President Bannon

February 7, 2017 Comics, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 490

President Bannon Cartoon

My first finished portrait of President Bannon. I have a feeling I might not get that official portrait commission.

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First Amendment Friday: February 3, 2017

February 3, 2017 Featured, First Amendment Fridays Comments (0) 352

Fun fact: Donald Trump isn’t even three weeks into his Presidency! If you’re like me, you are already tired of winning.

Like the previous two weeks of Trump, this one has been overwhelming, especially if you’re concerned about the First Amendment. We’re going to focus on the big cases here, and maybe come back in a future week to some things that slip through the cracks.

If there was a theme this week in First Amendent News, it was “Conservatives Misintepreting the First Amendment.” So grab your handy study guide, and let’s dive in.

Does the Alt-Right have Alt-Rights?

A massive protest by students at UC Berkeley led staff to cancel a scheduled speech by Twitterless alt-right troll Milo Something-or-Other. The move ignited debates across the Internet and inspired our President, who has not yet made any statement about the alt-right terrorist who murdered innocent Canadian Muslims during prayer service, to threaten the university’s federal funding.

Despite outcry, of course, Milo’s First Amendment rights were in no way impinged. The First Amendment does not protect against opposing speech from fellow citizens, nor does it guarantee a podium and a microphone. It is a protection against punishment or censorship by the government — and it is likely, had Milo the courage to step out onto the sidewalk and engage his speech rights the way any other American may, that the government (in the form of police) would have protected him.

Instead Milo ran away, because alt-right trolls are cowardly, and claiming persecution fits his narrative and his brand better than, you know, using his freedom of speech. The protesters, meanwhile, fully engaged their First Amendment rights to assembly and expression, and responded to offensive speech in exactly the right way — by raising their own voices.

The First Amendment does not mean the police force thousands of protesters to keep silent so you can give your Nazi PowerPoint. That said, I’ll step off my soap box.

Religion, Refugees, and Resistance

Late last week President Trump kept his promise to ban Muslims from the United States with just about the sloppiest roll-out of immigration policy in US history. You may have heard of this one. In response, thousands of Americans turned up at airports across the country to protest. Notably, Presidential sycophant/Svengali Steve Bannon blamed these protests, which happened in cities like Indianapolis, Louisville, Omaha, and Nashville on the metropolitan coastal elites. One wonders where he thinks the coast is.

On Thursday, more than one thousand small business owners in New York City, most of Yemeni nationality, closed their shops for eight hours to join a protest at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Messages of solidarity and donations came from neighbors and supporters in New York City and worldwide.

There is debate as to whether Trump’s Muslim Ban (which, notably, extends only to nations in which Trump does not have personal business interests) violates the Constitution’s prohibition on religious discrimination, but many experts say it runs afoul of Constitution law in multiple ways. Immigration law is complex, and the President does have significant leeway, but several federal judges have issued orders suspending various elements of the ban on several rationale. Further court scrutiny is still to come, and the ultimate fate of the ban remains to be seen.

Trump Threatens LGBTQ+ Rights… or Does He?

The queer community watched Monday as reports emerged that Trump would reverse President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT employees When word spread Tuesday that Trump would keep Obama’s policy in place, some in the community expressed cautious relief. Then on Thursday, the press obtained a leaked draft of an executive order protecting “Religious Freedom” that would legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just another week with Trump in the White House.

Trump’s order would also limit women’s access to contraception under the ACA, and would present particular harm to trans Americans. The administration has stated he has “no immediate plans” to sign the order, though it’s up in the air what exactly that means — that he won’t sign it this week? Today? That he doesn’t have a pen in his hand at this moment? Who can say?!

This SCOTUS Nomination Gor-Sucks

Speaking of “religious freedom,” the likely next member of the Supreme Court (occupying the seat left vacant by the illegal and immoral obstruction of former-almost-justice Merrick Garland) has a lot of scary ideas. We don’t yet know his views on abortion since, like many lawyers hoping for a Supreme Court appointment, he has avoided the topic almost entirely.

What we do know is that the Religious Right is extremely excited about him, and we know that Donald Trump promised during his campaign that he would only appoint Justices who opposed abortion.

We know that Gorsuch was unhappy with the Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed employers to decide whether female employees can take birth control, because he didn’t think it gave the employers enough authority. And we know that he has strong opinions that Americans should not be permitted the autonomy over their bodies to decide when they want to die. Because, you know, God and stuff.

On LGBTQ+ rights, Gorsuch has expressed an opinion that it should be left to so-called states rights, and state legislators should have say over what queer people can do with their own bodies.

Oh, and he really hates liberals. In high school he thought it was a hilarious joke to compare liberals with fascists, and as recently as 2005 he published essays about how awful liberals are.

So… Not great.

The Collection Plate PAC

Sigh. Staying on the theme of so-called “religious freedom,” President Trump vowed to “destroy” the law that prohibits churches, as non-profit organizations, from engaging in unlimited lobbying and political advocacy.

 It’s hard to get too upset about losing a law that really hasn’t been enforced in recent years. But it’s worth pointing out that, once again, there is no First Amendment violation in the law.

The law does not prohibit churches from political speech. In fact it solely addresses their non-profit tax status. Under the US Tax Code, specific types of activity are granted non-taxable status. Religious practice is one of those types of activity; political advocacy is not.

Nonprofits are permitted only a limited amount of political advocacy as part of their mission. Non-profit organizations that do a lot of lobbying therefore establish multiple corporate entities; the ACLU, where I was on staff as a fundraiser, existed as both a 501(c)(3) charity, which did little to no lobbying work and to which contributions were tax deductible, and a 501(c)(4) lobbying organization, which funds the political advocacy work and to which donations (including membership dues) are NOT tax deductible.

Churches nationwide, however, have been getting away with spending massive amounts of money on lobbying and political advocacy all under the banner of their 501(c)(3) tax status. Many people (myself included) have insisted that they should be subject to the same rules as other charities, but there has been little to no effort to enforce the tax code. Now Donald Trump wants to “destroy” the law that has not been enforced.

If churches are spending a lot of money on political advocacy, they should be paying taxes on that particular money. That’s the only question here, there is no “prohibition” on any type of speech or religious expression.

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You are one person, and your brain can’t handle the whole world.

February 2, 2017 Featured, In The News Comments (1) 390

As the resistance to President Trump approaches its third week, one of the most frequent comments I hear from protesters, in person and online, is how overwhelming this feels.

Every day there’s some new horrible thing — no, scratch that. Every day there are ten new horrible things to worry about and oppose, and the harder we fight on one front, the more likely it seems that something else will slip through the cracks.

It’s a lot. More, I think, than any human is really designed to handle. So even as you keep up the good fight, you need to be kind to yourself and know your limits.

Fieldstone Cottage

Doesn’t this look cozy and relaxing??

Humans are incredibly social animals. Our brains are pretty much entirely dedicated to social interaction, and for most of us the entire world exists in the social interactions with our peers and neighbors. Most of the incredible infrastructure and technology we’ve developed ultimately serves to further our social interactions, and there is no other animal, as far as I know, that will end its life because another of its species rejected it.

It’s important to recognize the power that has over us — and also to bear in mind that we are not evolved to have all the world’s problems delivered to us in real time, the way modern media makes possible. We’re evolved to have relatively small lives, focus on a finite number of family members and friends, and handle the occasional threat or crisis.

Think about humans a hundred and fifty years ago; most had no idea what was happening in the rest of the world. Even their newspaper was likely focused on local happenings, with a few stories of national interest. They hadn’t a clue what was happening in Mexico, let alone China or Pakistan or the Sudan.

Even just a couple of decades ago, most Americans got everything they knew about the world from the morning newspaper and the evening news. Yes, they knew more about the world, but it wasn’t a constant bombardment of push notifications and tweets and breaking news alerts.

Sure, we’re capable of more than that, but to care for yourself and protect your mental health, it helps to compartmentalize, and give your brain what it’s evolved for.

Find your little world, and focus on that.

Imagine for a moment that all your electronics vanished. Who and what would be left in the world around you? That’s the world your brain evolved for.

Take time, periodically, to focus on your family and friends. Get away from TV and Internet, set your smartphone aside. Play a board game, or a video game. Talk, face to face. Hug one another, take in sights and smells. Make memories.

For me, it helps to remember that even in the worst crises the world has ever known, people have found solace in their closest relationships: their family and friends. Don’t lose sight of that.

If you can, get out into the wilderness. A nature walk in your neighborhood is great, and very soothing. Even better is to get out into a remote part of the mountains or the forest, so far from civilization that you don’t even get phone signal. Camp out if you can. There’s a certain primal instinct that activates when you feel like it’s just you and the natural world. To me it’s almost like pressing the reset button on my brain. Nothing puts my life in perspective like a weekend deep in the woods.

Spend time with animals. If you don’t have pets, go to the zoo, or a farm. The crazy thing about animals is they have no idea all the big dramatic problems humans are stressing about. I worked at a zoo in 2001, and I very clearly remember taking a walk around the grounds on September 11 and realizing none of the animals had the slightest clue about the crushing shared trauma I felt. There was a certain peace in that.

My theory: Don’t get your news from a person on screen.

I don’t get any of my news from the television (or any video medium) and I recommend you follow that example. I have a theory that watching and hearing an actual human on screen tricks your brain into feeling like you have a relationship. You unconsciously pick up the emotions of the speaker, and that adds to your stress — it makes your world too big.

I don’t think the same thing happens when you read or listen to the radio or a podcast. Those things certainly stimulate emotional response, but I don’t think it triggers the same degree of social stimulation that TV does.

Mind you, I have no scientific research to back this up. It’s just my own pet theory.

I’m not saying don’t watch video — just don’t get your news that way. Video can be great for escapism, and when times get really stressful I like fun, frivolous entertainment. When I’m feeling stressed, I’m particularly fond of watching Hannah Hart’s My Drunk Kitchen on YouTube. Hannah’s fun and funny with just the right does of insight and perspective. She makes you feel like you’re friends — in a very good way, unlike your TV friends Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly, who are constantly freaking you out.

When I was in college, and dealing with crushing (undiagnosed) anxiety disorder, I found a TV show called “Acorn the Nature Nut” on Animal Planet. On each episode, an Edmontonian named John Acorn would explore the wildlife in his back yard, and talk about animals like slugs and tiger beatles. It was incredibly soothing — I can’t find any full episodes on YouTube, but you can watch the intro song if you’d like:

For you, maybe it’s episodes of Mister Rogers (another personal favorite) or Bob Ross, or a sporting event. Maybe it’s home movies.

The point is, as important as this fight is (and as much as you may feel like the world is burning down while your back is turned) it’s critically important that you focus on the small, immediate world in which you exist.

That’s what your brain is designed for. And you aren’t going to get very far without your brain.


Images from Wikimedia Commons

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Inside the Mind of the Alt-Right, the Internet’s Nihilist Nazis

February 2, 2017 Featured, Politics / Religion, Pop Culture Comments (4) 647

A friend and I recently spent an hour or so dissecting the mind of the alt-right. Brian is a good workout buddy not only because he gets me to the gym, he also shows up with interesting topics.

This time around, he said he’d just had an epiphany: The members of the alt-right are frustrated pick-up artists whose misogyny fills them with hate.

In my experience this is pretty accurate, but I don’t think it’s quite that specific. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, pretty familiar with the alt-right. This is thanks to my early Internet adoption (when Usenet was one of the few interesting places), and several years of morbid fascination with 4chan.

My read is that young men (primarily) are led to the alt-right by a particular blend of toxic masculinity, animal instinct, and frustrated entitlement. Members of the alt-right are struggling with the very feelings of powerlessness and disillusionment they project onto left-wing “snowflakes.” It’s their chosen solution, a performative embrace of cultural talismans of power, that makes them pawns of fascism.

It all starts with the rules.

Let’s back up. First, what’s the profile of your typical alt-right troll?

Male. White. Intelligent, but not TOO intelligent. Just a bit above average. Young — usually not older than 30, and often too young to drive. Tech savvy; gamers and programmers are over-represented. This may be a product of the alt-right’s primary recruiting channels (4chan, Usenet, and Reddit) or it may be something deeper. Notably, I do not believe sexual orientation plays a prominent role — in my non-scientific observation, there are just as many queers inside the alt-right as outside.

There are certainly exceptions to this profile. There are certainly women, older men, and people of color inside the alt-right, but they are far less common, and I believe them mostly outliers. In my theory they are drawn into a community created by angry white men, motivated by a sense of tribalism and a desire to belong.

As an intelligent white male who generally understands how systems work, your future alt-right member grows up feeling like the world should pretty much give him what he wants. They regard themselves as masters of the world, in a way. They know the rules, they understand how things work. My theory here is that programmers are especially prone because they’re especially rule-oriented. They write code, which dictates how the world operates today.

This is where stuff like “Seduction” arises. If you regard the real world as a sort of Matrix with underlying program you can manipulate, then it stands to reason there are cheat codes for stuff like social interaction and sex. A peacock, three negs, then going caveman should unlock the next level as surely as the Konami code.

When it doesn’t — when knowing the rules doesn’t pay off the way it should, in love or money or fame, and our future alt-right member feels he isn’t getting what the world owes him, the result is a powerful cognitive dissonance, frustration, and anger.

The alt-right is about performance, not belief.

Clearly, none of this functions without a baseline of toxic masculinity. But toxic masculinity in itself does not forge the alt-right; most, if not all men in the United States grow up with toxic masculinity. The path to the alt-right, like the path to the Dark Side, originates with how one handles that cognitive dissonance.

The alt-righter’s response is to blame the rules. Maybe they decide their failures stem from cultural bias in favor of women and people of color; maybe it’s just that the rules are inconsistent and unfair. One way or another, they decide they will no longer obey those rules. They are above the rules, outside of them. They’ve taken the red pill; they can see the Matrix.

This is why a key aspect of the alt-right is the performative aspect. It’s not sufficient to sit at home and quietly hold alt-right beliefs, or even to join like-minded conversations on Internet forums. No, to truly embrace the alt-right, one must troll social networks and confront strangers. With your pepe avatar and a ready arsenal of memes, you unload racist invective and display your lack of empathy like a peacock spreading his tail.

The motivation is pure ego defense. Rather than process feelings of inadequacy and failure, the alt-righter grasps onto some alternative iconography that makes him feel powerful; some stimulus that will generate a predictable response and restore his feeling of being in control. There is nothing in American culture that fits this definition more than bigotry.

This is why trolling is a definitive aspect of the alt-right. The specific content, the argument itself, is totally unimportant. The only important thing is to keep their attention and make them behave the way you predict. Specifically, to make them angry.

Spend some time on 4chan, and you will find threads in which young trolls share screenshots of long trolling sessions, which generate a collective laugh. The longer they can keep a conversation going, especially if the target of their trolling responds with escalating anger, the more powerful and successful the troll.

Within alt-right culture, the worst thing to do is show an emotional response to provocation. This grants power to your tormenter. Strength comes from stoicism, from being the first who can accuse the other, “U Mad, Bro?”

The alt-right worship the anti-hero.

Brian mentioned a letter he’d read from an alt-righter, praising the film Taxi Driver and suggesting its creator would appreciate the alt-right movement. My question to Brian was whether he thought the letter’s author recognized Travis Bickle as an anti-hero, or related to him as an ordinary protagonist.

Alt-righters worship anti-heroes, but especially those anti-heroes who express a declarative philosophy that puts them outside society. Heath Ledger’s Joker looms large, and alt-right memes and artwork often place members of the movement in the role of “wanting to watch the world burn.” There is no greater hero to the alt-right, however, than Fight Club’s Tyler Durden.

Rarely do members of the alt-right recognize the inherent tragedy of anti-heroes. Brian asked me whether I believe they even understand what an anti-hero is, or if they outright mistake them for the protagonist. Here he and I diverge; he thinks they know full well what an anti-hero is, and choose to embrace them. I think many of them mistake sociopathy for bold individualism, and (like stockbrokers quoting Gordon Gekko) completely miss the point.

From what I can tell, the alt-right recruits most followers when they are young. Very young. It begins during the early teens, when emotions and sex drive both run their hottest, and when feelings of shame and failure and inadequacy are at their most powerful.

The alt-right as chimps in a bonobo society

Brian drew a parallel between rape and alt-right membership, the thesis being that both are attempts to reclaim power after sexual rejection. That got me thinking, as often happens, about humans as animals and the influence of our baser instincts.

A dramatic and interesting contrast exists between our two closest animal relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Chimp society is violent, and stresses on chimp tribes often lead to brutal attacks. Bonobo society, in contrast, is entirely non-violent but hyper-sexualized. Introduce any stress to a bonobo group (a newcomer, a food source, or any other social disruption) and the response will be a literal orgy. They have literally replaced violence with sex as a means of social sorting.

Bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

This leads to a question I’ve seen some raise: Are humans more chimp, or bonobo? We have traits in common with both. Look at the murder rate among our primitive ancestors, however, and an interesting trend emerges. Experts place the murder rate among the earliest true humans at a level consistent with most other mammals, but as our species evolved that rate shot up to 30 percent, extraordinarily high but consistent with other primate species — except bonobos. That rise in the murder rate correlates roughly with the concept of property ownership — the point at which many experts say humans turned from a matriarchal, free-love society to one where men expected to own access to reproductive resources (ie, women).

I’ll phrase that in a shorter, simpler way: When men decide they own women, they either get the sex to which they feel entitled, or they turn to violence. To be clear, I’m speaking of animal instincts here, so it should not be interpreted to excuse any behavior. We also have an instinct to shit wherever we stand, but to maintain a society we learn to use the toilet.

Here’s where we come back to the alt-right. See, that instinctive behavior, the idea of men owning women, the braggy, chest-puffing machismo is something American society, what some would describe as liberal society, has worked hard to purge. As a culture, we have deemed that unacceptable, but it retains a power over our animal instincts and urges. Humans will always be vulnerable to the political strongman for exactly that reason.

To the alt-right, that social compact by which we devalue machismo in favor of egalitarianism is just another rule they are above, one more aspect of the Matrix that those of us who are “blue pilled” cannot see. Thus they embrace sexism and male domination (“Gorilla Mindset,” if you will). They embrace tribalism in all its forms — racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia — and reassure themselves that anyone who claims otherwise is only pretending, only trying to abide by the rules.

This is not an especially new phenomenon; Rush Limbaugh is an early example of an alt-righter, with his screeds against the “Feminazis” who were “Pussifying” American society, and his rants about how liberals value consent above all else. Rush never particularly cared about what he was saying, as long as he could keep the attention of his listeners, and as long as their anger made him powerful. His politics were never defined by classical conservatism, but a performative display of lack of empathy. He, and his listeners, are classic alt-right.

From 4chan trolls to fascist pawns

 

Given this background, it isn’t hard to understand what attracts the alt-right to fascism and totalitarianism. Beyond a simple reinforcing of those base animal instincts, fascists are dedicated to the rules. By instituting draconian policies with no exceptions, the alt-right can reassert their mastery and control of the world they believe they understand.

Interact with them enough (hard as that can be) and you’ll gradually realize that their primary objection with liberals is that our compassion leads us to inconsistency. Because bleeding heart snowflakes are so concerned with people’s feelings, we make all kinds of exceptions that make the rules no longer apply.

Affirmative action gives people of color an unfair advantage over white people. Immigration is allowing outsiders access to limited resources that should go to real Americans. Women’s equality runs counter to the natural order and denies alpha men the sex to which they are entitled.

Way down deep, at the heart of it, is the same consistent theme of ego reassurance: The world hasn’t been fair to me. I haven’t received what I believe I deserve. I don’t want to feel like a failure.

This is, to me, the defining feature of the alt-right, the thing that sets them apart from conservatives, Republicans, true fascists, white nationalists, and the rest of the Right. It is perhaps ironic, perhaps predictable that it’s the exact accusation they most often level against their perceived enemies: They are special snowflakes who haven’t received the participation award they think they deserve.

The problem, of course, is they also become useful idiots for more nefarious forces — the true fascists, whose interest isn’t ego defense so much as actual power, or wealth, or racial purity. Your true motive is irrelevant when you’re embracing and voting for fascism and white nationalism; the end result will be the same.

Is there a practical lesson here?

So if we assume my theory holds — and I’ve done my best to sell it here — is there anything we can learn to undo the power of the alt-right?

I’m honestly not sure.

There are certainly lessons in how to deal with an alt-right troll:

  1. Don’t take anything he says as an actual argument, but understand that the central goal is (a) to show you how he’s outside the rules, and (b) to feel powerful by taking up your time and triggering your emotions.
  2. When an alt-right troll responds to something you say by demanding you “prove it” with links to news articles or other sources, understand that the motivation is just to waste more of your time and keep the conversation going. Nothing you link will prove anything.
  3. Understand that the ultimate reward for the alt-right is a strong response of any kind. Milo Whathisname isn’t upset when his speeches are cancelled by massive protest, he’s delighted — because he made that happen, and it makes him and his followers feel powerful. 10,000 people got mad, bro!
  4. Know that the best way to deal with the alt-right is to ignore them. Their deep insecurity and desire to feel powerful means something like an on-camera punch in the face will traumatize them, which is satisfying — but their need to reclaim power means such public embarrassment will motivate them to terrible ends. Were Richard Spencer not in the public eye, I would fully expect his next action to be a shooting spree or bombing.

As to preventing their rise? Keep an eye on your kids, I guess. If the primary motivator is avoiding feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, then our best hope is to teach our children how to process those feelings in a healthy way.

I guess what I’m saying is we’re all counting on those Feminazis to Pussify the country before it’s too late.


Disclaimer: I wrote this in a big hurry and I’m pretty tired, and I sure hope it makes sense. If you liked it, I’d love if you would follow me on Twitter and consider supporting my work at Patreon.

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