Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

The Age Factor: Gauging the Candidates by the Development of the Audience to Whom They Appeal

Originally published March 14, 2016 on the Huffington Post

One of the most powerful ways by which to gauge the candidates vying for their party’s nomination for President is in terms of the developmental ages of the primary audiences to whom their appeals are addressed. First of all, developmental age is very different from chronological age. Psychologically, one can be much older or younger than one’s actual age.

A number of analysts have noted that Donald Trump’s use of language is at the level of two-year olds. His constant use and repetition of simple words and phrases–“I’m terrific; I will be so good you won’t believe it; etc.”–are exactly how two-year olds speak and puff themselves up. Two-year olds are also continually prone to temper tantrums and the use of unsightly gestures and facial ticks when others are speaking, and especially when they don’t get their own way. In short, they are not yet socialized, let alone civilized. What’s frightening of course is that so many are also at the level of two-year olds. Trump appeals directly to two-year olds because he vents their raw emotions.

While certainly not young himself, Senator Bernie Sanders is speaking directly to 20 and 30 year-olds. More accurately, he is speaking to the idealism that is a prominent characteristic of young people. To this group, or to that part of everyone that is eternally young, it’s completely irrelevant whether Senator Sanders could ever actually accomplish all of his admirable ideals. All that matters is that he not only articulates deeply humane and just goals, but that he remains true to them.

As an important aside, in Senator Sanders’ debates with Secretary Clinton, his frequent, disconcerting gestures of disapproval reveals that there is a prominent two-year old side to him as well.

In many ways, Secretary Clinton faces the hardest task of all. She is appealing to more mature adults. In the spirit of actually getting things done, she knows that one needs to set tough priorities and to compromise when need be. As an adult appealing to other adults, she does not shy away from complexity. But that’s precisely why it’s so difficult to “package” her policies and programs in simple one-liners that stir passion.

Developmental psychology also helps to explain why President Obama has faced such enormous hostility throughout his entire two terms in office. There is no question that out-and-out racism is a big part of the story, but so is the fact that he thinks and speaks like a professor. In particular, two-year olds and young people don’t like the “know-it-all” attitudes of older wiser adults, especially professors.

Instead of turning to demagogues who amplify our anxieties and fears, and thus use them to their advantage, one needs adults who can reassure us in times of overwhelming change and enormous threats. But this means that we need adults who can use reassuring language while not talking down to us. It also means we need adults who not only understand the idealism of youth, but can incorporate it into appeals for more adult approaches to the great challenges and issues of our times.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

The Normalization of Outrageousness

Originally published February 18, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In response to the justifiably negative reactions to Donald Trump’s off-the-wall proposal to do far worse to terrorists than merely waterboarding them, Eric Trump defended his father as follows:

You see these terrorists that are flying planes into buildings, right? You see our cities getting shot up in California. You see Paris getting shot up. And then somebody complains when a terrorist gets waterboarded [sic], which quite frankly is no different than what happens on college campuses and frat houses every day. And, you know, the man would keep this country safe. There is no question about it.

The trivialization of torture by comparing it to what goes on in frat houses is not only contemptible, but completely outrageous. Unfortunately, it’s just one of the many kinds of dumb, outrageous arguments that are awash in today’s highly charged and polarized environment–assuming of course that the contention deserves to be dignified by calling it an “argument.”

While it’s true that dumb arguments are filled with an overabundance of lies, half-truths, disinformation, and misinformation, they are primarily distinguished by their outrageousness. They make claims that by any measure are palpably absurd. Through the sheer numbers that bombard us daily, they have become “normalized.” They are no longer a rare exception.

It’s time to get serious about combatting dumb arguments. If we do not, then dumbness will only not only continue to grow, but spiral out of control. The inevitable result is a society that is increasingly unable to consider intelligent policies to meet the serious issues that engulf us. We creep dangerously close to this ill end every day.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

The Black/White Thinking of Bernie Sanders

Originally published February 6, 2016 on the Huffington Post

The rumblings of the Republican candidates are so demented that they warrant little comment. The Democrats are another matter.

I find myself increasingly annoyed by Bernie Sanders. Who gave him the sole right to define who and what is and isn’t a Progressive?

I grew up in a family that was impoverished in every conceivable way: financially, mentally, and physically. “Poor” doesn’t begin to describe the terrible conditions that gnawed at us daily.
Because I was a smart kid, worked hard, and the costs of an education at one of the best public universities in the world were essentially nil, I ended up becoming well-off. Should I therefore feel ashamed that, because of my expertise, I am able to charge good consulting fees for my services from some of the world’s leading corporations?

As someone who grew up in abject poverty, I’m proud of the fact that I now make good money. I’m even more proud that more often than not, I tell organizations what they don’t want to hear, namely what they need to do to make things safer for their workers and their surrounding communities.

I agree with Republicans that one shouldn’t feel ashamed for doing well financially. But that’s where my agreement ends. I believe fervently that those such as myself who have done well should pay much more in taxes than we currently do. I want those who are poor to have the same opportunities to succeed that I had. In this regard, I’m in strong agreement with Senator Sanders.

But this is also where I disagree strongly with Senator Sanders. I not only find his contention that Secretary Clinton cannot be both a Progressive and a Moderate a premier case of faulty thinking, but deeply offensive. Since one can certainly be a Progressive on social issues and a Conservative on financial matters, being a Conservative and a Progressive is not necessarily a fundamental contradiction in terms. Why then is it an inherent contradiction, not to say somehow “bad,” to be both a Progressive and a Moderate? To believe that it’s a contradiction is black/white thinking at its worst.

Blog, Gun Control, Media + Politics, Politics

Black Lives Matter: A Dialectic

Originally published January 22nd, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In today’s highly charged, extremely volatile environment, it’s extremely risky to weigh in on anything having to do with race. And yet, because of the extreme importance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the national conversation on race and policing that it has rightfully inspired, I deliberately choose to do so.

I am struck by the divergence between two of the nation’s most thoughtful and notable black writers about BLM. Their views are not only important in and of themselves, but even more, they constitute opposite sides of a powerful and important dialectic.

John McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University, has written that while he is not against the BLM movement per se, he is just as concerned, if not more so, with black on black crime. Because so many more blacks are killed regularly by blacks, black on black crime hurts the black community even more than the killing of unarmed black kids by white cops. As Professor McWhorter puts it, Do Black Lives Matter Only When Taken by White Cops? Does a black mother mourn the loss of a child any less when it’s taken by someone who is black than by a white cop? Do arcane matters of political philosophy–i.e., the underlying philosophical tenets of the BLM movement–really matter to someone who has just lost a child to street violence? For Professor McWhorter, this last point is so overwhelming that it essentially ends the discussion. This is not meant in any way to say that he either belittles or ignores the racism that is a prominent feature of many police departments and the harsh racist attitudes towards blacks that are held by far too many police, black as well as white.

On the other side of the dialectic is Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent forThe Atlantic Monthly. In his own words: “…’Black-on-black crime’ is jargon, violence to language, which vanishes the men who engineered the [racial] covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the [housing] projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel. And this should not surprise us. The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

For Mr. Coates, shifting the conversation away from the killing of blacks by white cops, especially unarmed black kids, is not only just another instance of whites taking over and controlling the discourse, but once again, of whites basically showing that they are able to do anything they want with the bodies of blacks with no recourse to justice. In short, the brutalization of blacks is written into the basic DNA of whites. For this reason, from its very founding, it’s really no surprise that the brutalization of blacks was also written into the country’s DNA as well. Is it not the case that Blacks have been subjugated longer than they have been free? Is it really any wonder that brutalization and subjugation persist to this day?

In Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, Professor McWhorter sees blacks hampered by three outmoded and self-defeating beliefs: Victimology, Separatism, and Anti-intellectualism. Yes, racism still exists, but it’s time for blacks to give up playing the perpetual victim card. There is no longer the kind of overwhelming and debilitating racism that blacks faced in the past. It’s also time for blacks to stop separating themselves from all things white. And finally, if they really want to get ahead in the modern world, the time is way overdue for blacks to embrace education. It’s the only way that blacks and whites can get ahead in today’s high-tech world.

In sharp contrast, for Mr. Coates, racism shows no signs whatsoever of letting up, especially since it’s hard wired into the DNA of whites. Since blacks cannot stop whites from practicing brutalization and subjugation, whites must ultimately stop themselves, if they ever really can.

I confess that of the two, Professor McWhorter is far easier to read. It’s not just that he excoriates blacks for what he sees them doing that is basically not in their best self-interest, but that it’s unbearably difficult to take the intense anger that boils off of every page of Mr. Coates’ book, Between The World And Me. Even though whites need to be made keenly aware of the unbearable trauma that black people have suffered repeatedly at the hands of whites, Mr. Coates’ anger towards whites is seemingly without bounds. To this reader, the same prime message comes through repeatedly, namely that whites are irredeemably evil.

Time and again, Mr. Coates pounds home the point that for most of our history, whites could do whatever they wanted with black bodies with little, if any payback. Further, the police are society’s most visible and potent symbol of the virtually absolute power of whites over blacks. Even though I don’t like to admit it, his intense anger made it all-too-easy for me, at least at first, to turn away from his very important message. It’s far easier for whites to accept Professor McWhorter, and by doing so, let themselves off the hook. However, in the course of putting together this dialectic, I came to appreciate Mr. Coates’s message all the more.

The best dialectic is one where a person is gripped by two equally powerful and opposing arguments, stories if you will. As a result, it’s never a simple choice of one versus the other. In this case, I believe that both messages contain important “truths” that I feel deeply.

It’s important to emphasize the basic points of the dialectic at which the stories disagree. In one, whites are the wrongful, if not inherently evil, party. In this story, blacks have been perpetually wronged. In the other, blacks have done wrong to themselves. In one, whites have to change, if they ever really can; in the other, blacks need to change. In both stories, philosophical tenets or beliefs system are important, but they are obviously not the same, and thus, their roles are not the same as well. In short, they differ over fundamental matters of good and evil, who the righteous versus the wronged parties are, who needs to change, etc.

If there is a point of agreement between them, and hence, a possible synthesis, however small it may be, it is this: Blacks and whites have profound changes that only they can make in themselves before they can live together in peace and harmony, let alone separately without each other. While this is undoubtedly true, none of us can change entirely on our own accord. We need others, especially those that don’t have the same take on things, who as a result push us further than we can go on our own. In brief, I believe that the need for others and the desire for change is also wired deeply into our DNA.

If the multiple killings of young black kids and unarmed black men is not a clear wake-up call that police departments everywhere are in need of fundamental reforms with regard to how cops use force, then nothing is. At the same time, having worked with cops over the course of my career, I know that every time they go out on a call, they live in abject fear of their lives, even though they often have trouble admitting it. Cops live in constant fear because in a society with over 300 million guns, one has to approach every situation as if everyone is armed with a deadly, high-powered automatic that can easily penetrate the best life-protecting vests. For this reason, if I had to assign blame, then I would put the lion’s share squarely on the NRA for contributing to and stoking the climate of fear such that far too many of our fellow citizens feel that they cannot trust the government to protect them.

In the end, I wish fervently that a direct action movement to curtail guns could take shape that was as full of as much passion as BLM. Indeed, I wish that BLM would expand its agenda to take on the role of guns in our society. That’s a movement I’d like to join.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

GOP: Nothing But a Bunch of Two-year Olds

Originally published 09/21/15 on the Huffington Post

Here’s my take on what’s going on with the Republican candidates. With very few exceptions (at times Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich act to the contrary), they are behaving like complete two-year olds.

Two-year olds just say whatever pops into their heads at the moment with no concern whatsoever for the consequences. They never apologize for anything they’ve said or done because in their minds they’ve never done anything wrong. Complete egotism!

They have virtually no awareness that what they’ve just said directly contradicts what they said a moment ago. But then, you have to be mature enough to appreciate the concept of contradiction.

All of the Republicans, save Rand Paul, and maybe John Kasich, engage in magical thinking. For example, they assert with great bluster that the US can use whatever military force it wants to solve political problems without any concern for what the rest of the world thinks and would do in response, if not in retaliation. Again, absolutely no thinking whatsoever about consequences!

In times of great stress, it’s well known that people revert to earlier, primitive stages of development. That is to be expected. Nonetheless, the extent to which the Republican candidates and voters have regressed to primitive stages is absolutely scary. It’s nothing less than mind-boggling.

Another prime characteristic of two-year olds is their feelings of omnipotence. Notice how much over and over again the Republican candidates harped on the need for America to regain its standing in the world. What they were really saying is that we need to be omnipotent once again. How scary is this with those who would have their fingers on the “button?” Start a war in order to shore up of one’s feeling of powerlessness?!

Without acknowledging in any way the mess that he inherited and giving him any credit for the recovery, in casting President Obama as completely responsible for all our problems, the Republicans are enacting another of the prime features of two-year olds. They are splitting the world sharply into Good Guys versus Bad Guys with President Obama as the Supreme Bad Guy!

My deepest fear is that we’re not just dealing with two-year olds, but with severely disturbed children. For instance, the fact that Donald Trump did not correct a man when he charged that President Obama was a Muslim is unforgivable.

I’m perilously close to doing something one should never do: casting all Republicans as Bad Guys!

Blog, Gun Control, Media + Politics

All Cops Are Not Bastards

Originally published December 29th, 2014 on the Nation of Change

In Oakland, California, where I live, an elevated BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) line runs directly above one of the busy streets on which I travel frequently. During the recent nation-wide demonstrations against police brutality, a particular bit of graffiti that was sprayed prominently on one of the major pillars that supports the elevated BART tracks caught my attention. Since the pillar was exactly at a stoplight where I had to wait, I couldn’t help notice the crudely written message, “All cops are bastards.”

I don’t dispute the fact that there are racist cops. But in my experience in working with police, the number of cops who are overtly racists is small. Nonetheless, given their power, one racist cop is one too many

I also don’t dispute the fact that there is a “culture of policing” that often views the members of the communities that police are sworn to protect through jaundiced eyes. Many police departments are aware of this and are working hard and honestly to correct it. But, more are needed to do so.

Furthermore, I agree strongly that police in general need an aroused public to push them to adopt even greater reforms.

Nonetheless, I wish to argue for the need for increased respect for police and the dangerous jobs they do. Police live daily in abject fear of their lives. In a nation with roughly 300 million guns, police have no choice but to approach every situation with the ever-present and all-too-real possibility that they can be killed at any moment.

Constantly living in fear of one’s life subjects one’s body and mind to unbearable stress. It rewires the mind such that one is literally always on edge. This is not to excuse for one second those situations where lives are wrongly taken.

In short, by any measure, the deaths of unarmed black men are unjustifiable! The deaths of any unarmed citizens are a terrible tragedy. If this isn’t a clear wakeup call for police, then it will only get even worse before it gets better.

However, if I had to lay primary blame for the predicament in which we collectively find ourselves, it would be with those individuals and organizations that seriously undermine reasonable gun laws.

We are living in a dangerous and deluded fantasy world if we think we can have the large numbers of guns that we have and yet remain safe from gun violence, whether by the police or anyone else.

Even if by some miracle we fixed overnight what’s currently wrong with the police, we’d be just as vulnerable to a gun culture that is completely out of control.

Blog, Media + Politics

The NFL’s Crisis Is Just Beginning: No Easy End in Sight

Originally posted September 23, 2014 on the Huffington Post

If past crises are any guide, then the NFL’s crisis is just beginning. The appointment of four women to help set policies and procedures for domestic violence is an admirable and necessary first step, but it will not get at the underlying conditions that have made domestic violence and child abuse major crises waiting to happen.

Time and again, the field of crisis management has shown that “crises just don’t happen.” All crises are the result of a set of underlying conditions that have been allowed to fester for way too long. Because they have mostly been ignored, and therefore not given proper attention, they’ve not only grown, but made the present crises a virtual certainty. Unless the full set of conditions is faced and dealt with, the present crisis will not only continue, but even worse, it will set off an uncontrolled chain reaction of other crises. (The NFL has already seen major sponsors threaten to pull out proving that NO crisis is EVER a single, well contained, and isolated crisis.)

It’s time for the NFL — indeed all sports — to face up to the fact that violence cannot be limited to game days alone. It’s sheer fantasy to believe that one can engage in an occupation where violence is prominent aspect of it, and worse yet, is glorified, and not have violence spill over into all the other parts of one’s life. Humans have never been good at compartmentalizing the so-called separate parts of their lives.

It’s also sheer fantasy to believe that those who have been idolized their whole lives, treated as major celebrities, have repeatedly gotten away with minor and major infractions, make tons of money, have not completed their education or have received little, come from disadvantaged backgrounds often filled with violence, etc., and that all of these factors and more will not combine to exacerbate violence on and off the field. In short, unless football and other sports are reconfigured radically, the violence will only escalate. To say that this will not be easy because the league and the public will fight it mightily is putting it mildly.

In short, the violence in every sport has to be scaled back. The emphasis needs to be on grace, style, and skill.

Of course, attitudes on and off the field also need to change radically. The fact that one was “whipped” as a child does not make it acceptable to beat one’s children. Child abuse is child abuse no matter what it’s called!

If I were the commissioner of any sport, then I’d take what’s happened in the NFL as a gigantic wake up call. What is there to believe that the same set of conditions are not festering in any other sport?

Firing Roger Goodell may feel good. It may even help in the short run, but firing the coach will not fix what’s fundamentally wrong with the team in the long run.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics, Religion + Spirituality

Dumb Arguments Are Alive and Well in America

Originally posted on The Huffington Post – March 5, 2014

From the dumb and silly to the outright paranoid and pathological, America is awash in Dumb Arguments (DAs). The constant swirl of dumb, deranged, and dangerous arguments are not only a measure of the low level to which public discourse has sunk, but they displace serious communication and analysis, thereby keeping us from addressing our most important problems.

Case in point. Rep. Michele Bachmann said recently that she is “sorry” that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a controversial bill in Arizona that, because of their religious beliefs, would have legally allowed businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. As Rep. Bachmann put it in her own indubitable words, “I believe that tolerance is a two-way street, and we need to respect everyone’s rights, including the rights of people who have sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Rep. Bachmann’s muddled thoughts are a perfect example of a DA. Apparently, Ms. Bachmann is totally unable to grasp the fundamental idea that religious tolerance does not entail a blanket endorsement of every wacky and evil idea that tumbles out of the mouths of religious adherents no matter how “sincerely” those ideas are held. Religiosity does not confer the right to endorse bigotry in any way, shape, or form. Everyone needs to be held accountable for actions and statements that restrict the basic dignity and humanity of others. Isn’t this the true basis of respect and tolerance?

Consider another: Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee produced immediate, strong howls of protest when he said recently:

“And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them t”o be [sic]. And women across America have to stand up and say, ‘Enough of that nonsense.’ [sic] “

Huckabee remarks were not only dumb, but they were one of the classic forms of a DA.

First of all, Democrats never said that women couldn’t control their libidos and that they therefore needed the government to step in and help them. So this part of the “argument” — if it can be called that — was plainly false. Democrats merely wanted to help women have access to birth control so that it was available if they wanted it. Democrats were acting in support of women, not as their dire enemies or opponents. Republicans on the other hand have repeatedly opposed any form of birth control assistance. Even worse, their proposals to inspect and control women’s bodies have been downright draconian.

Second, the argument was dumb because it insulted women under the guise of helping them. As Huckabee put it: “The fact is, the Republicans don’t have a war on women. They have a war for women…” In other words, women needed men to wage war for them. This was the second way in which women were offended.

Third, Huckabee’s remarks were dumb because they completely reversed the roles between good and bad guys. According to Huckabee, Republicans are really the “good guys” while Democrats are clearly the “bad guys.” This followed because Republicans basically trust women to manage their own bodies and sexual urges whereas Democrats do not. Huckabee’s remarks would be utterly laughable if they weren’t so transparently dumb.

None of this is meant to establish that DAs are exclusively in the hands of the right. Nothing could be further from the truth.

On Sunday, December 29, 2013, Melissa Perry-Harris, host of her show on MSNBC, stepped into a DA of her making. At one point, a panel of comedians were putting humorous captions to notable pictures of 2013. One picture in particular showed the Romney clan with an adopted grandson who was black. Off camera, in a singsong fashion, comedian Pia Glenn began mouthing, “One of these things is not like the others!” The intent was not just to call attention to the obvious fact that except for the adopted grandson, the entire Romney clan was white. The real intent was to mock the Republican Party for its underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics.

The very next day Melissa Perry-Harris apologized profusely and tearfully on camera for the inappropriateness of the segment. Nonetheless, the damage was clearly done. The segment couldn’t be taken back anymore than Mike Huckabee’s words could be retracted.

An unstated premise of the bit, and therefore part of the underlying but unspoken DA, was that comedians have a “license” to do and say things that the rest of us can’t. After all, “It’s all in good fun; what’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?” This too is one of the classic forms of a DA: making fun of someone or something that isn’t funny.

This is not to say that ridicule is never warranted, but that one should proceed with caution, especially if one is mocking young children, the disabled, the elderly, pets, etc. The moral is that no political party, group, ideology, etc. has a monopoly on DAs and dumb actions. DAs are perfectly democratic. They are freely available to all.

I have no illusions whatsoever that we will ever be free of DAs. We must not only be forever vigilant, but do everything in our power to point them out — yea, ridicule them — as forcefully as we can. In the constant battle against DAs, that’s our only defense.

Blog, Media + Politics

Ethical Technologies? A Pipedream? My Love/Hate Affair with Social Media

Originally published on The Huffington Post, April 22, 2013

Let me admit at the outset that I am anything but a fan of social media. I believe that in far too many cases, they pander to the worst impulses of our society’s juvenile, obsessive need for instantaneous, narcissistic gratification. That said, in the case of the horrific Boston bombings, I also recognize they played an invaluable role in apprehending the perpetrators. I also recognize that they are here to stay. I just wish that we would invent ones that are more ethical.

My greatest reservation about social media — Facebook in particular — is its unmitigated role in cyber bullying. Indeed, if we had intentionally wanted to invent a tool that could bully the most kids incessantly 24/7, then we couldn’t have concocted anything more powerful.

The fact that a number of teenage girls have committed suicide recently as result of relentless bullying is enough to convince me that something is seriously wrong with how our society fosters the latest technologies without doing a proper “ethical assessment” of them beforehand. To be fair — if that’s ever truly possible — it’s not just social media with which I am concerned, but the Internet, cell phones, etc.

To be clear, as a former engineer, I am anything but hostile to technology. I am in fact a confirmed “techno-holic.” I love the latest gadgets.

But more to the point, I am primarily a social philosopher/social scientist. That’s why throughout my career, I have always been interested in the murky concept of “ethical technologies.”

In brief, an ethical technology is one that incorporates ethics from its very inception. In other words, ethics is not brought in once the genie is out of the bottle, for often that’s too late.

Ethical technology starts with a series of questions: What primary assumptions are we making about how our technology will be used? Who will it hurt/harm? Who will it benefit under which conditions? How can it be abused? What can/should we be doing to minimize the improper uses of our technology? Indeed, what’s “improper?”

It’s not that there are easy answers to these questions. There are not meant to be easy answers. Rather, ethics is concerned fundamentally with raising the toughest questions possible about anything that humans do. In this regard, the notion of ethical technologies starts with a prime presumption: nothing is ever neutral when it affects people. In short, there are no ethically neutral technologies, period!

Take the question of assumptions. It’s one thing to develop a Facebook for Harvard students. It’s quite another to develop one for young, immature kids who can and will use it to spew out the worse obscenities to taunt their “enemies” with little or no remorse. One can’t just assume that the general population will behave as Harvard undergraduates. To assume such raises, or ought to raise, an “ethical flag.”

Furthermore, don’t tell me given all our experience with countless technologies that we couldn’t have raised some such questions beforehand. Rather, if we’ve learned anything, such questions rarely, if ever, cross the minds of inventors.

I understand perfectly the feelings of those parents who insist that unless they can monitor their underage children’s smart phones and Internet accounts for salacious content and hateful messages that they will not allow them to have them. But of course this is reactive. Further, no one can monitor the activities of one’s children all the time especially when they are away from home a great deal of the day.

How much better it would have been if Facebook and others had worked with parents, the ACLU, etc. to set up proper safeguards beforehand–monitoring groups, etc.–that at the same time would respect privacy and free speech rights.

At this point, all we can hope for is that our technologies will evolve.

Originally published on The Huffington Post, April 22, 2013

Blog, Media + Politics

The Banality of Evil Arguments, Part II

Originally published on Nation of Change, April 20, 2013

On Thursday April 11, 2013, The Nation of Change published my blog, “The Banality of Evil Arguments.” In effect, I argued that evil arguments against reasonable laws for gun control are the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Unfortunately, one is never finished in beating back evil arguments.

Immediately after the parents of the children who were killed in Newtown met with President Obama and Senators in Washington DC in an attempt to win support for new gun control legislation, the Right-wing began its scurrilous attacks. In the most despicable manner possible, the parents were roundly accused of “politicizing a tragedy.”

Listening to the sickening “arguments” — if they can be called that — the following question immediately crossed my mind, “How should the Newtown parents have responded such that they would have satisfied the Right?” The “answers” I came up with constitutes in effect an evil argument.

First of all, according to the Right, the parents should have suffered in complete silence! They should not have in any way made a public spectacle of their tragedy.

Second, they should have totally accepted the premises and the arguments of the NRA. Thus, Newtown was the act of a single, isolated, deranged individual. In short, there are no such things as “systems effects.” One can have a nation with an average of one gun per a population of 315,000,000 and there will be no spill over effects on violence and public safety in general. In other words, a highly armed society poses no threats. Indeed, it’s safer than one that is not highly armed.

The argument continues: background checks and limits on the types of guns and ammunition are not only completely ineffective in preventing tragedies like Newtown, but they are gross infringements on the rights of law-abiding citizens. When push comes to shove, it all comes down to this: “the ineffectiveness of gun laws and the infringement on the rights of law abiding citizens” is a gigantic stick to beat down any reasonable arguments for gun control. It is the “show stopper” against any and all arguments.

How many times do we have to say that by definition murderers don’t obey laws against murder? But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have such laws. Laws are one of the prime hallmarks of a civilized society. Laws are in part how we declare and support our values.

Contrary to the NRA, gun laws are effective. Of course, they don’t work perfectly. Does anything?

Law-abiding citizens have always had to give up previous things that were thought to be rights and privileges in order for civilized societies to exist. Wasn’t this once true of the so-called “right” to own slaves?

In sum, “protecting the ‘rights’ of law-abiding citizens without considering the greater good” is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Originally published on Nation of Change, April 20, 2013