Making History

"The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great Nation."  You could be forgiven for assuming this is Richard Spencer talking during his brief Charlottesville 3.0 demonstration.  It's not, but it undoubtedly cheered him and his companions when they read it in President Trump's Columbus Day proclamation.

Here's what Spencer did say on Saturday:  "We care about our heritage, we care about who we are, not just as Virginians, not just as Southerners, but as white people. ... You'll have to get used to us... We're going to come back again and again and again."  They sang "I Wish I Was in Dixie."  They chanted, "You will not replace us," and "The South will rise again," and "Russia is our friend."

In his Charlottesville Statement, posted back in August, Spencer says,“'European' refers to a core stock—Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Latin, Nordic, and Slavic—from which related cultures and a shared civilization sprang." For the White Nationalists, this is the true and only foundation of the United States.  It's the perceived erosion of that primary culture into a multiracial, multiethnic, egalitarian society that does not privilege any group over another that they find so threatening.  The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, and the tortuous history of our country has been the struggle to figure out how to extend that promise to all people.   This the alt-right can't abide.  When Trump proclaims that the permanent arrival of Europeans was the transformative event that led to the development of the United States, he is explicitly telling them that he stands with them.

In Indianapolis on Sunday, other postures were taken.  Many of the 49ers took a knee, of course.  VP Pence, knowing that would be the case, told the press detail not to bother coming in to the stadium.  He knew he wouldn't be there long.  The Colts wore shirts that read, "We will stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity."  Pence walked out, making it clear where he stands.  It was a great weekend for the alt-right.

History is made from our choices.  How we choose to view the past, how we choose to act in the present.  Where, and with whom, we choose to stand.  What we choose to stand for.  

 


Grateful to young black men

Funny things, stereotypes.  You have a few encounters with people and decide they typify everybody who shares their characteristics.  So you make quick judgments about people you've never met.  If the stereotypes get deep enough under your skin, and you meet people who don't match them, you decide that they must just be exceptions.

When Lynn and I travel by car, as we did recently on our two week trip to Wisconsin and back, we stop every couple of hours for gas, or a sandwich, or a restroom break.  And there I'll be, unfolding Guido, my 3-wheeled walker, from the back of the car, struggling my way to the door of the gas station or rest stop or McDonald's (McDonald's being my default because the restroom is always in the same place and there's usually a handicapped parking place near the door nearest to it.)

People are generally lovely.  I can manage most doors myself, but often there will be someone who'll notice and hold one open for me.  And most consistently, that someone will be a young black man.  It's so consistent, in fact, that as I'm making my way toward the building, if there's a black dude coming up behind me, or about to exit the place, I feel myself relax a bit, because I'm sure he'll get the door.  Certainly, many of the other people who might be around are likely to help.  But I don't count on them the way I've come to count on the black guys.  

I have a theory about this.  If you know that your skin color and your sex strike a visceral fear in a large segment of the population, and that because of that fear they see you as a threat, and that because of that threat you are a target and are vulnerable, you pay attention to everyone around you.  You're exceptionally alert, because your life might depend on it.  You got the talk from your Mom or your Dad or your grandmother or the uncle who took you under his wing.  You don't make a big deal of it.  Much of the time maybe you don't even think about it.  It's not a conscious thing, it's just part of how you carry yourself.  So you're going to notice the old white dude with the black hat and the scraggly white beard struggling his way toward the door.  It takes less than half a second to see that you're probably safe from him and because you were raised right, of course you're going to wait and hold the door.  Maybe you're even going to pick up your step to get past him to get to the door first.  You probably won't make eye contact, you don't really think about it.  It's just the right thing to do.  When he looks at you and grins and says thank you, maybe you'll give him a quick nod.

I certainly don't mean to minimize the extraordinary kindness and helpfulness of so many people that we run into.  My affliction offers me wondrous opportunities daily to marvel at the generosity of people.  But the fact remains that for many people I'm invisible.  They're not unkind or neglectful when they let the door swing back at me or when they push past me in a way that almost knocks me down.  They'd be chagrined if they noticed.  But they don't need to notice.  

I'm never invisible to the black guys.  I'm grateful for that.  But I know it's because they can't afford the risk.

 


Putting Things Together

Then I remembered the ginger ale.

I was just about to put the cabbage in.  I had plenty of butter in the pan and the pancetta had rendered out its fat, but I still needed some braising liquid.  We're out of the frozen cubes of stock that Lynn makes when we've finished a rotisserie chicken or I would've used a couple of those.  I was about to give up and grab the vermouth when I gave the carrots and onions and garlic and pancetta one more stir.  The carrots' orange was bright and glistening in the butter and fat and I remembered the carrots braised in butter and ginger ale that I'd fixed some months ago.  Happy boy, now.  That's it.  Hint of ginger and a touch of sweet.  Lynn keeps a rack of soda cans there near the kitchen door.  Splash some in.  Ten minutes covered, then a minute more for the last of the liquid to cook off.  Finished with a few dashes of sherry vinegar.  

The plan had evolved during the day.  There's quite a bit in the refrigerator to work with and now that I'm taking on another meal each week I was mulling menus.  Three-quarters of a head of cabbage in the lower drawer.  That'd be easy with a bit of onion.  I asked Lynn if she'd get a kielbasa out of the freezer.  I could steam chunks of that in with the cabbage and onion.

Then, after I'd gone upstairs and was doing the morning exercising, I thought of the pancetta.  I'd been musing about an amatriciana or a carbonara later in the week, but the pancetta would go well with the cabbage.  I finished my stretches and sent a text to Lynn -- leave the kielbasa, I'll use up the pancetta.  Later on decided that garlic was now in order and that carrots would add some color and heft.  I was still making it up all the way to the moment I remembered the ginger ale.

This is my favorite way of working in the kitchen.  No recipe.  No measuring.  A notion of a plan.  I'll browse recipes online for ideas (that's where the sherry vinegar came from).  Then I'll try to turn myself loose.

It comes from being decades in the kitchen.  Some good cookbooks that teach technique and not just following recipes.  (Thank you, Jack Bishop.)  Paying close attention when we're out to eat at the way our favorite chefs find balance in the unusual.  (Praises to Duane Nutter.)  

And then there's the competition with Lynn.

In the years before the short circuit, when I was responsible for getting supper on every weeknight, I loved the chopping and combining and stirring.  It was so wonderfully concrete after another day spent planning and cajoling and nudging and trying to help the people I worked with accomplish things.  I was good at that and it was marvelously rewarding but there was rarely a sense of accomplishment that felt like completion.  Opening the wine and putting the plates on the table gave me that.

Then the years when I was incapable.  Dragging myself exhausted after working through the day, hands enfeebled, not able to stand for more than a few minutes at a time.  Lynn had to take on all the daily cooking.  It was years before I was able to do more than the very occasional special meal or my pasta lunch on Saturdays.  The Christmas spaghetti.  Josie helping me with potato pancakes.

Slowly it came back.  Truly, the competition with Lynn helped.  She expanded her repertoire, continued to hone her skills, increase her knowledge (thanks in no small part to her "beloved Kenji") and emphasize appearance as much as flavor and balance.  I'd always relished the fact that we were equal partners in the kitchen, albeit with very different styles.  Now I was clearly falling behind.

A meal like last night's, the pleasure that came from fixing it and eating it, reassures me.  I don't think I'll ever be her equal in presentation.  I just don't have that visual sense.  But I'm back to doing my share.


What Comes Next

"Are you moving?"

It's a common question when I tell people I'm retiring from UAB this fall.

I explain that we moved into Lynn's dreamhouse 17 years ago, that it's stuffed with artwork and books, perched up above a pretty little lake with swans and great blue herons, that Marian and Josie live just 20 minutes away, and that for all of our state's flaws, we're very happy in Alabama.  Plus, Lynn just installed a touch-action faucet in the kitchen.  She's quite giddy about it.

So no, we're not moving.

"What are you going to do?"

That's the other obvious question.  I point out that I'm retiring from UAB, but not from the rest of my life.  I'm still on the editorial boards of several journals and I enjoy that quite a bit.  I'll be able to spend more time on OSI.  There's the steering committee for Metadata 2020, a project that I think is very important.  I'll keep pushing for open data and a more open, affordable and transparent scholarly communication ecosystem.  I'm not going to go looking for consulting gigs, but if some interesting projects came my way, I'd certainly be open to them.

I hope to do more writing, both professional and personal, starting with posting on the blog more often.  And see what else develops.

I'll gradually increase my daily exercising.  I'm very consistently doing 25-30 minutes a day of stretching and leg strengthening and it makes a tremendous difference.  I'd like to increase that to an hour.  My goal is to walk with confidence for two to three blocks using only the walking stick for support.  That won't happen soon, but there's no reason to think I can't get there eventually.  "Neuroplasticity."  My favorite word.

I'll have more time for guitar and harmonica.  I can awkwardly strum my way through Helpless and Bird On A Wire now, although I wouldn't want to do it in public.  That's another goal.

I'll pick up making dinner another night each week (I do two nights a week now) and I'll take over most of the kitchen cleanup.  I still don't have enough touch sensitivity and hand dexterity to trust myself with the good glassware, but I can handle the rest and it's a chore that Lynn really hates.

All that being said, having watched a good number of my friends retire in the past few years the one constant seems to be that the reality is different from whatever it is they thought it would be.  So I have plans -- I don't want to wake up one morning wondering, what now?  But I'm not going to hold myself too tightly to any of them.

Except that I did promise Lynn about the dishes.

 


This Is Me

Invited to contribute a piece to the latest issue of Against the Grain, I wrote a short essay on The Insufficiency of Facts.  I'm reasonably pleased with it.  There's also this brief author profile -- one of those where you supply answers to prefab questions.  It was fun.  And the answers turned out to be true!

Born and lived: Born in the little paper mill town of Kaukauna, Wisconsin and lived there until college.  Then other towns in Wisconsin, on to Washington DC and St. Louis before landing in Birmingham over 20 years ago.

Early life: A precocious and reckless reader, writer from an early age, guitar player, philosophy student, poet and long-haired denizen of the counter culture.  Factory worker and forklift driver until libraries got their hooks in me.

Professional career and activities: Post-grad associate at the National Library of Medicine, medical library director in St. Louis & Birmingham, now data strategist.  Editor, essayist, itinerant speaker.  Dweller in the nexus where library interests and publisher interests intersect.  Open access heretic who believes there’s more for librarians and publishers to agree on than to fight about – if we’re willing to listen.

Family: Lynn, Marian & Josie – the three generations of women who illuminate my life.

In my spare time: A persistent and reckless reader, writer in the early morning, guitar & harmonica player, student of philosophy & poems, bald & bearded iconoclast.

Favorite books: Joyce’s Ulysses, all of Herriman’s Krazy Kat comix, anything/everything by Jim Harrison, Rainer Rilke, Seamus Heaney. After that my list would change every week.

Pet peeves: People so sure of themselves that they think they have nothing to learn from people who disagree with them.

Most memorable career achievement: Report and Recommendations From The Scholarly Publishing Roundtable.

Goal I hope to achieve in five years:  I am remarkably bad at five year goals.

How/where do I see the industry in five years:  A fool’s game, but since you insist:  The major developments of significance will be happening at the edges of contemporary library and publishing organizations.  They’ll have to do with slowly emerging standards for handling open data, a shift in repository focus from copies of peer reviewed articles to other scholarly outputs, a general shift within the academy toward evaluation of scholarly output that doesn’t rely primarily on peer reviewed articles, and increasingly robust discovery tools for identifying info resources of interest regardless of format and location.  The people working in contemporary library and publishing organizations will struggle to adapt to these changes.  Some few will manage to get out in front.


Tiny Improvements Are Good

K., my neurologist, scolded me. Gently. He never stops smiling, the chiding is in his eyes.

"Once a month isn't enough."

"I know. My goal has been once a week, but I haven't been able to manage it."

"Busy at work?" One eyebrow up slightly.

"That, and the holidays. And all of the usual excuses that one comes up with." He grins. Point made. I will redouble my efforts to get to the pool once a week.

This was my six month assessment and it confirmed my subjective impressions. Improvements in strength and sensation. Slight reduction in spasticity. I'm bending at the knee more when I walk. Tiny, tiny improvements. This is good.  He thinks the lower back and hip pain that bedevils me periodically is sacroiliitis, brought on by the awkward way I've been putting weight on the right side these three years. An injection of corticosteroids should help.

That it's not a direct effect of the transverse myelitis is a great relief.  One of the constant dangers of a chronic condition is that you start to see it as the cause of every difficulty you're having.  Lynn cautions me about not identifying myself with my condition.  It affects every moment, but I can't let it be the substance of every moment.  The pain in the hip is suddenly easier to bear when I no longer worry that it's a manifestation of the damage in the spinal cord.

Since the spasticity and the spasms are improving, I'm going to start to cut back on the baclofen a bit. I'm hoping that will reduce the slight fogginess, the mental heaviness I often feel. It's a sensation of my head being encased in some kind of translucent capsule. I can think my way through it, but it can require considerable effort. Less baclofen might help. But it might also increase the spasticity, so I'll need to monitor that. Adjust as necessary.

K. continues to present cautious optimism. "Given the likely extent of the damage to the spinal cord, you're not going to regain full function, but improvements should continue."  As long as we're trending in the right direction, I'm happy with the tiny steps.  "Take your time," people tell me as they hold a door open for me.  I always do.  I have plenty of time.

Daily exercises.  More physical therapy.  The pool.  The things I do, not the things I am.


Voting in Alabama

One of the advantages of voting in Alabama is that you can vote your conscience without worrying that you're going to tip the election in an undesirable direction. When I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, my liberal friends in other parts of the country, who might have preferred Nader over Gore but were frightened at the prospect of a Bush presidency, were torn. I had no such dilemma. W was clearly going to take Alabama no matter what I did.

I was convinced by Nader's argument that there was so little difference between the Democrats and Republicans in the degree to which they are beholden to the moneyed oligarchs that neither Gore nor Bush would effect the kind of changes the country needed. It was an idealistic, impractical way of looking at the choice but it didn't matter. I happily voted for Nader, secure in the knowledge that my vote would make no difference whatsoever. (As it turned out, Nader's argument was deeply flawed. Correct he may have been at the macro level but it's hard to imagine Gore making the kinds of horrific foreign policy blunders W did).

Despite the lack of effect, I always vote in the election. I don't always vote in the primaries and I don't know if I will this time, although Sanders vs Clinton at least seems to have elements of a real choice. I'll vote for somebody next November. It won't be the Republican nominee, although that's who will take the state.

I am eager to see how the primary voting starts to play out. It's certainly been the most entertaining run-up to the actual voting that I've ever seen. I haven't looked at any recent Alabama polling but it's not too hard to predict. Trump is wildly popular.  Cruz will do well because of the evangelical streak. Bush will do better here than his national polling indicates. The traditional Republican establishment remains very strong in Alabama.

Whether Trump holds at his 30-ish percent of likely primary voters probably depends on how he does in the earlier contests, and how many candidates are still standing. Despite the state's reputation, the racist, nativist streak that is so appalling in a segment of Trump's constituency isn't dramatically worse here than in other parts of the country. When I moved from St. Louis 20 years ago I found it refreshing that racial issues were explicit, compared to the covert and deeply entrenched institutional racism of Missouri. The crowds and the fervor that Trump sparks all across the country (not to mention the various hot spots of civil unrest that we've seen in the past couple of years) make it clear that hatred of the "other" and a manipulation of the power structures to keep "them" out are not restricted to any particular locale.

It's a mistake to think that Trump's support is restricted to that racist, nativist subset. That element of the population has always been there. If you break down the numbers Trump's supporters represent a minority of a minority of likely voters, which is already barely a majority of eligible voters. What Trump has done is give those people permission -- indeed encouragement -- to vent. It makes them feel fabulous and hopeful and deludes them into thinking they are more numerous than they actually are. Deep in the core of those numbers are the people who genuinely believe that they speak for a vast unheard majority of Americans who will sweep Trump into the presidency, to the shock and awe of mainstream politicians and media as well as the hated liberals.

More interesting to me than those flag-waving idiots are the more thoughtful supporters who rally around Trump because they have become disgusted with the compromising, corrupt and ineffectual politicians that, they feel, have abandoned the real promise of America in order to serve themselves and their masters. In their view of the American political system they are not so different from those Nader supporters of sixteen years ago. The system is corrupt and has utterly failed. It needs to be torn down and President Trump is the guy to do it. The fact that he has no remotely coherent plan to replace it is beside the point. He has fabulously satisfying slogans. He's successful in the ways that matter the most to Americans and he's beholden to no one.

What fascinates me about this element of Trump support is how little these people are interested in the practicalities of government. But maybe that's part of the point. The voter's job isn't to figure out how things should be improved and then identify a candidate who seems best able to carry that out. The voter seeks to identify the candidate who most explicitly speaks to their fears, frustrations and desires, put that person into office and trust them to figure it out. And among the Republican herd, Trump has been touching that nerve much better than anyone else. I've always said that the democratic electoral system that we follow always gives us the president we deserve, and I'm confident that will be the case this time. It still seems highly unlikely to me that Trump will be the Republican nominee, and the electoral map is such that it'll be very hard for a Republican to win the election in any case. But the next few months will clarify things. Carson, Fiorina, Kasich will all be out soon. Huckabee, Santorum and Paul were never really in it in the first place.

Whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be, they'll carry Alabama by a huge margin. I wonder who I'll vote for. Maybe Nader?


"Joy As An Act Of Defiance"

"Rock 'n' roll is a life force.  It's joy as an act of defiance." That's Bono explaining why it is necessary and important for U2 to get back to Paris as soon as possible to do the concerts they had to cancel after the attacks.

Terrorism drains joy from the soul. Replaces it with fear and suspicion. When we give in to that we are doing exactly what the terrorists need us to do.  

As Scott Atran and Nafis Hamid explain so very well in a recent New York Review column, the theorists of radical Islam are driven to destroy the corruption of the modern materialistic world and create "a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner."  Their tactics are not mindless nihilistic violence.  They are "part of a conscious plan designed to instill among believers a sense of meaning that is sacred and sublime, while scaring the hell out of fence-sitters and enemies."  They are intended to provoke a particular reaction that will rip the veil of illusion from the spiritual impoverishment of the West.  As prominent voices throughout the United States proclaim that we must do "things we haven't considered before," that we must all arm ourselves, that all Muslims are a threat, and on and on, it is apparent that the strategy is working fabulously well.

I was raised to believe that "liberty and justice for all" was the truth of America, that the dream really was a dream for everybody.  As I grew older I became more aware of how often we, as a country, and as individuals, fail to live up to that ideal, but I have still always believed in its potential.  When Americans are at our best, we are that shining city on the hill.  We are capable of astonishing acts of kindness and generosity.  In those moments, when we live up to our ideals, we deserve to be known as the country that people all around the world want to be a part of, we deserve to be the example that patriots everywhere want to model their own countries after.  That's when I'm proud of my country and the people who are a part of it.  There is no contradiction in feeling that pride while still wanting us to be better.

The jihadists believe that I am either a fool or a liar.  They believe that this talk of freedom and equality is a charade, that the system is created only to sustain the power of the powerful, to keep the weak in their place, where they will supply what is necessary to sustain the culture.  These horrific acts of violence are very specifically designed to generate a response, to send a message to those who they would call back to the fold.

 Did you think that if you went to the United States they would embrace you? Did you believe their chatter about liberty and justice for all? Did you think you were really going to have a share of the wealth and power that they dangle in front of you? All lies.

See now their true colors. See how quickly their fear turns loose their hatred for you. They have always hated you. When they felt they could control you and keep you down they tolerated you because they needed your labor. But they have no souls.  They are easily frightened and when they are frightened they become vicious. 

Some of their leaders claim to be appalled at the violence turned towards immigrants.   They say 'this is not who we are.' But they are as deluded as you have been. This is exactly who they are. You have no place there. There is nothing for you. See how quickly they shout their readiness to abandon their so-called principles in order to round you up, beat you, chase you from their shores. They have nothing for you.  Come home.

I imagine the leaders of the caliphate watching the bellicose rhetoric unfold, grinning at each other in amazement.  Even better than they'd hoped.  

On my university campus here in the deep South I see young women with headscarves on the sidewalks, walking to class, laughing together like college kids everywhere.  I think they are incredibly brave.  How often do they get jeered at?  When will someone, feeling emboldened by the rhetoric of some congressional leaders and too many presidential candidates, take it a step forward and commit some retaliatory act of violence?  When some young Muslim girl is standing in the dorm room, before the mirror, getting dressed, does she hesitate now before putting on the scarf?  Does she decide, maybe not today?  Maybe she was born in Indianapolis, of immigrant parents so proud to have made it to this country, to raise their children as Americans.  Maybe she spent her life having her mother tell her, when she came home from school crying at the taunts, to ignore them, to stand up for who she is, a real American.  Maybe her father convinced her that the true America would cherish and protect her.  Maybe she believed that.  Is her belief starting to weaken?  Is she beginning to wonder if the hatred and fear that seems more and more to be trained on her is the real America after all?

Yes, it's a war.  When U2 goes on stage tonight in Paris they'll be wielding a potent weapon.  The arena will shake with hope and the belief that the goodness of people will prevail as long as we don't let our own fear subvert that goodness.  They'll use rock 'n' roll as an act of defiance against those who seek to unleash the worst in our selves.

Each of us needs to be a joyful warrior.  Generosity and kindness are the weapons that we all can wield. Yes, yes, we need to be vigilant.  We need to be cautious.  Defeating the jihadists will require multiple tactics, some military, some political.  But those tactics will not prove the jihadists wrong.  We can only do that if we truly live the American dream, if we make the quest for justice and freedom, the realization of the words on the Statue of Liberty and the principles of the Constitution our daily touchstones; if we protect those ideals with all of the joyful fierceness we can muster.  If we don't, if we allow fear to replace joy with hatred, if we let the quest for security eviscerate personal liberty, if we scapegoat and demonize Muslims and immigrants, then not only do we lose the war, we prove that the jihadists were right about us all along.

 

 

 


Epistemology

Mr. Lucky posts to his timeline: If only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge and being turned away.

Nicely done, I think, and indicate approval.  As do a couple of others.

But very soon, not surprisingly, comes the dark side. "Why are they all young men? What about women and children first? Think about it."

Absurd, of course. I'm a librarian, so immediately I go looking for facts.  I quickly find them from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 50.5% women, 38.5% under the age of 12. I post that.

Did I expect the dark side to express gratitude and surprise?  Well, no.

He just says, "Sure they are."

Mr. Lucky bans & blocks him. This is good for Mr. Lucky's page and the friends who hang out there, but the dark side remains.  Unmoved.

How do we know what we know? How do we know that we can trust it?

My way of knowing is constructed from a set of principles developed in Europe over several centuries, starting with the Greek invention of symbolic logic and the beginnings of an empirical approach to science, a way of looking at the world that comes to fruition in the so-called Age of Enlightenment.

That way of looking at the world leads me immediately to search for verifiable objective facts, to balance competing narratives using logical principles, leavened by appeals to trusted authority.

But that's just one way of looking at the world. It "works" in the sense that it provides an epistemological underpinning for Western science & engineering that enables us to manipulate the world pretty effectively to improve health and physical comfort -- along with building extremely effective tools of destruction.  Those of us who follow this path believe that it gives us an accurate picture of the world.  It leads to true knowledge. (It is, however, pretty useless for answering questions about morality or the meaning of life.)

So what of someone who rejects all that? What if one's epistemological principle is to rely on intuition and how one feel about the world? Rather than building knowledge empirically, using logic, construct it from emotion, a sense of tribe, an appeal to religion, history and family. Knowledge comes from who one is and the place one occupies in the world.  Perhaps the goal is not to test knowledge, but to keep it safe.   Use information to reinforce a construct of the world that is organic and that rejects western logic altogether. Make judgments about facts in an entirely different way -- accept those that reinforce one's views and reject those that challenge them. Rather than an appeal to some objective reality, to logic or science, measure facts against the reality that one already knows to be true. Proceeding in this way makes my views ever stronger, makes my hold on reality -- my reality -- that much more solid.

I can't argue against this using my tools of logic and empiricism.  My appeal to the UNHCR is useless. Since my antagonist already knows that the refugees are all young men, the facts that I present are evidence that the UNHCR cannot be a trustworthy source.  I think my facts will undermine his beliefs; instead, his beliefs invalidate my facts.

The rationalist says, "You're entitled to your own opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts."  And so the rationalist looks at the comment threads in frustrated bewilderment, throwing more and more facts, never wavering in the belief that eventually facts and logic must win.  They must. Otherwise, how is knowledge even possible?

And yet, it is apparent that for many people, belief comes first.  Then one chooses one's facts.  The rationalist has no way to counter this.  I can say this is illogical.  My antagonist counters, That's your problem.

 


The Despicable Senator Cruz

Throughout our re-watching of The Day of the Doctor last night I kept thinking of the bellicose Senator Cruz arguing that we needed to accept civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq in order to defeat ISIS. Most disgusting is his claim that by trying to adhere to international law on the avoidance of civilian casualties, Obama "does not wish to defend this country."

This will be very popular with Cruz's fans, many of whom would be happy to make no distinctions among the people of Syria and Iraq in any case.

The plot of The Day of the Doctor centers on the Doctor's guilt at having wiped out Gallifrey in order to end the Time War. He made the utilitarian calculation that killing those billions of innocents was justified in order to spare the many more billions who might die in the wider war if it could not be contained. Then he spent four hundred guilt-filled years regretting it.  He has the chance to undo that decision, and he takes it.

The dilemma is a classic one. What lives are you willing to take in order to prevent greater harm?  We see it play throughout the history of war. The U.S. chose the destruction of innocents in Dresden and again in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We still argue about it.  Was it better that we kill all of those innocent, suffering men, women and children in order to end the war?  

At the Nuremberg trials we began to understand what happens to a culture, and to the people who are a part of it, when you choose the path that leads to dehumanizing the "other."  There's no easy solution, and in war, innocent people die, But we try to recognize that the easy acceptance of "collateral damage" (that soul destroying phrase) places us on the same plane of barbarism of those we are trying to subdue.

Cruz appeals to the barbarism that is still within us, to the fear and the tribalism that will make it easy to accept those civilian deaths in order to save ourselves from this "threat to Western Civilization."   But our response, when it leads to torture, loss of civil liberties, dehumanization of those we see as not like us, and a willingness to easily accept the destruction of innocent life, profoundly threatens the values on which that civilization has been built.

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not a tactician.  Clearly ISIS is not amenable to a diplomatic solution. They need to be fought militarily and more aggressively than we have figured out how to do so far.  But I have no patience for the internet armchair generals who will rage in comment threads and on twitter about what we "obviously" have to do, and who will boast about their willingness to be tough enough to kill as many children as it takes.  Idiots, who will never have to stand for the consequences of their choices.  

I am not willing that we should descend to their level of barbarity and ignore the humanity of those who are caught on the ground. I want to see leadership that will find a solution, difficult as it is, that doesn't destroy our values on the pretext of defending them.  Unlike the Doctor, we don't get a second chance.