Rambling about Millennials, Part One

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blog picture Generation Me

Pictured: said book

I recently read a book from 2006 that commented that we hadn’t yet coined a term to label the age demographic that comes after “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X”. Although that book wasn’t very outdated otherwise, that one sentence is now inaccurate and actually kind of funny. At some point shortly after that book was published, the media fell in love with the word “millennial,” and for a while now, it’s been consistently used as the name of a certain demographic group. The millennial generation is roughly defined as those who were children at the change of the millennium, although some have specified that millennials are those born between 1982 and 2004. (That parameter evidently was first laid out by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss, whose theories are more speculative than empirical, but worth googling if you find yourself with a few spare minutes)

blog picture HelloAt any rate, since I was born in 1991, I’m definitely well within this range and am indubitably a millennial. As such, I have a lot I’d like to say on various subtopics of millennial-ness, some of it addressing generalizations and some of it describing my own theories that are also more speculative than empirical. In fact, I have too much millennial-themed potential content to stick it all into one blog post, so this is going to be a multi-part series. (At this point, I’m thinking it’ll be four parts) A logical starting place is the very concept of categorizing people into specific age demographics.

Personally, when I was a child, I was under the impression that humanity essentially fell into three groups: children, teenagers, and adults. Sometimes, it might be convenient to sort adults into the categories of parent-aged adults, grandparent-aged adults, and adults older than my own grandparents, but for the most part, I thought of “growing up” as a sort of finish line. Getting there might be a gradual process, but once you passed the line, you were done, and you were just as grown-up as any other grown-up. Of course, I found out long before turning eighteen that a person’s entire lifespan, and not just childhood, is a series of changes and landmarks. But it still came as a bit of a surprise when, well into my twenties, the society around me still didn’t consider me fully adult. To some extent, I think this is a current trend caused by social and economic factors; the age of financial independence has been pushed far past the age of legal adulthood or physical maturation. That’s something I intend to write much more about later. But this isn’t entirely a modern thing; it’s always been true that there are major distinctions between different age categories even within adulthood.

If we’re talking about biological aging or cognitive changes or the gradual accumulation of knowledge, I would imagine that aging has happened at the same rate for at least many centuries, if not for all of human history. But if we’re talking about intergenerational differences, I think that things have really sped up since the mid- to late- 1800s. For the last 150ish years, technology has developed so rapidly that each generation is growing up in a very different setting than the last one.

blog picture phonesTelephone history serves as an obvious example. After Alexander Graham Bell got his telephone patented, it took 46 years before a third of American households had telephones. At the time, that surely seemed like a major cultural shift. Communication was suddenly much faster and easier; the telephone changed the way we stay in touch with family and friends, seek help in emergencies, and interact with coworkers or customers. Yet 46 years seems like an awfully slow transition by today’s standards. Now, over three quarters of Americans own smartphones, just 23 years after the first one was invented, and it’s been a mere 10 years since iOS and the android operating system came into being. (The slightly-used iPhone 4 I bought in 2014 is so outdated that I’ve had strangers stop me to ooh and ah over my antique phone. I am not even kidding about that.) Similar statistics apply to various other appliances and devices.

But it’s not just about technology; along with those changes come shifts in every aspect of culture, from fashion and music to the prevalent philosophies and worldviews. The Renaissance period lasted for about three or four centuries, and the industrial revolution was several decades long, (anywhere from 60ish years to almost 200 years, depending upon what source you consult) but in recent history, we talk about decades rather than eras. I don’t think that’s a matter of nomenclature; I think that many of us genuinely think of the ‘80s or the ‘90s as bygone eras.

Long before I read the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, I was formulating an explanation of generational differences (especially in terms of political opinions) that was based on these types of changes. It’s more than just technology and popular culture that changes over time; it’s also the political environment and the economic state of affairs. For example, I was born just as the Soviet Union was breaking up and the Cold War was ending. Although there has obviously been international blog picture cold wartension and conflicts since then, (and one can certainly argue that some of it is linked to the events and attitudes of the Cold War era) the fact of the matter is that I grew up in a political environment very different from that of the previous few decades. The post-nuclear landscape was just a sci-fi setting rather than a plausible fear, “terrorism,” was a more common and frightening buzzword than “communism” and we didn’t talk about “mutually assured destruction” because we all knew that the USA is a superpower and that we had less to fear from actual war than from school shootings, suicide bombings, and the like. Even the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the more recent threats from ISIS are recognized as originating from fringe groups, not from entire nations. It’s a commonly accepted fact that people instinctively fear or dislike “the other”, but I’d posit that it’s a much weaker instinct for those of us who grew up in post-Cold-War America. Whether you see that as good or bad, whether you call it “tolerance” or dismiss it as extreme liberalism, I think it explains a good deal about intergenerational differences in political opinion.

My point here is that any explanation of “why millennials are so…” has to take into account the various factors that made the ‘90s and ‘00s different from, say, the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m not going to pretend to have sufficient expertise in sociology, childhood development, politics, economics, etc., to make a comprehensive list of all such factors, but I can certainly suggest a few that I think are major ones. As I discussed in the paragraph above, the end of the Cold War makes a difference. Perhaps even more significantly, modern technology has greatly increased the speed of communication, and it’s also meaningful that the entertainment industry has made more rapid technological advances than other fields. While commercialization has been an issue for generations, advertising is just getting more insidious and subliminal all the time, subtly altering our collective priorities even as we become less and less trustful of mainstream media and of rich and powerful people. And the emphasis of self-esteem in parenting and education is a big deal too; in fact, it’s the main topic of the book I’ve mentioned a few times now. Sure, that trend originated in writings from around the turn of the century, but it picked up steam slowly, and my generation is probably the first to be indoctrinated into it enough to experience the drawbacks. Much more on that later.

Another biggie is the changing views on education. As higher education has gotten more and more common over time, it’s also become more and more necessary. We’ve reached a point where a college education is not only essential for success in most career paths, it’s also a social expectation for the entire middle class and those from wealthy families. But higher education has also gotten more expensive over the past few decades, and educational loans have become more common and much larger. For the last decade or two, it’s been considered normal to take out student loans by the thousands and tens of thousands. So that’s another thing that makes the millennial experience different than that of earlier generations: It’s now normal and supposedly inevitable for young people to enter adulthood with astronomical debt. blog picture student loansNo longer is debt something that happens to you if you hit hard times or make bad life choices; now it’s practically a coming-of-age landmark. And in general, it’s the people who rack up more debt who become recognized as high achievers and those who make decisions enabling them to avoid debt who are thought of as inferior, or at least less successful. It’s no wonder that young adults are more likely than older adults to believe that the government is responsible for our financial well-being. Socialism sure does sound nice when long-term debt is normal and when the “right” life choices are more expensive than the “wrong” ones.   

I’m not saying any of this to speak against or advocate for any particular political/economic stance. (For what it’s worth, I’m actually much more conservative than the average  or stereotypical person of my age demographic.) My point here is that “millennial” attitudes make sense in context. If I follow the vague outline I have for this blog-post-series, that concept of context is going to be really the central point of the whole thing. When you think about it, the only difference between generations is context. If you could somehow ignore the effects of cultural influences, technology, socio-economic circumstances, political environment, and social expectations, everything that’s left (basic personality traits, appreciation for things like nature or music, capacity for learning, etc.) might vary from person to person, but is pretty much constant from generation to generation.


Some Month-Old Thoughts on Politics and Patriotism

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America picture 2A month ago today, our country celebrated the 241st anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. As is fitting, I spent much of the day contemplating the meaning of patriotism, the quintessentially American rhetoric about liberty and freedom, and the relationship that those concepts have with morality in general. (Does patriotism make you a good person? If someone loves America, does that make them complicit with the shortcomings and injustices that exist in our society? Can an individual be proud of their country but yet dislike their government?) This is why I take ridiculously long showers, y’all. I had intended to blog about that topic later in the day and had even mentally formulated much of the content of that blog post. It would have been long, philosophical, and maybe a little bit boring. So I never got around to finishing it. But now, upon opening the Word document containing the very beginning of a very rough draft, I’d like to go back and use some of that content. What follows is a slightly edited version of what I wrote a month ago.

In the grand scheme of history, 241 years is an extremely short period of time. But since it is significantly longer than the human lifespan, every twenty-first century American views the Declaration of Independence as distant history and takes for granted (to some extent) the ideas it expressed.

Of course, those ideas weren’t completely new and original even at the time. The founding fathers were inspired by Enlightenment philosophy, perhaps most notably the writings of John Locke. And the quintessentially American emphasis on rights traces its roots to the Magna Carta of 1215. But 800 years is still only a small fraction of the millennia that organized government has existed. Besides, the Magna Carta was only about the relationship between the monarchy and the nobility, not the rights of the common people. And until the eighteenth-century, the concepts of equality and human rights didn’t play a large role in politics.

I think that we modern Americans don’t often think about just how new our “unalienable” rights are. It is certainly a beneficial thing that we have things like anti-discrimination laws, the freedoms laid out in the Bill of Rights, and the opportunity to vote for our leaders, but none of those things are universal throughout human history. That’s why we’ve made a holiday of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. As Americans, we’re proud that our national identity is all about freedom, equality, and democracy.

Or is it? Take a look on social media or the news, and you’ll see lots of complaints about rights being denied, demographic groups being marginalized, voices not being heard, and needs not being met. Some of it may be petty or even inaccurate, but much of it will be valid. Despite our rhetoric about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the United States of America is not a utopian nation. At any given time, few if any American citizens are satisfied with the government, and most politically-informed Americans have feelings of animosity against fellow Americans with different political opinions. It certainly seems as if Americans hate America.

I would argue that this is a side effect of a democratic government. Because we elect our leaders and thereby have some degree of influence in our government, we pay much closer attention to politics than the average person in, say, medieval Europe. Most of us are more informed than we probably would be if we didn’t have any voice in our political system. All of us who make an effort to be well-informed are qualified to form and express stances on at least a couple specific issues, and many of us are to some extent emotionally invested in those issues. That’s not because we’re jerks who like to argue, it’s because the outcome could affect us or our family, friends, and neighbors. If I’m strongly against a particular proposed bill, or I actively dislike a certain candidate, it’s probably because I anticipate a negative impact on my day-to-day life, the life of someone I care about, or society as a whole. So when others support that bill or that candidate, it’s going to bother me. Personally, I try very hard not to be judgmental, but it’s hard not to question others’ morals or intelligence when they’re “wrong” about politics.

I believe that, in general, most political debates are far more complex than we tend to think, and that our opinions are less about right versus wrong than about assumptions that we don’t even realize aren’t shared. A lot of it comes down to the fact that, when our political ideology promises us all such broad rights and freedoms, there will be situations where there’s a conflict between one person’s rights and another’s. For instance, where does “freedom of speech” go too far and become discrimination or hate speech? At what point is “self-defense” too preemptive to be justified and lawful? Is it better to regulate immigration as much as possible to avoid letting dangerous, “un-American” people into our country, or do our American values dictate that we should welcome newcomers without discrimination and gladly grant them those rights we’re so proud to have?

And more broadly, what does the government owe citizens? Is education a right? And if so, how much can the government reasonably do to ensure the quality of public education? Is quality, affordable health care a right? And if so, what can the government reasonably do to ensure the quality and affordability of health care? To what extent does the government owe us financial assistance if we need it? And is it a good or bad thing if the government cuts funding to public services, financial aid for education, welfare programs, scientific research and the arts, etc. in order to lower taxes and/or decrease debt?

These are some of the questions that create partisan divisions and turn us against our fellow citizens. They are examples of the issues that cause us to dislike particular leaders and fear for the future of our nation. And all of these questions ultimately come down to our interpretations of freedom and rights. So how does patriotism fit into the picture? How can we love America if we can’t even agree on what exactly our American values are?

The initial plan was for this blog post to actually answer that question. I was going to have a lot to say about the history and ideologies of nationalism, populism, and globalization. It was going to touch upon the difference between cultural identities and officially delineated countries. It was going to include a tangent on separation church and state, as well as a very long and involved tangent about the relationship between church and state. It may have discussed topics relating to American superiority, ranging from the “city on a hill” rhetoric of very early colonial days to the controversies about current American military presence in other countries.

And it was somehow going to come to a nice, neat conclusion that would tie all of those threads into a surprisingly small and pretty little knot. I don’t know exactly how that would have happened, but it would have had something to do with the idea that both patriotic fervor and political vitriol are often motivated by goodwill for people in the society around us. Thus, it’s all good. No one is in the wrong except Hitler. It’s going to take a few more generations before it’s socially acceptable to include Hitler in any overarching statements about human goodness.

(By the way, the answer is no, if I could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, I wouldn’t. Instead, I would go back in time and tell teenage Hitler what a great painter he is and how important it is that he never, ever give up his art. Don’t let the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna crush your dreams, Adolf. Just keep painting and the world will thank you.)

But that would have taken much more time than I had available and much more research than I was prepared to do, not to mention that it would have been far too long for a single blog post. Maybe I’ll come back to some of those topics later. But probably not. Those long showers of mine mean that I will always have more blogging ideas than blogging time.

The Price of Democracy

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blog-picture-2If you’re anything like me, right now, you’re pretty sick of politics. And by “sick of”, I don’t mean “bored with”. I don’t mean that the Superbowl or the upcoming Oscars are being cheated of the attention they deserve, or that I’m annoyed with my Facebook friends who frequently post reactions to current events or links to political articles. No, I mean that I’m sick of politics because current events are so significant. I’m sick of watching upsetting things happen in my country and not being able to do anything about it. I’m sick of hearing antagonistic, even hateful, rhetoric from people that I care about. I’m sick of watching people gobble up and repost not only content with opinions that I disagree with, but often blatant propaganda or “alternative facts”. (For the record, I’d like to point out that I’ve been jokingly using the phrase “creative truth” for years prior to this new terminology.) I’m sick of feeling like there’s nobody out there who has the same set of political values and priorities that I have. And I’m bothered by the realization that all of this vitriol is inevitable.

I expect that history will recall the late 2010’s and early 2020’s as a momentous cultural crossroads in America’s history, and by extension, in world history. The events of these next few years will determine many things about the future of our country. Naturally, Americans are very emotionally invested in politics right now, and naturally, we’re all upset about the problems we see and angry at those who are causing or perpetuating the problems that upset us the most. That’s not very pleasant for any of us. I, for one, would feel much more comfortable ignoring politics completely, or at least spending my life in a bubble that no one can enter unless they have the same political and social priorities, values, and opinions that I do. (Also, there’s a password, just because. Yes, I’ve already chosen the password. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.)

But we can’t really do that. Not only is it impossible to live inside a literal password-sealed bubble, but it’s also impossible to ignore politics. Sure, you can refrain from participating in any type of political activism, arguing about politics, mentioning politics on social media or even casting your vote on election day. But even if you don’t participate in politics in any way, you can’t entirely ignore it because it defines the world around you. Technically, even the most obvious laws, like the ones about murder and theft, are defined and enforced via government. And it’s the government that ensures every right and freedom you have. Regardless of which laws you do or don’t agree with, which things you do or don’t believe should be considered “rights”, and whether you agree with how your tax money is spent, it’s undeniably true that those things are all factors that impact your life. One freedom that our government does not guarantee you is the freedom from politics. Since our country believes in freedom of speech, it cannot guarantee you freedom from hearing. And since the government cannot control your thoughts, (at least not entirely, at least not yet) you are not free from caring about political issues. The result of this is that you are also not free from political disagreement. That’s the price of democracy.

blog-pictureDuring this 2016-2017 campaign/ election/ inauguration season, I’ve avoided posting much about politics on social media. Not only have I not expressed my support or enthusiasm for any particular candidate, but I haven’t said much about specific issues or discussed which ones are most important to me. Admittedly, that’s partly because I’m an extreme people-pleaser; I don’t want to say things that could damage relationships, even those kinds of not-really-relationships where we haven’t talked in years and never knew each other well, but we’re still Facebook friends. But it’s also because I’m realizing more and more that my political views don’t even come close to aligning with any one political party, and I don’t want people to assume that I agree with stance X just because I expressed my support for an unrelated stance Y that happens to be associated with the same political party. But I’m guessing that most people who have read this far are curious about where I stand, unless they are assuming that they already know. So I might as well finish this post by making a few things clear.

I don’t trust or like Donald Trump. I didn’t like any of the candidates in the 2016 presidential election, but I ended up voting third party because it was, in my opinion, the least bad of several bad choices. I’m decidedly pro-life, but also very anti-misogyny, and I’m pretty horrified at some of the things I’ve heard people say about women and justify with “because I’m conservative” or “I guess I’m just old-fashioned.” I’m anti-illegal-immigration but pro-legal-immigration, so I want to see policies that facilitate legal immigration rather than policies that block entire demographic groups from crossing the border. I definitely agree that “Black Lives Matter,” but there have been some unacceptable things done in the name of that movement. I believe that the Muslim religion is incorrect, but I also consider it contrary to foundational American values to discriminate or segregate based on religion. I believe that any economic system (communism, socialism, capitalism…) would work well if everyone was honest and moral, but no economic system works perfectly because there will always be some people who find ways to take advantage of the system for personal gain. In general, I think history shows that there are more advantages than disadvantages to international trade and minimal restrictions and regulations, especially on small businesses. I agree that it’s positive for the government to play some role in ensuring quality of education, labor conditions, and health care, to provide some types of welfare for the underprivileged, and to offer funding for things such as scientific research, arts, and (obviously) public libraries, but I also think that most of those systems and programs are either overly-regulated, inefficiently-budgeted, or seriously flawed in some other way. I could go on, but I’ve already said enough in this paragraph to risk defeating the point of this blog post.

You can agree with me or you can disagree with me, and you can ignore me or discuss these things with me. (If you do, I’d appreciate if you’d keep it relatively polite and non-aggressive, please and thank you) Maybe, you can even cause me to reconsider some of my political views. But one thing that you cannot do is live in a society where we all have the right to be involved in politics and we all agree and get along. That just isn’t the way it works.

Sexist Things that Women Say about Women


“Any woman who thinks [opinion] is brainwashed.”

I realize that this blog post is going to get political, so I figured it would be best to start with something non-partisan. This statement is made all too frequently by women all across the political spectrum. The fact of the matter is that, according to any relatively objective definition of brainwashing, a person can be brainwashed into either side of a controversy. To characterize an entire group as being brainwashed is silly unless you are going to continue by saying that this brainwashing has all come from the same source and that this source is a ubiquitous presence among the demographic in question. I do realize that this generally is the implication of this statement, but when the assertion is made in isolation, it’s an ad hominem attack against certain women. (Yes, I know what “ad hominem” literally means, but it’s also the widely accepted name of a logical fallacy, so it is gender neutral in English usage.)

If one is genuinely expressing concern that females are systematically being coerced into certain beliefs and values, then this is hardly the language that one ought to use to make such an assertion, at least not without thoroughly explaining what they mean. Otherwise, one is simply being dismissive and telling a group of people that their thoughts and opinions are totally invalid. Considering that this statement specifically refers to women, it is also indicating that, because of her gender, a woman is permitted to think some things and not others. That’s pretty much the definition of sexism; it doesn’t make it any better if it’s a woman who is saying it.

“I don’t like [name of character or name of book/movie/TV show] because [name of character] isn’t a strong female character.”

Hopefully, many of you reading this are familiar with Doctor Who and will recognize the names of the main characters, because I’m about to use them as a fairly lengthy example. The Doctor is a man from the planet Gallifrey, who travels through space and time in a blue box called the TARDIS. At any given time (with the exception of a couple episodes here and there) he has one female companion who travels everywhere with him and is a co-main-character in the show. (He also usually has a few other companions who are reoccurring characters even though they don’t appear in every episode. And then there’s Rory, who is Amy’s fiancé and then husband, and he travels with the Doctor and Amy for most of Amy’s stint as the Doctor’s companion. But that’s beside the point.)

Most Doctor Who fans have pretty strong opinions about which companions they like better than others. I personally don’t like Donna because she’s just plain obnoxious, and because she frequently forgets that the Doctor is a timelord and really does know a lot more than she does. I’m also not overly fond of Rose, although I liked her when those episodes were new. She’s a bit too much of a flirt and is pretty easily distracted. Actually, most of the Doctor’s companions get quite flirtatious sometimes, but most of them seem to take the whole saving-the-world thing a bit more seriously than Rose does when she’s busy flirting with someone. So I personally like Martha and Amy and Clara better than Rose and Donna. But it seems like the general consensus among the Doctor Who fandom is that Martha is the least remarkable of the Doctor’s companions.

Doctor WhoI can see why some people would say that; Martha is only there for one season, and she’s the most soft-spoken of the Doctor’s companions, and she doesn’t have a complicated and intriguing backstory that involves cool sci-fi concepts that become major long-term themes of the show. But what I’ve heard people say is that she just isn’t a strong female character. That is, she rarely argues with the Doctor or yells at him, and she doesn’t flirt very often, and she doesn’t insist upon doing impulsive things that alter the Doctor’s plans. Basically, she accepts his authority and follows his instructions and helps him save the Earth time and time again.

I think it says a lot about the mindset of the fan base that “strong female characters” are bossy and argumentative and unwilling to acknowledge the Doctor’s authority as a timelord, while someone who respects the Doctor, knows when to keep her mouth shut, and doesn’t get distracted by her own whims is considered a weak female character. But in a sense, Martha is actually the strongest and most capable of the Doctor’s companions from Earth. She rarely does stupid things that require the Doctor to come rescue her, as Rose and Amy constantly do. In fact, she single-handedly saves the Doctor sometimes, and in the season finale, she saves the entire world while the Doctor is trapped. Besides that, most of the Doctor’s companions are dissatisfied and bored with their lives before the Doctor shows up, and we’re given the impression that the Doctor essentially rescued them from the mundane-ness of their own existence, but Martha was an intelligent medical student with a bright future even before she ever met the Doctor. She wasn’t reliant on him to give her life meaning, the way the others were. It’s pretty silly to view her as a weak character just because she’s soft-spoken and polite rather than loud and pushy.

Yes, I know that Doctor Who is just a TV show and that you can only go so far in making comments on our culture based upon the opinions of the Doctor Who fandom. But at the same time, people apply this same logic to so many female fictional characters, and I think it shows a lack of understanding of what strength of character really is. Regardless of gender, being obnoxious is not indicative of strength. Just because Martha treats the Doctor with respect does not mean that she is weaker than the characters that backtalk him and argue with him all the time. In fact, I think that her willingness to trust someone with more intelligence and expertise demonstrates that Martha has a sense of perspective that certain other characters lack. And it serves her well, because when everything depends on her, she doesn’t fail. Both in fiction and in real life, we ought to measure strength of character by the ability to overcome adversity, rather than the inclination to push other people around.

“I don’t understand why any woman would vote for [politician]”

Here’s where it gets specifically political. Okay, I get it, many people vote according to the ideology that gender issues are the most important political issues and that the primary factor to take into consideration is which candidate is the most favorable towards women. I already disagree with that ideology to some extent, but I’m not going to try to argue with it in this blog post. It’s impossible to affect anyone’s ideology via blog post because that’s not the way ideologies work and it’s not the way the internet works. And besides, as ideologies go, this one isn’t so bad. Pretty much all of us, regardless of what we think of the feminist movement as a whole, can agree that sexism is bad and that we wouldn’t want our government to do anything that would be bad for a demographic that makes up approximately half of the population. Of course, the real disagreement here is what can or cannot be called “sexism” and what is or is not “bad for women”. Although that’s a relevant point here, it’s more relevant in the next section of this blog post, so I won’t belabor the point here.

facebookWhen it comes to this particular statement, my complaint isn’t really against the ideology or the specific political issues that are implicitly mentioned. The problem is the statement itself. Let’s imagine two hypothetical female voters. For the sake of discussion, we shall call the first one “you”, and the second one, we shall call either “me” or “I” depending upon grammatical context. Now let us imagine that you post a Facebook status that says, “I don’t understand why any woman would vote for [politician].” And let us further imagine that I had voted for (or am about to vote for) [politician]. Your Facebook status isn’t merely disagreeing with my opinion that [politician] is a better candidate than the alternative(s). It also tells me that you don’t value my opinion and that you think that it’s wrong for a woman to hold such an opinion. Granted, it’s technically possible that you actually didn’t mean that status the way it sounded and that you are simply expressing your puzzlement as an invitation for discussion. But even if that is the case, it’s understandable why I might not realize that, especially once other women who dislike [politician] start chiming in with their opinions that [politician] is a misogynist.

And now, in an admittedly predictable turn of events, I will reveal the fact that this hypothetical situation is in fact not hypothetical, and that I saw an awful lot of Facebook statuses and heard an awful lot of remarks like this back during the presidential campaign. In this particular case, it does seem to be the feminists who say these kinds of things. I point that out not for the sake of finger-pointing, but because, unless I am completely incorrect about what “feminism” even means, feminists should be the last ones to tell women who they should or shouldn’t vote for. I am given to understand that, at its most basic level, feminism is defined as the belief that women are human beings who are not inherently inferior to men and whose rights and opinions are meaningful and should be respected. As far as that goes, I agree, and if that was really what I heard the feminist movement saying, I probably would consider myself a feminist. But what I actually hear from feminists is remarks like this one, which tell me that my opinions are actually not meaningful and deserve no respect. This kind of statement is essentially the same as the first one on this list, just restated in a way that’s a little less dismissive and a little more antagonistic.

Anything that equates “women’s rights” with only issues pertaining to reproduction

The issue of abortion has been a matter of much heated debate for a long time, a lot longer than I’ve been alive. A more recent issue is whether or not it is right for government money to be used to supply birth control to women, even though that money comes from taxpayers, many of whom disapprove of the lifestyles that require the use of birth control. Both of these debates involve factors other than the value of women as human beings. (In the case of abortion, it’s largely an ethical matter that involves the questions of when life begins and whether the right to life applies to the unborn. In the case of birth control, it’s largely an economic matter that involves the question of how much control the government should have over the ways that people’s money is used.) Both issues are actually much more complicated than the way I am presenting them here. I don’t mean to oversimplify them or to ignore all of the what-ifs that would need to be addressed if this blog post was intended to be a political statement or a detailed explanation of my own views. My point is that neither position is specifically misogynist, even though one position is frequently labelled as such. I might as well take this moment to acknowledge that, particularly in respect to abortion, I agree with the position that tends to be characterized as anti-women, and that I am therefore a little personally insulted when that characterization is made. It is my views that are often labeled as being hateful or cruel when in fact they only seem that way if the underlying values are being utterly ignored or dismissed. Particularly in the case of abortion, it’s a little narrow-minded to see it as being a women’s rights issue.

But since that often is the way that these debates are framed, I want to additionally point out that it’s demeaning to women when the term “women’s rights” is used to describe only these kinds of issues. Just a few generations ago, American women couldn’t vote. There have been many societies throughout history where women had absolutely no legal standing and were literally considered to be the property of their fathers and husbands. In many parts of the world even now, it is acceptable and even normal for a man to physically abuse his wife. Even in our own culture, some women are victims of violent crimes or harassment that occur specifically because they’re female. Unfortunately, misogynist abuse cannot be completely eradicated any more than any other kind of wrongdoing can. No matter how strict the laws are, there will always be people who are rebellious enough to break the law. And it’s also sadly true that it simply isn’t possible for every individual to be an advocate for every group that needs an advocate. But if our feminist-influenced culture is truly dedicated to the rights of women, shouldn’t we be more concerned with helping to decrease anti-woman violence and oppression than with getting our government to pay for birth control? Isn’t there more to a woman’s value as a member of society than what she wants to do in order to keep from becoming pregnant? Isn’t it a little self-centered for women in a free country and a relatively safe society to use the term “women’s rights” to refer only to what they choose to do to prevent bearing children (without taking into consideration the obvious and most effective method of not having kids) when there are so many women out there who are being denied so many basic rights?

Anything that denies that there is a distinction between male and female

I am aware of two different views that belong to extreme feminism, and they are very different. One is that women are better than men, and that the world would be a better place if women were totally in charge of absolutely everything. The other is that there is essentially no difference between men and women and that it’s sexist to even imply any such thing. Granted, those are both extreme statements, and there aren’t many people who go quite that far in either case. The first one is a little odd when it’s taken to the extreme, and it’s certainly sexist against men, but it doesn’t really need to go on this list because it isn’t sexist against women. But the second one is quite demeaning to both genders.

legosYes, there’s obviously a problem with placing socially constructed limitations on a person because of their gender. I remember as a kid being annoyed that Legos aren’t supposed to be a girl toy, and now I find it absurd that Lego makes products specifically for girls, because I still think that “boy” Legos are completely gender neutral and totally awesome. In terms of academic interests, there’s a tendency to label math and science as male fields, while literature and writing are female fields. I think that most of us can agree that we have to be careful with those kinds of distinctions, because we don’t want to discourage females who have mathematic and scientific talent, and we don’t want to discourage males who have literary talent. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s statistically true that men are, on average, more intelligent when intelligence is measured in terms of mathematical skills, and that women are, on average, more intelligent when intelligence is measured in terms of verbal skills. The same thing applies to personality traits that are specifically associated with one gender. Not every woman is stereotypically feminine, and not every man is stereotypically masculine, but trends do exist.

Both biologically and psychologically, there is a difference between men and women. There are obvious anatomical differences and there is a difference in the proportion of hormones, which has some impact on the way a person’s mind works. Of course we shouldn’t insult any individual just because they don’t entirely correspond to the standard description of their gender. But at the same time, if we deny that there is any difference at all, we’re ignoring and even devaluing a lot of traits that are sometimes treated as being gender-specific. This is especially a problem when there’s an implication that a particularly feminine female is doing something wrong by failing to challenge the status quo. I’m going to stop there because this leads directly into the next point.

Anything that shames women who don’t reject “traditional gender roles”

It’s a great and wonderful thing that, in our culture, girls are generally given equal education opportunities, women have the option of dedicating their lives to their careers if that’s what they want, and there’s nothing shameful about a woman who works a full-time job, (even if she has kids) whether out of necessity or by choice. For most of the history of Western culture, a woman’s job has been to get married, have kids, and run her home, and if she didn’t do all of those things and do them without attracting any attention to herself, she was unfeminine and immoral. It’s nice that in our society, women aren’t required to live a completely domestic lifestyle if that’s not what they want and if they have something to offer society in another vocation. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for some women to choose a more traditional domestic role. It’s not wrong for a woman to give up other long-term opportunities to get married and start a family. It’s not wrong for an educated woman to choose to be a stay-at-home mother if she and her husband agree that it’s what’s best for their family and that they can afford to live on a single income. And it’s not wrong for a woman who is trying to balance a career and a family to allow the career to become the lower priority. In fact, it’s necessary for the continuation of the human race and beneficial to our society that many women become mothers, even intelligent and educated women who could have (and in most cases, still do) contribute to society in other ways as well.

I acknowledge that there are plenty of feminists who don’t verbally attack housewives, and that there are even some self-described feminists who actually do fulfill a traditionally female role within their own families. But there are also many feminists who make remarks, whether in real life or in political debates online, that label such women as traitors. In an earlier draft of this blog post, I had mentioned a few specific examples, some of which went so far as to insult specific women simply for having children. (Did you know that J.K. Rowling is a drain on society because she’s a mother? It’s true; I saw it online.)

And it’s not just motherhood that is under attack. For example, teenage girls and adult women alike get criticized for conforming to societal norms concerning female fashion. Anyone who has seen much internet feminism knows exactly what I’m talking about; there are some people who evidently think that it’s wrong for a girl to wear makeup, shave, or wear specifically feminine clothing. That is obviously an extreme position, but it’s not very rare. It’s quite ironic that this form of feminism operates mainly by attacking females. How is it not misogynistic to bully girls for being (or wanting to be) feminine?

I don't even know what show this is from, but it's basically the most popular thing on tumblr that isn't about Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Supernatural

I don’t even know what show this is from, but it’s basically the most popular thing on tumblr that isn’t about Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Supernatural

We hear so much about the evils of the patriarchy and how terrible it is that our culture is so male-dominated. While it’s obviously true that the government, much of the corporate world, and many sectors of the media are mainly run by men, it’s not necessarily true that this means that women are subjugated. And it’s definitely true that women are objectified far too much and that this is a problem, but men are not solely to blame. Advertisements for women’s clothes and makeup feature unrealistic physical beauty not because men want to look at those ads, but because women buy products that they expect to make them look beautiful. And gender-based stereotypes come from the mouths and keyboards of men and women alike. There certainly are some misogynistic men out there, but men as a group are not evil sexists who are running the world according to a no-girls-allowed agenda. If the “war on women” is a real thing, it isn’t a war waged by male politicians against women, or by Christianity against women, it’s a war fought between women and other women.

In Which I Continue To Rant About Bad Theology On the Internet



The picture used in the article being discussed

The picture used in the article being discussed

A few days ago, I happened to see this online article: 10 Political Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus, by Mark Sandlin. After wondering whether it was meant to be some kind of satire and looking for signs of sarcasm, I have had to come to the conclusion that it was written in all seriousness. It just sounds silly because it misrepresents Jesus so badly. What bothers me about it is that I’ve heard these exact same arguments from so many people on so many occasions. I understand that the people who say and write these kinds of things are doing so out of good intentions, genuine interest in other people’s well-being, and the belief that they are doing what the Bible tells them to do. But the Bible isn’t a handbook on social justice, and if you read it that way, you’re missing out on a lot. Furthermore, many of these arguments just aren’t supported by the Bible anyway. I’m writing this blog post in the format of a direct response, but I’m not so much criticizing that particular article as explaining why I’m frustrated by the common mindset behind it. Here are Sandlin’s ten “things you can’t do while following Jesus” and my response to them.

10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others

If the point here is that it’s impossible for government to enforce faith, of course that’s true. And if the point is that it’s immoral for the government to try to enforce faith, I agree to some extent. A theocracy based upon Biblical doctrine is a nice idea, but that’s not the kind of government we have, and we wouldn’t be doing any good if we tried to turn this country into a theocracy. But I don’t think that’s what this article is saying, given the fact that it continues, “One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion- because that’s how love works.” Really? Jesus was so humble that He didn’t care if people believed what He said? And Jesus said that free will is the same thing as love? Where does the Bible say that? I’m finding verses that say things like, “…but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”, (John 3: 18) and “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) Contrary to what Sandlin says, Jesus talks about freedom less frequently than He talks about belief, and when He does discuss freedom, he says things like, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) I have a feeling that’s not what Sandlin means when he uses the term “free will”. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can or should try to force people to become Christians. The Bible also says that “this [faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) I am not by any means advocating for a campaign to turn this country into a theocracy. But there is no Biblical basis for the postmodern belief that religious differences don’t matter or that we shouldn’t want people who we love to come to faith.

9) Advocate for war

Jesus: An Artist's Rendition

Jesus: An Artist’s Rendition

Interestingly enough, the first actual Bible quotation cited in this article is quoted in order to disagree with it. Sandlin quotes Matthew 10:34 (although he doesn’t actually give the reference in the article), which says, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He even acknowledges that there are a couple other verses that say the same thing, but discounts them because “they don’t hold a candle to the more than fifty-some verses where Jesus speaks about peace and peacemaking.” He doesn’t offer any such verses, so I got out a concordance and looked them up. I counted, and Jesus used the word “peace” or a form thereof 24 times in the four gospels in the King James Version. In many of these cases, it is part of the phrases “hold thy peace”, “peace be with you,” or “go in peace.” In the parable being told in Luke 11:21, the word is “safe” in most translations, and it refers to possessions, not people. Luke 14:32 also is part of a parable, and “peace” is not what the parable is discussing, as is made clear six verses earlier. Then there is the aforementioned Matthew 10:34 and the corresponding verse in Luke, and a couple verses in Matthew and Luke in which Jesus tells his apostles to bring their peace to a house that is worthy, but not to a house that is not worthy. That leaves five verses that Sandlin could have quoted. I have a feeling that Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers…”) is what he had in mind here. (Incidentally, the beatitudes tend to be misused; one ought to remember that a person who is “blessed” is someone who has received a gift, not someone who has earned a reward.)The others are Mark 9:50, (which ends “…and be at peace with one another”) Luke 19:42, (“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”) John 14:27, (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”) and John 16:33. (“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”) There’s a big difference between “In me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation” and “In the world you will have peace because of me.” Jesus said the first one; He never said the latter one, and Matthew 10:34 (“I did not come to bring peace, but the sword”) is not, as Sandlin implies, in contradiction with the rest of the Bible. Of course, war is a bad thing and should be avoided. But it happens, (Matthew 24: 6 and 7) and when it’s necessary, Christians are not compelled by their faith to oppose it.

8) Favor the rich over the poor

This one is absolutely true, and in fact Sandlin could have used Bible verses to back this one up, particularly from the Proverbs (14:21, 19:17, 31:9) and then there’s the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, which doesn’t actually include the word “poor”, but it does say “those of humble estate.” And Jesus Himself occasionally talks about giving to the poor.  I’m a little puzzled as to why the author of this article didn’t choose to quote the Bible. I rather suspect, though, that he’s hinting his disapproval at some particular law or practice in our culture, and I’m not even sure what that is, unless, of course, he’s arguing for a communist or socialist society. In that case, it’s obvious why he can’t find verses to go with that idea. Jesus wasn’t a political figure and he didn’t have a lot to say about politics except “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21) which isn’t exactly a radical or controversial statement. Jesus is saying that we’re supposed to respect and obey the government, which applies to any kind of political system and has nothing to do with who is rich and who is poor.

7) Cut funding that hurts the least of these

Who ever said anything about government funding? The government in Judea under the Roman Empire did not, as far as I know, have any kind of welfare system at all, and there is no place in the Bible where Jesus has much to say about that lack. If He had had a choice, perhaps Jesus would have been in favor of a welfare system, but we don’t know because the Bible doesn’t
specifically say. It obviously wasn’t an important enough issue to have a place in Scripture. There’s a reason for that; the Bible is about what Jesus did for us, not about how Jesus thinks the government should treat us. Here, Sandlin finally gets around to quoting something from the Bible to support his argument: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.” He doesn’t give the reference, though. I can’t actually find it, but I think that this verse was taken out of context; I seem to recall that Jesus was talking about children, not poor people. If I’m incorrect about that, I do apologize, but either way, this verse isn’t about government welfare and budget cuts.

6) Let people go hungry

Pictured: Not Jesus

Pictured: Not Jesus

Ooh, now we get a Gandhi quote! Seriously, did he not have his Bible accessible when he was writing this article? Or did he look, and realized that there’s no Bible verse that says, “And Jesus said, ‘When anyone is unable to provide food for his or her self, it is the government’s job to provide food for them.’”? Sorry for the sarcasm, but it’s just absurd to quote Gandhi in an article about what “Jesus-followers” should do. Of course Jesus didn’t want people to starve; in fact, He performed miracles on a couple of occasions in order to feed His followers. But there was nothing political in that act of providence, and He never said anything to indicate that we are required to view it as a precedent for government policies.

5) Withhold healthcare from people

When did Jesus discuss healthcare specifically? Sandlin makes this point on the basis that Jesus healed people. Yes, He did, that’s true. The author goes on to acknowledge that we cannot work the miracles that Jesus could, but says that modern health care is pretty close to a miracle. That statement is dangerous; it sounds an awful lot like he’s trying to put modern medicine and/or government funding in the place of Jesus. There’s a word for something that tries to take the place of Jesus; that word is “antichrist”, and it’s generally considered by Christians (or “Jesus-followers,” if you will) to be a bad thing. Again, I’m not denying that Jesus was in favor of taking care of people, but how do you start from that premise and suddenly insist that this means that Jesus expected the government to pay for healthcare?

4) Limit the rights of a select group of people

Okay… what “select group of people” are we talking about, and what “rights”? I agree with this statement as presented, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a subtle way to refer to some specific issue, and I’m not even sure which one. But anyway, Jesus didn’t talk a whole lot about “rights”, and an awful lot of the things that twenty-first century Americans label as “rights” aren’t discussed in the Bible. The phrase “certain unalienable human rights” comes from the Declaration of Independence, which is a very nice document and one that we, as Americans, should respect. But we ought to recognize the difference between biblical doctrine and American ideology, even where they don’t conflict and we agree with both. And even the Declaration of Independence says that these rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, which is so vague that you can’t use it to really make a case for many of the political agendas that I think the author may be subtly referencing. I want to reiterate once again that I’m not completely disagreeing with the goodness of the principle, or saying that it’s totally incorrect. But this principle in and of itself is not biblical and cannot be used to support the kinds of arguments that I think are being implied here.

3) Turn away immigrants

Again, where does this come from? Sandlin lists travelers in the Old Testament and points out that “Christian heritage runs through Judaism. We are an immigrant people. Even our religion began somewhere else.” I understand the point, but where does Jesus say that a government is compelled to never deny immigration? Examples do not make a principle. If Sandlin is speaking against racial discrimination, he could build a better case by quoting any of the several verses in the Epistles that talks about Jews and Gentiles, but even then, this in no way indicates that the government doesn’t have the right to turn away an immigrant when those in authority believe that there is good reason. The current immigration issues in our country are problematic, and I personally don’t know what needs to be done, or whether a “liberal” or “conservative” approach is better.  Certainly we shouldn’t make it illegal for people to move, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any restrictions, or that we shouldn’t do anything to prevent people from sneaking across borders without the approval of both governments. It’s not an issue with only two sides; there are many different things that our political leaders need to take into consideration. The Bible doesn’t give an answer on this issue. It doesn’t specifically discuss the political aspects of immigration.

2) Devalue education

Sandlin says this based on the use of the word “wisdom” in the Proverbs, which isn’t really a valid point because “wisdom” is not synonymous with “education”.  Perhaps that’s splitting hairs a little, but once again, what does this have to do with government funding? The author’s assertion is making the assumptions that a) education is the responsibility of the government and that b) more funding automatically means better education. Both of these are debatable, and neither of these is something that Jesus talked about.

1) Support capital punishment- execution

Christ on the CrossThis is the worst part of this list, and what makes it even more horrible is the fact that it comes in at number one. It isn’t the sentiment itself that I mind so much. Although the Bible doesn’t say anything against capital punishment, in theory there wouldn’t be anything wrong with a country deciding not to use that particular authority. But the argument that Sandlin gives has nothing to do with the authority of the government or with the Bible. It starts by saying, “Jesus died by execution. He was an innocent man.” For just a moment, it looks like there’s finally something in this article that sounds like Christianity. Here we finally have a mention of Jesus’ death on the cross, and even a hint that the purpose of his death was sacrificial. But that’s not where this article is going. It goes on to say that it’s unloving to kill, and ends, “It’s time to stop the government-sanctioned killing.” Is this article really telling us that the message we’re supposed to get from Jesus’ death is that capital punishment is bad? Instead of seeing what Jesus has done for us, we’re supposed to see a reason to criticize our own government? Instead of receiving forgiveness of sins and salvation, we’re supposed to receive motivation to push for the abolishment of a law we think is “unloving”? This isn’t just ignoring the cross; it’s using the image of the cross to cover up the purpose of the cross!

I know that there are Christians on both sides of any social or political issue who see Christianity as a reason for their position, and I know that both Republican Christians and Democrat Christians often have a tendency to mix religion and politics. Sometimes, that isn’t even such a bad thing, because it’s true that religious morals should cause us to do good things in our lives, including the areas where politics are concerned. But when we use faith to inform our political and moral values, and when we use the teachings of Jesus to explain these values, we need to make sure we’re actually agreeing with those teachings, not just manipulating them and mixing them with clichés and Gandhi quotes in order to say whatever will justify our political beliefs. And, even more importantly, something is wrong when we think that Christianity is just about politics. It’s horrible and frightening when people can talk about their “Christian” faith without mentioning Christ and his crucifixion and the forgiveness of sins. It’s even worse that law and gospel have gotten so lost that people can actually talk about the crucifixion without seeing salvation and grace there. Jesus came to die for your sins, people! If Jesus’ teachings inform your political opinions, that’s a good thing, but don’t let your political opinions redefine Jesus!

There’s this book I’m reading, episode 4

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1984I started reading 1984 by George Orwell a while ago, and I had intended all along to write a blog post about it. Now I’ve finished the book and am reading other things, but I decided to write about it now anyway. 1984 is considered a quintessential Cold War- inspired dystopian novel. That may sound oddly specific, but it really isn’t, because dystopian novels are particularly associated with the Cold War era. As I read the book, I could definitely see why it was such an influential book. My senior seminar paper last semester required me to have a working knowledge of the ideas and motifs inherent in dystopian literature, and 1984 exemplifies them all.

When it was published in 1949, the Cold War was a new development in world politics, World War II was a recent event, and there wasn’t the kind of technological optimism that characterized 1960s science fiction such as Star Trek. In fact, the novel portrays a world that the author describes as being more primitive than the earlier decades of the twentieth century. The only advanced technology shown in the book are the telescreens, which are basically webcams in the walls. That may have been beyond the scope of 1949 technology, but Orwell was being realistic in his assumption that it was technologically feasible in the near future.  This future society that Orwell imagines has degenerated because it has fallen prey to an enforced communism, which he evidently intends for readers to equate with Nazism and Russian socialism. (Not that the Nazis were communists; the parallel there is the military rule and brutality.)

I find Orwell’s predictions to be impressively accurate. Of course, the world had not degenerated into a communist dystopia by 1984, but I think it probably would have if, as Orwell imagines, the countries of the world had merged into just three nations. That idea is, in my opinion, the only non-feasible element of Orwell’s imagined future. I don’t think there’s any way that such a major change could take place in the space of just a couple decades, but if it did, and especially if such a thing had happened in the early years of the Cold War, things probably would have turned out the way they are in 1984.

The world described in the novel is characterized by inescapable government surveillance, a systematic dumbing down of culture in order to make everything politically correct, and a less-than-luxurious lifestyle enforced by government rationing and regulation. These are all things that many people would argue actually are happening. In many cases, there’s some validity to those arguments, although I personally find it silly that anyone could blame the government for their lack of financial prosperity when we live in a country where the average citizen is ridiculously rich by international standards. I mean, seriously, I don’t have money to spare and am very concerned about it, and my family is poor by the standards of most people who go to my college, but I’ve never had to worry about literally starving to death, which is something that really does happen in the real world. And I own so much clothing that I actually need furniture in my room to keep the stuff I’m not wearing at any given time. Compared to the lifestyles of truly impoverished people, that’s some extreme opulence. But that’s really beside the point. The point is that there’s some truth to the argument that 1984 is just an extreme version of the real world, and the extreme government system in the book is just an exaggeration of the way government inherently works anyway.

OrwellThat’s a pretty superficial reading of the book; Orwell makes it very clear that the novel is a critique of powerful governments and of the motives that lie behind politics. Besides, as my dystopian research from last semester indicated, dystopian literature is almost always a political statement. These kinds of stories complain about the government of the author’s time and place by portraying a future version of that time and place that show what the author imagines will happen if the political situation doesn’t improve. Whether the specific issues being addressed are about the environment, about social issues, about the degree of power the government has, or about war, it’s axiomatically true that a dystopian story will be a commentary on something specific.  You can call that a slippery slope fallacy or you can call it a clever literary device, but it’s definitely the way the genre works. It’s very unlikely that anyone would ever write a good book with the premise, “The world is a really great place now, but in the future, it’s going to be terrible.”

Aside from the dystopian predictions about government, another characteristically postmodern element of 1984, which I found to be an interestingly accurate prediction on Orwell’s part, is the idea that truth is relative. This relates to the political aspects of the government because it is the government who sets these truths. The main character, Winston Smith, works at a job that involves altering records in order to hide the fact that the government changes their mind about things. At one point, Winston and his coworkers have an especially big job because their country has started fighting against the country that was previously their ally, and everyone is required to think that the war has always been against the country that is the current enemy. All references to the war in every speech, piece of propaganda, or news story must therefore be altered. This fact control is so prevalent and so successful that even the people doing the alterations don’t see it as lying or covering up the truth. Everyone believes exactly what the government tells them to believe, no matter how directly it contradicts what they know to be true. Winston Smith is unusual in that he has memories that disagree with the official “truth” and that he believes the government to be capable of and responsible for falsehood.  This is considered to be thoughtcrime and insanity, which leads to my favorite quotation from the book: “Perhaps a lunatic [is] simply a minority of one.”

Another thing in particular that really struck me about this book was the concept of “newspeak”. (It took me a few chapters to realize that the phrase is new-speak, not news-speak) Newspeak is basically a simplified version of English. The language is systematically being made less and less expressive by decreasing the vocabulary. Each edition of the dictionary has fewer words than the previous, and this is generally regarded as being a good thing. Words with synonyms are considered to be superfluous and unnecessary. For example, words such as “great”, “excellent” and “fantastic” can be eliminated because they mean the same thing as “good”, and words such as “bad”, “terrible” and “horrible” can be replaced with “ungood”. The people in charge of editing the dictionary are well aware that they are cutting away at subtle shades of meaning when they make certain words obsolete, but they consider this to be a positive thing because of the resulting simplicity. Their ultimate goal is to cut the entire language down to a single word that has such a generic and widespread meaning that it can be used for absolutely everything. Of course, the government is in charge of all this. The result is that, by simplifying language and controlling people’s ability to communicate, the government is controlling people’s thoughts and preventing them from being intelligent, logical, and capable of understanding anything beyond their monotonous everyday work.

As an English major, I’m very fascinated by the power of language. In fact, “the power of language” is a phrase that comes up very frequently in just about every English class I’ve ever taken. If 1984 is ever studied in any English classes at my college, I’m sure that “the power of language” is one of the main points that the professors expect students to take away from this book. It’s an idea that appeals to English professors and English majors alike because, not only is it a fun motif to look for, but it explains why one would want to study English and literature anyway. Nobody would really deny that words are linked to ideas, but the point being made in books like 1984 is that words are ideas; that freedom and knowledge and capability come through the power of vocabulary. If we spoke a language that only had one word, we could only think one thought. Even though the newspeak of 1984 is a long ways away from its one-word goal, it’s still simplified enough that people’s lives and their minds are simplified and they can be controlled like livestock. But, by speaking a language with a large vocabulary and a variety of different options for ways to express any idea, we have much more control over our own world and our ability think logically and capably.

I don’t think this was the primary point of the book, and in fact I think it contradicts Orwell a little bit because it’s a bit too optimistic, but I definitely think that 1984 could be used to make this point. The fate of humanity doesn’t just rest in the actions of the government and the degree of power that it has. Thought control isn’t an inevitable result of a strong government, and people won’t necessarily fall for the deceit of their leaders just because those leaders are overwhelmingly powerful.   It’s not a small detail that one of the mottos of the government equates themselves with newspeak, and it’s not a coincidence that the book begins with Winston starting to keep a diary in oldspeak. The ability to articulate ideas (whether you say them out loud or write them or just think them in words) is the ability to think ideas and to do things; language is the most powerful tool in existence. In 1984, humanity is defeated because their tool of language is being taken away from them. In real life, we can avoid a dystopian future by hanging on to the tool of language.

Logic dictates that I should vote for a third party candidate


One problem with the political system and the way campaigns work is that candidates are expected to make grandiose promises, most of which are things that they couldn’t actually accomplish. For example, almost any candidate will claim that he/she will reduce taxes, either for everyone or for low-income families, but that’s not something that an elected official, even the President of the United States, can do just by deciding to do it. Candidates promise to abolish things that their supporters dislike and to favor causes that their supporters like. They paint beautiful pictures of a world in which they are in the office they’re running for, and don’t acknowledge the fact that the position they want doesn’t give them magical powers. Unfortunately, all candidates have to make these claims just in order to attract voters’ attention and to get people to vote for them. A candidate is only as appealing as the scenario he or she can describe of life under his/her leadership, and any candidate who is realistic in making promises will not be able to win an election.

Therefore, I would like to propose the following premise: All political candidates make promises that they are incapable of keeping.

Figure A

Now, these campaign promises follow the form of conditional statements: “If I am elected, I will do XYZ” where “If I am elected” is the antecedent and “I will do XYZ” is the consequent. In symbolic logic, that can be expressed E horseshoe thingy XYZ. This is helpfully illustrated in the accompanying diagram, labeled Figure A. You are welcome. Logic also dictates that a conditional statement can be true in three ways: If both the antecedent and the consequent are true, if both the antecedent and the consequent are false, or if the antecedent is false and the consequent is true. The only way a conditional statement can be false is if the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. That means that any conditional statement with a false antecedent is true, which seems weird, so I have cleared that up with another helpful diagram, labeled Figure B. Again, you are welcome.

Figure B

This, along with my first premise, leads to my second and third premises: All elected politicians have lied. All candidates who have lost have not lied.

My fourth premise stands on its own: I want to vote for a candidate who is not a liar.

And here is the conclusion: Therefore, I should vote for a candidate who I know will not win.

It’s a stupid argument, but technically it’s logical, right? (This point is illustrated in yet another helpful diagram, labeled Figure C. Once more, you are welcome.)

Figure C

Note: I do actually intend to vote for a third party candidate, but this isn’t the real reason.

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