Justice and Patriotism in The Four Loves

One of the fundamental truths about the human condition is that justice is blind, but we are not. That is, murder, adultery, envy, and theft are wrong, regardless of who is committing them. On the other hand, the murder we wish to commit always seems justifiable, and our adultery is the product of a pure love and a marriage that should never have been, while our envy is grounded in what we really deserve, and what we steal is only that which is owed us. We have a habit of believing the facts are always on our side.

Now the examples I gave are all driven by self-interest, but we can also cheat justice out of love for others. We all know parents whose children can do no wrong. Their love for their children prevents them from clearly assessing the situation, and from doing what justice demands. Love may be blind, but they are not. They see their children.

There are many loves in the world—love of children or love of parents, love of spouse, and love of friends to name just a few. One love in particular is the cause of much bickering, especially between what we call the right and the left at the present moment: love of country.

In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis writes of two kinds of love of country, exemplified by two extremely patriotic Englishmen. In order to understand the stark contrast between them, he outlines several elements which go into love of country:

“First, there is love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells. Note that at its largest this is, for us, a love of England, Wales, Scotland, or Ulster. Only foreigners and politicians talk about ‘Britain.’”[1]

We might say the same about “America.” To be sure, we can have a certain allegiance to the whole thing, but for most of us the love of the familiar places and people is quite specific—Chicagoland is a very different place from the Five Boroughs or the Bay Area, and Deep East Texas is not Eastern Washington, and Northern Michigan is most assuredly not South Florida. This element of patriotism does not stretch especially far.

“With this love of place there goes a love for the way of life; for beer and tea and open fires, trains with compartments in them and an unarmed police force and all the rest of it; for the local dialect and (a shade less) for our native language. As Chesterton says, a man’s reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because ‘he could not even begin’ to enumerate all the things he would miss.

“It would be hard to find any legitimate point of view from which this feeling could be condemned. As the family offers the first step beyond self-love, so this offers us the first step beyond family selfishness. Of course it is not pure charity; it involves love our neighbours in the local, not of our Neighbour, in the Dominical, sense. But those who do not love the fellow-villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they have seen are not likely to have got very far towards loving “man” whom they have not.”[2]

I began this post by bringing up that crucial fact that justice is blind, but we are not. Here we begin to see the way in which love of country might color our vision. The way my friends and neighbors do things will seem quite normal and sensible and right, while the way someone from a distant community does things will seem odd and backwards and wrong. In the heads of most 21st-century Americans we have a notion that this may lead quickly and inevitably to war and foreign conquest—let’s make the whole world like ourselves. Lewis is not so hasty. We must remember that this is merely love of the familiar:

“Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs?”[3]

Both these statements are straightforward and sensible. We will protect our children if they are threatened, but not many people go out looking to kidnap other children and teach them to behave like their own. Similarly, we recognize that the affection we feel for our parents is something which most people who had a decent childhood are likely to share. No one is demanding that there be only one “World’s Best Dad” mug. Nor is someone else having different friends much of a threat to our own friendships. Indeed, the fact that we all have similar loves towards different objects is one point which unites us, rather than divides us. We know what it is like to have friends and family, and sympathize with those that do.

Lewis goes on to add a second element to love of country:

“The second ingredient is a particular attitude to our country’s past. I mean to the past as it lives in popular imagination; the great deeds of our ancestors. Remember Marathon. Remember Waterloo. ‘We must be free or die who speak the tongue Shakespeare spoke.’ This past is felt both to impose an obligation and to hold out an assurance; we must not fall below the standard our fathers set us, and because we are their sons there is good hope we shall not.”[4]

Living in the age we do, we are of course aware that the past is not all sunshine and daisies. Our ancestors may have done—and likely did—horrible deeds as well as great ones. But Lewis thinks “it is possible to be strengthened by the image of the past without being either deceived or puffed up.”[5] The key, he suggests, is to maintain the distinction between patriotic odes and real history. Let Mel Gibson do grand things on the big screen, but let us become familiar with every shade of gray in the actual classroom. We may enjoy the former, but not take it seriously. The latter we may or may not enjoy, but we must certainly take seriously.

But why does Lewis value the former at all? Why does he want to keep the rose-hued image of our nation’s heroes, rather than occupy our images of them entirely with the subtle shades of reality? His answer is brief, but pointed, “But who can condemn what clearly makes many people, at many important moments, behave so much better than they could have done without its help?”[6] The Founding Fathers of the United States fought against overwhelming odds and won. We too may one day find ourselves having to fight against overwhelming odds, and it is those tales of bygone glory, not the complicated reality, that will inspire us to real deeds of heroism. Our ancestors may not have actually achieved high standards of virtue, but those high standards, understood appropriately, are a force for good in the world.

But Lewis is quite explicit that this element of love of country, the love of great deeds done by her past heroes, is far more dangerous than simple love of the familiar. If we confuse our folktales for history, in may creep “the tacit assumption that other nations have not equally their heroes; perhaps even the belief—surely it is very bad biology—that we can literally ‘inherit’ a tradition. And these almost inevitably lead on to a third thing that is sometimes called patriotism.”[7] It is this third thing which most concerns us, and which can most easily lead to a miscarriage of justice.

“The third thing is not a sentiment but a belief: a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others. I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, ‘But sir, aren’t we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?’ He replied with total gravity—he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar—‘Yes, but in England it’s true.’ To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can however produce asses that kick and bite. On the lunatic fringe it may shade off into that popular Racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid.”[8]

This, to me, is more insidious than the flaws of the previous two shades of “love of country” combined. It is so insidious, because it understands itself not to be the biased affection of a son for his mother country, but objective assessment of reality. I once knew someone who roundly condemned patriotism in general, even perhaps the idea of nations, soberly explain that his part of the country was most morally, technologically, and politically advanced part of the world. Indeed, the major city in that region was the center from which all culture emanated. Simply listing Hollywood, New York, and Washington, D.C. next to each other is more than enough to debunk such nonsense, leaving actually foreign countries out of the equation.

But Lewis is quite right that this misguided love of country can “produce asses that kick and bite.” It is only when we genuinely believe that our own land is actually morally superior to all others that we begin to claim that justice and the good of our country are the same thing. In doing so, we confer upon our country a divine status:

“This brings us to the fourth ingredient. If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them. In the nineteenth century the English became very conscious of such duties: the ‘white man’s burden.’ What we called natives were our wards and we their self-appointed guardians. This was not all hypocrisy. We did do them some good. But our habit of talking as if England’s motives for acquiring an empire (or any youngster’s motives for seeking a job in the Indian Civil Service) had been mainly altruistic nauseated the world. And yet this showed the sense of superiority working at its best. Some nations who have also felt it have stressed the rights not the duties. To them, some foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them. Others, fitted only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the chosen people, had better be made to get on with their hewing and drawing. Dogs, know your betters!”[9]

Everybody today knows the joke about America bringing democracy to other nations, and “You’d better watch out, or we’ll bring democracy to your country next!” This sense that we are objectively superior justifies placing ourselves in charge of other nations. We did not conquer the Indians because we loved the East Coast too much. We spread west because we thought we had an objectively superior civilization, and we were therefore justified in either carrying it to the barbarians, or else destroying those barbarians who were beyond saving.

At last we come to the point where Lewis can contrast the patriotism of Kipling with the patriotism of Chesterton. Both men “love their country,” but what this means is very different from one man to the other:

“Chesterton picked on two lines from Kipling as the perfect example. It was unfair to Kipling, who knew—wonderfully, for so homeless a man—what the love of home can mean. But the lines, in isolation, can be taken to sum up the thing. They run:

If England was what England seems
‘Ow quick we’d drop ‘er. But she ain’t!

Love never spoke that way. It is like loving your children only ‘if they’re good,’ your wife only while she keeps her looks, your husband only so long as he is famous and successful. ‘No man,’ said one of the Greeks, ‘loves his city because it is great, but because it is his.’ A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degradation—‘England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.’ She will be to him ‘a poor thing but mine own.’ He may think her good and great, when she is not, because he loves her; the delusion is up to a point pardonable. But Kipling’s soldier reverses it; he loves her because he thinks her good and great—loves her on her merits. She is a fine going concern and it gratifies his pride to be in it. How if she ceased to be such? The answer is plainly given: ‘’Ow quick we’d drop ‘er.’ When the ship begins to sink he will leave her.”[10]

This “patriotism” is nothing of the kind. There is no love in it, and no loyalty. It is the flip side of believing your country is objectively superior. On the one hand, you may perform horrible atrocities because whatever she does is by definition better. On the other, if you ever cease to believe she is better, she loses your loyalty and you will do nothing to improve her. The first is straightforwardly bad for other countries, and the second straightforwardly bad for your own. Nothing good comes out of it.

In today’s global society, and in a society which values individual freedom so highly, we are skeptical of anything that might place demands on the individual, any sort of love which might call for service or lasting loyalty. Having seen the pitfalls of so-called patriotism, it is only natural that many of us might question the value of patriotism at all. Justice is blind, but we are blinded to it by our love of country. So why not do away with love of country?

But this does not fix the problem. The very flaw in the false patriotism of the two lines from Kipling is that the soldier does not love his country. Instead, he believes it to be objectively superior. If we do away with love of country, true justice is not what steps into its place:

“For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only be presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for ‘their country’ they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity.”[11]

It should be pointed out that though Lewis mentions “nations” living in danger, this is really shorthand for any group of people. The European Union, transnational though it is, will encounter internal and external threats, and must be defended. Progressive Westerners consider themselves members of a global community that transcends borders, but even this global community will have to confront reactionary or anti-globalist threats. Until the end of history, mankind is in conflict with itself, and if there is any good worth preserving anywhere in it, from time to time we will be called to fight in its defense. In patriotic countries, love of country could serve as this call to arms. In communities that reject patriotism, so higher ideal must step in. This, however, is not the path to justice:

“This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds—wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine—I become insufferable. The pretence that when England’s cause is just we are on England’s side—as some neutral Don Quixote might be—for that reason alone is equally spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it. If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.”[12]

We like to talk these days as if Adolf Hitler went about conquering and committing atrocities simply because of his love of country. This is false. Hitler was not overly loyal to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in which he was born, nor to the Germany to which he immigrated. He believed that the Aryan race was the most advanced portion of the human species, and that its success meant the continuation of humanity, and its failure meant the end of all humanity had ever stood for. His cause was a transcendent cause, not a local or parochial one. And for that reason, his was a war of annihilation.

Stalin did not conquer in the name of Russia, but in the name of humanity—he was liberating the international working class from its capitalist oppressors, not making Russia great again. It must be remembered that he was among the revolutionaries who, temporarily, had made Russia cease to be great. Likewise, the Great Khan thought he ruled all under heaven by divine right, and the early Islamic empire conquered because it was spreading the religion of the one true to God. And as Lewis said, the British Empire was spreading civilization to all mankind because the good things of Britain were not merely British goods—they were universal, and it was the white man’s burden to spread them. It is pretending our nation’s good is the same as some transcendent ideal that leads to blood and death and empire, not mere love of our locale.

“The glory of the old sentiment was that while it could steel men to the utmost endeavor, it still knew itself to be a sentiment. Wars could be heroic without pretending to be Holy Wars. The hero’s death was not confused with the martyr’s. And (delightfully) the same sentiment which could be so serious in a rear-guard action could also in peacetime take itself as lightly as all happy loves often do. It could laugh at itself. Our older patriotic songs cannot be sung without a twinkle in the eye; later ones sound more like hymns.”[13]

Justice is blind, but we are not. In a global age and an individualistic age, we think this means it is better to destroy all the sentiments which color our vision of the world. But this does not make us objective and non-partisan, it merely blinds us to our own partisan spirit. The way to prevent our sentiments from leading us to injustice is not to deny our sentiments, but to acknowledge that is all they are. They may lead us to loving our neighbors, or defending our dependents, or doing some heroic deed of self-sacrifice. They may just as easily lead to prejudice. The one thing they may not do is become themselves the standard of justice.

My friend who thought his region the center of the world was not liberated from prejudice because he thought it was objectively true. Instead, his prejudice was given all the shine of holiness and transcendence. If we learn to love the little neighborhood in which God has placed us, even if it is not a very good one, we will not become shackled to prejudices either. Instead, we may learn to sympathize with people whose ways of life are very different than our own, simply because their love for those ways is not.

 

 

I wrote this post after listening to the first episode in the Mere Fidelity podcast’s series on the The Four Loves. I highly recommender the podcast in general, and this episode in particular. These links are to the web page, but it can also be found on iTunes.


 

[1] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991. Pg. 23.

[2] Lewis, pgs. 23-24.

[3] Lewis, pg. 24.

[4] Lewis, pgs. 24-25.

[5] Lewis, pg. 25.

[6] Lewis, pg. 25.

[7] Lewis, pg. 26.

[8] Lewis, pg. 26.

[9] Lewis, pg. 27.

[10] Lewis, pgs. 27-28.

[11] Lewis, pg. 29.

[12] Lewis, pg. 29.

[13] Lewis, pgs. 29-30.

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I am Jack’s Rejection of the Matrix

Ever since I’d seen both movies, I’ve thought Fight Club and The Matrix would make a great double feature. Not one to share with the kids, and not for light, passive entertainment. But for a thought-provoking evening? Perfect.

Besides both being late nineties classics you watch in college and think are deep, they’re both taking a swing at the same target. Fight Club and The Matrix are both, in their own way, critiques of the American social and economic system. During the Reagan and Clinton administrations, which served as the backdrop of the lives of most of the Generation Xers who saw them in theaters, this was neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism, summed up briefly by an economics amateur, is the ideology that favors free markets, privatization, and deregulation, with minimal government involvement in the economy generally. This is the world of economic freedom that allows corporations to flourish, and so provides an endless number of “socially conscious” movies with suit-wearing, cigar-smoking, filthy rich bad guys. It also provides them with a cage from which they can free their lead characters.

Take a look at The Matrix’s protagonist, as seen by Agent Smith.

Agent Smith: “It seems that you’ve been living two lives. One life, you’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and your… help your landlady carry out her garbage.”

In previous scenes, we watch Thomas A. Anderson living out this humdrum existence. He shows up to work late and is reprimanded by his boss, then distracted by the squeak of window washers dragging a squeegee across the glass. He sits in his cubicle and does his work. He is unsatisfied with life, just another office drone in a world of office drones.

But the mysterious hackers Morpheus and Trinity offer him an escape. Morpheus asks him to look at his world, to understand its true nature. He is caught in the Matrix.

 

Morpheus: “The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo/Thomas Anderson: “What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage… born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.”

 

When Morpheus breaks Thomas Anderson, alias Neo, out of the Matrix, he takes him to a place where he can explain what precisely the Matrix is. It seems human society was long ago conquered by a race of artificially intelligent robots, who have created a vast system in which they have trapped us. Why are we hooked into this thorough illusion, this deception pervading our entire life?

 

Morpheus: “The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTU’s of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields – endless fields – where human beings are no longer born, we are grown. For the longest time I wouldn’t believe it, and then I saw the fields with my own eyes. Watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living.

“And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.”

morpheous-battery

 

In short, the system views us as a resource. We are batteries to be drained, crops to be harvested. Thomas Anderson is not special human being, he is not a beautiful and unique snowflake. He—like us—is a cog in a machine, a replaceable part in a vast, paper-pushing, money-generating enterprise. Well, electricity generating in the world of the story. In the world of neoliberalism, the world of corporations, the real individual is nothing more than Morpheus’s coppertop battery that keeps the small appliances running.

Realizing that the machines view us this way, that the Matrix was created to keep us docile as we are drained, the hope Morpheus offers is something of a messianic one.

Morpheus: “When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was he who freed the first of us, taught us the truth – As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free. After he died, the Oracle prophesied his return and his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people. That is why there are those who have spent our entire lives searching the Matrix looking for him.”

 

The way he will destroy the Matrix is never quite specified, though by the end of the movie there is some indication that perhaps the One is merely meant to wake everybody up, to make them reject the Matrix. Then, one assumes, we will be free.

And that is The Matrix’s philosophy of neoliberal society. It looks at the meaningless life of an office drone, and blames the machine. The solution it offers is simply to reject the machine, to reject the system. But then what? What replaces it?

The Matrix is pretty light on answers to that particular question. Perhaps it can be forgiven. After all, it is primarily an action movie. But that does weaken its critique. A freedom that isn’t going anywhere isn’t exactly inspiring. We’ve rejected the system, we know what we’re fighting against, but what exactly are we fighting for? Just whatever we want? Find your own meaning? What if I find meaning in being hooked back into the Matrix? After all, a lot of people seem comfortable there.

This is the option taken by the traitor, Cypher. He is sick of the fight, sick of the dystopian real world. He wants to eat steak, drink wine, be important, enjoy the good life back in the Matrix. So he cuts a deal with the machines, letting them have the resistance in exchange for letting him back in. It doesn’t work out well.

We are meant to reject that option, but on what basis? What is the better world Morpheus and Neo offer us? When we finally get to Zion in the sequels, all we get is a massive rave, and a little hanky panky. Couldn’t we have had that in the Matrix? Didn’t a lot of people? Work during the week, party on the weekend?

There’s an essential failure of imagination here. Many critics of neoliberalism’s economic order simultaneously embrace social liberalism, as if the two were unconnected. They sneer at the crass self-indulgence of consumerism, deride the meaninglessness of being a mere resource for a corporation. But ad agencies were never just selling designer handbags, they were buying and selling lives and meaning.

Social liberalism rejects all social constraints, with the result that there are no traditional identity markers to clutch onto. Who are you? You determine who you are. Your hobbies, your gender, your sexuality, your favorite causes, your favorite celebrities, your eclectic clothing style, your multicultural food palate and selection of world music—this is who you are. Let no one tell you what job you can and can’t have, let no antiquated vows hold you back from seeking a fulfilling relationship or abandoning an unfulfilling one, let no unplanned pregnancy slow down your career and dash your dreams. You are your own person.

Far from being inconsistent with a free market, this is the natural consequence of it. Traditional societies with their taboos and reluctance to try new things are not great places for advertising. If you want to sell stuff, you need to convince people that the only thing that matters is what they want, and then offer it to them. Teach them to follow their hearts, then tell them their hearts really need what you’re selling—and that may be sex, vodka, Chinese food, a good car, or the right movie collection. Whatever floats your boat.

In the world of social liberalism, all the things that were once part of traditional value structures which transcended the individual have now become a form of both self-indulgence and self-marketing. Which sexuality most appeals to me? What movie genre makes me happiest? What clothing style really expresses who I am? Social liberalism is not the antithesis of economic liberalism, it is its natural bedfellow. Liberated markets need liberated individuals.

Fight Club realizes this to a greater degree than The Matrix. When the movie begins, the problem for the nameless protagonist—let’s call him Jack—is not that he is being actively deceived by an oppressive system. To be sure, the corporations are not innocent in this, but the real problem is Jack. Jack defines himself by what he owns. He has an addiction to Ikea, a need for the right coffee table, the right lamps, the right treadmill. He defines himself by it.

Early in the movie, his apartment explodes. He lives with no one. He has no real friends, no one lost or hurt in this tragedy. What he has lost are his possessions—a fridge full of condiments with no food. But, as he states later in the movie, those weren’t just things, that was his life. He is defined by what he buys. His new friend, Tyler Durden, questions this.

 

Tyler Durden: “Do you know what a duvet is?”

Jack: “It’s a comforter…”

Tyler Durden: “It’s a blanket. Just a blanket. Now why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we then?”

Jack: “Consumers?”

Tyler Durden: “Right. We are consumers. We’re the by-products of a lifestyle obsession.”

 

Fight Club does not offer a vague messianic prophecy. It offers an active solution. Reject the unnecessary. Reject your possessions. Then reject your desire for pleasure. Embrace pain. Reject your dignity. Suffer at night, and be despised by your coworkers by day. Reject your respect for society, and reject society itself. Fight Club rejects social liberalism as much as it does the corporate world of economic liberalism. It does not offer pleasure or freedom. It offers rocks bottom, the rejection of all that society calls good, the embracing of one’s mortality.

Tyler Durden: “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

This is the mantra with which Tyler Durden blasts the quasi-fascist movement that springs up around him. They are all going to die, their life has no meaning, and they might as well take down this corrupt society with them. It told them they were valuable, but it treated them like they were worthless. Like a faceless resource.

Tyler Durden: “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Don’t tell the small child confused about their gender, the growing adult uncertain about their sexuality, that they can be whatever they want to be. Don’t tell the little girl that she can grow up to be president. Don’t preach a gospel of racial harmony to the oppressed. Don’t tell the poor they can rise to the top. Don’t even tell the vast cast of comfortable white guys with jobs that they can obtain any sort of dignity. All these things are just lies that keep us docile as we waste our lives chasing what the ad men tell us is worth chasing.

Fight Club recognizes this, understands that this message of positivity and individual self-creations exists solely to make us consumers. The me-centric society is an ad-centric society is a corporation-centric society. We exist to work for the companies, and to buy from the companies. And beneath that, we are rotting organic matter. Don’t buy any Disney-style platitudes. Don’t delude yourself. This is the harsh reality.

The Matrix rejects the machine, but Fight Club knows the machines were not alone. We were complicit. We bought their lies, we indulged ourselves, we have become the willing slaves of a system that doesn’t value us. Tyler Durden calls us to take responsibility for that, and he would not only have us enlightened, he would have us react.

Where The Matrix offers no real plan of action, and no final vision, Fight Club at least offers the first. Durden transforms the fight clubs into Project Mayhem, a terrorist organization not too far in goal from a more militaristic Anonymous. It aims first to use guerilla tactics to expose the meaninglessness of life in the corporate-dominated system, and then blow up the credit card companies, resetting all our balances to zero. Reboot that system and cause chaos.

The movie does not want you to like this plan. It is clearly violent, clearly bad, and clearly taking things too far. Sort of. It’s hard to separate Jack’s rejection of Project Mayhem from all the other inhibitions he’s slowly been shedding as he rejects consumerist society. Tyler Durden, as played by Brad Pitt, is simply more charismatic than the wishy washy Ed Norton, and his case is more convincing. The rejection of the terroristic project is clear, but rings hollow in the larger context.

Tyler’s ultimate vision, beyond the plan, is dwelt on hardly more than Zion, but the glimpse we get is both interesting and revealing.

Tyler Durden: “In the world I see – you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.”

 

This is a radically primitive world, and a harsh one. Hunter-gatherer societies are not for the weak. They do not provide the safety and comforts of civilization that we are used too. They clearly also exclude much of what we consider to be the signs of our own greatness—great towers, great highways, a million meal choices. But this is entirely consistent with the values Fight Club has displayed so far. We are decaying organic matter, and anything else is a lie told to sell us something. So live life radically free from any system, live it on the edge, live it while you can. Don’t let anyone stop you.

If you value individual freedom, Fight Club’s is perhaps the more consistent conclusion. But the truth is, few of us value individual freedom that much. We don’t want to reject society altogether, we just don’t want to be batteries plugged into the Matrix, consumers leading meaningless lives.

It’s probably no coincidence that twenty years after the rash of anti-consumerist movies in the 90’s, including these two, both major parties are reeling from insurgencies in their own ranks. Bernie Sanders wants a system that isn’t afraid to hurt corporations in order to give individuals dignity. He’s an open socialist, because he cares about people more than companies. Trump doesn’t mind hurting corporations either, being open to protectionist policies that put American jobs ahead of companies that profit from an international neoliberal system. He also rejects the multiculturalism that reduces the values by which we define ourselves as a community to just one more option on a cultural free market. Hence the accusations of racism.

Both insurgencies, in their own ways, reject the neoliberalism of the past several decades. The right used to push for economic liberalism, and the left for social liberalism. Now we are seeing a right that doesn’t care about the former, and a left that, while it has not rejected the latter, may not prioritize it so much as college tuition and a true living wage. The country is not satisfied with the Matrix it has been living in, and both party establishments are suffering as a result.

But where does this leave us? What’s next? What does society look like, if not yin-yang coffee tables and a job at a large software company? What does the good life look like, if not what the advertisers tell us, if not what we see on TV, if not what the corrupt politicians ask of us? How exactly do we reject self-indulgent freedom—whether economic or social—for some sort of social cohesion? What are our new values?

Many critiques of neoliberalism reject religion, treating it as a means of social control. The Matrix certainly does—going to church is one of the ways you experience the Matrix. In Fight Club, the only clergyman is a frail looking, overly polite little pipsqueak provoked by a member of one of the fight clubs. He is weak compared to this real man, and ultimately abandons the social norms of nonviolence to attack the him, after being contemptuously sprayed with a hose. He is, perhaps, a hypocrite, or at least inconsistent with what we can assume are his principles.

But what if this picture is wrong? What if the reason we’re in this bind is that we have rejected a truly religious world, and look to a merely material world to give us meaning? We tell ourselves that there is nothing beyond the physical world, that we are no more than a complicated bit of chemistry. There is no life beyond this, no reality more lasting than the pain or pleasure our bodies feel right now. And after that, there is nothing. Is it any wonder we want to indulge ourselves while we’re still here?

I’m not suggesting a world of self-interested monsters, only a world of reasonable people. Why trouble yourself with antiquated religious taboos about sexuality, abortion, and respect for elders when it’s all going to rot anyways? Why make someone feel guilty for doing what we’re all doing—just trying to get through the day? Life is hard enough without being threatened with hellfire.

But again, what if that materialistic outlook is not true? What if the cosmos really is the produce of an entity that, though he may be far more than a “person” as we would understand it, is certainly not less? What if he not only created us, but is—contra Tyler Durden—actually interested in us?

People who reject fundamentalist Christianity often make the mistake of thinking that this idea is comforting, but the truth is often quite the opposite. As I’ve already indicated, it’s not for nothing that social liberals are easily annoyed by religious conservatives. Religious conservatives believe that God is interested in us, including being interested that we not do certain things. If there are objective, transcendent values, the kind a truly supernatural entity can give, that means that we can be wrong. Who we sleep with and how we spend our time is suddenly somebody else’s business, and that’s uncomfortable.

This cuts right against our sense of freedom. How dare someone call me a sinner, how dare someone judge me. Isn’t this a free country? Don’t I get to do what I want with my own money, with my own time, with my own body? This religion which rejects the kind of freedom at the base of neoliberalism, and the resultant dehumanization of consumers and employees, also rejects the basis of social liberalism.

Rejecting economic liberalism is one thing—most of us do not benefit much from it. But social liberalism is something that daily allows us to indulge ourselves. The average joe profits from the ability to buy anything, watch anything, drink anything, and sleep with anyone in a way he does not benefit from the profit margins seen by the big wigs in corporate. A morally judgmental Christianity is not an attractive alternative to the kind of consumerism from which he benefits.

But perhaps that is because those who reject the consumerist, neoliberal society on one level are themselves a product of it. We have found an enemy, but the enemy is us. We are still trapped in the service of our own desires, and we need a system that frees us to do that, that subsidizes our self-indulgence.

In another movie—Doctor Strange—the titular character is having a conversation with the Ancient One, who is in a particularly conversant mood. As she contemplates both death and the mysteries of life, she gives Strange some final advice, something to help him along his path to enlightenment and true self-knowledge.

The Ancient One: “Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.”

Dr. Stephen Strange: “Which is?”

The Ancient One: “It’s not about you.”

Responsibility and Gun Rights

I have quite a lot to say on the topic of gun rights, because there is quite a lot to be said. I may end up saying a great deal about it on here over the next little bit. But for now, I have one point to drill home.

When people talk about rights, it is often in the form of “I get to do this” or “You can’t make me do that.” That is not a bad way to talk about it, necessarily, but there is, perhaps a better way. The way I view it, men have rights because they have responsibilities. We are called to do certain things, and because we have those duties we are given the authority over things pertaining to those duties.

This is not a hard concept to grasp when it comes to government. Our governors are meant to punish the wicked with the power of the sword and to reward the righteous with praise. As a result, they are given the right to determine the finer points of what constitutes wickedness in the society they govern, and how the wicked are to be punished. The “necessary and proper” clause exists because we know the government must have certain powers in order to perform its functions.

But governors (federal, state, or local) are not the only people with duties to perform. The church government has duties, schools have duties, businesses have duties. As a result, elders have a certain amount of authority, as do teachers, principles, employers, and managers. Again, I think we all understand this.

But before all that, God made a man and a woman, and he bid them be fruitful and multiply. The family unit is natural to man, perhaps more natural than any other social unit. And (questions of gender roles aside) the head of a family has some very basic duties–to provide for and protect his family. If he must provide for his family, we must concede that he has the authority, and therefore the right, to do so. Furthermore, if he must protect his family, he has the right to do so.

The next step is not exactly a leap of logic, though I perhaps take it farther than some are willing to. A man must protect his family, including from other men. In defense of his family, a man must sometimes use lethal force. From the beginning, this has been true. If you read the Bible, and don’t skim, it’s obvious that God is far less squeamish about people using lethal force than we are.

So far, many conservatives are willing to go. Sure, they say, let’s allow men to have shotguns or rifles or pistols for home defense. If someone breaks into your home, you need to defend your family. That’s your duty, regardless of how you feel about it. And amen. But that’s not where it stops.

Not every enemy is just a burglar. Sometimes the enemy is as well-armed as you are, and better. Sometimes he has professional thugs and the power to attack you in broad daylight. Understand that America is pretty special, that we live in a land of peace in a time of peace, and that is unusual. Governments, local, national, and imperial, go bad. And your duty to protect your family does not stop because the threat is bigger. Neglecting your duty when the going gets tough is not reasonable, it’s cowardice. And mincing words about it is further cowardice.

I understand that saying this will earn me the “nutter” badge. Do I really think one lone guy can oppose a vast corrupt government? Maybe not, but I’m not talking about some lone guy gunning down corrupt officials. This isn’t Shooter, and it’s not the wild west. But I am talking about citizens resisting their government. That can work, that has worked. Even an army like America’s, the best funded in the world, can be resisted. You don’t think so? Look at what Afghans are doing with ancient weapons and no real artillery. Nobody is invincible.

It’s funny that we tell each other all these stories about the War for Independence and how brave those men were, but when it comes down to it, we freely call what they did “stupid.” If you really think a bunch of backwoodsmen opposing the greatest military of the day is ridiculous, either stop calling what your ancestors did honorable, or else admit that sometimes our duty is to do the improbable.

So do I think we have a right to own assault weapons? Yes. I believe we have the right to own them, because I believe we have the duty to own them. Not because the government is out to get us (it’s not) or because we’re under threat of invasion (we’re not). I believe we have that duty because those things are real possibilities, possibilities which prudence and responsibility dictate we be prepared for. We ought to be as well armed as is necessary to confront the greatest potential threat to our families and our neighbors. We are men with responsibilities, and we ought to fulfill them. Even if the government does not like it.

A Failure to Preach

What we saw this past Tuesday was more than a failure of Mitt Romney or the Republican Party to win an election, it was a failure of the Church to preach and live out the Gospel. There is no dispute that in this nation the portion of the Church that could be called Bible-believing or evangelical is firmly associated with the Right. This is not to say that the Republicans accurately reflect the teachings of Christ, or that all those who are saved identify as conservatives, but merely that the Right is believed to be religious for a reason. And if the Church had been doing her job for the past couple of election cycles, had been baptizing and discipling this nation, things would have looked different.

The Gospel can be summed up as “Jesus Christ is Lord.” And if he is, certain things follow. If he is Lord, the government is not. If he is Lord, we must obey him. If he is Lord, we must treat his other subjects right. And if he is Lord, we must require that those who represent us submit to him. We would be looking at a very different America right now, had we been preaching the Gospel.

First off, if Christ is Lord, the government is not. That statement is not a declaration that government had no authority. It does, and that authority is derived from God for our benefit. But that authority is not inherent in the government itself, it is merely a gift from the Lord. This means that it has limits in what it can do. In electing Obama and the party he represents, America is recognizing that our government is the final authority.

An ad was circulating a while back which said that government was the only thing we all have in common. If Christ is not King, that is true, and if that is true, then that government becomes the most important thing to us as a community. It can do whatever it wants for the simple reason that if it doesn’t, who will? Thus government inherits the power to give and take wealth, the power to take away, grant, and educate children, and any number of other powers. If the Church had been declaring Christ’s Lordship, this country would have to at least stop and ask itself whether Christ had granted civil government the authority to do such things.

Second, if Christ is Lord, we must obey him. This means we can no longer support the murder of children in the womb, or sanctify sodomy by giving it the name and rights of an institution which God created. It means we cannot support government-backed theft, whether that money is taken from one person and given to another, or from another generation to feed this one’s decadent lifestyle. These are issues well-addressed by conservative Christian thinkers, so I won’t harp on them. But if we had been preaching the Gospel, this many people could not have voted the way they did in good conscience.

Third, if Christ is Lord, we must treat his other subjects right. This is where we play at the funny edges of conservatism and have to reconsider our current policies. With regards to immigration, while nothing in the Bible is at all inconsistent with a secure border or recognizing the distinctions between one nation and another, there is a great deal in there about being hospitable and showing mercy to strangers from foreign lands. It has been noted that Hispanics, despite being socially conservative, did not vote Republican. We ought to think long and hard about why.

There’s another point to be made under this same heading. Before I make that point, let me state that nothing bugs me more than the people who cheered these wars at the beginning acting like they were never in favor of them, and looking for scapegoats to pass the blame to. Unless, of course, it’s civilians, comfortably at home, and who have never once risked their life, calling soldiers foul names and dishonoring them. That might bug me more.

But it has been said, elsewhere and by better men than I, that we are doing a great deal of harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ over in the Middle East. They say there is an unconscionably high number of civilian deaths, and that the Church there is now hated for its association with us. If we are killing the innocent and preventing the spread of the Gospel, even unintentionally, we ought to think twice about what we are doing. In this respect, and in the arena of immigration, we see evidence not only of a failure to preach the Gospel, but of a failure to live it out.

There is one final way in which the world would be different had we been doing our job. If we are Christians, then our loyalty to Christ comes first. The organizations we create ought to reflect our obedience to him. The people we choose to lead those organizations should also reflect that obedience. Despite being the “Religious Right,” despite evangelicals and conservatives being virtually synonymous, the Republican Party is filled with hypocrites and men swayed by self-interest, not by the truth. We chose as our representative a pagan, we gladly voted for him, and we were disappointed when he did not win the election. We refused to hold the party we thought we ran, and the people who led it, to Gospel standards.

Now this all sounds like a thorough condemnation of the Church’s lack of faithfulness, and in some ways it is. But our Lord is the one who died for us, and the one who forgave us all of our sins, including these. I have seen some wonderful things during this past couple of years, things that give me hope for the future of the Church. But if those things are to come to fruition, we need to repent and begin living the Gospel. And when we have begun living it, people will notice. And as we live it, and begin to preach it, we can have some real hope, and real change. So please join me over the next four in praying for that kind of repentance. We need it.

Why I am a Conservative, Not a Libertarian

Dad and I have had discussions over the years as to whether we are conservatives or libertarians. It’s been very interesting, because while at times we have defined ourselves differently, we have voted in ways that stretched those categories. Also, we’ve been known to switch labels at different times. But here’s me pinning myself to the wall with a definitive statement: there is a difference between those labels, and I am conservative.

Common sense and a boatload of bad experiences both require me to give a definition. Requirements be hanged. Both labels point towards broad movements, not narrow, concrete parties. If this was “why I vote Republican,” we might have definitions. Unfortunately, it’s not, and neither conservatism nor libertarianism have party platforms so much as tendencies.

So let me start with one tendency: views on authority. Libertarianism is all about liberty, liberty wherever it can be found. Authority is viewed with suspicion, and it is all delegated from the hands of the individual. Conservatism is not thusly. Conservatism does begin with fundamental rights and individual freedoms, but with those freedoms come responsibilities. And here’s the key—those responsibilities aren’t just to take care of yourself.

Libertarians, in my experience, tend to hop on a bandwagon I’m fond of—verbal beatdowns of government welfare, even Social Security and Medicare. But they then go a few steps farther, and defend the right of everybody to do what they want as long as it doesn’t very directly hurt anyone else. There’s a tendency there to define everything in terms of individuals and protecting them from other individuals. The government exists as a referee.

Conservatives beat the same drum with regards to redistribution of wealth, but play things a little different. Conservatives are big on family values, on civic responsibility and patriotism. A conservative will ostentatiously wave his Bible as much as his Constitution. There is a tendency in conservative talk to point outside the individual and talk about his relationship to the rest of the world.

This sometimes has tangible results, but not always on a policy level. Conservatives, regardless of their view on a given war, are far more likely to rally for our troops than libertarians. I have known conservatives (I’m one of them) whose greatest objection to the anti-war crowd is not necessarily what they say about the war itself, it’s their attitude towards the troops. Regardless of whether a given war is a good idea, we certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers who stick their necks out for us. That sense of thankfulness and honor can be missing in libertarians.

Now that whole little schpiel on war could create a reaction from a lot of libertarians (“yeah, but my position is really what’s best for the troops!”), but that simply makes the point. There is a difference in emphasis between conservatives and libertarians. One movement has a culture that thanks those who serve the community, one has a culture that is more concerned with critiquing the context in which they serve.

Back to views of authority. Now, I’m not the sort of guy who likes to be bossed around, even by people who have the right to do so. I’m just ornery that way. But I do think that we live in a world that has legitimate authorities, and we have to obey them even if they are wrong. Within reason. We cannot obey commands to sin, but we can obey commands to be stupid. We pay taxes, despite the enormous amount of stupid involved there. I think it should stay that way.

Here’s the problem with all this: the lines are fuzzy. Both movements love freedom more than the current establishment. Both movements can find support in the Bible and can bow the knee to Christ Both movements (despite allowing for Antifederalists) support the Constitution as the law of the land.

The haziness gets worse. I am taking my stand with conservatism because that movement has a place for rightful authority, and because it has a stronger sense of community, and because it tends to believe in a world where interpersonal relations are not based merely on the” as-long-as-they-aren’t-hurting-anyone-it’s-okay” principle. But there are side effects.

Back to the military thing. Conservatives look at our troops with rose-colored glasses and tend to see our wars with an aura of heroism that isn’t always there. And we turn a blind eye to a lot of things in a way we shouldn’t. Libertarians (despite a tendency to screechiness) pare things down to cold logic and cut right through all of that. In short, there are problems conservatism has that libertarianism doesn’t.

And here’s why I don’t care. Conservatism has problems, but those problems are more consistent with the world God made. We may go giddy with thankfulness, but we are right to be thankful. We may have lower standards for politicians, but that’s because we look at them with grace and a sense of priorities. We may sometimes be too loyal to our nation, but at least we understand loyalty at all. We may submit to authority more often than strictly necessary, but at least we can submit when we should.

This is not to excuse our problems. They are real, and nobody like a jingoistic goose-stepper. But it is to say that you have problems wherever you go, and sometimes they’re worth it. If I can be thankful, submit to authority, contribute to a community, and have a morality beyond my own orneriness, it’s all worth the price of having to make sure I don’t overdo it.

So that’s me venturing into the grey area. The contrasts honestly would not be so stark if I wasn’t, well, you know, contrasting. But they are important, and I hope my thoughts were helpful in you sorting out yours.

Have a blessed day.

We Need a Politician

Not my favorite phrase. But true.

I’m a product of Christian schooling, so I’m not exactly unbiased when I say the public school system is bankrupt and explicitly Christian schooling (private or home) is the way to go. Growing up in the situation I have, I’m well aware that way more people agree with the general thrust of that statement than actually have pulled their kids out of public school. And with good reason: money.

It’s not a noble reason, it’s not a deep one. But it’s a good one. Turns out, kids need food and clothes. And shelter, too. So when you’re looking for a place to send them, you have to account for your bank account. And for a lot of people, anything but public schooling is just plain too expensive.

A while back, vouchers were a big issue down here. The idea was that the government would more or less pay for people to send their kids to approved schools. Take note of that word there: approved. The problem with this method was that if your school wanted to accept vouchers, or if you as a homeschooling parent wanted to, you had to meet government expectations. But those standards are half the problem with public schooling. We left public schools, and some folks are still trying to, for a reason. That whole scheme undercuts our little escape plan.

Now public schools are funded by our tax money, whether we have kids or not, whether we send them to public schools or not. That’s not right. We’re being forced to pay for someone else’s education choice when we can’t afford our own. And I do mean forced. Try not paying those taxes and see how far you get. That’s government theft at its most basic.

Vouchers tried to fix that by giving some of that money back, but at the cost of having real freedom of educational choice removed. What I’m saying is, we need true academic freedom. We need a politician willing to go to Austin for us, and to Washington, and tell them to quit taking our money. Cut those taxes, let us keep our own cash. Let folks who want public school keep paying for that, and for those who don’t, let us pay for something else.

This won’t free it up completely. Some forms of education will always be cheaper than others. Usually, that’s going to be the kind that is cheaper in quality. But look at US test scores: we’re already there. At least in this situation, the inequality is from general circumstances, not from an unfair, unjust, unfeeling system. So, yeah, we need a politician on our side. Young, upcoming Christians—are you listening?

Lines in the Sand

Earlier I promised to throw in my two cents on the election now that it seems Romney is the inevitable GOP nominee. I asked you to check out a post by Pastor Douglas Wilson and one by Daniel Alders. Where Pastor Wilson refuses to support Romney on principle, Mr. Alders on principle cannot let Obama win.

These are not uncommon arguments, and they’re both worth taking a minute to consider. On the one hand, Mr. Alders is right: Obama can cause more damage than Romney, and can do so faster. He is also right that we have virtually no chance of electing a third party candidate as an alternative to Romney or Obama. In choosing not to vote Romney, and certainly by encouraging others to do so, we increase the chance of an Obama win when we have a chance to stop it. We are, indirectly, giving a chance to a candidate who is against much of what we stand for.

On the other hand, if we are to support Romney, we are directly supporting someone who is against what we stand for. Now, admittedly, Romney is less of an atrocity than Obama, but that doesn’t stop him from being atrocious. Within certain limits, we might be willing to put up with the badness of a more centrist or even liberal Republican. For instance, I might have considered voting for Santorum despite my differences with him had he managed to win the primaries. But how far is too far? Where do we draw the line?

Romney is a notorious flip-flopper, and his stance on abortion is uncertain. Political decisions can be gambles, and I might have been convinced to roll the dice on his commitment to his most recent views, but my patience has worn thin, and this is not the only place he has problems. He’s easy on domestic partnerships for homosexuals and recently hired an openly gay man as his spokesman on foreign policy. He opposed the recent healthcare law, while having supported something similar in Massachusetts. He also favored a bailout of the auto industry. And I find it hard, in good conscience, to vote for a Mormon, especially when folks today are so willing to declare Mormonism Christian.

In all that I see as much danger for this country as there is in voting for many Democrats. I see plenty of risks and dangers, but not one redeeming value. He is a statist, socially moderate at best, and inconsistent. I cannot in good conscience vote for such a man.

It is reasonable to point out that Obama is worse, but I’m not being asked to support him. Yes, this means there is a larger chance Obama will win, but I have two things to say to that. First, if Obama wins, it’s no secret that he’s a liberal statist and his mistakes will all be ascribed to liberal statism. But if Romney wins, he is a Republican, and therefore his mistakes will be ascribed to conservatism. And, if Joel Osteen’s equivocation is any indication, possibly to Christians.

The second thing I have to say is this: we cannot continue to give ground. Liberals have had such an impact on this country since the sixties because they were tenacious, snatching at every inch available and giving up nothing. Conservatives, on the other hand, have fatalistically resigned themselves to cutting their losses. We elect Statism Lite and expect it to weigh down the radical statists.

But with this strategy, we never gain ground. We never win battles, we only fight to the draw. If we never grow a backbone, if we never stand as a counterculture and fight for our beliefs, we will never change the direction this country is going. We complain about compromise in Washington, but every time election season rolls around, we compromise at the voting booth in the name of cutting our losses. Fine, maybe we won’t lose the country all at once, but we will prove to the liberals that their victory is inevitable and they should keep trying.

No, we have to be every bit as tough as the opposition. We must demand grit and a commitment to the truth. If we want uncompromising candidates, we too must be uncompromising. If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. So, for me, this is the line. I will not vote for a candidate that means nothing but a slow death.

So where does that leave us if Obama gets reelected? In other words, have we gained anything, and are we to be held accountable for what Obama does? First off, we have gained our integrity. And if that doesn’t sound like much to you, maybe you should reconsider whether those corrupt Washington bureaucrats really do represent you well. We have also taught the Republican establishment that if it wants our loyalty, it needs to give us something to work with. This means that the next time around, maybe we’ll get the guy we want.

But are we to be held accountable for what Obama does wrong? Quite frankly, absolutely not. It’s a twisted logic that makes a man who refuses to choose between two evils into one who supports the worse of them. A refusal to support either candidate does not mean you support the one that wins- it means you didn’t support either one. Pretty straightforward.

Maybe such a person didn’t do all in their power to stop the bad guy, but not everything in our power is the right path to take. We still have a system of values, and it doesn’t go out the window when things get scary. One of the things that system does not allow is fighting one wrong decision with another. And so I will not vote Romney.

A note to those perusing this site who are more familiar with my artsy posts, reviews, and other less touchy subjects: I have friends and family who are Democrats and other brands of liberal, independent and libertarian. I love these people very much. But I believe what I believe, and I won’t change that in order to avoid offending them. If our friendship is worth keeping, it can survive these differences. Plus, I’m pretty sure we still have in common the love of wood smoke and good stories.

Have a blessed week.