WARNING: IN THIS POST I WILL TAKE MODERATE, GENERALLY CENTRIST VIEWS WITH AN ATTEMPT TO RESPECT ALL SIDES OF A CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECT. I WILL OFFSET THIS MODERATION WITH ALL CAPS, GUY FIERI, AND WAKA FLOCKA FLAME.
In general, I’d say that I’m a pretty self-critical human. I have significant doubts about my career choices (gambling?), relationships (tha fuck?), living arrangements (paying a pile of cash to live with roommates), my diet (should I eat tastier food cause its awesome? Or stay healthier?), my travel schedule (should I stay at home and build a life? or, isn’t Mexican guacamole that much better?). Like most people, I assume, the big decisions in my life are sources of significant doubt. Now, this isn’t a bad thing – doubt should not be conflated with weakness, and so long as it doesn’t turn into crippling insecurity it can be a valuable check on my attitude and behavior. In fact, this doubt is probably a critical driving force to my own self improvement.
But, with all that said, I still find myself significantly dogmatic about certain things. Isn’t it odd that, while so many important things in my life fill me with doubt, other things imbue in me a fearless sense of righteousness and unmovable confidence? I am so definitely right about these things that I don’t even pause to consider them.
I think it’s odd, mostly because when I reflect on these areas of dogmatism, I find the subjects to be much less clearcut and black/white than I’d expected. I also find that, when exploring my own dogmas, I find myself adopting positions that are inherently controversial. In fact, maybe it’s precisely because I am questioning dogma that the controversy is created. Curious about what I mean? No, Andrew, not really? Tough break.
Let’s start uncontroversial and proceed down the path.
I’d like to introduce you to Rania Khalek and Charles Lister. Rania is a hard-leftist twitter personality and sort-of journalist who talks a lot about the war in Syria, primarily from the point of view that anti-Assad rebels are basically various forms of ISIS / Al-Qaeda / Jihadism and that they’re basically terrible and fascist. Charles is an academic who writes a lot about the war in Syria, primarily that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is basically terrible and fascist. Rania and Charles don’t like each other very much (sitcom??). Rania thinks Charles supports (either tacitly or explicit) radical jihadists who hate liberalism and the values of tolerance. She’s basically right. Charles thinks Rania supports a brutal dictator who regularly commits war crimes. He’s also basically right. The truth in this area is probably that both sides are basically terrible and fascist, but neither Rania nor Charles can get past their own perspectives to see it.
What’s that Andrew? It’s not controversial to say that both ISIS and Assad suck? Fine, let’s go harder.
this song should be the background for all controversial blog posts
Abortion. I was raised in a firmly pro-choice household. I was largely surrounded by pro-choice people. The concept of not telling other people what they can and can’t do also generally appeals to me. In time, my pro-choice dogma set and hardened into something unshakable. Then, compounding with this preexisting belief system, I noticed that people with whom I generally disagreed (people who are anti-gay, anti-intellectual, anti-science, etc.) were also anti-choice. So, this became a sort of confirmation – if all of these people are against something, it’s probably smart for me to be for it. And that, roughly, is where I still stand today. But, in the interest of challenging my own dogma, and in part due to my recent exploration of GOP twitter accounts, I decided to take a second look. Here’s what I can deduce:
Once a child is born, their legal rights attach. Nobody disputes this (I couldn’t find any groups in favor of post-birth abortion, cause that seems pretty murdery). When a woman ovulates or a man masturbates, the associated eggs and sperm definitely do not get rights (otherwise us men would be in real, real big trouble). So, somewhere between conception and birth, human rights have to attach. One might reasonably say that these rights should attach “when life begins”. So, who knows when that is? Only a fool or a fanatic (or a deity in case any of you readers are one of those), can say with confidence that they know exactly when life begins. I’d highly recommend David Foster Wallace’s point of view on this issue. The basic premise is:
- You can’t really be sure when life begins. If you feel like you’re sure, you’re either being overly dogmatic or you are a deity.
- If you’re not sure if something is or isn’t both human and alive, you should default to not doing anything harmful to it (in case you’re wrong and it is in fact human and alive)
- If someone else is sure about it, and you’re not sure about it, you shouldn’t tell them what to do.
In a sense, this is a somewhat strongly libertarian viewpoint (which also appeals to me), but it tends to make the individual lean pro-life and the polity lean pro-choice. Which I find to be a reasonable point of view. In short, it isn’t being pro-life that’s so fucking annoying, it’s that pro-life people feel obliged to tell everyone else that they know definitively when life begins and that other people don’t. That’s a sort of arrogance that befouls the issue and distracts from the underlying question – when does life begin and when do rights attach? And honestly, who the fuck knows.
Too hard in the paint?
DONT CARE LETS KEEP IT LIT
Israel. I went on Birthright / Taglit as is somehow apparently my right because my dad’s dad was Jewish. Cool. So, fully understanding the circumstances, I made the fine people who sponsor these trips a deal – I’d let them try to indoctrinate me for a week in exchange for a free trip to the Middle East. It seemed like a fair trade.
Now, all the pro-Israel folks out there are thinking to themselves, “this fucking guy is about to stab Israel in the back, bastard!” And, all the pro-Palestine folks out there are thinking to themselves, “this fucking guy is about to talk about how he fell in love with Israel and supports the occupation, bastard!” Guess what squad – you’re both wrong. Israel has an existential problem: it’s not a democracy. It’s a fake democracy. It’s a democracy in which 80% of the people get equal rights, but 20% of the people are less equal than the others. If I’m a Jew I can emigrate to Israel whenever I feel like it. If I’m an Israeli Arab (a citizen, mind you), I can’t get my family into Israel no matter how hard I try. My representation in Knesset is restricted. My national anthem is about how great it is to be Jewish. I’m constantly being profiled, discriminated against, and treated poorly. As my Birthright group’s trip leader, a former Israeli tank commander, said, “Be careful at this hotel. Lots of Arabs work here. They steal.” Or, as another passerby told me, “Obama is a Muslim. He’s the enemy. He hates Jews.” So yeah, not a real democracy, more like a half-democracy half-apartheid combo-mix. But, if I’m a Jew, I see an opposition with leadership that is generally vicious, inhumane, theocratic, radicalized, and impossible to cooperate or compromise with. I’m always reminded of this cartoon:
When the general strategy of resistance includes: suicide bombings, random knife attacks, running over civilians with automobiles, and indiscriminate rocket launches, it’s not exactly a strong argument for “these people have their shit together and are ready to be an organized nation-state.” Now, it’s of-course unfair to paint all Israelis as apartheid racists or to paint all Palestinians as Islamist radicals. But it’s also unfair to pretend that your side, whichever it might be, never does anything wrong. The truth, again, is somewhere in the middle.
SO HARD IN THE PAINT
Let’s talk love. In my life, I’ve been surrounded by a potent mixture of high quality relationships and Disney movies. My clear expectation was to go to college, figure some shit out (hi poker), meet an awesome woman with whom I clicked perfectly, get married in my mid twenties, get some kids going by 30 or so, retire by 35, call it good. This vision became a part of my identity. It is questionable whether or not this self-image was created societally or internally, but I suspect the truth (again) is somewhere in the middle. So, when I went to college, figured some shit out (hi poker), and met an awesome woman with whom I seemed to click perfectly, everything was going according to plan. But, when things with that girl didn’t work out, I didn’t just lose the relationship, I lost the dogma. I lost the identity. Once the plan fell apart, I didn’t know where to turn. I had been so sure that I knew *the truth* that now, absent that truth, I was completely lost.
Over the past few years, in coming to terms with that loss of identity and accepting new directions in my life, I have considered challenges to my own personal dogma. Instead of a firm, “this is how life works” point of view, I am now considering a, maybe-there-are-reasonable-arguments-to-be-made-for-both-settling-down-in-a-stable relationship-and-staying-single-or-nonmonogamous-or-polyamorous-or-whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days perspective. This stirs controversy in my relationships, friendships, and family. But maybe that controversy is what we need to actually move forward in life!
I once heard a law professor at the University of Washington say: “The challenge is not to become disagreeable, even when we disagree.” We only become disagreeable when the controversy attacks our dogma, our belief, and not just our ideas. After all, ideas are better than beliefs. I’ll close with the actual movie Dogma (an amazing film if you haven’t seen it), and Chris Rock as the 13th Apostle Rufus:
HOT TAKE FACTORY CLOSED FOR BUSINESS