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Principles

“Take a good hard look at people’s ruling principle, especially at the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out.” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I believe that the human species is small and unimportant on a universal scale, but that doesn’t keep me from being endlessly fascinated by the activity on this little planet. I recently finished a really great book, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. In it, he says, “Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.” We make up so many of our rules based solely on what we imagine the world to be like rather than on what the world truly is. In this age of nearly instantaneous transmission of information, many of us imagine the world is more violent than it has even been in our past. And this would be totally wrong.

That is not to discount violence, but only to put it through the filter of history, which gives everything more context. We are not living in the most violent time, rather we are living in relative peace. The only reason you don’t believe that is because we are also living in an age when many of us have near global sight. We are overexposed to the violence that exists in the now, and this leaves us with the false idea that we are living in the most violent era in history, a completely false reality.

In looking at the data, we can say that several things are true:

  1. The rate of violence declines as the rate of literacy increases. Access to knowledge, therefore, make people less violent.
  2. Democratically elected governments are less likely to start wars. There are more and more democracies with each passing decade.
  3. We spend more energy worrying about certain topics than we should. If you live in the United States, your lifetime risk of being killed in a car accident should worry you much more than the odds that you will become the victim of a terrorist attack.

Which brings us back around to ruling principles and wisdom. Are Trump and Pence operating under wise principles? I don’t think that either man is actually the one in charge of policy for the new and improved #MAGAUSA. The person actually pulling the strings is a man named Steve Bannon.

Bannon has unprecedented influence over the new ruling principles of the National Security Council, and that should probably worry you.

Here are a few Bannon quotes:

I’m a Leninist … Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment. The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: women should log off. Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer? Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. The progressive narrative and that is all about victimhood. They’re either a victim of race. They’re victim of their sexual preference. They’re a victim of gender. All about victimhood and the United States is the great oppressor, not the great liberator. What if the people getting shot by the cops did things to deserve it? There are, after all, in this world, some people who are naturally aggressive and violent. This country is in a crisis. And if you’re fighting to save this country, if you’re fighting to take this country back, it’s not going to be sunshine and patriots. It’s going to be people who want to fight.

I’m ready to fight Steve. Just not for the values and principles you espouse. You’re worried about all the wrong things, and your worldview is abhorrent. I want to fight for a world where everyone gets a place at the table, and that’s not what you believe in as far as I can tell. I want the levels of violence to keep going down, and that’s not going to happen with you pulling the strings.

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Destroyer of worlds

We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert. —Robert J. Oppenheimer, Physicist, Manhattan Project
What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty; your schools are no good; you have no jobs; 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose? — Donald Trump, In Charge of the Nuclear Arsenal of the United States of America
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! — Old American Alternative Fact

Believe whatever you will. I will not preach to you, for I am an atheist. I have no holy books. I steal the good ideas I find and share them freely. I do not believe in a vengeful god, or many petty deities. I am content to live my life without the hope of eternal reward.

It bothers me that Donald J. Trump just gave preferential treatment to immigrants who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our newly appointed leader has expressed a preference for bringing into the nation called the United States more of the type of people who somehow voted for him despite his pussy grabbing penchant. That’s one of the things that bothers me about any kind of theological fundamentalism. Fundamentalism tends to cause tunnel vision. So does faith.

Those tired, poor, huddled masses who are not whatever label voted your way might choose your worldview, if only you were willing to feed them, clothe them, lend them your ear. At our core, we all yearn for a tribe.

That’s the basic problem with the Donald. His tribe needs exclusivity, and it panders to values it does not really believe. Trump no more believes in the theology of Christianity than he believes in Cthulhu. The man just says whatever he thinks you want to hear. Or what he thinks enough voters want to hear to elevate him into the your sphere of worship. That’s where he really thrives. When he feels adulated.

What’s he done in his first week under that giant dome of light should make you afraid. It doesn’t matter how you identify. Trump is no more pro Christian than he is pro Satanist. Or pro BDSM. Trump is for team Trump. Period. He’ll tell you that you are fired the moment you aren’t useful to his false narrative.

You should be scared when someone who lies without actually believing he is lying has access to nuclear codes.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.” — Donald J. Trump

Except that never happened. No one in Jersey City, of any theology, was cheering. This is just another of Trump’s thousands of alternative facts.

In the real world, the one that you and I share, whether we want to or not, Trump is creating a world that denies hope to those who need it most. A world that denies basic needs to those who could thrive in world where there is plenty to go around and the only reason people suffer and starve is because of issues with distribution.

I will not be quiet until the delusional madman no longer has access to power. Especially the power of thermonuclear annihilation. I hope you’ll join me in the #resistance.

God knows that the huddled masses could use our voices so they can cling to the hope he is trying to deny them.

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Alternative facts are lies

fact

noun

  1. something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.
  2. something known to exist or to have happened: Space travel is now a fact.
  3. a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true: Scientists gather facts about plant growth.

Lying is problematic. I speak as an accomplished liar. I learned the skill of lying early in life. Used lies to keep the machine that is a nuclear family running. I won’t go into all the details in this post because it isn’t primarily about me. This post is primarily about the idea that lying is toxic. Someone much smarter than I am has said it better than I can.

“Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.” ― Sam Harris, Lying

Donald Trump is a liar in charge of a team of hand picked liars. No matter how many times you make a false claim, it is still not true. Alternative facts do not exist. Whether or not you voted for Trump, it is problematic that his campaign was one made up of lies, and that he is (unsurprisingly) kicking off his presidency with more lies.

The Trump team’s most recent lie has been to make the false claim that his inauguration was the best attended in the history of U.S. inaugurations. Lie. It is an important lie? You might not think so. I think all lies are important because they chip away at reality. Should a president be busily engaged in creating a false reality? I think that is extremely dangerous. Estimates from people I trust more than Trump tell me that about 160,000 people attended his inauguration while about 470,000 protested it the next day in the same city. This doesn’t count all the people elsewhere in the world who are concerned about Donald Trump holding the most powerful position in the most powerful country in the world.

The Washington Post recently reported that of 52 claims made by Trump during the election cycle, only four percent could be verified as completely factual. That means 96% of the things Trump was saying when he was campaigning for the highest office in the land were either only partially true or were outright lies. Does that bother you? It certainly bothers me. In fact, it terrifies me.

Trump doesn’t live in the same reality I am in. He exists in a world of lies that continuously pour out of his mouth. In fact, he lies so much I suspect he is at the point where the lying is pathological. Either that or Trump is a sociopath with antisocial personality disorder. Those afflicted with the mental condition know they are lying but aren’t bothered by it. These are the kind of people who claim that someone they raped ‘wanted it’ because they were wearing provocative clothing. People who do this need are extremely dangerous and have a disproportionately negative effect on society and its institutions.

A president who refuses to cooperate with others and presents ‘alternative facts’ is not a president I want in power. People who do this cannot be ignored because they are busy trying to reshape reality in their own image and that ripples out into society in ways that are likely to tear it apart. I’m making a prediction that this carefully crafted false reality is only just starting to grow like a cancer in the belly of our country. If we allow it to go untreated, it remains to be seen how many people will needlessly suffer as a result. In world where there is more than enough to go around so that everyone can have food, shelter and access to medical care, Trump is the antithesis of making anything great. He’s more likely to foolishly start the third and possibly last great war our species will fight.

I’m with all those who are against our new liar in chief. Things are going to get much worse before they get better. Today, I can still openly complain about the problems with the new administration. I suspect that, if we are not ready to fight to keep things this way, voices like mine will be silenced one by one until the only voices left are the ones currently holding the power. I’m willing to fight to keep that from becoming a reality. I’m not willing to pay for any new walls, and I’m not willing to be quiet while others are forced to pay for them.

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You always have choices, even when you’re orange

“A podium and a prison is each a place, one high and the other low, but in either place your freedom of choice can be maintained if you so wish.”

—Epictetus, Discourses

Throughout my life, my greatest pleasure has been learning. The exploration of what is not yet known is what keeps me here, and keeps me willing to greet the day no matter how it starts or what it may bring. On this day, while I am writing these words, there are some people of whom I am aware who are in prison and who do not deserve to be. Also on this day, while I am writing these words, there are some people who have great power that do not deserve that power. I am primarily talking about the orange man also called Donald Trump, who is not motivated by a love of learning. That is not a crime. As far as I can tell, though, the orange man is motivated by a love of himself. I do consider that a crime. As far I can see Donald Trump’s self-love comes always at the expense of those over whom he has power.

There are many things happening in the world around me today that are cause for concern. The anti-immigration sentiments motivated by ignorance and fear, for instance. I have no choice how anyone else feels about these things, just as I have no influence over how the orange man is going to use his soon to be officially bestowed powers of governance. I choose not to fear what will happen. I don’t like that Great Britain is working to exit the European union, but it is also not my responsibility.

I have a podium. I am not in prison. That situation may reverse itself tomorrow, but I will still be in charge of my mind. I will still be in a position to greet the unknown with the attitude that I am in charge of my own becoming.

In this short lifetime of mine, I have learned that fear cripples potential and destroys those who allow it to control their decision making. I choose to face my fears and understand that the most important things I am afraid of are internal. External forces are real. They can negatively or positively impact my existence. Or yours. Or all of ours.

That is no reason to lash out. Only bullies let fear dictate their tone.

“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure. It’s not your fault.” This is orange man at his worst, and he’s right. It is not my fault that he is a narcissist. Rather than choose to feel hopeless about the upcoming presidential reign of the smartest orange man on the planet, I am going to look for opportunities to show his followers and believers that fear and ignorance never lead to growth. Fighting for growth is not a sin. I’m looking forward to helping like minded friends tear down all the walls orange man has promised to build.

The future of the world is not destined to be a bunch of walls separating us from one another. The future of the world isn’t destined to be fear and ignorance separating us from one another. Those are the old ways, and thank the gods, they are dying.

Whether you are high or low, I hope you understand that your freedom of choice cannot be taken from you. You can choose fear and ignorance, but I hope you won’t.

As to you, the incoming orange man, I wish you growth when it comes to wisdom, as I believe there is almost unlimited potential hidden within the walls of bone that make up your skull.

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Circle of control

“We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country—anything with which we might associate.” —Epictetus, Discourses

I am in my mid-40s at the time I am writing this. My body is failing. That’s not to say the expiration date is near, but merely that I am hyperaware of the amount of wear and tear I have put on the machine. Military service in two different branches and a mobile lifestyle have taken a toll. I do not control my body’s reaction to this excessive wear and tear, but I do control my mind, and how it responds.

Our mind is the only thing, ultimately, that we do have control over, if we are fortunate enough to have a healthy brain. The lesson for myself, and anyone who chooses to read these words, is this: stop worrying about externality. Make choices that will keep your brain as healthy as possible. Let go of things you have zero influence over. News. Elections. The health of your national currency. What someone else thinks of you. It’s all quite irrelevant.

If you choose to engage with people on social media, remember that you don’t control what they think, and should therefore not become invested in those who have a different opinion than you. Express yourself, move on, and let go.

It was very icy this morning when I left the house, and even though I have all wheel drive, I found myself unable to make turns. Instead, I was sliding in straight lines across sheets of ice. I could easily have wrecked my expensive automobile. I realized that I couldn’t control the ice, or the way my car responded to it. Instead of getting upset, I crept home as slowly and carefully as I could. I made it safely, and for that I am grateful.

If I hadn’t, and had wrecked my car, I would focused on seeing the positives. My automobile has been great in the five years I’ve had it, but I am not attached to it. It’s just a tool that gets me where I want to go. My body is the exact same thing. A tool that gets my mind where I’d like it to go. In the realization of this, I am cognizant that I should try to take care of my car and my body, but that eventually, they will both fail me.

In the mean time, I’m focused on what’s really important – the choices I’m making, the habits I am forming, and the ideas I am exploring. Those are the only things that will matter when my existence is drawing to its close.

My circle of control is what’s happening inside my head. That’s the place that matters most, and what I do there will influence everything else. The same applies to you.

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