this dark time to the next several elections, send a message that we reject this two-party system and redirect the whole course of American political dialogue. And at this time I believe that there is only one man who can assist us to do that: Evan McMullin. The advantages of voting for Evan McMullin are these:  Evan McMullin represents most of the values that conservative Kansans have tried to vote for over the past thirty years. And yet, a vote for McMullin is not likely to result in policies that liberals will find oppressive. I also recommend him to liberal Kansans who hate the thought of supporting Clinton, whose DNC crushed Bernie Sanders while assuring us that of course they were running a fair primary. More importantly, Kansas will never vote for Clinton, but a vote for McMullin might deny it to Trump. Secondly, Evan McMullin ALONE among third-party candidates actually leads a state in the most recent polls. He is leading right now in Utah and is likely to be the first candidate since 1968 to actually win electoral votes. This is what Jill Stein and Gary Johnson do not understand, but McMullin has: third parties can be ignored because they never win electoral votes. But Evan McMullin will win Utah’s six.

Will he win? No. There is a remote chance that he could throw it into deadlock and toss the election to the House of Representatives, but that’s no more likely than a Trump victory. Hillary Clinton is, and I shudder to say it, the next President of the United States regardless of what we do. But McMullin can and will redirect national politics if he wins votes in the Electoral College, just as James Weaver did, and Kansas can once again help him do that. Every time a third party has won votes, the change in American politics has been deep and profound. Let us follow Utah’s lead as they followed ours so long ago and send a clear cry out into the political wasteland that we will not support the insupportable, or defend the indefensible. Please join with me, and vote for Evan McMullin.

From Somewhere In Orbit

Theology vs. The Memes #5: God the Federal Government

God Terrorism

As Samuel L. Jackson’s character tells us in the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight: “When you make an assumption, you make an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘umption.'” Making an assumption about human motivations is always dangerous. One of the greatest causes of the deep political divisions of our nation today stems from the belief that we can tell what our opponents “really want.” People who are pro-life don’t care about babies, they really want to make women second-class citizens. People who want gun control don’t care about safety, they really want to establish a tyranny.

The meme above is a perfect example of this in action. What does the bumper sticker say? It says that God is bigger than government. One would hope, of course, that He is. Given the almost legendary incompetence of governments in general and the United States government in particular, worshiping a God that was not bigger than the government would be a waste of time. Quite frankly, if that were the case, I’d leave the church and begin worshiping my cat. At least that way I would occasionally receive the blessing of snuggles. The worst, really, that you can say of this particular bumper sticker is that it says my God is bigger than your government, giving some cloak of innocence to the voter who displays the sticker, as though he or she were not equally culpable in the mess. If that is what is meant, then the believer is guilty of some degree of hypocrisy, yes. But terrorism?

There are really only two ways to get to the claim that this sentiment is “how terrorism starts.”  One is to automatically assume the worst about people. We’ve already seen why that’s a bad idea. But of course, there is a far more dangerous basis for making the claim, and I suspect that it is this idea that stands behind the meme: it is the idea that the entire concept of something bigger than the government, something bigger than unified human action (because that is what a government is, when boiled down to basics) is equivalent to terrorism. And that, I suspect, is the real motive of whoever created this meme. And yes, before anyone else points it out, I will save you the trouble and admit that I too may be falling into the trap of assuming the worst of my opponents. But whether the makers of the meme intended it or not, this idea is out there, and it is dangerous.

It is dangerous because it cuts right to the heart of the binary between theism and atheism: either there is a God, a Being that holds the absolute truths of existence in an unshakable grip, or there is not, and human desires and concepts are the ultimate determiners of right and wrong. If that latter is indeed the case, then God the Father is a lie, and must be replaced by human values. And herein lies the irony. The very concept of the God-King was rejected during the Fall of the Roman Empire, perhaps one of the few true advances in human thought during that decadent and hopeless time, when the Divine Augustus gave way to the servant of the Divine, Constantine the Great. But the atheist must replace the servant of the Divine with humans who, if not gods themselves, wield all the authority of God to determine what is right and wrong with the force of law; God the Federal Government. Therefore, it must follow that if this is true, people who believe in a God that is greater than the government are not only delusional, they are blasphemers. They are heretics who believe that something more, and something better than God the Federal Government exists, and therefore they are equivalent to terrorists, who will dare to defy the Holy People’s Will in the name of their ridiculous God. And of course, they will have to be suppressed for the good of the people.

This bumper sticker is not how terrorism starts. It’s quite possible to believe that God is bigger than the government and not need to undertake any violent (or even non-violent) action against the government. This meme is how fascism starts: the belief that no idea can challenge our secular lords and masters without being a threat that must be destroyed and criminalized.

From Somewhere In Orbit