Sad Radicals – Quillette

Dang. This is one of the most insightful essays I read this month. It offers some serious insight into the mindset of members of current radical groups such as the Anarchists (the author is a former deep member of one of these anarchist communities). Since this was written about 18 months ago I think it has a peculiar relevance to our current national conversation. I don’t agree with all the conclusions but there are some really powerful insights here. Check out these choice 3 paragraphs.
 
“There is an overdeveloped muscle in radicalism: the critical reflex. It is able to find oppression behind any mundanity. Where does this critical reflex come from? French philosopher Paul Ricœur famously coined the term “school of suspicion” to describe Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud’s drive to uncover repressed meaning in text and society. Today’s radicals have inherited this drive by way of Foucault and other Marxo- Nietzscheans.
 
“As radicals, we lived in what I call a paradigm of suspicion, one of the malignant ideas that emerge as a result of intellectual in-breeding. We inherited familial neuroses and saw insidious oppression and exploitation in all social relationships, stifling our ability to relate to others or ourselves without cynicism. Activists anxiously pore over interactions, looking for ways in which the mundane conceals domination. To see every interaction as containing hidden violence is to become a permanent victim, because if all you are is a nail, everything looks like a hammer.
 
“The paradigm of suspicion leaves the radical exhausted and misanthropic, because any action or statement can be shown with sufficient effort to hide privilege, a microaggression, or unconscious bias. Quoted in JM, the anarchist professor Richard Day proposes “infinite responsibility”: “we can never allow ourselves to think that we are ‘done,’ that we have identified all of the sites, structures, and processes of oppression ‘out there’ or ‘in here,’ inside our own individual and group identities.” Infinite responsibility means infinite guilt, a kind of Christianity without salvation: to see power in every interaction is to see sin in every interaction. All that the activist can offer to absolve herself is Sisyphean effort until burnout. Eady’s summarization is simpler: “Everything is problematic.”
 
The larger article is intellectually challenging to read and understand but offers some insights about radicals that are significant.
  • What are some of the burning questions that drive people to this kind of radicalism?
  • How do these groups function like religious fundamentalists?
  • Why are they doomed to such misery and failure? And how does that offer inroads for the hope of the gospel of Christ?

 

Source: Sad Radicals – Quillette

A Few Observations On The Pandemic

I just spent several hours on the phone with people from our church. Checking in with folks and trying to Pastor them remotely. I was able to listen to them talk about themselves, their families and friends and their work. A few observations.

  1. I am so thankful I get to be a spectator in seeing how God’s grace sustains people through trials and lead them to selfless service. Faith and hope in Jesus are deeply practical.
  2. Even if serious measures have been called for, shutting down non-emergency healthcare is causing a real suffering and a separate disaster for many people and the healthcare system.
  3. One of the biggest elements of suffering is lack of face to face human contact. This is real. Digital fellowship is not as good as live friendship.
  4. One of the biggest groups that has been adversely, and unequally hurt are small business owners. For many, all of the financial “help” is non existent, to little, or too late. People don’t want handouts, they want to work. Many elements of the essential/nonessential distinctions are arbitrary, not rooted in science, and inconsistent. I hope the courts will settle some of this, and I hope that folks will remember this during future elections. But my ultimate hope is in the care and justice of God.

Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin

I believe that the Covid outbreak is serious. It’s not just the flu and I am really sad at all the folks that are dying.  We must be taking action. But the seriousness of the problem doesn’t lend support to whatever drastic action our leaders must be taking. What if we are being asked to do a bunch of stuff that is unproven? What if what we are doing actually makes little to no difference in the outcome? That is what this doctor suggests in his NY Times editorial.  What if what we are doing causes more harm in terms of health and human suffering than it prevents?  We don’t have to look to hard in the history of medicine to see examples of this.

Sweden is not doing the same thing as the US. Read the article below for more details. Are they doing the right thing? Time will tell.  So far they are not worse off than other countries.  Yet almost all the news articles that come up on a google search involve hand-wringing accusations.

I think it will be important to have some places to compare the outcomes. What if Sweden and the handful of American States that have not issued severe lock downs have similar outcomes as the places that chose the nuclear option?  We (globally and in the US) are doing things to address this situation that we have NEVER been done in human history. I think this article in National Review expresses some things well:

“This is, in fact, the first time we have quarantined healthy people rather than quarantining the sick and vulnerable. As Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, wrote in The Spectator (U.K.) last week: “The theory of lockdown, after all, is pretty niche, deeply illiberal — and, until now, untested. It’s not Sweden that’s conducting a mass experiment. It’s everyone else.

”We’ve posed these simple questions to many highly trained infectious-disease doctors, epidemiologists, mathematical disease-modelers, and other smart, educated professionals. It turns out that, while you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a person of theft and throw them in jail, you don’t need any actual evidence (much less proof) to put millions of people into a highly invasive and burdensome lockdown with no end in sight and nothing to prevent the lockdown from being reimposed at the whim of public-health officials. Is this rational?” (emphasis mine)

Source: Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin | National Review

My prayer this morning

God thank you for these days of trial and adversity. Thank you for working through them to empty me of my pride,
to challenge my love of comfort,
to destroy the stubborn illusion of control over my life and the world,
to teach me to rely on you,
to see your hand at work in unexpected ways,
to give me eyes to see needy people who are usually invisible,
to remind me of mortality and eternity,
and to show me even more of my savior’s love. Jesus was born into a world groaning under the curse of sin. That “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” – – Galatians 3:13

The Answers We Need vs The Answers We Want

This article is going around. Here is my first take. Wright is addressing some important problems in the Christian community. But his answer is anemic in my opinion. It is wholly untrue that “Christianity gives us NO answers.” It would be more accurate to say that Christianity gives us the answers we need, but not all, (and not always) the answers we want. And the answers don’t always remove the pain. If we study lament in the psalms we find the psalmists don’t just say “why” and “how long?” Indeed They do, and we need to be comfortable with that pain and uncertainty. But very often they turn to trusting the character of God and his promises and that is the opposite of saying we have “no answers.”

While trying to avoid rationalism, we shouldn’t ignore the many rational things God’s word says about suffering, and still make room for the mystery and pain of unanswered questions.

 

Source: Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus | Time 

It’s not supposed to

The Ignorant Math of “Saving Just One Life.”

New York governor Cuomo recently spoke and justified his actions in putting the whole state on lock down:  “All this is worth it if saves one life.”  That approach seems laudable and the logic bulletproof. Who wouldn’t want to save a life?  But in reality, this approach is sentimental and displays some ignorance about how the world actually works. Economist Thomas Sowell said, “in the real world there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”   In the real world, taking major action in one area effects change in other areas. My concern here is not to evaluate the decisions of the governor, but rather this logic, which I believe is dangerous.  Many of his decisions are good and justified. So please don’t hear this as a criticism of the shut down orders. But across the country this kind of thinking is leading some officials to ignore (or justify) the damaging implications of policy decisions as if we are playing a game with a simple scoreboard consisting of coronavirus deaths.

This concept of tradeoffs is fairly obvious in other areas. When the police pursue a deadly criminal in a high speed chase in order to keep the public safe from a dangerous criminal they put the public at risk in other ways (10,000 injuries and 321 fatalities in 2002) Widespread use of mammograms to detect breast cancer has led to an estimated 30% over diagnosis of the cancer, and all the problems that come with that diagnosis.  The real word is not a simple financial ledger with one column measured in coronavirus deaths.  It is more like a teeter totter where moving one side up or down affects the other side. 

As an example, following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 many Americans opted to drive instead of fly on commercial airlines. The reason was presumably fear. Airplanes can get hijacked. Driving a car would seem to be safer. But it wasn’t.  Use of air travel by Americans fell 12-20% in the year following the attacks, while automobile deaths increased around 1,595.  That number is about half the number that died in the terror attacks. Americans unknowingly embraced the real danger of automobile accidents to avoid the potential danger of terrorist attacks. The tradeoff was there, but not as obvious as those who died in the twin towers. 

In another example this author attempts to track “indirect deaths” from the Japanese earthquake in 2011. “Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which left more than 18,000 dead or unaccounted for, roughly 3,700 people have been recognized as victims of indirect death, including 2,250 in Fukushima Prefecture, where large numbers of people were forced to move from one evacuation shelter to another due to the radioactive fallout from the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.” The choice to move out of earthquake damaged buildings into shelters took lives as well. 

These kinds of numbers are the domain of public health and epidemiology. However, panic and widespread fear can distort our perceptions of reality. Fear can make us focus on one danger so intensely that we don’t see the speeding car that is about to hit us.

The massive an unprecedented steps we are taking to save lives from the coronavirus may indeed reduce deaths in this one area (and we should pursue that), but we should not be ignorant or indifferent to the impact of our actions.  It may end up that the response to the coronavirus is the largest and most coordinated disaster in US history.  Bringing entire cultural, political, economic, and healthcare ecosystems to a halt will cost lives as well. 

In my estimation this is an important part of the equation that we are not talking about. After listening to a podcast with Dr Marty Makary a public health expert from Johns Hopkins, I was concerned that the tradeoffs were given very little consideration. To be fair, he admitted that half of Americans have less than $400 cash available. This is far less than a person needs to purchase 3 months worth of food (his recommendation) to allow one to shelter in place.  Experts are asking us to deliberately cause one very certain disaster in order to avoid another very scary potential one based on the projections of experts.   We cannot carefully make these decisions without seeing the cost on both sides.   

Here are some areas where there will be a price to pay in lives. I have posed them as questions:

What is the life/health impact of shutting down all nonemergency medical and dental care for months? I worked in EMS as a paramedic in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties from 1995 to 2006. We ran emergency calls at doctor’s offices constantly. People come in for routine care only to find out they had a serious problem. What would happen if we shut down the regular non-emergency healthcare of for the whole nation (330 million people)?   And this is exactly what has already happened in California.  The shelter in place order that was issued affected around 23 counties without a confirmed case of the virus at the time of the order. 

What is the health impact of a potential worldwide depression/recession on personal health insurance, stress, and nutrition?  

What is the health impact of millions people losing their jobs, retirement savings & homes? Especially among the lower income poor and self employed?   This can lead to huge amounts of stress and all the poor outcomes that come with it (addiction, PTSD related to disaster, suicide). 

What is the health impact of people staying away or delaying care from the ER for serious illnesses out of fear of infection? (This has been happening in our town) A person with an infected appendix or gall bladder that waits an additional 12 hours to get help can become much worse off. 

What is the impact on pregnancy stress from our response on maternal and newborn health in pregnancy?  It is known that miscarriages, premature births and neonatal deaths all go up in time of national disaster. This can be related to stress and/or women not getting routine preventive care.  This article discusses the effects after hurricane Sandy.

This 2015 article suggests 4.4% loss of male fetuses (which are more sensitive to stress) following the Taiwan earthquake. 

I want our government officials to take action. But let’s not pretend that the only thing that matters is saving lives from Coronavirus. There is much more going on here.  We need leaders that can see and acknowledge the whole situation, including the devastating impact of their own policies.

A Question about "Overreaction" to the Coronavirus


The experts are telling us that massive numbers (25 million in California alone according to governor Newsome) will be infected and a huge percentage (a million and a half according to NIH director) will become critically ill. They are saying that this part is unstoppable. The current measures are not designed to keep you from getting the virus or getting critically ill, but to keep you from getting infected right now so that we don’t run out of ventilators. That is what flattening the curve is all about. Sorry if you didn’t understand that. It is only this level of fear that would make us willing to go along with the actions we are taking that are unprecedented in global human history.

None of us want to under-react. But over reacting is not benign, just wait and see.

Some are saying we won’t be able to tell if we are overreacting. Not true, we just look at what happens in the coming months. Compare what happens with what the experts said will certainly come to pass. We should NOT look at the death rate if it ends up being low, but at the dimensions of the epidemic that the experts say is unstoppable, the elements we can only delay.

A Bad Definition of Racism

Source: How you define racism may stop you from seeing it where it exists | Metro News

In my opinion the ideas in this article are a huge part of the problem in the current conversation about race and racism. “How you define racism may keep you from seeing it” or it may make you see it everywhere. Even when it doesn’t exist. This article reflects a hugely political and ideological perspective. And I don’t concede these concepts or definitions. I think true Justice means we have one standard that applies to everyone, not different standards based on alleged “power dynamics.”

BTW, it’s a cute fallacy to suggest that disagreeing with these concepts is proof of racism.

The approach outlined in this article that defines racism via power dynamics leads to the idea that only whites can be racist, and that the things they do are racist by definition, almost like original sin. As a Christian I disagree with this definition because I think the Bible’s is better and closer to the one they are trying to bury.

Further, this definition inevitably leads to assuming the worst of other people, especially their motives. And it results in something being called racist when a white person does it but not when a minority does it.  That is a double standard by definition.  For instance I have heard that when a white person asks a black person if they work at a store, it is a form of microaggression because it assumes they are servants. That assumption is ridiculous. That MIGHT be true. But it also might be true that someone needs help. Just last month I was at home depot and a black man asked me if I worked there and if I could help him find something. Inside I thought about this concept of power dynamics and laughed at the idea that his question was some kind of insult to me.  I did not consider it a compliment or an insult. It was just a case of someone trying to find something they need. I politely said I didn’t work here but thought the items he was looking for were on such and such an aisle because I had passed by them. We both smiled. He thanked me and we carried on. I guess I was dressed like one of their employees. This kind of thing has happened to me many times in a variety of stores and there is no benefit to trying to impute some sinister motive.

Love means you don’t assume the worst possible motive for a person’s actions, especially when they aren’t overtly evil. And that is what this approach does. It assumes that all white people are unconsciously trying to exert their power over minorities.  I believe that this assumption itself is actually an unloving and inaccurate stereotype that is guilty of doing the exact thing it is claims to remedy. By the way, some white people are trying to intimidate or impose their will on minorities. And some minorities are trying to do the same thing to white folks. And prideful acts, malice, or oppression are wrong no matter who is doing it.

I do agree that some of the things mentioned in this article can be hurtful or abusive and are worth discussing. But there is one standard for people from minority and majority cultures.  And that standard is love and humility.

 

 

 

The Not-so-secret Secret to Job Success

I am recently reminded of a growing work ethic problem. There are a number of workers (and unemployed people) that don’t understand basic issues of responsibility and reliability. It seems that simply showing up is becoming  a problem.. I have had several recent conversations with employers that have highlighted this.
A friend who is a director of a non-profit that works with children is trying to hire an entry level worker, and he pays several dollars an hour more than comparable jobs.  9 people submitted resumes, but none of them have returned his requests for interviews, or showed up for the interview once it was scheduled.
A friend who runs a large dental practice said it is very difficult to find reliable office help. He said he routinely has to hire 10 people in order to find 2 that will be able to maintain employment. The “no call/no show” is a common problem. People just don’t come to work, and they don’t call with warning or explanation.
Many years ago I was a training officer at an ambulance company and worked with new hires.  The majority of people (most of them younger) who were fired, lost their job because of chronic attendance/tardiness (NOT family or medical issues) and other simple issues like wearing the proper uniform. (And the uniforms were provided by a laundry service)   These were NOT entry level employees, but folks with years of education and licenses.
I also worked as an externship coordinator at a vocational school. Same story. The major complaints from potential employers (clinics, doctor’s office managers, etc) had little to do with technical skills and everything to do with attendance, attitude, staying off your cell phone at work, avoiding drama, etc. Almost all these problems involved attitude and life skills that don’t cost anything in terms of education or accomplishments.
If you want to bypass 80% of the competition in the workforce… if you want to keep a steady job… if you want to promote and be given more responsibility the first steps are simple: Show up on time, be ready to work, and do your job without having a babysitter.  Hard work covers a multitude of sins in the work place.

A Few Observations About The Immigration Conversation

How does the US stack up against other countries when it comes to welcoming immigrants? The answer might surprise you.

“The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants in 2017. The population of immigrants is also very diverse, with just about every country in the world represented among U.S. immigrants.” (Source Pew, see below) The total number From the center for immigration studies is 46.5 million.

About 77% of all immigrants living in the US have been welcomed here legally.

“Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled.”

Here are some of my thoughts:

I think this reality is important for the conversation about immigration, if we can even use the word conversation. it seems to be dominated by those on both fringes that are shouting the loudest. It is important because The US has been more inviting to immigrants than any other country on earth, and to suggest otherwise is to ignore the facts. And it is also important because too often this conversation is used as a political tool with little consideration for real people. I am really thankful that our country has been so inviting to so many people all over the world.

I think these numbers also mean it is reasonable (and necessary) to talk about ways that immigration affects infrastructure, economy, the legal system, etc. It does little good to immigrants (new or old) to live in a broken system.

Think of this, more folks have immigrated to the US in recent decades than the entire population of the state of California. These new people depend on the presence of adequate roads, schools, available housing (California is already estimated to be 3 million homes short by 2025), hospitals, etc. I don’t have all the answers, I actually have far more questions than answers. But I am suspicious of anyone who doesn’t address these kinds of issues in the discussion about immigration. I also have a number of great friends who are not here legally, many brought here as children and they are great, productive, law abiding citizens, exactly the kind of people we want to build our society upon. I want there to be a better pathway for them to stay here legally. But I also know that some criminals try to leverage the system and that is frustrating for all. I don’t want people to be needlessly turned away who are seeking to immigrate, but I also don’t want immigrants exploited by people who will take advantage of them. All of this makes me feel that folks who offer simplistic solutions are out of touch.

Further, the US isn’t the savior of the world. Some voices in the conversation act like the US is the only hope for immigrants and refugees. Not so. I love my country but it is only one of many great places to live in the world.
Please no mean-spiritedness in the discussion.

Source: Key findings about U.S. immigrants | Pew Research Center