Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All I know is: If you’re for it; I’m against it

We have become a society so blinded by our partisanship; we are slowly coming to a standstill. We spend all our energy preventing our perceived enemies from progressing that we no longer get anything done but debate.

We live in an “us vs. them” world—this isn’t a surprise to anyone. Nor should it be. The survival of one’s species depends on the ability to determine what is “friend” and what is “foe.” We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t tell the difference between the “us” of friendly animals and the “them” of not friendly animals and sharks. Especially sharks.

Our social make-up results in the desire to associate with similarly situated people. Parents with small children gravitate to having friends who are parents with small children. The clubbing crowd hangs out with other clubbers. And, of course, Republicans with Republicans, Protestants with Protestants, etc.

By virtue of this associate, we create the “us vs. them” scenario. We team up on atheist blogroll to be an “us” of atheists as compared to the “them” of non-atheists. Baptists join Baptists churches to be the Baptist “us” instead of joining the Methodist “them.” There is nothing wrong with this; it is naturally part of who we are as humans. No matter who you are reading this blog, you fall into both an “us” or a “them” category as compared to others reading this blog.

You may be an “us” right hand dominant as compared to a “them” left hand dominant. Or vice versa. (Or some smart aleck who is ambidextrous who is a “them” to all of us who are not.)

I notice a common curious attribute developing. We view the comparative beliefs on a scale. As if everything bad that happens to “us” weighs us down, tipping the scale up for the “thems.” And, alternatively, anything bad happening to “them” tips the scale in our favor.

Therefore, we support anything bad for “them.” Because it must be beneficial for us, right? And we must oppose anything beneficial for “them.” Because that must be harmful for us, right? And anything those “them” want, must be something they think is beneficial—oppose it! If those “them” don’t want it—support it! It must be beneficial for us.

We spend our time watching the other side, countering their every move. Not because we have a moral mandate, or justified reason; but because we think if they want it/don’t want it—we must demand the opposite. To support “us.”

Slacktivist wrote a great blog entry regarding health care reform. His point, to summarize, was that taxes are actually down, and health care costs are up. Yet your average tea-bagger is screaming to high heaven how terrible their “them” is—how awful Pres. Obama is to America. Yet if you asked these simple questions:

“Do you want taxes lower?”
Tea-bagger: “Yes.”

“Do you want health costs to increase?”
Tea-bagger: “No.”

They would discover they actually support the proposed solution under the current Administration! (I know that is overly simplistic, but on these two points it is bottom line correct.)

See, they don’t think. All they know is their leadership, in the form of media personalities, is whipping them into a frenzy of how the Democrats want to do….something. How the President proposes…something. Because the Democrats and the President is a “them”—they must oppose it! Not for what it is; not for a certain ideology. But because the other side wants it.

I read Sarah Palin’s facebook page. She posts a note, and 1000’s of people file responses. Most are what you would expect. I often read a comment like this, “Boy, Sarah, you sure made the media angry. That shows how right we must be.”

Do you get it? Because the media (“them”) was unhappy, it validates the Palin crowd (“us) position. If the “them” was happy, the “us” must be doing something wrong! Likewise, if the “them” is unhappy, the “us” must be doing something right! We validate our beliefs on how unhappy the other side is!

Using the same logic, a murderer must be doing something right, because their victim is unhappy!

I see this all the time practicing law. All. The. Time. If one side wants Expert A to be chosen; the other side immediately objects. Why? Simply because the enemy—“them”—wants it, so we—“us”—must not. If I propose a former Judge to be a facilitator; the other side immediately rejects him or her. They assume my wanting it necessarily translates to them not.

I could tell countless stories as illustrative; I will tell one on myself.

I represented a woman who was looking for past child support due from an ex-husband. He was claiming he was too poor to have paid support. During the hearing, his attorney approached him with a document. It was a letter, sent by Social Security Administration detailing his reported income for the past ten years. (For non-Americans, we pay taxes from wages into Social Security, and once a year, the SSA sends out a notice indicating how much wages were taxed toward Social Security.)

Because the amounts were minimal, his attorney felt this was support for his being too poor to pay Child support.

His attorney moved for the admission of the letter. I objected. Because he wanted it in; I assumed I (the other side) did not. I knew he had not followed the Rules of Evidence, and could not get it admitted the way. I was right—the judge would not let it in.

The attorney tried to get it in another way. I smugly objected again; he was still doing it incorrectly. Again the judge ruled in my favor.

Look at me: winning because the other side was not getting what it wanted, right? Wrong.

It came time for me to present proofs. One basic element necessary was to demonstrate the ex-husband had received wages--any wages--whether it was $1 or $1,000,000 in the last 10 years. Now…wouldn’t that letter have been just the ticket to do that? Now I was stuck with going through complicated proofs, when all I would have had to do (if I hadn’t been so cocky objecting to that letter!) was point out that they had proved this element for me! The letter that they put into proofs would be sufficient.

I fought what “them” wanted, not because of the content, but simply because I was thinking if “them” wanted it; I must not. Luckily, as an epilogue, I was able to introduce the same information through the ex-husband by using the letter to “refresh” his memory. But it was still an unnecessary, extra step.

A basic rule of objecting is to FIRST ask yourself the question, “Does the evidence I want to prevent help or hurt my case?” Not, “Can I win the objection?” Not, “If the other side wants it, I must not.” I had forgotten this rule.

Certainly there are issues we oppose “them.” I support gay marriage for various reasons, not because the “thems” oppose it. But I often see, in blogs and debates and discussions, people so readily oppose what the other person says…blindly…almost instinctively…without thinking why they oppose it, other than the fact their enemy—“them”—wants it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Make sure you put a bow on it

I don’t watch TV. One blessing of a conservative Christian up-bringing was the lack of a television. We didn’t get one until I was 21. Now…more than 22 years later…I don’t have the draw or desire I see in others my age that were raised with one.

The other night, I was working on my computer while my wife watched this show--The Bachelor. I have enough familiarity with Americana to know it was out there, and the rough concept. (If you don’t know—it is 15 or so beautiful women vying for the affection of one man, who whittles down the number of women each week until he has narrowed his “choice” of potential partner to one.)

Having never watched the show (or its alter ego The Bachelorette) I found myself watching for about five minutes. It was all I could stand.

Really? This is what counts for entertainment? Apparently it has been on for a number of seasons, so not only did it gain a following, it has enough support to warrant bringing it back again and again.

It consists of pretty women who are looking for fame (let’s be honest) through national exposure. Who must pretend to be enamored with a guy (still being honest) who looks and acts like 100 other guys in their community. Only those other 100 guys aren’t on television. A guy who is “looking for love” but has a television camera on every date, and is provided limos and grand meals, and glorious settings outside the reach of most dating couples.

I couldn’t care less, so I didn’t look it up—but has there been a single couple that worked out as a result of these shows?

As a concession to the numerous action movies my wife sits through with me, on a rare occasion I will watch a romance movie with her. They can all be reduced to one plot theme: “Within the next 120 minutes, the woman will realize the right guy she should be in love with.” (Although infrequently, they kill the guy off, meaning:

1) Negatively: my wife is an emotional wreck for the next hour; and
2) Positively: I never have to watch that movie again! *grin*)

In our entertainment, this is what we have come to like. Kill the bad guy, get the girl and explain the plot within a few hours. Wrap up my fantasy in a nice little box. Dating involves limos and roses and romance. Never flat tires or an ill-advised call from a ex.

This spills over to politics. Vote the right person in, they fix all our problems, we live happily ever after. Go to college—you will get a good job, have a nice income and retire at 65 with an appropriate pension.

We want our lives to be answered and explained in neat little packages.

Problem? Solution.
Issue? Resolution.
Question? Answer.

This is why God-belief is such a fantastic sell. So what if it creates cognitive dissonance, or talks out of both sides of its mouth? So what if it says completely opposite propositions in the same paragraph with a straight face?

It always provides a nice, tidy presentation. Easily embraced; wonderfully respite. It is this reason Craig does so well with Kalaam’s Cosmological argument in debates. Yes, I know he expands out the premise in great length, but the little diddy:

P1: Everything that begins has a cause.
P2: The universe began.
C: The universe has a cause.

is so simplistic, so tight, so packaged that it is easy to see why people succumb to its lack of sophistication. To explain the issues, the question-begging, the science behind why it is wrong takes time and discussion of difficult concepts.

We live in an America that wants the plot explained by the villain. Our culture wants the answer in easily digestible chews, with words no longer than two syllables. Multi-syllabic explanations are for certain categories on Jeopardy.

We want Prince Charming who (like he does in the movies) says just the right thing, or provides flowers at just the right moment. Absent that reality, why not create one in a God who—so it is claimed—always gives the right answer? Even when that answer is horrible, the person would rather believe in the God who gives horrible answers, than the messy solution of no God at all.

How many movies is the hero placed in what looks to be a terrible dilemma? Tied up with ropes over a shark pool? Of course, within the next 20 minutes she or he manages to escape, capture the villain, stop the missile from blowing up the world, and look absolutely stunning throughout. This same expectation from God is equally reassuring. Sure, things look bleak now, but in our simple explanation is the hope God will…eventually…likewise resolve all the pending problems and we wrap it up nicely.

Things like the Haitian earthquake happen. Because an orderly, trim explanation is the most comfortable, people pray God will do…something…and expect He must have some reason for allowing the event to occur. The hero of our movie has some reason for letting a person get killed; we need only wait for the explanation to come in the next hour or so.

For some, like Pat Robertson, they make up a reason to suit their tiny bundle of a God. Others assume some smart person somewhere has figured out an answer to the Problem of Evil, so why should they bother? Their solution is secure without the necessity of thought.

God makes the best Bachelor. He is always romantic, always makes great dates, always is on time, always dresses nice, is always showered, never farts, and always wraps up the show on a happy note.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You’ve been Punked by Pat Robertson

O.K., we all now know whatPat Robertson claims the reason for the 2010 Haitian earthquake—because 100’s of years ago the Haitians made a deal with the devil to be politically autonomous.

As expected, many other Christians immediately follow up with how Rev. Robertson is wrong, and he doesn’t speak for their particular flavor of Christianity.

But is anyone really surprised by this anymore?

It is not as if Christianity has a checks-and-balance system. No Snopes. No method to weed out the “true prophets” from the “false prophets.” Or “true Christians” from “false.” There is one, and only one, requirement for determination of truth—obtain a following.

What if I told you I grabbed a woman from her wheelchair and repeatedly threw her to the ground? That I kicked a woman in the face? That I choked a person; I hit a guy so hard he fell to the ground and lost a tooth? You would consider me a menace, and danger to society.

Remember Todd Bentley? He does it, and because he has a following--his audience laughs! This is the moral thing to do! And yes, many Christians spoke out against Todd Bentley, too.

Yet how many other items have we encountered, where the claim is passed from follower to follower, each assuming it is true? Because so many other have believed it?

How many Christians who criticize Robertson have passed on an e-mail about how the world is secretly persecuting Christians? An e-mail thoroughly debunked by snopes? How many saw this video about Albert Einstein and believed it to be true?

How many times have we been discussing with Christians and heard, “All the disciples died horrible martyr deaths. They wouldn’t have done that for a lie.” And we know the person hasn’t ever checked out the facts of the claim. We’ve heard Christians tell us how Pharisees were, using only the Bible as their source and no other. We’ve heard Christians tell us how the Canaanites were so evil—without any realization as to how we would know this.

So why is anyone surprised at Pat Robertson? The entire system is infused with “I think…” and “I believe….” And “To me…” and nothing to stop the insidious perpetuation of instilled falsehoods except one thing—if no one follows you, the concept dies.

Pat Robertson has a following. There are people who watch him and believe what he says. (Why would he lie?) To those people, the Haitians did make a deal with the devil—that fact is as historical as Abraham Lincoln being shot. To those people, God is punishing them for that deal—an absolute, certified, 100% fact.

As long as people will listen and support Pat Robertson, he will continue to make outrageous claims. Who will call him out on it? What followers will leave him?

We shouldn’t be surprised. The only thing left is cynical ridicule.

Friday, January 08, 2010

No Angst

I’ve thought of blogs…

I ought to answer a question:
“Where do morals originate?”
Yet all the eloquence aside,
It boils down to “Emotions inside.”

I’ve been listening to iTunes U,
A class on Modern Rhetoric,
It talks of how authors write,
It breaks me free from black and white.

I’m commenting on other blogs
Like The Pugnacious Irishman,
I write and spew and demonstrate,
But little in-road is ever made.

Who cares, really, about some verse?
I find more interest in family,
Rather than bitch about Sarah Palin,
Or disciples die for lie (yet again.)

I started another blog
To continue a conversation
And found--an oft-told report--
A Christian uninterested in retort.

To blog…just to blog… feels shallow.

I am beginning to see, with the Walrus, how the time has come to talk of shoes and ships and sealing wax…of cabbages and kings.