American Blasphemy

Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing irreverence to God, or any other deity if that’s how you roll. But it also applies to anything considered sacred. And while we’ve abolished blasphemy laws in the West, at least as applied to Christianity (yay, I guess?), we still have blasphemy laws up the wazoo and don’t kid yourselves.

Sacred cows are alive and well in these United States. I’m going to speak blasphemously here, but let’s just say that your personal feelings and attitudes towards sodomy and it’s practitioners or baby killing, or even firearms ownership, can make you a persona non grata here in America . . . if they’re the wrong decision.

If you are of a certain chromatic disposition, saying the exact same thing as another can either be a-okay or complete verboten, enough to remove you from polite society.

You don’t even have to say anything mean or hateful. Just “wrong.”

Meanwhile, it seems like the only religions that have any sort of protection against verbal assault, no matter how mild, are either of the indigenous variety, or the one whose adherents get rather stabby/bomby at the merest hint of criticism.

So essentially, blasphemy laws, the current state of which in America is a weird and deadly combination of the hecklers’ and assassins’ veto. Continue reading “American Blasphemy”

Cultural Traps, Part IV

America is a funny place. And Americans are a funny bunch (when we can actually agree on what the hell being an American even means anymore, but I digress).

As time passes and more strangeness unfolds, I realize that the older I get, the more that criticisms of this country that would have rankled a younger me now see valid and very well-founded. It’s not that my love of this country has diminished with age. It’s that my uncritical, unthinking love of this country has diminished with age, as has my uncritical, unthinking love of ANYTHING.

Music, philosophy, politics . . . you name it. Things are different now, and assumptions have to be examined accordingly. That’s what my Cultural Traps series is all about. That said, let’s look at a few more of those supposedly unshakable American tendencies that either make no sense, or trap you in a harmful way of thinking that doesn’t let you fairly and accurately examine all sides of an issue.

Now, I know every culture on Earth has its own traps and foibles, but I’m an American, dammit. So I’m focusing on ‘MERICA!

Here we go.

Being Immune to History. I read an article the other day on The Federalist by a gentleman named Jesse Kelly–normally a pretty funny guyabout his preference that the United States peaceably split. A “divorce,” he calls it. It’s an interesting premise, and one has to rid oneself of the typical American tendency–discussed here–to have a hysterical, knee-jerk reaction to even the merest utterance of an idea in order to appreciate what Kelly says that’s deeper than “we should have an amicable split”:

Anyone who thinks this is a radical idea has an extremely narrow view of history. If you don’t believe me, go try to book a plane ticket to Czechoslovakia, or look at a map of Europe from the year 1600, then look at one today. See any differences? Borders move. Countries split and change hands. They do this for a myriad of reasons.

A rebuttal on the same website, written by one Lyman Stone, calls this idea dangerous and impracticable, if you’re interested in reading the counterpoint. I’m not here to debate the merits of this idea. But I do think Kelly raises an interesting point when he says “Anyone who thinks this is a radical idea has an extremely narrow view of history.”

By and large, Americans have an extremely narrow view of history. We seem to believe that history began in either 1963, if you ask Mr. Larkin, or five minutes ago, if you ask anyone born between 1997 and 2000.

Get “woke.” Get on “the right side of history.”

Those who wish us harm have very long memories and even longer time-horizons and visions for the future. Remember, the Chinese still smart over their humiliation at the hands of Western powers some two-hundred years ago, and ISIS and al-Qaeda and their ilk are still mad about the Crusades . . .

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Meanwhile, we here in America are totally convinced that we can eliminate all crime by disarming the populace or something.

Worse, we’re absolutely convinced that everything will continue the way it has just because. Bad things never happen here, nor will they ever. Our way of life will continue in perpetuity, and America will always be the Top Dog because of some undifferentiated belief in “Freedom!” no matter how many stupid, short-sighted policies are shoved down our throats.

Concurrent with this trap is the inability to even conceive that something may at some point change, or that maybe the way we do things isn’t the best way to do things. Who knows? Maybe this country will split someday, or some of the bigger states will break up into smaller, more representative states. Or maybe some states will want to leave entirely. Or maybe the United States will not remain the world’s only hegemon, either militarily or economically.

Hey, it could happen. But no one wants to talk about it.

Stuff like this “sneaks up” on us because we are blind to its possibility. Nothing occurs “just because” or “for no reason whatsoever.” Effects have causes. By being blind to this, thinking that America is truly the peak of civilization obviates the need to improve and leaves you with stagnation and rot which will really bring the whole thing crumbling down.

This tendency, this false sense of security, might be the most tragic aspect of the whole American experience. Which brings me to the next cultural trap in this discussion. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part IV”

Death to Convenience!

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Human history is a funny thing: we spent millennia fighting off predators and toiling in the fields, painstakingly developing labor-saving methods and machines in search of convenience, only to now feel deep dissatisfaction with the industrialized world.

At least, some of us feel dissatisfied.

It’s a thing Jack Donovan touches on in much of his writing. And it’s also the kind of scorching hot take the chattering class likes to bring up when they trot out the whole “It’s a woman’s world now/Are men obsolete?” canard.

You see, apparently things like strengthdecisiveness, and physical courage are outdated and outmoded. As though only men display these things . . .

But this dissatisfaction is not just a man-thing. It’s a human thing.

All this labor-saving, all this technology, and all this existential angst. Is it any wonder that people feel useless? Anxious? Unhappy?

Maybe all of this convenience is the enemy.

This is a great time to be alive in many ways, especially in the West. Fantastic. An anomaly in human history:

  • Hunting and farming? Just press a button, and food is brought to you.
  • Courtship? Romance? Nah! We have devices. Soon, sex robots will be a thing. And if you really crave “the human element,” there are apps for that.
  • Disease? Most of the ones that used to ravage humanity are gone, or held at bay so as to be nearly eradicated.
  • Travel? Never been easier. You don’t even need to own your own vehicle to get from point A to point B, let alone a horse.

And so on.

But we’re all stressed. We suffer from ennui and listlessness and isolation. Pure enervation. Achievement is just not worth the effort since the rewards are ever-dwindling…right?

I mean, look around you, especially if you’re in a city. Things seem designed to keep us apart from each other. Where are the smiles? Hell, it’s weird to even see an athletic physique, isn’t it?

Convenience is killing us. This is not a great revelation when it comes to our personal lives. But what about when it comes to everything else?

How about convenience making us not even want to vote, or learn about important issues? Nothing really ever changes, right?

Our convenience even stops us from asking deep questions, introspective questionsabout ourselves, our legacies, the meaning of life, God, the eternal, the unknowable.

Convenience is a trap. It’s the cage of safety writ large. And this convenience was designed, so the official story goes, to make our lives better.

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And it has.

But as with most everything, there is a price. Continue reading “Death to Convenience!”

Cultural Traps, Part III

Observing your own culture with a detached eye helps one recognize the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I’ve written about some of these traps before, those parts of American culture that we all take for granted but might not actually make sense.

In this third edition, I’m going to look at some things that might be emerging trends in America that are both really stupid and really dangerous, many culled from my own experiences and observations. 

Some of these might not be uniquely American. They may just be human nature. But when I see my countrymen and women (whatever the hell that means anymore) act like scary monsters, I can’t help but see these tendencies shaded in red, white, and blue. 

Opposing one thing automatically means liking the other.

Are you against the death penalty? Then you clearly want to open all the prisons and are super-soft on crime.  

…or maybe you’re just against the death penalty. 

Perhaps you oppose partial-birth abortion. You obviously want women at risk of death die from birth complications to die. 

…or maybe you’re just against partial-birth abortion. 

This might be more of a logical fallacy than a cognitive trap, but it is still (a) everywhere l, and (b) dumb.

Unintelligent people think like this, or liars. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, but it’s true. One is either incapable of seeing this trap, or is wielding it as a rhetorical club. 

If the former, you can learn. If the latter, its effective, sure, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any direction. It does something that could arguably be another entry on this list, which is assuming ill intent on the part of the other. Rhetorically, it’s a weapon. But it weakens your own position and makes you look silly. You risk losing credibility, which in a debate–akin to a trial–is the kiss of death.  

Disproportionality and overreaction, aka hysteria.

Debating is an art that requires practice and preparation. It also requires an understanding of the rules of a particular interaction, such as whether the relationship with your opponent will be ongoing, whether you’re trying to change the other’s mind, or whether you’re trying to illustrate a point to your observers. But either way, you want to make your points using reason, logic, and evidence.

Of course, what really changes hearts and minds is emotion. So use rhetoric where applicable. It’s very effective, and for some people, whether you call them midwits or IYIs (“intellectuals, yet idiots,” per Nassim Nicholas Taleb), that’s all they understand.

This trap dovetails nicely with the first, but it’s distinguished by what I call default nuclear. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part III”

There’s Nothing Wrong With “Idols”


Lots of talk against idols. 

Of course, if you’re a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, there are deeply serious prohibitions against idolatry (and no, neither iconography nor Jesus Christ are “idols,” so knock that argument off).

What about “secular” idols? Celebrities, politicians, atheletes, and other people who inspire is to do great things and whom some of us, gulp, seem to worship. 

Now, things get be “idols” too (Drugs? Money? Bloodlust?), which can obviously be problems. 

But let’s get back to people. Putting faith in human beings is bad, isn’t it? It’s harmful to be so obsessed; it’s common knowledge, after all. 

But you all know how I feel about the conventional wisdom. And I have a confession to make here:

You see, Frank Zappa helped me get through high school. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t you a guy who routinely mocks celebrity and celebrity culture? 

Yes. Yes I am. But I’ll tell you what I dislike more than celebrities: A lack of balance. 

Back to Mr. Zappa.  Continue reading “There’s Nothing Wrong With “Idols””

Axiometry, Part I: “We Fear What We Don’t Understand”

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There are sayings, quotes, and mantras that permeate our world, formulations that have become shibboleths, accepted as true because they have been around forever. They are, shall we say, the conventional wisdom.

You know how I feel about the conventional wisdom.

Like my series on what I call “cultural traps” I’d like to examine some of these sayings in-depth, testing whether they even make any sense. And given my love of portmanteaus (for example, the name of this blog), I call this series Axiometry:

Axiom: “A rule or principle that many people accept as true.”

-metry: “Art, process, or science of measuring.”

I want to measure these axioms to determine whether we should accept them as true.

Our first is that well-known old saw: “We fear what we don’t understand.”

Do we?

Is the unknown always frightening?

I have several problems with this statement. This is almost too easy an axiom to parse, but as it’s so commonly used and taken as “The Way Things Are,” I think it’s worth discussing.

I contend that the saying, “We fear what we don’t understand,” is feel-good shorthand for people who want to sound like THEY CARE to signal to other people the depth of their empathy.

Let’s perform some axiometry! Continue reading “Axiometry, Part I: “We Fear What We Don’t Understand””

So Divided. So What?: Why Division is a Good Thing

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We are supposedly more divided, politically, culturally, even over stupid things like music and sports, than at any time in history. And as Americans, we are constantly bombarded from all sides with the message that this polarization is one of the pressing problems of our time.

Wouldn’t it be better, goes the conventional wisdom, if we could all join hands and want, think, believe, and act the same way towards the same goals?

Well, for starters that would be kind of beige. Second, it would probably admit “disappearing” everybody who disagreed with the prevailing norm.

And third, you have to ask: Whose goals? Whose “normal”? Whose “unity”?

I never understood the lamenting of this division as a concept. People disagree vehemently over what to eat for lunch, and you’re shocked that we can’t agree on the big things?

Yes, the things that we should do in order to have a wonderful society are relatively easy to figure out–be decent to everybody, don’t murder, don’t steal, and so on. But if 10,000-plus years of human history have taught us anything, it’s that human beings don’t play fair. We haven’t figured it out in all of this time. What makes the current purveyors of moderation think they have the answer this time?

Let’s just talk about politics because it’s on everybody’s mind just now, especially the United States. How could there not be division? Is division even bad?

I get into it with people who say they wish there was a “moderate party,” whatever that means, in the United States. Now what in the hell would a moderate party actually accomplish?

I get answers like, “Oh they would do what’s best, or what’s sensible.” But again: “Sensible” and “best” are subjective terms. Who’s defining them? I’m sure my idea of “sensible” is far different than that of a communist or a Scandinavian (but I repeat myself). I’m sure what I think is “best” is very different from what an Islamist thinks. Why the absolute living hell should I be forced to do what they think is right, and vice versa? Just for the sake of “playing nice”?

Why? Why should I be forced to agree with people who hate me? Why should you? Continue reading “So Divided. So What?: Why Division is a Good Thing”