Ignorance with Impudence

It seems like people think a pandemic gives them license to let all their worst characteristics out on display. Here in the States, we went from fear of the virus, to frustration of being stuck inside, to angry protests about rights, to finally just pretending its not a thing any more — all at break-neck speeds. And the few voices that spoke out about the irresponsibility of it all were shouted down awfully fast. Turns out you’re within your rights to show up en-masse armed for battle at a government building — as long as you’re white. If you so much as jog through the wrong neighborhood, or pass a bad check while black, you can be killed on the spot.

I’m aware that somehow this position is a political one. Generally, as a guest in this country, I try to remain politically neutral. I don’t believe that either of the two available extremes are completely right (or completely wrong), and I empathize with those who have to try to vote from their conscience in a two-party system. In Canada, I’d probably be a Conservative, but here in the States, where we have fewer and less nuanced options to choose from, I can’t really align myself with the country’s conservative party, the Republicans. Donald Trump is a reprehensible, vile human being, and that party is increasingly aligned with reprehensible, vile human behavior.

Edit: adding that time the President of the Unites States of America threatened to have American citizens shot by the miltary… via Twitter. Feel free to contrast the statement from that liberal, non-Christian former President.

And this is a source of real despair for me: of the two positions, one claims Christian ideals and Conservative morals, the other does not. But people spewing hate, spouting ignorance, or acting horribly when asked to wear a mask often identify as Republicans. While the rational folks, listening to the guidance from experts, acting in ways that protect others, and decrying the senseless death of people of color… those often claim the non-Christian Democrat party?!

Let’s call these things what they are:

Reprehensible human beings gather their weapons and Trump signs to demand the right to share a virus with the nation’s vulnerable

If you have a position on economic policy or the role of the government, then choosing to align with a particular party might make sense. But if your alignment with that position requires you to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the black community, or block hospitals with your protests, or share an article that suggests that people should die until we develop herd immunity, rather than take a vaccine… If your politics support the kind of behavior we’ve seen over the past couple months, then damn you to hell.

You look nothing like Christ.

On Protests and Conspiracy Theories

This virus has drawn some truly amazing behavior out of us as a society, hasn’t it? We’ve seen leaders step up and take decisive action to protect people. We’ve seen science and medical professionals rise to the challenge of treating patients and finding cures. We’ve seen people learn new ways to connect and stay in touch with their loved ones. There’s been a lot to commend us.

But we’ve also seen a lot of really spiteful behavior. We have a president desperately deflecting responsibility for failures, while smirkingly taking credit for small victories that he had nothing to do with. We’ve seen people putting the lives of others at risk to impotently protest the actions designed to keep them safe. And we’ve seen a whole new wave of virulent misinformation and loathsome deception spread across the internet.

I want to give those who act on, and share, these absurd ideas some grace. Most of those doing the sharing are squarely in Dunning-Kruger territory — possessing a false confidence that comes from knowing a little bit about a subject, but not enough to understand how much information they’re missing. I also realize that fear drives people to lash out, and that things they don’t fully understand (like how cell phone towers or viruses work) make prime targets for irrational reactions.

I want to give them some grace, but when you see pictures of nurses calmly blocking an intersection in front of a hospital, literally using their bodies to protect the sick from the misguided protestors who think their rights are being impinged… I just haven’t got any grace left to offer.

In 2009 the FCC ended the broadcast of analog television content, freeing up radio spectrum that had been reserved for this kind of broadcast since at least 1949. 5G is the result of this, and other moves, to re-purpose existing radio frequencies for advanced wireless services. What this means is that the very signals people are afraid of right now have been around for over 70 years! Instead of carrying TV content, those radio waves are carrying Internet data packets, but its still just modulated data. Modulated data cannot be used to transmit or activate a biological virus. It can, however, be used to spread fear and misinformation.

In 2000, one of the world’s most successful business leaders redirected his considerable brain power and money from selling software to solving problems with sewage treatment and medical infrastructure in third world countries. Bill and Melinda Gates could do literally anything they wanted, and they chose to invest their time in helping people deal with poop. In 2015, after fighting the spread of disease for 15 years, Bill warned everyone that we were unprepared for a global pandemic, and that we were heading for trouble. 4 years later, we got trouble, and within weeks people are blaming the person who predicted it would happen, and insisting on their right to be reckless with other people’s lives.

These things are frustrating, because obviously they’re stupid. Obviously no rational person would believe that Bill Gates is using 5G radio signals to cause a pandemic so he can lock people in their houses and take over the world… Except that rational people are actually sharing these ideas like they’re truth. And I can’t escape the correlation that its the people who are most impacted economically, and who have the least formal education, that are the ones spreading these poisonous ideas. I know it sounds arrogant, but it shouldn’t be wrong to point out when someone is doing something stupid out of ignorance and fear. As much as I have been a proponent of, and participant in, a free and open Internet, I am opposed to the distribution and glorification of ignorance.

Conspiracy theories are fun intellectual exercises — they’re a “what if” exploration, that in better times make for good entertainment (I mean, who didn’t love the X-Files in the 90s?) But they are not news, they are not supportable with science and research, and they should not be shared with the same weight or given the same attention as actual information. If you see something on the Internet that sounds like it explains a part of the world you don’t understand, you owe it to yourself, to your social media connections, and to civilization as a whole, to respond responsibly. You can either:

A) Pursue a degree in the topic from an accredited higher education institution, or seek out 3-5 years of equivalent on-the-job experience. Because yes, its hard work to develop actual expertise.

B) Shut up, admit to yourself you are not competent on the matter, and acknowledge that your opinion is not worth the bytes of memory it gets stored on.

I have more to say on professional sources of opinion (so called “news”) but I’ll save that for another post — suffice it to say, yes, there is an alternative to the “main stream” media that doesn’t foment conspiracy theories. But instead of going into that right now, I’m going to close this with an additional admonishment to those who follow Jesus. As Christians, the standard for Godly wisdom is clearly provided for us in the book of James:

Wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.

If what you’re reading is not reasonable, not impartial, and not peace-loving, don’t share it. You damage your testimony by embracing hateful opinions. You malign your Savior by spreading fear. And worst of all, your gullibility makes your faith look foolish.

M-m-m-my Corona

It was a strange progression, from something sort of abstract happening elsewhere in the world, to some minor inconveniences here at home, and finally, suddenly a “stay at home” order from the State government. Nowhere was it stranger than in the White House, where it changed almost overnight from “totally under control” to a full on disaster. It was like a watching a car accident in slow motion, only the whole continent was about to get hit, and there was nothing we could do but wait for the impact.

To be self-centered and honest, though, it hasn’t really impacted us that much. There’s been some cancelled events — Ben’s big class trip to Chicago, Eli’s girl scout camping trip, Abi’s birthday, and numerous work trips. But those are inconveniences at worst. Unlike some of those around us, I’m at no risk of getting laid off, nor do either of us have to go into a job where we might get exposed to someone who is sick. Our little cul-de-sac in the country is pretty well isolated on a normal day, with a couple acres between each house, so crowded situations aren’t something we have to worry about. And the common complaint of boredom certainly doesn’t apply to us — we’ve got even more to do than usual!

That’s not to say this situation is ideal. Like everyone else, we’ll have to ration toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes. Grocery shopping is a pain due to the panic buying that has swept the nation. And one of our two cars is stuck in the shop for the duration. But overall, there’s more opportunity for us in a situation like this — which isn’t fair, I know, but its true. The Fed’s questionable decision to continually drop interest rates until they had nowhere left to go allowed us to lock in a mortgage re-finance at a historically low rate shortly before banks started closing. And our income tax return left us with spare funds to invest while the stock market is the lowest its been in over a decade.

Its hard to extrapolate from here where things will go. China seems to be on the mend, and if those numbers are true and directionally analogous, then the US and Canada will recover in a similar fashion eventually too. Its unlikely that the economy will ever be quite the same after this, but its equally unlikely that it will completely fail. There’s a sort of twisted fascination with imagining a worst case scenario that looks like a zombie movie or Mad Max situation that I’ve observed others entertaining, but in my estimation, things are not heading in that direction — this time.

Still, the vegetable garden in the backyard has taken on a new level of importance, and I regret that I never got around to the project where I augment our electric well with a manual back-up, in case of emergencies. It really does seem like as individuals, and as a nation (and I’ll include our home country of Canada in this generalization) we are pretty ill-prepared for these kinds of scenarios. The rapid and stealthy spread of this pandemic is tempered by its relatively low mortality rate — should this happen again (and it probably will) with a flavor of disease that is a less discriminate killer, I’m not sure we could really handle it.

The kids are taking it all in stride — they don’t have enough run-time on the planet to understand just how unusual this situation is. Some day they’ll tell their own kids about this period as a generation-shaping event. Hopefully there’s only this one in their lifetime, but if not, hopefully we’re all better prepared — and better people — from having coming through this one.

Who is John Galt? The Pursuit of Happiness, Pride, Humility, Grace, Justice, Christlikeness and the American Dream

I’ve almost finished reading Atlas Shrugged. Let me tell you, the weight Atlas carried pales in comparison to the weight of dragging that giant, preachy tome around with me all summer. But I can’t deny the impact it, travel, and world events lately have had on me over the past few months.
For the uninitiated, Atlas Shrugged reads like a Republican Bible — probably a more appropriate one than the actual religious book most of them claim. But stripped of the preaching, and the often intolerant-seeming approach to government (or lack thereof) there’s a core point that they’re trying to make, that when you take away the theater, posturing and the other (more ridiculous) mountains Republican’s are willing to die on lately, it’s a very lucid one: every individual should have the right and responsibility to build their own future and consume what they produce.
There’s a caveat here that Rand’s philosophy fails to recognize (or would prefer to exclude from the debate entirely) which is that not everyone is born with equal opportunity. It’s a flawed to assume that if everyone put in the same volume of effort, every person born would be able to arrive at a state of self-sufficiency and happiness. The reality is that an ambitious child born in Africa that works harder than a less ambitious child born in Canada is not likely to end up with the same level of wealth, happiness and fulfillment, producer though he may be. You needn’t even go as far as Africa to understand that principle – between school districts in the U.S. you can find gaps in opportunity that are just as large. And of course there are those stuck with disabilities or challenges that can’t be overcome. These are not exceptions to the rule, these are the norm. Rich, healthy white folk living in a plush land of opportunity are the exception.
But none of that takes away from the notion of personal responsibility. Systems created to remove personal responsibility are corrosive to a society. This is not debatable. When its better to evade taxes by staying on welfare while getting paid for work under the table, then the system is broken… And perhaps it shouldn’t have existed (at least in that definition) to begin with.1
Tina Fey says gradually becoming a Republican is a side-effect of getting older. Perhaps the longer you’ve had to work to achieve what you have, the more you value seeing that same responsibility in others. I recognize that I am made uncomfortable by people who’s success (or apparent success) was not achieved through hard work of their own. I bracket in “apparent success” because this corrosion of personal responsibility applies to debt – in epidemic proportions! What you own/drive/live-in is an outward indicator of success, so people leverage themselves to the hilt to appear successful – hoping never to have to take responsibility for those appearances.
I can’t argue these sentiments. The Bible says those who do not work should not eat. With a few exceptions (mental or physical capacity), I’m in total agreement. But the natural (human) extension of this is something I can’t reconcile. That happiness is the result of what you’ve earned, and pride in it is justified and even righteous, flies in the face of what I believe about our place in the universe. Some would call that Liberal guilt…
Conservative Christian friends, help me:
How can I say I’m proud of being a skillful worker and producer, while being humble before my God (and in testimony)? How can I acknowledge that despite my hard work, without Him I would be nothing, while claiming that those who have nothing must deserve it because they’re obviously not working hard enough? Is it righteous to be prideful of my achievements when the Bible tells me that pride goeth before a fall?
How can I show grace to those in need, how can I feed the hungry and clothe the naked in obedience to Christ’s direction, without feeding into a system that is corrosive, or supporting an individual’s destructive mindset of entitlement?2 How can a group of believers who should wish that none be lost, be opposed to a government program that endeavours to provide opportunities for the broken to recover? How can I acknowledge that without God constantly giving me second chances, I would be doomed to hell, while criticizing a political viewpoint that works to give second chances?
And I guess if I could answer myself, I would contend that it’s not the government’s job to provide programs and opportunities – each of us who has learned the value of personal responsibility has the opportunity (and as Christian, the duty) to show humility by extending grace and second chances within a relationship with those we know who could use some help picking themselves up and trying again. And if every Republican who shouted down entitlement program spending, were also such a person of grace and humility, then maybe I could get on board with them…
I have a good job that I enjoy working hard at, and I do relish success. Nicole and I discipline ourselves to live within our means, and consume at the level that we produce. We don’t feel guilty that we have a cute little house, or a couple decent vehicles, or the opportunity to find the best possible education for our kids. But I don’t think its right to claim pride in any of those things either – they are gifts from God that our imperfect human efforts do not make us deserving of. And if anything, the grace extended to me in that provision should teach me to continuously extend that grace to others – even those who don’t appear to deserve it. Even sacrificially.
I know so many people with good jobs, who produce admirably for themselves and society, and who are apparently enjoying the benefits of their hard work, but who ache with emptiness and dissatisfaction, a loneliness in their success that no promotion or possession will ever fill. They have exercised the right and taken the responsibility for their future, but their American Dream is a listless nightmare, because they live only for themselves, and fulfillment of their happiness.
I’m not sure how to be a Conservative and approach the lost with humility and grace. I’m not sure how to be a Liberal but still hold Truth as absolute. And as I watch the coverage of the upcoming election, I despair that its neither extreme that will tear our society apart, but the growing polarity between them that will render us ineffectual and immobile.
Atlas is not a man, more righteous than others because of his mind or his output. Atlas is the Holy God of creation. And he doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, He holds all the universe in the palm of His hand. He waits not in anticipation of our collapse, but in His desire that each of his children, individually special in His eyes, finds their way home. And no matter how many times each of us has failed to live up to what He intended life and work and happiness to look like, He has never shrugged us off… That I am redeemed by Him should be my only source of pride.
1) This is not specualation, this is based on a real story of a person I know who spent years on welfare, but for the past 4 has worked hard at a regular full-time job to get out of that hole. Unfortunately, having started later in life, he cannot manage to cross the threshold where his income allows him to support his family and pay taxes. He has to keep his pay under the table and continue to claim unemployment. In other words, he has to take money from the government to avoid paying them money. WTF?!
2) Case study number two: I volunteered at a United Way homeless shelter for over a year, serving in the kitchen. Never have I been treated so badly as by the homeless folks who felt they were owed a meal. Granted there were some who were grateful, having come in from day-labor, tired but gracious, who took what was offered with a smile and sometimes a hint of embarrassment, cleaning up after themselves as they left. But most of the clientele were rude, sometimes hostile, demanding personalization of their meal as if they had paid to dine at a fancy restaurant, leaving their half-eaten food on the table as they stomped out for a smoke or to sneak a drink, or demanding seconds while others still waited to be fed, sometimes yelling and threatening violence if they didn’t get their way.

Politics in Canada

Any Canadian who’s ever lived south of the border (or any American who’s come north) can tell you pretty quickly that there’s a pretty huge difference between Canada and the US when it comes to politics. For example, here’s a conversation I had with a friend prior to yesterday’s election:
Friend: Who you gonna vote for?
Me: Well I guess my values lean conservative, so I’ll probably vote for the Conservative party even though I don’t really like their leader.
Friend: Ya, that’s cool. I usually vote Liberal so the Conservatives don’t have too big a majority.
Me: Cool. Harper should stop running those dumb attack ads.
Friend: No kidding. Want to play some Call of Duty?
Me: OK.
See how civil that is? We didn’t even agree with each other, yet there was no name calling, no foaming-at-the-mouth. No one got even a little bit angry, or questioned the morality of the other person! In contrast, here’s how political discussions in the U.S. often go
Here’s hoping we Canadians can continue to keep things civil.