Greetings, earthlings and residents of other galaxies.
It’s been a year since I asked readers to submit questions for me to answer, so I thought I would, once again, open the call lines and ask readers to submit their questions, along with $66.66 donations to help me reach Evangelicals throughout the universe. Reason — praise be to Reason! — has called me to evangelize Evangelicals, and your donations will help me take the gospel of critical thinking and skepticism to infinity and beyond. Just kidding. While donations are always appreciated, what I really want are questions; your pithy, erudite questions. Please try to ask questions that you think I haven’t answered before.
If you have a question you would like me to answer, please ask it in the comment section of this post. I will answer questions in the order they are received; that is, unless you are a bigly donor. Readers who shower me with cash, checks, gold bullion (ouch), Bitcoins, and restaurant gift cards just might be moved to the front of the line, or be sent a 20×30 glossy photo of me pole dancing at the Big Bear Strip Club — “might” being the operative word. (Long-time readers who know and understand my humor, sarcasm, and snark know whether I am speaking factually. Everyone else? Keep on dreaming of Bruce Almighty swinging on a brass pole wearing only his shorts, suspenders, and wing tips.)
You can also email your questions to me via the contact form.
This post will remain pinned to the top of the front page until Halloween, after which time it will disappear into the bowels of this blog never to be seen again. Or at least until next year at this time.
Let the fun begin.
Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pioneering work will be long remembered. But the visual image of her that most of us have, and will retain, is of her diminutive frame draped in a robe d’avocat adorned with jabots chosen for agreements, dissents or other occasions of a jurist’s life.
Her sartorial choices, while distinctive, were also fitting (pardon the pun): They, like modern feminism, originated in France. So did the Enlightenment, which inspired notions of les droits l’homme et du citoyen—and, if indirectly, la laicite, the policy that, while not expressly prohibiting religious expression, has had the effect of eliminating public religious remarks by politicians and most other French public figures.
Justice Ginsburg never disavowed the Jewish faith in which she was raised. In fact, she sometimes cited Old Testament verses such as “Justice, justice shall you pursue” as guiding principles. She did not, however, try to shape the law or society in her, or anyone else’s, interpretation of a holy text. Rather, her faith seemed to be a fire within her that fueled her efforts at bringing about justice.
Another, perhaps more important, difference between the role religion plays in the words and actions of many American public figures and the role it played in Bader Ginsburg’s life is this: While public figures who are overtly Evangelical (and most other kinds of ) Christians are acting from privilege they don’t realize they have (in brief, entitlement), Ginsburg, as a daughter of people who fled pogroms only to face anti-Semitism in America, was acutely aware of her status as an underdog and outsider—yet did not share the “persecution complex” that afflicts too many who don’t realize their favored status.
Now I am going to share something I never would have understood had I not spent the first part of my life as male: It is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that other people are being gifted with “special” privileges or treatment when they are simply getting the same rights everyone else has. I know I was guilty of it; perhaps I still am, sometimes. As a woman who attended an Ivy League school on full scholarship and graduated at the top of a law school in another Ivy League institution, Bader Ginsburg couldn’t help but to understand as much: Law firms wouldn’t hire her because she was a woman: A man “needed” the job more than she did.
One thing that makes Bader Ginsburg a hero is that she didn’t allow the intentional or unwitting sexists to destabilize her sense of herself. I have no doubt that any number of people tried to “gaslight” or sexually harass her. (About the latter, she mused, “What woman of my age hasn’t experienced it?”) I can’t get into her mind, but I don’t think I’m inaccurate in thinking that she understood that, ultimately, one cannot attain personhood, let alone equality, without a sense of one’s self, defined by one’s self and no one else.
That, as I understand it, is a core principle of the Enlightenment—and of the Founding Fathers of the United States, at least as they understood what it means to be a human being (i.e., white, male and a property owner). If you cannot define who you are, on your own terms, there is simply no way to have sovereignty over your mind or body. As someone who came to terms with childhood sexual abuse (by a priest) and sexual harassment and assault as an adult, at a late date in her life, this knowledge is now as vital to me as air, water and food.
In short, if you do not have the freedom to think and come to conclusions based on the evidence before you, and to say “No” when those rights are being denied to you, your mind and body are in someone else’s power. In other words, you are a slave. And when you are a slave, there is no justice.
So, whatever role her inherited faith played in her personal and professional life, her defense of rape victims, the right to an abortion and equal pay for equal work, and her fight against any and all forms of discrimination—and for the right to follow or reject her faith, or any other– are all part of a quest for justice. For that, I am grateful. And, I am sure, Theodore Herzl would approve just as much as Simone de Beauvoir or Voltaire would.
Unlike too many American legislators and public figures, she did not use her position to ram her religious beliefs down other people’s throats. Rather, her faith in the justice she pursued guided her work. For that, I am grateful.
Here are the Trump Rules, distilled from conversations we have had with countless people close to the president, some of whom have studied him for years:
Your brand should piss someone off. The worst thing you can be is milquetoast, bland. He wants some people to have a viscerally negative response to him and what he’s doing, because he bets that’s going to harden support on the other side.
Crisis is a powerful weapon — fire it indiscriminately. “Forget planning,” a source said. “Wake up every morning, survey the battlefield, let your gut instinct lead you to a crisis to exploit, bet that no one else can thrive in the chaos the way you can. Ratchet up the pressure until everyone else’s pipes burst.”
You can create your own truth. Just keep repeating it.
Accuse the accuser. A source who’s spent hundreds of hours working with Trump puts it this way: “He has a history of accusing people of whatever he’s being accused of. Collusion? Democrats colluded on the dossier! Blue wave? Red wave coming!”
Fear trumps friendship. Trump wants his inferiors to fear him and hold him in awe. He likes watching them duke it out in front of him.
Loyalty trumps talent. Case in point: Michael Cohen. No serious person would employ Michael Cohen as their personal attorney — a point Trump has belatedly acknowledged himself. But as Cohen used to say, he’d “take a bullet” for Donald Trump. Oops.
Never admit you are — or did — wrong. Trump’s #MeToo advice, per Bob Woodward’s “Fear”: “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”
Churches are becoming political organizations… It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave. All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy — making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah, were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men. An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment. It strikes me that God might write a book that would not necessarily excite the laughter of his children. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a real God could produce a work that would excite the admiration of mankind. Surely politicians could be better employed than in passing laws to protect the literary reputation of the Jewish God.
You just don’t talk about white people, boys or not, as if they’re somehow deserving of equal consideration and treatment in America when we all know that every other gender (of which one is real), every other ethnicity, and every other religious perspective is totally deserving of “special consideration” above and beyond what “Christian white boys” in America ought to have or even expect.
You aren’t supposed to notice, and certainly not speak out against, the fact that American culture has been systematically programmed to embrace and promote an attitude of open hostility, discrimination, and disdain for several groups, with particular hostility acutely focused on Christian white boys, who literally embody the sin of being several problematic things all at once, namely: Christian, white, and male.
To be not only a male, but a young male in America, makes you the target of an anti-Christian educational system and a pagan pop-culture designed to feminize and castrate you by various means, including the mass prescription of mind altering drugs (and I mean literally mind altering – the brain is radically altered by these things) to compensate for and/or crush the more “annoying” aspects of maleness in youth.
To be a Christian – an actual Bible-believing Christian – in this culture makes you a fringe kook even in most “conservative Christian” churches. To actually believe in Jesus as Lord over everything in His creation for real is to be a relic of America’s Calvinistic past that it’s anti-Calvinistic/anti-Christian present can’t seem to ditch fast enough or impugn loudly enough.
I mean what kind of racist, sexist, homophopic, islamophobic, transphopic, global warming denying white devil do you have to be in America these days to dare to publically acknowledge that your children are, um, white, and that said whiteness is totally cool and good?
Yes, my children are white.
Glow in the dark white.
They make Dracula look tanned and SPF 100 seem reasonable.
You get the picture.
The very white picture.
Now on to more important things…
Like open discrimination.
As in: If you’re a white boy or man in America, it is 100% A-Okay (and virtuous even) for you to be openly discriminated against through any number of “special considerations” given to everyone who is not like you.
Every other gender (of which one is real) gets preferential treatment.
Every other ethnicity (of which all are a part of one race – the human race) get’s preferential treatment.
Every other religious worldview gets preferential treatment.
As a Christian white boy and Christian white man in America, you are and will be uniquely targeted for attack, criticism, discrimination, and blame.
Several years ago, The Daily Show produced a three-part series on America’s gun culture, gun violence, and how Australia successfully regulated firearms. Given the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and congressional inaction of meaningful gun control legislation, I thought it important to share these videos with readers.
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
The following speech was given by John F. Kennedy on June 10,1963 at American University in Washington D.C.
President Anderson, members of the faculty, board of trustees, distinguished guests, my old colleague, Senator Bob Byrd, who has earned his degree through many years of attending night law school while I am earning mine in the next 30 minutes, ladies and gentlemen:It is with great pride that I participate in this ceremony of the American University, sponsored by the Methodist Church, founded by Bishop John Fletcher Hurst, and first opened by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. This is a young and growing university, but it has already fulfilled Bishop Hurst’s enlightened hope for the study of history and public affairs in a city devoted to the making of history and to the conduct of the public’s business. By sponsoring this institution of higher learning for all who wish to learn, whatever their color or their creed, the Methodists of this area and the Nation deserve the Nation’s thanks, and I commend all those who are today graduating.
Professor Woodrow Wilson once said that every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time, and I am confident that the men and women who carry the honor of graduating from this institution will continue to give from their lives, from their talents, a high measure of public service and public support.
“There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university,” wrote John Masefield, in his tribute to English universities–and his words are equally true today. He did not refer to spires and towers, to campus greens and ivied walls. He admired the splendid beauty of the university, he said, because it was “a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see.”
I have, therefore, chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.
What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles–which can only destroy and never create–is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.
I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war–and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament-and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude–as individuals and as a Nation–for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward–by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.
First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable–that mankind is doomed–that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade–therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable–and we believe they can do it again.
I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace–based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions–on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace–no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process–a way of solving problems.
With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor–it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors.
So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it. Second: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the Soviet Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write. It is discouraging to read a recent authoritative Soviet text on Military Strategy and find, on page after page, wholly baseless and incredible claims–such as the allegation that “American imperialist circles are preparing to unleash different types of wars … that there is a very real threat of a preventive war being unleashed by American imperialists against the Soviet Union … [and that] the political aims of the American imperialists are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries… [and] to achieve world domination … by means of aggressive wars.”
Truly, as it was written long ago: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” Yet it is sad to read these Soviet statements–to realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also a warning–a warning to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.
No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements–in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage.
Among the many traits the peoples of our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war. Almost unique, among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other. And no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the course of the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and farms were burned or sacked. A third of the nation’s territory, including nearly two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland–a loss equivalent to the devastation of this country east of Chicago.
Today, should total war ever break out again–no matter how–our two countries would become the primary targets. It is an ironic but accurate fact that the two strongest powers are the two in the most danger of devastation. All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours. And even in the cold war, which brings burdens and dangers to so many countries, including this Nation’s closest allies–our two countries bear the heaviest burdens. For we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter-weapons.
In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours–and even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest.
So, let us not be blind to our differences-but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
Third: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the cold war, remembering that we are not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debating points. We are not here distributing blame or pointing the finger of judgment. We must deal with the world as it is, and not as it might have been had the history of the last 18 years been different.
We must, therefore, persevere in the search for peace in the hope that constructive changes within the Communist bloc might bring within reach solutions which now seem beyond us. We must conduct our affairs in such a way that it becomes in the Communists’ interest to agree on a genuine peace. Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy-or of a collective death-wish for the world.
To secure these ends, America’s weapons are nonprovocative, carefully controlled, designed to deter, and capable of selective use. Our military forces are committed to peace and disciplined in self-restraint. Our diplomats are instructed to avoid unnecessary irritants and purely rhetorical hostility.
For we can seek a relaxation of tensions without relaxing our guard. And, for our part, we do not need to use threats to prove that we are resolute. We do not need to jam foreign broadcasts out of fear our faith will be eroded. We are unwilling to impose our system on any unwilling people–but we are willing and able to engage in peaceful competition with any people on earth.
Meanwhile, we seek to strengthen the United Nations, to help solve its financial problems, to make it a more effective instrument for peace, to develop it into a genuine world security system–a system capable of resolving disputes on the basis of law, of insuring the security of the large and the small, and of creating conditions under which arms can finally be abolished.
At the same time we seek to keep peace inside the non-Communist world, where many nations, all of them our friends, are divided over issues which weaken Western unity, which invite Communist intervention or which threaten to erupt into war. Our efforts in West New Guinea, in the Congo, in the Middle East, and in the Indian subcontinent, have been persistent and patient despite criticism from both sides. We have also tried to set an example for others–by seeking to adjust small but significant differences with our own closest neighbors in Mexico and in Canada.
Speaking of other nations, I wish to make one point clear. We are bound to many nations by alliances. Those alliances exist because our concern and theirs substantially overlap. Our commitment to defend Western Europe and West Berlin, for example, stands undiminished because of the identity of our vital interests. The United States will make no deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and other peoples, not merely because they are our partners, but also because their interests and ours converge.
Our interests converge, however, not only in defending the frontiers of freedom, but in pursuing the paths of peace. It is our hope–and the purpose of allied policies–to convince the Soviet Union that she, too, should let each nation choose its own future, so long as that choice does not interfere with the choices of others. The Communist drive to impose their political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension today. For there can be no doubt that, if all nations could refrain from interfering in the self-determination of others, the peace would be much more assured.
This will require a new effort to achieve world law–a new context for world discussions. It will require increased understanding between the Soviets and ourselves. And increased understanding will require increased contact and communication. One step in this direction is the proposed arrangement for a direct line between Moscow and Washington, to avoid on each side the dangerous delays, misunderstandings, and misreadings of the other’s actions which might occur at a time of crisis.
We have also been talking in Geneva about other first-step measures of arms control, designed to limit the intensity of the arms race and to reduce the risks of accidental war. Our primary long-range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament–designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. The pursuit of disarmament has been an effort of this Government since the 1920’s. It has been urgently sought by the past three ado ministrations. And however dim the prospects may be today, we intend to continue this effort–to continue it in order that all countries, including our own, can better grasp what the problems and possibilities of disarmament are.
The one major area of these negotiations where the end is in sight, yet where a fresh start is badly needed, is in a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests. The conclusion of such a treaty, so near and yet so far, would check the spiraling arms race in one of its most dangerous areas. It would place the nuclear powers in a position to deal more effectively with one of the greatest hazards which man faces in 1963, the further spread of nuclear arms. It would increase our security–it would decrease the prospects of war. Surely this goal is sufficiently important to require our steady pursuit, yielding neither to the temptation to give up the whole effort nor the temptation to give up our insistence on vital and responsible safeguards.
I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to announce two important decisions in this regard.
First: Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan, and I have agreed that highlevel discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history–but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind.
Second: To make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on the matter, I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so. We will not be the first to resume. Such a declaration is no substitute for a formal binding treaty, but I hope it will help us achieve one. Nor would such a treaty be a substitute for disarmament, but I hope it will help us achieve it.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let us examine our attitude toward peace and freedom here at home. The quality and spirit of our own society must justify and support our efforts abroad. We must show it in the dedication of our own lives–as many of you who are graduating today will have a unique opportunity to do, by serving without pay in the Peace Corps abroad or in the proposed National Service Corps here at home.
But wherever we are, we must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together. In too many of our cities today, the peace is not secure because freedom is incomplete.
It is the responsibility of the executive branch at all levels of government–local, State, and National–to provide and protect that freedom for all of our citizens by all means within their authority. It is the responsibility of the legislative branch at all levels, wherever that authority is not now adequate, to make it adequate. And it is the responsibility of all citizens in all sections of this country to respect the rights of all others and to respect the law of the land.
All this is not unrelated to world peace. “When a man’s ways please the Lord,” the Scriptures tell us, “he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” And is not peace, in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights–the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation-the right to breathe air as nature provided it–the right of future generations to a healthy existence?
While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both. No treaty, however much it may be to the advantage of all, however tightly it may be worded, can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion. But it can–if it is sufficiently effective in its enforcement and if it is sufficiently in the interests of its signers–offer far more security and far fewer risks than an unabated, uncontrolled, unpredictable arms race.
The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough–more than enough–of war and hate and oppression. We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on–not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.
Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, recently wrote a short book detailing the threat of tyranny facing Americans (and the world) today. Snyder gives twenty important lessons we must learn from history if we are to avoid tyranny. History does not repeat, says Professor Snyder, but it does instruct.
What follows is a summary of Snyder’s Twenty Lessons. I have expanded the text on the points I found most thought-provoking.
Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.
Beware the one-party state. The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.
Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourselves and set an example for others to do so.
Remember professional ethics.
Be wary of paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.
Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.
Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.
Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which comes from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate with others.
Make eye contact and small talk.
Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
Establish a private life.
Contribute to good causes.
Learn from peers in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends in other countries. The present difficulties in the United States are an element of a larger trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself.
Listen for dangerous words. Be alert to the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attacks comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suppression of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.
Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
Be as courageous as you can.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century can be read in one sitting. You can purchase the book here. Buying the book through the provided link will provide a few shekels for this site. Thank you!