All people are equal: My manifesto

“Alt-right,” which these cowards call themselves in a vain attempt to deflect identification as nazis, expressing their fear of everyone who’s not white in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: courtesy CBC.

I have been unfriended on Facebook by Robert Bidinotto, a writer with a decidedly conservative bent, who commands quite a following. As far as I can tell, very few in his group disagree with him, and the overall tone of the discussions is like a tea-party, where everyone basically agrees.

My sin was apparently disagreeing with the tribal wisdom, or maybe the hegemony of Robert Bidinotto. He and his followers are entitled to their opinions, of course, but I think the point of divergence of opinions between them and me are some basic, underlying tenets.

It’s useless to try to logically argue against ideology at times like this. When you start arguing against people’s deepest beliefs, they respond emotionally, not rationally. So I won’t do that. But I have been accused of various things, so I want to set the record straight about my beliefs.

Don’t let yourself be manipulated

The recent history of Western culture has many examples of politics being emotionally manipulated. Just look at how so many mainstream commentators demonize the terms “liberal” and “leftist,” let alone the irrational, visceral response Americans have to the words “socialist” and “communist.”

This same kind of emotional, irrational demonization has been successfully used against labour unions, environmental organizations, hunters, meat producers and consumers, and community groups of many different stripes. It’s used against the Black Lives Matter movement, too, albeit with less success so far.
It’s hard not have an emotional response to issues that affect our lives, but the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend show very plainly where that can take us. The protesters against the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee were irrational, chanting “You won’t replace us! Jews won’t replace us!”
They’re acting out of fear. Deep, knee-shaking and wholly unjustified fear. Fear given life through manipulation.

And the counter-protesters reacted out of anger. Justifiable anger, but the violence was unjustified and counter-productive, only adding to the racists’ narrative that they’re under threat.

Coverage and media reaction has also been emotional too, even by the professional news media.
Here’s where I had the falling out with the conservative tribe.

Blame the messenger

Robert Bidinotto’s pet peeve is the “leftist narrative” of the “mainstream media,” which he calls the MSM. He’s not the only one to make this assertion, and while I could easily refute the existence of a leftist bias held by a media that is mostly owned by multinational megacorporations, I won’t. Bidinotto kept posting photographs that cast the counter-protesters in unfavourable, red-tinged light, captioning them “pictures you won’t see in the MSM.”

Well, here are a couple.

Antifa protesters in Charlottesville exercising their Second Amendment rights. Source: New York Times — the Grey Lady of the mainstream media. I’m just happy that the ink doesn’t come off on your fingers as much anymore.

The counter-protesters, with a suspiciously red flag, raised fist, and “solidarity” slogans, in Charlottesville. These dastards dared to support equality. Photo source: NYT.

Where I crossed the line, apparently, was in objecting to comments that said “the lefties were just as bad as the protesters.” My favourite was the one guy who said he’d “defend his home if leftists were throwing rocks at his windows.”

When did that happen?

It’s depressing to read all the posts that blame the “leftists” as much as the racists for Charlottesville and other violence.

It’s also aggravating to read how the “MSM” favours one side over the other. I don’t know about you, but I understand those who forgive opponents of racism.

So anyway, I wrote a few replies on this Facebook group, calling out those who drew this false equivalency between the racists and the counter-protesters. Yes, both were wrong to commit violence. I agree with that, fully, because violence did not solve anything or even advance the argument.

But the groups are not the same, not even the “antifa,” or anti-fascists. Here’s why: the racists promote oppression, the abrogation of other people’s rights.

The counter-protesters were a wide assortment of groups from churches, community organizations and, yes, some organized leftist organizations. But as I said, “leftist” is not necessarily bad. Racism is. The counter-protesters came to support equal rights.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

To get to the root of the issue, here are my underlying tenets. I guess this is a little manifesto.

  1. All people are equal. Without exception. While some people face disabilities and other exceptional challenges, they may have abilities that the rest of us cannot guess at.
  2. In corollary, we’re all fallible. We’re all often wrong. Even me. This whole essay could be way off. And whether you agree with me or not, you could equally be wrong. There is just a lot more that we don’t know about the universe and ourselves than we do know.
  3. Degrading the natural environment is a slow form of suicide and genocide.
  4. No human mind can comprehend infinity or divinity. We are limited (see #2, above). Therefore, all religions are at best useful metaphors for the way the universe and people work.
  5. Protecting free speech, even by Nazis and racists, is vital to preserving liberty. Hate speech is abhorrent. Chanting “Jews will not replace us” is chilling.But repressing racism, or any other ideology, does not destroy it, nor does it make the problem go away. That’s been proven through history. Nazism has not gone away. Repressing socialism in the U.S. has not eradicated it. Repressing Judaism or Christianity has only made them stronger.The racist jerks in Charlottesville have exposed their hatred, and it’s far better that all of us see it than it be allowed to grow unseen.
  6. It’s better to object than to be offended. Who cares if you’re offended? If you are, then object to it in a thoughtful, constructive way. Suggest solutions.
  7. Capitalism is not necessarily the best way to organize an economy. It’s a relatively recent invention, and there have been many other models over the millennia of civilization.Success of an economic model depends on what your goals are. If the goals of the current North American economic model are to concentrate as much wealth as possible in as few hands as possible, hollow out the middle class and drive household debt as high as possible, while making education so expensive that it’s impossible for most people to ever escape the debt-poverty cycle, then modern capitalism has been very successful, indeed.
  8. Unions are not evil. While I remain skeptical of the unionists’ claims that they’re solely responsible for the two-day weekend, vacation pay, etc., they can certainly take a lot of credit for those advances.
  9. Government is not evil. In republics and democracies, government is the instrument of community will. Yes, often it’s clumsy. There are many examples where its actions are the manipulations of a particular group—usually a small group of very wealthy people. But it’s not inherently evil. And in fact, government action in the West has demonstrably led to many improvements in human life.Likewise, regulation is not evil. Regulations keep poisons out of our water. Regulations ensure packagers don’t sell us food that has spoiled. Regulations have reduced air pollution in our cities.And government spending is not evil. Governments organizing health care and education is not evil.These are investments that return more to the taxpayers than they cost. It’s not about “entitlement.” It’s about where we, all of us, in society, who vote, decide to put our resources in order to build the kind of community and life that we want.
  10. “Left” and “right” are useless terms to describe our political debate and violence today. The divisions between the “alt-right” and the “liberals” encompass so much more than how each side feels the economy should be regulated. And don’t think that adding a second authoritarian-libertarian axis helps much, as the libertarians describe. The situation is far more complex than that.“Left” and “right” are terms used by those in power who seek to divide and thereby control the rest of us. Grouping Nazis and racists with economic conservatives is extremely insulting to conservatives, with whom I often (but not always) disagree. But the ones I know personally are not racists. Okay, some are. But I object to their opinions (see #6, above).
  11. Science is the best way to make decisions and move forward, because the scientific method by definition seeks what really works, and what’s verifiable. Climate change? Look to the science.
  12. The globe is warming. There’s no credible debate about that. Climate change deniers are like the people 20 years ago who argued there was no scientific link between smoking and lung disease.
  13. We can get past this. Without denying our emotions, our humanity, we can respect each other. Start by acknowledging our equality, and our equal ability to be wrong. Leave religion aside for the moment. Look at the facts, and our own goals. As long as our goals are not oppression, abrogation of human rights, we can negotiate solutions.

So there. My manifesto. I am open to debate. Like I said, I could be wrong. I was wrong once before.

Tilting against the biggest books of all time: the Bible and Quran

I’m taking a huge chance here.

Last week, the news media were full of the story about York University in Toronto accommodating a male student’s request not to be put in a study group with women, on religious grounds.

The identity and specific religion of the student are protected under Canada’s privacy laws. Whatever religion it is, this case points to a long-standing problem.

I fully support freedom of religion, and will defend everyone’s right to believe and practice whatever they like, as long as it is not hurting anyone else nor infringing on any else’s rights. But it’s time we all stopped using religion or philosophy to excuse inexcusable behaviour and to justify unjustifiable ideas.

That’s right. I’m telling the world that I do not believe that you can use the Bible, the Quran, Mao’s little red book, the Communist Manifesto or any other book to defend your ideas. I just don’t accept the argument “because God says so.”

You can’t prove that, and the fact that you have a book that’s called “God’s words” does not constitute proof. I can write a book called “God’s Words, too.”


The devil is in the details

In September, 2013, sociology professor J. Paul Grayson assigned a mandatory group assignment that required students to work together in person. One student, who was taking the course online, asked Dr. Grayson to exempt him because his religious beliefs forbade him from meeting in public with a group of women.

<>Dr. Grayson refused the request, and after discussion, the student agreed to participate in the assignment and completed it. However, the university administration ordered Dr. Grayson to accommodate the request.

To his credit, Dr. Grayson refused the administration’s order to accommodate this religious request. “What if I said my religion frowns upon my interacting with blacks?” he wrote. This accommodate would set a precedent, he said, and make him an “accessory to sexism.”

The public reaction was telling and uplifting. I could not find a single person or opinion in the media that supported the religious accommodation. And rightfully so.

(The Dean of Arts at York University defended his action partly because the student asked to be able to complete the assignment in another way, and another online student who was situated outside the country was allowed another way to do the work.)

The media reaction

Every political leader in the country decried the university’s accommodation order. Every opinion speaker and writer I heard or read likewise sided with the professor. Every online comment also supported the professor, and pointed out that this type of religious accommodation damages women’s sexual equality rights, hard-won over the last century.

This is an example where the right of freedom to practice your religion conflicts with gender equality rights. Many Canadian schools provide prayer rooms, segregated by gender, as part of their “religious accommodation.” Canadian institutions — funded by Canadian taxpayers — accommodate religious practices that defy the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — part of the law that supposedly governs those institutions.

Religious versus human rights

I repeat, I support your right to believe and practice any religion you like. But I do not support anyone’s attempt to infringe on anyone else’s human rights. And equality of women and men is one of the most important.

I thought it was telling that CBC radio’s program, The Current, introduced this story with a clip of televangelist Pat Robertson saying that according to the Bible, men and women are not equal.

According to this logic, religion justifies unequal treatment and unequal rights between the sexes. It says so in the Bible.

I’m not trying to criticize any particular religion here, nor am I trying to open a general debate about crime and punishment. All I want to do is to point out the hypocrisy of the argument that goes: “I must do this/I cannot do that because the Bible/Quran/whatever other text I hold out as justification for every ridiculous idea that comes out of my mouth, says so.”

Crazy idea icon by mehagopijiji.
Licenced under Creative Commons.

Otherwise rational people are afraid to criticize religious beliefs and practices because they fear being branded as intolerant, racist, or xenophobic. Well, I’m none of those things, but I will say this: I don’t accept the “It’s God’s will” argument, because the people who use it don’t accept it, either.

Nobody actually follows the entire Bible, even though they say they do. Not even Pat Robertson. How many people sacrifice cattle to God? Does Pat Robertson? Yet Leviticus, the Biblical book that instructs believers in how to live every minute of their lives, tells readers to sacrifice bulls just about every day.

Have you ever seen a televangelist making that kind of sacrifice, or indeed, any kind of sacrifice of his own property?

Do religious leaders in Canada promote the death penalty for adultery? How many religious people think that’s okay? Should Canada accommodate religious sects that want to put adulterers to death?

From Leviticus, Chapter 20. Source:

The Bible also tells believers to put homosexuals to death. I’m pretty sure that Canadian law does not accommodate this practice.

The Quran tells a husband to beat his wife — mildly, yes, but definitely to use force — if she defies his authority. Would Canadian law accommodate this? Would US law? I hope not.

No one follows any scriptures absolutely. No one in Canada can put adulterers or homosexuals to death. If they do, the law will punish them.

The point is that even the most religious choose among obligations to follow, adhering to some and ignoring others. It’s a human decision.

Not a divine one.

Basing all your life actions on an ancient book is an unsupportable idea. Every religious person chooses the scriptures he or she will follow, because no one follows all of them. No one can.

I won’t argue whether the Bible and Quran were divinely inspired, because I cannot change anyone’s belief on that point in a blog. But how about if I add this: God told me to write this post.

Prove to me that He (or She, or Whatever) did not.