Colin Kaepernick and Civil Protest

By now most everyone has heard of the events surrounding Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and his refusal to stand during the national anthem played at football games. It began with him simply sitting on the bench and evolving him to take a knee during the anthem, almost as a gesture of respect. Nobody was surprised really at the outrage voiced by many Americans. Although, nobody actually questioned the reasons behind their outrage, because when it comes to our patriotism, their outrage is always taken as a given.

Shortly after, Kaepernick clarified his position:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Obviously this concept is not new, it derives from the greatly respectable idea of civil disobedience. Along with the negative reaction came the reinforcement from people supporting Kaepernick, including a slew of different athletes and other figures such as the #VeteransForKaepernick. For anyone interested, there’s a handy complete timeline of the Kaepernick protests outlining everyone who has protested in his example.

colin-kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.

Many of the most common arguments against Kaepernick’s form of protest is that is disrespectful. We can take the example of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. In an interview Brees said that, while he agrees that Kaepernick has the right to protest, “there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.” Brees went on to say that the American flag “represents the very freedom that Colin Kaepernick gets the opportunity to exercise by speaking out his opinion in a peaceful manner about that issue.”

I could spend all day dissecting this very argument, but what core message really means is “Fall in line.” For anyone that doesn’t believe this just read more into what they are really saying. I could translate that entire statement above into this “You have the right to protest, but don’t change anything.” The argument commonly made about having the right to protest is enough evidence of how much freedom you have is bogus. We have the right as human beings to protest, but we have the privilege  to protest as granted by the state, in this case represented by the American flag.

It is for this exact reason that I don’t accept President Obama’s support for Colin Kaepernick. Because while Obama did support the right to protest, he just recently added :

I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing… I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot. One of thing I saw about American democracy is that it can be frustrating, but it’s the best system we’ve got.

Again, this can directly be translated into “You have the right to protest, but don’t change anything.”

With how quickly information moves these days many people reasonably suspected that this issue had already passed along, yet there are recent developments in the story worth discussing. First off being the fact that Kaepernick reportedly received death threats over the incident, and his remarks on the presidential candidates.

The death threats, just as Kaepernick acknowledged, proved his point. When your nationalistic pride is so intense that you cannot tolerate dissent you’ve lost your true sense of humanity. Many people will argue “He’s being insensitive to people who’ve lost loved ones in the armed forces.” But I would argue that those people don’t understand the point of all this. What good is defending a country if that country is intolerable? And if that’s not the reason to send death threats, is there any true reason besides blatant dogmatism?

As for his comments on the first presidential debate, I still don’t see why people get upset over these things. The statement was “Both are proven liars and it almost seems like they’re trying to debate who’s less racist.” And again, people don’t like dissent. It’s not that he’s simply disapproving of one candidate, it’s that he’s against both. To a degree the public can accept if people endorse the opposite candidate, but going with neither must seem truly anti-American to them. The first headline regarding this issue read “Colin Kaepernick in danger of losing support after comments on presidential candidates” and it truly is a shame.

The true point of all this being the power of civil disobedience. Such a simple demonstration of disobeying caused such a simultaneous uproar and yet many people follow in his example. With the current sharp rise of nationalism it’s useful to remember the basic methods of protest and analyze them so that they may be rendered most effective.

 

Why We Should Avoid Labels

There was a good while where I didn’t know whether the phrase “Don’t label me” was a joke or if it was a serious statement. That phrase would usually come up during situations where people say “Don’t be such an X” or “If you believe that, then you must be X”. For the most part people can say this phrase jokingly, but we can’t ignore the fact that a growing number of people try to avoid labels in some sense. Even if it’s just an attempt for that person to feel unique there must be some validity to this idea.

The main issue with labeling certain ideas is that there is no inherent meaning in the label itself. To illustrate this we can look at two of the most common labels used in politics, the split between liberal and conservative. When I speak of a person who is liberal, I myself have a very specific idea of what that word means. The problem is, the person I’m talking with may have a different conception of what liberal means. For instance, I may have in mind that I’m speaking of classical liberal political philosophy as a whole, while the person I’m talking to may think of being liberal on a specific issue. Even then, if we were to agree on a single definition there will still be confusion. Say that just for convenience we decide to use the Oxford Dictionary definition of liberal:

Favouring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform.

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Dehumanization

It’s an amazing thing to be able to witness the base anger and resentment towards each other that people carry  today. It appears society is getting so bitter that we can barely stand the sight of each other anymore, and for many people they will hardly admit that the other person is truly a human.

This seems to happen most in modern industrialized countries. Take a look at the average minimum wage worker. Typically a bored teenager, working for extra money or to save for school, and they face a constant stream of upset customers. Now, the business tries their best to get the worker to be enthusiastic and kind to the customers, regardless if the worker truly cares or not. The moment the person allows this to happen, his identity is that of the worker, and not the human being he actually is. The best example of this is Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of ‘Bad Faith’. He gives the example of the waiter that moves with too much precision and acts all too “waiterly” in a sense putting his role of a waiter before his role as a human being. Sartre would say that this man was in bad faith because he deceived himself about who he actually was.Read More »

Third Party Politics

It was reported earlier today that Jill Stein, the assumed presidential candidate of the Green Party, offered to step aside if Bernie Sanders wanted to run on the party’s ticket. This is an interesting proposal, especially since just yesterday it was leaked that Sanders will supposedly endorse Clinton at an upcoming rally next week. The idea isn’t completely ludicrous, after all Sanders served as an independent in Congress and his ideas match up more smoothly with the Green Party. In fact, as a sign of support, during the California primary Jill Stein actually urged voters to vote for Sanders if they were registered as Democrat or independent, saying that “The more the Sanders team can raise the bar for the people not the billionaires, the stronger we will all be for it.”

This raises more crucial questions about the function of third parties in the U.S. First off I’d like to mention the abuse of the term ‘third party’ when every organization that isn’t the Democrats or Republicans is merely called the ‘third party’, in a way hinting at it’s own failure. But it turns out that the Green Party is the second largest alternative party with ballot access in 20 states in the country, right behind the Libertarian Party with access in 34 states.

The issue is, which would really be the most beneficial solution? Suppose that Sanders does endorse Clinton, that doesn’t automatically mean that all of his supporters will vote for her. In fact it seems the only reason the Democrats want the endorsement from Sanders is really just as an admission of defeat. Only that way will the party begin to pacify many of its more outraged members. But imagine if Sanders turned around and endorsed Stein? That seems much more likely than Sanders running on the Green Party ticket, and it would mean an unprecedented amount of people would suddenly very seriously consider the party. Sanders began endorsing and fundraising for progressives running for local elections, the most impressive feat being the fundraising of $250,000 for Tim Canova, an opponent of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Jill Stein
Jill Stein is currently running for President as a member of the Green Party, and previously ran in 2012.

I don’t expect this to ever happen. Sanders is already poised to have a great deal of influence in the Democratic party and will likely continue to influence generations of voters. But a move like this would grant him the same status as Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate often accused of taking votes from the Democrats clearing the way for the 2000 Bush election. In an election season without Donald Trump I would fully support this, but for now the best thing might be for Sanders to continue to build the new labor movement, regardless if it is within or outside the Democratic Party.

However the future of any alternative party does not depend solely on Bernie Sanders. The biggest issue at the moment is exposure, the fact is that the majority of Americans couldn’t identify an alternative party to vote for. This is being remedied in some ways. For instance in late 2015 the Green Party and the Libertarian party filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates in hopes to gain access to the national debates. The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the exclusion of alternative candidates violated antitrust laws, and in many ways actually does. The ideal for the new system would be any candidate would be featured in the debates if they had secured their place on enough state ballots to potentially win a majority in the electoral college. This seems to be a reasonable way for candidates to actually earn their place on the debate stage rather than having it handed to them.

Despite this being a reasonable solution it is unlikely to succeed. Prior to 1988 the debates were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, however after the group chose to pull out of the debates the Democrats and Republicans put together a joint effort to create the CPD. Although technically the CPD is a non-profit organization you can imagine the amount of influence the two major parties have over their operations. As a result in 2000 the rule was created that for a candidate to be featured in the debates that candidate would need to garner at least 15% of national support across five polls. Of course it’s extremely difficult to poll that high without any sort of national recognition such as a debate would bring. This is exactly what the Green’s and Libertarian’s lawsuit would seek to end.

There is a great deal more that needs to be done to see the growth of an alternative party. Although an endorsement from Bernie Sanders would seem like a quick fix there is still other issues inherent to these parties. The biggest example is the mentality of the “Lesser of two evils.” The idea is that you vote for the least despicable of the two major candidates simply to deny the worst candidate from winning. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree with the person you voted for, the mentality just states you vote for the person you disagree with least. This is such a silly idea you could hardly find anyone that seriously supports it.

There are a number of problems with this argument. While it is largely utilitarian, your vote would be much better spent going towards a candidate you actually agree with. Not only would you be putting your effort towards ideals you believe in but you wouldn’t have to compromise yourself into this trap of “lesser evils.” Think of it this way: if Hitler and Stalin were campaigning on the Republican and Democratic tickets, respectively, would you vote for the lesser of two evils? You wouldn’t vote for Stalin simply because you believe he is the less despicable, you would simply revolt. And that is all there is to do.

The thing about the lesser of two evils is that they are both still evil, which in my mind means that we can do better. However, I’ll be honest. I would much rather see a comprehensive labor movement in the U.S. than a new party, but I’ll take what I can get.

Boredom

It turns out that with Summer here and the hot sun, the dangers of boredom is a very real threat. What is it about boredom that makes someone want to gnash their teeth and smash their head up and down? This feeling comes naturally when there is nothing particularly interesting to do, or when there is no will to get up and do them.

One trait of boredom is that the person is very aware of their own boredom, making the whole situation worse. For instance it’s one thing to lay on the couch all day, but it’s another to lay there and constantly complain how boring it is. It’s almost as if that constant reminder that you’re bored just perpetuates it. So the obvious solution here would be to get up and do anything, really anything to get your mind off the nothing. In fact that’s what many people suggest, citing how beautiful of a day it is or how many things there are to do around. The likelihood of any of those curing your boredom may vary, depending on their excitement and personal interest it has.

But perhaps boredom may actually be somewhat beneficial. It plays a very odd role in our day to day lives, from being minimal some days or devoting an entire day to boredom on other occasions. For instance boredom can cause someone to be ‘begrudgingly productive’ by doing tasks just avoid the boredom, and this in many ways is the only way I personally function. For others it causes them to lash out and seek some sort of excitement, many times without an end. In his book “The Conquest of Happiness” the mathematician Bertrand Russell devotes an entire chapter to the relationship of boredom and excitement, writing that:

The desire for excitement is very deep-seated in human beings, especially in males. I suppose that in the hunting stage it was more easily gratified than it has been since. The chase was exciting, war was exciting, courtship was exciting. A savage will manage to commit adultery with a woman while her husband is asleep beside her, knowing that it is instant death if the husband wakes. This situation, I imagine, is not boring.

In this attempt at being witty a good point arises, mainly that our domesticated and increasingly restrained way of life doesn’t leave as many chances for a base excitement. I’m not saying that we should try to imitate a hunter-gatherer type lifestyle, but it’s important to consider how the average human day has evolved over time. So that for the majority of human history, much more time was devoted in a single day to working, getting food, taking care of a family, ect. That’s not to say boredom always springs out of unused time, because often times we find great excitement in being completely unproductive. But perhaps our ancestors weren’t as bored as we are.

But regardless, this is mostly just speculation. I doubt that anytime soon we’re going to see a comprehensive scientific survey of boredom, and in many ways we don’t need it. Anyways I’ll keep these thoughts short so it’s not so dull, and as many probably guessed, these thoughts are a product of being ‘begrudgingly productive’.

Value of the U.S. Constitution

Typically I don’t read Slate.com, for a variety of reason, but a friend of mine brought a recent article of theirs to my attention. The article of course being where judge Richard A. Posner states he doesn’t see any value to spend “decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution.” His point comes as a sidenote at the end of the brief article, but he goes on to elaborate his reasoning, claiming “Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc., of the 21stcentury. Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post–Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today.”

This comes as shocking to many Americans, especially those that the constitution dear to their heart. The federalist spirit is still alive and well, the belief that for a properly functioning government we need a strict reading of the constitution. That’s where we get the modern term “constitutional conservative” people like to identify as. To clearly show the severity that some people take it to, it’s hard to forget former House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s statement that “God wrote the constitution.” These sentiments have been echoed constantly throughout our nation’s history, but conservatives have come to expect strong constitutional convictions ever since the Reagan era, to a near religious level. In fact in a speech in 1987 Reagan said about the constitution “It is a human covenant, yes, and beyond that, a covenant with the Supreme Being to whom our founding fathers did constantly appeal for assistance.”

Somehow the constitution of the United States has been elevated to the status of a religious document in the minds of many Americans. Obviously Richard Posner’s statement directly conflicts with this.

If Tom Delay really believes that God wrote the constitution, then by his rationale the constitution must be a perfect document (assuming he believes God is perfect). Which is absurd to believe, because the very fact that we have amendments is enough to admit that the constitution is not nearly perfect. And these were some very glaring mistakes too, causing changes in everything from the abolition of slavery, to changing congress meeting dates from December to January.

But the real question still stands at of how much validity the constitution has in these modern times. Theoretically the ability to add amendments should keep the constitution relevant in response to new events, however, it can be notoriously difficult to get a new amendment passed. And even so, there is the obvious problem that perhaps something passed may turn out to be wrong. The constitution was not crafted by God, which leaves room for an extreme error in human reasoning which could result in any number of inappropriate legislature.

Ultimately the constitution is political philosophy put into practice, and therefore the original document represents the consensus of political philosophy at the time. Or, at the least what could be agreed upon at the time. With this reasoning I would like to see more leeway to changes based upon the contemporary philosophical opinions. This sounds obscure, but I promise it has very real effects.

Perhaps the best example of this idea is the FDR’s proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights” to secure economic rights. Roosevelt proposed this idea in 1944 after his State of the Union address, likely as a response to the earlier depression that his administration was famous for confronting. A full video of the rights can be found here, but the Second Bill of Rights would include in his own words:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

There would have to be some definite tweaks to this list, and a few updates to fit with modern times, but otherwise these seem like basic human rights which the constitution does not provide.

My point here is that FDR’s Second Bill of Rights was the culmination of events that happened throughout the Great Depression and this was his conclusion to prevent another such disaster. This is the type of liberty a congress should have to insure the freedom of all Americans and to effectively respond to new issues. However, with this sort of liberty there is always the chance of the power being abused. So to counteract this I’d propose that for every amendment and new legislation that congress outline their exact logic behind the changes, in a step-by-step geometrical fashion. This way we can have a government truly based on reason while encouraging the questioning of our own philosophical groundwork.

 

 

Reaction to Making “America White Again”

Making headlines across the country, Rick Tyler, running for a congressional seat from the 3rd district of Tennessee, put up a billboard with the words “Make America White Again” to bring publicity to his campaign. In an interview he practically admitted it was to stir up controversy, but still claimed there was a great amount of truth to it. In his own words he wanted to go back to the America of the 1960’s, or what he calls the “Ozzie and Harriet” or the “Leave it to Beaver” America. But something striking about this interview is how completely composed the man is: he speaks intelligently (or just what he regards as intelligent sounding), he has his ideas clear and articulates, he even provides a few shady statistics to reinforce his claims.

There were already speculations about the true meaning of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and what it actually meant, but Tyler’s slogan takes all suspicion out of it. He confirms our suspicions in a way that even the demagoguery of Trump would not dare to do.Read More »