Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye” when all the time, there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” – Matthew 7:3-5
I find myself in a position that is generally antithetical to my being as a politico; I am feeling a calmness and a bit of disappointed resignation to where we are headed as a country. I am not happy about what’s coming, but I don’t see an alternative. We have a toxic, angry, partisan bubble completely devoid of complex thought or good faith conversation and nothing good can come from that. We’re seeing that cycle play itself out particularly in the field of racial injustice. Black Lives Matter, the organization, seems to be so-named as a semantic sleight of hand. Those who are against the organization can be said to be against Black people generally. In the same way, those against “the Affordable Care Act” were against “Affordable Care” or the “Patriot Act” dissenters were unpatriotic and so forth. The tactic of usurping the moral high-ground through the use of language is a simple, dirty trick.
As time goes on however, they are being shown as adherents to a Marxist offshoot known as Critical Race Theory, which essentially subsumes the individual into his or her racial identity; literally judging people by the color of their skin. It’s a shallow worldview that doesn’t allow for nuance or complex discussions or more importantly, redemption for the individual (there IS no “individual”, there is only “black people” or “white people” or “asians” etc). CRT has an angry, shallow, binary view of good vs evil with the added caveat that the people who place themselves on the side of good are then free to burn businesses or chase down and assault people (the most recent example being that Prius driver in LA). In other words, the self-declared “good people” have given themselves, on the basis of being good by their own standard, license to engage in criminal acts. It is, as we shall see, the perfect example of everything wrong with politics in its shallowness, oversimplification of problems, particularly its “you’re either with us or evil” mentality, the license it gives for the “good guys” to be horrible people and through all of that, the detrimental effect it has on the issue specifically and society in general.
The discussion around the topic has suffered significantly as it tends to do when extremists and activists take control of it. The rioters and the ones advocating Critical Race Theory (assuming there’s a difference) take over the discussion and it becomes readily apparent that not only do they have a shallow worldview, but they only know destruction. So, it’s rather fitting then, that we hear about how things need to CHANGE, and we’re working toward CHANGE and CHANGE is coming. Yet, after 4 months of this stuff we wind up with “8Can’tWait”, the first (and to this day, only) since-forgotten offering from the activists. It was a hodgepodge of ideas on police reform, posted to a hastily constructed website from the same group behind “COVID Act Now” with descriptions that fit on post-it notes
They say they want change but they clearly don’t know how to build anything better. An example, they say they want a “Use-of-Force Continuum”, but don’t describe what that looks like; owing largely to the fact they don’t actually have a standard for when lethal force is justified (at least not for police). They want to ban chokeholds, which leaves two options on the ground, either a perpetual bearhug, which is just an exhausting war of attrition or raining down punches from full mount position. They are not, by themselves, fatal. They are regularly applied by people who do not know how to properly apply chokeholds and don’t know when to (or don’t want to) let go
Rational solutions, such as complex, one-to-two week de-escalation training or a better, more adaptable close-quarters combat system (Something based off MCMAP or Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) aren’t being discussed. There isn’t a deeper consideration for the dynamics of a situation, or an acknowledgment that some things CAN’T be de-escalated. Sometimes the suspect escalates things and does so very quickly. One need only look for compilations of those instances put together by the Blue Lives Matter types to add that particular wrinkle to the discussion. The problem with the Blue Lives Matter types is they see the police as completely above reproach and that the violence in a given situation was, in about 99.5% of cases, justified. So we’re left with one side that doesn’t have a criteria for lethal use of force and the other that is far too eager to use lethal force.
And yet, if we were to look a few levels deeper, we would find that there are steps to every situation, the initial encounter, the conversation, the assessment of what the person is pulled over for or being arrested for and so on. If there is a fight, we must consider how does that fight start and who starts it? Also, with what does the fight begin (guns, knives or fists) and what is the appropriate response and just like that we have several questions, each of which deserves serious consideration because they need serious answers. This is before we discuss, what happens when things get aggressive, when are de-escalation tactics useless and when is the officer justified in using lethal force, etc. Conversations this granular do not appear to be taking place in the mainstream and the issue is worse off for it. All that’s left is the outrage every time one of these police shootings happen.
Coleman Hughes noted that as long as there is a, his words, “non-zero rate” of shootings (a virtual certainty) and as long as some incidents go viral (also a virtual certainty), then there is no end to this. He concludes the essay in much the same frame of mind that I would. He writers “If the level of discourse among our public officials stays where it currently is- partisan and shallow- then there is not much hope.” (Hughes). He doesn’t take it far enough, the discourse among the people is partisan and shallow as well, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.
Another case in point, the discussion over the COVID lockdowns.
This one doesn’t require a lot of thought; the lockdowns were a great idea if only for a month. After that, the damage in every other dangerous area, Non-COVID “elective” procedures like cancer and heart surgeries, the decrease in people coming in for previously scheduled appointments, unemployment, domestic abuse, child abuse, alcoholism and the like have all increased, and a study from Johns Hopkins laid out that, as was the slogan on the anti-lockdown side since at least June, the “cure” is now worse than the virus. It says in part “Unemployment will lead to increases in suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and food insecurity” and will exacerbate the opioid crisis we are already dealing with” (Johns Hopkins). Were some anti-lockdown types aggressive in saying we should open everything right now? Of course they were, the idea that someone should open everything in the face of a spreading, brand new virus about which we know nothing is dangerous and is coldly indifferent to those who were particularly vulnerable. While it can be argued that the lockdown argument is responsible for the damage of the last several months. It can easily be argued as well that if the idea of a complete reopening had won-out, the damage would be significant in the other direction.
And therein lies the issue; there was no discussion in the middle. At a certain point, it became political. Ideology overtook everything. The talk about about being “data driven” and “saving lives” has rung hollower as time goes on. But the conversation over the lockdown became similar to what Hughes noted about the BLM conversation; it was shallow and partisan in fact with COVID it was somehow even more myopic. There were fewer questions to ask and nobody bother asking those either. It was a simple question of where the threshold was that would allow reopening to the point where small businesses stood a chance against Wal-Mart, Giant Eagle, Target and all these big chains that were allowed to stay open and people could go back to work. Could there be a system where they just followed basic CDC guidelines and we didn’t end up sacrificing the vulnerable OR constitutional liberties? That was the question that needed to be asked. That was it. And nobody wanted to talk about a middle ground and look where we are now. In both cases, the willful aversion to nuance has resulted in a net-negative for both issues.
This is where I feel that resignation. A resignation that comes from an acknowledgement that the inmates are indeed running the asylum and a lot of the boasting about concern for others is a thin veil that (poorly) hides the kind of intellectual laziness that cannot sustain a republic. Apart from the myopic discourse, there is a pathetic undercurrent of allegiance to one of two thoroughly unappealing presidential candidates, buttressed by the pay-per-view slogan “the most important election of our lifetime” (just like the last ones you’ve been able to vote in). That everyone is going to vote for solely because they have been convinced that the other guy “is going to ruin everything”. The only candidate that seems to be pro-liberty and have a platform based in something a bit more nuanced than “screw the other guy” is someone that people don’t want to look at because “a third party can’t win” (which is true in the short term, but doesn’t have to be in the long term and wouldn’t be if people decided to leave the ideological bubble they’ve found so uncomfortable but pleasingly familiar). Ideology has captured the country, nuance is dead and those of us who are outside the chaos are stuck on a ride we want no part of and have just decided to let this shallow, performative garbage play out until the participants want to start having that “serious conversation” they keep insisting on but, as is tradition, can’t describe in any meaningful detail.
But here we run into the conundrum that has reacquaints us with the Bible; there is no secular obligation to strive for anything better. We are not called to know what we’re talking about let alone be civil about it. So there are two passages in the Bible that I want to go over very quickly; 1 Peter 3:15 and 2 Timothy 2:25.
1 Peter 3:15: “but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
2 Timothy 2:25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth”
The first point is that in both passages, there is an emphasis on dealing with others, be they a friend or someone who is directly interrogating you with gentleness and respect. This is difficult, certainly in this climate when harsh return fire the norm. The temptation to shoot back is made stronger when one is either afraid, or is actually unable to give a functional case for “the joy that is within” them. William Lane Craig observes that those who know what they are talking about are more likely to be able to deal with differing opinions more calmly.
“Ironically, if you have good arguments in support of your faith, you’re less apt to become quarrelsome or upset. I find that the better my arguments, the less argumentative I am. The better my defense, the less defensive I am. If you have good reasons for what you believe and know the answers to the unbeliever’s questions or objections, there’s just no reason to get hot under the collar. Instead, you’ll find yourself calm and confident when you’re under attack, because you know you have the answers.” (Craig)
What has anger achieved? It has “achieved” division with little hope for reconciliation. Every major outrage over the last several years has made the cases that one appoints themselves the speaker for infinitely worse. The MeToo movement more closely resembled the Salem Witch Trial, and Critical Theory leaves no room for redemption either, to say nothing of its complete denial of the value of the individual. For all the talk of what is wrong with the country, the people claiming to advocate for a better world (however abrasively they may choose to do so) seem to be making their chosen social ill that much worse.
That in mind, I’ve no intention of trying to live in the opposite world where things are perfect but look at what we’re dealing with now. Nobody is happy, there is no depth to the conversation, there’s no civility to it, there don’t seem to be many specifics on what a better world actually looks like, it’s all simplicity; we have platitudes like someone announcing they are “against racism” being expressed as if its either a complex worldview or a revolutionary concept for which the speaker should be lauded and praised and every word of his taken as gospel and none of that is accurate.
The only thing that calms is in the scriptures. The call, indeed the obligation, to deal with other opinions civiiy is a call that needed to be absorbed and practiced yesterday. To actually know what one is talking about and to understand nuance instead of just saying everything that isn’t me is evil is the only rational way forward. As has been discussed elsewhere, for someone to announce that anyone who believes other than he does is evil in the worst way, someone who wishes him dead, is a simple, angry, easily falsifiable statement that shows less how everyone else is evil and more how the speaker hasn’t thought about his statement too deeply.
Regarding 2 Timothy 2:25. There are one main point I wish to make apart from the call to deal with opponents gently. The key phrase “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth”.
I’m stealing a thought from my pastor here and turning the gun back on myself. He said that one of the reasons for the intensity and the vitriol of the debate today is because of we think that we need as many people on our side as we can get because if we don’t, we lose the country. Indeed, that was the argument of Donald Trump when he visited Pennsylvania back in August as well as the argument Barack Obama presented in support of Joe Biden when he did the same. (Tamari). Therefore, the fate of everything relies, in part, on us.
One catch: It doesn’t. Not even remotely. As a matter of fact, our input seems to have made things worse, and I especially include my own abrasiveness in this matter. So caught up are we in this idea that if we lose then the country is finished that it seems to follow that whatever we do is in service to “saving the nation” from some destruction we can barely define. This point was made pretty clearly in an Instagram Story, if you can believe that, from WSB radio host Erick Erickson. He was responding to a caller who noted that he too had demurred when he stopped taking politics so seriously. In an off-the-cuff monologue from his front porch, he observed, and I am paraphrasing here “You people are talking about ‘well, if those people win, the country is going to hell in a handbasket’. Here’s a secret for you: the country IS going to hell in a handbasket and both Republicans and Democrats are pushing it along.”
He then quoted Ecclesiastes 7:9, which commands us “not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools”.
And that is where I froze. This was back in mid-August.
By myself, I am extremely harsh, cynical, very quick to respond to what I believe is incorrect. I take this stuff way too seriously. Do I believe I am wrong in my Libertarian sensibilities, of course not, and there is likely a blind spot there that I have failed to address in this essay, but the presentation is what’s at issue here, not necessarily the validity of a given argument.
Back on topic, I am also someone who purports to be a tremendous fan of Ecclesiastes and the dissonance there has never registered with me until he said it. It was in his monologue started me on the path to what’s been written here.
The result of the anger that resides in others as much as myself was laid bare in that dumpster fire of a debate. It changed no minds, it helped no cause and it served only to remind everyone that we were all in a very dire situation as a country. And it only took 3 days to return to the delusion that “our guy” was still a better option (“better” in this context being some form of endorsement), and in about a week, I predict both sides will be back to “it’s not perfect, but that other guy is a (insert pejoratives and accusations here) and so are the people who support him”
But I don’t have to play that game, and neither do you. For my part, I’m going third party and foregoing the idea that I can save the country through more aggressive argument. Further, I don’t care about winning elections anymore, certainly not in the short term and I don’t believe the political winds are where the solutions to our problems are found. Rather I think the political winds are more likely to exacerbate them as they have been doing the entire time. I have been an incredible hypocrite especially over the summer, and allowed my political intensity to completely take over. It starting with COVID and simmered after the debate.
I need to reacquaint myself with what I purport to believe. Interestingly, I am left to grab on to the one thing on this Earth that calls for civility, deep thought, a recognition that the evil is not entirely out there (not by a long shot), and a realization that changing the world is not my objective. I wonder then, where does that leave everyone who doesn’t have such a call and what does that mean for the rest of the country? It seems, for now, there are two choices in politics; participating in the vicious cycle that is guiding the country or merely being affected by its force and we must choose one. Those who choose the latter option however, have the ability to engage in calmer, more rational, deeper conversation that can, in the long term, break that cycle.
The country is indeed in deep trouble and there is very much a reckoning coming for our country and I am not referring to the Rapture, though some American Christians probably do see the decline of America in the Book of Revelation. What it looks like, I don’t know and neither do you. But if that debate is anything to go by, we have brought it upon ourselves by thinking we can only make the world better if we just yell the same things loudly and often, insisting that anyone who doesn’t listen is ignorant or evil. I have no intention of being evangelical here, I have taken enough of your time and as previously stated, I’m not the guy to talk to, especially not now. I am saying that the lack of a call to do better (to say nothing about whether that call would be heeded) is the cause of these problems and for all intents and purposes, appears to be what will cause them to get worse.
Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010.
Hughes, Coleman. “Stories and Data: Reflections on race, riots and polce.” 14 June 2020. City-Journal. 28 Sept 2020.
Johns Hopkins. “The Unequal Cost of Social Distancing.” n.d. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.27 September 2020.
Tamari, Johnathan. “Donald Trump and Barack Obama agreed on one thing in dueling Pa. visits: Win, or it’s the apocalypse.” 22 August 2020. Philadelphia Inquirer. 2 October 2020.