Fireside 2.1 (https://fireside.fm) You Might Have a Point Blog https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles Thu, 11 Feb 2021 21:00:00 -0500 You Might Have a Point Blog en-us Ideas Have Consequences, Part 2 https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/ideas-have-consequences-part-2 Thu, 11 Feb 2021 21:00:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com 615948e7-9a56-40bb-8e5d-319833ffa810 In my post, Ideas Have Consequences, Including This One, I argued against a naive form of ideological zealotry that caricatures opposing points of view and treats every political or philosophical disagreement as an all-or-nothing, zero-sum battle of ideas. I took the stance that even though it is important to recognize that ideas have consequences, this idea by itself is not a good one to promote.

That is to say, I don’t think that one should argue about ideas without holding some other ideas in mind. It’s easy to be an ideological hack should one wish to be; it’s a lot harder to thoughtfully persuade others in a way that doesn’t treat every disagreement as though it will decide the fate of civilization itself.

So in the process of thinking about what I want my blog and podcast to be, I’ve come up with some of the practices that I think are helpful for the kind of ideological persuasion that I want to engage in. Here are some of the following practices that I find valuable while arguing about ideas:

  1. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood
  2. Speak, write, and think with care and precision
  3. Recognize the scope of a bad idea
  4. Treat your character, as well as your ideas, as a work in progress
  5. Be in it for the long haul

As is my wont, I will argue for each of these in turn.

1) Seek to understand before you seek to be understood

Which ideas are really worth fighting over? How can we find what is true in what another person is saying while denying what is false? I believe that doing this requires, perhaps more than anything else, a great deal of wisdom, which to a large extent can only come from experience.

One of the main intentions of my podcast is to create a greater understanding of a large variety of worldviews. This means that sometimes my guests say things with which I strongly disagree. When this happens, I occasionally challenge them a bit, but I don’t always. I think that one of the great errors of our time is thinking we know what “the other side” believes when actually, we do not. My intention is to create a platform where many worldviews are welcome as opposed to turning everything into a back-and-forth debate where I try to pounce on all the bad ideas that I come across. In doing this, I am trying to follow Stephen Covey’s first habit: “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” When I have really formulated my thoughts on a particular issue, I will write about it. By contrast, the point of my podcast is mostly to learn about how others see the world.

2) Speak, write, and think with care and precision

Separating good ideas from bad ones requires care and precision, and understanding what someone means when they say a particular phrase is not so simple. For example, depending on where one stands ideologically, one might take “critical race theory” to be either horribly misguided or a useful and necessary way to view the world. Here is one article by David French, someone whose views I largely share, that tackles this complex issue. I think French’s approach is the right one: understand an idea thoroughly before you attempt to criticize it, give a definition of it when you do, and point out the merits you find in the idea even as you disagree with it in large part.

Doing this is particularly difficult in the age of the Internet. Nutpicking, the “fallacious tactic of picking out and showcasing the nuttiest member(s) of a group as the best representative(s) of that group,” is easier than ever, and there are plenty of ideological outlets whose main purpose is to point out the awful things that the other side has said and done. By contrast, it’s a lot harder to find the strongest advocates for an idea that you oppose -- although thankfully, the Internet has of course made research in general much easier, so those who want to steelman the arguments that they disagree with can still do so.

3) Recognize the scope of a bad idea

It’s also important to recognize the scope of a general problem without prejudice for a particular party or ideology. An idea doesn’t necessarily have to have gained prominence in only one faction to be an issue. Instead, I think that the most dangerous ideas might be the ones that many in both parties seem to be endorsing uncritically.

For example, I take issue with postmodernism, which “can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices” that employ a variety of concepts such as hyperreality in order to “destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.” Critics of the left have often criticized its adoption of postmodern approaches to politics, and for good reason. The clearest example on the left is its willingness to redefine terms whenever it sees fit, such as the redefinition of the term “sexual preference” to be a pejorative after Amy Coney Barret used the term, even though Democrats had used the same term in the same way the same year.

Yet I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate today to say that left-wing voices are more postmodern than right-wing voices; as I see it, both sides are quickly becoming more and more divergent from reality in their own ways.

The best example on the right is probably Donald Trump himself. His interpretation of reality seems to me to be much more flexible than any other president’s. I wish that conservative commentators and Republican politicians would have been more willing to call him out on this, especially when there is good reason to believe that that’s what they think about him anyway.

4) Treat your character, as well as your ideas, as a work in progress

The quality of your ideas matters, but I don’t believe it is possible to fully separate them from your character.

Beliefs can, to some extent, be readily adopted and discarded at will, but character is developed. It takes time. It takes sacrifice. It is only changed for the better with constant effort and devotion. I therefore think that someone’s character is often a more accurate reflection of their genuine beliefs than whatever it is that they say they believe. I think it follows, then, that when developing one’s ideas, one should not neglect to pay attention to one’s character.

In reading this article about Kierkegaard in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (a fun place to frequent!), I learned of “the Greek notion of judging philosophers by their lives rather than simply by their intellectual artefacts.” I think that modern philosophy has probably gotten too far away from this notion. Certainly all of us are hypocrites to some extent: No one is perfectly consistent about living up to their own ideals. Yet some are more hypocritical than others, and it’s only reasonable to take this into account when evaluating someone’s ideas. Just as I plan to work so that the quality of my ideas is going to improve over time, I intend to apply the same effort to my own character, too. If I want people to take my ideas seriously, this is not a nice bonus; it is a prerequisite.

5) Be in it for the long haul

Convincing someone they’re wrong takes a lot of work. For starters, it involves being willing to truly consider whether you are wrong. Even supposing that you are right, though, you have a lot of work ahead of you. People don’t usually change their mind in an instant, especially when it comes to the deep philosophical issues that I believe are at the root of a lot of today’s political divisions. Beyond your immediate argument, they are influenced by all sorts of things: the mores of the surrounding culture, history, recent news events, their perception of your motives, their perception of the motives of those who agree with you, and so forth.

While these things might be technically irrelevant to an issue that is purely philosophical in nature (if indeed such an issue can be said to exist), I think it’s important to recognize the practical importance of these influences on yourself and those with whom you are arguing. Keeping these things in mind, and being patient enough to realize that your arguments will have limited effect is a good thing, both for your ideas and your own sanity.

In sum, there are lots of ideas out there. I believe that it is best to choose what you believe very carefully. No matter what you choose to believe, though, there are going to be plenty of people who disagree with you, and realistically speaking, your arguments will probably have very limited effect. I don’t think that that means that you should stop trying to change people’s minds. I’m not going to -- Lord willing, I am just getting started with this little blog and podcast of mine -- but I think it does mean that you should have some patience and humility when you do. The war of ideas is not really a war, and it’s also never truly won.

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The Obvious Needs to Be Stated: Against Political Violence https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/the-obvious-needs-to-be-stated-against-political-violence Sat, 09 Jan 2021 14:00:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com 3a65cb75-0f5c-4640-8159-4094ddb87cf9 Sadly, the case against political violence needs to be made anew today. Here is a short essay that I wrote a few months ago which I think is fitting to publish on this blog in light of recent events. I wrote the following essay when thinking of how I wanted to introduce the concept for my blog and podcast. I came up with “7 Habits for a Better Society,” of which one was recognizing that violence is almost never the answer when it comes to politics. I may publish the other essays at some point, but in light of the insurrectionist mob that tried to interfere with the functioning of our federal government in certifying the results of our presidential election, causing 5 deaths in the process, I thought that now might be an appropriate time to publish this.

Obviously, my warnings about the dangers of supporting political violence are even more true today than when I first wrote this a few months ago. A lot can happen between now and January 20th, which is why I support the impeachment and conviction of Trump immediately. He clearly is not capable of doing what is necessary to stop political violence, and while he is clever enough with his words to have never directly endorsed any specific act, I think his words were very dangerous and inseparable from what occurred on January 6th.

In case it’s not absolutely clear, I am not endorsing political violence of any kind under any circumstances. With all of that said, here is my essay, which is written from a broader, more theoretical perspective.

Why Violence is Almost Never The Answer

Strictly speaking, I do not think that it is never the right thing to do to take an absolutist stance on an issue, or to have deep grievances with an entire system or way of doing things, or to call out widespread corruption for what it is, or even to start a revolution -- this country was started by one, after all. Though I can’t know what would have happened without it, I’m glad that we had one.

Unlike in 1776, violent political revolutions don’t require a large group of people all meeting and expressly agreeing to the idea. That can happen, and even then it was more complicated than that, but they also can arise organically. Thankfully, the number of people calling for revolution in America today, or acting like they are getting ready for one, is fairly small, but it does seem to be growing at a rate faster than I am comfortable with.

I think it’s important for everyone in this country to realize the risk that comes with this, whether we are talking about words or actions that lead to political violence. If someone is inclined towards political violence, that person should at the very least prepare themselves as much as possible for what is going to unfold, and they should also be willing to reconsider if what they are attempting is really going to succeed, or if it will, in fact, bring about the opposite of what they are trying to achieve.

To that person I would say this: While you and I might find a lot of agreement about the injustices in our society today, I disagree strongly with you that these injustices justify political violence. But if you are really committed to this, then I believe that you must also recognize that a political movement that is convinced that it is completely in the right, that no serious argument against it can be made in good faith, and that no one on the other side is even worth listening to is, by its very nature, dangerous. In the short term, such a movement is guaranteed to invite chaos and death. In the long term, such a movement runs a very high risk that it will upend the very concept of truth and justice that it claims to be fighting for.

Versions of this argument have been made before, but I will make the case in my own words here. Let’s grant that the most radical position, the one you hold, is the correct one. You then have three options.

The first is doing the very hard, tedious, exhausting work of convincing others of the righteousness of your cause so that you can do something about it: nonviolent protest, arguing in court, participating in the public discourse in other ways, and so on. This will be very slow going, and, if you do it honestly, you will have to commit to the possibility that you are wrong about something, which would make you less radical, and you may be unwilling to consider that prospect (even though you should).

The second option, which can at times be a very good one, is a peaceful parting of ways. There are three methods to achieve this: you can leave the society that you’re a part of and join another one, you can start your own, or you can allow the opposition to leave peacefully. For a variety of reasons, of course, it may be that none of these methods are available. At the very least, this option requires that both sides believe that the other has a right to exist -- a very low bar, to be sure, but a disturbingly large number of people in history have not conceded this right to their fellow human beings.

The third option is the most radical and the most frightening. Suppose your side is correct, but it does not have the political power to bring about its views, and it is not willing to convince enough people so that it can gain the necessary power. Finally, neither side is willing to part ways or allow the other to do so. The only option remaining to you, then, is to be in favor of large-scale, systematic violence, where those who are in the right do violence against those who are in the wrong. Then, even supposing that you win, you are still not done. If there are any people remaining who are in the wrong, you have to decide how to stop them from reverting things back to the way they were. To do this, you have to either get them to agree that you are right or restrict their political power. You can do this by restricting their freedom of speech or other rights, by expelling them, or by killing them. There is also the very real possibility, which has happened time and again throughout history, that those who are on your side will one day decide that you are now insufficiently radical and that you are among those against whom violence or repression is justified.

If you have joined such a revolution, and it is for a just cause, then I hope that you have good reason to believe that it will succeed and that those who are on your side will not one turn against you. Regardless, though, there are still at least two things that you are committed to: violence against others in the short term and, at the very least, restriction of others’ political power in the long term. These two things are so damaging to humanity, and so likely to end up with something very different from what you want, that you had better be damned sure you’re right.

This is why for me, a commitment to liberal democracy today includes a commitment to the belief that even if the most radical ideology is the correct one, it is still extremely unlikely that initiating violence is the right answer because of its extremely high cost and extremely low chance of success in achieving what you actually want to achieve. Whatever you want to accomplish, there are almost always better ways of doing it than starting a revolution, and we sure as hell don’t need one in America today.

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Ideas Have Consequences, Including This One https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/ideas-have-consequences-including-this-one Sun, 20 Dec 2020 11:00:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com 1c4078dd-d21d-4dd2-a4fd-f96a58784b34 Ideas have consequences.

That, at least, is what Richard Weaver was claiming when he authored a book with that title in 1948. The Wikipedia article for the book describes it as “largely a treatise on the harmful effects of nominalism on Western civilization.” Nominalism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, can be either “the rejection of abstract objects” or “the rejection of universals.”

You can read the full book here, though I think his basic point was a fairly simple one. Weaver was concerned about the practical effects of nominalism, and I can understand why: It can be hard to have principles or believe in the concept of rights if you reject the idea of universals altogether.

Yet I would say that right now, we should primarily be concerned about another idea that seems to have gotten fairly popular recently — namely, the very idea that ideas have consequences. I’ve come to believe that promoting this idea by itself is not a good thing to do even though some ideological zealots seem to think that it is.

Their argument usually goes something like the following sentence. (For reference, when I notate something in the format [A | B], it means “either A or B can be used in this sentence.”)

“You and I both know,” they say, that “the [left | right] is incapable of [rational thought | basic human decency] whereas the people espousing the [reasonable position | true ideology] are the only ones fighting for [justice | liberty], and they need to stand up and fight for the good ideas before they are overcome by the terrible ideas from the other side!”

Admittedly, no one has said exactly those things; this line of thought is a caricature of the types of arguments that are made. I threw a bunch of fallacies together into a run-on sentence so that I could point out how silly this line of thinking can be. This is true even if most of us, including myself, are willing to believe this sort of thing to one degree or another. Thinking this way can be tempting, but I don’t think it is the right way to look at things for the following reasons.

1) Whether it is said exactly in this way or not, the phrase “you and I both know” is a telltale sign of a bad argument because it is an attempt to make a claim that warrants no further justification. Often, it is said in the context of an implied other group who doesn’t see things the right way like “you and I” do. On the other hand, “you and I both believe” is fine when it is true that you and I both actually believe something. It can of course be very useful to establish areas of agreement up front. I am skeptical, however, when someone encourages their listeners to accept something as true by making an appeal to some shared group identity, whether it is implicit or explicit.

2) Overgeneralizations such as “the left” or “the right” are reductionist and usually unjustified. The phrase “the radical left,” for example, is more specific, but I would contend that it’s often best to be even more precise than that. Who is the problem? Antifa? Violent protesters generally? Critical theorists? Far-left columnists? I have a lot of disagreements with each of these groups, but they don’t all overlap, and many times they are quite critical of each other. I believe that it’s important to be specific, both when you are defining the groups that you are criticizing and when you are describing the ways in which they are wrong.

3) Accusing a person or group of being irrational does not usually make them more rational, though it might sometimes have the opposite effect. It is sometimes necessary, of course, to call someone out when they are being egregiously inconsistent or nonsensical. Still, I believe that it is usually best to do this after making a good faith attempt to assess the quality of their arguments. Similarly, if you think someone is being rude, then it’s fair to tell them to stop it, but I think it can often be helpful to consider whether there is a more charitable interpretation of what they have said or done. Perhaps psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman said it best with this tweet (and the one that follows it):

Some people are unintentional assholes, just attempting to speak the truth. Some are assholes, just because it's part of their disposition to be antagonistic. And some are trolls, just because they get enjoyment from creating a disturbance in the force. Important to distinguish.

I suspect we've all been an "unintentional asshole" at least a few times in our lives. I am all about giving people the benefit of the doubt, at least until it's clear it's part of a general disposition and pattern across contexts over a long stretch of time.

4) No one has the whole truth; I believe that everyone sees some part of the truth from their equally important, but equally limited, perspective. If I had to place myself on the left-right spectrum, I would say that I’m center-right, but I am certainly willing to grant that people to the left or right of me have a point every now and then. (Hence the title of my blog and podcast.)

5) Liberty and justice are such abstract concepts that I try not to be overly hasty in claiming that my side is the one that is fighting for them. Appeals to universals are important to me, but I believe that it can be easy to get so caught up in defending universals that we end up ignoring the particulars of a given circumstance.

Despite all this, I think it is fine to believe that ideas have consequences and to act on that belief. For instance, I am conservative because I genuinely believe that conservative ideas are what’s best for individuals and society as a whole, and part of my intent with blog is to promote those ideas.

(As my fellow conservative Matt Lewis noted in my recent interview with him, it is hard to define what “conservative” in the American context even means any more. For my part, I think conservatism has to have something to do with an emphasis on individual liberty, a tendency to prefer tradition over radical change, and a belief in the power of an uncorrupted free market as the best way to solve many complex problems.)

Despite my conservatism, however, I don’t see conservatives as being in a zero-sum power struggle with “the left.” When I do criticize leftist ideas that I believe are dangerous, I try to be a lot more specific than that, and I also try to recognize that the right has its own problems.

My hesitancy to embrace any ideological cause wholesale is probably due in part to my temperament. I tend to be more cautious than most, and I can sometimes be full of doubt about what I believe. As this Quillette article notes, this is a trait that might be more common in conservatives:

Both [Thomas] Sowell and [Steven] Pinker contend that conservatives see an unfortunate world of moral trade-offs in which every moral judgment comes with costs that must be properly balanced… This is why conservatives don’t tend to express the same emotional hostility as the Left; a deeper grasp of the world’s complexity has the effect of encouraging intellectual humility.

Even if that was once true, however, it doesn’t seem as accurate to me as it used to be — and it's not just me. One of the commentators with perhaps the most credibility to criticize the right is Rod Dreher, author of Live Not By Lies, which details the faults of the secular left and how he thinks Christians and conservatives should respond. In his recent column about the Jericho March and its participants’ willful ignorance of the evidence that Trump lost he wrote this:

I talk about how these criteria explain the woke Left, and why educated elites throughout politics, media, academia, and corporations, have absorbed their dogmas. But read the piece in light of what I’ve written above, especially about how alienated people are willing to believe ideology over truth, and how they are willing to smash any institutions for the sake of seeing their idea of justice triumph.

This is where the woke Left is. But this is also where a lot of the Trumpist Right — in particular, the Trumpist Christian Right — is.

As Dreher’s column describes in great detail, the emotional hostility from some on the right seems to be increasing, perhaps in some misguided attempt to match the perceived timbre of the illiberal left. I believe that this mindset is not only misguided but fundamentally wrong in its worldview.

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, the psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes about how he used to be a liberal who viewed conservatives as obstacles to moral progress. After studying the moral psychology of people groups in other countries, though, he eventually came to see our own partisan divide differently: “I had escaped from my prior partisan mind-set (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later) and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.”

Even though I don’t share Haidt’s worldview, I still highly recommend his book. I found his description of how intelligent, goodhearted people can nevertheless disagree profoundly on fundamental moral and political questions and why to be pretty compelling. While it did not convince me to be an atheist or a liberal (though of course that wasn’t his intent in writing it), I did come away from it thinking that it offers deep insights into human psychology from which everyone could benefit. At the least, I think his insights should give us pause before we dismiss everyone who is not on our ideological team as either being dupes or reprobates.

It might be difficult to convince someone that their ideology is wrong (in part or in whole), but I believe that it is achievable. For me, it starts with recognizing that I am one person with an extremely limited understanding of the full range of human experience and of human knowledge. There are almost eight billion other human beings on the planet and a large number of differing value systems. While I don’t believe it’s possible to fully reconcile them with one another, I am thankful that today, relatively minor differences of opinion are tolerated much more than they were in the past. I believe that learning and relearning how to do this -- without compromising our principles and while continuing to advocate for our vision of a just society -- is what real progress looks like.

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Looking to find out what others think about an issue? Check out these sources. https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/unbiased-news-does-not-exist Wed, 18 Nov 2020 16:45:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com d75c24a6-2e66-40b5-8fef-1cada29a3366 As part of my effort to encourage epistemic humility and learning from a wide variety of perspectives, I made a short catalogue of organizations that have similar goals in mind. This blog/podcast of mine is just a hobby, but these organizations have a lot more resources that they are putting towards similar goals.

While I am a conservative, this list does not include organizations that have an explicit ideological stance (i.e. "we are a [progressive | conservative | libertarian | centrist] publication") but instead ones whose intention is to provide access to a wide variety of voices. There are a lot of publications from across the ideological spectrum out there nowadays, but the ones in this list are actively promoting diverse points of view, believe in the power of persuasion and sound argumentation, and, in my opinion, seem to be doing a decent job of it.

I've grouped what I have so far in terms of a few different types of categories: aggregators, debate hosts, publications, and tools. I've also grouped them in terms of the medium: text, audio/video, and real life. Some of these organizations provide audio-video and real-life events as well as text-based ones; in that case, I've only included them once under the text-based category.

This list is somewhat subjective, and I hope that I have made my criteria for this little catalogue of mine clear so that you can decide whether these organizations are good ones to follow. And if you think I missed something, please let me know below! You can also comment on on the reddit comment that I used to crowdsource some of this. And thank you to all of the commenters on reddit who helped me make this list!

Text-based:

  • Aggregators / Media Analysts
    • RealClearPolitics -- lists a lot of articles each day from a wide variety of sources; oftentimes, you will see competing arguments listed one after the other, which is helpful. They do lean somewhat conservative on the whole, but they link to and publish their own commentary from more than just conservative writers.
    • https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ -- claims to be "the most comprehensive media bias resource." It certainly looks pretty detailed to me. My one criticism of it might be that it seems to define the "center" as being "the least biased." I prefer the motto from allsides.com, on the other hand:
    • https://www.allsides.com/ -- "unbiased news does not exist." In addition to explicitly categorizing news sources based on their general bias, it also takes specific events in the news cycle and provides a selection of articles about them from across the political spectrum.
    • https://ground.news/ -- "See bias anywhere on the web or social media." This site collates a large number of stories from across the Web and identifies the extent to which the left or right are covering different news events.
    • https://www.theflipside.io/ -- a daily newsletter: "See both sides of important issues— in 5 minutes a day."
  • Debate hosts
    • pairagraph.com -- I have a special place in my heart for this site as its co-founders agreed to an interview with me on the first episode of my podcast which I just started. (Fair warning on that: the audio quality kind of stinks.) They host exchanges between notable individuals on a wide variety of topics. The format is A-B-A-B, with each piece being roughly 500 words.
    • https://letter.wiki/ -- this is fairly similar to Pairagraph, though it is a little more open-ended, and it's slightly less like a debate and more like a conversation between notable individuals.
    • Change My View: a very large subreddit where you can post what your view is and ask people to try to change it. As they put it, they ask you to "[e]nter with a mindset for conversation, not debate."
    • The Motte: a small subreddit that host a regular thread where the point is to "argue to understand, not to win."
  • Publications -- there are obviously a lot of these, but I am explicitly listing ones that seem to me to be intentionally providing a variety of perspectives.
    • Persuasion: "A platform for publishing interesting ideas... a convener of pressing debates." Their leadership seemed to span the ideological spectrum to me, which is part of why I included them. Persuasion is explicitly in favor of a "free society," but I don't take that to be too narrow of an ideological stance. (I, too, am in favor a free society!)
    • Unherd -- "aims to do two things: to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places."
    • Areo -- "publishes thoughtful essays from a variety of perspectives compatible with broadly liberal and humanist values. It places particular priority on evidence and reason-centered pieces."
  • Tools and tactics

Audio and video-based:

  • Debate hosts
    • Non-Zero Foundation -- hosts regular conversations between political and cultural figures. bloggingheads.tv and meaningoflife.tv are their two main products. My favorite line from them is that they host debates that are "sharp, yet civil."
    • Intelligence Squared -- hosts debates as well as solo discussions on a variety of issues.
    • Munk Debates -- a host of debates, sometimes in person, and sometimes in podcast form

Real life-based:

Miscellaneous:

  • Purple Heart -- focuses on highlighting projects that focus on bridging political divides
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Where to Go from Here https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/where-to-go-from-here Mon, 16 Nov 2020 20:00:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com 8dced0fe-0a2c-4496-b7e9-1575aeae71d0

Where to Go from Here

As of this moment, it looks like Biden is going to beat Trump for the presidency, though it remains uncertain. [Note: shortly after I originally published this piece, the race was called for Biden.]  Even though I voted against Trump, I don’t think that voting out Trump will be sufficient to make things right again, nor do I think that all of our country’s problems are caused by any one group of people or worldview.  I think Trump is a symptom of our country’s problems as well as a cause; I view getting rid of Trump as a starting point, not an endpoint for a successful liberal democracy in the 21st century.

I also remain politically conservative.  For me, that means a few different things, but first and foremost, it means that I believe in the importance of liberty.  I will attempt to defend conservative positions more broadly to some extent in my writing, but my focus right now is on arguing for small-l liberalism.  When I say that, I am using this definition of the word:

A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.

That is to say, while I believe that being human is a good thing, I am also skeptical of human nature.  To me, this implies that giving people authority over others carries inherent risk and should always be limited in its extent, especially when it is backed up by the threat of violence (as it always is with any government action).  Whenever it is not possible to avoid this altogether, I think that it should be done with a significant amount of forbearance and transparency.

This written debate between Cathy Young and Daniel Drezner on the danger, or lack thereof, of left-wing illiberalism is an example of the nuance that can be involved when attempting to define what a commitment to liberalism entails.  My read of it was that both authors made some good points in response to the other’s argument but that they agreed on more things than they disagreed.  And as Drezner wrote in his concluding response, I believe we need to criticize illiberalism wherever we find it and commit ourselves to promoting small-l liberalism across the political spectrum.

So with that said, here are three commitments that I find valuable for myself when attempting to put the political theory of liberalism into practice.  I think of them as general predispositions rather than hard-and-fast rules, but my hope is that my readers will find something to agree with in them.  They are:

  1. Practicing a minimal level of civility
  2. Considering how others’ intuitions may differ from my own
  3. Not crying wolf (unless and until I see an actual wolf)

This is much easier said than done, however.  Each circumstance will have its own aspects that make it unique, and there are often no easy answers when one’s own values come into conflict with each other.  Moreover, I don’t think that it would be very wise or very effective to tell my readers what to do in their own lives.  Instead, my goal with this essay is to express my values, do my best to live up to them, and let the reader be the judge of whether they are good ones to hold.

I also want to point out that there are many good organizations that I believe are doing this well.  Braver Angels and the Nonzero Foundation come to mind.  I started this blog as part of my effort to make a contribution to this broad, overarching goal, which I have summed up in my own words with the title, “You Might Have a Point.”  I also plan on starting a podcast with the same name and the same goal, but I wanted to put some of my thoughts in writing first.  When it comes to something as complex as explaining my own intuitions and values, I like to put a great deal of thought into it, and I find that writing lets me do that best.

Additionally, I want to acknowledge that my life situation makes this easier for me than it can be for others.  I don’t view my identity as being threatened right now, and many of my friends and family cannot say the same for themselves.  I also recognize that, by themselves, the words of an Internet stranger by themselves do not mean much.  That is part of why I have written this essay in the first person and why I will do my best in this blog to make it clear that I am speaking only for myself.  Still, I believe that the values that I have expressed in this essay are generally good ones to have, and I hope that my readers will be able to find something to agree with in them.

So with all of that said, I will explain my reasoning for making each of these commitments in turn.

  1. Practicing a minimal level of civility

Unlike what we saw in that first presidential debate, I don’t think that nearly-constant interruptions, yelling, and an inability to have any sort of meaningful exchange is what we want.  (I will say that I didn’t watch it live because I expected that it might turn into that.)  On the other hand, I don’t think that a debate where no interruptions are allowed, and you always have to speak in a calm tone of voice, is what we want either.  Put another way, I think it’s good to be committed to the logos of a debate, as it were, while also making room for the pathos and the ethos.  From what I watched of the clips from the debate and the discussions about it afterward, there was way too much pathos -- that is to say, appeals to emotion, and not the softer, gentler ones either -- and too little of anything else.  It was almost, well, pathological.

So when I say that civility is all in all a good thing, I am not asking, “can’t we all just get along?”  No, we cannot, nor should we.  If we could, then we probably wouldn’t be arguing over whatever it is that we are arguing over, and I don’t think we should if there are real injustices that need to be addressed.

As far as being willing to hold a civil conversation with someone, however, my level of tolerance is fairly high.  I am willing to discuss topics on which there is strong disagreement with people who hold a broad range of perspectives, whether you are a Marxist or an anarcho-capitalist, whether you voted for Trump, Biden, or neither of those two candidates, and whether you are an ardent atheist who views religion as a mind virus or you are a deeply religious person who views atheism as a tool of the devil.

This might make me an outlier; part of the reason that I hold this mindset is that I have always been extremely interested in abstract ideas.  Yet while my temperament leans heavily towards dispassionate discussion and less towards passionate argumentation, I believe that is important to not ignore the consequences that ideas about politics can have.  Disagreements over politics impact real people, and policy decisions have real effects on their lives; to treat a discussion of these issues only as a reasoned intellectual debate would be to ignore the gravitas of the issues that we are discussing.  I believe that people can and should express how they feel, and asking them not to, or discounting their feelings as irrelevant, would be wrong.

This is why I am willing to hold different ideas in my head without sacrificing a commitment to say what I believe is right and what I believe is wrong.  My desire to seek the truth and to advocate for justice leads me to believe that this is a good and necessary thing to do.  While my motivation for having a civil conversation with others with whom I strongly disagree is partly intellectual curiosity, the main reason that I do this is because I believe that it is necessary in order to increase tolerance and show compassion for my fellow humans.

In order to do this effectively, I think that a definition of what civility means in practice can be useful.  The one that I like best is the one Teresa Bejan offers in her book Mere Civility: “a minimal, occasionally contemptuous adherence to culturally contingent rules of respectful behavior.”  To put it in my own words, I think it can sometimes be appropriate and necessary to express contempt for someone’s views, but it is never appropriate to show a lack of respect for their dignity as a person, even if they don’t show it to you.  I say this not only because it goes against my religious beliefs but also because I think that it is not a very effective approach for winning someone over to your side.

Still, doing this is emotionally difficult and takes hard work, and everyone has to decide for themselves what they are willing to put up with.  I think that it is hard to hear something from someone else in the best possible way that they could have meant it, and it can often be easier to just stop listening, especially on topics that are emotionally sensitive and with a long and painful history.  When your gut is telling you “this person’s views are disgusting, and they have, or they will, lead to a great deal of evil in the world,” then it can sometimes be too much to ask.

Moreover, I think you can and should listen to your gut, and not just your brain, when determining what is right and what is wrong.  I mentioned this in my post on the election, but I think it is worth repeating:  I think it is possible to do the wrong thing either by relying too much on your gut instincts or by dedicating yourself to logic and reason at the expense of all feeling.

So I want to make it clear that I believe it would be naive to look past our real differences when having a civil discussion, and I don’t believe that we are capable of getting along in the sense of believing in some idyllic fairy tale that ignores reality as we know it.  In addition, I also find engaging with ideologies that espouse hatred for others to not be worth my time.  Nevertheless, I believe that stretching my ability to understand different viewpoints, without developing a tolerance for hatred or injustice, is well worth it, and I think that a commitment to a minimal level of civility is a key part of that.

2. Considering how others’ intuitions may differ from my own

Intuitions are a tricky thing to define or discuss.  One definition of an intuition is “the faculty of knowing or understanding something without reasoning or proof,” but that leaves a lot more that can be said about what it might mean to have an intuition about something.

To describe what this is like in my own head, I’ll reference the beginning of this blog entry (which is not about politics at all but is instead about making career decisions).  As that author wrote, my thoughts often start out as feelings which I then try to clarify until they are sound, rational conclusions about what to do or what to say.  In his words, “Many of these thoughts often started surfacing as ‘feeling something is not right,’ without consciously understanding what was going on.”

I think that he hit on a subtle point:  Negotiating the muddy boundary between feelings and thoughts can be difficult and takes a lot of effort.  At minimum, I try my best to avoid being irrational.  I also try to be consciously aware of my thoughts, feelings, and intuitions even though I don’t believe that it is possible to come to any conclusion about how to act or what to say by pure reason alone.

Instead, I believe that we speak and act according to what we value.  Sometimes we choose to emphasize what we value in that moment, and sometimes we choose to emphasize what we value for all time.  Oftentimes our values conflict with one another, making the choice much more difficult.  Because of this, I think that it can be useful to recognize that our values are sometimes expressed in the form of intuitions about what the right or wrong thing to do is as opposed to a deliberate reasoning process where we are conscious of exactly what our competing priorities are.

In other words, it seems to me that much of the disagreement that we are seeing in our politics stems from competing intuitions over what values we should hold, who has the most power, and what is worth fighting over.

In addition, even though there are obviously real differences in what Americans value, I think that we can sometimes overestimate these differences if we rely too much on hasty generalizations or quick summaries of what the other side thinks.  I find it worthwhile to try to do what I can to work against this tendency without papering over our differences or resorting to cliches.

One of the reasons that I believe in having a discussion over differing intuitions and values is because I believe that, at the macro level, it is necessary in order to prevent violence.  While I don’t think violence is justified in America today, my sense is that a tendency to support violence is increasing, and I don’t think that I am alone in this impression:  80% of Americans say they are worried about the possibility of violence in the coming days.  Because I share this concern, I believe in doing what I can to work against this trend over the long term.

3. Not crying wolf (unless and until I see an actual wolf)

“It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” -- R.E.M.

Stoking fear and anger is a great way to get people to vote and to donate money, and it is an enduring feature of American politics.  I am also not opposed to it for the reason that politics has and will always have significant moral consequences; I think it would be a fool’s errand to try to completely remove our emotions from our decision to support a candidate or to spend money in favor of a cause.

Still, I think that fear mongering is used far more often than it is warranted.  As I see it, most campaigns and advocacy groups rely on this tactic when it isn’t justified, and it often leads to some pretty bad side-effects.  One of them is that eventually, the politicians and talk show hosts start acting as angry and afraid as they have been claiming that you should be, even if they didn’t believe their own talking points at first.  I have seen enough of this from members of both parties on the Senate floor to worry me a great deal about whether they truly have their priorities in order.

Regardless of one’s particular political beliefs, if one sees something that stirs in them a deeply felt moral outrage, I think it is worth considering whether the people who are in power right now, whose side they support, really care as much as they do about their cause.  My understanding of human nature leads me to believe that it is more likely that they are manipulating people’s moral consciences for their own cynical purposes.  Even if one side is guilty of blatant hypocrisy, I think it is often the case that the other side is as well, even if it’s not to the same extent.  I simply don’t trust humans all that much, and I think it can be easy to support the right thing for the wrong reasons, just as it can be easy to support the wrong thing for the right reasons.

I also think that it’s important to recognize these advocacy groups' incentive is sometimes not to speak the truth about the complexities of an issue.  Instead, they are using messages, which nowadays they are crafting through clever and technologically sophisticated means, that have the maximum likelihood of getting you to be angry, to share the post, to donate, and whatever you do, to never, ever do anything to support the other side because they are so undeniably evil.

As a Christian, I do think that there is still a lot of evil in the world that I should do my part to combat, but I also agree with Tim Keller that the Christian belief system does not lead one to any easy conclusions about which political party to support.  So I am not arguing that expressing anger about injustices in the world is the wrong thing to do, but I do think that it is right to be skeptical of those who seem to be claiming that putting my faith in politics will be the means by which we will finally bring about a world that is perfectly just.

So instead of giving in to alarmism, I am committed to not crying wolf when all I know is that I have been told by my friends on social media that a wolf is just around the corner, or when I think that my neighbor’s vicious-looking dog might as well be a wolf, but instead crying wolf only when I actually see a wolf.

Concluding thoughts

I am making these commitments to myself as part of my effort to advocate for small-l liberalism generally.  As I’ve tried to express, I don’t think this is easy, but I think it is worth it.  A general predisposition towards civility, cultivating an awareness of others’ differing intuitions, and not overstating my case runs contrary to some of my natural tendencies as a human being.  I must admit that I have failed to hold to these things in the past, and because I am human, I will probably do so again.  Yet even though holding to these commitments is difficult, I am nevertheless going to do my best to stay true to them anyway.

Finally, while part of me will always have my head in the clouds, thinking of universal principles and general predispositions, I also try to keep my feet on the ground, keeping in mind what is going on right in front of me.  Right now, that seems especially hard.  Even though, for the most part, it looks like people are not literally coming to blows over this election, it worries me that that was and is a serious possibility.

Things may get worse before they get better, and I can’t know what the coming years will bring.  It can feel tempting to despair, and it can feel naive to have hope.  Yet even amidst all of the hatred, violence, and grief that is far too common right now, we press on, as individuals, and as a country.  So despite all of the legitimate reasons for conflict and all of the real reasons for worry, I pray that your days are filled with a real sense of peace, even if it is temporary, and a real sense of joy, even if it is fleeting.

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You Might Have a Point https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/you-might-have-a-point Mon, 16 Nov 2020 19:30:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com 573e3a86-d844-45dc-b7df-dc4e5e76778b Note: this was originally published on my Ghost blog, but I've decided to move my blog over to Fireside.

I am starting this blog, which will cover various topics related to politics [1], because of my commitment to writing what I believe is the truth. I realize that this might seem like a strange thing to say in 2020 — both because of the word “blog” and because of the word “truth.” I can almost hear a cynic saying: Are those things even relevant any more?

Dan Carlin made a similar point in his podcast episode about the upcoming election by sharing a quote from the classic book, 1984. The main character, Wilson, is trying to convince his love interest, Julia, to share his concern about the fact that the Party is openly and brazenly lying about the state of world affairs. But she is not convinced: “‘Who cares?' she said impatiently, 'it's always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway.’”

As Carlin noted, even though it has now been 71 years since its original publication date, that phrase — “the news is all lies anyway” — sounds depressingly familiar to our modern ears.
I am mostly joking, though, about it being strange to start a blog in 2020 that claims to be committed to the truth. It would be far too cynical of me to think that an in-depth discussion of ideas was completely outdated. And to think that the truth itself has outlived its usefulness — well, that would be a very cynical thing to believe indeed.

Still, it is a fact that blogs, which can be a truly excellent format for discussing complex ideas with others, have lost a lot of their popularity. (Podcasts have made up for that in some ways, but not in others. Newsletters have also been a different kind of replacement.) And even though it’s practically impossible to make a complete and objective measure of a commitment to truth-telling in the news, I would be surprised if you could find one today that was not trending downward at the moment.

The bad news doesn’t stop there: The difficulty of finding out what is true today is not confined to the world of politics. As one reddit user shared, companies like Glassdoor, which at the very least used to have some measure of trust, appear to be taking actions behind the scenes that make users question whether that trust is misplaced. There’s also the fact that technology today makes it easier than ever to spread convincing lies very quickly, as this book about Deep Fakes describes in horrifying detail.

Even if you agree that these things are a problem, though, what can be done? First, I think it’s important to recognize a couple things. One is that a general commitment to the truth in America today is still very far from being lost altogether even though it might seem like it every now and then. Even more importantly, though, we need to understand that the truth has never been all that popular in the first place. After all, the truth has always been hard to swallow. Lies, on the other hand, usually go down a little easier, especially if they are mixed in with just enough truth to convince you that they’re as good as the real thing. [2]

And yet, despite this general tendency of humankind, it still seems like there is something fundamentally different about the world today. Even though American history is replete with examples of slanderous hyperbole and outright lies, this moment feels worse somehow. I think it’s because, even though lies and half-truths have always sold more papers than the complete and unvarnished truth has, our current information economy seems to have amplified this basic fact of human affairs to an alarming degree. The profit margin on lies seems to be at an all-time high, whereas the profit margin on the truth seems to be nearing record lows. Despite all the alarmism in the news today, I believe that this trend is a real cause for concern, and not hyperbole.

But even if I am concerned about this, one might ask, what should I do? What can I do? It is true that an individual can only do so much — personally, I have high hopes for this little blog of mine, but I also have realistic expectations as to what it can accomplish.

Still, I have thought about this question a lot, and I have a suggestion that I think might help. First, though, I want to make an observation. In America today, to say that discussions about controversial topics are heated would be an understatement. Much of this is online, but it’s gained an increased presence in real life, too, sometimes with deadly consequences. Along with this high level of tension and stress can come a psychological tendency to not be willing to concede a single inch to your opponents. Because this tendency often makes the conversation worse, not better, I think it’s necessary that we recognize when this instinct is getting the better of us, so we can work against it.

So this is my suggestion. When discussing contentious issues, I try to ask myself these questions: What assumptions am I making about the values that we hold in common? Are those assumptions accurate? Is there some part of what this person is saying that I do think is true, even if I think most of it isn’t? If I genuinely think that there is some truth to what they are saying, I will try to respond with something like, “you know, you might have a point there.” I think that I should do this even if — perhaps especially if — those who disagree with me are not willing to do it themselves.

Hence the title of this blog: “You Might Have a Point.” While I am committed to espousing certain ideas that seem to me to be fundamentally true, I will try to be just as committed to find the truth in what those who disagree with me are saying. I believe that there is a great deal of wisdom in a commitment to doing both of these things, and I also believe that there is a great deal of foolishness in doing one without the other.

To some readers, this might seem like I am trying too hard to find the truth in what others are saying or that I am refusing to speak plainly about an issue. And they have a point. It can be difficult, and sometimes it might even be naïve, to find the truth in what someone says when you believe that their ideas are horribly wrong and, in some cases, dangerous.

When it is appropriate, a willingness to engage in dispassionate analysis can help with this, but that alone is not sufficient. I believe that doing this can be good, but if you take this too far or do it in the wrong place and time, it can result in being tone deaf on issues about which people are justifiably sensitive. Moreover, it would be foolish to claim that any one of us is committed to pure reason alone, guided only by the facts, whereas others are letting their feelings get in the way. (You can come to some awful conclusions if you are not willing to consult your feelings about an issue. I believe that in practice, all this will mean is that you are relying on your feelings without admitting it to yourself.)

So I find it essential to reflect on my own thoughts about an issue as well as my feelings before expressing my opinion. I also find it important to give due consideration to others’ thoughts and feelings if I am to find out the truth. But there is a third type of question, which I think is the most important one and the most difficult. How do my own thoughts and feelings relate to my values? And how do I know if those values are good ones to have?

These are, of course, weighty questions. My experience when trying to answer them for myself has been that if I defend my own positions without being willing to look for the truth in a wide variety of places, then I will almost certainly end up believing in some untrue things — things that will lead me to act against my own values. I also believe that if I do the latter without the former, then I similarly suffer a very high chance of making the same error.

All of this is why, when I think that you might have a point, I’m willing to say it [3]. I do this because I believe that it will help us find out what the real truth of the matter is.

I am sure that I will not always live up to this ideal, but it is what I am striving for. My intention is not to claim a commitment to the truth merely as a rhetorical device or as an empty gesture; instead, it is to instill in myself a desire for something that is much more than simply another person’s opinion. I refuse to believe that we live in a world where that’s the only thing that matters.

Footnotes:

[1] This blog will generally be about political philosophy, the culture war, and related topics. It’s impossible to not reference details to some extent or another when talking about politics, and I will do that a little more in my upcoming post on the 2020 U.S. presidential election. But in general, I will be discussing broad topics and not specific events or issues.

[2] I think I am paraphrasing something C.S. Lewis said about this, but I’m not sure.

[3] I don’t plan on hosting comments on this blog because I don’t have the time to moderate them. There are also plenty of other places to discuss things online nowadays, including Twitter and Facebook. So maybe respond to me there when I post it, or, if you prefer, link to a reddit thread and ask me to comment there. I can’t promise that I will respond, but that approach seems best to me.

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A Vote is a Vote: A not-so-impossible choice https://www.youmighthaveapoint.com/articles/a-vote-is-a-vote-a-not-so-impossible-choice Mon, 16 Nov 2020 19:00:00 -0500 stephen@youmighthaveapoint.com 38276884-1e62-43ae-8321-54b8b7973e26

A Vote is a Vote: A not-so-impossible choice

This blog is about political philosophy, the culture war, and related topics.  I intend to write with as few shared assumptions as possible, as I want every reader to be able to at least see how I arrived at my conclusion even if they disagree with it. [ Note: this blog post was originally published on October 28th, 2020. Because I decided to switch to Fireside to host my blog and podcast, it is no longer available on the Ghost site that I used at first. ]

Because the number of shared assumptions that most people have seems to be decreasing substantially, I found that this made writing about this election quite difficult.  In a way, though, that is exactly why I am writing this.

This essay is a little long, so I’ve broken it up into three sections.  The first is a discussion of moral principles when it comes to voting in a first-past-the-post system (feel free to skip this if topics that are mostly esoteric aren’t your thing).  The second is dedicated to how I believe you should vote in this election.  The third concludes with some thoughts about principles that I believe will endure far longer this election or this pandemic.

Section 1: A Vote is a Vote is a Vote

I am not an expert in moral philosophy, but I am pretty sure that there isn’t a single moral principle that you can use to apply to all of your decisions.  I’m definitely sure that philosophers haven’t found one that they all agree on yet.  So to some degree, this argument about how you should vote will be about competing intuitions and principles.

I think that utilitarianism, when combined with game theory, actually leads you to maximize your own utility by not bothering to vote in a presidential election.  And since your vote will very likely not affect the outcome, the probability of reducing anyone else’s utility is very low.  Now, it is possible that since the outcome of a presidential election carries with it such high consequences, even the slimmest of chances compels you to vote.  I’m not sure how you would calculate the risk multiplied by the consequence in this scenario, but my conclusion is that utilitarianism does not lead you to have a sufficient reason to vote in a United States presidential election.

Since I disagree with this conclusion, I personally find it to be a non-starter in the case of voting.  Even if you do think that utilitarianism leads you to vote, though, there is still the problem that we don’t know how to make a calculation of its utility, and you would theoretically have to recalculate it each time to decide whether it is worth it to vote.  The utility also changes based on other people’s own calculations, which might get us stuck in an infinite loop.  Finally, I think that one potential problem with utilitarianism is that calculating the utility of making such calculations might also lead us into an infinite loop.  Anyway, I think we can use a better principle to follow for voting in a simple plurality system.

That principle is one of Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  Another way of putting this is, “Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law.”

If you apply this to voting, this means a couple of things.  First of all, that means that you should vote as opposed to staying home, even though it is very unlikely that your vote will affect the outcome.  Second, you should vote the same way that you want everyone else to vote.  In other words, you should vote for the person that you think should win.

But what if you don’t like either candidate?  Should you vote third party or write someone in?  I think that this question shows how the categorical imperative, like all attempts to find a single moral principle, isn’t perfect:  Your moral decisions exist within a context.  Even if everyone is a completely rational actor, they will, due to their varied experiences and finite mental abilities, come to different conclusions about the most rational way to act.  Because of the finite amount of time in which we have to make decisions, we have to include in our moral calculus an anticipation of what others’ actions will be, even if they are also rational actors who are following the categorical imperative, and even if we disagree with their actions.

Here is an example.  Suppose that I am working on a programming project and we are voting on what language we should use for it (you don’t need to know anything about programming to follow this).  Imagine for a moment that I can objectively prove that, given the requirements of the project, Language A is the clearly superior choice in terms of project schedule, budget, and product quality.  If all of the requirements are perfectly defined, I think that this is theoretically possible to prove as a matter of objective fact.  This might be hard to imagine as a practical matter, but let’s just say that it is in this case.  Imagine also that I have tried but failed to convince anyone of this.  (“That’s much easier to imagine!” you might say.  Touché.)

So some people are definitely voting for Language B, and some people are definitely voting for Language C, but no one besides me thinks we should vote for Language A.  Some people are still undecided, but the one thing that they have decided is that they are not voting for Language A.  I think that I should therefore vote for either Language B or Language C.

This is because, assuming it is a simple plurality vote, it would be irrational to waste my vote by voting for a clear loser.  Technically, I might be voting in a way that I want everyone else to vote. Yet if reason tells me that the only undecided people are choosing between two inferior languages, then it would be irrational to vote for the superior one, even if it is rational to believe that it is, in fact, superior.

If I am right about this, then I think that it gives us a contextualized version of the categorical imperative, which I have made by placing it in the context of voting.  To be clear, I don’t know if this is actually a thing; I just made it up.

Anyway, my contextualized version of the categorical imperative for voting in a simple plurality system is this:  Act in the way that you think other people, whose actions you don’t already know about ahead of time, should also act.  I would add that you actually don’t have to know who is voting for whom and who is undecided; all you have to know is the rough breakdown of people’s current intentions to vote, which we can get a decent measure of from looking at the polls.  They are an imperfect measure to be sure, but they do give you some indication.

I think that all of this means that if you have a clear preference between the two candidates in a de facto two-party system like ours, I believe the only rational thing is to vote for that preference.

Now, your vote will almost certainly not affect the outcome in most elections, but if you make your vote public, it might convince other people to vote the same way.  The more influence you have, the more chance you have of affecting the outcome than your vote alone.  This is of course still very doubtful in a presidential election.  But again, we have the problem that if you act in any other way, you are not acting according to a clear guiding principle that you think everyone should follow.  If you think that the outcome of the election really matters, and if you prefer a particular outcome, then I think that you are not being true to yourself if you don’t act on that belief.

But what if you live in a state that is not a swing state?  In this case, it might be reasonable to support someone other than the two major party candidates.  But this reasoning also has its own problems.  What objective measure can you use to determine whether a state is a swing state?  The polls aren’t accurate enough to know for certain.  And since what matters most is not your vote, but your influence, how do you know how many people are listening to your opinion, and what states they live in?

For almost all of us, this is only a theoretical consideration when it comes to presidential politics.  But for what it’s worth, the principle that I have laid out is the only one that I can think of that makes sense to me.  If I have a clear preference between the two major party candidates, then I will vote for one of them.  (Sometimes I don’t have a clear preference, and sometimes I do.)  I do this because even though I could justify my third party vote or my write-in using some other form of reasoning, I don’t think it holds up in the end.

This is why I say that a vote is a vote is a vote:  You should act in the way that you think other people, whose actions you don’t already know about ahead of time, should also act.

Section 2: A vote for Trump is in no one’s best interest besides Trump himself

We have now reached the point in this essay in which I will probably give a significant portion of people, perhaps almost everyone, something with which to disagree.

I am going to be making a lot of claims of fact and a few arguments about what those facts should lead us to do.  I am generally someone who loves diving into the details of a particular argument, and I definitely believe that it is important to do so on important moral and political questions such as this one.  I simply don’t have enough time to do this as thoroughly as I would like before Election Day.  (This essay might be somewhere around 8,000 words, but I’m not kidding when I say that I wish I could be more thorough.)

As for the specific arguments below, they are mostly geared towards addressing someone who shares a large part of my worldview but, unlike me, believes that voting for Trump is the best course of action.  Other conservative Christians have written about their opposition to Trump, including this column by David French and this column by Ross Douthat, but as far as I know, they have not publicly supported Biden.  

Even though I am very disappointed in the two major party candidates, I have a clear preference between the two.  Because of what I argued in Section 1, I believe that, for practical purposes, the most reasonable thing to do is to view this election as a binary choice between them.  

To argue for my preference between the two candidates, I will make four main points:

  1. A vote for Trump is transactional, and this is no small thing.
  2. If you view abortion as an injustice that must be curtailed, as I do, there are better ways to do it than voting for Trump.
  3. The President has failed to meet what should be some basic requirements for office, and while Biden has too, there is still a clear difference between the two men.
  4. If Trump is our ally in a battle for freedom, then we’ve already lost the war.

Point 1: A vote for Trump is transactional, and this is no small thing

The first thing to point out is that a vote for Trump is a transactional one, at least as far as pro-life issues are concerned; the man himself was pro-choice for decades.  As this article points out, he has said that he doesn’t like to ask for forgiveness and at one point said that he hadn’t ever asked God for it.  I believe that this is, categorically, not what it means to be a Christian; apart from the question of the divinity of Christ and his resurrection, you can’t get much closer to the core of what the faith means.

While this alone isn’t necessarily a reason to not vote for him, it should give the considerate voter pause:  Am I comfortable in voting for a man who does not share my moral convictions, but only sees them as a means to hold onto power?

If this does not bother us at all, or if we are convinced that all of the candidates that we could vote for take positions on issues merely to appease us and not because of any conviction of their own, then we should be very worried for our country.  In theory, if no one in the race takes a principled stand on anything, and it is all power games to them, there is nothing wrong with this so long as they do what they said they would once they get in office.  In practice, however, I don’t think that this has been the norm in American politics, and I don’t think that it is naïve to think that.

I acknowledge that almost every politician almost always acts in their own self-interest.  I do this while still believing that, behind all of the dissembling, obfuscation and attempts to gain raw power that are far too common, a majority of these men and women in America do have some sense of patriotism and service to their constituents, however small, and however infrequently it affects their decision-making.

Even though I sometimes have to look especially hard for evidence of this, I believe that Trump is not a completely amoral person.  I believe that he has a sincere appreciation for America, as I do.  Similarly, though there is plenty of evidence that Biden is willing to mold his views into whatever is necessary to gain or hold onto power, I believe that he probably does hold some core convictions.  This includes his Christian faith, which I share with him, even though it leads me to some very different conclusions, especially on the question of abortion.

I am worried, however, that an American politics that becomes increasingly unmoored from morality by those who practice it is destined to lead us down a path of cynical nihilism from which it will be very hard to return, and I think that Trump has, to say the least, accelerated this trend.

I am critical of his character not because I listen to the mainstream media; most of them seem obviously liberal, and some of them seem to be blinded by their hatred of him.  Rather, I feel confident in making this criticism because none of the media that I have followed, including conservative and Christian outlets, have shown me much evidence at all that Trump cares about anyone besides himself.  What little evidence there is seems paltry in comparison to the evidence that most everything is of secondary concern to his own ego.

Point 2: If you view abortion as an injustice that must be curtailed, as I do, there are better ways to do it than voting for Trump

This is a consideration that I take into account very seriously when I am choosing whom to support for public office.  In this case, an argument that is based on principles that I share has already been made.  I agree with it and don’t have much to add, so here it is (you will have to click the link on that page to download the pdf).

Point 3: The President has failed to meet what should be some basic requirements for office, and while Biden has too, there is still a clear difference between the two men.

Perhaps the most important expectation that I have for a president is standing up for democracy here at home, so I want to elaborate on that a bit.

First and foremost, I think it requires a respect for the law.  It is anti-democratic to ignore the law, especially the Constitution, for the simple reason that it means that you have no regard for the laws that were put into place by duly elected representatives.

There is a common rebuttal to this point which I think has some merit, so I want to address it.  Were those laws, which we are asked to hold in such high regard, put into place by people who were truly elected in a democratic fashion?  Liberals probably make this point more often than conservatives, but I don’t think that you have to be a liberal to agree with this point insofar as it goes.

When this country was founded, people unlike myself (i.e. people who were not white males who owned property) were not allowed to vote.  For much, but not all, of our country’s history, the restrictions preventing people who were not white males from voting remained, whether it was made explicit in the law or it was done through other more subtle forms of disenfranchisement.

As with most things, the expansion of voting rights didn’t proceed in a directly linear fashion.  For example, some states and territories allowed women to vote before the 19th amendment was passed.  After the Civil War (a war fought mostly by white men on both sides), African-Americans sometimes gained some freedoms only to have them cruelly and viciously taken away again by white racists whose methods included terrorism and using the various powers of government, which they held almost exclusively, to their own advantage.

Not all white men worked to deny the rights of others, of course; such an interpretation of history would be drastically oversimplified.  Generally, however, in the 233 years since the Constitution was ratified, white males have enjoyed the right to vote with few obstacles, while many white men successfully conspired to prevent others from exercising that right for long stretches of history.  Further, while I wish that I could say that concerns about voter suppression were a thing of the past, I believe that some claims of voter suppression today are legitimate cause for concern.

Despite this disenfranchisement in the past and, to a much lesser extent, the present, I don’t believe that it is nearly enough to be any kind of justification for ignoring the Constitution and the law today.  There are numerous legitimate criticisms that can be made of the laws that have been put into place, the way they have been interpreted by the judicial branch, and the way that they have been implemented by the executive.  Short of revolution or secession, however, I believe that your only recourse is to vote for people who agree with you, exercise your freedom of speech, and support organizations who believe in the same cause and the same means of achieving it.

So personally, my expectation of any president, regardless of their party, is that they speak and act in favor of democracy.  They should at least be capable of doing this as far as our own country is concerned.  I also expect them to clearly and consistently oppose racism, sexism, anti-religious bigotry, and the evil that is inherent in totalitarian regimes abroad.  I also expect them to tell the truth.

That’s a lot of expectations.  All of our presidents have, to one degree or another, failed to live up to them.  Nevertheless, I believe that a president should demonstrate a willingness to do these things with their words and not blatantly contradict themselves with their actions.  I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that most Americans would agree with me on this even if they might disagree about particular examples of what constitutes a failure to do this.

I believe that living up to these expectations is not at all that difficult to do and that Trump has failed to do so but instead gone in the opposite direction consistently.  Unfortunately, I also believe that Biden has failed to meet these basic expectations.  So in a way, both of them have not met what I believe are basic qualifications for the oath of office.  Crucially, however, their failings are still far from equivalent.

As I mentioned, I don’t have the time to lay out my case in full detail, but here’s what I’ve got.  I’ll start with what I believe are the strongest criticisms of Biden that concern anyone who considers themselves to be in favor of democracy.

In a world much different from the one that we inhabit, some of his failings that I think we would be able to agree on are:

  1. Showing a willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also supporting some other anti-democratic actions
  2. Showing a casual relationship with the truth

Biden’s Failing #1: Showing a willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also supporting some other anti-democratic actions

I will now argue that the Obama administration, to an alarming degree, actively worked against the concept of democracy itself.  More of the blame of the administration’s actions from 2008 to 2016 belongs to Obama than to Biden, of course, but I don’t believe that Biden gets a pass because he was only the vice president.

If Biden has spoken on the record against the following actions of the Obama administration, then I’ll take back these respective criticisms.  But here are three that come to mind.

First there was the unprecedented IRS scandal.  While it is correct to point out here that the tax-exempt status of liberal and conservative groups was investigated, I think conservatives are right when we point out that the IRS had different standards for conservative and liberal groups.  This is somewhat subjective, however, and I don’t think that we should jump to an assumption of malice when it can be explained by incompetence.  Still, transparency and neutrality is an important part of maintaining our democratic system of government, and I believe that the Obama administration could have done much better with this.

Then there was that time when the Justice Department spied on James Rosen at Fox News.  Freedom of the press is also essential to democracy.

Finally, there was the fact that Obama once talked as though the law prevented him from granting amnesty to a whole class of people, only to decide later that he could.  Even though Politifact rates the claim that Obama said “he doesn’t have the right to do [DACA]” as mostly false, they also note this:  “There is no question that his interpretation of his authority grew over time.”  One other point here is that Reagan did a much more limited version of this, but I don’t believe that it was right then either.  As I see it, progressively expanding interpretations of presidential authority have only increased in their level of absurdity for quite a while.  No matter how noble the motives of any single person might be, continually increasing the amount of power we place in the hands of a single person is ultimately antidemocratic.

To be clear, I am not arguing that the amnesty in and of itself was a bad thing.  I am generally in favor of sensible immigration reform, something which so far both members of both parties seem incapable of achieving.  When they do consider it, it is only briefly, before they return to taking radical positions so they can win their primaries.

I am also not arguing that, every time we have a difference in our interpretation of the Constitution or the law, I am for democracy and you are against it.  That would be absurd.

Instead, what I am arguing is that we should not rely on the courts and/or the president to make policy nearly as much as we have been.  I think that this is even more true when the grounds for doing so seem specious to at least half the country.  The more you do this, the more you are opposing the primary way our system is supposed to function, and really the only way that a democracy can function.

There will always be some room for disagreement in terms of what it means to pass a law, to faithfully execute it, and to interpret it.  But we can’t just throw out the whole system because we decide that it’s too hard.  In doing so, we inevitably invent excuses for ourselves and rationalize away the most obvious interpretation of the text that is in front of us -- assuming we even bother to read the text at all.

I grant that this system today is far from perfect.  There is no doubt that some of the laws that we have are unjust and should be changed, and some aspects of it are more antimajoritarian than some liberals would prefer.  But it’s all that we’ve got to work with.  In my view, Democrats, including Biden, have failed in their crucial responsibility to support this system, as have Republicans, including Trump.  But more on that later.

Biden’s Failing #2: Showing a casual relationship with the truth

Everyone has a different perception of how much someone lies and how important those lies are when considering whether to vote for them.  To say that all politicians are dishonest is not accurate, but it is probably closer to the truth than the opposite.

In the case of Biden, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s not always 100% truthful.

For instance, Jake Tapper recently called out Biden’s deputy campaign manager for twisting the meaning of the word “constitutional” beyond any reasonable interpretation.

Here is another example, also from CNN, this time about Biden’s own words in a debate.

There are more, such as credible allegations of plagiarism, but I don’t have time to go through them all.

Additional criticisms of Biden that I have are his support for the taxpayer funding of abortion and his lack of support for due process on college campuses.  I won’t attempt to argue for them here, however.  Though I understand why this essay might give you a different impression, I don’t intend to argue about everything under the sun.  I will say that I find these things very concerning but not enough to stop me from voting for him, given the many problems that I have with Trump.

I am always open to the possibility that I am wrong about something, and that includes being wrong about Trump.  Still, if we were in a world that is much different from the one that we inhabit, I believe that some of his failings that I think we would be able to agree on are:

  1. Showing a regular willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also acting regularly in an anti-democratic fashion
  2. A relationship with the truth that I wish I could call casual
  3. Consistently praising murderous dictators
  4. Failing to show a basic regard for others’ personal safety and well-being

Trump’s Failing #1: Showing a regular willingness to ignore the Constitution and the law when it is convenient and also acting regularly in an anti-democratic fashion

Obama decided that the concept of prosecutorial discretion meant that he could create an entire federal program that ignored the law on the books.  My response was:  Really?  That strains credulity, especially when you formerly implied that you couldn’t do that.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any elected Democrat at the federal level that was willing to concede this obvious point.

Trump decided that emergency powers in the law gave him the authority to reallocate funds to build a border wall.  My response was pretty much the same:  Really?  That also strains credulity, and I somehow doubt Republicans would be okay with Obama doing something like this.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any elected Republican at the federal level that was willing to concede this obvious point either.

(As an aside, I think that Congress should work harder to make the law less ambiguous to begin with, just as it should stop giving the president so many emergency powers to begin with.)

How else has Trump ignored the Constitution and the law?  There is the emoluments clause, for one.  I believe that disagreements about its precise meaning and what to do about it, such as the ones outlined here, are quite reasonable.  Nevertheless, there is a reason that we sometimes use the phrase “spirit of the law,” and I find it hard to believe that Trump’s significant departure with precedent in this regard is in line with the spirit of this clause.  I also believe that there is a reason that they used the word emoluments, which has a wider definition than the word bribe.  Power corrupts, and there are a wide variety of ways that powerful people have to gain yet more power.  We should be willing to do what we can to limit this.

There was also Trump’s refusal to make a clear statement on the peaceful transfer of power, something which even the editors at the National Review criticized him for, even though they are definitely not anti-Trump by any stretch of the imagination.  This attitude of his was not new; in 2016, he also refused to say that he would accept the results of the election if he lost after previously having said that he would.

This disregard for how we do things in this country is not an occasional tendency of his.  President Trump is a man whose actions and words evince a disregard for the letter and the spirit of the law well beyond anything seen in recent American history.  I also believe that he has shown a willingness, wherever he can, to put people who are loyal to him, and not to the law, into power.

Examples include such things as commuting the sentence of someone convicted of a crime that was done for the purpose of helping him; firing the attorney general who rightfully recused himself from an investigation in which he might have a conflict of interest; and, most recently, calling for his opponent to be prosecuted for an unspecified crime.

Then there is his claim that he has the right to pardon himself.  Technically, the Constitution does not make this clear.  Believing this would, however, lead to an absurdity, and more importantly, to tyranny.

I believe that combined, all of these actions go well beyond those of the Obama administration.  Both were uncalled for, but there are at least two massive differences.

The first difference is the motivation behind both men’s actions.  The clearest example of this is on the issue of immigration.

Even though I strongly disagreed with his executive overreach, I believe that Obama’s actions were well-intentioned.  This does not make it any less wrong; people with good intentions can still do bad things.

By contrast, I find it hard to believe that Trump’s actions are motivated only by a desire to secure the border, which is of course something that I support.  Instead, his main purpose seems to be for political purposes:  Claim that he did something to secure the border without doing the hard work of negotiating with Congress to do something that actually makes more sense than a literal wall.

The second difference between the two men is even more significant.  It is that Obama’s words, while concerning, usually had the tone of pushing the envelope further than previous administrations had already pushed it.  Trump’s words, on the other hand, usually have the tone of pretending that the envelope doesn’t exist and mocking you when you say that it does.  Our democratic system cannot sustain itself if we pretend that this isn’t a problem.

Trump’s Failing #2: A relationship with the truth that I wish I could call casual

A 2019 Gallup poll found that 75% of Republicans said that the words “honest and trustworthy” applied to Trump.  I consider myself to be among the 24% who said they don’t.

If you do think he is honest, I am not sure what would convince you otherwise.  I will gladly admit that he is more blunt than the average politician and that he refuses to easily back down; these are not necessarily bad qualities to have by themselves.  We must not confuse them, however, with a commitment to telling the truth.  While the media have done a lot to lose the trust of conservatives, the proper response is to call them out for it and demonstrate that you are capable of being better than they are.

Trump’s Failing #3: Sucking up to dictators

Regardless of party, we can and should agree to stand united against tyrannical regimes the world over.  Describing a murderous dictator as someone who “loves his people” is the exact opposite of that.

This piece in National Review goes into much more detail on Trump’s love for authoritarian figures.  All by itself, this makes Trump unworthy of holding the office.

Trump’s Failing #4: Failing to show a basic regard for others’ personal safety and well-being

There is sometimes a tendency to blame the president for everything bad that has happened in the country since he was elected.  This is not limited to Trump; at this point, it’s an American tradition.

Still, there is a lot that I believe Trump could have done that he has failed to do.

For example, the fundamentally inhumane situation at the border is a national disgrace.  Like many difficult issues, he inherited it, and like many difficult issues, he has made it much worse.  To place the blame entirely on Democrats and none of it on Republicans, or vice-versa, would go against my basic understanding of politics and human nature.  I see very little willingness to take ownership on either side of the aisle nowadays, not that it’s a very common feature in Congress to begin with.

I believe that there is obviously a better way to secure our border much more than it currently is, and I believe that there is obviously a better way to treat those who have come to this country humanely.  Trump has made mostly empty gestures at doing the former and does not seem to give a damn, even in his rhetoric, about the latter.  I find this appalling.

Perhaps, one might argue, we should place the blame entirely on Congress and none on the person who occupies the oval office.  Yet to do this would be asking those in Congress to be nothing but the president’s faithful servants when, if anything, it should be the other way around.  If any single governmental body can claim to represent the people of the United States, it is the legislature, not the executive branch.  It is definitely not the person in charge of running it.  I believe that the people who founded this country knew that, and we would do well to remember it.

Then there is the coronavirus.  Again, it’s the same situation.  No, it does not make sense to blame the President for everything, but yes, I expect him to treat it much more seriously than he has.  We need to be able to think rationally about how to contain the virus and protect the vulnerable while still keeping our economy running as smoothly as possible.  It is also not a binary choice; we depend on the economy for food, shelter and healthcare, which of course are necessary to prevent needless suffering and death, including deaths from the virus.

First, there is his personal behavior.  Even Mitch McConnell differs with the President on basic protocols regarding human safety in the midst of this pandemic.  There are more examples, but this seems like it is perhaps the clearest one.  Even the President’s greatest political ally disagrees with him on this and stated so publicly.

I don’t claim to be an expert on how to handle a pandemic, and there is always room for reasonable disagreement about something as complex as responding to a worldwide pandemic.  Any such analysis will of course be imperfect, but here is one fairly critical assessment of the federal government’s response from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.  Still, we should be able to recognize what calm and steady leadership in a crisis does and does not look like.  I would have to be wearing very rose-tinted glasses to think that this would be an accurate description of Trump’s actions in the past year.

Instead, he seems to be more intent on hoping for a miracle and pretending like it’s not a big deal even when at least some advisers told him otherwise very early on.  I don’t think a president should always believe that the most dire predictions are accurate, but I do think that they should take the range of possible outcomes into serious consideration and also be consistent in their messaging.  Trump has definitely failed to do this.  I therefore find it incredibly hard to believe that he is doing everything he can to do what is in the best interests of the American people.

Point 4: If Trump is an ally in a battle for freedom, then we’ve already lost the war

I am gravely concerned about the radical left and the increasing spread of ideas in universities (and to a lesser extent the mainstream media) that I consider to be repugnant and unAmerican.  These include ideas such as:  Everything is a power game, and nothing else matters; our ethnic identities, our gender, our position in society, etc. do not simply help shape our identity, but instead tell us everything that we need to know about who we are and how we relate to others; whether you are guilty or innocent of a crime depends only a little, if at all, on the facts that we can determine, but instead whose side you are on.

Worryingly, they mirror views on the radical right, but my own impression is that these ideas have gained a stronger following on the left.  On the other hand, the far-left professors and opinion columnists whose views I find to be antithetical to American ideals are not candidates for president.  While their ideas might be gaining some influence, I think it’s quite a stretch to conclude that Biden is an empty vessel for them or that he doesn’t have his own convictions which differ sharply from radical leftists.

If you are very concerned about the illiberalism on the left and are looking for reasons to vote against Trump from a more liberal perspective, this article lists some.

From a conservative perspective, this is my own take:  Trump has done much more damage to the conservative cause than he has helped it by associating too carelessly with illiberal ideas on the right.  If we consider ourselves defenders of liberty, then we must not reelect someone who clearly is not one himself.

I don’t think that this is a matter of perception.  First, it needs to be said the ideas from the alt right are disgusting and not worthy of serious consideration.  There is a reason that they portray themselves as an alternative to mainstream conservative ideas -- a genuinely awful alternative at that.  Second, while Trump has not explicitly allied himself with the alt right, he also seems to be reluctant to criticize them while at the same time appearing to be very comfortable with saying and doing openly bigoted things.

As I see it, I don’t believe that Trump’s occasional racist comments, which he usually refuses to make an actual apology for, make him equivalent to a white supremacist, but I do believe that they have encouraged more people to openly espouse racist views.  A black voter interviewed in this FiveThirtyEight article feels the same way, and I highly doubt it’s because critical race theory has fooled him into believing it.  I think it’s because, as he describes in the article, he’s simply observing what his friends said on social media and when they started saying it.

As for the issue of religious freedom, there is this question:  How can we expect the beliefs that are sincerely held by Christians to be respected if we vote for a man who, in his own words, wanted to stop Muslims from coming into this country?

To put a finer point on this:  When the president’s own adviser was asked about this, he responded, not by saying that the President misspoke, not by expressing a commitment to the law or an appreciation for religious freedom, but instead by explaining that the President had asked him to find “the right way to do it legally."  In other words, he asked him to find a way to work around that pesky Constitution of ours.  Voting for this man will only embolden this blatant hypocrisy on the right, and the left will respond in kind.

All of this obfuscation and bigotry makes the job of genuine conservatives all the more difficult.

This is because the proper way to combat radical ideas on your own side is not to downplay them or make excuses for them but instead to denounce them in such an unequivocal fashion that someone would really have to be a cynic to misinterpret you.  To the extent that you don’t do this, you give the other side all the more reason to view your side with suspicion.  

Unfortunately, this is a game that, to some extent, is played by both sides nowadays:  Ignore your own failings while casting doubt and suspicion on the slightest misstep that someone on the other side makes.

The only way out of this mess that we find ourselves in is if we decide, as a country, to play a different game.  It is possible to oppose sexism, racism, and fear mongering without giving into the temptation to make excuses for it when it’s on your own side.  It’s not the natural thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.  I don’t see either side doing this all that much right now, but Trump, as with many things, has taken this to a whole new level.

I try to be a patient person with everyone, even politicians, but I have none left for one who requires it so very frequently and so rarely gives any to his opponents.  If Trump is reelected, I will still plead my case for thoughtful conservatives who are not listened to respectfully but instead are accused of thoughtcrime.  I find it very difficult to believe, however, that another Trump term would not make it far more difficult to plead this case than his first one already has.

I am sure that many of my fellow conservatives will respectfully disagree with this.  It is simply impossible to weigh, precisely, the effect of a single person’s actions, individually or taken as a whole -- much less the actions of a president, who is in many ways the single most powerful individual ever to have lived in history.  When a precise measurement of the outcome of the situation is not possible, we must rely to some degree on our emotions.

In other words, we should not only reason with our brain; we should also listen to our gut.  Mine tells me that a second Trump term would be a complete and utter disaster for anyone who loves liberty in our country, regardless of their political or religious convictions.  A lack of respect for one person’s freedom is a lack of respect for the concept altogether.  While a first Biden term certainly has the potential to result in some dangerously illiberal ideas gaining more of a foothold in our politics, it doesn’t feel the same to me by any stretch of the imagination.

“The land of the free” needs to mean something to us if we are to remain free.

Section 3: In politics, my first priority is liberty, and in life, my first priority is Christ

If there is a single abstract concept (as opposed to a person or a text) that describes my political convictions, it is liberty.  Patrick Henry may have been a little melodramatic when he asked for either liberty or death, but I think his heart was in the right place.

To quote St. Paul, if there is a single abstract concept (as opposed to a person or a text) that describes my religious convictions, it is love.

Life is a lot more complicated than adhering to just one basic concept, however.  It is full of difficult choices.  While I find the choice of whom to support for president frustrating on many levels, I’ve faced decisions that I found to be much harder than this one.  They’ve also been much more consequential.  That is to say, my words and my vote on this topic will not have much effect by themselves, but my words and my actions in my daily life will.

This is why no matter who you vote for, I won’t hate you, and I won’t assume anything about your motivations.  Doing those things would do far more damage to my own soul than it could possibly do to improve the situation, no matter how you look at it.  I hope that you feel the same way.

So as we are on the eve of a crucial election, fighting a deadly virus, and as many of us feel more alone and afraid than we ever have before, I want to end with this.

Like many people, I’ve faced a lot of difficult questions in the past year that I hadn’t faced before.  Questions like:  What do I do now that I’ve lost my job unexpectedly?  How careful about this virus should I be without going overboard and making myself crazy?  The most vexing one for me was:  How do I allow my teenage son to hang out with his friends, but convince him to do so responsibly, so that I can protect my wife, whose medical conditions put her at the highest risk for the virus?

Then there are the questions that I had some familiarity with but have now experienced on a whole new level.  Questions like:  How do I even find out what is actually happening, when it seems that all of the media outlets are so obviously biased?  How do I express compassion for someone’s genuinely felt pain and anger while also, at the same time, not giving up my devotion to speak what I believe is the truth?

I have found facing all of these questions painful and vexing, and often there is no clear answer.  I know that I am not alone in that.  But it is not in spite of that pain and frustration, but because of it, that I am consciously making an effort to think more deeply about, and develop a more passionate appreciation for, the most basic convictions of my faith and my politics.

On some issues, I have changed my position somewhat, but on the most important ones, I have only grown more confident.  Primarily, they are these:  All Americans, and the world, are much better off if our country remains together rather than splits apart.  All of us deserve to have our voices heard, our ideas duly considered, and our God-given rights protected.  Finally, and most importantly, all of us share some responsibility to each other for making that happen.  Frankly, we need to do a much better job of that than we have been.

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