Terrorism and Radicalization: Two Words We Must Retire

I’ve wanted to write about the abuse of the word terrorism for quite a while. The horrible shooting in Las Vegas provides another opportunity to do so.

Whenever an individual strikes a crowd with a vehicle or mows people down with a gun, I, and I assume many other people, become somewhat preoccupied with the individual’s identity. Is he a Muslim? Is he a reclusive older white man? Is he an immigrant? Is he a young Black man? Is he a sexually-frustrated young man?

Reactions by people and in the media seem to depend on the answer to these questions. If he turns out to be Muslim, many assume he is a Radical Islamic Terrorist. If he turns out to be an older white man, many assume he is a right-wing extremist. If he turns out to be an immigrant, many assume he exemplifies rampant criminal activity abroad. If he turns out to be Black, many assume is an anti-police activist. If he turns out to be a young man, many assume he used psychotropic drugs or was rejected by women.

No matter the identity, some blame the World Wide Web and other mediums for being breeding grounds for radicalization. This can lead to the dangerous suggestions that governments ought to police the internet and censor so-called hate speech, having confidence that doing so would prevent future mass murders from taking place.

The idea that someone can become radicalized is silly. Radical simply means ideologically extreme. Someone who believes that all people are equal is a radical. How can you get more extreme than all or equal? Someone who believes in the flat tax is radical. How can you get more extreme than flat? Someone who believes in single-payer healthcare is radical. How can you get more extreme than single? Someone who believes in God is radical. How can you get more extreme than God?

The only way to avoid being radical is to contradict yourself or to waffle between opinions constantly without ever taking a principled stand. And I don’t mean to deride all people who are politically or ideologically inconsistent. Perhaps there are reasons to apply certain principles in certain instances while discounting them in others. Perhaps taking a principled stance across the board is impossible, so attempting to do so is a futile effort. But the fact remains: if you’re not radical, you’re bound to be hypocritical.

What I would like to propose is an end to consideration of motive when a violent act is committed.

Of course, I do not mean that intention should be ignored. If I intend to hit a baseball, and I unintentionally injure a passerby, accusing me of assault would be ridiculous. And motive is also useful when defining the degree of an intolerable act like murder. If one plots for months to take his uncle’s life as a means of inheriting his wealth, he is more sinister than one who lashes out in a moment of rage, such as a husband coming home to his wife in bed with another man.

What I mean is that one’s overall political, religious, or social views should be ignored when one violates the rights of others. By ignoring these views, we will find that radical and terrorism are not useful words, but in fact dangerous words when courts and governments acknowledge them.

So-called Radical Islamic Terrorism is the obvious example to analyze. Outside the incredibly rare clear instances of calculated mass murder by an established, political organization, most notably the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda, murders committed by “Muslims” in the name of “Islam” are not terrorism. Terrorism is rational (which is not synonymous with good or correct). That means developed ideologies and long-term plans play a central role in its orchestration.

An individual who read something on the internet and decided to commit mass murder does not deserve the presumption of rationality. It is unimaginable for any moderately rational person to conclude that spraying bullets into a crowd without a tremendous deal of support has any chance of winding up in something other than hasty death or imprisonment via law enforcement. Individuals who make these choices are unlikely to consider the consequences of their actions with enough depth to even reach the point of asking these questions.

In short, how can one who is so incompetent as to fail to realize or even care about the inevitable result of their violence be considered radical? They aren’t thoughtful enough to be terrorists, let alone radical.

What’s more, at what point does one formally qualify as a Muslim? Or a Conservative? Or an Environmentalist? Or a Communist? Can one speak his political identity into existence? Does some supreme authority govern the criteria one must meet to be legitimately part of a social or ideological movement?

Or is it utterly subjective? And is it wholly possible that two self-proclaimed or linguistically-defined members of the same sociopolitical group have little in common in terms of underlying philosophy and agenda?

Over the past year, due to the success of populist politics and a handful of small, mainstream-media-hyped demonstrations, a popular question has been posed: is it okay to punch a Nazi?

Nazism and other forms of identity-driven Authoritarianism are certainly radical, and horrible acts of terror and violence have been committed in their names. But what makes a Nazi a Nazi? Auto-designation?

The problem with the German Nazis was not that they believed Aryans were a superior race. The problem was that they murdered 6 million Jews (and millions of others) and invaded sovereign nations. Had they committed the same crimes via another ideology, for purely practical reasons, or out of sheer boredom, the death toll and destruction would remain equally horrifying and criminal.

If a Nazi is a person who is preparing to annihilate an ethnic (or random) group of individuals (i.e., an actual Nazi), attempting to physically apprehend him is not only just, but possibly obligatory. An attack on him is an attack on terror.

But if his beliefs and words are extreme, and he has yet to harm a fly, aggression against him is an attack on free thought and free expression, not terrorism. Physically attacking an actual Nazi is not just because it combats the ideas of Nazism; it is just because it combats violence. There is no difference between murdering for the preservation of the White Race and murdering for the preservation of the environment. Murder is murder.

All in all, condemning and combating radicalization accomplishes nothing aside from putting all of our rights to free speech in jeopardy. What says your sincerely-held and innocuous beliefs won’t be deemed radical and unacceptable next?

We’re very lucky to live amongst other human beings, the vast majority of whom are too preoccupied with survival and happiness to consider extreme acts of violence. Don’t let rarities like actual terrorism drive our existence further away from perfection.

Terrorism and Radicalization: Two Words We Must Retire

The Official 2017 Guide to Avoiding Offensive Halloween Costumes

Halloween is one of the year’s most exciting holidays. Unfortunately, insensitivity and intolerance have been clouding the joyous occasion in the form of offensive Halloween costumes for decades. In 2017, more and more people are waking up to the hatred on constant display every October 31st. Momentum is heading in the direction of social justice and equality.

Before you select your Halloween costume this year, have a look at the following list of common costumes that promote hatred and bigotry, so you can be sure to find a more inclusive Halloween costume idea:

Vampire

Vampire

Vampires are often associated with the Romanian region of Transylvania. Dressing up as a vampire for Halloween perpetuates the stereotypes that all Romanians drink blood and have no reflection. This is not true of all Romanians.

Zombie

Zombie

Dressing up as a zombie may seem innocent, but it’s actually insensitive to groups whose ancestors suffered through the Bubonic Plague and other pandemic diseases (ex: Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, the Americas). Illness is not something to be made light of.

Ghost

bed sheet phantom

Thinking of going with a simple ghost costume? Think again. Many people have had a friend or family member pass away within the past quarter century, and a ghost costume could trigger unwanted memories. This applies to angel and devil costumes (for deceased Democrats and Republicans, respectively) as well.

Pirate

Pirate

It should be obvious that pirate costumes are out of the question as plundering is not something to be celebrated. Plunder is just plain wrong.

Bunny Rabbit

Bunny

Bunny rabbit costumes may have been socially acceptable before 1953. But since the launch of Playboy Magazine, bunny rabbits have come to represent mass exploitation and objectification of women. Women who dress as bunny rabbits are kowtowing to the patriarchy whether they like it or not.

Princess

Princess

Princess costumes encourage harmful gender roles and stereotypes. The misogynistic “ess” assures that princes will aways come before princesses alphabetically, an oft-overlooked reinforcement of male superiority that remains deeply ingrained within our society.

Firefighter, Police Officer, etc.

fireman

Firefighter, police officer, soldier, professional athlete, cowboy, and superhero costumes are a gross embodiment of hyper-toxic masculinity. These costumes should be avoided at all costs.

Skeleton

Skeleton

There are children starving in Africa. Get it? Got it? Good.

Witch

witch

Dressing up as a witch may remind some people of Hillary Clinton. This could cause seizures and even strokes among those of us living under the reign of a Nazi, fascist, white supremacist, rapist, Russian agent named Donald Drumpf.

A Better Alternative

racist

Instead of causing offense by wearing one of the aforementioned costumes, why not celebrate our rich diversity by dressing as a Native American, a Vietnamese rice farmer, a Geisha, a mariachi performer, a Hasidic Jew, Princess Moana, a German Nazi, a Radical Islamic Terrorist, Caitlyn Jenner, or a minstrel show dancer.

Let’s make cultural sensitivity the name of the game this Halloween!

***

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The Official 2017 Guide to Avoiding Offensive Halloween Costumes

The Case for a Libertarian/Green Unity Ticket

The Libertarian and Green parties are not going to make much electoral headway at any point in the near future. The Democratic and Republican parties have embarrassing approval ratings, but, somehow, this has not affected their duopoly’s reign over American politics.

Contrarily, Gary Johnson did receive nearly 5 million votes in the 2016 presidential election, and Jill Stein received over a million to boot. Johnson’s popular vote tally was the greatest in Libertarian Party history, and Stein’s was the greatest Green Party turnout since Ralph Nadar in 2000.

Together, the 6 million or so ballots cast still pale in comparison to the 60+ million votes that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each received. But the third parties made some noise.

Rather than continue to hopelessly lose, it might be in both parties’ best interests to work together to effect better results in US elections.

Let’s first acknowledge that Libertarians and Greens align beautifully on a wide range of important political issues.

While I can’t speak for all Libertarians (and cannot speak for any Greens), I imagine that large portions of the constituencies on both sides agree with me in believing that ending America’s interventionist military policy is the most important issue of our time. When Noam Chomsky and Ron Paul are on the same page, it’s a great opportunity to put our differences aside to accomplish something of such great importance.

In addition to war abroad, the parties agree that ending the failed War on Drugs at home is a no-brainer. We could start by legalizing marijuana then discuss how many steps further we can agree to go.

Libertarians and Greens want to restore the 4th Amendment too. This means discontinuing the Patriot Act and pulling back the overreach of American intelligence agencies. We are on the same page in believing that individuals are innocent until proven guilty and that privacy is a right.

I’m sure there is more overlap, but these three major issues set us apart from the bigger parties right off the bat.

Of course, we disagree on economics, worker’s rights, environmental policy, and a whole lot more. But to each Libertarian and Green reading this, would you risk leaving most of the status quo in place in order to guarantee wins on peace, pot, and privacy? I know I would. Let’s take care of some important business first and discuss the minimum wage and fracking later.

Before we can change policy, we have to play politics. Our strategy could go something like this.

In presidential elections, we need to establish our unity ticket candidates as soon as possible. All press is good press, so getting the names out early will improve our chances of getting recognized and eventually supported. This means holding primaries early, months before the Democrats and Republicans.

We’ll also have to determine which party gets the presidential nod and which gets VP. I believe the fairest way to do this is to compete for participants in the primaries. Each party should allow voters registered in their respective party as well as independents to participate in primary elections. Whichever party gets the most total votes (amassed by all candidates, not just the winners) in the primaries has the rights to the presidential position. The vice presidential candidate would be the winner of the primary with less participation.

Not only would this be a fair way to determine who gets the presidential nominee, it would also encourage our parties to register more voters and get independents involved. It would appear to be a contest, but function more like a marketing campaign.

In congressional, state, and local elections, we’d have to work together too. Like the presidential strategy, we would judge which party to support based on primary elections. But since congressmen and other elected officials lack running mates, whichever party receives less primary participation would drop out of the race altogether and direct their supporters to vote for their Green or Libertarian counterpart.

For example, let’s imagine that during midterm elections a senate seat in Iowa is up for grabs. The Libertarian and Green parties would hold early primaries to determine their respective nominees. If all Libertarian candidates receive a combined 80,000 votes, and all Green candidates receive 90,000 votes, the winner of the Libertarian primary would concede and endorse the winner of the Green primary. Ideally, this candidate would get on the campaign trail and explain why the Green candidate’s anti-interventionist, anti-drug war, anti-spying position makes him the lesser of three evils among the Democrat and Republican candidates despite supporting many policies that run contrary to Libertarian orthodoxy.

Another agreement we should reach is that both parties should favor pro-choice/pro-second amendment candidates. There is a rift among Libertarians on the issue of abortion. Those who lean towards Reason Magazine tend to be more pro-choice, while those who lean towards Anarcho-Capitalism are often pro-life.

I imagine that Greens are more unified in desiring gun control measures than Libertarians are on the issue of abortion. Thus, I must admit that I am asking for more than I am risking as a Libertarian myself. However, let’s face facts and acknowledge that the fight against the Second Amendment is a losing battle. With more guns in American hands than there are individual Americans, and with a clear and unambiguous Constitutional Amendment telling us firearm ownership is our natural right, guns are not going anywhere. Let’s come to terms with reality and meet in the middle to better guarantee enthusiastic support from each of our bases.

Surely, some Green and some Libertarian individuals would be unable to stomach a vote for the other side. However, this may not be a total loss. With the Libertarian-Green strategy in place, Republican and Democratic candidates may be forced to alter their positions to accommodate third party hopefuls. While in a normal year, Democrats would expect to get a large share of disgruntled Greens, and Republicans would feel the same about Libertarians, the major parties would know that they’ll have to earn their votes instead of playing the lesser-of-two-evils game. Third party hopefuls would have a cause and motivation. The major parties would not be less able to rely on cynicism.

Popularizing the big three issues Libertarians and Greens align on could go a long way in influencing the two major parties in general. As we grow our bases, Republicans and Democrats will have to change to market themselves to us. And why prioritize a divisive issue like taxes or healthcare when they could appeal to us as a monolith by saying they’ll legalize weed?

This plan is not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination, and dissenters would be quick to frame one side as exploiting the other. But with zero representation in congress, what exactly do we have to lose?

***

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The Case for a Libertarian/Green Unity Ticket

The Great American Gun Debate

*Shooting occurs*
 
A: Thoughts and prayers to th…
B: Enough thoughts and prayers! We need to do something!
A: What should we do?
B: We should do A, B, and C!
A: We already do all of those things.
B: Well, then we should do D, E, and F!
A: None of those things would have had any impact on any of the mass shootings that have occurred.
B: Well, then we should do G!
A: That’s literally impossible, both politically and physically. It would start another Civil War.
B: You don’t care about the children at Sandy Hook!
Fin
The Great American Gun Debate

#TakeAKnee: A Guide to Courage and Non-Courage

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem last year and the ensuing spectacle of demonstrations across the NFL have, to say the least, ignited passions across America.

My personal take on national anthems and flags is that when they are being honored, it is desirable to show respect to the people around you by abiding by local customs. Although most of my politics align with an anti-statist mentality, I love America and honor it when given the opportunity. It upsets me when individuals choose to raise personal political issues at these times.

As an expat currently residing and teaching English in Thailand, I display respect when the Thai national anthem plays. Twice a day, “Phleng Chat Thai” plays over radio and television broadcasts, through PA systems in buildings, and on loudspeakers publically. Everyone stops in their tracks silently or hums along until the anthem is done.

(Note: I have observed shrinking public adherence to this tradition since the 2014 coup d’etat.)

I do as the Thais do. Not necessarily because I respect Thailand or its government, but because I want to be polite and respectful towards the people around me. The Thai people have accepted me into their country with open arms, so it is the least I can do to express my gratitude.

But my personal feelings about flags, national anthems, and politeness have no bearing on what others must do. Each man has his right to express himself in his own way. And I have the right to be offended by and criticize his actions.

Six points I’d like to get out of the way before getting to the issues of courage and non-courage are:

  1. The cause one stands for has no bearing on an individual’s right to protest a flag or national anthem. Protest itself is protected, not protest for particular ends.
  2. Colin Kaepernick appears to be a Socialist, so I oppose his broader agenda. On the issue of the relationship between police and black Americans, I wrote this piece last year. As for the hundreds of players and other franchise employees who have demonstrated since, I can’t say whether or not I support their causes as I don’t know what each individual kneels for.
  3. I used to be a diehard NFL fan. But six years in Thailand have strained my relationship with the NFL as games are played after midnight Thai time. Injecting politics and identity politics into the NFL makes me less likely to watch in the future.
  4. Donald Trump is winning. Politics is about persuasion, not being right or wrong; factual or mistaken. As it currently stands regarding optics, “ungrateful” and “rich” professional sports players who get arrested once a week are standing against America, and Donald Trump is sticking up for the country and its military. Persuasively, the kneeling players are hurting their cause unless they want Trump to be president through 2024.
  5. Donald Trump’s tweets have been so egregious that he may have blown the opportunity I described in point #4.
  6. I have no reason to believe Trump’s or the general public’s outrage over the demonstrations is rooted in race or racism. As usual, race hustlers are seizing this opportunity to promote their cause just as Trump is “defending the flag” for his political career.

***

I believe what the kneeling NFL players are doing is courageous.

According to Merriam-Webster, courage is mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The players are taking a moral stand against the wishes of their fans and, in all likelihood, their employers and endorsements. They are putting their reputations on the line and facing backlash. All of this could negatively affect their careers and futures.

Courage is all about putting skin in the game to do what you believe is right.

Obvious examples of courage are soldiers disobeying unjust orders, firefighters entering burning buildings to rescue strangers, and anyone who puts themselves between bullies and their prey.

Less obvious examples that occur on a daily basis are special education teachers persistently attempting to educate the seemingly unteachable, eyewitnesses and journalists testifying truthfully even if it undermines an angry mobs’ preferred narrative, and, now more than ever, individuals expressing politically incorrect opinions they believe are important.

I have seen several great examples of courage, as well as many examples of non-courage, over the course of the past year.

One that stands out is Sally Yates standing up to President Trump. Yates was the acting attorney general, set to serve until Trump had his own appointee confirmed by the Senate. When Trump made his infamous executive order to temporarily ban immigration from several majority-Muslim nations, Yates ordered the Justice Department not to defend the order in court. Here is part of what she wrote:

YatesI don’t know enough to know if I agree with Yates’ assessment in the same way that I do not know enough to know if I agree with what the kneelers are kneeling for. But my opinion has no bearing on what makes an act courageous. Yates put her job on the line (and lost it immediately) to do what she believed in.

Non-courage is my term, and one that you will not find in the dictionary. But it means exactly what it appears to mean: the absence of courage. Non-courage encompasses both cowardice and acts that are neither courageous nor cowardly.

No individual exemplifies non-courage quite like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders advocates for what he believes in, most famously economic equality. But rather than prove that wealthy individuals can survive well enough with less, Sanders receives a hefty government salary from taxpayers and has recently purchased his third home. Sanders would like the government to confiscate and redistribute enormous amounts of wealth, but he does not have the courage to forcefully take that wealth himself. Sanders surmises to gain power, influence, and more wealth by having his political aspirations come to fruition without sacrificing or risking anything of his own. Little could be further from courage.

Al Gore gives Sanders a run for his money in the non-courage department. Gore has parlayed a career in politics, an industry that produces nothing of value, into a vast sea of wealth. He is now most famous for his environmental activism. But rather than lead by example in leaving a carbon footprint lower than the average American’s, Gore’s swimming pool alone uses enough energy to power six average American households for a year. Gore has only gained from his activism thus far, and loses nothing if his preferred policies are put into place.

In 2002, Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect was cancelled after he said the 9/11 hijackers were “not cowardly.” He in no way implied that they were virtuous or good, but simply said that they were not cowardly. Attributing positive character aspects to terrorists at that point in American life was risky and highly controversial, which made it courageous.

Maher was courageous and right. The terrorists died for what they believed in. Being wrong does not negate one’s courage.

I won’t kneel with the players (and obviously not the terrorists). But for the sake of courage, I will stand for the truth, even if I don’t like it.

***

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#TakeAKnee: A Guide to Courage and Non-Courage