Blast from the Past: Moving Forward

The recent failure of the repeal of Obamacare, with the “defection” of several Republicans has brought this back to mind.  Unfortunately some of the economically most insupportable provisions of ObamaCare remain highly popular.

Elsewhere, the discussion came up again about the political landscape.  Some people, frustrated by Republican lack of anything resembling a spine and repeatedly rolling over for the current administration (Update:  and seem in some cases Hel-bent on rolling over for the previous administration now) are talking about “alternatives” including going third party, “letting it burn” (and thus having society and rule of law collapse), or worst of all “revolution.”

First, let’s be clear on one thing:  If we lose liberty here, it’s over.  Unlike past generations, people elsewhere in the world living under tyranny, we have no place to go.  If the US stops being a Constitutional Republic of limited powers where ultimate sovereignty comes from the people and individual liberty is the primary watchword, then there’s no place else to go.

This is not a new idea:

Some people look at the American Revolution and say “we need to do that again.” What they miss is that the situation here in the US at the time of the Revolution were unique in history, they haven’t been recreated since, and don’t hold now. By the time of the US break with Britain, we had a nation of immigrants “self selected” to a large extent for desiring freedom. Oh, it may have been the freedom to create their own highly insular and regulated communities but the key words there are “their own”. Even the “loyalists” were more “we can work something out to keep our freedoms” than “we should just kowtow to being ruled” (at least that’s my impression from my readings over the years).

The American revolution is, therefore, unique. Looking at other revolutions in other times and places does not lead to happy making feelings “Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite” and The Terror. That’s a more common model, especially “The Terror.”

If it does come to actual revolution, I expect that to be the most likely outcome, not “a new birth of freedom, kumbaya”. The odds are so very long against getting anything like a free society out of an armed insurrection that, well, things have to be pretty far gone indeed for that forlorn hope to look like the better option.

As for the actual conduct of such a revolution itself, that will get ugly. Incredibly ugly. I’ve discussed that a bit elsewhere:

Second American Revolution–I Hope Not

In 2008 a movie was made about Jewish resistance fighters in Nazi occupied Bellarus. One of the things I noted was the partisans execution of an informer. That’s exactly how things will have to be. Doesn’t matter how intimidated you are, doesn’t matter if they beat it out of you or threatened your family, or what. You inform; you die. And if (more like when) that doesn’t succeed in stopping informers (or keeping the level low enough that the insurrection can proceed) the next step is to escalate: you inform; your entire family dies.

Immoral? Downright evil? Yep. But that’s where it will be. That’s what it will be. That’s what an armed “Second* American Revolution” will come to.

Better be damned sure it’s justified before pulling that trigger.

Some other thoughts to ponder about a Revolution.  Back in the days of the American Revolution, what most Americans wanted was to be left alone. They liked the idea of liberty. They might disagree on whether negotiating with the King or declaring independence is the best way to get that but they pretty much agreed (oh, there were exceptions–there always are–but by and large). The problem was outside, the King and Parliament.

We have almost the exact opposite situation here. Now, in America, entirely too many people are infected with “there ought to be a law” or a lust for “goodies that other people pay for.”
So, you have your revolution. You win it. It isn’t hijacked by people wanting to use it for their own ends rather than the cause of “Freedom”. (Three miracles in a row of which the last is the greatest, but let’s go with that.) Now what? The people are the same people. You have your new Constitutional Convention? The people who send Pelosi and Boxer, Schumer and Jackson Lee, to Washington are also going to be sending delegates to this convention. How do you prevent them from doing something just as bad?

If you set up a Representative government, you’ve got the same problem because you’ve got the same voters with the same attitudes. What are you going to do? Kill or forcibly deport everyone who disagrees with you? There is a word for that. (Actually several words, but I’ll just go with “evil”.)
Or maybe you’ll go the other way. A benevolent dictatorship can be as free as a Constitutional Republic: provided you get a dictator whose goal is to leave people alone. There’s very little necessary connection between the form government takes and the freedom of the people under it. So, that can work for a generation, maybe two. Of course how benevolent is a dictator who puts himself in power by force of arms likely to be. (A fourth miracle, greater than the other three combined?)
So you get your revolution and you win it. Now what?

Now as for this “third party” vs. “working within the existing parties” argument. I note that the Libertarian Party to use one example for which I have numbers) was founded in 1971. It has run candidates in every Presidential election since 1972. So far, it has only once been able to capture even 1% of the vote. If you plot its results out as a trend it‘s several thousand years before they reach a level high enough to actually win the Presidency.That should put paid to the “third party” idea.

“But, but, that compromise approach is what got us into this mess.” Yes, because the other side has been willing to go for a little bit here, a little bit there, “compromise” so long as they can get some net gain. taking any setbacks and redoubling efforts for the next round.

The exact same “long game, make small gains where you can, minimize losses where you must” approach that I advocate, has been extremely successful. It’s just the other side that’s been doing it. But it takes discipline, patience, and perseverance. Strange that these are the traits that supposed “conservatives” seem to be lacking in politics
.
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the House and Senate continuing to roll over after the last election. That’s not a sign that “voting for new people does no good”. If you look at the way the new folk vote vs. how the old folk vote you do see a change. But there aren’t enough Cruzes and Gowdy’s and such yet. It’ll take a few more iterations before the balance shifts enough to really be felt–that is if people have the discipline to keep the pressure on.  Update: and we’ve had some improvement since the original post on this.  Still not quite enough.  There are a couple of Republican senators that yet need to be “primaried” and replaced by actual small-government conservatives.

If I ever start voting third party, it will mean one of two things: either the third party has somehow managed to get into the double digits in the vote (hey, I can dream) or I’ve simply given up. It won’t be because I think voting for someone who can’t even get one percent of the vote is going to make things better in any way.

It will also be about the time I start drinking.

(Update) As it happened, I did vote third party this last time around.  Going into the election, we had two people with a history of being liberal democrats.  One of them was claiming to be a Republican, claiming all sorts of things.  However, he’d also wrote the book on saying whatever you have to to “make the deal” to get what you want.  I had no expectation that it would be any better.  So, I went third party, playing the long game in the hopes that libertarian ideas would be seen as popular enough that some future candidates would see it as “politically profitable”* to support them.

So I voted third party.  And I started drinking.

*Poltically profitable:

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My recruiter lied to me!

No, actually, he or she almost certainly didn’t.  You just heard what you wanted to hear.

In spring of 1981 I enlisted in the United States Air Force.  That was the culmination of a series of events, and the beginning of another series.

First, some background.  I grew up in a “broken home.” My parents separated when I was about three.  Some time after that, my mother remarried.  I have some isolated memories of that period and it seems like it was a good time but it didn’t last.  For whatever reason, my mother and this other man separated.  We moved to a little house in Portsmouth Virginia which my mother shared with one of the women she worked with (she waited tables) and her two children.

Shortly before I entered school, my mother married yet again to a Navy sonarman who served on destroyers.  Neither my sister nor I liked this guy.  We much preferred her other suitor, who was also in the Navy.  He proposed to her shortly before shipping out and my mother did not want to give him an answer in that rather narrow time window.  My sister and I (I was like six.  My sister was four) urged her to accept the proposal but she said she had time to decide.  My argument was that if she waited, then the other guy would convince her while the preferred guy was out.

Damn, I was awfully perceptive for a six year old.  Not only did I peg that the other guy would convince her to accept his suit, but that it would prove to be a really bad idea.

For a while everything seemed okay.  Oh, there were some hints.  When I was bullied at school, he didn’t do anything positive–not even to the extent of teaching me to defend myself.

Then, for reasons that I will not go into here, he lost his job as an officer of the Portsmouth City (Virginia) police and he moved back to his home in Cambridge, OH.

That’s when the problems really started.  You see he was an alcoholic.  While we were in Virginia, he wasn’t drinking, at least not much, but on return to Ohio he started drinking a lot and he was a mean drunk.

Another nice little bit is that he brought home a nice little present from a “side piece” (I believe that’s one of the current terms for a person with whom one is breaking ones oaths) and gave it to my mother.  He got himself taken care of but never said anything.  We didn’t find out until my mother literally collapsed on the floor and had to be rushed to the hospital where they found the damage was so extensive that she needed a total hysterectomy, plus the removal of one of her ovaries.

And yet my mother stayed with him.  A modern term for that is “co-dependent”.

In that timeframe, his treatment of me was harsh, but did not rise to the level of physical abuse, at least not by the standards of the time.  How he treated my mother, OTOH, that was a whole other ballgame.  I remember lying awake at night, listening to him coming home drunk, their fighting, the smashing sounds that I learned later were of a porcelain lamp being broken over my mother’s head.

And still she stayed with him.  For years.  I was thirteen when she finally left him and made it stick.  And while she had the occasional relationship after that, she never remarried.

The upshot of all that was that I never had a good male role model in my life.  I never had anyone to show me what it was to be a father, what it was to be a man.  And when I started growing up and the folk around me were growing faster, there was no one to explain that puberty hits different people at different times.  Some come earlier and some, like me, come later.  Frustrating as it is, it’s not something wrong.  And most importantly once it did come I would catch up.  Nobody to help me understand what was going on when I was the last one in anything related to gym class.  Years later, looking back I could see that I was basically just one year behind.  But then?  I was just a wimp, physically inadequate, completely incapable at anything requiring muscle.

As it happened, I did catch up.  There were signs that I was starting to catch up at the tail end of the Freshman year.  They had a track and field block near the end of the year and while my running was pathetic, one of the last things we did was high jump.  As student after student dropped out from failing to clear progressively higher bars.  I was still in.  This despite my horrid form (I was more hurdling than high-jumping).  Then there were just two people in–me and one other.  And the other guy was on the track team specializing in high jump.  I eventually failed twice at 4′ 8″ (Having cleared 4′ 7″).  The other guy managed 5′ 4″.  Not great numbers, but compared to anything I had ever done before?  I was actually pleased at that fluke.  If I’d had the practice to get good form, I probably would have been close, at least, to that other guy.

That year, however, was the last year of mandatory physical education and I firmly put it behind me.  After all, what was the point?  Despite the fluke there with the high jump, I was just a physical wimp, right?

Yeah.  I had severe self confidence issues.

Years later, I’d completed school, tried to get into college (my grades and test scores were fine but…well, that’s another story) and didn’t.  Worked for a bit in food service–bussing tables and washing dishes–and decided to join the military.  Talked to a recruiter.  Took the ASVAB’s.  Practically aced them (lost a few points in the “administrative” category so I was not qualified to be an accountant or a disbursement accountant–not that I wanted to.

But I was physically a wimp.  Of course I was a wimp.  I knew I was a wimp.  The physical demands of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy intimidated me.  I was too wimpy for them.  I knew it. (That I was wrong didn’t enter into it.  I knew it.)

So I joined the Air Force.  I had a plan.  I had always had an interest in electronics.  Abusive stepfather was also a Ham radio operator and the one good thing he did do in those years was teach me some basic electronics.  So, at the advice of a friend, I was going to go into the Air Force and study electronics, take the longest school they have with the idea that electronics is electronics so the longer school I would have more to build on once I got out if I didn’t decide to make the military a career.

My recruiter, however, had other ideas.

Did I mention I had self-confidence issues?

He presented this alternative option, something called “Cryptologic Linguist.” It sounded intriguing.  I would be working with radios and recording equipment.  I would be sent to a language school to learn a foreign language. (I’m sure you see where this is heading.) I’d have to pass a background check for a top secret security clearance. (Got it now?  Nothing I’ve said here is not in the actual field description that I was handed as a potential recruit.)

Oh, and I would be able to enter in April rather than have to wait until September or later for the electronics fields (and I was out of work so that mattered).

He just sort of mentioned that if I signed up for six years, because of how long the training was, I’d get an automatic promotion to E3 on graduation of Basic Training and a $2500 bonus when I finished technical training.

That sounded like a lot of money to a kid just out of high school whose only experience is with jobs paying 1980 minimum wage.

Did I mention I had self confidence issues?

I took it.  Not the worst mistake of my life, not even top ten, but probably in the top twenty.

What he didn’t tell me was the long hours of boredom.  Of time spent sitting, waiting for something to happen.  And you can’t. do. anything. but. wait.  Some people an handle that.  I can’t.  I had a friend (different but related field) who described it as he could “turn off” his brain and just trigger whenever what he needed to respond to happened.  I can’t.

I went quite slowly mad.  My performance led to a counseling session where I was rated “not eligible to reenlist”.  And, well, the suicide attempt (not stemming from not being eligible to reenlist; I was perfectly happy with that; the feeling was mutual) lost me my security access and I ended up working in building maintenance (what was called “casual status”) for the last few months of my enlistment.

Then I was hit by a car.  But that’s another story.

So, no, my recruiter never lied to me.  I heard what I wanted to hear and, frankly, I was young and stupid (but I repeat myself), and simply did not have the self-confidence to stick to my plan.  But none of that was the recruiter’s fault.  He was just doing his job, and doing it well.

I’ve talked to friends since who suggested other areas that I might have been much better suited for.  And I sometimes wonder how things might have gone had I taken a different path–like say sticking to my original plan.  Even if my military career had gone no better, I would have been in a much better position no separating. (The only thing “marketable” from that cryptologic linguist field was the security clearance, and I’d lost my access so that was right out.)

And, yet, for all the trouble, that process started a sequence of events that, in the end, led to the wonderful daughter who’s currently napping in the next room.  With that in mind, looking back, even if I could, I don’t think I’d change it, not if it meant I wouldn’t have that daughter.

Trans and the Military

Well, Trump has made his declaration, that Trans people are to be forbidden from serving in the military.

Okay, look, I get it.  Sometimes the “wiring” doesn’t match the “plumbing” someone is born with.

I get it.

There are hundreds to thousands of genes involved in the determining of the sex of an individual, any of which can express “incorrectly” during development making “XX = female and XY = male” not an absolute determinant.  One or more genes “turned off” when they should be turned on or “turned on” or vice versa can complicate matters. People using that simplistic chromosome argument as an argument against someone being trans are like folk using the “solar system” model of atoms as the be-all and end-all of science.  It’s close enough for a middle school science class but the reality is more complicated.

I get it.

Also, the wiring in many ways more determines ones identity, ones “personhood” than the plumbing.  Back between the time I left the Air Force and the time I entered college I worked temp jobs.  One of my co-workers had lost a great deal of memory from an accident.  And this person was in many ways a completely different person from the individual before-accident.  A lot of the memories and experiences that went into the forming of their personality were gone.  And the personal characteristics that grew up as a result of those things were likely gone.  And since sexuality is so big a part of a person’s identity someone might reasonably object to being turned into someone else.

I get it.

That’s even leaving aside the idea that attempts to “fix” the wiring have generally not worked well.

That said, sometimes the plumbing matters.  And sometimes the dichotomy between the plumbing and wiring is a real issue.

There are several issues that one has to deal with on the issue of trans people in the military.

Being trans is a medical issue.  It’s not a matter of being “at fault”.  Being trans doesn’t make someone a bad person.  It’s a medical matter.

However, there are a great many medical matters that disqualify one for military service which aren’t a matter of “fault”.  I passed my induction physical back in ’81.  However a number of things I have now, had I had them now, would have disqualified me:  my arches and my knees in particular.  But there are plenty others as well.  The simple truth is, military operations are extremely physically demanding.  Even folk who aren’t in combat arms…well, history has shown that can be naively optimistic.  Anyone might end up on the sharp end with not just their own lives but the lives of those around them depending on them keeping up and doing their job.  And this is often at the end of long supply lines with limited logistics.

That means, the hormone therapy that transgender folk (example for MtF) is either not going to be available or is going to add to the logistics load.  And by “add to the load” we mean “trade off something else not being available for this”.  How many units of blood for treating wounded soldiers are you willing to leave behind so that a transgender can have his or her hormone treatments?  How many Motrin for that matter?

And if the hormones are not made available, how many discrimination lawsuits are we going to have?

And what about transition surgery?  Is the military going to be required to provide that?  Apparently, the courts have decided, in the case of Chelsea Manning a prisoner had to be given the transition surgery.  This leads to some questions:

  • Where is the budget for transition surgery for military personnel to come from?
  • How long is a service member out of action related to that surgery?
  • We already have people joining the military for education benefits who then balk at fulfilling the large print on their enlistment contracts (Hint:  first and foremost purpose of joining the military is to fight America’s enemies–everything else is a distant second to that purpose).  These people then balk and become “conscientious objectors” when ordered to deploy.  How long before the same thing happens with transgender folk joining the military just to get their transition surgery paid for?  Do you really want to try to claim that they are such angels that this would never occur to them?  I’m not going to claim that transgender folk are any worse than anyone else.  But I’m not going to let you get away with trying to claim they are better either.  They’re people–good, bad, or indifferent.

The purpose of the military is not to serve as a laboratory for social justice.  It’s to fight and defeat America’s enemies.  Everything else is a distant second to that purpose (see “purpose of joining the military” above).  As thing stand now, with the medical technology we have now, having transgender people serve looks to be detrimental to that end.

There is no “right” to serve in the military.  People are turned away all the time for medical conditions that interfere with their ability to perform duties they might be called upon to fulfill or which add to the difficulties of managing and supplying a warfighting force.  If one is not able to serve in the military there are other ways one can serve the country if that truly is ones motivation.  The military can always use support from the civilian sector.

But if your motivation is anything other than the best needs of the military and the nation it serves, then the military is the last place you should be.

Confessions of a libertarian Goth

I’m going to ramble here a bit.

When I first started exploring Goth subculture I saw posts that said that Goths come from all walks of life and all political persuasions.  However, in my own experience I’ve seen more of a left-wing bent.  One link I found (not going to link to it) that purported in a forum to be to “right-wing goths” and had an appropriate sounding URL but led to a porn site.  Apparently the poster thought that was a prank worthy of a giggle.  I supposed a kinder interpretation might be that the registration on an old domain had expired and a porn site had bought it up invalidating the old link.

In either case, it wasn’t what I was looking for.

To be honest, I tend to be pretty much a loner as a Goth.  In the city in which I live there is exactly one “Goth Club” and even that is just one night a week at a club that serves other segments of the community the rest of the week.  And since I’m older (and need my recovery time) and have to go to work in the mornings, staying out late to party on a weeknight just doesn’t work.

Maybe “Goth-lite” or “Entry-Level-Goth” is a better description for me.  I tried the “Cowboy Goth” look for a while, but in the end it didn’t suit.  Recently I’ve decided that, since my religion of choice is Asatru, I should see if I could create “Viking Goth” as a look.  My results have been mixed.  I’d love to say that adding a sword or an axe to an outfit is always appropriate, it can be a problem when having to deal with mundanes.

Let me give you a little bit of my background as it relates to being a “libertarian Goth”.

When I was a child, for a long time, black was my favorite color.  This really wasn’t a Goth thing.  It was late 60’s.  This was before Punk was even a thing, let alone the various post-punk movements which included Dark Wave and Goth.  Still, when you add in that my household were big fans of the original run of Dark Shadows, it was perhaps a sign of things to come.

Time passed, and I just missed the early days of the Goth movement in England in the mid-80’s.  I mean just missed it.  You see, I was in the Air Force at the time and stationed in England from 1983-1985.  I’d finished training and, well, I’d started buying clothes for off-duty wear.  Looking back those clothes were pushing in the direction of what could now be called “trad-goth”.  Being in the military there were limits on what I could do with hair and piercings were right out.  Being a man in the military with even simple lobe piercings is a great deal of trouble.  However, I was moving in that direction.  Then someone took me aside and “explained” that if I wanted to be attractive to young women I needed to start wearing bright colors and that my darker ensembles were a put-off.

Being irredeemably heterosexual I took this advice to heart.

It didn’t work.

Still, the habits stuck for a long, long time.  I slipped into uncomfortable mundanity. (I don’t care, Spell Check.  That is too a word.)

During all this time, I nurtured a deep and abiding distrust of government.  It started when I was very young but especially blossomed in the years post-Air-Force.  I’d always been a fairly small-government conservative.  I didn’t so much change as think through my positions more and try to make them more consistent. (Do I still have inconsistencies?  Since I’m human that’s going to happen.  I try to work things through and make them consistent but that’s an ongoing process which will likely continue to my dying day.)

Fast Forward.  Some years back, however, I came several books by John Ringo.  He introduced me to music that didn’t so much drag me out of the musical rut I’d been stuck in as blast me out of it with a cannon.  Dragonforce.  Nightwish.  And this group called The Cruxshadows.

Oh.  My.  God.

The Cruxshadows.  Some sources called them “Dark Wave”.  Others called them “Goth.” Well, I’m not really clear on the difference.  But…wow.  Dark music, but music that honors concepts like self-sacrifice and martial virtue that resonated with my own political philosophy.

I expanded from that starting point exploring other bands.  Within Temptation.  More Nightwish.  Evanescence and their “spin off” band We are the Fallen.  Bauhaus. The Cure.  Souxie & the Banshees (in an interview she swore up and down she was not Goth, but others drop her in that category).  Lacuna Coil.  Epica.

Well, you could go on and on.

I find Goth Rock (Bauhaus for instance) a pleasant change of pace, but most of what I listen to these days is Gothic and Symphonic Metal (Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, etc.)

And, at the moment, I’m fixing a hole in my musical history knowledge and exploring Sisters of Mercy.

A lot of the music fits with my personal philosophies surprisingly well.  And a lot doesn’t but it’s still good music.

But, I encounter so very few people out there who combine both my philosophy of “leave government out of things, no, there ought not be a law” with the enjoyment of the darker side that I get from Goth/Gothic Metal music and subculture that I often feel very much alone.

But that’s okay.  Being alone in a crowd that does not understand…is Goth.

And here’s some music to end with:

The Mills of the Gods Redux

Expansion of an earlier post from my older blog.

Folk who know me know that I am not a Trump supporter.  I have not been a Trump supporter.  I simply think that he has proven to be better than the alternative we could have had.

Going into the election I had no reason except the word of someone who admitted that you couldn’t trust his word and that everything he said was “just flexible suggestions” as to his being any better than Hillary.  I was able to cite five, possibly six, of the Bill of Rights that he was willing to violate in order to get what he wanted.

And people cheered this.

Still, since then he has proven to be better than I expected and far better than I feared, especially in appointing, and getting confirmed, a Supreme Court justice that actually considers the Constitution to be the Supreme Law of the land rather than something to “get around”.

So.  I was wrong.

That said, I keep running into people who are insist on only voting for the “perfect” candidate.  “The lesser of two evils is still evil” is a common watchcry and that doing so is simply a somewhat slower slide into tyranny.

The flip side is that voting for the “perfect” (from my perspective–I expect yours would be somewhat different) candidate when that candidate can’t even get the support of 2% of the voters is a quicker slide into tyranny.

I like the metaphor that Neil Gaiman used for his career.  It’s like a mountain in the distance.  And as long as I can keep moving toward that mountain I’ll eventually get there.  Don’t try to do it all at once.  That will fail.  But I can get a little bit closer than I am now.  Then, from this new position, look to see if I can get a little bit closer from that.  And then again.  And so on.

By this chart (let’s see if this works)–

 photo politicalpositions_zpsa955ecf4.jpg

–I’m a pretty much a Paelo-Conservative/Classical Liberal.  Some infrastructure things (roads on the chart) I think are appropriate for government, others not.  On the flip side I’m of mixed feelings about education so between them I figure it’s pretty much a wash and the “Paleo-Conservative” label fits fairly well.  Add in that with “health care” and that things like with infectious diseases other folks actions, or inaction, threaten me and it gets a bit complicated.  But still, Paleo-Conservative is probably pretty close.

But look at where we are now.  We’re so far from that “goal” that the Hubble couldn’t see it.  If I had a true Paleo-Conservative candidate to run for office, it’s extremely unlikely he could win (even in a fair election, never mind when the other side(s) cheats).  And if, by some miracle, he (or she) did win, there is simply no way I’d get a paleo-conservative Congress to go along.  Republicans, the so-called “right wing” aren’t even close to that paleo-conservative position.    Consider, repeal and replace Obamacare, while keeping things like the pre-existing condition mandate (regardless of how economically unsupportable it is)?  Despite how much the media makes of the issue it’s really a matter of “modern conservative” and “modern liberal” have both moved a bit outward on the chart.

There’s a concept called the “Overton Window“.  Basically, it’s an expression of the idea that people in general are risk averse.  They’re used to the situation that they find now.  Big changes from that are risky so most people aren’t going to support big changes.  The changes that are made at any given time have to be modest or people will reject them.  (Note also that this tendency toward risk-aversion is why the left, with its promises of security, has had such success, but that’s a topic for another day.) So, we have to pick modest goals and focus on them piece by piece, in an incremental approach, to have any expectation of success.

So, I’m not going to get paleo-conservative, not in terms of national, or even State policy.  But I might get somebody a little bit closer than we are now.  And if I can get that, then the next cycle, maybe I can get somebody a little bit closer than that.  And a little bit closer the next time.  And the same shifting “Overton Window” works here.  As government becomes less intrusive, less restrictive, less all-encompassing, why people can get used to that too, just as they have motion the other way.

The problem, of course, is the other side is doing the exact same thing.  So not only do I have to try to move in the direction I want, I have to resist their effort to move back the other way.  And if I’m not strong enough to prevent that adverse movement, I have to at least slow it down, try and put myself in a position to strike back when I am stronger (or when they’re weaker).  And that might sometimes mean trading.  When you can’t hold everything against a strong opponent then you have to pick your battles.  You might have to give up ground in one area in order to gain or hold ground in another.

People tell me “compromise doesn’t work.” Actually, the cases they site are excellent examples of how very well it does work.  It’s just that it’s been a weapon used against us.  Conservative/libertarian types are like folk sticking to single shot rifles to “not waste ammo” while the other side has been using repeating rifles and machine guns.  Win small concessions, then use that new position as a springboard to win more.  Repeat until you’re where you want to be.  It’s a tactic that works.  So far, it’s worked for our enemies.  Maybe it’s time for it to work for us.

So look at that mountain.  What can we get that moves us closer to the mountain, even if only a little bit?  Get it.  And then keep the pressure on.

The mills of the gods grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

Blast from the past: Morals, Ethics, and Religion

I am not a religious person.  I sometimes describe as an “Asatru leaning agnostic” or perhaps “a practitioner, if not a believer in Asatru.” I find the philosophical underpinnings of modern Asatru congenial and so I use it to fill my need (a typical human one) for ritual and symbolism without really believing in the literal existence of beings like Thor, Odin, Freyja, et al. (But, come on, Norns, really?  Again?  What have I ever done to you?)

So, I’ll repeat this old post that I’ve brought along from blog to blog as I’ve moved online.

As an unbeliever, I have often been asked, by folk who are believers in one religion or another, “How can you say ‘this is right’ or ‘that is wrong’ without a God to determine it.”

Let’s look at that.  Let’s start from the traditional Christian perspective of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God setting the rules for what is right and wrong.  The conclusions I draw don’t need that, simply powerful, knowledgeable, and well-disposed to the happiness and welfare of people is sufficient.

The first thing that comes to mind is that this God would have to establish a set of rules that works; that, if followed, leads to the happiness and welfare of the people who live by it.  Anything else would violate the “all-loving” concept.  In fact, such a system would have to be the very best in terms of the welfare and happiness of the people living under it otherwise God would be setting up a system where people have less happiness, or worse welfare, than they would have with a different system.  Doing so would have to be a deliberate choice, since an all-powerful God could establish any rules that God desired and that God, being all-knowing, would know that one system leads to greater happiness and better welfare than another.  Establishing a set of rules that are less than best for the happiness and welfare of the people who follow it, certainly, is not something an all-loving God would do.

This does not mean that the system will be devoid of painful aspects.  In medicine, an inoculation can be painful, but it’s far less painful than whooping cough or rheumatic fever.  So there’s every reason to expect part of the moral and ethical system to include aspects of “You’ve got to do this unpleasant thing to avoid more unpleasantness down the road.”

Also, an all-knowing God would know that some people would not follow the prescribed code, would, in fact, know exactly which people would make exactly what violations of the code and when they would make them.  And part of the code would be the need to deal with this.

Once you have established that the moral and ethical rules established by an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God would be one that would best lead to the welfare and happiness of people who follow it, it then follows that the rules themselves are as much advice as commandment: “touch not the flame lest ye be burned.”

And, once you recognize that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God must have established a set of moral and ethical rules that lead to the greatest happiness and welfare for the people living under it, on no longer needs to invoke God as a reason for such rules.  In much the same way that science looks at how the world behaves and deduces the rules by which atoms combine, planets move, or the rains fall, so too can we look at how people and societies behave and deduce rules by which the greatest happiness and welfare come to be.  Societies that behave “this” way are happier and more prosperous than societies that behave “that” way.  “This” person may be happier than “that” person but only by harming “those people over there.”

This is usually the point where certain religious people claim “how can you know that your right and wrong are actually right and wrong?  Suppose something you think is better comes along later?”

Something better comes along later?  Great!  Since God’s plan would be, by definition, the best plan, the one that leads to the greatest happiness and the best welfare, anything better that comes along later means we are correcting a misunderstanding of God’s will and coming closer to His divine plan.

This means is that any “true” moral and ethical code can be argued on the basis of its effects.  If the effects are “good” in terms of the happiness and welfare, taking into account both long term effects and the effects of one person’s actions on another, then it’s a good system.  If they aren’t, it isn’t.  You don’t need to invoke God to make that determination any more than you need to invoke God to explain why Seat Belts Save Lives or, The Speed of Light–It’s not just a Good Idea; It’s the Law.

And, if you cannot argue a moral or ethical rule on those terms, without invoking “God said so” then can you not consider the possibility that maybe your understanding of God’s Will is imperfect?  Also (for the Christians among you) note that even the Bible recognizes that while God may be the same “yesterday, today, and forever” the law he requires of mankind can change, at least in detail. “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The great thing about this is that it doesn’t require a specific conception of God.  It doesn’t even require a belief in God or gods.  All it requires, in fact, is that if there is a God or gods that he/she/it/they is/are favorably disposed to the happiness and welfare of people.  And even if any ultimate God or gods is/are not so disposed we’re doomed anyway so we might as well try for the greatest happiness and welfare we can now by developing and following moral and ethical codes that lead there.

I’m not wise enough to determine the various rules of physics. However, in that case we have a great many people (smarter than you and me put together) exploring a great many different ideas, testing them against each other and, most especially, testing them against the “real world.” And they have been doing so for a great deal of time.

It is the testing of the ideas, and seeing what ones actually work. Likewise, one can discover the “rules” of moral and ethical behavior by observation and testing the same way we discover the rules of science.

Consider Al Capone who famously said “you can get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.” What did that get him? Well, it got him in prison by 33 and dead by 48. Some drug dealers may die old and wealthy but how many end up face down in an alley somewhere instead? The “expectation value” is not so good.

Moral behavior works. A billion or so Chinese may have a system that leads to female infanticide but I think they are “making the best of a bad situation” where the various behaviors or beliefs (including female infanticide) are the result of larger issues. Can one honestly say that the Chinese system, of which infanticide of daughters is a symptom, produces the happiness and welfare of the people under it? It certainly doesn’t look that way to me.

Using the Christian example again, the Bible says “by their fruits shall ye know them”, that a good tree produces good fruit and an evil tree produces evil fruit.

I simply go a step farther and postulate that that principle “by their fruits shall ye know them” with the “fruits” being the happiness and welfare of the people is both the necessary and sufficient condition to establishing a moral code.

So many people have so many different understandings of various “sacred writings” (quotes because not everybody agrees on what is or isn’t a sacred writing) that one needs a touchstone to test which such understanding, if any, is “correct.” I submit that the “fruits” touchstone is the appropriate one, and it applies equally well to anyone who doesn’t believe in any particular set of sacred writings.

And this is how a non-believer can have a moral compass just as accurate (IMO) as that of any believer.