The Monotheist Revolution (pt.1)

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In that time the greater gods Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea swore to keep secret their plan to cause a great flood. The wind-water god Ea, however, soon appeared to the man Utnapishtim in a reed house, and through the reed wall, instructed him to destroy his house and to build a boat with specific dimensions, regardless of the cost. This boat, he said, would be used to save living beings. Promising to do as the god commanded, Utnapishtim asked Ea what he should tell to his people and the elders of the city. “Tell them you will go down to the Apsu (a freshwater marsh) ‘to live with my lord Ea'” the god told him.

Utnapishtim laid out the plans for the boat which was to be 120 cubits (~55 meters) and have six decks. When the building was complete animals were slaughtered and alcohol was distributed to the workers, as though celebrating the new year. Utnapishtim loaded the boat with silver and gold, “all the living beings that I had.”, his relatives and craftsmen, and “all the beasts and animals of the field”. The time came to seal the entry door. 

In the morning the sky was blackened by a giant cloud and the weather grew frightful. Adad, the god of thunder, roared in the cloud and Shullar and Hanish, gods of clouds and storms went out over the land. The land was lit up by lightning and the earth shattered like a clay pot. All was turned to blackness and no man could see his fellow in the swell of the flood which overcame them like an attack. Even the gods, frightened, retreated up to the heavens. The waters raged for six days and six nights, and on the seventh day, when the land was flattened by flood and wind, the sea calmed. All of mankind had turned to clay. 

Utnapishtim opened a window, feeling fresh air on his face. He saw that the boat had lodged firmly on mount Nimush. On this seventh day, Utnapishtim released a dove from the boat, but it came back to him. He prepared an offering of animals to the gods. Ea the took Utnapishtim and his wife up to the mouth of a river and declared that they were now among the gods and would have eternal life.

This is an excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of classic literature, which I have paraphrased for the sake of brevity, and to highlight certain aspects. In the excerpt (Tablet XI), the Mesopotamian epic poem describes an archetypal flood story, common to many different cultures. For comparison, below I will include an abridged version of the old testament story of Noah and the Ark (KJV; Genesis 5:32-10:1)

God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil. And the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air.” But Noah found grace with God, and God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before me.”

God instructed Noah to build an ark , 300 cubits (~130 meters) in length, with three decks. God told Noah of his intention to bring flood waters on the earth and destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life. God said to Noah “But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy family. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

And Noah did as God had commanded, and God came to Noah and said “In seven days, I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth”. And it came to pass that after 7 days the windows of heaven opened up and the waters of the flood were upon the earth. And they went into the ark, two and two of all flesh.

Every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven. God remembered Noah, and made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged. The ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. And Noah opened the window of the ark he had made and sent forth a dove from him, and she returned and in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off. And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and offered burnt offerings. 

And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.

It would be impossible to read these two diluvian stories and not see the striking resemblance:

-The gods (or God) decide to purge the earth of all living things,

-They decide to do so with a flood

-One man is warned and builds a large boat; the dimensions of the boat are specifically mentioned and prescribed by a deity, along with the interior organization

-He takes his family and mating pairs of all living things onto the boat

-The flood comes and he shuts tight the door

-The floods persist for a specific amount of time (in the biblical story 7 days’ warning is given before 40 days of flooding, in the Epic of Gilgamesh 7 days is how long the floods last)

-Descriptions of the destruction of all life in the flood are similar

-The boat washes up on a specifically named mountain, and the inhabitants open a window to see the rains have stopped

-The man sends out a dove (in the original versions they both also send out a raven/crow)

-The man then makes a burnt offering

-The man finds favor with the gods/God, and is granted eternal or very long life

This type of similarity is very common amongst religions of the ancient near east and the Jewish bible, or Tanakh, is no exception. Another example is the Ancient Babylonian creation myths, especially as laid out in Enûma Eliš, which contain many themes resembling the biblical creation story. These themes include the separation of a preexisting chaos into heaven and earth, references to this preexistence as water, and the term of the creation (7 days). See below for a comparison of excerpts from the first tablet of  Enûma Eliš and the book of Genesis.

Their waters commingling as a single body; No reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared – Enûma Eliš Tablet 1

The earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water – Genesis 1:2-3

The discovery of the Jewish bible’s similarities to myths from the same region was a focal point of many historical and comparative mythological analyses of the bible, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. This phenomenon, whereby parallels are drawn between the bible and often contemporary (reign of king David circa 1000 BC; standard Akkadian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh circa 1300-1000 BC) mythologies is known as parallelomania and was first introduced to scholarly circles in the 1960s by Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, although he attributed the origin of the term to French writings in the 1830s. 

These analyses typically cast the biblical stories as an evolution from the previous religious stories of the ancient near east. It was argued that the development of monotheism from polytheism (wherein God replaced gods) was part of a natural progression.

Under this paradigm, polytheism (many gods) evolved into henotheism/monolatry (exalting one god above others), and that evolved into monotheism, characterized by only one sovereign God. This type of analysis was, in part, a product of who the religious scholars of the time were. Many were practicing christians or jews, and framing the growth of Judaism in the ancient near east as the next (and final) step in the evolution of religion meant that there was historical/cultural justification for placing one’s own religion above others. 

Of course, while the tanakh can be viewed in many ways as evolving out of the religious context surrounding it, a simple gradual progression doesn’t quite capture the nuance of the early jewish faith. We are coming from a modern, lay perspective where everyone generally accepts Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) as monotheistic, and others (Hinduism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Shinto, etc.) as polytheistic. However, the lines can be more blurry than what we learned in world history, and this is especially true when it comes to early Judaism.

One of the challenges with studying ancient religion, is the lack of knowledge about how everyday practitioners practiced their religion, and what they thought they were doing. From religious texts, we can glean some understanding of what the orthodoxy (correct beliefs, adherence to religious creeds and the practice of rituals) and orthopraxy (correct conduct, concerns with purity or cultural traditions) of a religion were, but believers rarely have a strictly doctrinal experience of their religious beliefs.

For example, although keeping kosher and the sabbath are parts of jewish orthopraxy, there are plenty of reform jews (and some orthodox jews as well) who don’t keep kosher, or who do work on the sabbath. We see similar diversity in the muslim world, with varying adherence to the wearing of head coverings or eating halal. Even amongst those who do wear head coverings, there are a range of explanations for what wearing a hijab or niqab means to the adherent, from following the word of the one true god, to simply feeling more in-touch with one’s culture. This is to say, amongst believers, there are likely to be disagreements about the meanings of different rituals, and the execution of certain practices. 

Adding to the complexity already presented herein is the fact that the Hebrew bible is not strictly a manual for how to live as a jew. The tanakh is more like a collection of histories with some religious tradition included; it is the story of a people, the Israelites. This may help us to unpack some apparent contradictions or heterogeneity in early jewish religion. 

“In all likelihood Hebrews of an older time, the patriarchal period, the second millennium BCE…probably weren’t markedly different from many of their polytheistic neighbors”– Professor Christine Hayes in a 2006 lecture at Yale University

We can see clues hinting at this in the archaeological record as well as in the jewish bible itself. Whether it was the acknowledgement of local fertility deities, or keeping little household idols around, it is clear that ancient Israelite religion was not entirely removed from the environment of its people.

In Exodus, when Moses is given the 10 commandments by God or Jehovah, one of them states that the Israelites “shall have no other gods” before Jehovah. Why would the sole god in existence mention that his followers shouldn’t follow other gods? If you and your significant other were the only two people left on earth, wouldn’t it be rather silly to be concerned about infidelity?

Or perhaps in Genesis 6, when the divine nephilim descend to earth and mate with human females. We will see in the second part of this discussion how that violates certain precepts of the separation of the divine and human realms in monotheism. The bible has many other passages too which describe the gods of other nations, or cast God in a poetic sense as presiding over other gods in a council.

Still, in spite of all these not-strictly-monotheistic overtones in the bible, there are strong monotheist arguments made in the tanakh which clearly set God apart as different in kind than the other gods of that age. Not simply above the other gods, but an entirely different entity. Not an incarnation of power but power itself. Some of these important distinctions are fundamental to monotheism and the assumptions of our current understanding of monotheistic religions. 

In part two, we will look at the work of Yehezkel Kaufmann, a 1930s philosopher and biblical scholar. He made strong arguments for the difference between monotheism and polytheism being one of nature, not simply of form. Although still coming from a judeo-christian perspective, Kaufmann makes the argument that jewish monotheism is not a progression out of the contemporaneous religions of the ancient near east, but rather a break from them. His analyses also allow us to subvert the potentially problematic characterization of monotheism as a more highly evolved polytheism. Rather than a monotheist evolution, let us consider the monotheist revolution.

 

 

 

 

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I love it when other people speak on my behalf

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Me, an asian man: Check out my dope content.

Consumer of media: I would feel too guilty, I don’t understand the deep oppressed context of your group identity

Me: Oh…it’s cool I actually just wanted to share my art with-

Consumer: I just don’t want to appropriate anything sorry

Me: Great, now I have a smaller audience

Guy who made this bullshit: Yeah but now your audience is more ideologically pure. See, I’m actually helping you.

This post’s arguments are silly on so many levels. There are more layers to this than an ogre or an onion.

First of all, don’t put this “I” in your “we”. It is rude and presumptuous for someone of a specific race (assuming this poster is Asian) to speak as though they are the spokesperson for everyone else in that race. You might not want your anime to be viewed by anyone who can’t speak on the details of Executive Order 9066, but what on earth gave you the idea that your opinion was that of all creators who are from the same broad geographical area as you?

I’ve always found this language to be a bit odd. When people say “Remember, if you’re talking to a POC…” or “You have an obligation to POC to…” it always sounds like they are describing how to interact with a specific breed of dog. “Remember, German Shepherds need X amount of hours of exercise a day, and can get antsy if they don’t get it!” or “When you get a puppy you have an obligation to that dog. Don’t adopt a dog if you can’t take care of it!”. That works for dogs because their behavior is largely predictable and uniform within a breed, but dog owners will tell you that even dogs have different personalities, and might deviate from the norm. Humans are more intelligent beings with highly developed cognitive capacities and diversity of opinions and you usually can’t predict how someone feels about a complex issue based on their skin color.

Second, this mentality is antithetical to the best parts of art. Art makes us feel something, it’s a conversation between the artist and the viewer. Through art we can feel a connection to people from different countries and different time periods, because art speaks to our common humanity. Is it impossible for a black American to appreciate a da Vinci painting unless they know what he struggled with and have properly educated themselves on the Italian renaissance? Have no asian men been brought to tears by an Alvin Ailey piece without first learning about the struggles of black Americans? Of course not, because if a piece of art can’t be appreciated without doing research into the artist’s racial history then it isn’t a very good piece of art. While I was in college, my scenography professor said something which struck me as profound; he mentioned that he never reads the director’s note or any of the program literature before he watches a show. His argument was that the art should stand on its own, and shouldn’t need to be accompanied by a diatribe detailing the significance or context of the art itself. 

Third, the notion that somebody has to buy into this guy’s social worldview in order to acceptably consume art is the epitome of unearned entitlement.

Fourth, this post is ignorant of the fact that consuming art from a culture is itself a cultural experience. If you watch enough telenovelas it would be impossible not to glean insights into the culture being depicted. Good luck reading Dostoevsky without learning about Russia, Russian history, Russian culture, and Russian people. It’s as though the person who posted this simultaneously believes that art cannot exist outside of its cultural context, but also that you won’t learn about the culture a piece of art came out of by consuming that art. (I’m being charitable with my assessment here. I am choosing to believe that the poster was making the stronger of two arguments: that it’s about cultural context, rather than the argument that it’s just about race, which the text of the post more directly implies)

It is not problematic, amoral, or anything to be guilty about if you just want to listen to a couple of reggae songs on your Spotify. However, I am not trying to make the argument that learning more about the cultural context of a piece of art will do nothing extra for your enjoyment or understanding of the piece. On the contrary, my fifth gripe is that the poster ignores some of the most important factors of culture. The poster seems primarily concerned with making people feel bad about consuming art made by people of another race which is in conflict with a desire for racial unity. Let’s try a thought experiment. (We won’t have to make too many assumptions here because luckily I happen to be Chinese and also an artist.)

Let’s say I’m a Chinese artist (deja vu) and I write a song. I show it to a white acquaintance named John who has very little knowledge of Chinese culture or struggles and might not know many Chinese people. 

Without knowing the topic of the song, which of these two facts do you think would be more useful to John, or would further enrich his experience and understanding of my art?

1) Compared to white people, Asian Americans need to score 140 points higher on the SAT to gain admission to top colleges, and the gap is larger between asians and black people.

2) The effects of Confucianism and its core tenant of filial piety still play a big role in the upbringing of Chinese people both in China and abroad.

How about another pair:

1) Chinese workers were integral to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, despite being hired using morally gray recruiting strategies and were pushed to their physical limits under unsafe and unethical working conditions.

2) More than 3/4 of Chinese people are not religious, and many of those who are religious (likely Buddhist) view their faith very differently than an American Christian or even an Indian Buddhist does.

I am not saying that people shouldn’t know more about the first fact in either pairing, but it seems odd to me that the poster hijacks content made by asian creators to further their advocacy goals, however noble, while ignoring much more important context.

Lastly, you gotta love the edit “If you are in the majority of people who view my post, promote it for free and make sure more people see it.” If I were more cynical I might think that the post is less about genuinely trying to help Asian creators and more about virtue signaling to the maximum number of people possible. Of course, I would never be so petty as to imply that.

 

 

 

 

 

America the Beautiful

Today I was sitting in the back of a private school’s classroom watching some medical students present some ideas for biotech startups. If you find a more “yuppie scum” introductory sentence please inbox me. I’ll be the first to admit that I live a charmed life compared to most of America, but that’s not the focus of this piece. What I wanted to highlight about this experience was that the group that was at the board was made up of 5 physicians. They were discussing an intervention which could be applied to help ESL students learn English faster. Their initial customer-discovery interviews featured, naturally, some non-native english speakers. Two of the interviewees were Indian-American immigrants, the grandparents of one of the speakers. Another was a Vietnamese-American physician, one of the speaker’s mother. Each of the five speaker was a woman of color.

For a brief moment I felt myself almost laughing. America is a country in progress, but in that moment I couldn’t help but think this is the American dream.

How beautiful and amazing is it that one of the most highly educated classrooms in America, the quintessential image of young up-and-comers featured men and women in equal measure, LGBT individuals, straight people, white men and women whose families had been in America for decades, children of immigrants (as we all once were), and every color imaginable?

As someone who spends so much of his free time tied up in political matters, reading political news, listening to talk radio, and consuming more punditry per unit time than could possibly be healthy, it was mana in the wilderness. It’s so easy to slip into the paradigm of following the day-to-day identity politics pushed by far-left identitarian movements and the alt-right, and it is difficult to dig your way out once you are there.

Like many young people, I started to get into politics a few years ago in my late teens and early 20s. It’s been a natural progression, but sometimes I look at how little politics used to mean to me and where I am now and wonder what could be responsible for my obsession with the country’s political, social, and cultural direction? Surely part of it is attributable to pragmatism in that policy has an increasing effect on my life as I become a working adult, car owner, tax payer, etc.

Nonetheless, this class period served as a much needed reminder that the reason many people feel so strongly about their politics is that they love America. I love America. I am eternally grateful to the country that has allowed and facilitated the success of the son of a Vietnamese refugee father who came to America with nothing to his name and a mother who hails from poor Irish slum-dwellers. So thank you to the 5 women physicians who reminded me that there is all the reason in the world to care about the communities and nation in which we live.

 

 

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Thanks Jenna, what a novel concept. I’m sorry you’re getting tired of repeating your clear, rational, and definitely helpful solution a million times. Luckily for you it was this comment, this very Facebook communication which was picked up by the working masses who then decided to crown you their champion as they ride into the finance district, ravenous mouths chomping at the bit. You did it. You saved net neutrality you silly git.

Large Study Identifies 65 New Indicators of Breast Cancer Risk

Your risk of developing breast cancer and many other conditions is determined in part by your unique genetic code. Maybe you have heard of the infamous “BRCA1” (BReast CAncer 1) gene, discovered in the early 90s which has strong associations with a woman’s risk to develop cancer. Among other risk factors, the BRCA1 gene can account for why breast cancer can “run in the family”.

In a new study published by Nature, Michailidou et al. have identified 65 new genetic signatures which influence your risk for breast cancer. The study, which involved almost 300,000 patients and healthy people (studies have to look at women with breast cancer and women without breast cancer to be able to compare the two groups), authors have found 65 new loci in the genome which are associated with breast cancer.

In genetics, a locus (plural: loci), is a location in our DNA. All humans, to a remarkably high extent, have very similar DNA sequences. Therefore, our genomes, an overall map to our DNA, by-and-large look the same. The differences between people’s DNA can account for many of the differences in humans, like the color of our eyes, how much alcohol we can handle, and in this case, how likely we are to develop certain diseases.

In this paper, what the authors have done is compare the genomes (the sum total of their DNA) of patients with breast cancer to women who don’t have breast cancer in order to identify where those people’s DNA differs. By comparing these two groups, the scientists were able to find 65 different loci, or locations in the human genome, which were associated with risk for breast cancer. At these loci, most people have one specific nucleotide (the building blocks of our DNA), but if you have a different one, you may be at an increased (or even a decreased) risk for developing breast cancer. In most of these locations, the risk factor is what’s called a “Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism” or SNP (Single=1, Nucleotide=building block of DNA, Polymorphism= occurs in different forms). So for that particular location, some people have a different nucleotide than others.

But what does that mean for people who have these specific mutations? Are you doomed to get breast cancer later in life? How much has your risk increased?

A few years ago BRCA1 found itself in the news again when prominent actress Angelina Jolie found out she had a risky mutation (a change in her DNA code) in BRCA1. Jolie took preemptive measures and opted for a double mastectomy, to largely eliminate the risk. To many people (including scientists!) this may seem like a drastic move considering the fact that she didn’t actually have breast cancer.

In preparing to write this short summary, I spoke to a colleague and genetic counselor about how to discuss genetic “risk” for diseases. In a new era of medicine, where a person’s genetic code might be used (or abused) to tailor their treatment, there is a lot of discussion about what information people should have access too. On one hand, it is argued that your genetic code is your personal data which you should have access to. On the other, most genetic counselors would argue that people need to be educated about what their genetic code could mean. Imagine, for example, if you found out you have an increased risk for breast cancer, a disease which claims tens of thousands of lives a year, you might decide that a double mastectomy is worth not having to worry. But what if you found out, after the mastectomy, that you actually only had a 0.02% increased risk for breast cancer? Suddenly the mastectomy seems like a bit of a rash decision.

The point that is important to drive home is that, while these 65 new loci are associated with increased breast cancer risk, they wouldn’t necessarily indicate that someone with mutations at those locations will get breast cancer.

The key points of this paper include the size of the study, which strengthens the claims they make, and the novelty of these loci. With the identification of more risk loci and a deeper understanding of the genetics of cancer, it will become easier to catch cancers early, and to personalize their treatment, both of which contribute to less deaths from the disease.

Some weaker points of the paper might be that they used almost exclusively european and asian women’s genetic material. Although most of these risk loci are probably universal to women of all races and genetic backgrounds, there is a great deal of nuance which can be attributed to other factors including race, environment, and socioeconomic status. Further, the authors have provided a huge amount of data in this study, but it will take much more research before all of that data can be made useful to clinicians trying to treat cancer patients. That’s why it is important that we continue to fund science research!

North Poor-Me-A

A week or two ago, Chelsea Handler, a popular television host of Chelsea Lately, political commentator, comedian, and one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2012, posted this tweet on her twitter.

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In the tweet Handler suggests that we trade POTUS Donald Trump for the leader of North Korea. At first I read the tweet and though, okay well she is a comedian so they sometimes push boundaries. I figured this was totally not representative of public opinion. She was attacked for this tweet by mostly conservative media (who would likely attack her whatever she does!), but even received some flak from her democratic allies.

Then I remembered that HuffPo ran an article about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who spent 17 months in a North Korean labor camp for trying to steal a propaganda poster. When Otto was returned home he was in a coma resulting from his treatment at the hands of North Korean guards and he later died of his condition. HuffPo’s hot take on this situation was an article titled “North Korea Proves Your White Male Privilege Is Not Universal”.

The overall tone of the article is initially sympathetic to the fact that Otto was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor (oh, darn, that sucks dude), but comes off as a “well you got what was coming to you” kind of piece.

If I didn’t know any better I would say HuffPo was victim blaming the victim of cruel, degrading, and unusual punishment because of his race and sex. As someone who leans left, it was disconcerting to say the least, to see both these examples of what appears to be the left wing excusing the human rights violations of the North Korean regime. In my experience, people of liberal dispositions are in favor of individual liberties, fair treatment under the law, and generally not in favor of egregious denial of basic human dignity. Can you imagine a left-leaning commentator during WWII suggesting we trade one of our politicians for Hitler? Can you imagine if a newspaper had written a piece suggesting that a student who was arrested and taken to Auschwitz.

Of course, it isn’t quite fair to blame HuffPo for this article, as it was published on the sight via the contributor platform for opinion pieces. HuffPo indicated with regard to that article that they realized some articles would be more controversial than others, but were not interested in taking down articles they simply disagreed with. To this end, I wholeheartedly agree with HuffPo. When opinion pieces generate a lot of negative buzz, that’s when we must be the most careful that we do not suppress minority opinions.

A good example of HuffPo’s sterling record for providing a platform for dissenting opinions was when they deleted a contributor opinion piece wherein author Rene Zografos wrote “The truth is, that several European cities have huge immigration problems where even the police force is afraid to interfere in some locations in these cities. UK, France and several other European countries are changing rapidly with extreme quantity of immigration. I’m not saying immigration is only bad, but a lot of problems come with poor immigration policy, as consequences we get violence, terror and gangs.” [/sarcasm]

Then, two days ago, I stumbled upon this video by left-leaning media outlet ATTN:

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I thought: Wow what a brave and harrowing story of an escape from an oppressive regime. Then I scrolled down to the comments (never read the comments).

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Here we were, comments with hundreds of reactions, with dozens of top comments in agreement. This is clearly propaganda against a largely misunderstood megalomaniacal dictator! Why should I believe him when he doesn’t even have a CATTLE BRAND?!!111

Thank God there were comments in nearly equal measure calling out this kind of behavior. Nonetheless, the popularity of sentiments like those expressed above were eye-opening for me. Are we so divided that we are willing to jump to the aid of Kim Jong Un just because our tangerine god king doesn’t like him? Left-leaning people must defend the ethical and moral foundations of their movement. Where tyranny exists, it must be opposed.

Isolated Cheeks

In the recent months, I’ve noticed an increase in violent, divisive attitudes on social media and in political news. Don’t get me wrong, the bitter tribalism of our modern political discourse is by no means only a few months old. Maybe I’m just reading more into it, and obviously all anecdotal evidence is rife with selection bias, but I don’t think I’m totally off in noticing an increase in support for political violence, the eradication of nuance, and overall just stronger and more hard-headed reactions from both major sides of the aisle. It feels as though we are at an historically important point, as though the fever pitch of partisanship in this current period is something we haven’t seen before for a long time.

One phenomenon resulting from the 2016 election and Trump’s presidency, which is immediately evident, is that people are paying much closer attention to politics. This is clear in scrolling through your news feed, watching the nightly news, overhearing conversations at work and in public. Lately it seems like everyone is talking about politics. Not only that, but they are talking past each other, over each other. Nobody is hearing what anyone else is saying. Now when I scroll down my news feed a solid 70% of the posts I see are “hot takes” on how long Trump shook someone’s hand or making inane comparisons between groups and standards. You might hear the argument that you need to be spending more and more time “resisting” Trump instead of just focusing on your life and enriching it in a way that government will never be able to do. These arguments are from people who are wholly dedicated to hating our president, who have allowed their activism to become helplessly intertwined with their identity. People also make the argument that we should just approach Trump’s tweeting or increasingly unstable staffing and policy changes with a nihilistic bent, as though somehow they don’t matter and…MAGA MAGA MAGA! These are people who are wholly dedicated to supporting the president, despite the fact that conservatives even at higher levels are beginning to become disenchanted with Trump’s ineffectiveness.

I’ve heard this argued from both sides (that this increasing involvement in politics is a good thing, or a bad thing). Part of the arguments for it being negative: Our situations are more polarized, people are more strung out, ready to go off on a hairpin trigger, and in a more philosophical sense, this much of our lives isn’t supposed to be dominated by politics. Politics is a part of life insofar as government is a part of the social contract. However, in the same way that the government shouldn’t be in charge of every aspect of our life, politics should not infuse every interaction or experience we have on the daily.

On the positive side, people are more informed and fired up about what is going on in their country. Or, are they? To hear it entirely from Fox news or Breitbart: “Trump! Trannies! Triggered!” To hear it entirely from MSNBC (or my newsfeed): “How the forecasted colder winter this year is entirely Trump’s fault and PROVES he is the genetic mutant (+5 hate genes) baby of Hitler and people who put pineapple on pizza”.

It seems that we’ve substituted volume of information for quality of information. The whole reason people listen to a specific set of mainstream outlets is so that they don’t have to deal with the cognitive load of processing an opposing idea. We have set up land mines to go off as soon as our comfort levels are remotely pushed. Instead of dealing with ideas, we immediately switch to character attacks, to accusations of hating vets, hating trans people, hating black people, wanting to burn the constitution, etc.

All of these intense reactions to everything from minor wording choices to literal white supremacists walking through American streets does two deleterious things. First, a cry-wolf situation is set up which diminishes credibility of whoever is raising outrage. Why should someone, especially on the “other side” listen to you when you’ve been calling them personally racist, sexist, bigoted, etc. for years? When you call out the entire NFL leadership and coaches as “white supremacists” (just an example), but then turn around and point at people chanting “Jews will not replace us” and flying Nazi flags and also call them white supremacists, you are hurting your cause because people on the fence don’t see your assessment of who is and isn’t a white supremacist to be credible.

The second issue is an offshoot of crying wolf and deals with not just being turned up to 11 at all times, but with broadening definitions and being careless with accusations of otherwise incredibly serious flaws. You see articles or infographics flying around online like “ways that all white people are actually white supremacists”, with incredibly broad bullet points or characteristics which encompass pretty much everyone except the most venerated high-priests of the religion of leftism. This is harmful. White supremacy is a very specific thing. It is a horrible, morally reprehensible thing that everyone needs to condemn. By broadening the definition, you allow white supremacists and white nationalists to co-opt huge groups of people. You can have some issues (and I think there is an interesting discussion to be had) regarding someone saying “we should all just ignore race” or the “colorblind” argument. However if you now go the next step and say “Well saying you are colorblind is a form of white supremacy”, you’ve now turned millions of people into white supremacists. Not actual white supremacists, mind you, but you are lending huge credibility to the movement. Now everyone who doesn’t “study race” in an ivory tower is somehow awful.

There are a couple factors at play here and I think it is important for us to understand when we are acting (sometimes unwittingly) as agents of a broad political agenda. By making white supremacists seem like a larger group than they are, and by defining mundane things as white supremacy, those making the argument for suppression of speech or who excuse political violence have a stronger case. It seems like a huge problem, and huge problems need to be addressed. Politicians who come out against the scourge of white nationalism gain tons of political capital and media coverage, and the importance of their re-election becomes divorced from how solid their policy suggestions are.

We see the consequences of broadening definitions like this play out on the other side of the conflict as well. While leftists are happy to drastically inflate the influence of white supremacist groups, the white supremacist groups are also ecstatic that their importance is being elevated from a couple thousand hateful dudes to a matter of absolutely obsessive media coverage. People who with a certain amount of internet savvy understand that there are essentially two groups called the “alt-right”. The first is a very specific movement which espouses the belief that western culture and values are inseparable from actual white ethnic groups, which is clearly a racist viewpoint. The second group is way larger and includes people who like to shitpost frog memes and “trigger” SJWs. They make racist jokes online and overall just act like immature boys with stunted social skills. Most of these people aren’t even necessarily right leaning in terms of politics and many are just “trolling”. So why are both of these groups “alt-right?” Because if the actual alt-right, white nationalist groups absorb other aspects of culture (dank memes, offensive jokes, irreverent humor, disenfranchised or isolated young men), then all of the people who are in these groups, but don’t have actual racist views, get co-opted too. Now when someone says “Fuck the alt-right”, both Nazis and online trolls are clearly alienated from their cause, and let me tell you, the online troll community is way the fuck larger than the Nazi community. For further evidence of this we need not look any further than the fact that Hillary Clinton took time out of a campaign speech to address pepe the frog. Absolutely clueless as to the distinction between people who just find pepe funny and Nazis (somehow), she played directly into the hand of the white nationalists. She drove the masses of online trolls and dank memeologists into the arms of an actual hateful and dangerous ideology. She gave the alt-right a huge boost!

Not to keep kicking Hillary while she’s down (and hopefully for democrats, out) but this phenomenon seemed so clear to me when she made her “basket of deplorables” comment. Is there a subset of Trump voters who are deplorable? Duh, probably the same subset who are actually alt-right. However, now anyone who was leaning toward Trump is clearly against Hillary. She thinks they are deplorable, and now instead of realizing that Trump has basically zero tenable policy plans, they cheered on Trump because he was “triggering SJWs” or “bashing Hillary”. They had a common enemy. Indeed, even now, there is a huge portion of Trump’s base who really don’t care how many utter policy failures he has presided over, they just want to see him lash out against leftists. In this way, staunch partisanship lacking nuance is a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

So how can we avoid this? How can we turn it around? How can the cycle of othering and attacking be broken?

I think part of it is to understand the forces at play, to understand that there are people who stand to benefit a lot from your blind hatred of others based on simple aspects of their personality. Sure, you know how dire it is to stop trans people from using the bathroom they want, but did you know we’re at war in Yemen? Could you point to Yemen on a map? Because whether you can or can’t, bombs paid for with your money are being dropped on innocent people. Sure, you feel good about yourself because you knocked over a statue, but how do you feel about the fact that our country is facing an opioid epidemic? Did you know that vehicle fatalities due to drug overdose are skyrocketing? I don’t say this to belittle the trans bathroom or confederate statue issues. All I’m saying is, maybe you’re angry about trans bathrooms because that type of anger is easy and utilitarian. Maybe you aren’t angry about Yemen because there’s less to be gained from your anger there.

The second part of working against this partisan noise and the widening chasm in American political discourse is to turn the other cheek. As someone who has been accused of many character flaws for espousing certain political beliefs, I understand how easy it is to direct hate and vitriol at those who are making what you believe to be unfair character arguments against you. I’m not going to get all “Jesus is love” over here, but by allowing hatred directed at you to become hatred which is multiplied outward, you continue the cycle of name calling and insubstantial argumentation.

It can be hard and honestly, sometimes it feels totally wrong to just say. “Alright, that dude just called me racist, but I’m not going to fling any character arguments back.” It can feel like “backing down” or “letting hate win”. And maybe hate wins that battle, but by taking that hate and lack of nuance and then projecting it back, we will ensure that hate wins the war.