It’s like a penis…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I was raised Methodist, but as an adult the only interest I’ve really had in religion is an academic one. It’s hard, after all, to study any aspect of European (and by extension, American) history since the Romans pulled out without at least tangentially touching on the premise of Christianity and how it has been practiced and applied during the centuries.

My take is pretty consistently that religion, in spite of whatever uplifting and comforting elements it may have, has mostly been used as a cudgel against anyone who refused to live and die by its tenants. The Crusades, the European wars of religion, witch hunts, orthodoxy tests, and more laws based on “church teachings” than you could shake a forest of sticks at are just the most obvious examples. And that’s only including the violence-in-the-name-of-God delivered up under the auspices of Christianity. The rest of the pantheon is hardly less bloodthirsty.

Despite what the Moral Majority or whatever the religious right wants to call themselves these days says, the United States was not founded as a Christian country. I’m sorry. It just wasn’t. Saying that it was is simply presenting facts not in evidence. Actually, it’s flat out lying. The Founding Fathers went out of their way to codify the prohibition against establishing a state religion right there in the Bill of Rights. It follows directly from that prohibition that “because it’s what Jesus would want” is a singularly problematic reason to pass a law – it’s every bit as invalid as justifying your laws in the name of Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, or Ra. 

I know it’s a hard pill for the seriously religious to swallow, but it’s entirely possible to be an upright and honorable man without the threat of eternal punishment hanging over your head. In fact, if the only reason you’re “doing the right thing” is because you fear eternal hellfire, one might say you’re responding only to fear rather than any actual personal commitment to being morally upright. Being a decent person only because you’re under duress means you’re not, by definition, a decent person to begin with. 

I’m sure organized religion has many virtues for its practitioners. That’s fine. I don’t want to take any of those virtues away from them. They can rule their homes by the precepts of whatever God or gods they see fit. If they’re really feeling froggy, they can probably even gaggle up some like-minded folks and live their theocratic dream in a community setting. I am, however, going to insist that they don’t expect me to subscribe to and live quietly under some evangelical theocratic nightmare government they want to inflict on everyone else. I presume only the same liberty of conscience I extend to them. In fact, I insist on it… because otherwise, I’ll raise up and army myself and strike their tract-quoting, puritanical asses down.

As the poet said, “Religion is like a penis. It’s nice to have one and fine to be proud of, but don’t whip it out in public or shove it down someone else’s throat.” When you choose to ignore such wisdom, it makes it awfully difficult to see any significant difference between Christian extremists and the goddamned Taliban. The lesson, probably, is maybe try not to be some kind of asshole extremist and try some of that peace and tolerance that your God was so fond of talking about.

More toxic than Facebook…

The same people I see commenting that Facebook (or all of social media) is toxic are the same ones plugging away, sharing memes, articles, and generally being fully immersed social media day in and day out. That’s the catch. No one is making you, me, or anyone else use Facebook. No one is forced to have the app on their phone. Not one single person is mandated to log in everyday and participate in the electronic circus.

It seems to me that if social media is the electronic equivalent of having lead paint, asbestos insulation, and sewer gas filling your home, there’s a simple step any one of us could take to avoid it. We could just not use it. We could delete our accounts or not sign on. 

That, of course, demands a level of personal responsibility and being accountable for our own decisions. It’s far easier to go ahead and blame Zuck for something we individually control with no ifs, ands, or buts.

It’s the same story for the inevitable subset that gnash their teeth over violent television, profanity on radio, or pornography. The easiest thing in the world is to just change the channel, find a different station, or not look. “I saw something I don’t like, so I changed the channel” doesn’t make for a particularly engaging story, though.

My problem has never been with content on television, radio, or the internet. The far more nefarious problem is this group of people who want to enforce their particular brand of morality on everyone else like some kind of half-assed digital Taliban. 

I’d like to say I’m perplexed about how and why so many struggle with simply turning off whatever it is they find objectionable… but it seems all too obvious that they would much rather have the issue to worry themselves (and the rest of us) over than to find an actual solution to their troubles.

I find that far more toxic than anything Facebook can throw at me.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Texas. There was a time Texas was on my short list of places to go when I retired. I always enjoyed my time down there – mostly in and around Ft. Worth. As it turns out there’s just too much fuckery. A creaking power grid, rampant disregard and willful ignorance of basic public health, draconian laws to enforce extreme right-wing Christian “values.” Yeah. Texas could have been great but it’s turning into the rightist wackjob equivalent of leftist California. Hard pass.

2. The morality police. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), used to do business under the name “Morality in Media.” They think sex is dirty and want to save us all from impure thoughts. They’re the ones who recently took a run at OnlyFans and then clutched their pearls when sex workers fought back. There’s a long list of things they want to tell grown ass adults they shouldn’t be able to see or think. Now, they’ve apparently decided that Twitter is too sexy, because gods forbid that anyone should crack a smile if they see a boob or whatever. I gladly invite these joy-thieving, self-anointed morality police to shove their agenda directly up their ass. Who knows, they just might find a little thrill. 

3. Assumptions. Look, I make the functional, artistic, technical, financial, and any other type of decision you can imagine around here. No, I don’t need to run it past anyone first. There’s exactly one person that needs to be consulted about any household decision and you’re consulting him. I promise you, it’s a feature, not a design flaw… and I’ve thought through every single thing I’ve asked for from every reasonable angle long before scheduling the conversation. I don’t know what kind of dysfunctional people you’re used to dealing with, but I can assure you that I’m not one of them.

Morality and ethics aside…

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have deep misgivings about what appears to be the exercise of increasingly unchecked power by both the federal and state governments. That’s especially true when the discussion turns to the he power of the state to “lock down” people within entire geographic areas or perhaps the entire country. Where it makes perfect sense from a medical or harm reduction standpoint, it creates ponderous questions about due process rights, false imprisonment, and the Constitutional protections Americans enjoy against arbitrary government action. Where government reasonably can require a contagious person into quarantine, does that power also extend to people who aren’t sick? Should it?

I guess you can go ahead and add constitutional scholar and medical ethicist to the long list of things that I’m not.

The morality and ethics aside, I’m wondering at what point people begin to reject medical advice in favor of “living their best life” and rolling the dice. Having spent a lifetime watching people, and Americans in particular, I hope you’ll forgive me if I doubt the average person will be perfectly willing to live under a regime of social distancing, isolation, closures, and economic armageddon for as long as the 18 months or more that Imperial College is speculating it may take for COVID-19 to run its course

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Moral outrage. When you give a television show to a bunch of self-identified conservative rednecks and then get bent out of shape when they say something conservative, I’m not sure you’ve got a lot of room for moral outrage. I have a hard time believing A&E didn’t know what they were getting when they hired the cast of Duck Dynasty. While I personally disagree with a lot of Phil’s philosophy, I fully support his decision to answer questions directly and honestly based on his beliefs. I guess maybe I’m just troubled by a world where a man’s thoughts and opinions need to be vetted through a staff of crack lawyers before he can say them out loud. I disagree with people almost every single day. Somehow I manage to do it in a civil manner and without getting my little feelings hurt when someone doesn’t subscribe to my belief system hook, line, and sinker. Life’s just more interesting when you’ve got people who challenge your assumptions about what’s good, bad, right, and wrong.

2. The First Amendment. All day I’ve been listening to people argue that A&E is violating the 1st Amendment by sidelining Phil Robertson in response to his quote in GQ Magazine. Here’s the hitch: The 1st Amendment was written to prevent the government from interfering with freedom of speech. That leaves private businesses largely free to hire, fire, suspend, fold, spindle, and mutilate their employees in any number of ways based on what they say and do both on the job and during non-duty hours. As long as the company acts in accordance with the law and any contracts in force, they’re basically able to do as they please. Now whether those decisions are good or bad from a moral or business perspective, I’m in no place to judge. In any case, timing it right sure can generate a hell of a lot of free publicity for cable’s highest rated non-scripted show. So just remember that while Uncle Sam might not jump up and stop you from putting your foot in your mouth, with your freedom of speech comes the consequences of that speech.

3. Being in charge. Being a supervisor was one of the biggest reasons I left my last job. Plenty of people have that skill set. Some of them even like it. I don’t on both counts. I’m ill suited to it if by no other reason than by temperament. Even when the dark cloud of supervision rears its ugly head even for a few short hours, I’m reminded intensely why I’ll spend the rest of my career struggling mightily to avoid it.

Celebrating Columbus…

I’m told by today’s endless media loop that celebrating Columbus Day isn’t cool. Blah, blah, genocide, blah, blah, conquest, blah, blah not a very nice man. Blah. Here was a guy who loaded three small wooden ships, pointed them west, and hoped at some point to find land waiting for him on the other side of the ocean before he ran out of food and water.

Christopher_Columbus“But, but,” they say, “He was looking for the Indies and only landed in the Caribbean by accident.” I suppose that’s true… but since I know people who can’t go across town without using their in-car navigation system, Google Maps, and hand written directions, I’m willing to cut the guy some slack considering he decided to cross an ocean using wind power and maps that were, at best, a wild ass guess of what might be out there.

“But, but,” they say again, “He killed all those nice natives.” Yeah, he did that. Can’t deny it. What seems to be forgotten in the discussion is Europe in the 1400s was a regular charnel house. Between the black plague and the Hundred Years’ War, letting the bodies hit the floor in the new world most likely didn’t particularly strike anyone as an unnatural state of affairs. All of our contemporary assessments of Columbus come from a 21st century perspective that is at least a full lifetime removed from any real concept of mass die-offs caused by war and pestilence.

We simply lack a point of reference for what “normal” was in the late 15th century. Even as a student of history, I always had a problem with those in the business who feel the need to apply contemporary morality to historical events. History is all about subtlety and context… and both are completely lacking when we try to hold Columbus to the standards of modernity.

Today, I’m celebrating Columbus Day. If that’s not cool, well, so be it.

I had no idea…

I had no idea how many websites I went to on a daily basis that I didn’t feel I could visit safely while I was stranded using my work laptop for the last week and a half. The good news is that my laptop is back and all the websites of questionable morals are right where I left them. Thank god for those who know how to bring the innards of this infernal box back to life! A computer with a mile-wide Puritanical streak is no fun at all.