I feel bad for Evan McMullin

It’s no secret that the Donald Trump candidacy has been a total disaster for the Republican establishment. Trump has defied party ideology, divided its constituency, revealed a great deal of ugliness lying under the party’s surface, and refused to bend to the will of consultants and donors. While there are innumerable things to despise about Trump, one can at least realize that he has been a great success in blowing up the bloated mess that is (or was) the GOP.

Add to this the fact that the wildly corrupt Democratic Party elevated Hillary Clinton, a woman who would be indicted on felony charges if not for her name, and a perfect storm has been created for a third party candidate to play a major part. And, in another unlikely turn, the Libertarian Party chose to nominate the most qualified, experienced ticket on the ballot, instead of a suspected murderer or Internet troll. While not perfect, the Johnson/Weld ticket has run an uncharacteristically competent campaign for the LP. Both are former governors with an actual track record of accomplishing what the GOP claims to stand for. They are the best choice in 2016, and it’s not close.

But the truth is that Trump is far from the only disaster that could befall the GOP elites this election cycle. Arguably, it would be even worse, and more damaging in the long-term, for this election to prove that a third party can be viable and break the GOP’s hold on limited government types. Were Johnson/Weld to do well, no longer would the party hacks be able to tell conservatives and libertarians that the GOP was their best and only option. They would lose the “lesser of two evils” moniker. And a well-directed Libertarian Party could be a force to reckon with, as it could also count on a significant swatch of otherwise Democratic voters who actually care about peace and civil liberties.

Enter Evan McMullin. A former spy and Republican insider, McMullin is the GOP elite’s choice for the “non Trump” position. Evan seems like a nice enough guy. I have no reason to think he is running for any reason other than a genuine sense of duty to party and country. Yet, Evan faces what would otherwise be obviously insurmountable barriers. He has almost no ballot access because of his late start. An enormous part of his campaign’s money and time will be spent suing and trying to co-opt small parties. And is it also obvious he is an unqualified nobody. Almost no one even heard of him until a few weeks ago. He has almost no time to build name recognition and organization. He, without any doubt, has zero chance of winning.

Yet despite all this, many conservatives have lined up to support him. Many long-time insiders have come onboard. For at least some part of the conservative/GOP landscape, he has become the choice for those who both hate Trump, and also hate the idea of the LP gaining a foothold. Evan is the non-Trump for the people who fear potentially losing a chunk of the electorate as much as the widely-expected dumpster fire that will be Election Day. His supporters would rather waste time and effort than support the legitimate effort of Johnson/Weld.

There is almost no logical reason for most disaffected conservatives to not support the Johnson/Weld ticket. Many conservatives disagree with Gary Johnson on important issues, like abortion, foreign policy, and the legalization of marijuana. Others don’t like that he doesn’t pay heed to the pet social issues of the day. Yet for those outside the hard-core hawk and social con corps, Johnson is a no-brainer. He’s by far the most competent and qualified, and practices what he preaches. And he has a chance to really change the system.

To be honest, while it’s hard to feel too bad for McMullin given the free national exposure he’s getting, I hate that the entire McMullin “movement” is a complete ruse to take the money and votes from people to support a candidate that no one thinks will go anywhere. A McMullin donation might as well go straight to the lawyers who will be suing to get him on ballots. By running this farce, it is clear that the GOP is in even worse shape than we thought. Left with a dreadful candidate and a flawed but far superior third choice, the elites would rather use some unknown guy as a pawn in a pathetic attempt to maintain control of the party.

I’m not against offering more choices. But politics is what it is. You can either jump onboard the Johnson/Weld train and have at least some chance of shaking up the system. Or you can support Evan McMullin, and make sure that consultants and politicos get paychecks. Seems like an easy choice to me.

The gun debate is over

Like clockwork, mass shootings in America trigger us to engage in the exact same debate about gun rights. It doesn’t matter if the shooter obtained his or her gun legally or not. Or if they showed clear signs of mental health issues in retrospect. Or if any gun law ever proposed would have done anything to stop it. All that matters is that someone decided to use a gun to shoot people.

Gun controllers begin with the same old refrain. How we allegedly have a “epidemic” of mass shootings. How we should ban “assault weapons,” whatever the hell that term means on that given day. Whether the Second Amendment should be repealed or severely curtailed. And why that damn heartless NRA so enjoys watching people get slaughtered.

The statements they make are frequently filled with falsehoods and ignorance. Almost none of them bother to actually learn basic concepts like the difference between semi-automatic and automatic. This fact is worn like a badge of pride, like they are somehow morally superior for not understanding these evil death machines. Gun owners of all stripes are mocked, ridiculed, and insulted, as is the country as a whole and our “gun culture”. Other nations are held up as beacons of peace and love.

In return, gun rights supporters raise important facts about the impracticality of banning guns, about how guns are more often used defensively, about how “assault weapons” are not an actual thing and are no more deadly than handguns. They point out how gun laws have done nothing to stop crime (see Chicago) and how they mainly serve to inconvenience and disarm law-abiding people but do nothing about killers. Examples are raised of gun laws preventing people from defending against stalkers and angry exes.

All of these facts bounce off the gun crusaders. When one feels one has moral righteousness on one’s side, why should anything matter, after all? Why would they bother to listen to a bunch of NRA-bought gun nuts who just think guns are “cool” and don’t care about stopping mass shootings? When gun rights supporters are portrayed as heartless monsters who will gladly watch children die, why should their opinions and facts have any bearing? Why care about people who have no morals?

So the same debate rages over and over again. We have marches and vigils and now Congressional “sit ins”. We have comedians and media figures shouting and ranting about how horrible it is that “normal” Americans can buy guns (note that no one questions if police should have them). Facebook is filled with well-meaning folks posting the same old deceptive talking points. And for a while we fight like dogs and hate each other.

Lately though, something has changed. Sometime in the past few months the proposal was raised to ban people on the “no fly list” from being able to own guns. Initially, the proposal was limited to the so-called “terrorist watch list” but it soon expanded to include every secret list the government maintains of supposed bad guys. Even at first glance, the problems with such a policy are nakedly obvious. For starters, the lists in question are not public, and there is no procedure for even knowing if you are on the list, much less for getting off it. The vast majority of the list is made up of Muslims who have done nothing wrong but having Arabic names. And this is not even getting to the issue of taking away a right by adding someone to a list.

There was a time when the ideas of secret lists and surveillance of innocent Muslims were things the left opposed. When the Bush era brought these new horrors into existence, they were widely derided as being unconstitutional and discriminatory. But suddenly, the subject of guns was brought into the mix. The secret lists once hated were now a tool to take away gun rights. And, far more importantly, a way to portray opponents as supporting the right of “terrorists” to buy weapons.

With alarming alacrity, the gun control movement has fallen behind this heinous proposal en masse. The gun controllers hate guns so much that they are willing to defend a proposal that spits in the face of due process and equal rights. Does it matter that no one even knows who actually would be prevented from buying a gun? Or the question of what to do if those on the lists already own guns? Or that the list is plainly biased towards Muslims? Not at all, because all that matters is that Guns Are Evil.

There comes a certain point where one side in a debate has become so unhinged, so utterly convinced of its righteousness that there is no point even talking to them. This is true of the hardcore “pro-life” movement that believes anyone not supporting a total abortion ban is akin to Hitler. On people who have so completely fallen off the ledge of reason, there is no saving them. There is no discourse. The only thing you can do is cut them off and try to work out something with the sane people.

The problem with the gun debate, though, is that pretty much the entire anti-gun side decided to jump off this cliff together. There are some stragglers, sure, who realize the implications of the “no fly, no buy” proposal and stay firmly on ground. But movements are not made of rational policy wonks. They are made of ignorant masses who follow the leader who is shouting the loudest and making them feel the best about themselves. When the leaders decide to jump off a cliff, most will follow them.

So the gun debate is pretty much over. Not that it really was much of a debate to begin with. It never mattered if policies actually would stop gun violence, just that they were “doing something.” There wasn’t much talk of finding solutions that would reduce gun violence while protecting rights. But now any hope of that is gone. The gun control side has gone off the deep edge, where nothing matters but hating guns and things like rights, reality, and logic are gone. The “no fly” law represents a jump into the abyss. A total abandonment of any good faith or honesty. A decision to check out of discourse and live in a fetid pit of hate and anger.

Maybe some will come back. Maybe those who are left are the serious ones who actually want to find solutions. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d bet on the “gun issue” going on forever and ever until all of us are old and gray. Not much will change in the actual legal landscape, barring a horrendous sequence of events that leads to SCOTUS overturning Heller (not impossible, but years away at least). What will change is the tenor of the debate and how it affects relationships and social interaction. It’s clear the gun control side has largely decided that they have no interest in understanding guns or gun owners. Hopefully, at some point, that will change and we can actually talk. But I’m not holding my breath.

With Rand out, who do libertarians vote for?

Yesterday brought news than many libertarians long thought was inevitable, but nonetheless wished wouldn’t happen – Rand Paul decided to give up his presidential ambitions. With Rand’s departure, there is no significantly libertarian candidate in the race. There are a couple others who have shown libertarian tendencies, but none of them were as clear about expressing it as Senator Paul. His removal from the race makes it hard for any libertarian to know who to support, if anyone.

First of all, to be sure, Rand is not a pure libertarian by any stretch, and became even less so in trying to win the nomination. He is definitely on the non-interventionist end on foreign policy, but in recent months has put forth very restrictionist views on immigration and has in general taken more hawkish stands than he ever did as a senator. Many of his long-time supporters, including myself, hated this pandering and saw it as selling out in order to pander to voters who, in all honesty, he never could win over. Rand did not run a great campaign in general, and this cycle turned out to be particularly hard for him to really stand out in.

But for all his flaws, Rand was the only candidate offering a real possibility at moving the needle. A President Paul would almost surely be less eager to intervene abroad, less eager to use the cudgel of government to force his will on the people, and more willing to adhere to the Constitution. He wouldn’t be perfect, but he’d be 1000 times better than anyone else running. If elected Dr. Paul would be a good ally for the goals of criminal justice reform and ending the War on Drugs. There would be letdowns, sure, but it would be a sizable improvement.

Without Senator Paul, there are scant options left in the main parties. The only two candidates remotely supportable by libertarians, in my view, are Ted Cruz in the GOP and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. These two could not be farther apart on most issues, but both have some appeal. I can see former Paul backers going into either camp.

Cruz at least SOUNDS libertarian on some issues, even if many of his positions then go on to reveal egregiously un-libertarian tendencies (carpet bombing, for example). The biggest problem with Cruz is in his authenticity. It’s clear he is willing to lie, almost pathologically. And his social views are utterly terrifying. The best term I’ve seen for Ted Cruz is “Christian nationalist”. It’s clear Cruz thinks very little of non-Christians and would very likely favor discriminatory policies in office. Cruz at least would be better than others on privacy issues, and somewhat better on foreign policy, but again no one knows if anything he says is even true or how he really would act.

Bernie Sanders seems an odd choice for libertarians, given his claim of being a socialist. I’ve gotten more than a little guff from other libertarians when I suggest Bernie is not a terrible option. Clearly, many of Sanders’ views are utterly anti-libertarian – ultra high taxes, wealth redistribution, attacking free speech, government healthcare, and in general massively increasing the size and scope of government. But on other issues, he is far better than Hillary or anyone remaining in the GOP. He is very willing to discuss criminal justice reform. He is not a reflexive hawk and seems less eager to invade other countries. He voted against the Iraq War. And he’s, at least historically, decent on civil liberties and gun rights.

In truth, I think it really depends on where you fall in the libertarian world. Clearly, a “conservatarian” or right-libertarian is going to favor Cruz. Left-libertarians and those more worried about civil liberties and non-interventionism will be tempted by Bernie. Personally, I’m much more of the latter. The biggest issues to me now are criminal justice reform (specifically, ending the War on Drugs), ending mass surveillance, and preventing wars with Iran, Russia, and whoever else is the enemy of the day. Bernie’s better on all of those things. In addition, the things that Bernie is most noxious on also are those things he is least likely to get through Congress, especially if the GOP retains the Senate.

There are, of course, also the options of supporting a third party candidate like Gary Johnson, or not voting. Both are possibilities. Clearly, if it comes down to Hillary against Rubio or Trump, that’s the only option. No libertarian could ever support any of them. And since that seems like a likely scenario, I’d bet my money on once again filling the dot for Gary Johnson and hoping that the next four years will be less awful than feared. Libertarians really don’t have a great option without Paul, so I don’t think there is any one obvious path to take. For another cycle, we’re left without a standard-bearer who can really start to change things.

This doesn’t mean 2016 is a total failure or that there is nothing that can be done. There will be referenda and ballot initiatives, as well as other elections. It would be foolish to see failure in the Presidential race as a total defeat. Progress is being made in many other areas, and views are changing. We need to keep on fighting for change even if it’s on “smaller” issues or scales. So no one should be getting too upset about Paul leaving the race. He was only one element in an ongoing, generations-long battle we all must be committed to fighting.

Rubio vs. Rand gives me some hope for the future

During last night’s Republican debate in Milwaukee, we saw something we haven’t seen that much of during the roughly five hundred previous “debates” – an actual, well, debate. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, who are about as far apart on foreign policy as the GOP allows, exchanged some heated words.

The relevant parts of the transcript are here (important lines bolded by me):

PAUL:

Neil, there’s a point I’d like to make here…

(APPLAUSE)

….Neil, a point that I’d like to make about the tax credits.

We have to decide what is conservative and what isn’t conservative. Is it fiscally conservative to have a trillion-dollar expenditure? We’re not talking about giving people back their tax money. He’s talking about giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment.

So here’s what we have. Is it conservative to have $1 trillion in transfer payments — a new welfare program that’s a refundable tax credit? Add that to Marco’s plan for $1 trillion in new military spending, and you get something that looks, to me, not very conservative. Thank you.

RUBIO:

So let me begin with this. I actually believe — first of all, this is their money. They do pay. It is refundable, not just against the taxes they pay to the government, but also the — on their federal income tax, it’s refundable against the payroll tax.

Everyone pays payroll tax. This is their money. This is not our money. And here’s what I don’t understand — if you invest that money in a piece of equipment, if you invest that money in a business, you get to write it off your taxes.

But if you invest it in your children, in the future of America and strengthening your family, we’re not going to recognize that in our tax code? The family is the most important institution in society. And, yes…

PAUL:

Nevertheless, it’s not very conservative, Marco.

RUBIO:

I do want to rebuild the American military.
PAUL:

How is it conservative?

RUBIO:

I know that Rand is a committed isolationist. I’m not. I believe the world is a stronger and a better place, when the United States is the strongest military power in the world.

PAUL:

Yeah, but, Marco! Marco! How is it conservative, how is it conservative to add a trillion-dollar expenditure for the federal government that you’re not paying for?

RUBIO:

Because…

PAUL:

How is it conservative?

RUBIO:

…are you talking about the military, Rand?

PAUL

How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures? You can not be a conservative if you’re going to keep promoting new programs that you’re not going to pay for.

RUBIO:

We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe. There are radical jihadist in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon, the Chinese taking over the South China Sea…

RUBIO:

Yes, I believe the world is a safer — no, no, I don’t believe, I know that the world is a safer place when America is the strongest military power in the world.

PAUL:

No. I don’t think we’re any safer — I do not think we are any safer from bankruptcy court. As we go further, and further into debt, we become less, and less safe. This is the most important thing we’re going to talk about tonight. Can you be a conservative, and be liberal on military spending? Can you be for unlimited military spending, and say, Oh, I’m going to make the country safe? No, we need a safe country, but, you know, we spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined?

I want a strong national defense, but I don’t want us to be bankrupt.

It began simply enough. Rand was attacking Rubio’s tax plan and his plan to increase military spending as not being very conservative. He was calling out Rubio for claiming to be a fiscal conservative, yet somehow doing the complete opposite when it came to military spending.

Rubio did not take this well, and his response was extremely telling. Instead of explaining how increasing defense spending to even higher levels was still conservative, Rubio resorted to name-calling and attacking strawmen, calling Rand a “committed isolationist” instead of offering any rebuttal.

The “isolationist” slur is nothing new. Hawks use the word all the time to describe any foreign policy that is even slightly less aggressive than the standard neoconservative line. Obviously, the claim that Paul is an “isolationist” is so wrong that it can be proven wrong with almost no effort. Rubio knows this. He knows that he is lying about Paul’s stance. But he is so taken aback by the challenge to his plan that he resorts to the political equivalent of “well you’re a giant doody-head!”

Rubio then goes on to recite every standard hawk line in the book. He states that the world is a better place when the US military is the strongest in the world – leaving aside the fact that we already account for ONE THIRD of world military spending while only having 5% of the world’s population. We have more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world’s navies combined, and can easily overwhelm any adversary. Even so called “rivals” like Russia, China, and Iran are so far beneath us that they pose no threat to the homeland. The biggest “threats” we face are forces like ISIS, Al-Qæda, and lone-wolf terrorists that will not be easily stopped by any military, no matter what the size.

Then Rubio lists all of the boogeymen we’re supposed to be scared of. The radical jihadists in the Middle East (ISIS) that we allowed to grow by overthrowing Iraq and who pose no threat at all to the United States. The Shia clerics in Iran who have seemingly been THIS CLOSE to building a nuclear weapon for over a decade, who have no intention or ability to attack us, and whose military we could crush easily. The Chinese taking over the South China Sea… which again doesn’t directly affect us, and who everyone knows we aren’t going to war with to stop anyway.

Rand then repeats the obvious – that we can’t afford to spend more on the military, and that the position of Rubio and those like him is not remotely conservative when it comes to defense spending. Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina then felt it was their turn to interject. Cruz claimed we could afford massive military spending if we cut some programs. Not sure of the math here, but it’s besides the point anyway – we can easily defend ourselves with the same or even much less spending. Fiorina added some gibberish about budgeting and tax reform. But the main firefight was over with for the time.

At the time and after the debate, I was stewing about Rubio dropping the “isolationist” slur. Here was the GOP establishment’s golden boy so unable to defend his position that he had to lie about his opponent’s stance. It was truly a pathetic moment for someone who many feel will be the standard-bearer for the party against Hillary. Marco simultaneously insulted anyone less hawkish then him and showed he can’t handle having this debate. His knowledge clearly is limited to the people he surrounds himself with – the same people who pushed the Iraq debacle.

But on reflection, I realized something different. The hawk wing of the GOP is very powerful in number and influence, for sure. More Republicans agree with Rubio than with Paul. But at the same time, they simply cannot defend their ideas when challenged. Rubio knows that $1 trillion of new defense spending is not fiscally responsible or necessary. He knows that in order to justify this, he needs to misrepresent opponents and exaggerate threats that don’t exist.

It recalled a similar exchange between Paul and Chris Christie at a previous debate. The topic of NSA spying came up, and Christie’s despicable response was to play the “9/11 card” that Rudy Giuliani became famous for. Again we saw a defense hawk so unable to defend his position that he had to resort to crass emotional appeals. Again, Christie may have “won” in the same way that Rubio “won” because he simply has more of the party on his side. But it showed how unable he was to defend the atrocious violations of liberty the NSA has done without trying to make Americans scared of terrorists.

Non-interventionists, or even people who simply want a less aggressive foreign policy, have a long way to go. We have many obstacles before us, both in the voting populace and in unscrupulous politicians. I don’t think anyone has any illusion that the US will become a nation of peace any time soon. But what last night showed is one simple thing – the people who favor the status quo are vulnerable. They’ve floated by for so long without being challenged and they know they can’t defend their ideas in an honest debate. We can beat them. It just takes people like Rand Paul who are willing to bear the inevitable slings and arrows and get people thinking. Rand’s position is not even slightly radical – he’s simply less anxious to spend and invade. But even that terrifies folks like Rubio.

There is hope for a peaceful future where the US minds its own business and seeks peace rather than war. This does not mean we don’t defend ourselves against real threats. But it does mean we always try peace and diplomacy first, keep our noses from where they don’t belong, and realize that our military is more than up to the task if need be. But to achieve this, we need to be forthright, bold, and fearless against our opponents. They can be beaten back – but it will require years of hard work. Peace is worth it.

Let’s get this thing started

For months, I’ve been itching to get back to the blogging world. I miss writing. I haven’t publicly blogged at all in over two years, in any capacity. This was in part a conscious decision, and partly just a temporary hiatus that ended up morphing into a longer one. Over time, I realized my brief break was turning into an indefinite vacation.

This was evidenced every time I tried to write something on my blog. My WordPress post library is filled with dozens of posts in various states of completion – ones I barely started, ones I spent considerable time on, ones that I had basically finished but never hit Publish on. I eventually realized that I simply didn’t want to deal with it anymore – the hassle of putting hours into a post only to have 5 people click on it, or of saying something I regret later on. And I had lost my outlet to a wider audience due to my neglect. It just simply was too intimidating a task to start again.

But something changed in the past few months. I began to regain confidence in my voice, and began to see that I can have a part to play. I started to miss the enjoyment and pride that comes when you write something and someone you respect praises it, or you garner a comment or two that either challenges or enforces your take and helps you expand your thinking. And more and more, I saw too many things going on in the world and realized that I could no longer be a passive observer. Even if my part is small, I must try and play it.

I will fully admit now I don’t know where this is going. It could flame out again. It could gain enough momentum to at least continue forward. Or, maybe, it could become something more and actually matter a little bit. It’s too soon to tell. But what is clear is one thing – I need a place to write, to vent, to comment, to debate, to learn. I need to be something, whatever it may be.

One word on this blog – I intend for this blog to be essentially a representation of myself. What this means is that there are no set rules on what will be covered. There will be politics, sure. But there’s more to life. There will also be personal stories, random thoughts, maybe some coverage of music or movies. I’ll go over more of this later as it comes up.

I hope you’ll join me for the ride as this Brain Lemon thing comes into its own. It could go a lot of directions – personal blogging, YouTube videos, podcasts, contributing to other sites. I am not sure for now. But it needs to start somewhere, so here we are. I’d love to have you as part of it.

Sorry, your beliefs are not off-limits

It’s no secret atheists are not the most popular group.  We have a reputation for being smug, arrogant, and generally not fun to be around.  It doesn’t help that many “activist” atheists go out of their way to be a nuisance, often treating believers with derision and condescension.  Meanwhile, we have to deal with a wide variety of negative attitudes, running the gamut from simple ignorance to outright hatred.

Those of us who see atheism in a different way have the unenviable task of dealing with the antipathy created by this awful combination of ignorance and the poor behavior of our cohorts.  As non-believers who do not hold the faithful in contempt, we must balance two priorities that are often at odds.  On one hand, we must be true to ourselves and not ashamed of our beliefs; on the other, we must not needlessly alienate people of faith.  Different people find different ways to do this, depending on their personality and life situation.

For myself, I’m someone with a very conciliatory nature so my overall goal is generally to get along with people as best I can.  I’ll go along with family prayers and such (though purposely keeping my eyes open).  I’ll avoid openly insulting religion when among company that contains believers.  It’s my hope that by doing this I can help eliminate some of the stigmas that come with non-belief and work towards creating an environment where respectful debate and discussion can happen.

But apparently this isn’t enough for some believers.  This absurd post in the Telegraph came across my Twitter feed this morning.  In it, a Mr. Tim Stanley argues that, essentially, atheists need to just shut up and stop criticizing faith because some believers might get their feelings hurt.  Stanley attempts to still affirm that he believes in free speech, but then clearly implies that, at least as far as Internet debates go, seculars need to keep their opinions to themselves lest someone’s deeply held beliefs be offended.  Stanley posts:

But it’s still amazing how people feel that they can casually mock the spiritual and emotional convictions of others – including Tweeting directly at believers that God doesn’t exist and they’re either liars or idiots for saying so.

Yes, it’s really amazing how some people are brazen enough to state that they don’t believe in God and actually feel like they can express this to those who do.  I for one am entirely baffled that anyone would feel like they have a right to question other’s beliefs on the Internet, since this has never happened ever before.  Please ignore for a moment that atheists are persecuted in numerous countries across the globe and routinely told we are awful people.  A theist has his feelings hurt, so we must tone down our rhetoric.

Are believers really so scared of their beliefs being questioned?  I get that it’s hard to have your convictions attacked.  As someone who used to be religious I get that your beliefs are important to you and define who you are.  But my beliefs are just as core to who I am.  Not believing that God has a plan for me, that he would take care of me, was a huge step in my coming to be a more independent, confident person and taking charge of my life.  No longer pretending to belief in mystical things has been incredibly liberating, and I feel more comfortable with myself and who I am than I ever did in the church.

What believers like Stanley seem to be asking for is that their beliefs, and ONLY their beliefs, be kept in bubbles and immune from attack.  They of course offer no such comfort to other faiths like Islam.  They certainly feel no need to withhold attacks on atheism.  Yet they expect us to pretend that their superstitions are somehow sacred, that THEY can believe whatever they want and have the rest of us walk on eggshells.  It’s the height of arrogance, and something I’d never be bold enough to even think of expecting.

Should atheists be tolerant and compassionate?  Of course we should.  The world would benefit by more folks being understanding and accepting that other’s beliefs are complicated and often well-founded (at least to them).  Religion has been around for so long because it fills a human need.  Like many I believe that this need could be otherwise filled.  But for billions of people religion is a huge part of their life.  You don’t accomplish anything by attacking it, you simply ensure that people dig in further. And you certainly aren’t improving the human condition.

I often don’t agree with the tactics used by Richard Dawkins and his ilk.  They are more about self-aggrandizing than converting or loving.  But they 100% have every right to express those views.  They have the right to attack religion how they choose to.  Believers should have no expectation that their beliefs are insulated and immune.  If their beliefs are true and well-founded, they should not be so scared to have them questioned.  Like it or not, religion is very validly blamed for many bad things in the world; the problem is that some who attack it forget the positive it can bring.   You do it no credit to demand that others treat it with kid gloves, while still retaining free reign to attack other faiths and non-belief.  You just look like a hypocrite.

If you want actual dialog, then whatever your belief, approach others with understanding and kindness. Assume that they actually believe what they claim to. Assume they are intelligent people until proven otherwise. Assume they do not hold their beliefs because they are stupid or evil.  Remember that people are individuals, not simply stereotypes. But also be aware your own beliefs might be questioned – sometimes strongly, sometimes unfairly.  If you genuinely hold them and can defend them you should have no fear to put them forth in the marketplace of ideas.

Losing sight of the individual

Last week’s comments by Erick Erickson of RedState caused quite a stir – very understandably.  Many took the comments as a personal insult, especially those who had family arrangements other than the one Erickson was describing as “ideal.”  They saw the comments as denigrating their choices and implying that they were somehow creating a poor environment for their children.  Others, like myself, saw it as playing right into the Democrat “War on Women” meme, since Erick justified his comments using faulty science and references to the animal kingdom, as if those would justify anything.

But the real failure in all of this lies in the fact that this is even a debate at all.  In order for this debate to have any logical purpose, one must accept the assumption that men and women are, by their very nature, vastly different creatures.  From a biological point of view, they clearly are different.  And there are certain traits that TEND to be masculine or feminine.  Men tend to be more assertive, while women tend to be more nurturing.

However, these macroscopic differences pale in comparison to those between individual people.  One man might be more “typically male” – likes sports, video games, beer, and women.  But another male might be very different, and exhibit more “feminine” tendencies.  He might be more intuitive, more caring, and less competitive.  The same applies to women as well.  So while there may be general differences between men and women, they are just that – general differences.  They are not hard-and-fast rules that you can’t bend or break.

Both liberals and conservatives fall into a number of traps when discussing men and women.  To both sides, men and women fall into preset groups regardless of individual differences.  Liberals are largely animated by the “victim/victimizer” mindset and see aggressiveness, largely considered a “masculine” trait, in a very negative light.  They see women as perpetually treated as second-class citizens – sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.  Look at the long-standing liberal belief that women make 73 cents for every dollar a male makes – despite this being proven to not be the case once all factors are considered.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to favor the idea that men should be strong, bold, and confident.  They tend to see women as largely in a supporting role – taking care of the children and the household, either staying home or working a less demanding job.  So it’s not shocking in the least that many defended the Erickson comments, since they reinforce the conservative idea of gender roles, largely based on Biblical guidelines.  This mindset also explains the inherent aversion conservatives often have to any “non-traditional lifestyle”, such as homosexuality.

So by even having this debate, we are accepting the idea that men and women have certain prescribed roles to play.  This may have some basis in biology and psychology, but when it comes to applying it to actual policy, it’s bunk.  Even if you could show that 90% of men and women acted a certain way, the law should still be primarily focused on the smallest minority of all – the individual.  That 10% of men and women who act differently than the norm are deserving of as much respect as those who are “normal”.  As long as their behavior causes others no harm, it must be tolerated.

Instead, conservatives like Erickson love to sit and tell those who don’t live a certain way that they are immoral and wrong.  In doing so, they put to a lie the idea that they truly care about “individual liberty”.  Someone truly concerned with the individual would never look down on anyone for not behaving in a certain set way.  They would see that person as a unique entity, not subject to play a defined role.  The individual should only have one duty in a free society – to seek happiness and fulfillment for himself without harming others.  How he does this is no one else’s business.

It’s a trap they always accuse liberals of falling into – seeing people as groups rather than individuals.  Yet when it comes to how men and women should act, they do the exact same thing.  It’s the year 2013, and it’s time to rid ourselves the notion that ladies must act some way and men another.  To hold on to such notions is to deny the special, unique nature of each person.