Posts Tagged ‘Violent Rhetoric’

Threaten Me, Please…

February 15th, 2014

HTF__Threatening_Base_by_FlameBunny700As an atheist, I have a recurring conversation with many believers. They can’t understand why I bother to try to be a good person without the impending fear of judgement and damnation. If I don’t think God is watching me and keeping score, why don’t I just go on a hedonistic binge of barbarism?

I always try to patiently respond that my motivation is mostly internal. I want to judge myself to be useful, productive, helpful, and caring. There is an external aspect to it as well. I want my family and friends to judge me positively. I don’t believe in life everlasting. My only shot at living beyond my mortal years is in the recollections of those who might remember me. And for reasons of my own making, I want that legacy to be based on fondness, respect, and maybe even admiration, not on infamy. That is what I aspire to, and what inspires me.

What I don’t usually share is that their question frightens the hell out of me. The implication (or in some cases, the outright admission) is that the only thing standing between them and a life of raping and pillaging is belief in some exogenous force poised to reign retribution down upon them. They are not a tamed animal, they are a caged one.

Of late, I’ve begun to wonder if this same need for external fear-based motivation extends beyond the realm of religion and morality. In economics, I hear the repeated notion that minimum wages, guaranteed health care, food stamps, unions, and any other program designed to help the poor or the working poor is inherently destructive. It removes the incentive to work harder, train harder, or even to work at all. The underlying assumption seems to be that absent the fear of homelessness and starvation, no one would get out of bed in the morning. It isn’t enough to have a sizable carrot in front of you unless there’s a big angry stick behind you to keep you moving.

This same attitude seems to bleed into foreign policy as well. The notion that the USA must remain the preeminent military power on the planet because otherwise we’ll lose our ability to influence other countries seems predicated on the notion that our power comes from fear that we instill. We repeatedly demonstrate that fear of terrorism will motivate us to actions we would otherwise never consider. In fact politics has largely degenerated into a game of which party can paint the scarier future if the other guy wins.

It even strikes me that much of our gun-culture stems from fears that everyone else, left to their own devices, would pose a threat. It is only by being a bigger threat yourself, that you’re able to keep them at bay.

I do believe that most people view others through their own life-lens. That is, they project their own desires, tendencies, and morality onto the behavior of others. People who worry about the downside of atheism, economic security, and world peace are reacting from the awareness that they themselves realize that in such a world, they would rapidly fall into an existence of varying degrees of unfettered sociopathy.

That there exist so many people contained only by a variety of fears is more than disconcerting. And it would be one thing if there was a recognition that fear-based motivation was destructive and there was a collective consensus to mitigate it. Conversely, what we’re seeing is a resurgence in the idea that fear-based motivation is essential and good.

I had hoped for better, but in the end, maybe we are just barbarians with iPhones.

Guns and Tyranny

January 10th, 2013

Disarm the NationIt’s rather naive to think fear of an armed citizenry is all that’s standing between democracy and tyranny. That is simply not the world we live in anymore.

Yet wall posts, like the one at the right, from the ironically named Facebook page Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, attempt to link gun control to the rise of a second Hitler. Never mind that the Europeans have had much stricter gun control laws during our lifetimes, and democracy hasn’t fallen there.

However, the gun control debate aside, the notion that in this modern world we live in, tyranny would come via militaristic control is a complete failure to understand our country, and moreover, the goals of those who would seek to control it.

Guns are messy solutions what with all the noise, and the bleeding, and the dying. Marketing is the key to power. You need to sell people on the idea they must give up their freedoms to ensure their safety, and even pay for the privilege. How much better is it when citizens willingly yield their power and their wealth as opposed to having to take it at gun point?

Consider that the people being whipped into a frenzy over the relationship between guns and tyranny are largely the same people who have been sold on the ideas:

  • There’s no reason to worry about the government monitoring you if you have nothing to hide.
  • Net Neutrality is anti-capitalist, and Internet censorship is essential to protect the children.
  • Torture is effective, and detainment without due process is warranted when our safety is at stake.
  • Additional funding for the largest military the world has ever known is essential.
  • Hobbling or dismantling social safety net and insurance programs is the key to prosperity.
  • Making the rich richer will ultimately benefit us all.
  • Government subsidies of exiting corporations like Hollywood, big oil, and pharmaceuticals is essential to the economy.
  • Government investment in new technology like green energy, genetic research, and other “disruptive” advancements is wasted money.
  • Government regulation should never impede profit.
  • Unionized workers are the reason manufacturing jobs went to China.

Desperate people are far more compliant and easy to control. If you are scared, broke, hungry, and/or sick, getting you to trade your long term interests for satisfaction of your short term needs becomes child’s play. Snake oil salesmen enrich themselves by playing on your fears, your needs, and your hopes. And you thank them for the privilege of buying into the illusion.

The snake oil salesman doesn’t care that you have a gun. In fact, he may be glad that you do. Because he knows he controls your mind. And won’t it be handy for him to have armed minions at his call when the rational people finally try to run him out of town?

 

 

Mutual Assured Destruction

December 21st, 2012

From the 1981 Sci-Fi Classic "Scanners"

From the 1981 Sci-Fi Classic “Scanners”

Humor me for a bit and engage in a little Sci-Fi thought experiment. Just suppose a technology was invented in the near future that allowed you to kill with your mind.

Let’s put some constraints on this. No exploding heads (ala “Scanners“), but maybe something subtle like stopping the heart. No mess, no fuss, they just drop over dead. Let’s further say that this cannot be by accident. It requires a brief but sustained and specific intent toward a specific individual, and this person must be within 25 yards.  Let’s also add in that during the attack, the attacker will have glowy eyes so that anyone around can see who is acting, and that the attack will leave an unmistakable fingerprint on the victim so that the attacker will be known. Only one person can be attacked at a time, but there is no “recharge” time so multiple people could be taken out serially. Also, any action is immediate and final.  No second thoughts, no “Do you really want to delete this life?” confirmation screens. Once started, the deed is done.

Now, let’s say this is all available via a $200 implant to anyone of age. The implants are injectable by any competent tattoo artist, and most shops carry them.  As a result, the vast majority of the adult population is armed within a year. Full accountability. No accidents. No one is out-gunned. Everyone is equally lethal.

The question is, in this world, do you feel safe?

Is quite likely that rampage killings like Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Ft. Hood would be almost non-existent. If someone walked into a school and started taking out children, one of the adults would likely respond quickly and the damage would be contained.  There might be one or two deaths, but not dozens.

But what of the rest of your life? How many coeds would be killed for sleeping with someone else’s boyfriend? How many bar fights would end in dead patrons? How many divorces would actually see both parties survive to sign the final papers?

Did we learn nothing from the Cold War? Yes, the MAD strategy (Mutual Assured Destruction) was effective at deterring violence, but worked only because both sides took extensive precautions to prevent lone rash actors from initiating an attack.  At the individual level, mutual assured destruction does not have the same deterrent effect.  Yes, MAD may stop someone acting willfully and who is concerned about their own life. But people are not rational 24×7, and the means to act lethally on impulse is simply a power greater than the average person is responsible enough to wield.

This is the essential fallacy behind the NRA’s woefully misguided announcement today that the only solution to tragedies like Newtown are to put more guns in schools. That it is the lack of ubiquitous arms that is causing violence. That the solution is MAD.

The NRA is also right that the problem isn’t guns per se. It’s people. But there’s no good fix for “people”. Human nature has an inherent volatility and impulsiveness to it that will not be readily contained.

So I ask again, would you feel safer knowing that every teenager and old lady you meet on the street has the means to end your life, but is deterred by MAD? Or is that madness?

What if it were terrorists at the school?

December 17th, 2012

Newtown's AngelsAs a nation, we mourn for the losses in the senseless Newtown, Connecticut school rampage last week. In the wake of that horrible tragedy we’ve seen many calls for action—calls for improved mental health services and screenings; calls for re-instituting the assault weapons ban; calls to change our culture of glorifying violence; and even calls like President Obama made last night to just do something to make this better.

On the flip side have been many voices shouting that this is not the time for discussion of solutions. They try to counsel that there is simply evil in the world and there’s nothing to be done about it beyond the coping, the grief, and the prayers that such things don’t happen again.

But I can’t escape the glaring hypocrisy of the position that now is not the time to act. Consider for a moment what those same voices would be saying if a Muslim terrorist cell had raided that school and killed those children instead of a local white man.

As a country we have been all too eager to spend money and lives as well as sacrifice all manner of personal freedoms in the interest of keeping our families safe from the statistically small threat of foreign terrorism. And we sacrifice these things in almost knee-jerk reaction to events or near-events—consider 9-11, the underwear bomber, etc. We’ll let the government screen our calls and read our emails. We’ll let them illegally and indefinitely detain suspects, and perform so-called “renditions”. We’ll let them use torture as an interrogation technique. We’ll let them grope our wives and daughters prior to boarding a plane.  But hey, better safe than sorry, right?

But should the government want to provide medical services or restrict the ability for your neighbor to grocery shop while packing a semi-automatic pistol with a high capacity clip? Well, let’s not get crazy here. After all, this was just a troubled kid who went off the deep end. Shit happens.

But if that troubled kid looked Pakistani instead of like the guy next door? Well, shit would happen then too, but it would be different shit. And we wouldn’t be arguing about whether or not to act. This is America dammit. And overreaction to a threat is what we do best.

 

Cranston West: The school where Christianity went to die

January 17th, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist

16-year old Cranston West student Jessica Ahlquist

To quote a favorite young lady of mine, “People suck.”

At Rhode Island’s Cranston High School West, student Jessica Ahlquist took issue with the banner hanging in the school labeled “School Prayer.”  She successfully sued her state-funded public school to have a it removed.  This was a classic textbook case of separation of church and state, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux even praised her for her courage in his written decision.

This was hardly judicial activism. Any high school civics student should have recognized that this was the inescapable outcome were this issue heard in any court in the land.  Some might argue the law is wrong, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being surprised that it’s the law.

Cranston BannerIt might even be argued that had the school had the good sense to label the banner “School Pledge” and drop the Heavenly Father reference and the Amen that it would have been a completely legal banner.  But they didn’t, and so it isn’t.

Yet it isn’t the loss of this banner that diminishes Christianity. It is the violent threats of retaliation against Ahlquist from other students. In what appears to be a woefully misguided sense of defending their religion, classmates are not only verbally insulting the young activist, but physically threatening her with assault and rape, both in this life and the next. Just a few of the things posted to Facebook and Twitter are listed below.

“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”

“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“nail her to a cross”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

I know kids can be stupid and cruel, but I can’t fathom that somehow this level of malevolence is being wielded in the defense of Christianity.  Even assuming that somehow this was well intentioned, in so trying to save their religion they have made it considerably less.  Ironically, atheists are often accused of unfairly conflating religion and violence.  Yet these allegedly Christian students make a compelling case all on their own.

Young Jessica Ahlquist returns to school today for the first time since the ruling on the banner.  Her morning Tweet suggests a high degree of optimism, or maybe hope. “time for school. Woot. #bestdayever,”  I hope she’s right.

WWJD, indeed.