Science is Intersectional. Our Activism Should Be, Too.

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

The week after the world ended, but before I wrote five posts in a row about how the world is ending but how you can stop it, I attended a professional conference for my engineering field. Regular listeners of the podcast will know that I am a chemical engineering graduate student, and part of being a student is actually attending conferences. If your department can cover your expenses, it’s almost like a paid vacation. It’s like a paid vacation where you still have to watch forty PowerPoint presentations, but graduate students aren’t usually allowed to have fun anyway.

I was interested in seeing a lot of the things at this conference that some of the less social-justice minded atheists would have cringed at. There was a harassment policy that was far more comprehensive than Reason Rally 2016, yet the conference somehow

aiche-lgbt-photo

Image: A sign with details for an LGBT+ reception at my conference. There are also details for a disabled engineer convocation at the bottom.

lasted over a week without some kind of meltdown or without people getting unnecessarily upset about a woman not wanting to be approached alone in an elevator. There was a safe zone workshop for queer and trans engineers (see picture), yet there was no whining about having to respect trans people by having to undergo the odious task of using the correct goddamn pronouns. There were also social events celebrating LGBT+ and disabled engineers. I also thoroughly enjoyed the diversity at the event. Of the thirty-five talks I attended, over half were by people of color, and I’m pretty sure only a minority spoke English as a first language. At the same time, my peers and I were still able to learn lots of new things, present new ideas, go back and forth and rigorously discuss novel research techniques, and critically examine each others’ work. The days we weren’t presenting were filled with practicing our slides and worrying about what questions people would ask. Yes, this conference somehow managed to accommodate minorities and enforce policies that made everyone behave in a safe manner, but somehow we were able to engage in critical thinking at the same time for the progress of science. Somehow those two concepts aren’t in conflict!

There’s a couple of simple explanations for the difference between this and the atheist movement, of course. I have to be honest and can’t compare apples to oranges, and the disseminations of research findings within academia serve a vastly different purpose than rallying cries for a social movement. The speakers and attendees at this conference are often looking to network or learn new techniques, and these research results are borne of many late hours of tedious and difficult work or long nights tweaking sentences so that a paper will be accepted into a good journal. Speeches at an atheist conference, on the other hand, are filled with pathos, and are presented at a far more basic level, because we don’t have to have an academic specialization to campaign for Separation of Church And State. Even the most sophisticated of secular conventions are set up for friendly, personal connections, while a science meeting is almost entirely for professional purposes (even if grad students like myself take the opportunity to hit the bars around the city after getting out of our suits later). Besides this point, my professional organization has been around for over a century, and has had a longer time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

I could make a long post about things that social justice detractors in atheist communities complain about, and why they aren’t really problems if you look outside the lens of secular activism. I don’t see a need for that for now, but I would like to focus on one aspect of scientific dissemination that highlights the importance of social justice focused activism within the secular movement. And that is the aspect of intersectionality.

As a refresher of the term, intersectionality in a social justice context is a term that focuses on how certain forms of oppression and ways the combat those forms of oppression are interrelated and often related to each other. For example, there are certain ways that black people are oppressed in America, and black Americans disproportionately feel the effects of this oppression. Due to cultural and religious differences between black and white Americans, however, black women or female-presenting people often experience oppression at an elevated level due to sexism. This sexism also ties into traditional gender roles, which oppress queer and trans people of all stripes. Many of the aforementioned problems tie into harm done with the hands of religion. In many ways, unraveling the problems with one form of oppression undoes the harms of other forms of oppression.

This has affected me on a practical level, and in fact, directly led to me becoming a secular activist. My best friend in high school was gay, and even though I was a Christian I always supported gay rights. It should come as a surprise to nobody that when I critically examined what prevented gay people from achieving equality in my country I found that religion was at the root of the problem. This led to a thorough re-examination of my beliefs, a deconversion, and a subsequent rebuilding of my values. Now I fight for the separation of church and state, as well as trying to eliminate religious ideology on a social level.

What does this have to do with my conference, though? To my knowledge, nobody tends to refer to anything outside the context of social studies as intersectional, and that’s fine. But there are a lot of aspects that parallel intersectional activism with how we go about communicating research findings.

For one thing, people outside of academia may not realize how incredibly specialized any given scientific field is. At my university, chemical engineering is only one of sixty-five programs in which someone can earn a degree. If I’m going to focus on something for my career, I have to pick a program that represents roughly 1.5% of available knowledge at my campus (and of course, not everything can be learned at a university, obviously). When I attended my conference and submitted and abstract for my presentation, I had to choose from one of thirty-five topics to present in. After choosing which topic to present in (Nanoscale Science and Engineering), there were thirty-five sessions at the conference that I could present in, ranging from topics like “self-assembly”, “nanomaterials manufacturing”, and “carbon nanomaterials”. Yes, there was a 2-hour session dedicated entirely to research about carbon nanotechnology. Hopefully this gives an idea of just how specialized this research can become. For a period of time at my conference, there was a specialized room of people within a particular topic within a particular focus within a broad research area within an academic field that focused intensely on a very specific topic.

It’s a useful strategy to focus on something very specific when trying to solve certain problems. A typical scientist will often pick an incredibly narrow research topic and focus on that for the rest of their lives. While it’s true that a given scientist may be a biologist or a physicist, they often become an expert in a very specific system. I’ve known professors who have labs that study one specific biochemical. Similarly, I’ve attended a one-day conference that focused entirely on the environmental breakdown of a single molecule. If you want to know a specific technique or process, it’s not uncommon to find maybe two or three groups that have a bunch of papers on it. If you want to have groundbreaking research, you’re not going to become one by being a jack-of-all-trades. You have to find a good niche that nobody else has explored, and explore what you can little-by-little. Your specialization will keep you at the boundary between what we know and what we don’t know, and it’s simply impractical to try and hold a specialty within more than a few specific areas.

It is for this reason that “identity politics” (or at least some non-strawman version of it) exists. We need people focusing on a very specific cause. While it’s a noble thing to be concerned about many things, we are limited beings with finite time, energy, and resources to carry out specific tasks. It’s also very difficult to mobilize large groups of people when interests become broader and broader. If you don’t believe me, try and hold a discussion on what specific actions humanists should focus on, and you will immediately start a shitstorm. This is the reason that advocacy groups exist for a certain purpose. There are humanist groups that specifically work to help the homeless, there are humanist groups that fight legal battles, and there are humanist groups that simply exist for community. The fruits of their labor are clear, tangible, and effective.

It’s for this reason that making the argument that “everyone should have equal treatment” doesn’t get us very far. It’s a valid sentiment, but not everyone has equal problems, and certain problems have not made as many progress as others. If you want LGBTQ people to have equal rights, then telling your conservative representative that doesn’t get you anywhere. To him, gay people always had equal marriage rights (since everyone has the equal freedom to marry someone of the opposite sex anyway). When advocating for LGBTQ rights, you need to engage on the specific needs of queer and trans people, lay out why they are marginalized, and why they should care. If those specific needs or grievances are not laid out specifically, than nobody outside of that group is even going to be aware that there is a problem in the first place. So yes, we need to engage with the needs of specific identities based on how they are perceived and treated.

What does that have to do with intersectionality? Haven’t I just made the case that we need to do our own thing and focus on our own very specific projects?

There’s a bit more nuance to the story. It’s true that on an individual level we may want to focus our attention on maybe one or two things at a time. In my lab, it’d be very difficult for any student to get anything done if they had more than a couple of projects they were working on. At the same time, while each researcher does their own thing, it’d be a mistake for someone to only interact within their own focus. A technique that helps one researcher may easily help another one, especially if they have similar work. One investigator may have a question about their focus that can be solved by another investigator’s technique.

Not to mention, there’s really no solid line that divides one discipline from another. I mentioned earlier that my program is one of sixty-five programs I could choose from. This is true, but what makes an area of study in my program (chemical engineering) different from another isn’t always clear. Lots of chemical engineers work with catalysis, which crosses over with chemistry and materials science. The same could be said of people in my program who study nanoelectronics, which are also studied by mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and physicists. I also have peers who work with cells, which cross over into work like genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and medicine. What helps me in one field could easily help someone else in another.

When I went to my conference, I saw a lot of talks that superficially didn’t have much to do with what I specifically study. I focus on the chemical kinetics and physical forces that cause DNA to hybridize and dissociate at a solid-liquid interface (or in layman terms,  how DNA sticks together on a surface). It’s a fairly unique project, and I didn’t see a lot of talks that did many similar things. But I saw a talk on nanoparticle coatings which may inform the way I design my experiments in the future. I saw a talk on data organization that could inform the way I perform analysis in the future. Their scientific techniques were different from mine and we studied different things, but we are both operating on the same fundamental physical laws and on the same scientific principles to figuring them out. Temperature still means the same thing if you’re trying to measure it on a star or a cell. A chemical reaction is still the rearrangement of molecular structure, and it doesn’t matter the reaction is being studied by a chemist or a biologist.

While I am far and away not an expert on intersectionality, this makes sense as a parallel in how I look at it. Many social justice causes are focused on fighting privilege and bigotry, and both are linked towards pushing people to recognize their implicit biases. Certain problems in one “area” of social justice affect another. I could make a causal web tying different forms of inequality to each other in a web detailing systems of oppression (though, as a non-expert, I’d rather someone else with more knowledge and better aesthetic taste do it, lest it turn out like a kindergarten macaroni project).

It’s okay to make a focus of activism, as long as you recognize that what you do will affect other peoples’ focuses. When atheists campaign merely for separation of church and state, they don’t just affect prayer in public schools or religious imagery in courtrooms. The justifications for “traditional marriage” stop holding up in legislation, and we stop treating queer and trans people as second-class citizens. We also stop allowing people to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” for denying healthcare for women and people assigned female at birth. We allow more death with dignity without unjustified supernatural belief get in the way. And when we shift the laws, this puts a little more pressure on the culture to become more accepting. When people complain about the secular movement engaging in too many things that aren’t related to atheism I am baffled, because the actions of movement atheists have never exclusively affected atheists.

As another quirky parallel to my conference, I also think of the utility of people having certain focuses. I attended a variety of sessions that week, and some of them had almost nothing to do with my research. My roommate had a presentation on hydrogen fuel cells, which is not very similar to my work which is focused on biophysics. I understood some of the various thermodynamic and chemical kinetic principles of the talk since they are fundamentals of my college major, but I missed a lot of the details. I didn’t understand enough to understand the context or the significance of the work during that session. Had I asked something about the catalytic property of platinum during the session, for example, I would have likely wasted everyone else’s time who already had learned that years ago. Afterwards, I was able to ask my roommate about the material properties of his fuel cells and how they worked. Everyone should be encouraged to ask questions, but keeping context in mind and waiting for the opportune time to ask it does nothing to curtail critical inquiry. In fact, it just makes it more efficient. Such is often the case when asking people of privilege to keep silent. When addressing the needs of the marginalized, we should pay attention and listen to the people of that group who need help. Given that many secularists routinely misunderstand or misconstrue basic concepts like privilege, trigger warnings, microaggressions, etc., it’s difficult to imaging they would get the larger point when discussing higher-level concepts. The difference between me in that situation and some punk being asked to remain silent is that I was thoroughly aware of my ignorance on the subject, and acted appropriately.

For me, I’m happy to recognize that secularism doesn’t just affect me and other atheists. It affects everyone. A lot of my detractors fail to recognize this, and often paint social justice minded atheists as immature or uncritical. In fact, a lot

Fighting Against the Trump Presidency: Racism

While I tend to focus on general topics on this blog, I’m trying to post resources this week on how to focus your dollars, activism, and efforts on reducing the harm from this year’s election. This will be a multi-part series of short entries, focusing on a variety of causes that you can get involved in to mitigate some harm.


Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

There appears to be a meme going around that Donald Trump isn’t really a racist, the media just calls him a racist. I’ll let you be the judge here:

He refused renting homes to black tenants, violating the civil rights act.

Trump promised to hire local minorities for a riverboat casino, later breaking his promise, hiring only majority Caucasians and relegating black employees to service jobs.

He led the birther movement for five years, alleging that Obama was born in Kenya and demanding his long-form birth certificate.

Trump picked a white nationalist as a delegate in California.

He has, of course, claimed that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers, criminals, and rapists. He has claimed that “Mexico doesn’t send their best”.

You could also count many of the things listed against Muslims. Islam is not a race, but Muslims are largely racially targeted, and even brown skinned non-Muslims are targeted with anti-Muslim bigotry.

In line with his anti-Muslim bigotry, he has spread complete misinformation that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11.

He attacked a Judge overseeing his lawsuits for having Mexican heritage.

Trump Plaza lost an appeal of a discrimination penalty from New Jersey when they moved black card dealers away from the floor at the request of high-spending gamblers.

Trump refused to rebuke endorsements from KKK leader David Duke four times.

He questioned how “Native American” certain tribes could be when, “they don’t look like Indians to me.”

Trump condoned the beating up of a Black Lives Matter protester at his rally, stating, “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

Trump pointed out a black person at his crowd, calling him, “My African-American.”

During the debates, Trump advocated for stop-and-frisk, which is a practice that targets racial minorities.

Trump has picked Jeff Sessions for attorney general, a man who has been repeatedly accused of racism throughout his career and is anti-amnesty.

He has also chosen Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart Media and White Nationalist figurehead, as chief strategist.

While candidates can’t control the people who endorse them, I’d be leery of someone who has earned the support of the KKK.

There’s more, of course, but people often have a hard time accepting anything other than overt racism as racist.

What can I do?

If you’re concerned about you or people you care about being deported, search for a legal resource for immigrating. Check out this directory. One large advocate for immigrant rights is the National Immigrant Law Center, who fight for the rights of immigrants and work to affect policy in their favor.

If you’re worried about authoritarian policing by a candidate who has threatened to be the “Law & Order Candidate” and who has no problems with measures such as Stop & Frisk, consider joining Campaign Zero, who are working to eliminate police violence in America.

If you are interested in organizing for racial justice, consider volunteering or donating to Showing Up For Racial Justice, as well as their black-led groups. I joined in a phone banking campaign with them recently, and I hope to participate in more actions in the future. Some of these groups include the Movement for Black Lives, BYP100, and Southerners on New Ground.

Also, make sure to contribute to public resources like libraries and universities, which often give free information and sometimes free classes for those wishing to immigrate and work towards a better future.

Please feel free to share this piece with others who are concerned with relevant issues.

 

Fighting Against the Trump Presidency: Religious Freedom

While I tend to focus on general topics on this blog, I’m trying to post resources this week on how to focus your dollars, activism, and efforts on reducing the harm from this year’s election. This will be a multi-part series of short entries, focusing on a variety of causes that you can get involved in to mitigate some harm.


 

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

In his own terminology, Donald Trump would be an absolute disaster for Religious Freedom. His words seem to imply otherwise as he claims to champion religious freedom, but only superficially. He courted evangelicals by stating that he values religious freedom, and that he wants to do that by repealing the Johnson Amendment, which earned him 81% of evangelicals who voted.

However, this actually is a distortion of religious freedom. The Johnson Amendment actually maintains the First Amendment by holding all tax-exempt organizations to the same standard. We give tax breaks to nonprofits, while stating that they can’t utilize their special status for political purposes. If religious organizations are allowed to make political pronouncements, then this gives their speech special status.

In reality, Donald Trump only appears to selectively support certain religious beliefs, while completely opposing others. He has built a campaign on anti-Muslim bigotry and fear, and threatens to eradicate freedom of religion by marginalizing religious minorities.

He has proposed a ban from all Muslims entering the United States.

He has called for surveillance targeted at Mosques in America.

Trump has called for a database on refugees, and “did not rule out” a database or registry of Muslims. His position is unclear on whether or not he actually wants to target citizens based on belief.

He spread misinformation on the Orlando Shooter, as well as Syrian Refugees as an excuse for extreme vetting.

While he has specifically built his campaign platform on xenophobia targeted against Muslims, his proposals are threatening the religious freedoms of anyone who is not a Christian. He is transparently ignorant about Christianity, but he continues to pander to evangelicals. As with all candidates, his religious beliefs don’t matter, but his honesty absolutely does.

Secular Coalition For America gives him an F on secular values, threatening our secular constitution.

His pandering to evangelicals occurred at the Values Voter Summit, a conference of religious anti-LGBTQ and anti-women hate groups. Trump met with many of these leaders.

Trump has picked Betsy Devos as the Secretary of Education, who is a voucher advocate, which tends to lead to funding of religious schools.

Jerry Fallwell Jr., president of Liberty University, has also been considered by Trump to have a hand in the Department of Education.

Trump has stated that he will (somehow) make everyone say Merry Christmas again, which certainly is against the First Amendment.

Not to mention, Mike Pence would be bad at this as well. He opposes stem cell research, doesn’t accept evolution, and as I’ve covered is terrible on LGBTQ issues, all as a function of his theocratic tendencies.

All these threaten our secular constitutional republic, which is founded on religious freedom, such that us and our freedoms aren’t subject to the religious beliefs of others.

What can I do to help?

Again, I would suggest that you can support the ACLU, who will fight for your rights if you are discriminated based on religious identity.

You can also support and take action with the Anti-Defamation league, which will legally fight against religious bigotry, and also has actions you can participate in to combat this bigotry.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will combat any overreach of religious action into government, including public schools. The American Humanist Association will also fight these legal battles, but also major human rights projects you can be involved with.

Also, take the time to meet people whose religious beliefs are not your own. If you feel like it, inform yourself on the religious practices and beliefs who are not your own, and not just the bad stuff. Be willing to challenge bigotry of this type if you see it.

Please feel free to share this piece with others who are concerned with relevant issues.

Fighting Against the Trump Presidency: The Environment

While I tend to focus on general topics on this blog, I’m trying to post resources this week on how to focus your dollars, activism, and efforts on reducing the harm from this year’s election. This will be a multi-part series of short entries, focusing on a variety of causes that you can get involved in to mitigate some harm.


 

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

We have been missing milestone after milestone to curb global warming, and we need to take action as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Donald Trump presidency will not only undo the minimal gains we have made recently, we will actually go backwards. This is terrifying, as this is something we urgently need to take action on.

Our President-Elect really does think global warming is a hoax (yes, he lied in the debates).

His only “solution” is advocating clean coal, a dubious prospect.

Donald Trump has tapped Myron Ebell to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, who flat-out denies that climate change exists.

Trump is looking to step out of the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as possible.

And under a Republican-led congress, Trump could do serious damage to climate change research funding, NASA funding, as well as slashing regulations to curb carbon emissions in the United States.

We are behind on preventing climate change from doing serious damage. We need to reduce our fossil fuel usage as much as possible and get off coal. We need to transition as much as possible to other energy sources, such as hydrogen, solar, and wind energy. While we transition to that, we can utilize nuclear fuel to have an efficient energy source that, while it creates waste, is much more containable than gaseous emissions. These will not only help reduce emissions, but help the United States become energy-independent and not rely on Middle-East relations for a reliable fuel source. This need to be done globally, in partnership with other nations.

How Can I Help?

Unfortunately, this is very difficult to address on a global scale, but you can still help by contacting your representatives when needed. It is their job to listen to you. Pressure them every opportunity you can to help protect the environment.

Joining the League of Conservation Voters will help you keep up on these issues. You can donate to them and participate in actions with them to help educate the public on this deeply important cause.

You can also take basic steps to reduce your carbon footprint. If it’s within your means to do so, consider putting some effort into changing your behaviors and lifestyle to have a low-footprint life. One of the best ways to do that is to reduce your meat intake. Livestock and Agriculture accounts for about one-fifth of carbon emissions. Beef is one of the worst offenders, requiring ~28 times more land than the average livestock category. Even if you can’t eliminate meat from your diet, consider reducing it. You can set aside eating meat during certain days of the week, or eliminate beef from your diet. Small steps help!

If it’s within your capabilities, you can also:

-Install LED lights in your house, which will be more efficient.

-Make sure your tires are inflated to make sure you get the most out of your gas tank.

-Reduce your driving time, by carpooling or biking.

-Stop relying on the AC, put on an extra sweater or jacket and turn down the heat by a few degrees.

-Unplug your gadgets from the wall, as vampire energy drains a surprisingly large amount every day.

Aside from that, there are a couple defense funds that you can donate to EarthJustice to fight environmental-based legal battles. You can also donate to the Natural Resources Defense Council to advocate for environmental campaigns and fight similar legal battles.

Please feel free to share this piece with others who are concerned with relevant issues.

Fighting Against the Trump Presidency: LGBTQ Issues

While I tend to focus on general topics on this blog, I’m trying to post resources this week on how to focus your dollars, activism, and efforts on reducing the harm from this year’s election. This will be a multi-part series of short entries, focusing on a variety of causes that you can get involved in to mitigate some harm.


 

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

During the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump promised to help the LGBTQ community. In context, though, he only did this by throwing another marginalized group under the bus – Muslims. He linked the Orlando shooting to Islamist terrorism (a dubious connection), and promised to protect members of that community by championing policies and lists rooted in anti-Muslim bigotry. If you’ve spent any time listening to the LGBTQ community, you’d know that this isn’t a comfort to a majority of them. In fact, most of them are downright terrified of Trump being in office.

Trump has stated he will sign the First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow discrimination against LGBTQ members of society under the banner of “religious freedom”.

Donald has also expressed support (and to be fair, also opposed) for bills like HB2, which are authoritarian laws that dictate which bathrooms we can use, targeted at transgender individuals.

Furthermore, if Trump really wanted to show that he cares about queer and trans folk, he would not have accepted Mike Pence as his Vice President. It’s almost the joke that Trump needed to check off all the boxes on bigotry and he wasn’t homophobic enough, so he used Mike Pence to round off that ticket. Pence is terrifying for queer and trans issues.

Pence has advocated for diverting money from HIV/AIDS research to focus on conversion therapy, or in other words, torturing gay people into not being straight anymore. It should go without saying that this is an ineffective treatment.

He voted against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and opposes it calling it “wages war on religious freedom in the workplace.”

Pence opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Pence has signed a bill allowing a COMPANY to cite its own religious beliefs as a defense when being sued by a private party, leading to potential discrimination against LGBTQ folks.

Under this presidency and with a conservative congress, LGBTQ folks are currently worried about many issues. If a Scalia-like judge is appointed to the Supreme Court, this puts Marriage Equality in Jeopardy. It also puts into question whether transgender rights will be upheld in future court decisions.

On a legislative level, repealing the ACA is terrifying because LGBTQ folks are at risk for discrimination or loss from providers. Sexual orientation and gender identity may not be protected classes nationwide.

RFRA-like bills in certain states also have a history of abusing and misusing “religious freedom” to infringe upon the rights of LGBTQ folk, and this will be exacerbated under this current administration.

Trump could easily overturn a few executive orders as well. These include undoing an order preventing federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination, an order protecting LGBTQ in HUD-funded programs, and an order requiring public schools to treat trans people equally.

If you want to help, you can volunteer your time at a local organization that helps homeless youth (the LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by homelessness). You can also seek out your local PFLAG organization and get involved with them, and learn how to help as an ally.

If you have money that needs to be given to people, you can send your money to the above organizations. There is also the Trevor Project, which is a suicide prevention group with a hotline that focuses on LGBTQ issues (their number is 866-488-7386). There is also Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860), which works the same way but specifically for transgender folks. You can support the Transgender Law Center, which fights legal battles specifically for transgender individuals. Another way to help is by supporting document changes for trans people, like this GoFundMe.

I should also throw in that I’m currently a part of the American Humanist Association, and looking forward to a project making shelters more trans-inclusive. The AHA is here, and they have an LGBTQ alliance specifically applying humanist principles towards making the world a better place for queer and trans people.

Also, simply make sure to reach out to your queer friends and family, and show that you appreciate them. Listen to their concerns, and be available for their needs.

Please feel free to share this piece with others who are concerned with relevant issues.

Fighting Against the Trump Presidency: Free Speech

While I tend to focus on general topics on this blog, I’m trying to post resources this week on how to focus your dollars, activism, and efforts on reducing the harm from this year’s election. This will be a multi-part series of short entries, focusing on a variety of causes that you can get involved in to mitigate some harm.


 

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

Donald Trump is threatening to be, with no exaggeration or hyperbole, the most anti-free speech president we’ve ever had. I will debate anyone on this. The only reason we shouldn’t be concerned is when he is unlikely to fulfill his campaign promises (which is admittedly often, since he rapidly changes position and often takes positions that are unenforceable).

Among the things he has done –

Donald has threatened “closing parts of the internet”

Donald has threatened to “open up” libel laws to sue the press.

Trump is no stranger to SLAPP suits, which are frivolous lawsuits which penalize people who have valid criticism but do not have the resources to defend against a false libel suit.

He completely misunderstands the First Amendment and thought that protesters against him were violating his free speech.

He has removed press members from covering his events with no explanation.

He wants to deport Colin Kaepernick for expressing dissent against America.

He has stated that the FCC should fine a journalist for insulting him, as well as threatened to sue a PAC critical of his behaviors against free speech.

A consistent theme in his behavior both in the campaign cycle and post-election has been to show a blatant lack of transparency of the press. Furthermore, while he may be too incompetent to carry out any real harm, his current cabinet pick behavior makes me worried that he will pick someone out that will be capable of doing such things.

What can I do?

Consider being a regular donor to the American Civil Liberties Union. They have defended a variety of free speech issues. Unlike our orange overlord, they have supported people’s right to protest the ACLU. Consider being a contributor to the work that they do?

You can subscribe to a print newspaper, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. Seriously. Right now, the media relies on a news model that is based on “clicks”, which exacerbates skew and causes people to share unreliable sources. Print media is far more balanced, and with the rise of the internet it has been harder and harder to get reliable reporting. You can help by supporting this medium.

 

Related Piece: If the Alt-Right Actually Cares About Free Speech, they Need to Ditch Donald

Please feel free to share this piece with others who are concerned with relevant issues.

 

Nationalism is Mankind’s Worst Religion

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

No Religion Required, as you well know, prides itself on speaking out against religious bigotry and privilege of all stripes. Religious harm clearly poisons our everyday life, and it doesn’t take much effort to understand why. I don’t speak at all for No Religion Required, and I don’t pretend to, but in my mind there is clearly a strain of religion that is worse than any other, and its name is Nationalism.

Make no mistake, while it’s an ideology that masquerades as a secular one, it takes no work at all to see that adherents follow it on a supernatural level. In America, we have our own deities and they are known as the founding fathers, and we appeal to them in times of vehement disagreement as if they are on our side at all times. Like the gods of old, they had massive moral failures. They owned slaves. They raped slaves. They kept women in their place. But like the gods of old, we overlook them with the excuse of “historical context” and treat their word as gospel. And if you don’t bow to their infinite wisdom or even acknowledge their ideas as anything other than sacrosanct, then you are easily dismissed.

american-flag-1272115_1280

[Image: The American Flag with the sun shining from behind, forming the image of a cross]

Nationalism has its ministers, but here we call them politicians. They are able to spout off whatever they want and their adherents accept it as the gospel truth. No need for fact checking.

Nationalism has its martyrs. When a Christian is killed, Christians claim the victim as someone who died for their Christ. When a soldier in the military is killed, any redneck can claim them as their own and say they died for any right that’s convenient at the time, including the right to harm another.

Nationalism has its own hellfire. Instead of “think of your eternal soul”, though, it’s “think of the women and the children!” This can be used to justify anything. Should we go on a reactionary war that lasts decades? Should we lock up people possessing small amounts of substances and call them criminals? Should we withhold civil rights from anyone who isn’t a straight cis white male? Under the “American way of life”, these are all justified under the flimsy excuse of protection. We shouldn’t treat this country like an experiment, we should keep it as it has always been so we don’t have to risk our children’s lives.

Religions have xenophobia, but Nationalism exacerbates it. Christianity has its chosen people against the Amalekites, and Islam has its chosen people against the Jews. But in Nationalism, the chosen people are the citizens, who have divine importance over anyone else. Who is the problem? The Japanese! The Chinese! The Russians! The Syrians! The Mexicans! Theistic religions have the advantage that their racism is more subtle and a thing that can be swept under the rug, while Nationalism is blatant. This may make you think that the problems of Nationalism should become more apparent, but this is not the case. No, under Nationalism, this bigotry is embraced. And any time you question it, you are a heretic to the country.

Like other religions, Nationalism changes to suit who it fits. This allows people to decide what a “true American” is, not unlike a “true Christian”. Politicians are allowed to mold this concept over so they can address the true Americans. These dogwhistles allow the congregation to try and make the nation as close as it can to it’s true self, which occurs at the expense of anyone who falls outside that ideal. Anyone who addresses true America is “speaking their mind”, and anyone outside that follows a hidden agenda. They are agents of the deceiver, and they are working against this ultimate crusade for heaven.

This is so pernicious, that even those who find themselves on the opposite side still have to capitulate to it. Unless pacifists and revolutionaries say “god bless America” at the end of every speech, or talk about how great of a country it already is, then they might as well be destroying everything good about this nation.

And don’t even think about speaking out against it. If your country bombs someone else and you have the audacity to question it, then you hate its martyrs that we call soldiers. The same will happen if you criticize the president in times of struggle. You can’t say anything about its flag. Did you sit down in class while the rest of your class swears a loyalty oath to that symbol? Prepare to be publicly shamed and re-educated. Did you take a knee when someone sang a hymn to bombing our enemies? It doesn’t matter if you are doing it because you think the country is treating its citizens inhumanely, you are criticizing the nation and shaming the martyrs! This will not be tolerated.

Nationalism is worse than religion, because it can co-opt any religion it wants as part of its cause. Think of all the Conservative Catholics, the Conservative Baptists, the Conservative Mormons, who consider each other to be heretics, yet each is engaged in divine struggle for the Lord on high. They co-opt their faith into their politics to steer the country on their own holy mission. Think of the Islamist states in the Middle East who tie their country to the words of their holy books and the words of their Imams. Think of the crusades and every holy mission that a country has used to justify bloodshed.

Unlike religions, in America at least, nationalism has the force of law behind it. The Steven Andersons of the world can praise the death of 49 queers and allies being slaughtered, but he doesn’t get the resources and the laws to help him do that more. Meanwhile, your senator can turn your tax dollars into bombs and use it to destroy innocents. If a church tries to tell you where you’re allowed to pee, you have the freedom to avoid the building. When the church twists the governor’s arm, however, then you aren’t safe behind closed doors. When something has the word of law on its side, no matter how immoral or unethical, it can be treated as the gospel truth. Especially if it’s because “we are a Christian nation.”

Last week Nationalism won.

gott-mit-uns

[Image: A bronze, nazi belt buckle with the words “Gott Mit Uns” over an eagle resting on a swastika. The words in German translate to “God With Us”. Source: Wikimedia Commons]

I vow to criticize bullshit in all its forms until my dying breath. Bullshit comes in many forms, and it’s vile and pernicious in the form of religion. Religion gives a pass to evil under the false guise of morality, it gives a pass to nonsense under the mantle of faith, and it gives authority to people fucking us over for personal gain. And we’ve let it do it again.

I’m a millennial. Fascism, nationalism, and racism were a part of the history books when I was growing up. I was taught that there would still be evil people doing evil things and that I would have to deal with that, but prejudice was supposed to be a thing behind us. I suppose I was deeply mistaken. We’ve been passed the buck to try and see if it works for this generation. Think it will work this time around?

I’m not going to stop fighting. I’m never giving up hope. I just hope that global warming doesn’t solve the problem of man’s inhumanity to man first.

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