The Democratic Party’s Moral Crisis

Joe Biden has claimed that he wants to bring morality back to the Presidency after the ethical abandonment of Donald Trump. He said this frequently on the campaign trail in 2020 and, during a closed-door meeting with civil rights leaders after his election, argued the point loudly.

In 2020, Biden was running against a candidate who could make the point for him simply by virtue of comparison. To his credit, Joe Biden has rolled back several pieces of anti-trans and anti-LGBT legislation imposed during the Trump administration. Perhaps naturally, the social conservative base that Trump was playing to with those policies are attempting to take stock- to find out what they are capable of under the new Presidency.

This, for a morality candidate, could be an opportunity to make good on that claim. Especially since so much of Biden’s political momentum was borrowed from Barack Obama by association. Now that Biden has profited from his comparison to Trump, however, he needs to start thinking how to build on his comparison to Obama.

This also could be a massive opportunity for Biden to validate his claims of being a moral reformer. In 2008, Obama ran and won on a negative comparison to George W. Bush. Repeatedly on the campaign trail, Obama promised to end our Middle Eastern occupation and close the Guantanamo Bay military detention center.

To Biden’s credit, he has recently made overtures toward closing Guantanamo Bay. His current plan for this involves handing over the remaining detainees to foreign governments and transferring whomever remains to American supermax prisons. While this is a relative step in the right direction, it also brings us to the moral crisis of the Democratic Party.

In a word: equivocation. Saying one thing, doing another and pretending that what you did matches or satisfies the original claim. After Obama was elected, America got interpretive about our Middle Eastern occupation. Mainstream news outlets started saying it was a bad idea to leave before establishing a Western-style democracy, which enabled us to set our own receding goal post for withdrawal. Guantanamo disappeared from the talking-head radar almost completely and warrants are issued for Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. The Feds sic’d their thugs on those three for exposing Obama-era military attacks on civilians- including the “double tap”, when a pilot or drone circled back to bomb the emergency first responders.

Even the slaughter of civilians by the American military was somehow whitewashed by upper-middle class faux-leftist popular opinion. Fortunately for Biden, even this could be amenable to reparation. The Icelandic journal Stundin recently ran a story about Sigurdur Thordarson, a key source of the sexual assault charges against Assange, who now admits to fabricating these claims. Moreover, Thordarson was once again given the formal status of a witness against Assange in 2019 by the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration. This was while Thordarson was incarcerated for multiple sexual assaults against minors.

Alexandersson and Jonsson, the authors of the June 26th Stundin article, wrote that American officials updated the indictment against Assange in a London Magistrate Court. The legal entanglement between Assange and Manning could regain lost ground if Assange were guilty of felony-level crimes in Iceland. Kellen S. Dwyer, the deputy of Trump’s Attorney General appointee William Barr, offered Thordarson immunity from any crimes he admitted to in his testimony against Assange. Nor would any such admissions be shared with any other law enforcement agency. Thordarson now admits that he never had any position of standing within WikiLeaks nor was he ever instructed by anyone therein (let alone Assange) to do anything illegal.

With this now being a matter of public record, consider the opportunity that Joe Biden now has. Consider the moral contrast with Trump that got Biden elected- especially with Trump’s open hostility toward the American press. If Biden were to pardon Assange and Snowden and cease any legal machinations against them and Manning, imagine the support he would galvanize. Right now, we exist in an era where Neera Tanden’s confirmation is thrown off because she said mean things on Twitter and not because she punched a journalist or fantasized out loud about seizing Libya’s oil as compensation for our military presence there. Being mean on the internet is treated like a more serious wrongdoing than actual war crimes. If Biden unconditionally pardoned Manning, Assange and Snowden, he will have set the moral foundation for a withdrawal from our Middle Eastern occupations.

By legitimizing Snowden, Manning and Assange as whistleblowers, he would be elevating the moral seriousness of war crime which would be the ideal set up to a full withdrawal. He would also alleviate some of the anxieties of leftists like myself who fear a return to the equivocation and apathy of the Obama era.

There would be no better way to differentiate himself from his former running mate than to cease the persecution of whistleblowers that Obama initiated. He would be sending a message that his would be a presidency of real change and real hope, instead of those words as kitschy slogans on a red and blue, pseudo-Warhol campaign image.

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party need to ask themselves what they want their legacy to be in the wake of Trump. The American left sees the Democratic Party as opportunistic and dismissive of their values. We feel like we are trapped between war-profiteering cultural reactionaries and manipulators. Leftists in America feel like the Democratic Party keeps claiming to share our values while insisting that they’ll set thought to deed in just a little while. Just a little while has been happening for over a decade.

Obama promised to end the militaristic puppeteering in other countries before he got elected…and afterward, somehow got the comfortable, complacent network TV demographic to embrace the proselytizing of Western democracy. Formerly, the moral justification for the Vietnam War. Biden wrote, in the introduction to Sarah McBride’s autobiography that trans rights are now at the frontlines of the Civil Rights movement. This last Pride month, he had many flowery remarks to share about the urgency to stop violence against trans women. There have already been suicide attempts in the Arkansas Children’s Hospital following the prompt cessation of hormone replacement therapy. Mary Bentley, an Arkansas Republican Representative, recently threw her weight behind a bill that would protect educators who wish to persistently misgender and dead name trans youth.

This is a mental health issue that has long suffered in mainstream opinion. It is difficult to communicate the hardship this inflicts to a cisgendered public. I could unload a ton of personal stories but it wouldn’t advance my point at all. This is an experience that teaches trans people that our feelings and mental health count less than everyone else’s. It is an experience that has taught many of us that, no matter how civil things become, we will never truly belong anywhere.

That is the depth of pain and alienation Biden would be addressing if his White House began an uncompromising reversal of the transgender policies of the Trump era. Many of us, perhaps for the first time, would begin to wonder what it would be like to have a president who was also our president.

If Biden’s claims of enacting a morally bold Administration are sincere, then now is the moment to prove it.

Update, 7/5/21: We have just left our biggest military base in Afghanistan. Credit where credit is due.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/06/09/biden-reportedly-making-moves-to-begin-closing-guantanamo-bay-and-trying-to-avoid-obamas-mistakes/amp/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2021/05/17/us/politics/guantanamo-detainees-release.amp.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/unaccompanied-minors-detention-cells/2021/03/10/a0d39390-81c6-11eb-bb5a-ad9a91faa4ef_story.html?_gl=11gkmn05_ga*R0hwcmRUUlV2eVkxZmM1dTNVbS1fcHo4TGZTQkhHM0w5NFRPUHNEUGVVajVXTkJUS3MtRVJBVXRHc1NVaTJjaw..

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/apr/15/facebook-posts/fact-checking-whether-kids-cages-border-facility-7/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.azcentral.com/amp/7007422002

https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2021/06/arkansas-republican-called-trans-people-abominations-house-floor/

https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2021/04/another-anti-trans-bill-arkansas-allows-people-share-bathrooms-trans-people-sue/

Bathroom bill stalls as Arkansas lawmakers consider costs

https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2021/04/arkansas-legislature-now-aims-ban-trans-peoples-correct-names-pronouns-schools/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/7144794002

https://stundin.is/grein/13627/key-witness-in-assange-case-admits-to-lies-in-indictment/

America’s forever war: bombshells from Trump and Hillary Clinton

Alex Kane, in a May 25th article on jewishcurrents.com, wrote that the Biden State Department committed over five million dollars of aid to Gaza humanitarian efforts. Simultaneously, the State Department also accepted a 735, 000, 000$ offer from Israel in exchange for military support.

Kane writes that the State Department dispensed an export license to Boeing to carry out the American end of the purchase. This included Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Small Diameter Bombs: two varieties of laser-guided explosives used by Israel in an eleven day attack on the Gaza Strip which ended on Friday, the 21st of May.

Reporting earlier that month suggests an interesting dialectical process leading up to this point. On May 3rd, Axios reporter Rebecca Falconer published an article detailing remarks made by Hilary Clinton on a potential withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. Clinton warned that such an event could cause a surge of Afghan refugees and give Jihadi militias a chance to regain lost ground. Two weeks later, the UK branch of The Independent reported that Trump sent a private memo to his Pentagon appointees, stating a wish to immediately withdraw from Afghanistan following his loss of the 2020 Presidential election.

The irony is hard to miss: Trump gets all furious and apoplectic after losing so he decides to punish his own base. So Mister “I love selling weapons to the Saudis” wants to take his ball and go home. Since the 2020 Presidential election and immediately afterward, all criticism of Trump is welcome on the left- even if it’s for things the left should be doing. This leaves the door open for Hilary to look after her own bottom line and look good doing it.

So on the 25th of May, we learn Biden sold laser-guided weapons to Israel for 735 million dollars while kicking five mil to Palestine for humanitarian aid. The dude is hedging his bets but it’s clear which one he expects the bigger return from.

You know how green infrastructure reform, universal healthcare and universal basic income are constantly shot down by people asking how we’re gonna pay for it? Do the outraged deficit hawks have nothing to say about the laundering of perpetual war? Is this what the big liberal rollback of the Trump administration looks like?

Days Before Approving Humanitarian Aid to Gaza, State Department Agreed to Contentious Bomb Sale to Israel

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-election-memo-military-troops-b1848997.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.axios.com/hillary-clinton-pulling-us-troops-afghanistan-consequences-0f57af75-56b3-465b-ab94-9b27a3afec02.html

North Dakota’s theocratic gambit & potential anti-trans legal rollout

Anti-LGBT lawmakers and activists are taking inventory, now that Biden is in office. Under Trump it was open season on the queer community and now social conservatives are testing boundaries to determine what they can get away with. Hopefully, this reconnaissance won’t cost too many lives.

On January 19th of this year, North Dakota began legislation on House Bill 1476. On January 21st, it was fortunately withdrawn. The bill would have made same-sex marriages from other states as good as non-existent in North Dakota and penalize any corporate or state entity that openly expresses support for LGBT people in general. The bill also would have criminalized the teaching of anything about sexual or gender variance in history, science or health.

As bad as that would have been, there was a truly surreal detail in the bill’s list of relevant definitions.

After my head stopped spinning, I looked online for any legal validation or precedent for this. I found only two outstanding instances. One of them was a 1890 court ruling and the other dates back to 2014. The 2014 case involved convicted prisoners who wished to form a secular humanist discussion group, the way that prisons host religious discussion groups. That particular case ended in a ruling that secular humanists are entitled to the same First Amendment rights that protect religious expression.

The 1890 decision, meanwhile, was simply the last attempt made in court to set a legal definition of religion. It was then provisionally offered that “The term ‘religion’ had reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose.” In the same case, it was said that to defend fundamentalist Mormons who wish to practice polygamy as a religious freedom is to “offend the common sense of mankind.”

Further reading revealed that the 1890 case only affords potential for interpreting secular humanism as a religion. And this is only because one of the attendant Justices capitalized Secular Humanism like a proper noun in a written brief.

There are two likely possibilities: one is that the “religion of secular humanism” is something the author(s) of ND HB 1476 fabricated out of whole cloth and means nothing. This would be nice and the withdrawal of the bill could make it seem likely: maybe it was withdrawn because that claim was so sweeping and dramatic that the authors pulled it before it could be scrutinized closely by other lawmakers.

The language of 1476 also reveals conceptual, theocratic groundwork: repeatedly within both the definitions and the proposals, it is written that the bill attempts to isolate the public from “nonsecular” influences and classifies secular humanism as “nonsecular.” On it’s face, this echoes the claim within Christian apologetics that Christianity is both necessary and relevant to every living human.

C.S. Lewis frequently espoused this, to name just one of the Christian thinkers to champion that argument. In this view, the only reason you would claim to be an atheist or an agnostic is either ignorance or dishonesty and everyone is “religious” whether they cop to it or not. (as the image above shows, claiming to be non-religious is treated as patently false) The only meaning of the word ‘secular’ that would make sense in this theology is a state intermediary between religious individuals.

Claiming that all values must necessarily come from religion sounds like it would be laughed out of the room by lawmakers in a country that separates church and state. This is where we get to the scarier possibility: what if increased scrutiny was not the reason it was withdrawn? What if, because so many state-level lawmakers play to social conservative voters, increased scrutiny would not have stopped it anyway?

An absurd claim can either indicate ignorance or the existence of an understated plan. Twenty-eight states have considered similar bills lately with less expressly theocratic language. This could simply be part of a trial and error exercise for social conservatives to delineate where the “line” is. In that scenario, ND HB 1476 could simply be an effort to test the deep end, which would be cold comfort to those who have already suffered from these laws.

In Arkansas, doctors are prohibited from providing transition-related health care to minors. Minors who were already receiving hormone replacement therapy have had their treatment summarily stopped. A USA Today article paraphrased Rep. Deborah Ferguson’s description of a testimony provided by a physician from Arkansas Children’s Hospital. This doctor stated that several minors that receive HRT at Arkansas Children’s Hospital attempted suicide days after this law went into effect.

If one were determined to play devil’s advocate, it could be said that North Dakota is willing to put it’s money where it’s mouth is. There are also two separate bills banning transitioning minors from school sports, one of which contains a stipulation that medical research will be gathered going forward. However I do not envy the person who has to tell the parents of a suffering child “don’t worry, we’ll do research. If your child’s mental health tanks, we’ll consider it with the rest of the data!”

https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/67-2021/documents/21-0831-03000.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3UJafL9DNTpzbWztQ2lnRX3YdG-2kD0rQGUu3MlErvnjF5WsVLZt3fSyY

https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/north-dakota-lawmakers-need-focus-real-issues-not-discriminatory-bills

https://www.aclund.org/en/legislation/house-bill-1476

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/11/19/atheists-and-secular-humanists-are-protected-by-the-constitution-regardless-of-whether-their-belief-systems-should-be-considered-religions-or-not/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.insider.com/over-half-of-us-states-tried-passing-anti-trans-bills-2021-3

https://www.google.com/amp/s/bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/north-dakota-transgender-sports-bill-would-revive-ban-and-add-study/article_e95dc5ff-dcf9-5b92-86c3-6c5fbd36247e.amp.html

The reframing of America’s neverending war: 2001 until now

Oval Office memo this morning: “Talk to corporate LIKE A BOSS“

Welp, America just attacked Syria, the first military action ordered by Biden during his presidency. Without congressional authorization. The reporting relays a claim that the targets of this strike were Iran-led militias.

As someone who was a preteen in America when 9/11 happened, this is depressing. This is even more depressing because it might not occupy the spotlight of the American media for very long, as it doesn’t have a conventionally salacious antecedent.

If you’re an American in your early thirties or older, you can probably remember the press dialectic during the years immediately after 9/11. The memory almost feels like a Lonely Island song that’s written around repetition, like Jizzed In My Pants or Like A Boss. Where the thing being repeated gets more and more unrelated to everything else and becomes comically random.

First it was all about Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Then there was a “preventative” reframing that was all about getting weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of heads of state who collaborate with terrorists. We then hyper-focus on Saddam Hussein and ignore the break in cause and effect. Because Dick Cheney is clearly a man of honor and wouldn’t even consider continuing the botched Iraq invasion from the days of George the Elder. I mean, why would you even go there, that’s ridiculous, right?

So at that point the dialectic shifts to the need for providing stability until a functional local government takes control. This was an effective way to quash debate since, in the absence of context, the moral stakes look confusing. If someone says “we never should have been there in the first place and there is no causal link between this and 9/11” the other side can reply with “what are we supposed to do, just leave them without any judicial system or constabulary?” An American could say that, regardless of what happened in the past or how, we have a responsibility to vulnerable Iraqis right now. I grew up with people who joined the military and were deployed to Iraq at that time, when this was the prevailing point of view.

Actually…when I was a senior in high school, I had classmates who thought spreading “western democracy” would have been justification enough without the war on terror. I grew up in Nowhere, Alaska in a small, rural town with a distinctive cultural and ethnic history. Not every small town in America is comparable to the one I grew up in, but there are probably some similarities. It is conceivable that there were average Americans watching Fox News and CNN every night at that time who may have thought something like that in the back of their minds. There were probably more than just a few thinking that, really.

So between the lack of a clear either/or choice and the emotional temptation to think that your own nation should expand anyway, a lot of people checked out of the conversation. To this day, the popular wisdom among Americans is that we’re occupying the Middle East to provide stability until a local democracy develops. Obviously, the insistence on only relinquishing control to a democracy gives America the ability to set its own standard for withdrawing.

Nearly a week ago on MSNBC, Morning Joe discouraged the usage of terms like “perpetual war”, “forever war” and “occupation” to describe the American presence in the Midde East. He prefers the term “open-ended presence.” The apathy and confusion that followed the American assumption that we just gotta stay there forever has taken root. And those roots are so deep that a pundit on MSNBC can claim that perpetual war is both normal and desirable. I repeat- on MSNBC, which has a reputation for being a left-leaning news network. In 2001, openly justifying perpetual war would have been political suicide for anyone on the mainstream right. Back then, a conservative who didn’t want to get heckled out of the room would have to at least invoke the appearance of a definite end-point.

It is so tempting to think that the American mainstream has ceased to care about this loose thread. Many probably have. And there are many dimensions of culpability on both the left and the right. When Barack Obama was sworn in, he said he was not inclined to allow an investigation into the war crimes of George Junior. In keeping with his morally bold and assertive image, he said his would be an administration that looks forward, not backward.

Perfectly good sentiment on its face, if it didn’t continue the laundering of neverending American war. The dude went on to authorize Air Force and drone strikes on Middle Eastern civilians. In the case of the air strikes involving pilots, said pilots were directed to swing back and bomb the same location to make sure the emergency first responders were killed. This was referred to as a “double-tap”. I guess he was looking forward, just not the way we hoped.

Perpetual war, at that point, was so deeply entrenched in our sense of normalcy that the prosecution of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange barely got a rise out of anyone.

Many learned, then, that blowing a whistle on war crimes was no longer a moral slam dunk in America. People learn through example and Obama was a President with a dedicated, skin-deep liberal movement behind him. Do the math.

Then came Trump. If ever there was a convenient opportunity to make war crimes evil again, it would be with a President we all love to hate. The first time the dice were rolled on impeachment, the blue dogs decided to invoke the phone call about Hunter Biden. The second time, it was over the Capitol riot. Out of all the reasons to go after Trump, no one decided to make an impeachment movement about laundering money through his DC hotel chain. Through which payment was made to Trump by the Saudis, in exchange for American-made weapons. Late in 2018, spent shell casings that were manufactured in America were found in warzones where Saudi Arabia was participating in guerrilla warfare.

I mean, you’d think the assassination of General Soleimani a year ago might have been brought up. Emoluments, weapons-dealing with laundered money or assassinating an Iranian General at a peace conference in Iraq were not deemed worthy to base an impeachment case on. Trump even said, in an interview, that our military forces in Libya have seized their oil wells. He elaborated that he wasn’t inclined to take permanent possession of the wells- but he wasn’t ruling it out, either. Later on, Neera Tanden spit balls the notion of confiscating Libyan oil revenue for compensation for our military expenditures and gets picked by Biden for Budget Director.

This is a huge reason why the discourse around civility is so mind-numbing (even if I think a version of it is desirable- read my ‘Civility’ post if you care what I think about that). What most people mean by civility is decorum: if Tanden’s confirmation is nipped in the bud, it will be because Joe Manchin was upset by her mean Tweets. Being a catty troll on social media will stop you from holding office but openly fantasizing about colonial piracy will not.

If you live in America, ask yourself if this is really a nation you feel good about being a part of. We revile bad manners on Twitter more than war crimes. If that seems whiny/hyperbolic, then where does this lead eventually? Just a few decades ago wasn’t there a hugely popular counter-culture movement galvanized by moral outrage over our invasion of Vietnam in the sixties? Wow. Just wow. And to think, these days if you scream bloody murder over illegal, offesnive wars you’ll be lucky if getting told to shut the fuck up is all that happens to you. Ask Chelsea Manning about that one. If you do comissions for a high-profile news outlet like the Guardian, you might loose that comission if you criticize a fashionable, above-board arms deal. While the cash stimulus for COVID relief gets shaved down.

Oh and escalating death and disaster because of climate change? Remember back in 2018 when the WMO said we had about ten years to get that under control before we can’t? That was three years ago. Tick-tock, tick-tock. That pesky problem that gets laughed out of the room if anyone brings up anything decisive and effectual, like a Green New Deal? Does the military industrial complex get to go on spending billions every year while alternative energy is always slapped down by people asking how we’re gonna pay for it? The invisible elephant in the room loves money. This even carries over into deficit-hawkery. Whenever a 15 dollar minimum wage, green energy, police reform, universal basic income or Medicare for all gets brought up, conservatives and blue dogs love to invoke the deficit. It’s almost like there’s a huge, voracious, cancer-like growth that that keeps wasting billions of dollars. Every damn year. People insist on money for goods and services so maybe that could do the motivational heavy-lifting that regard for life and limb can no longer accomplish. If the depth of trauma we inflict across the globe doesn’t get under your skin then maybe somebody could think of the money-children. Maybe if we saved more of it we could do something about the looming floods, hurricaines and our non-functioning healthcare system. You know, bringing us full-circle back to the value of human life and limb.

During the final days of Trump’s lame duck period, Andrew Yang said that, if we prosecuted Trump for war crimes, we would risk keeping company with third-world dictatorships where heads roll between administrations. I’m just a catty troll on the internet but I think having Presidents who can commit war crimes with impugnity is a bigger problem.

More on this, from May 2021

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2021/02/25/us/politics/biden-syria-airstrike-iran.amp.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/10/08/world-has-only-years-get-climate-change-under-control-un-scientists-say/%3foutputType=amp

https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2012/12/20/1171594/-Any-outrage-about-Double-Tap-Drone-Strikes-Killing-Rescuers-and-Children-Any-sympathy

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.timesofisrael.com/guardian-columnist-claims-he-was-let-go-for-joke-tweet-on-us-aid-to-israel/amp/

The hard work of civility

Content warning

I’m pretty sure this is gonna annoy or piss off nearly everyone.

In both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections here in America, there were widespread expressions of shock. Many Americans began to see a near-majority of us as being demonstrably evil. Or, at the very least, the other half sees evil as a tolerable state of normalcy.

I chose to use the meme above because of how confrontational it is. To forgive mistakes and to see the good in those that are guilty of evil feels very different now. Nearly impossible.

Nor am I exempt from this. Lots of queer people like myself get used to people-pleasing because we are so deprived of acceptance that any price might seem acceptable. I won’t belabor this point but I’ll say that, in order to reverse this destructive psychological tendency, I swung hard in the other direction.

I essentially adopted a policy of zero expectations from others and license to do whatever I want, without explanation or justification. Pure fairness.

This belief is also embodied in a well-known adage from Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible: “If your happiness or success is offensive to someone, DESTROY THEM”

This continues to be one of my favorite quotes and I’ll probably embroider it on a homey lil doorway decoration that all cute, quaint little houses seem to have.

I believe in my lived truth: I cannot do otherwise. I know what it is like to learn the value of dignity the hard way. But even if the specific point of contact between lived truth and objective reality is difficult to perceive, it must be grappled with.

This would be true anyway, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it unavoidable. The new, resilient and even more contagious strain that originated in the United Kingdom is now in America, and even before that we’ve fucked up our response so badly that we got travel-banned by the EU. Our negligence, as private individuals, is now pushing the limit of our healthcare, administrative and scientific infrastructure. Those who did not take the first lockdown seriously are now saying that we should have followed the order better the first time around. Reality has become so negotiable that we see it as our due when we make exceptions to break quarantine. Across America, hospitals are being filled to capacity and dead bodies are quickly and efficiently removed because of the need for more hospital beds. Our belief in our right to ignore the needs, humanity and mortality of others has enabled this pandemic to become what it is here.

There is, though, a less obvious but equally pressing need for greater unity. A society that values democracy as an aspiration will not change without minds being changed. Minds do not change without conversation. The portrayal of civility above as a naïve attempt to marry an unstoppable force with an immovable object is a lived reality in many respects. I have no desire to sit down with people who do not think I am as human as they are, or that the historical trauma of my ancestors was an acceptable price to pay for the proliferation of Western culture. But there is no other way forward.

In an adversarial duopoly such as the one America is subject to, there are convenient and practical reasons not to believe this. We are shown that the side opposite our own will stop at nothing to defeat us, including sabotage, deception and potentially even violence. We often feel that to play by the rules under those circumstances is a mistake. A friend of mine once said “When you try to be reasonable with unreasonable people, you get played.”

If you were not alive for it, then consider what racial integration in public schools must have looked like when Lyndon Johnson decided to enforce it with the military. At that time, it must have seemed like a question with a diversity of opinions on both sides and to claim that you are right and so many others are wrong would have sounded like sweeping arrogance. Yet we now take racial integration in society for granted. Democratic change happens through exposure to other ideas and sometimes that exposure must come through confrontation. A first blow needs to be struck sooner or later. When the abolitionist John Brown was publicly hung, a young solider named John Wilkes Booth was in attendance who would go on to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Meanwhile, other contemporaries of Brown equated his willingness to die for the greater good with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The early skirmishes preceding change are always seen in the most polarizing and combative lights. If these necessary challenges to popular wisdom are to last, though, conflict cannot be the end even when it must be the beginning.

If not sooner, conversation must happen later. And the prospect makes my blood boil, at times. I grew up practicing a marginalized religion and my Christian neighbors spent both my childhood and their own trying to convert me and convince me that Western conquest could not have been that bad if Natives got Christianity out of it. The various rounds of bathroom panic create an expectation that myself and those who share my gender identity are sexual predators and that we are obligated to explain how we are not. Transphobia and stealth racism have become fashionable brands and a method for washed up political figures and celebrities to renew their cultural relevance. I have dated people who saw me as racially inferior and my gender identity as false and I simply took the time to civilly engage them in conversation about it when I could. And it has never gone well. I detest the prospect of nobly taking one on the chin for the moral edification of others for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, I could not have made it this far in my life and achieved this much success and happiness if I thought everyone who demonized me and people like me were demons themselves. This admission, though, must co-exist with the point of contact between lived truth and objective reality. What would such reconciliation actually look like?

I once had a traumatic encounter with someone who was released from prison mere weeks beforehand, having been jailed for victimizing others the way he did me. Might I, potentially, be required to shake that person’s hand, or the hands of those like him? During the few occasions where he approached me in public afterward, I could not even bring myself to make eye-contact with him. When he was seen around my mother’s workplace a few years later, I ended up binge drinking for days.

Perhaps there is a boarder to the territory of forgiveness. If so, I don’t know definitively where it is and I doubt anyone else does. I would also like to clarify that I am not equating violent people with those who give voice to bigotry. We are all familiar of the conversational slope of “what about”-ism, though. I am only relating that memory as my only experience that could furnish a worst-case scenario of forgiveness. Yes, someone who enables or condones evil might not be an evil person- but what about those who have committed predatory acts and have an established pattern of it? If conversation is necessary in the long run, then the scope of necessary engagement will probably include some painful conversations. If all movements for positive change start as a marginalized effort, though, then the fear of a bad outcome cannot stop us from trying.

There is a concept that has degraded from misuse by bad faith pundits in the last decade. This is the free market of ideas. Without those harrowing conversations, we cannot say that we have given the range and applicability of public discourse it’s due. The free market of ideas cannot be dismissed as a dishonest ploy from hipster commentators if there are ideas that have not entered the market for fear of bad company.

The true, ethical imperative of civility and dialogue can lead to frightening responsibilities and confrontations. It frightens me. But what alternative exists? If we see those who disagree with us as monsters in human form, what would the application of this belief look like? If we cannot deign to associate with them at all, then we cannot claim to be the victims of unfairness when they accuse us of being tribal and unreasonable. As potentially terrifying and mysterious as such negotiations may be, a pandemic in which our healthcare system is bursting at the seams is not the time to experiment with disposing of civility.

At the same time, though, we need to be able to recognize other common-sense needs. We need our Lyndon Johnsons and our John Browns and those who are willing to use their power unapologetically for the greater good. I absolutely support the push for Progressives in Congress to force a vote for Medicare for all and a greater stimulus effort because the health care system and our profit-driven society simply have not left us prepared to face things like a long quarantine during which we can’t work in person (or at all). Civility must be weighed in balance with external demands, but the degree to which other people create external demands means civility will keep coming up.

Other contemporary events, such as civilian violence, may also be attributable to others who feel driven by necessity. This has the appearance of an impossible and escalating gridlock. I acknowledge that it is possible, but I do not think it is necessary. Not only does civil discourse need to be weighed in balance with circumstantially necessary action. It must remain possible at roughly the same time (whether intermittently or perpetually).

This will not be easy. Yet when we are driven to act unilaterally, we can at least be honest about why. Those reasons being laid bare enables others to speak to us on the level at which we need to be heard.

-Leonard Cohen

Leftism, transphobia and Zeno’s paradox

Zeno’s paradox, for our purposes, can be summarized thusly: someone shoots an arrow and measures it’s progress by halves. While measuring by halves, one is constantly shaving off a half of the difference no matter how close or far the arrow is. While measuring in the halves of the closing distance, one could potentially keep measuring the relative halves down to subatomic increments and never actually record the impact.

Obviously, the arrow is going to hit something sooner or later. This is undeniable, but it is also possible to measure the progress in such a way that it cannot be perceived.

Since the American presidential election ended, I’ve taken a break from writing about political stuff. It simply wasn’t doing my mental health any favors. I was watching a video from the YouTuber called Thought Slime, though, about transphobes attempting to weaponize philosophical materialism. A commonly echoed point shared by this flavor of bigot is that A. trans people claim that gender is a social construct and B. social constructs are not real.

The analogous relationship this claim has to Zeno’s paradox is also uncannily relevant to the recent voter-shaming fad within the American left. To keep things sequential, though:

The gender-essentialist avenue of transphobia typically allies itself with a clash between philosophical materialism and linguistic fluidity. You know, the Jordan Peterson/J.K. Rowling types that hold that post-modernism is being turned against cultural institutions that are validated by human nature and tradition. Ergo, the notion of social constructs amounts to consensus reality and consensus reality empowers things that are not real.

This is easily refuted by both sociology and animal psychology. When pack animals are threatened by a separate species, they respond with the typical fight/flight response. When threatened by members of their own species, the fight/flight response becomes posture/submit. Pack animals typically try to signify victory or submission rather than engage in mortal violence. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule, but this is an observable and documented behavioral convention among pack animals.

Consciousness, famously, is an emergent phenomenon. The exact electrical/chemical process that gives rise to our experienced consciousness cannot be observed, yet we know enough about the electro-chemical interplay of the brain to infer how it leads to consciousness.

An emergent phenomenon is where you know what goes in, you know what comes out but you don’t know the middle stage. In that situation, you can make educated inferences about the transformative phase based on the beginning and ending, but until you can observe it, an educated inference is as good as it gets.

Now…we own that humans are pack animals, and pack animals typically show behavioral evidence of shared psychological experiences. This is what people usually mean by the ‘herd instinct’. Since the expressed convention of the herd instinct predictably shows itself in a specific type of animal, it is likely that this behavioral pattern has a biological origin. This cannot be objectively documented any more than the emergence of consciousness itself, but the herd instinct’s ubiquity among pack animals is a strong sign that the herd instinct is not fabricated out of whole cloth.

This means that social constructs are almost certainly real. Social constructs and their predictable origins in the herd instinct cannot be observed, but to include it’s inscrutability in philosophical materialism leads straight to fallacy. Similarly, we understand that our eyes receive and compile refracted light: most of the things we take for granted, such as color, are not as literally real as we think. The color of an object is not an inherent, material quality; it’s just the color of the photons that pigmentation bounces outward into our eyes.

If things that are not literally, materialistically manifest are not real, then our eyeballs and their neurological interface with our brain are bullshit. I don’t know anyone who would actually commit to that chain of reasoning.

The falseness of the claim made by gender essentialist and gender critical feminism, though, still leaves a lot of room for uncertainty. Externally documented patterns with strong implications about things that cannot be documented leaves room for subjective claims on any side. Another common talking point is that lived experience does not validate anything outside the binary, ala J.K. Rowling. The evidence that Rowling and those like her advance is their own lived experience as cispeople and their belief in the reality of claims made by cispeople (ciswomen, most frequently). Those experiences may, absolutely, be real to the people who have them, but it does not advance their central claim about philosophical materialism. It does not even relate to anything beyond the feelings of specific people.

Having spent years trying to convince doctors and family members of my own dysphoria before being permitted to medically transition, I feel as if I will always be an outsider to the binary even though I’m a binary transwoman. I am a binary transwoman because my dysphoria is relieved by medical interventions that create feminine secondary sex characteristics. Yet I did not have the same childhood and early social conditioning as a ciswoman, nor did I have the same childhood as a cisman. As a child, I simply chose to express myself as “female-like” or girly as possible, up to and including frankly describing myself as a girl if anyone asked. This led to relentless teasing in elementary school and non-stop suicidal ideation for my entire adolescence and early adulthood, but simply “stopping” was never a genuine possibility.

On one hand, my medical transition fits within the binary. On the other, there are many experiential differences between my life as a transwoman and the lives of ciswomen and cismen. While I am a binary transwoman, I will never be a ciswoman. If I am a binary female only in the sense that I am a “binary transwoman”, one almost begins to wonder what the distinction between binary and non-binary even means. If anything, my lived experience has led me to believe in a third gender category at least.

Of course, I know that arguing this point against actual transphobes is probably pointless, since everyone has a subjective expeirence that backs them up. This is simply an expression of the frustrating social facet of Zeno’s paradox: there is almost certainly a biological prompting for a lot of our mental states, but our existence is still fundamentally rooted in our subjectivity. The two probably meet through cause and effect, but because we can only measure the distance relative to ourselves, we’ll never actually perceive the moment of impact. Lately, it seems like every social phenomenon lends itself to that analogy and it’s scream-into-the-void frustrating.

Like, remember when I wrote that Biden’s expressed commitment to trans rights, on it’s own, might have been enough to get me to vote for him in spite of the rest of his record? This has lately come back to haunt me. Since winning the 2020 election, Biden has elevated a few state-level transgender political leaders. To his credit, Joe Biden has also committed himself to rolling back the Trump-era executive orders regarding trans healthcare. Meanwhile, Lael Braenard and Tony Blinken are in line for cabinet posts in Biden’s White House, two of the most infamous forces of military intervention from Obama’s presidency. They are joined by Neera Tanden, who has given voice to the opinion that we should seize Libya’s oil as our due compensation for the resources we spent occupying their country. On one hand, American trans people are more protected, on the other, so is the American war machine.

Commitment to civil rights can be used with cynical abandon by politicians who want to launder their image while continuing business as usual. Business as usual, in this case, is proceeding apace in spite of the fact that we may be in the final decade in which we can still roll back the damage done to our biosphere. Republicans and Corporate Democrats relentlessly hit leftists with the “#whereisthemoney” argument, which we need to be able to respond to, clearly and loudly.

I believe the correct loud and clear answer is the dismantling of the military industrial complex: the American war machine spends money in proportion to the money it makes, which means it requires billions of dollars every year to continue functioning. By hitting the military industrial complex, we can begin to rehabilitate our image on the world stage while simultaneously liberating funds for a green new deal. While perpetual war is an apalling crime against humanity on it’s face, it is now standing directly in the way of America’s chance to ease away from the damage we are doing to the collective future of our planet. If this does not change, the conversation about the survival of our species may need to move from saving Earth to leaving Earth.

The incremantalist reading of these events is to take the wins when we can. Biden’s complicity with the military industrial complex might stop any effective action toward climate change, universal health care or any other pressing necessity, but at least he is nice to trans people. Trans equality is now further within the Overton window. The same incrementalists also claim that, while Biden’s expressed concern about perpetual war and environmental protection are lip-service, it makes the right choices possible in the future if not right now, irrespective of the ticking clock.

Increased safety and access to medical care for myself and people like me is an unambiguous win, but we are still dealing in the gold-standard of subjective values (societal ethics) without any consideration for outside pressure (the biosphere and perpetual war). This year’s presidential election was a passionate, psychologically harrowing experience for a lot of us, but so long as we measure things relative only to ourselves, the clash with the wider world must necessarily take us by surprise.

Civil disobedience and “social issues”

In my last post I wrote about the legal precedents being set in states like Tennessee and New York that punish non-lethal civil disobedience as severely as violent crime, entailing in some cases a felony conviction. This is particularly amoral since civil disobedience is one of the few tools that American political minorities have historically had at their disposal. Punishing civil means of resistance and discourse can radicalize people for lack of any other option and could contribute to civil war.

Remember, this was done ostensibly out of a fear of violent uprising. If vandalizing public property, blocking access to public places and other non-lethal crimes are punished with felonies, then political minorities are shunted squarely in front of militarism out of necessity.

This is clearly a double-bluff: with fear of rioting being the stated reason for these crack downs, Republican legislators have framed the notion of civil unrest in a way that takes attention away from the natural outcome of the policies they plan to enact. That outcome, civil unrest, will confirm what they’ve positioned as a worst case scenario (rioting). This reflects a calculated awareness of the purpose of civil disobedience and a wish to use the result for political gain.

To address some common sense concerns, yes it makes sense to punish minor crimes and the law is meant to be followed. However, that attitude must coexist with other social realities. Ever since the labor organizers of the early 20th century and the nineteen sixties civil rights movement, civil disobedience has been established as a means of civil discourse.

What is the thing that stops it from being insurrection? Non-violence. If no one is harmed, then no one is alienated against the inevitable implication: that this specific law can be broken or that a prospective or related law can be given social censure. More often than not, the implication is that the specific law should be broken or that a legal or political act should be censured. The subtle depth to what has happened in Tennessee and New York is that, when non-violent crime is punished identically to violent crime (a felony charge) it discourages non-violent activism and emboldens those who claim that civil discourse is fruitless. If civil activism is not seen as an effective choice then non-civil activism begins to look practical. If that course is followed, then those decrying BLM as violent will claim to have been right all along.

Such well-informed social engineering enacted from above makes me wonder about everyone else. Especially since the ability to define an idea by being the first voice in a conversation to articulate it is used so carefully (“BLM are violent” *does things that drive out non-violent protestors and leave the violent ones* “See?”). Social calculations and dynamics are mixed up in how we think about social issues.

The importance of the herd-instinct and our mammalian, prosocial hard-wiring cannot be overstated. Language is how most problems are solved between individuals and language (whether it’s speech, writing, typing or any other medium) is how we are taught to express ourselves. After the example of self-expression, it is no surprise that the language we use most frequently probably looks a lot how we think our private thoughts.

It follows that some of our private thoughts may resemble external social dynamics. If one believes that those in power will never negotiate with those without, then an actual refusal to negotiate will create the appearance that you are right. If this “you” is a BLM protester, others will remember claims about how violent your movement is and will think they are right while you are receiving the message that nothing short of violence will be heard.

This is nothing new: most of us have heard about stereotype threat (aka labeling theory) and confirmation bias. If you have not: both of those things refer to ways that social stereotyping can effect both behavior and private thoughts.

Recent events have made me wonder what the current state of things looks like, though, through the eyes of social engineers. In a recent speech, Trump mentioned that he was afraid of running against Bernie Sanders since Sanders had a movement following, like himself. With Joe Biden, he is less afraid, since the majority of those voting for Biden are doing so because he is not Trump.

Donald Trump realizes that the Democratic Party scattered their base when the DNC gave the nomination to Biden. He is now attempting to hit us where it hurts: by saying he was intimidated by Bernie’s movement, he is trying to touch a sore spot of progressives to stop the left from uniting.

The senators in Tennessee and New York are preparing to punish civil disobedience harshly enough to escalate violence. And Trump just attempted to use the emotional momentum of the scattered Democratic base against itself. One reflects a calculated effort to get people to think and act a certain way and the other reflects an informed knowledge of how people feel to begin with and how to exploit it.

This kind of manipulation only works with people who believe that their value system furnishes everything they need to know. If one believes they have an airtight grasp on an issue, it becomes easy to be disinterested in other consequences. What most people know more about, than anything else, are their personal experiences. The kind of political issues that can most directly effect our experiences are often social issues.

Speaking of recent political events, Kamala Harris used an interesting rhetorical device in her speech to the DNC: she began talking about an impersonal and voracious virus which turned out to be a metaphor for racism.

If you start talking about a virus right now, people are going to think of COVID-19. Did she say COVID-19? Nope. But I think it’s importance in general (to say nothing of it’s importance in American politics) is hard to ignore. I don’t know of anything else such a metaphor could be referring to. It strikes me as likely that she did intend to use COVID-19 as a metaphor for racism.

This rhetorical technique is familiar: start your talk with something everyone knows about in order to frame your point as comparable to it. Is a viral pandemic the same kind of problem as racism?

I’m not saying it’s not possible for overlap. Racism effects the function of government infrastructure, so systemic racism can impact how a response to a pandemic unfolds. And I have no doubt that it has. But when you equate a social issue like racism with a non-social issue like a pandemic, it’s clear which directions the emotional support is coming from and going toward within that analogy. With the intended metaphor and the metaphor’s meaning, the emotional momentum of anti-racism is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those two things we all probably know at least something about, and the other is a mystery that our best doctors and scientists are still laboring over. For most people, to relate those two things will allow one to borrow emotional “weight” from the other. It makes the mystery less scary.

But if the effect that racism has on the pandemic is the actual point, the comparison cannot be literal. It relies on the emotions that the viewers bring with them. To start with emotional momentum is not necessarily proof of bad faith but it makes it easy to suspect: either the emotional momentum is supposed to make the truth evident or the emotional momentum is the point itself.

In either case, the psychological button being pressed is more visible than what the person pressing it wants. Not knowing what someone wants could make one feel like they’re not being honest. If their end game is not stated, then they either feel no need to or think you already know. Neither inspires confidence.

Obviously not every statement that invokes ideas with strong social resonance with a vaguely defined or undefined goal is social engineering. Context, as usual, must complete the picture. What makes the legislation in Tennessee and New York so unique is that it reflects both a knowledge of the function served by civil disobedience and how to exploit it. Every day, though, I wonder when the psychological momentum summoned by those in power will clash against forces it cannot move.

American civil unrest and America’s social imagination

Plainclothes officers in Portland, under the Federal direction of Donald Trump, abducted BLM protesters this summer. In Tennessee, lawmakers are currently finding ways to charge those protesting at the Capitol with felony offenses. Tear gas and rubber bullets in addition to ordinary violence are being used by police and Federal agents with punitive abandon.

All this happened because George Floyd did something that I myself did on accident years ago: I had a counterfeit bill in my wallet while buying a sandwich during my lunch break at work. I think I must have gotten the fake bill in some change. Anyway, the old lady who rung me up took the bill and held it up to a fluorescent light. Her face lit up and she said “Hey, check this out!” I went back there with her and she showed me how she knew it was fake. We both kind of giggled over it, I paid with plastic instead and ate my lunch. George Floyd was asphyxiated by a cop for doing the same thing, though.

Obviously, I have nothing but love and support for #BlackLivesMatter. The authoritarian crack down and violence used against both protestors and bystanders has brought something out in this country that may be very difficult to ameliorate or pacify. This is something that could, potentially, involve every American soon. Like I said in my post about trans rights and the modern left though, this is also something I hope I am wrong about.

Tennessee lawmakers wish to charge protestors with felonies (entailing revoked voting rights and a six year prison sentence) if they do things such as block access to public places. In July, Nikki Stone was arrested in New York for spray painting the lenses of security cameras.

One of the main assets of marginalized political groups in America is civil disobedience: civil defiance of laws that we have a principled disagreement with. By imposing draconian consequences for non-violent law-breaking, Tennessee and New York state officials are taking specific aim at the means of civil discourse between law enforcement, lawmakers and the public.

The civil part of civil disobedience usually gets less attention than the disobedience. It is important, though, because if the legal disobedience is civil and hurts no one, it remains a statement. One can agree or disagree with a statement and the person making a statement can be engaged in discussion. If legal defiance stops being civil, it becomes either insurrection or terrorism.

Adding insult to injury, legislators in Tennessee are citing the possibility of violent revolt as a justification for this crack down. What these policies will do, though, is strongly discourage people from non-violent legal defiance. This could send the message that nonviolent activism will not be heard and push people toward violence. GOP lawmakers may engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For many American millennials and zoomers, nothing like this has happened before in our lives. More Americans than usual lately have had to grapple with how to respond to something outside of our personal and/or moral frame of reference. For some, the first taste was the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville during the summer of 2017. The authoritarianism of the Trump administration could make a second term of his presidency feel like an existential threat. There are also just as many Trump supporters on the other end of the spectrum that see a potential Biden presidency as equally threatening for their own reasons.

The last time there was violent civil unrest escalating as a presidential election draws closer was before the time of millennials and zoomers, though. It was the American Civil War.

I’m not saying that I believe the upcoming election will be that catastrophic, but I think it’s a possibility that needs to be acknowledged. Without any prior experiences to draw from, violent activism is unexplored territory for a lot of people. While many people in America are heavily armed, the majority of those armed individuals have no idea what a military combat situation feels like.

If the authoritarianism ramps up, the armed civilians are set up for death and defeat. So then we will have people who are traumatized, humiliated and heavily armed. With situations that we have no basis for comparison for, it is difficult to know limits.

Some of those armed people belong to anti-racist groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition. While the trauma, grief and anguish they are feeling are as alive now as they were at America’s birth, many of the individuals themselves are as new to the lived experience of combat as the right-wing militias.

If more states follow the recent examples of Tennessee and New York and non-violent activism becomes illegal, that’s only going to leave one more outlet. If any militia groups tried to wage war on the government now, they would be swiftly and painfully quelled. Wounds create resentment, everyone loves an underdog and martyrs provide moral validation. The military response to such an event could create emotional and psychological momentum that could rebound destructively.

If I sound like I’m catastrophising, it’s because the American government simply won’t quit lately. Trump has engineered a nationwide postal service emergency in order to thwart mail-in voting and criminal charges that prevent voting are being weaponized against protestors. Every day there is a new civil rights violation to read about. With so much pressure coming from above, it does not seem likely that those below will simply do nothing.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/13/tennessee-camping-felony-capitol/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8573305/amp/NYPD-release-clip-woman-throwing-paint-security-camera-pushed-unmarked-car.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/08/15/us/post-office-vote-by-mail.amp.html

Me and American Patriotism

I originally published this a few years ago but I decided to take it down for reasons of my own. Now it’s back :3

Please excuse how outdated it is:

As a Native American, I’ve found it hard to have a straightforward way of identifying as an American.

Before I get into a bunch of personal stuff let me clarify what I do not mean.

Clearly, I have no doubt of my legal nationality.  That might sound too basic to bare mentioning but we’re all familiar with how idea exchange on the internet works and sometimes basic stuff needs to be clarified.

I am also not claiming to speak for anyone’s experience but my own.  My use of the personal pronoun I in that first sentence looks a little clunky to my eyes but I did it anyway.  I’ve held onto a few basic assumptions about writing and grammar from college English classes and one of those is that, since your writing is authored by you, there is no need to attribute your own conclusions and chains of reasoning to yourself.  Nonetheless, I’m leaving that sentence as “I’ve found it hard” instead of “it is hard” in order to emphasize that I’m only speaking for myself.

(I’ve never broken anything like that down before now, and I’ve definitely been way less careful when talking about books and video games, but I suspect this is a topic where the reasoning behind word choice might be looked at closely)

A third thing that I am not claiming actually segues into the rest of what I wanted to write about: I am not anti-American, although throughout my life I’ve found it hard to be well disposed to America emotionally and morally.

So, getting back to me-

Early in life, like many Native Americans, I learned that the nation my family has historically belonged to had it’s autonomy wiped away for no better reason than that white people wanted their land.  Said white people were also guided by a moral force that made land piracy innocent so long as it happened to non-Christians.

If I wanted, I could take this into a bigger argument about the annexation of Native America in general, but as this is a blog entry about my personal feelings I’ll confine my scope to my own heritage and my own thoughts. The history of my ethnic group has a lot in common with what happened to a lot of Native American nations.  When rampant disease broke out upon initial contact with white people, a missionary led a handful of us to a place to start a new settlement.

It is documented that this missionary wanted to abolish the rank of chief, largely because our chiefs were believed to be the descendants of divine, supernatural beings.  The chiefs were considered representatives of the spiritual world which made them religious authorities.  In his letters, he wrote that he intended to replace the authority of the chief with Christianity.

Now, this missionary is justly celebrated in my community as someone with genuine good intentions and a worthy legacy.  He wanted the settlement to be an economically and socially self-sufficient community and today he is remembered as one of its essential founders.

But it all came at the price of forfeiting our historical spirituality and replacing it with Christianity.  And the movement to the new settlement happened in reaction to rampant disease and economic displacement, which makes the moral framing of this missionary as a great founder really questionable.  If someone offers to save you from death and disaster if you do whatever they say, is that person really a hero?

This is a minority opinion among the Natives I grew up around and I’m well aware of it.  Once, as a teenager, I attended an anti-suicide event with a handful of other kids from my hometown with family ties to the reservation that the settlement became in the end. A few community leaders chaperoned. One of those adults accompanying us mentioned once that conversion to Christianity was the one undeniably good thing to happen from white contact.  Many rural Native communities in Alaska are strongly Christian as are many rural communities across America.  One night, during a summer-camp trip organized by the local Native corporation that I was a part of, a few adults and a few kids decided to assemble a traditional sweat lodge.  Many of those participating helped build this and participated in a sweat, while many others refused on the grounds that it was “witchcraft”.

While many in the Native community I grew up in are heavily invested in our traditions, language and culture, Christianity is given priority whenever it clashes with those traditions.  The moral sanction that Christianity gave to the American conquest of Native Americans was the main reason why American patriotism was emotionally and morally repugnant for most of my life, to say nothing of the emotional and moral repugnance of Christianity itself.

While, as a thirty year old adult, I am not anti-American, this is not because I think any of these things turned out to be good in the end.  Nothing can ever exonerate or justify the erasure of Native American culture and spirituality and nothing can diminish the role the Christian Church played in it.

In spite of that, my distance from  being anti-American even extends to being pro-American.  This is because, in many substantial ways, America has set important moral and historical standards.  The moral elevation of freedom of expression, religious and intellectual pursuit and democracy are all essential steps forward for both the West and the rest of the world.  I absolutely believe that the existence of a global standard-bearer for democracy and the steps the Enlightenment helped us take away from monarchical autocracy and religious tyranny is necessary on the world stage.

Make no mistake, like any other huge developed nation, I think America harbors an inevitable degree of confusion and animosity.  While there is always a rational-to-irrational spectrum within public opinion, I feel like many sides of many common conversations agree on the right things.

For example, the importance of individual autonomy.  In spite of what many Libertarians claim, they are not a besieged minority.  Most people in America think the individual is a basic cornerstone of our values and any politician who wants to get elected will need to say so.  You could be a corporate Democrat with everything that makes them repugnant, the kind of person that Republicans think of whenever anyone brings up big government or political correctness run-amok and Progressives think of as a Hilary Clinton-style bad guy who gets cuddly with Super PACs and is totally okay going to war with whistle-blowers like Edward Snowdin and Chelsea Manning…and you would still have to at least pay lip-service to the individual.  Sorry for the ugly run on sentence, lol

To illustrate this a bit more: my values as a libertarian made me a feminist.  For me, feminism has been a logical expansion of the values I had back when I identified more strongly as a libertarian.  As far as defending ones right to control their own bodies and govern their lives as freely as possible while not disenfranchising anyone else, feminism has done way more heavy lifting.

I’m not gonna waste my time defending second-wave feminist insanity any more than a self-proclaimed Libertarian will defend Timothy McVeigh.  I don’t think any transsexual (such as myself) or anyone who is a sex worker or thinks that sex workers are human could ever get behind second-wave feminism.  Those who espoused second-wave feminism were also disturbingly willing to ignore the autonomy of large groups of women and queers, this would happen along the lines of “you’re too saturated with internalized misogyny to be reasoned with”, with transsexual women being especially likely to end up on the receiving end.

With the freak-bin safely out of the way, I feel like the link between feminism and libertarianism is pretty hard to avoid, at least in terms of moral reasoning.  No one is wed so much to the sanctity of the individual and self-determination as feminists and libertarians.

(if I seem inconsistent about capitalizing things like proper nouns, it’s because I know there is a difference between those who identify as Libertarian with a capital ‘L’,  as a proper political party, like Republican or Democrat, and those who use words like ‘libertarianism’ and ‘feminism’ as generalized categories like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’)

What I’m saying is that, a lot of the time, we agree on many of the essential and necessary things even if we disagree on a million other things.  Lately, I’ve become less convinced of this.

While I feel like many people are aware that the press has been profit-driven and manipulative in the past, it has never really bothered me as much as it does now.  While presidential elections in America have often been a personality competition, I don’t feel like I’ve observed anything like the 2016 election in my lifetime.

Before 2016 I feel like there was this threshold for cynicism, within which was permissible irreverence and a somewhat hopeful spectrum of possibilities for an elected official.  Before 2016, if your choice for president made it to office, you might be resigned to the fact that they will play ball with the big money on the other side but still confident that some of things you voted them in for might reasonably happen.  Now, I’m not altogether sure if that threshold still exists.

At least a little bit of my doubt began when Donald Trump began his relationship with Alex Jones.  A presidential candidate had chosen to validate someone who thinks all mass shootings were false-flag operations carried out by NWO puppet masters to trick America into surrendering its guns.  Trump validated a group of people who don’t think mass shootings even exist.  So far from introducing a specific side in the debate on gun violence, the American mainstream was now embracing people who are willing to dispute whether one even exists.  Perhaps involving disagreement over the nature of reality itself was meant to provide room for a positive view of how an unobtainably expensive border wall will impact our economy.

My doubt grew a little more when anti-SJW internet trolls unanimously fell in line behind Trump.  These are people who felt like a hypothetical anecdote from Anita Sarkeesian was the same as an attack on all male gamers and the panic surrounding non-binary individuals.  I think, inevitably, the hysteria over genderqueer people within alienated nerd subcultures has some link with the stigma of furries and otherkin.  A ton of Anonymous and 4chan groupies had already built something of a subculture over ripping on otherkin and furries and the second someone got confused over the concept of “non-binary” it became an intuitive lightening rod for these people.

I mentioned in my very first entry in this blog that I have, for a few years, anyway, followed Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast and considered him the last remaining good guy among pop-atheists (I might include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in that as well but she’s not very invested in theism versus atheism).  And even Sam Harris mentioned “nude pronouns” as one of the things that alienated people from the left and contributed to the election of Trump, as if it was a clearly insane priority that the left should have known better than to get involved with.

The reason I’m mentioning trolls is that Trump validated a whole movement of people with a ton of anger and no inclination to map that anger onto anything that exists in the real world.  Within internet troll culture, ripping on feminism in gaming and gender non-conforming people didn’t beg any further explanation because, within its own culture, it was understood to be supported entirely by malicious humor.  After internet trolls were embraced by the alt-right, though, they were empowered  by the realization that they were taken seriously without an explanation.  Feminism and queers were accepted as illegitimate and threatening on their face and that position could not get called out in public without drawing censure and ridicule.

The generalized dismissal of feminism and queer equality also had a smooth consistency with many men in Trump’s fan base who showed up to rallies wearing t-shirts saying ‘grab America by the p****y’.  The whole ‘p***y grabbing’ buzz phrase evolved from a sexual abuse allegation.  Not infidelity, not being a closeted gay or bisexual, not for being a closeted kinkster or any number of morally innocuous (in my opinion) things that politicians have been discredited for in the past.  The allegations were about sexual assault. Soo…within mainstream right wing culture, the people who claim to support individual autonomy no matter what, up to the point that they think you should be able to shoot trespassers on your property…these people, so many of whom being self-proclaimed Libertarians, have ceased to consider sexual assault discrediting.

Remember when I said that we are generally aware that the press has a history of being self-interested and manipulative?  Strictly speaking, I think shifting popular conversations away from policy and facts toward generalized attitudes is nothing new.

But maybe, now that I’m thirty, it’s really sinking in for the first time.  Or maybe this time it really is different.  Presidential addresses have definitely been very suspect in the past for similar reasons.  How many former presidents, though, have called the American press the “enemy of the people” and mentioned political fads in popular sports (at least) twice?  The Independent recently published an article about spent casings from artillery used by ISIS has been tracked to nations and groups that America supplies with weapons.  And yes, the casings and the weapons the ammunition goes to are of American make.  The rebel groups and nations that we are supporting in the Middle East are openly playing ball with ISIS and Trump is making stupid little pot shots at sport stars who support BLM.

All that can be simplified as: the American president is now openly attacking the press while at the same time using it to establish links between pop-culture and the attitudes of his base.  What sort of political leaders attack the press outlets that aren’t being bent to their will?  While also hijacking attention away from things our government is doing that has real consequences?  Where in history or contemporary geography have we seen things like governments that go to war with the press while using it for misdirection and propaganda?

Again, manipulating the masses through buzz-words and oversimplifications is nothing new.  But I can’t help but think that America has never had a president that is as openly cynical about it.  And sure enough, whenever some stupid new outrage catches the ire of CNN some talking head is going say that this isn’t going to happen a second time, that this isn’t the new normal.  They’ve did it more than once, every time CNN or some other big name news outlet compiles a list of lies spoken by Trump they’ll also add some comment about how this is just a contemporary anomaly and that Trump definitely is not setting a new standard.  I find it very hard to believe these optimistic claims…but if they’re as wrong as I think they are, then what does that suggest about our future?  Have we actually passed the threshold from political cynicism to political nihilism?  Have our disagreements over the nature of reality passed beyond the attacks the religious right makes on science into something even more ubiquitous and destructive?

AAaaaaaaaaand now we’re full circle regarding my own personal feelings regarding patriotism and my beliefs about America’s role in the world and what being an American is even like.  I mean, I’m not gonna say right now that America has abandoned its moral and cultural vitality, but I’m definitely closer than I’ve been to thinking that than I’ve been in a very long time.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-missile-arms-deals-west-us-uk-saudi-arabia-a8459731.html

https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/why-wall-wont-work

Trans Rights & America’s Modern Left

I first began to legally and medically transition a little over a year before Trump was elected President. While my entire social group knew I was trans before that point and I had spoken to individual family members about it, I then had to make sure every person I cared about was on the same page. The reason why most LGBTQ people come out is because we get tired of living with the pain, humiliation and alienation of double lives and secrecy and want to live more complete lives with our whole world- not just a part of it.

When faced with the need to reach out to family members I had not yet spoken to and to come out at my work in order to plan appropriately, I began to feel the enormity of both the release of being out as well as the attendant risks. As someone with a public-facing job, there was simply no way around broaching the subject at work. There are many important things about us that are not visible on the surface- our values, psychological states, religiosity, spirituality, political commitments, etc. -so many things that can be sorted into a segregated private life that need not have any bearing on a public life. Transitioning from one gender to another cannot be one of them- at least not while you are transitioning.

I felt a very powerful sense of achieving real participation and control with my world. Perhaps for the first time ever, I began to grapple with the possibility that the world I live in has a place for me as well as everyone else. For an adult who never viscerally encountered this, the experience is dizzying and surreal. While the feeling of emancipation is nearly dream-like in its’ unprecedented power, the darker possibilities are equally powerful.

I had dealt with harassment on a more indirect and secretive scale before: once, while at a bar I frequented on weekends, I went to the bathroom and made no secret of it. This was a place where many people knew me as my authentic self and I felt no need to avoid using the women’s bathroom. Later, after a full night of drinks, I predictably had to use the ladies’ room again, only that time there was semen all over the toilet seat and the walls. A group of men cackled at me on my way out. At that point in my life I was no stranger to men behaving badly but this was the first time where something uncalled-for was known about and laughed at by a large number of people.

If this is what harassment can look like when a transwomen is still closeted, I began to seriously dread what might lay in store for me after openly transitioning. As I child, I heard stories about friends’ of friends’ who committed suicide and were found dressed in women’s clothing, which for my childhood left me too terrified to ever think about coming out in my hometown. It was a terror I had to overcome in order to come out, but I was now faced with fears that were all the more daunting for their shapelessness.

I had serious moral objections to Hilary Clinton as a Presidential candidate in 2016- Sanders, Stein and Johnson all reflected my values better -but I voted for her on the strength of one thing: her verbal commitment to trans rights. Clearly, I was a one issue voter, but this one issue carried all of my peace of mind with it. Hilary Clinton was one of two potential Presidents and her shot at the oval office alone was enough for me to take her dedication to trans rights seriously. An American President who was unambiguously committed to trans rights was simply too urgent of an issue for me not to vote on. Even Obama, during his first run for President, said that his view on LGBTQ rights was “evolving”- more frank support at that time may have cost him his Presidency. On the historical scale, American LGBTQ equality is new enough to be fragile and is absolutely not to be taken for granted- not then and not now.

At present, these stakes are no lower, but my view of American politics is less clouded by haunting and personal panic. For now it is, anyway. It’s not like there isn’t anything to panic about. We still do not know where the consequences of Trump’s assassination of Soleimani will lead in the end and nuclear war is a clear possibility. We may be mere decades (or years) from global catastrophe due to climate change. And right now the world is in the grip of a global pandemic. The industrial military complex and the fossil fuel industries now constitute existential dangers. Many Americans were already living the reality of our broken health care system and now COVID-19 has made it’s failings absolutely unavoidable.

The stakes right now are absolutely urgent and are complicated by the corruption, amorality and incompetence of the party that is faced with the task of running a candidate against Trump. Issues that I consider too important to ignore- such as the green new deal and avoiding nuclear war -were championed by candidates that the DNC acted together to thwart such as Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren seemed like a promising bet as well until her pivot on universal health care made manifest her willingness to be bought. If someone can’t stand up to big pharma, then they have zero potential to resist Wall Street, the fossil fuel industries and the military industrial complex.

Big money carries all of the weight on the mortally threatening sides of issues like climate change and global war and only Bernie Sanders made it clear that he was financially beholden only to ordinary people. I already mentioned in the last entry that, during the last debate before Super Tuesday, Sanders was the only candidate who said he would not defer to the prerogative of the DNC and the super delegates.

It’s been said that the Democratic Party worked harder to defeat Bernie Sanders than any Republican in recent memory. And it’s unavoidably true. Polling data predicted a clear victory for Sanders before Super Tuesday. When the rubber hit the road that night, there were several surprise endorsements and the attendant shifting of their respective bases. Pete Buttigieg, initially committed to sticking it out until the bitter end, received a private phone call from none other than Barack Obama telling him that, if he dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden, then Sanders could be defeated.

Biden, who continues to run on his status as Vice President to Obama, was anointed as a one-man Sanders spoiler. Ever since the very earliest debates there has been a clear institutional preference for a non-threatening “electable” candidate who would be generic enough for widespread appeal. This approach has proven itself unreliable in the last two decades. Bill Clinton won in the early nineties by working across party lines and ever since then bipartisanship has been treated as a path to certain victory for Democrats. In 2016, Hilary Clinton was perceived as approachable to conservatives and independents and less polarizing than Sanders, and therefore a safe choice to run against Donald Trump.

If an institutionally anointed centrist loses against a candidate with the blessing of a social movement, it should not be that hard to do the math. After this latest Primary, though, it’s clear that the DNC still fails to do so. In addition to Biden’s indifference to most issues that I consider urgent, his presumed route to victory is based on a proven failure. If the lessons of the 2016 election aren’t enough, there is also a depressing resemblance to the 2004 race between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Or even the 2012 race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Incumbent Presidents have the built-in credibility of their first term and the validated passion of the base that elected them. In 2004 and 2012, institutionally-vetted “safe-bet” candidates failed to win against incumbent Presidents, and this is the strategy that the DNC is poised to implement now.

There is one issue, though, that Joe Biden appears to be firmly committed to that I find difficult to ignore. The Human Rights Campaign recently published an article on their website surveying Biden’s stances on LGBTQ issues. Not only does he express clear support for trans rights but the record of the Obama administration cannot be ignored. The State Department, during the Obama administration, made it significantly easier for trans people to change their names and gender signifiers on passports. In the HRC article, Biden is quoted as saying that he will do anything he can to make legal transition as easy and efficient as possible. He has even gone so far as to say that trans and non-binary people will be able to mark X for their gender on legal documents- no small thing, considering that support for non-binary individuals is frequently perceived as discrediting by the right and political independents.

Joe Biden also said that he would commit to not allowing trans people to be assigned to the prison for their birth sex. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was issued guidance during the Obama administration regarding the high risk of rape faced by incarcerated trans people. This was the Transgender Offender Manual, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, and was rolled back during Trump’s first term in office. In addition to undoing the set-backs implemented by Trump, Biden says that he would even commit to making medically necessary transition-related care such as hormone replacement therapy available to prison inmates and the Justice Department will be tasked with enforcing national compliance with PREA standards. The White House under Joe Biden would also update the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports to record sexual orientation and gender identity, in order to bring more scrutiny to bear on anti-LGBTQ violence.

Considering the threat of violence and harassment many trans people live under, these promises deserve to be taken seriously. At the same time, progressives on the left have begun to perceive left-leaning social issues as distractions or consolation prizes to be offered in the absence of economic, environmental, medical or military policies. When Elizabeth Warren began to lose her clout as a progressive after welching on Medicare for all, she accused Bernie Sanders of being a secret sexist, contrary to his entire political record. This was (correctly, in my opinion) dismissed as an attempt to distract voters from her policy concessions. Warren also began to take up the cause of transwomen placed in men’s prisons shortly before gambling away her credibility.

This had the unfortunate consequence of giving progressives the impression that trans issues and women’s issues are lip-service that neo-liberals use to disguise their willingness to be bought on matters of climate change, foreign policy and economics. Using leftist social issues as a way to pacify the progressive movement that the Democratic establishment attempted to dismiss could have disastrous long-term consequences for the party. As monstrous as the ideas and policies of Trump and his movement are, Trump still knows enough not to alienate his base. The Democratic Party may have scattered its base to the four winds on Super Tuesday while telling them to suck it up and vote blue in the end.

Is it possible to use trans rights or feminism cynically as misdirection or a persuasive bit of lip-service? Absolutely. And I’m certain that Biden is hoping that his commitments to social issues will make up some of his lost ground with progressives. What’s more is that Biden had a pattern of supporting rigid and punitive drug laws in the eighties and remained an enthusiastic supporter of mass incarceration throughout the nineties. Joe Biden also collaborated with Strom Thurmond (yes, Strom fucking Thurmond) on a bill that expanded civil asset forfeiture in relation to drug crimes and, for those convicted, removed the possibility of parole at the federal level. I find this deeply disturbing, especially considering the unconstitutional nature of civil asset forfeiture- for those who don’t know, civil asset forfeiture is when the government seizes money or property because they suspect you are going to use it to commit a crime. The Biden-Thurmond bill expanded the use of civil asset forfeiture in relation to drug crimes.

This record cannot be ignored. But neither can the gains for LGBTQ individuals achieved under the Obama Administration and the extreme to which Trump has advanced anti-LGBTQ legislation. While I may have had a coming-out experience that was way less traumatic than what was endured by my queer elders, there are still vast numbers of American trans people who routinely face housing and employment discrimination and violence. I remain extremely doubtful of Biden’s ability to win against Trump and the pro-Trump social movement and there was never any reason to think that Biden would support a green new deal, anti-interventionism or Medicare for all. If his commitments to LGBTQ equality are to be believed, though, I’ll be happy to see him beat the odds. This is something I would very much like to be wrong about. If Biden was sincerely speaking his own truth in his forward to Sarah McBride’s book, when he stated that trans rights is the Civil Rights issue of our time, I think this deserves to be weighed seriously in balance with the rest of his record. I am disturbed by his lack of serious interest in a green new deal, easing us away from nuclear war or universal health care, but I cannot in good conscious ignore a candidate that may make serious gains for me and those like me.

This expressed support for trans people may drive me to vote blue again. Yet I cannot shake the possibility that this is part of an angle- recently, someone told me about a sales technique in which a customer is allowed to hold an item they want and then have it taken from their hands, or told to put it back. The idea is to give the mark a sense of ownership of the merchandise before they have paid for it, so that they will pay in order to keep the feeling of ownership. Values in an election can be used similarly: we will remove all of your values from our platform except for one- and that one may tempt you to pay with your vote. But with so much at stake that is not being addressed by such a candidate, I might wonder: am I giving my well-being and my dignity as a human being- and all those like me -the serious consideration it deserves, or am I fool?

https://www.hrc.org/resources/joe-biden-on-lgbtq-issues

Sooo the HRC article on Biden’s stance on LGBT issues has been taken down. Because that’s a good sign 😢