Monday, October 16, 2017

Freedom Is Endangered But Not Extinct

In the last post I talked about the sci-fi series Extinct, created by Orson  Scott Card for BYU TV. There’s another theme I’d like to look at from that series—about freedom, or free will.

There are, among the few people who have been brought back to life 400 years after the extinction of humans, who are different from the handful who are the protagonists. This other group is called skin riders. There is a parasite, appearing as a glowing lump on the back of the neck, that joins with the human body. Ezra’s brother (from earlier earth days) is one of them; in fact, Silas is their leader.

The skin riders search out the humans, capture them, and try to make them join up.

In episode 2, Ezra has evaded the larger group of skin riders, and ambushes Silas alone. He overpowers Silas, and checks the glowing thing on the back of his neck. Here’s their first conversation [Ep2 40:58]:

Ezra tries to find out what has happened to his brother.
Screen shot from Season 1 Episode 2

: What is that?
Silas: Don’t hurt it. I’ll die if you do.
Ezra: What have they done to you?
Silas: Opened my mind. [others arrive] Don’t kill him!
Jaz: I won’t. [strikes Ezra, scene goes black. Ezra wakes at night near a campfire.]
Silas: If you try to run, I’ll call the others. You wouldn’t get far. I sent Jax to find your friend. (Ezra checks his own neck) We haven’t injected you. Jax wanted to, but…  I think it’s best if you choose to join us.
Ezra: I’ll pass.
Silas: Four hundred years and you haven’t changed. Nobody can teach you anything.
Ezra: Did the Sparks remake you?
Silas: The Sparks? Fascinating, aren’t they? How they can make anything—humans, clothing, a bologna sandwich, albeit a soggy one.
Ezra: That thing on the back of your neck—It’s alive, isn’t it?
Silas: A companion. It teaches me, comforts me, connects me to my brothers and sisters.
Ezra: I’m your brother, Silas.
Silas: You were. Join us and you will be again.
Ezra: It controls you.
Silas: Does knowledge control you? That’s what the companion provides. If I need to know how to start a fire, it shows me. It’s a gift!
Ezra: Can you remove it?
Silas: Why would I want to?
Ezra: Because it’s turned you into someone else.
Silas: Someone better, yes. What was I to you before, other than a disappointment? Now look at me. A leader. A spiritual advisor. I’m worth something now.
[flashback scene]
Ezra: You weren’t a disappointment, Silas.
Silas: Bankrupt at 20?
Ezra: Because you hired all those people, and you didn’t have the heart to let ‘em go when you should have. It makes you a bad businessman, not a bad person.
Silas: Doesn’t matter. I’m the person I want to be now.
Ezra: A slave?
Silas: A servant.
Ezra: Let me take you to the Sparks. They can heal you.
Silas: And go back to what I was?
Ezra: What you were was a better man, Silas.
Silas: My companion is very tired. (signals for Ezra to escape)
It appears, in a moment of weakness, the real Silas was able to come through, and that’s why he lets Ezra escape.

In Episode 4, Ezra’s wife, Lynn, is reconstituted (brought back to life as a human), but is quickly taken captive by the skin riders. She escapes but is eventually retaken. Somewhere in the sequence, one of the skin riders was killed by one of the other humans. At the moment Lynn is brought to Silas, he is going through a ritual about the dead man, removing his parasite (crystal in his neck), so his memories can be preserved. Anyway, Silas gives us this description of what that “Companion” does for them:

Silas: The humans kill our brother with one touch of their weapon. We offer them a companion to choose for them, to remove from them the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame. We offer them guaranteed joy, and they give us this.
He’s not, apparently, interested in the life and memories of the human, but of the parasite that inhabited him.

In episode 5, Silas is trying to persuade Lynn to voluntarily become injected with the parasite/companion. He starts out gently telling her how normal and improved they are. But when she asks what happens if she refuses to join them, the answer is pretty threatening.
Later he brings in a red drone, and produces a hologram of Lynn and Ezra’s daughter, but the hologram quickly disappears [Ep 5 12:38]:

Lynn: Is this what you’ve become? Cruel?
Silas: Death is cruel, Lynn. It rips us from those we care about, and buries them away forever. But what if I told you there was a way to connect with the dead? To see and feel their memories and knowledge whenever you needed them? Not with a machine, but with your mind?
Lynn: The crystal in your neck—
Silas: Always so smart. The crystal is the mind of an organism we call “a Companion.” It’s a friend, a counselor. But the human brain keeps getting in the way. Reactions are slower, decisions are muddled. There’s resistance.
Lynn: What do you want from me?
Silas: The drone and the Sparks wove the neural pathways in our brains. I want to block some of them, to give greater control to the Companion.
Lynn: I’m not a brain surgeon. I can’t help you.
Silas: I don’t need a surgeon, Lynn. I need a test subject. [pulls out a vial with a sharp end meant for injecting] You prick yourself. The companion does the rest. Once it’s taken root and you’re one of us, we can begin with the drone.
Jax: You should just stick her and get on with it.
Silas: You underestimate Lynn, Jax. She always makes the right choice.
But it’s not much later, a day or less, when he comes back and tries more persuasion [Ep5 23:26]:

Silas has Lynn captive.
Screen shot from Season 1 Episode 5

Silas: You still haven’t chosen to join us.
Lynn: Still weighing the pros and cons.
Silas: You haven’t changed, Lynn.
Lynn: Wish I could say the same for you.
Silas: You don’t know what you’re rejecting. You could be one with the Community.
Lynn: I’m one with my husband. That’s enough for me.
Silas: Technically, he’s no longer your husband. You were married “until death do you part,” remember?
Lynn: I remember. I remember you were his best man. And I remember the toast you gave. That you had everybody laughing one moment, and most of us crying the next. Because everyone knew you loved your brother. That’s what I remember. Do you?
Silas: I remember my knees shaking, my voice almost cracking, my heart pounding. Because I was weak and fragile. Now I’m not. I’m beginning to think you’re not going to make the right choice here, Lynn.
Lynn: I’m never going to join you, Silas. I’ll never give up who I am.
[he stabs her in the arm with the vile]
Silas: I didn’t want to have to do that. You’re angry right now, but when you have your Companion, we’ll have a good laugh about this. About how much fuss you made. Sleep well.
There’s a line in The Princess Bride where the Grandpa interrupts the story to say, “She doesn’t get eaten by eels at this time.” So, like that, I’ll say, she doesn’t become a skin rider at this time.

What I’m interested in, in these interchanges, are the enticements from the skin riders, through Silas. He offers freedom from error, freedom from weakness, freedom from “the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame.”

This is very much like the choice from the Council in Heaven—Lucifer’s plan. “I will take away your ability to make bad choices.” But that takes away humanness, and with it the ability to choose to be a good human being, leaving something far inferior.

Silas makes a show of offering a “choice,” but the choice isn’t really there; give in to having your self taken, or your self will be taken.

So, I was thinking of this “choice,” when I read an opinion piece from the New York Times called “WhyAre Millennials Wary of Freedom?” by Clay Routledge.

There are some disturbing statistics from the World Values Survey, the Pew Research Center, and other surveys:

·         Only 30% of Americans born after 1980 believe democracy (rule by the people) is essential, compared to 72% of older Americans.
·         In 2011 24% of young adults think democracy is a bad idea; they would prefer to be ruled over.
·         40% of millennials believe government should control speech they find offensive (not profanity, but rather ideas they disagree with).
·         20% or more of students of either party believed it was acceptable for student groups to use violence to prevent speech on a college campus that they disapprove of.
Routledge offers an explanation for why young adults have so little respect for freedom: “I propose that the answer is fear—the ultimate enemy of freedom.”

The Spherical Model can give us some perspective here. People who have not been brought up to understand the blessings of freedom live in the southern hemisphere, oscillating between chaotic tyranny and statist tyranny, unaware of the entire northern hemisphere of freedom. Those who seek power create, or at least point out, the chaos, accentuate its danger, and then promise to make everything calm. “Allow us to rule over you, and we’ll make what you’re scared of go away. But, if you don’t choose to be ruled by us, we’ll force you to.” That last part gets left unsaid, but it’s there in every tyranny.

As Reagan once said,

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.
Freedom isn’t extinct yet, here in our world. But if those statistics are an indicator, it’s on the endangered list.

If you have any influence over a young person, let them know that real freedom is not freedom from financial concerns, interpersonal challenges, or “the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame.” Let them know what real freedom is for: to thrive, grow, and live a fully human, happy and sometimes painful but meaningful life.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Family Isn't Extinct

I’ve been watching a new sci-fi series on BYU-TV called Extinct. One of the creators is Orson Scott Card, who wrote Ender’s Game, it’s sequels, and many other sci-fi fiction books and series. Even with those high expectations, I’m surprised at the quality of this show. I don’t know how they do it out of a college campus media program.

It was introduced October 1st, with two opening episodes. But BYU-TV did something I’m really appreciating. Besides showing one episode a week for the next month and a half, followed by a season finale, they put the first eight episodes online right away, for streaming at your convenience.
So I binge-watched that first week, up through episode 5. And then I decided to slow down, because I didn’t want to have a huge gap between those eight episodes and the finale. Anyway, I recommend the series, if you like sci-fi at all.

There was a moment in episode 5, “Broken,” that I want to highlight.

The premise of the show is that aliens came and wiped out the human race 400 years ago. But those aliens or others (not sure) recorded the DNA and memories of a number of the humans, and then they try to have the human race repopulate centuries later.

The humans wake up, one at a time, in a lake, with their memories from their previous life intact. They are at the age of their prime (mid-20s to mid-30s), regardless of the age at which they died. One character, Abram, was a psychologist near retirement age in his previous life.

I don’t want to give away too many surprises, but Abram has been trying to decode messages from a mysterious obelisk in their fortress, where there used to be a settlement. Rummaging around the place, he finds a notebook with shorthand notes—in a type of shorthand he invented for himself, back when he was a therapist. So it’s not possible that someone else wrote that notebook; he had been there before, trying to decode those very same things.

In episode 5, we get a flashback of the old Abram visiting his wife, Tasha, in the hospital before she dies. Then we see the new, younger Abram, in the fortress, talking with the drone (a floating metal robot about the size of a basketball) as he’s looking for something. If you watch the full episode, this two-minute clip comes at 18 minutes in.


Here’s the dialogue from the essential part:

Drone: Looking for something?
Abram: My notebook proves that I was here before. Maybe there’s proof Tasha was too.
Drone: What makes you think your wife may have been reborn?
Abram: Ezra and Lynn. Feena and Duncan. There’s a pattern of restoring couples.
Drone: I’d hardly call four people a reliable statistical sample.
Abram: Not statistics. Sociology. If you want to start a community and generate offspring, you need strong, monogamous relationships.
Drone: You don’t need monogamy to create offspring.
Abram: No, but you need it to create stable families. And you won’t have much of a civilization without those.
This isn’t the only time Orson Scott Card has his characters mention how important family is. I wrote about one place here.

The alien attack, when these Extinct people’s original bodies died, was approximately our day. It’s interesting that it’s an older character who understands, both intuitively and scientifically, the importance of family for building civilization, because in our day, especially among younger generations, that’s not always common knowledge.

For example, there’s this guy whose presentation came up through Mindvalley (a self-help organization, providing information on things as diverse as meditation, healthy eating, breaking through mental blocks, how the brain works, and other informative and sometimes weird things) on Facebook. The guy, Dan Savage, does a longer presentation called “The 3 things we get wrong about love, sex, and monogamy.” I apologize for the bleeped profanity; the subject itself is profane, but in the two-and-a-half-minute promo video [  October 4, 2017], Savage says,

Every monogamous relationship is a disaster waiting to happen. If you are with someone for 50 or 60 years, and you cheated on them one time, you are terrible at monogamy. It’s an impossible standard of perfection, and it’s why we all fail at it. Those who attempt it almost all fail at it. Those who attempt it almost all fail at it.
And we tell people, and people believe, that if someone touches someone else, someone who’s committed to you, made a monogamous commitment to you, touches someone else with their genitals even once, they didn’t love you. They never loved you. That your entire relationship was a lie, and your…the only corrective is divorce. You must leave that person. We define it as an unforgivable betrayal, and then we experience it as an unforgivable betrayal.
And we sit around with our thumbs in our a—s wondering why the divorce rate is as high as it is, when what we should be telling people is that you will grow up, you will fall in love. Perhaps if monogamy is right for you or what you think you want—a lot of people think they want it and actually don’t—you will make a monogamous commitment. And, asterisk, that doesn’t mean because you’re in love, you’re not going to want to f— other people. You’re still going to want to f— other people; so does your spouse. What monogamy means is you will refrain from f—ing other people, hopefully.
And if you make it through 50 years, and they cheated once or twice, and you cheated once or twice, you were good at mono… you get a monogamy gold medal, like the snowboarder who fell down that day. You should have a monogamy gold medal around your neck, not a noose around your neck.
I’ve been with my husband for 23-ish, 24-ish years, I can’t remember, but a long time. And for 18 of the last years, we have been non-monogamous. I have had conversations with people in monogamous… who are appalled by the fact that we’re public about it, that I’ve talked about it, the fact that we’re parents and we’ve talked about it publicly, and this is how these conversations have gone. I’ve had people look at me and say to me, “I could never do what you and Terry have done, because I value commitment and loyalty too highly.” And I look at them like…  I don’t say anything, but I’m thinking, “You don’t think I’m…  What?”  And the next thing out of the m—f—‘s mouth is, “All three of my marriages have been monogamous.” And I’m like, “Oh, what you’re committed to and loyal to is monogamy, not these a—s you keep marrying and divorcing, but monogamy.” We are committed and loyal to monogamy to such an extent that we are not committed and disloyal to the people we’ve married.
Let’s unpack this, because he’s making a living telling quite a number of untruths.

He’s not in an actual marriage; he’s in a same-sex relationship that cannot produce children (yet they got children from someone who did produce children). He says he’s married, but this doesn’t include the essential sexual relationship that leads to reproduction. And it does not include exclusivity as a marriage contract requires. He calls what he has a non-monogamous committed marriage. And the problem, he says, on his authority, is that the rest of the world thinks marriage should require monogamy.

He claims that nearly all marriages include infidelity, because fidelity is an impossible standard. That is, he thinks it’s hard, and therefore you should give up on the very idea. The social science shows that essentially all long-term same-sex relationships include infidelity—more so for gay men and for lesbians. So if he’s going by his limited experience, that’s about right. But their numbers don’t reflect what is normal for heterosexuals.

Among real marriages—between men and women, married for life, with exclusivity, or in other words monogamous—well beyond half, 70% or more continue without divorce. Of those, 78% of men are never unfaithful, and 86% of women are never unfaithful. Compared to the numbers for gays, those statistics are a sharp night-day contrast.

Heterosexual marriages that face infidelity are severely strained. Often they end in divorce. But where the straying spouse is repentant and willing to do whatever it takes to make amends—and this often takes professional counseling for both spouses—there is no requirement that the marriage ends. Savage is saying the goal is no divorce, which you get if you are willing to stay in a marriage with unrepentant infidelity. He’s not clear on the concept if he thinks that makes for a better actual marriage.

I’m raising an eyebrow at his casual reference to sex, like it’s a typo. If the person committed to you “touches someone else with their genitals even once,” like that could so easily happen. It doesn’t happen accidentally; we don’t walk around in public places with those body parts uncovered, where they could just accidentally bump into someone else’s. No, it happens when you make a number of decisions, a number of steps toward having sex with a person. If that’s with a person you are not committed to, then you did indeed commit betrayal. You lied. Maybe you thought you loved your partner, but apparently not enough to control your lust.

This guy holds himself up as an expert when he has no idea what an actual marriage is like. He doesn’t know that huge numbers of people are happy in their marriages—the vast majority of them with total fidelity. It means something when sex is an expression of love in marriage. It means something else entirely when sex is just about self-gratification within or without a relationship. It matters. Because when it’s about self-gratification, it isn’t an expression of love.

People are happier when sex is an expression of love. And that love grows when the two committed parents bring children into their forever family. Maybe, just maybe, God knew how we were most likely to be happy when he required us to limit sex to within marriage.

Because that’s the only way you get civilization. Without civilization we have savagery. There’s been plenty of that in the news this week. Consider: would it be better for us to slake our lusts wherever and whenever we want—so that whatever Harvey Weinstein and others like him do, we just shrug our shoulders and give them a pass? We don’t even think it’s wrong?

Weinstein’s defense? “Everybody makes mistakes.” Not big, felonious ones. Not dozens or hundreds of times. Not endlessly until caught and finally held accountable.

Who is happier when no one considers sex under any conditions wrong? Not those he has used.

Family--with a man and woman married and faithful, raising their children--is still necessary for civilization.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Columbus--Restoring after the Revisionists

There were certain historical stories told when I was growing up, many decades ago, that gave us heroes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus. Yes, Columbus was one of those. And we had a day to celebrate his story. This was before holidays all got shifted to Mondays, so mostly they were school days, and we learned about that person on their day—and maybe for the week or two of surrounding days.

Christopher Columbus, screenshot from
The History Channel; I found it here.

Then, in my adulthood, there’s been this movement to disillusion us about these heroes. And others. We could add Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. And probably others.

But what I’m learning is that the disillusionment is based on fake “facts.” There wasn’t really a cabal of historians for centuries secretly hiding facts in order to sanitize and glorify the heroes. While human, with the sensibilities of their times, our American heroes were really extraordinarily good men who accomplished great things for mankind.

I don’t know why the lies are there. It seems perverse to tear down, with lies, someone we should admire and honor—someone who isn’t here to defend himself or set the record straight. It seems related, in most cases, to hating America. I’m not certain whether this weird hero destruction goes on in other countries as it does here.

But why would it be considered a “good” thing to hate your country, and the iconic figures who helped make it? That seems cynical, pseudo-intellectual, and just plain ugly.

Dinesh D’Souza has done a good job debunking some of this anti-American fake history, with America—Imagine a World without Her and other books and documentaries. I’ve also turned to a series of history books by various authors: The Real Benjamin Franklin, and The Real Thomas Jeffersonfor example.

Today is Columbus Day. I’ve written about Columbus a couple of times (here and here). I believe the real historical record is in his favor.

This past weekend I heard the best debunking of the Columbus maligning I’ve heard in some time. This was Michael Knowles, in his Daily Wire podcast on Friday. You can get the audio here, or you can see it, with some extra visuals, by scrolling down to last Friday on his Facebook page.

Later I found much of that 20-minute segment written as an article by Knowles. There’s extra humor in the podcast, and I recommend that. But for now I’d like to share a few of his points. This first is an example of what we truth seekers are up against.

The typical mainstream media anti-Columbus hit piece goes as follows: cite a well- known passage from the Admiral’s diary out of context, juxtapose it next to the testimony of his chief political rivals, and pretend that all of this information has only recently been uncovered.
Vox’s Dylan Matthews follows this strategy with his outlet’s typical sobriety in his 2015 article, “9 reasons Christopher Columbus was a murderer, tyrant, and scoundrel.” Perhaps the worst charge Matthews alleges is that “Settlers under Columbus sold 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery.” Matthews asserts, “This one he admitted himself in a letter to Doña Juana de la Torre, a friend of the Spanish queen: ‘There are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.’”
One might conclude from Vox’s article that Columbus devised the plan or at least approved of it. But the opposite is true. Columbus doesn’t brag about selling those girls into slavery or even defend the action. On the contrary, in the very next sentence, Columbus writes, “I assert that the violence of the calumny of turbulent persons has injured me more than my services have profited me; which is a bad example for the present and for the future. I take my oath that a number of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water in the sight of God and of the world.”
There are attacks that quote Columbus’s contemporary rivals, who maligned him at the time, and he spent energy refuting. Knowles makes this comparison:

The report’s author is none other than Francisco Bobadilla, Christopher Columbus’s chief political rival and the man who successfully usurped power from him in the West Indies. A modern analog would be to say that a document written by Walter Mondale proves Ronald Reagan was a terrible president.
Columbus’s behavior, as testified by those who knew him and saw how he acted, debunked those accusations then, and they should not be picked up as pseudo-fact again in our day. Among the accusations are ways the natives were treated.

Columbus spent years of his life refuting the document as a vicious libel and turned down as a matter of principle lucrative agreements with the Spanish crown that did not correct for history what he regarded as calumny. This is not to say that Columbus is guiltless in the Spanish treatment of natives. But the Left’s claims of Columbus’s special monstrosity are without foundation. Even Bartolomé de Las Casas, the first resident Bishop of the Americas and most vociferous defender of the indigenous islanders against Spanish slavery and brutality admired Christopher Columbus to the end and expressed as much in his History of the Indies.
Stanford professor emerita Carol Delaney marvels at the ignorance. “They are blaming Columbus for the things he didn’t do,” she explains. “It was mostly the people who came after, the settlers. I just think he’s been terribly maligned.” Delaney points out that in the man’s own writings and the writings of those who knew him, Columbus seems to be “very much on the side of the Indians” and even adopted the son of an American Indian leader he had befriended.
Columbus was devout, which may irk modern-day cynics. He believed he was led by God, and reports several miraculous details that led him forward fortuitously. And he believed he was sharing both Christianity and civilization with poor people who lacked these sources of happiness. He was respectful and gentle with the natives.

Columbus land in the New World
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
I found it here.

Possibly he was not a strong enough leader as a colonial island governor—for which there was no precedent—although he managed to overcome multiple mutinies through sheer force of will during the original voyage. But he was not a tyrant. In a letter to the Spanish crown, his Lettera Rarissima, he wrote these self-defending words:

“Let those who are fond of blaming and finding fault, while they sit safely at home, ask, ‘Why did you not do thus and so?’ I wish they were on this voyage; I well believe that another voyage of a different kind awaits them, or our faith is naught.”
I like Knowles’s accusation against the ungrateful and ignorant, who are willing to believe any word against an American hero, but fail to consider the documentation we’ve had for centuries:

The modern left-wing revisionist sits comfortably in the freest, most prosperous, most charitable country in the history of the world and from a position of wholly unmerited luxury slanders the man who made it all possible.
A few days ago I suggested asking the question, sincerely, “What makes you think that?” That’s a good question to ask about Columbus. If you think he was an evil tyrant who ruined the entire “New World,” what makes you think that? What are your sources? Why do you believe those sources instead of more positive, historical records?

And, if you weren’t being taught to believe that America is evil, would you think that solely from your own experience and evidence?

As for me, I flew my American flag today, in celebration of Christopher Columbus and his intrepid voyage that led to the eventual founding of America.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Start with Ourselves

During weeks like this, when the news is covering mainly one horrible event, it can wear on a person.

One response is, as Mr. Rogers’ mother advised, to look for the helpers. And there have been many. Stories of heroes, in Las Vegas, who acted instinctively to do what would help others—those are the stories that really tell who we are as a people. Here’s one.

Johnathan Smith, hero
image from CNN

The less helpful response is to insist that anyone who doesn’t believe in taking all the guns from all the law-abiding citizens lacks compassion. And I feel the urge to respond. If pinned down, these gun haters aren’t against all guns; they’re against anyone but the government having them. Because they won’t be against police and military having them—unless they’re in favor of dying defenseless. So, they’re really just against non-government citizens having weapons to defend themselves. I’d like to know why they suddenly trust the government so much.

There’s talk of outlawing the bump stock, apparently used in the Las Vegas shooting to make a semi-automatic rifle fire almost like an automatic rifle. Fully automatic weapons are already outlawed. The NRA is not against outlawing the bump stock. Most shooting ranges already forbid them. If a person isn’t trained in rapid fire—the kind of training you might get in the military—it’s easy to lose control and shoot the ceiling or anything (or possibly anyone) within range.

So there’s a good chance there will be some agreement on this. At the very least there may be some control over where such items can be owned or used, since they make a legal weapon into what is essentially an illegal weapon.

I don’t know how the debate will go. What I expect, though, is that when a murderer doesn’t have access to one way of killing, he will find another.

What we really need is a better way to identify the kind of mind and heart willing to mass murder. I don’t know if that’s possible. Isn’t that the idea of the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report? I don’t think things went well when interventions pre-empted actions.

Even better would be creating minds and hearts that don’t go so far awry.

Scarlett Lewis, the mom of one of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims, says that gun control isn’t the answer; misuse of guns is a symptom of a larger societal problem. She suggests teaching young people social and emotional learning. A program she promotes focuses on five points: how to have positive and healthy relationships, deep connections, coping skills, resilience and compassion.

Lewis believes we can see the end of these killings, if we teach every child how to cope with anger, how to be compassionate, and how to love.

Getting out of savagery and up to civilization is a simple but not easy process. We live in a fallen world, with too much evil. A lot will still go wrong. But we can start with ourselves, and with helping and encouraging those around us. The basics include those things that get us beyond our selfishness, the things we get from the Ten Commandments: honor God, life, family, property, and truth. A person who follows this path doesn’t plan and carry out savage atrocities.

During the LDS General Conference last weekend, Elder M.Russell Ballard said this:

We need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism. Let it be said that we truly believe the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are for every child of God.
I testify that “the trek continues,” and I invite you to stay on the gospel path as you continue pressing forward by reaching out to all of God’s children in love and compassion, that we may unitedly make our hearts pure and our hands clean to receive the “multiplicity of blessings” awaiting all who truly love our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Good and Evil Are Both Real

Darkness is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good. If good exists, then evil also exists wherever there is not enough good.

Late last night a man took aim from a 32nd story window in Las Vegas, shooting into a crowd of concert goers, killing 50 or more, injuring hundreds, maybe as many as 500 (estimates are still fluctuating). The perpetrator killed himself as a SWAT team entered his hotel room. Multiple rifles were found. Video footage from people in the crowd sounds like machine-gun fire; i.e., fully automatic weaponry, which is not available for sale. Eventually information should come out about where the murderer was able to obtain such weapons.

Image from BBC News

This was an act of terrorism. It was designed to kill as many innocents as possible. While ISIS claimed credit, there is no evidence of any connection, so that seems unlikely at this time. We don’t know if we will uncover a motive for such an evil act. What we do know is that murdering innocents is evil.

Graphic from BBC News

This morning, while covering this atrocity, Ben Shapiro was talking about evil. He referred to a book:  Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence, by Roy F. Baumeister. In this book, the author talks about four types of evil, or motivations to do violence (I’m summarizing from Ben Shapiro’s explanation):

·         Instrumental: This is the idea that you have an object in mind, and you don’t care what means are used in order to gain that end. You want money; you don’t care that it’s not your money; you go to the bank and rob it, and if don’t care if you shoot somebody in the process. That is instrumental evil. Violence is just an instrument you’re willing to use to get what you want.
·         Ego-driven: Quoting Baumeister, “Violence is perpetrated by a subset of people who think well of themselves. And indeed it mainly occurs when they believe that their favorable images of self have been threatened or attacked.” This is what we’re seeing on college campuses where protesters commit actual violence because they think someone might say words they find offensive. They even call speech that disagrees with their views violence, to justify actual violence against those who disagree.
·         Ideological: This is the people who believe, for example, that communism justifies the murder of a hundred million people, because you’re creating utopia. If people would just succumb to your vision, they wouldn’t need to be wiped out of your way. It’s also what we see with Islamic terrorism, although that can also come under instrumental or ego-driven evil.
·         Sadistic: This is the idea that you enjoy violence, that you grew up from a kid who tortured puppies, and now you go out and you murder human beings.

Often we think of evil in that fourth category. Evil seems inexplicable. The Las Vegas shooting might turn out to be in that category. But this type is actually the least common.

Sadism requires a mind that has released a person from sensing guilt, allowing unfettered “enjoyment” of inflicting pain. Most of us aren’t likely to embody this type of evil. It’s rare, because most of us feel guilt when we do wrong; guilt, or conscience, stops us from committing evil. Shapiro also says it’s the only one of the four types we can profile against.

The other three are evils all of us mostly sane people are susceptible to. And the only solution to these first three types of evil--the only way to civilization--is moral education. We need to learn that the only justification for violence against human beings is self-defense.

Moral education teaches you that your desire for money, or some treasure, or some outcome must be subordinate to the safety of fellow human beings.

Moral education teaches you that your concerns about your identity, or your beliefs, are not that important. Disagreement isn’t an attack. As Shapiro says, “We have to stop feeling offended when we are disagreed with politically. We have to stop attributing evil motives to people who disagree with us, because then we’re more likely to become evil ourselves.”

Moral education teaches that your ideology isn’t worth killing people for. You want communism? Go to someplace people have already chosen that, or set up your commune on a private island somewhere. Don’t impose it by force on anyone. You want Sharia law? There are places you can live under that law; go there. You want your ideologies to win? Try expressing your reasons in a persuasive way. Imposing your ideologies on others is tyranny, and tyranny is evil.

We’re seeing evil in people’s reactions to the atrocity.

CBS legal executive Hayley Geftman-Gold tweeted that she felt no sympathy for the victims. Calling them “Repugs,” she said, “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans are often republican gun toters.” That’s evil. I don’t know whether you’d categorize it as ego-driven or ideological, or some combination. It was recognized as unacceptable, and she was fired for her comments. This person didn’t commit the atrocity, but she thinks people she judges as inferior (because country music = non-Democrat voter) are therefore worthy of being mowed down by machine gun. That way of thinking is evil. And evil thought comes before evil action.

Hillary Clinton and Tom Brokaw both claimed that the shooting was because of gun sales, which should therefore be denied to sane, law-abiding US citizens, since the shooter used guns that were ILLEGAL ALREADY. In fact, legal automatic weapons have been used in a total of three crimes since 1934. And atheist Richard Dawkins mocked, in a tweet, “Durn tootin’, great shootin’. Cool dude sertin’ he’s 2nd Mendment rahts. Hell yeah! / Every country has its psychopaths. In US they have guns.”  In other words, they used this sadistic violence to support their political ideology. While that is clearly multiple steps less evil than committing mass murder, it is using the murder—as though it is a good thing, because we should “never let a crisis go to waste.”

Not related to this incident, but while the rains were still coming down following Hurricane Harvey, a Florida sociology professor tweeted that the people of Texas deserved the death and destruction because they are evil GOP voters. (Note to the professor: Harris County, where the majority of flooding happened, went for Hillary Clinton.) He added later that Floridians who voted for Trump deserved any disaster that Hurricane Irma inflicted. That’s hate speech. It reveals that he thinks people’s lives are worthless if they do not agree with his politics. The professor did, by the way, get fired.

What do good people do when they see others going through tragic circumstances? They send love, prayers, and help—just like you saw in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. Here’s a suggestion of how to help the suffering in Las Vegas. And this:

What do evil people do when they see others going through tragic circumstances? Decide whether or not the sufferers are people they hate, and if so rejoice in their suffering. If there’s room in your heart for that much darkness/evil, you really need to fill yourself with more light/goodness.

Ben Shapiro concluded:

All I would suggest for everybody is that we focus in on how we cleanse our own hearts of the tendency to do evil things, how we look at the world. And that we think a little bit more about the fact that we’re all brothers and sisters in this fight against evil people. And we really need to focus together on how we can make our country a better place across the board without tearing each other apart over simple political disagreements.
The how-to for cleansing our hearts of the tendency to do evil would fill another entire post. But for now, let me suggest some of the goodness I filled my life with this past weekend. It was the semi-annual General Conference for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with hours of one good, uplifting talk after another. Here are a couple that share the good:

·         Jean B. Bingham, General President of the Relief Society
·         Elder W. Craig Zwick, of the Quorum of the Seventy

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What Makes You Think That?

There’s a question I’ve learned that can be helpful when someone is upset about something that you’re not ready to buy into—or maybe more likely, they’re upset about something you know is false. You have to be able to ask this without snark, without obvious skepticism. Ask to sincerely know where they are coming from:

“Really? What makes you think that?”

What I think is that most people want to be able to think of themselves as good. They’re trying to figure out what’s right and wrong, and they want to choose the better side, but maybe they have very little guidance about what that is. And that makes them vulnerable to manipulation. Sometimes what they think they know just isn’t true.

As Ronald Reagan used to say about his political opponents, “It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant. It's just that they know so many things that aren't so.”

There’s a clear example of this type of error going on in recent news cycles. NFL players have decided to protest our flag and country during the national anthem before football games. The purported reason? Racist cops killing unarmed black men and getting away with murder.

That’s the narrative. As Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.… There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Colin Kaepernick
Image from here
As David French wrote yesterday, 

Standing for the National Anthem is meaningless if it’s mandated, and such a mandate undermines the essential liberty of free speech.
In order to have a country with peaceful liberty, we need people who love the country and respect and revere it willingly. Those “taking a knee” are doing a lot that’s wrong, and it isn’t really about their First Amendment right to protest. They’re accusing their fans, who are innocent of the wrongs being protested, in a nation that can never meet their approval, because their accusations have no connection to reality.

For me, it’s no sacrifice to tune them out. Deciding not to watch NFL football is no loss. I can hardly get myself to pay enough attention to know who’s playing in the Super Bowl every year. But there have been plenty of instances when I’ve had to decide whether some entertainment was worth suffering through the hateful accusations from some entertainer using his/her celebrity to spread “so many things that aren’t so.”

We may have come to a point where it isn’t enough just to have NFL owners tell them what they have to do under contract of employment. We want them to choose not to protest the country that gives them greater freedom and opportunity than any society in their race’s history.

The symptom that our culture is seriously ill comes from a youth football league (ages 8 and under) that decided to do the “cool” trend and “take a knee.” Their coach, botching a teaching moment, made sure they knew why they were doing it. One third-grade boy answered, “Because black people are getting killed, and nobody’s going to jail.” So the coach joined them in disrespecting our flag and country.

screen shot from here

Did it not even occur to that coach to ask a kid that age, “What makes you think that?” Or, “Who told you that? Because, you know, that’s just not true.”

Because, in fact, black men being murdered by non-black police officers is not a trend. It is not something on the rise. It is a rarity, and it's inconceivable that such a murderer would be protected from prosecution.

Larry Elder (a black commentator, so he gets to say things without the knee-jerk racist label) listed some of the facts on his radio show a couple of days ago—all from reliable research. I found the facts repeated today in an article he wrote. I’ll summarize:  

·        Unarmed black men killed by police are extremely rare. An estimated 21 black males get hit by lightning in a given year. In 2015 (latest statistics) 17 unarmed (not necessarily nonthreatening) black men were killed by police, including those killed by black police officers.
·        Blacks are not more likely to be pulled over by police than whites. Whites have nearly as many encounters with police in a typical year as blacks do: whites 1.2 encounters, blacks 1.5. Any racial disparity in traffic stops is due to “differences in offending” in addition to “differences in exposure to the police” and “differences in driving patterns.”
·        Blacks who encounter police are not treated more harshly than whites. Bureau of Labor studies show, “Only 0.6 percent of black men experience physical force by the police in any given year, while approximately 0.2 percent of white men do. … Moreover, keep in mind that these tallies of police violence include violence that is legally justified.” And an earlier study of the 75 largest counties in the nation concluded there is “no evidence that, in the places where blacks in the United States have most of their contacts with the justice system, that system treats them more harshly than whites.”
As Larry Elder says,

Any death that results from police misconduct is one death too many, but the point is that police killing of a suspect is rare, no matter the race of the suspect or the cop. And a police shooting of an unarmed black male is still more rare.
Where the rare uncalled-for police shooting happens, we’re all in favor of prosecuting the offending officer, and improved training—and maybe even more cameras—to keep such incidents from happening ever again. The few high-profile cases meant to show the problem end up exonerating the police, but those cases get referred to anyway, and when someone is brought to the truth on such a case, the response tends to be, “Well, it’s still happening all over the place where we don’t hear about it.”

But what if they could learn that that’s a lie?

Every time the media repeats the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” lie, they are doing yeoman’s work as racial dividers. Any time an authority figure such as a football coach or manager doesn’t say, “That protest is for your own time; it’s bad for business if you disrespect the flag and country that the fans who pay our salary love and revere,” they’re countenancing the lies.

I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, the Emmett Till story, The Help, and others. I know those bad situations existed. But they’re decades in the past. Mostly before my lifetime, and certainly before my adulthood. The stories seem foreign to most Americans. There are 320 million of us; of course you can find a few outliers. But institutional racism is simply not an issue in this nation.

When blacks—particularly those who make millions of dollars playing a ball game—complain that this country is so bad, they need to be pinned down: “What makes you think that?”

If I were to guess, I think it might be some kind of leftover from their early life in a worse place—which they escaped from but not everyone else did. Something like survivor's guilt. I don’t know how we get a word in, when we’re not being listened to and the truth is substituted with some fabrication, but it would be good if the “oppressed” learned the secret formula for avoiding poverty in America:

1.       Don’t have sex before age 20.
2.       Don’t have sex until after marriage.
3.       Stay married.
4.       Obtain at least a high school diploma.
Only 3 out of 100 who follow this formula remain in poverty. Everyone else gets work with enough income for the family to eventually move up into the more comfortable middle class. This is true regardless of race.

That’s a pretty good guarantee. For those exceptional 3%, if that’s all we had to deal with, we could easily identify what more needed to be done to help them along. Unfortunately, we also have to deal with mounting numbers of people who don’t live the formula but then want to blame someone else for their unwise choices.

What we could use, as a people, is a way to identify what leads to the sense of oppression. Chances are it’s the untruths promulgated by people who gain power when they stir people up to anger. That’s a millennia-old tactic, tied to all those historic cultures living in tyranny.

If we want freedom, prosperity, and civilization, we could use a better combination of understanding and truth.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

One Month Later

Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi on August 25th, and made its way north to Houston August 26th, beginning the biggest flooding event in recorded US history. That was one month ago today. So I took a drive, camera in hand, to see how things look now, compared to that crazy day.

Today’s post is mostly a photo essay.

There aren’t any hills in Houston. We use overpasses and skyscrapers for views. So when you see a little hill like this one, you know it’s not natural. This is the Addicks Reservoir Dam, not far from the spillway. Most of the time, it’s just part of the road.

Clay Road runs over Addicks Reservoir Dam
Addicks Dam south of the spillway

Eldridge Parkway goes through the reservoir. During heavy rain, it floods, and they close it. This has happened maybe a dozen times in the nearly 20 years we’ve lived here. It’s part of the plan. It was closed until a few days ago. There’s still water in the reservoir that hasn’t drained yet.

Eldridge Parkway, running through the reservoir, is finally open,
but there's still a lot of water alongside the road.

Bear Creek Park is the alter ego of the reservoir. Our kids used to play baseball here. There are soccer fields, camping areas, playground equipment, a lot of forest primeval, and other things you’d expect in a park. That’s how we make use of the space between floods. It has probably been out of commission for an entire month several times. We don’t know how much longer it will still be water instead of playground.

The road through Bear Creek Park is closed
while the park is serving as the reservoir.

Bear Creek Village was one of the worst hit neighborhoods. For those who think people shouldn’t be building in flood zones, understand that this neighborhood is 40-60 years old. They probably thought they’d never flood. But it turns out, when the reservoir fills up with 800-year flood waters, they do flood.

It took quite a while to get the water out so the mucking out could be done. Finally now the debris removal is underway. You can see the heavy equipment at work, and some really big trucks.

Debris removal is underway in Bear Creek Villages

There’s still a lot of debris to pick up.

Sometimes you see stacks of furniture, like this, that remind you there was a live family that lost all of this.

The post office I usually use is being rebuilt.

Bear Creek Post office before
(Photo from Melissa Willis)

Bear Creek Post Office
reconstruction underway

Closer to my house, you can see more lawn scars—the places where the debris sat before getting picked up. Some houses are marked with a C or an H. I believe those were put there by rescuers. I haven’t been able to learn what they stand for. Maybe “clear” and “hazard.” I’m not sure. I'm not sure how they remove them either. But that's a minor detail by comparison with rebuilding the home's interior.

In my neighborhood, I was able to do a few side-by-side comparisons.

After the mucking out.

Same corner after debris removal. Dusty, but looking near normal.

The street the boats went down to rescue people is clear and dry again.

Where boats launched to do rescues into the neighborhood.

Dry again, and looking pretty good.

This was our entrance underwater, and back to normal now.

Our entrance, once the heavy rains stopped. It was underwater
for about a week. That means those homes were underwater that long too.

Back to serving as a road again. You can't even tell.

The Mormon Helping Hands were still out this past weekend, but we're reaching the end of mucking out. Unfortunately, homes that haven't been able to do that yet may be a total loss. The church where I play music with friends once a week is back to normal today; a week ago it still had refugees sleeping in the sanctuary, and a dog refugee room somewhere at the back (we could hear them). That was a long time for a church to be used. Schools are open, and students have been reassigned to new schools as needed.

So Houston lives on. The streets were designed to flood, as backup waterways when the bayous are too full. There’s a lot of engineering that helps this city handle massive amounts of rainfall. But when several feet (not just inches) come down all at once, even this system is overwhelmed.

What’s amazing, really, is how well the water was handled, how few lives were lost. And most important was how neighbors, from near and far, helped one another. Which needs to keep happening for some time yet.

There are a few areas that might not be rebuilt. And there are plenty of places still in the midst of cleanup—way before restoration. But what’s surprising is how much has returned to normal for most of Houston, and how much hope there is that most of us will have our lives rebuilt eventually.

We feel blessed here. So many people showed they cared about us.

Meanwhile, we’re watching the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria. We know a missionary there, who was flown out today, along with a hundred or so others. They had been working hard there, but  The island is in desperate need. there wasn't enough food, clean water, or housing for them. They had stayed in the mission office during the storm, packed in together. Most of them were unable to return to their apartments, so they lost all their belongings beyond the change of clothes with them.

There's no electricity. Spotty communication. Transportation difficulties. Prayers and aid need to go their direction next. That's what good people do for one another.