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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On celebrities coming out...

Ok, so not political in the general sense of the term, but since it doesn't really fit anywhere else, I wanted to put this here.

I want to start by saying that this post is prompted by this article in which Lucas Cruikshank came out as gay.  Having never seen or heard him, I had no clue, but from the article, it seems that people weren't at all surprised.  And that is pretty cool.  What is not so cool were some of the comments to the article and it is there that I want to focus the bulk of this post.

But before we can look at them, I do need to address the issue which prompted the comments, namely Lucas Cruikshank outing himself.  We live in a time where more and more people are feeling comfortable coming out of the closet.  And this is a good thing.  Not because it promotes the "gaying up" of America or any nonsense like that, but because it shows that we are (slowly) becoming more tolerant of people of different sexual orientations and they feel that they can be themselves in public.  A lot of people wonder why people feel the need to come out, and in a sense I agree.  It is not really a matter that the public needs to know about, however it is helpful to other non-famous people who may be struggling with whether or not they should come out of the closet and be themselves.  Having good role models is always a wonderful thing.  Also, as a more diverse group of people reveal themselves as LGBT, it helps to broaden people minds as to what exactly it means to be LGBT.

Coming out of the closet is not an easy choice.  Even though I have known that I liked guys since the first time I saw Top Gun and paid more attention to Tom Cruise than Kelly McGillis, I never really thought about what that meant.  It wasn't until college that I really started to realize what my feelings meant and I fought them for years.  It was only after college when I met my first openly gay man (I actually knew several in college, but I did not know they were gay!) that I felt comfortable taking the first, tentative steps to coming out.  Even after coming out, it took me years to really accept myself and what it meant for me to be gay.  To be honest, it is still a work in progress, but I have come a long way since I came out.

To straight people who wonder why we feel the need to come out of the closet, please note that American culture assumes you are straight unless you say otherwise.  People often ask, "Straight people don't announce themselves as straight, so why do gay people feel the need to announce that they are gay?"  and seem to chalk it up to stereotypes of gay men as drama queens or some sort of evil agenda.  Also, look at the struggle that LGBT individuals have had to go through to get to where we are.

In the book The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, noted historian Arthur Schlesinger talked about how as new immigrants arrived, they would celebrate their history in such a way as to build themselves up.  The LGBT community, although not an immigrant group, can be viewed in much the same way.  We are struggling to achieve equal rights and look to role models for purposes of emulation.  It helps to build self-esteem and encourages a sense of community.

Another point to consider is the suicide rate among LGBT youth.  Also, consider how many times you have heard of someone being beaten or killed merely because of their sexual orientation.  Again, here is where acceptance is a good thing.  As more people accept people who come out of the closet, we will (hopefully) see a decrease in both the murder and suicides of LGBT people.

My final point is that sexual orientation is unlike most other groupings of people.  Unlike skin color or the sex of an individual (both of which are readily apparent to the naked eye), sexual orientation is not always so obvious.  Yes, there are some individuals who are very obviously LGBT, but there are many who are not.  So, coming out of the closet is the easiest way to let people know that you are LGBT and thereby serve as a role model for others who need it.

Ok, so I strayed a bit from the comments, but I hope this proves to serve as food for thought and possibly for a good conversation, even if it is off this blog.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is the United States a theocracy?

In short, the answer to this question is no.  According to dictionary.com theocracy is defined as:

                     the·oc·ra·cy  [thee-ok-ruh-see]  Show IPA
                     noun, plural the·oc·ra·cies.
                     1. a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the
                     supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the
                     ecclesiastical authorities.
                     2. a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.
                     3. a commonwealth or state under such a form or system of government.
                     [see this page]

Wikipedia.com says

                     Taken literally or strictly, theocracy means rule by God or gods and
                     refers primarily to an internal "rule of the heart", especially in its biblical
                     application. The common, generic use of the term, as defined above in
                     terms of rule by a church or analogous religious leadership, would be
                     more accurately described as an ecclesiocracy. [link added]

Wikipedia also notes that "[h]aving a state religion is not sufficient to be a theocracy. Many countries have a state religion without the government directly deriving its powers from a divine authority or a religious authority directly exercising governmental powers." (see this subsection)

Basically, in order for a government to be a theocracy, the government must claim that it receives its powers directly from God and the rulers are also the head of the church.  The United States in no way, shape, or form falls within this definition.  I will not deny that many leaders in government are influenced by their religious beliefs or mention God frequently [particularly (but not exclusively) in the right wing of the Republican party], however this is not enough to classify the US as a theocracy regardless of what atheists or secularists would have you believe.

A part of the problem is that the word, like many words, is being misused by people on an epic scale.  People are trying to make the word "theocracy" mean that any influence on government by religion makes a government theocratic.  What they fail to appreciate (or completely and purposefully ignore) is the idea that people's personal and religious beliefs are going to affect how they govern.  This is natural and not some vast conspiracy aimed at making everyone follow a particular religion.  I will not deny that there are people who allow their religious beliefs to influence them in inappropriate ways (see this story), but these instances are not some scheme to force people to become Christians anymore than issues like universal health care or reasonable gun control are a part of some massive conspiracy to strip people of their rights.

This issue is a part of a larger problem that I have talked about before.  People today are having a much easier time finding a group of like-minded people and blockading themselves within these groups.  This tendency has always been around, but we now have an easier time doing it because of the internet and social media giving more and more people a platform from which they can pontificate and make assertions that may or may not be groundless.  When people form these little groups, they fall prey to groupthink and self-reinforcing thoughts where any incident can be fit into an overly simplistic paradigm or worldview and any incidents which do not fit in the same can be ignored or misconstrued.  People no longer take the time to think about things before they react.  Rather, they put their first thoughts out into the world and these thoughts are often based on incomplete or incorrect information or (even worse) are based on pure emotionalism with no evidence of rational thought.

I will admit that I too fall prey to this sometimes, which is why I will often try and take time to think about something for a few days prior to writing or reacting to it.  The tendency mentioned above is exacerbated by, and contributes to, the increasing political polarization that I have written about before.  For some related blog posts go here and here.

So those are my thoughts.  Any other thoughts?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What is a RINO and how do we recognize one?

So, the other day on Facebook, I saw a meme about RINOs from a page called "The Republican Revolution," a group that demonstrates everything that is wrong with the current Republican Party.  The group is insisting on a ideological purity test that fits in with the Tea Party exactly and denounces anyone who strays in the slightest from this narrow-minded view.  This mindset, as I've said before, is self-defeating and is one of the things that has seriously hurt the Republican party over the past several years.

Now, before I go much further, I should really explain the concept of RINO to people.  A RINO is a "Republican In Name Only," aka anyone who is insufficiently conservative enough for the judgmental right.  It is an decently old idea going back to at least the late 90s (that's when I first heard it, but it seemed to have been familiar to people before then).  The idea behind this label is that the Republican Party *MUST* be THE Conservative Party and to deviate in the slightest from this is to commit political heresy.  In other words, only conservatives are allowed within the ranks of the Republican party.  If you are a mushy moderate or a loony liberal (yes, I have heard those labels and oh so much worse!) then you do not belong in the Republican Party.

I think the reason that this idea is self-defeating and stupid is self-evident.  By excluding wide swaths of people from the Party, these people are turning the party from a truly national party into a party which may very well make itself extinct.  A national political party needs to have room for many different types of people.  Given our governmental system, a political party which gives itself an incredibly narrow focus is going to run itself out of existence.  I would like someone to name me a party that was focused on one issue (or point of view) that lasted very long.  If you can think of one, please let me know.  I'll be waiting (but not holding my breath).

In the US, a successful and truly national political party is an alliance between different groups that share a common goal, i.e. a coalition.  These groups may not always get along, but they at least work together.  In the Republican Party, the Tea Party types are increasingly pushing out people who are do not agree with them on all issues, thereby causing a shrinkage of people willing to vote for Republicans and contributing to the idea that the Republican Party is the party of bigoted, homophobic, racist assholes.  That is not my Republican Party.

I hope you have picked up the idea that my title is slightly facetious and sarcastic.  What really annoys me about people like this is that they think that they have the right to decide who is and is not a "real" Republican.  They don't and I resent; with a passion that is almost holy in its intensity; the idea that somehow because you do not agree with the Tea Party that you are not a real Republican.  I am a Republican, but increasingly I am feeling isolated from the party I grew up in and was; until fairly recently; proud to be a member of.

The other thing that gets me is when people who are promoting the idea that the Republican Party needs to reexamine what it stands for are shouted down and denounced.  This, like the RINO idea, is indicative of a group that is becoming increasingly isolated and moribund.  I hope the Republican Party manages to recover itself and become the political party I know it can be.