The truth is, I am not an expert really in any political subjects. At this point in my life, I’m really only somewhat of an expert in a couple of things, like in certain areas of theology, neuroscience, brain-imaging, and stuff like that. I am approaching levels of expertise in those subjects. Beyond that, political stuff, hardly anything. I pay attention. I listen to the news and I try and read about what’s going on. It’s good to be humble and just recognize that it's okay to not have an opinion about something that you don’t know anything about. In fact, if you don’t know anything about it, That's the opinion you should have.
I feel that we put so much pressure on people in our culture to have the right opinions. I think that's so toxic, because very few people have the necessary education to have the correct opinion about any issue. And nobody has time either. I think we should normalize not having an opinion about something.
Abortion is interesting. I’ve kind of gone back and forth on the abortion issue for a really long time actually. I still don’t know where I am on it. I really think the abortion issue comes down to the issue of how we define what life is. The problem is nobody knows. In biology, there is still a debate on whether viruses are living organisms or not. Nobody really knows what constitutes life per say. The issue is, is the fetus a life? We don’t know. That’s the issue for abortion really. Is it a life or is it not? If it is a life, I don’t see a way in which abortion is ethical. If it’s not, then abortion is fine. That being said, I go back and forth. On one hand, you kind of have to draw an arbitrary distinction somewhere because nobody thinks it’s ethical to be doing abortions at nine months, or eight months. We all pretty much agree that’s bad. We send people to prison for that. So it's like, where do you draw the line? The issue is there's no place you can draw it that isn’t going to have cases that land on either side of the line that make people uncomfortable. There's just no way of drawing that line that isn’t going to result in cases that make people uncomfortable for all sorts of ethical reasons. That’s why abortion is an ethical nightmare. There's no answer. It’s an ethical problem with no solution. It’s unpleasant to even think about because of that. I certainly understand why our culture has sided with the bias being on the other side of the line, which is just sided with the autonomy of the mother in question. I think in general, that is probably more workable than the alternative.
I used to have the standard conservative opinion, which was that I was opposed except in cases of rape of incest. But, ethically speaking, that is kind of inconsistent. Only because, if your opposed at all, you should be opposed across the board because it’s murder either way and two wrongs don’t make a right. My heart sides towards pro-choice for that reason. Because of the burden and the horror you're placing on the shoulders of the mother by forcing her to complete a pregnancy that she either has no desire to complete, she didn’t willfully consent to, or is unable to care for a child after birth. I think in a lot of ways it would be cruel to force someone to carry a baby to term if they knew that they whole time they would not be able to take care of it and would have to give it up for adoption as soon as it was born. That's a common circumstance under which abortions happen. Somebody gets pregnant when they’re not prepared financially, psychologically, emotionally, or physically, to have a child.
This is the one that I have undergone the biggest revolution on, just being raised in the Mormon church. I can specifically remember when I was eight years old. My family had invited some Mormon friends over for dinner and when I was eight I was very chatty. When you're eight you don’t really think before you speak. You just say things. I said something like, “When I grow up, I want to have 3 kids unless I’m gay." Which just made sense to me because if I am gay I am not going to have children. I remember that my parents were horrified that I would even say that. I was lectured for it later. I remember when I was lectured for it later, my mom specifically told me that being gay was a choice, in the lecture. At eight, even then I knew that was bulls**t. That didn’t seem right to me. Why would you choose to be gay? From my perspective, being raised in the Mormon church, if being gay is a bad, why would you choose it?
Over time, I developed somewhat of a moderately bigoted view. I never had any issues with anybody who was gay personally. I wasn’t uncomfortable around anybody I knew who was. But from a political perspective, I was opposed to same sex marriage. I didn’t see any reason to change the definition.
I think that probably changed sometime in high school, around my sophomore or junior year was when I was starting to think about politics a lot. Really, as soon as I started to do that, I became really progressive. For me, I eventually came to realize that my opinion of LGBTQ+ didn’t make any sense and really was quite bigoted. It really just came from a place of discomfort with the idea because I wasn’t raised with traditions like that. I was raised in a tradition that more or less actively taught against it.
It actually ended up being a significant component of why I ultimately left the church behind. It wasn’t the only reason, there were a lot of them. But that was definitely a big one. That being said, in high school I had a number of friends who were gay that influenced me as well.
DEFUNDING THE POLICE
There are serious problems with police accountability within police departments. I really think all of the legitimate complaints that people have come down to the issue of accountability. If the police are making the rules and also enforcing the rules, then they’re not going to enforce the rules in a way that works against their interest. Right? That's just common sense. We all know that. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I definitely am in agreement with the need for independent committees to evaluate police action and perform investigations in cases where there is conflict. Body cameras are very important. I don’t think they should be allowed to turn them off. There have been high profile cases where police have turned off their body cameras for some explicable reason.
Whether or not we should actually abolish police, I am somewhat skeptical of people who claim that we could successfully do it and still have a functional civilization. If we would ever get to a place like that, it would have to be a very gradual process over many years. It would have to be systematic. I do think that there are a lot of situations where police are called, but don’t need to be called. It would be preferable to have mental health response teams called out. Part of it is how police are trained too. They are trained to treat civilians as enemy combatants until proven otherwise. “Assume that the person you’re interacting with is going to try to kill you unless you have evidence that suggests otherwise.” If that's the modus operandi that you're under, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of times where you’re going to reflexively pull your gun, and perhaps reflexively fire it in cases where you haven’t thought through what you're seeing and what you're encountering.
I think there’s also an angle of PTSD that is neglected in these conversations. Officers are much more likely to have it than civilians because they see things on a regular basis. Also, because of the culture of police departments which is very macho, they are less likely to seek help for it. You have a double edge sword where you have people who are more likely to have PTSD, who are less likely to seek help for PTSD, and then you’re giving them firearms. People with PTSD have a hyperactive stress response that means that when there's ambiguous stimuli in the world, they are more likely to perceive that stimuli as a threat than your average person who doesn’t have PTSD. That's a dangerous situation that you're putting a lot of officers in. The question is, how do you address that? Perhaps, police departments mandate trauma counselling. Some departments do that, but it’s not consistent. That is probably playing a role in a lot of the shooting deaths by police. Police kill a lot more people in our country than most other countries per year so that's a real problem. The whole thing is a mess. But I don’t think that abolishing the police outright is practical. I just think we need to focus on diverting resources to mental health providers, and enabling them to respond.
BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT
I think in terms of my environment, it would be easy for me to be somewhat dismissive and critical of Black Lives Matter if I am just thinking about the cultural context I was raised in. A relatively privileged, white-middle class, existence in the Mormon culture, highly sheltered from any contact with the police. I honestly think that my first contact with police was when I was 14 or 15 when my dad was pulled over for speeding. That gives you a sense of how privileged my background is, because that is not the case for a lot of people especially people who are invested in the Black Lives Matter as a movement. I think it’s important to be conscious of one's position or status and the way that's shaped one's opinions.
Taking all of that into account, I would say I think somewhere in the middle road, which is that I think the movement is important and in some ways essential. And so, from a means justify the end's perspective, I think we need the movement. I have a lot of disagreements with the movement, the way its run, some of the statements that have been made by spokesmen, and spokespeople for the movement. I think primarily the issue comes down to the fact that it lacks central organization. I think all of the problems and the critiques that the movement faces could largely be solved if it were centrally organized. That being said, it's much easier to get a large ground swell of support from the movement decentralized than when it is centralized. It’s hard for me to critique it along those lines, because I get it. I recognize that the people who are involved are doing the best that they can. Other criticisms I have just have to do with the narrow focus and the lack of consistent messaging.
Sometimes I’ve been told that BLM is genuinely about all black lives and the way they’ve been systematically marginalized in the past in our country and I am like great, we need that. We need a movement that expresses the real frustration, the real anger, the real pain, the real grief, the real trauma that the African American community has collectively been through throughout the history of our country and that honors it and tries to do what it can to get white Americans to become conscious about it and to address it. Right? There are all sorts of systemic things that are still disadvantaging African Americans. We need a movement to express that and to bring awareness to it.
But then other times I am told that BLM is only about police brutality, and specifically about police brutality in unarmed shooting deaths of black Americans. I am against that. I don’t like unarmed black Americans being shot to death for no reason. In terms of the actual statistics though, this happens way more often as proportionate to white Americans than it does black. I think it's wrong either way. Part of me thinks we shouldn’t make that about race because it happens to both and it's bad either way. By me saying that this happens to white people, it is not dismissing the pain in the African American community. I’m in agreement that its bad for everyone. Nobody wants it.
Another thing too is the relative ignorance of, or discussion around, issues about violence in African American communities as a whole. In terms of the actual numbers of deaths, premature deaths due to violence in the African American community. Most of that has to do with socioeconomics. It has to do with poverty. The issue is how do we address that? How do we consider the racial elements that play a role in perpetuating systemic poverty? But, if you bring those things up, people either label you as a conservative who's trying to use cliché talking points to dismiss the legitimate pain of people who are suffering in the African American community. Or they will flat out deny the actual facts and say “no, you’re wrong that’s actually not what’s happening”. I would like to say there is a middle road between those. There's another option and the other option is the movement only about police brutality? Or, is it about the wellbeing of African Americans as a whole? If it’s about the latter, then we need to talk more about poverty and standards of living, housing, universal healthcare, subsidies, things like that. I think most of those problems come down to a lack of consistent messaging and consistent leadership in the organization and a clear vision around the way that the organization is situated. The movement is Black Lives Matter. They don’t just matter when they are victims of police violence, they matter across the board. They matter in every context. They always matter. Right?
There is this culture of soundbites. You have no opportunity to express an opinion with nuance and so the moment you say, “I think BLM is a bad movement”... people immediately are like “Oh so you think black lives don’t matter?" It's easy to turn around and be crucified on social media. It’s part of a larger discussion round this phenomenon called "cancel culture". Some people seem to think it's a big deal, some people not so much.
I think the problem is the scale at which it happens. So, if somebody is an asshole. Traditionally, before the internet and rise of social media, they would be shamed by the people in their immediate environment and it would be a few people, mainly family and friends. Now, it is the entire world. The scale seems wrong. Somebody can say a horrible thing online and if it goes viral, their world can be more or less hunting that person down, harassing them, sending them death threats. It seems like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime because really the crime is just having an uneducated opinion. The thing is, if you harass people for having uneducated opinions, you’re not going to make their opinions more educated. The issue is it becomes about punishment rather than rehabilitation. It's like, “Here's this person with an awful opinion. Lets punish them because there is no hope for them. They’re just forever a racist and we are going to put them in that category and then throw them out.” That's what we do with racists, right? Practically speaking, I would say for most people, it's the consequence of being uneducated and being raised in a particular culture or time period or situation that shapes them in that way. Most of it has to do with a lack of exposure. That being said, I don’t think it's any one person's responsibility to find people who are racist and say, “I am going to fix you and make you not racist. Let me take you through these steps to educate you.” That is a personal responsibility. A person has to eventually realize that there’s something off about the way they are seeing the world, and then correct it. I do think people should be shamed for racist opinions, but whether they should be shamed on a public scale? I don’t know. It’s hard. Sometimes you want to say yes. I just don’t see it being productive.
Honestly, this is probably my most controversial opinion. At least, I feel it will be based on the rhetoric and the discourse in the modern age. I think capitalism is amazing. I think it's probably the best economic system we’ve ever invented. I think it's unquestionably better than Marxism, communism, socialism. Now, capitalism itself, if we define it purely as the exchange of goods and services in a free market economy, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t exist and it never has. Which is just to say that the government always plays a role in the economy. True capitalism in its fullest sense would be that the government has no role whatsoever in the economy at all. There’s no impact positive or negative. That’s never existed. Ever. So, when I say capitalism, I am referring to mixed market capitalism explicitly because that's the only form of capitalism that's ever existed.
A lot of people talk about this idea of late stage capitalism. Which is basically the idea that capitalism as an institution is ossified. And that it's come to the point where people's basic needs are no longer being met because more or less the costs of living aren’t increasing relative to the rate in which inflation is increasing monetary value. They use it as a sort of criticism. I don't really see that as a critique of capitalism, so much as I see that as a critique of our fiscal system in general. I think the financial system as a whole is a disaster and it always sort of has been, ever since we’ve moved away from gold. There’s all sorts of complicated reasons for that, which I only dimly understand. Those are also controversial opinions.
You might say capitalism is the best worst system, because every system is somewhat bad in terms of meeting everybody’s basic needs. But, I would say as a whole, capitalism as a system has done more for humans basic needs than any other system ever has. When people have tried to implement other systems, they have starved millions of people. Capitalism has its limitations and its flaws. When I say capitalism is great, it is not an unequivocal or unqualified great, there are lots of flaws.
A big part of that comes down to the debate around healthcare in the country. The free market doesn’t pay for people's health insurance. It just doesn’t. It doesn't pay for people to be healthy. This is somewhat Darwinian in nature. The free market only values you to the degree that you contribute value to the free market. Which means it doesn’t value a lot of people who don’t contribute to the free market. Well, that's not the only source of value in life. In fact, most of the value in life has nothing to do with the economy. It has to do with companionship, connection, friendship, family relationships, beauty, art, religion, and philosophy. All of these things that have no economic value on their own. They are only valuable to a degree, as far as capitalism is concerned, so long as they can be monetized. But, I don’t know if that's so much a critique of capitalism so much as it is a critique of the fact that the economic system isn’t the only system of value and that we have to find a way to make space for people to express value that isn’t solely tied to the market.
I would definitely say that was shaped by growing up in a conservative culture. Especially because I was raised in a particular version of the conservative culture that's very very emphatic on the importance of hardwork and personal responsibility. I think those are values that are important independent of your station in life. I think no matter where you are, whether you’re wealthy or you're at the bottom of the class hierarchy, those values will take you further than anything else you can cultivate. If you have a strong sense of personal responsibility and a great work ethic, you’ll get much farther along than you would otherwise. But, there are also cases where people are just crushed by the conditions of life, that are arbitrary and unfair. So it’s not to say that that's the only thing you need. Hard work and responsibility are important, but you also need some degree of luck. If you have no luck whatsoever, there are cases where no amount of hard work or personal responsibility can dig you out of a hole that you're in and that’s a tragedy. To the extent that that is true of our culture and civilization, that’s something that we need to work on. We need to fix it.
I am not especially motivated by status or ambition. I think partially because I have over and over in the lives of people I love seen the way in which status and ambition have become monsters that have swallowed the people I love whole, basically ruining their entire lives. I have seen it happen over and over and so I have no interest in it.
A lot of it has to do with my relationship with my father in particular, who I would say was somewhat consumed by the pursuit of status. For him, his pursuit of status was a means of seeking validation for the love he never got as a child from his parents who are very emotionally dismissive and somewhat psychologically cruel. I can just so clearly see how that consumes a person.
Listen to scientists. There are good reasons to be skeptical of certain models of climate change, but I think that we should act with the greatest abundance of caution because climate change potentially is an existential risk. I think any amount of preparation we do to mitigate an existential risk is worth doing. Now, I will say that is true up to a certain point, which is just to say that we can’t do so much preparation that we ignore other things. We still have to run a civilization. We can’t divert all of the funding to just climate change prevention because then you can’t do anything else. In so far as you're able to do everything else, spend a lot of time and resources thinking about how to prepare for climate change. Pay attention to what the scientists are saying. Climate change is not a political issue. The politics only come in insofar as the discussion surrounding what should be done about climate change. It would be one thing if conservatives and liberals actually had a disagreement about that. Instead, conservatives just say that it doesn’t exist which is so much worse. It would be so much better if they said, “Yeah, it exists, it’s a problem, here’s our solution. Oh, that's different than yours? Let's talk about it.” I feel like we would be more likely to get something done in that scenario.