Monday, June 22, 2015

White Terrorism and What Love Can Do

More Than a Feeling

Tonight I went to an event called More Than a Vigil: A Community in Conversation for Healing & Change. People talked about their views, primarily on race, and reacted to the mass murder last week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Anyone who was so inclined was invited to speak for up to three minutes about their personal experiences.

I didn’t get up and talk because I’m chickenshit I wasn’t sure what to say, basically, and I think a lot better with my fingers than my mouth. If you don’t believe me, let’s spend some time together, and you’ll see how quickly my mouth runs away with my brain. Writing allows for a tad more circumspection.

At any rate, it was a pretty cool event, and hopefully the weekly follow-up meetings will lead to some good.

One of the things that I didn’t hear much (and maybe this means that I should have talked or not zoned out when people said it) is that acts of domestic terrorism of the sort committed by Assmonkey Shifflebrane* are pretty much a white people problem, and white people need to engage in order to prevent it.

Don’t get me wrong. Improving intercultural relations between people of different races is awesome, and I’m all for it, especially for tackling things like institutional racism and the like because those are ultimately even more harmful than the sort of thing that happened in Charleston. But eliminating redlining and having a just justice system and reducing police brutality and everything else won’t stop some evil little shit from arming himself (yes, himself...always a him) and murdering a bunch of people. Ditching the Confederate battle flag and outing people’s ties to hate groups will go a long way toward changing the culture. At the same time, mass murder has to be prevented one heart at a time, and that is something that individuals can do.

It's Only Terrorism When It's One of Them

These days, when we hear the word “terrorism,” it is almost always a synonym for terrorism connected to Islamic radicals despite the fact that domestic terrorism has done a helluva lot more damage to the country over the centuries than terrorist acts committed by Islamic radicals. As many commentators have pointed out, when brown people commit mass murder, it’s terrorism, and when white people do it, it’s mental illness, but that’s a different subject for a different ramble. When people talk about Islamic terrorism, the only workable solution to it is for moderate Muslims to win the debates within Islam and stop the radicals. Sure, better American foreign policy might lead to fewer opportunities for radicalism to take root in the minds of young men, but we can’t bomb or finesse our way out of the fact that a lot of people on the other side of the world are dangerous. Their coreligionists or countrymen or whoever need to change that.

In the same way, Americans who are committed to the idea of love as the ultimate good need to win the war against reactionary, dangerous, stupid, just plain wrong ideas. Good ideas are better than idiotic, malicious ones, and people with good ideas should engage in arguments in order to win them. The thing about armed white guys with bad ideas is that there are a lot of them—a lot of armed white guys, a lot of bad ideas that misguided white guys like, and a lot of armed white guys whose heads are full of said bad ideas. Love can do what ideas alone cannot. It can win arguments and transform lives at the same time.

I’ve known a few extremists pretty well, and they may not be a huge percentage of the overall population, but they’re very real and very scary. (Let's say that 1% of all white people are crazy racist radicals. That's 2.5mm crazy racist radical Americans. And I think that the percentage is considerably higher than that.) Despite going to integrated schools and having a lot of black friends, apparently Shifflebrane was radicalized by websites like that run by the Council of Conservative CitizensIt's not kalumny to point out that the CCC acronym is a krazy-klever wink-wink way of revealing the organization from which it evolved.

Love Does

Now, it's easy to go down the path of how terrible the CCC and other acronymized hate groups are, but I’m going to shift gears and talk about love. One of my favorite writers is a guy named Bob Goff, and he writes about how love does. Love is engaged. Love acts. Love does stuff. Here’s a video of Bob. It has nothing to do with this subject, but if you have 20 minutes, you should watch it. Basically whenever you find a video of Bob, you should watch it.

Tonight, I’ve been thinking: How can love do stuff that will prevent the next Assmonkey Shifflebrane from committing mass murder? If we take this belief that God loves us seriously, then we have to trust that love can do a lot, especially if we are willing to take risks and engage.

The thing is, adolescent males make a lot of bad decisions. I don’t know if it’s hormones or misguided sexual energy or just being horrible people because they’re adolescent males, but they just do. Sometimes they light bags of poo on fire on their friends’ porches because it’s funny to watch them freak out (I never did anything of the sort, naturally), and sometimes they join a gang because it gives them power or whatever, and sometimes they arm themselves and set out to change the world one corpse or congregation or community at a time. I think that a lot of them seek to feel strong and powerful, and it’s way too easy for them to get their hands on weapons.

I don't phrase it that way to excuse Assmonkey's actions. Nothing can excuse them. They're inexcusable and evil and monstrous and everything else. I phrase it that way as a way of talking out how to prevent the next evil Assmonkey from murdering innocents because he has a dark heart and a head full of hormones and horseshit.

If Christians are committed to loving others, then we must engage and help kids to know the power of God instead because it’s wholly different than this sort of power. I don’t exactly know how to do it, and I’m just trying to be part of the conversation and encourage people to think about it and try things.

Maybe we just reach out as best we can in all of our goofy human frailty to at-risk kids and adolescents and just love them. We do our best to be God with skin on just like Jesus was, which was part of the last thing that Jesus was recorded praying. Maybe we help to get them plugged in through mentoring or through churches and parachurches doing whatever else works. Or just hang out with them and help them to start asking who God is and why he loves them and everyone of every color and ethnic background. White terrorists are obviously not the same thing as kids in gangs, but they’re all young men with dangerous weapons and bad ideas, and maybe this kind of vague outreach can help all of them. I don’t mean outreach to win belt notches for Jesus or whatever. I mean just hanging out with whoever is willing to do so, loving them, and seeing if any of the God stuff rubs off on them.

Also, don't give your kid a handgun for his birthday unless he's turning 60 or something. Ass.

The Power of Man and the Power of God

Frederick Buechner has an excellent sermon called “The Power of God and the Power of Man,” which is published in his book The Magnificent Defeat. It’s more concise and more beautiful than anything I’ve ever written, so if you’re so inclined, here it is.

I’m not a great writer like Buechner. I like to look at things from pop culture and show how they illustrate our ideas, and there aren’t a lot of popular, recent, kick-ass illustrations of the power of man versus the power of God. Interestingly, Superman provides both, shown below in clips from the unfortunate film Man of Steel and the superb tv show Smallville, respectively. Both of them are heavily laden with Superman-As-Christ imagery, and in the clips below we see him battle with General Zod, a fellow Kryptonian who has the same powers as Kal El/Clark Kent/Supes (warning: spoilers).

The Power of Man

Man of Steel spends a decent amount of imagery on Superman-as-Christ, but gets its Superman mythology and its Christ mythology wrong in the end (Side note: It gets a lot wrong, but this is not a movie review). This is the version of Supergod that appeals to the adolescent male. He defeats Zod using the power of man. This is American Jesus. This Superman is seriously dangerous iconography.

The Power of God 

Smallville, on the other hand, gets Christ right over and over and over again. It even has a multi-episode story arc that seems to illustrate the power of the Holy Spirit in transforming the heart of one of the show’s most evil characters and making him good. So it’s no surprise that when Clark defeats Zod, it's by using the self-sacrificial, self-emptying power of God. Ultimately (spoiler) love—not brute force—conquers, and if we want to take on and conquer white domestic terrorism, then I suspect that it is how we will do so. One heart at a time.

*I refuse to call the murderer from last week by his name because he wants to be a hero. I will only do so in hindsight if this particular event was a turning point that did the opposite of what he intended. The only way he gets to keep his name is if his ideas lose. Otherwise I’d love to see it relegated to a footnote in the dustbin of history.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Pooptie (po͞op'-tē): A term used to express endearment and insult at the same time.

'You is a pooptie.'

Early 21st-century term believed to have been first coined by a toddler in North Carolina, presumably as a variant of the early 18th century imitative word 'poop.'

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The End of Politics

Cyrano De Bergerac was probably, at least in part, a political animal. He was fictional, obviously, at least as we know him, but one didn’t live as he did—able to navigate among fellow aristocrats—unless one was a creature with some political instincts.

When I was a child, I loved the movie of Cyrano starring Jose Ferrer, and I memorized huge chunks of the play (the Brian Hooker translation), a paperback of which I carried around far too frequently. I memorized lots of things back then, including all of the non-sports-related Trivial Pursuit questions (I’ve never been able to retain information about sports), Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky, the cast and crew of every movie that played on HBO (back when HBO only played movies at night), and heaven knows what else. I have forgotten the sorts of things that I used to remember.

It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that no one remembers Cyrano for his ability to articulate his position vis-à-vis royalty, taxation, and whatever else might have been the topics du jour in mid-seventeenth century France. People remember him because he had a huge nose. And he wrote poems and loved with a perfect mixture of heroism, valor, and absurdity.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Logic and a Recent Charlotte Observer Editorial or: Navigating the Unknown

Earlier this week, the Charlotte Observer ran an editorial entitled “There Should Be Nothing Sneaky About a Tax Hike” excoriating Mecklenburg Board of County Commission (BOCC) Chair Jennifer Roberts.

Monday night (4/4/11), in a meeting with a group of CMS parents organized by the grassroots MeckFUTURE campaign, Roberts said that keeping tax rates flat when property values increase is not the same thing as raising taxes. The Observer parried: It’s raising taxes and doing so sneakily because it’s, um, not cutting property tax rates.

Wait, that didn’t come out right. Let me rephrase. Between 2003 and 2011, property values in Mecklenburg County increased by 7% or so, on average. The county knows that because they just did a revaluation, which happens every eight years, statutorily. Because the value of real estate has increased, overall tax receipts will increase if the county keeps the property tax rate flat. Keeping tax rates flat is the very definition of a tax increase, you see. Yeah.

If this happens, then it will be a tax hike that is absolutely inconceivable. And the BOCC is sneaky, because the tax hike will opaque. Opaque? Yes, I say, opaque! As in the opposite of transparent! It’s obviously...What? You require an explanation? Okay, people can investigate how their property was revalued, and the county discloses the rate and how it comes to that decision, but other than that, the megahugegigantic tax EXPLOSION is dastardly and underhanded and secretive and ¡“sneaky”!



I have read the editorial all the way through enough times (i.e. at least once) to absorb its crystalline logic, and as far as I can tell, the Observer’s considered editorial position is due to sophistry, fatuity, or just plain intellectual laziness.

Note that at this point, I’m not addressing the merits and demerits of increased tax receipts, simply whether Commissioner Roberts was being “misleading”. From what I understand, she was alluding to a 2005 article by John Hood of the conservative John Locke Foundation: “A failure to enact a revenue-neutral tax rate after property revaluation does not constitute a tax increase.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Virgins, Psychics, Carnivores, and Conspiracies

Virgins, Psychics, Carnivores, and Conspiracies: confirmation bias and you
“It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.” -Francis Bacon
You and I share something with one another, with President Obama, with Rush Limbaugh, with the Dalai Lama, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Sarah Palin, with Angela Merkel, and with every musician, movie star, plumber, prostitute, stamp collector, sergeant-at-arms, and unemployed underwater basket weaver in the world.

We all able to ascertain patterns, draw conclusions, and make predictions.

This pattern-finding ability is one of the distinguishing marks of humanity. Homo sapiens is man the thinker; perhaps we are, more accurately, Homo exemplum cupitor, man the pattern-seeker. (I am assuming that my decades-unused high school Latin skills are at least slightly accurate. If not, corrections are welcome.)

Pattern-seeking is one of the behaviors that makes humans, as a species, so successful, and it leads to the victories and the quirks that we, as individuals, manifest. It leads to the soaring success of some cultures and the unfortunate decline of others.

In this piece, I will be examining something called confirmation bias, which has given us protection from predators (and the corollary ability to be good ones), virgin sacrifices, psychics and spiritualists, conspiracy theories, and much more.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Necessary Good, or Leaving Lazy Libertarianism

”[When] men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them...there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

For years, I identified myself as a libertarian. I was even a Libertarian for a while. That is to say, I was a registered member of the Libertarian Party for about six months (Here is their platform). I’m not a Libertarian anymore, though, and I’m not really a libertarian either.

In the past, I’ve said that government should function, essentially, as a shell for society, arguing that things from medical research to local parks are a misuse of taxpayer money. I still advocate for limited, constitutional government, but there is a difference between the limits placed on the federal government by the Constitution and the limits placed on government at every level by libertarian ideology. Government, especially at a federal level, has the capacity to be destructive, but I think that there are many things that the government can provide better than anyone else and, for the sake of the civil society and healthy communities, should do so. (Parks, again, are the obvious example.)

At this point, there is a distinct possibility that you are groaning internally, because this may seem like a self-indulgent piece of philosophico-political puffery. For one thing, it is about libertarianism, a notoriously self-indulgent subject. For another, its author used a capital letter to distinguish between libertarianism and Libertarianism--in the first paragraph.

I hope that you’ll read on, however, if you’re interested in why I no longer buy into libertarianism or its ill-conceived, majuscular manifestations.

Libertarianism is an idiosyncratic and relatively new movement (between 40 and 60 years old, depending on where you start). It is based on the ideas of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman (a hero of mine), F.A. Hayek (whom I admire), Leonard Read (author of the brilliant essay “I, Pencil”), Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter and possibly the author of the Little House books), and a few others. Most of the thinkers whose ideas form the backbone of libertarianism were radicals of one stripe of another, and this may explain why it is likely to remain a fringe movement, except when its palatable, realistic ideas can be integrated into the Republican Party platform.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Touching Evil: Violent psychosis and the crimes of Jared Loughner

Midmorning on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner, an unemployed 22-year-old, opened fire on a crowd in a Safeway parking lot, murdering six individuals and injuring over a dozen others.

In what appears to have been an assassination attempt, Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head, point blank. As of this writing, Congresswoman Giffords has survived the attack, thanks to the expertise of her doctors and the extraordinary, manmade miracles that we regularly receive as a consequence of advances in medicine. Imagine if this had happened a century ago. Giffords, it is almost certain, would have died en route to a dirty hospital or very soon after her arrival. After all, penicillin, something so basic that we take it for granted, was discovered and made available during World War II, and it is hard for us today to understand just how far medicine has come since then.

Many people have asked why Loughner targeted Giffords and murdered six others. Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Tucson’s Pima County, attributed it to intolerance and the tone on talk radio, asserting that, “[T]he vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.” Loughner, according to this line of thinking, was an unbalanced person reacting to inflaming rhetoric. We’ll call this the media hypothesis.

Some members of the media immediately blamed the shooting on Sarah Palin and various tea party groups. According to this narrative, political conservatives, Governor Palin in particular, were responsible for the murders. Interestingly, Congresswoman Giffords was, herself, quite conservative by many standards (a “Blue Dog Democrat), and the pogressive website Daily Kos included her on a list of “targets” for political primaries). Let’s lump these together and call them the political hypothesis.

Loughner’s friends, however, have said that he wasn’t particularly political. He wasn’t an avid watcher of news programs and didn’t listen to talk radio, and they don’t believe that he was influenced by Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. In fact, his favorite books (according to his YouTube account) were Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto. Some have said that Loughner used to be a pretty normal kid, but that his personality changed abruptly after a breakup with a high school girlfriend. Let’s call this the heartbreak hypothesis.

I’d like to offer an alternate hypothesis, one that it pretty obvious but unpopular with pundits and politicians, because it doesn’t have a solution and doesn’t offer the opportunity for a program that they can push: Jared Loughner is insane.