Category Archives: Social Issues

A lesson In Skepticism: Assumptions Are Bad, but Great Discussions Can Ensue From Them Nonetheless

Recently, a friend shared this meme on Twitter. Like anyone who stands behind and supports our military, I couldn’t help but be a little put off by Lena’s supposed argument. So I quoted the tweet with “We all have our problems. Unless your problems are life and death, your problems don’t make you special, they make you normal.”

This meme appeals to those of us who feel a heavy debt of gratitude towards our military. Sadly I jumped to conclusions that I absolutely shouldn’t have, and neither should my friend I discussed this meme with shortly after.

While we took different positions, he and I both assumed that Lena was referring to her claims of assault/rape during college. Sadly for Lena, the accusations she made against a person she identified as “Barry” were deemed to be about someone who never met her, and she was forced to walk her statement back.

She later stated that “Barry” was a pseudonym she had given to her attacker. It just happened to coincidentally somewhat describe a man she went to school with named Barry, who was then sadly attacked in the media after many assumed he was her rapist. To her credit, Lena eventually confirmed he was not her attacker, but no doubt Barry endured a lot of unfair stress and insults to his character as a result.People will argue whether it was her exhibiting a Munchausen Syndrome type scenario, seeking attention by claiming to be a victim when she wasn’t. But unless you were there, or unless she ultimately admits no such attack happens, she should rightfully be taken at her word that she was assaulted. Rape is not so uncommon, especially when the parties are impaired (drugs and alcohol), as Lena admits to during the attack.

Being famous, she would also likely understand that she may open herself up to a slander claim if she identified her potential attacker by name, when that attacker has neither been indicted, nor convicted of such an assault. So her pseudonym claims are entirely plausible and even logical if true.

As I give her the benefit of the doubt, I also have nothing but sincerest sympathy for what she would have went through. While I think her literal words—as written in the meme—are effectively falsified by the meme, I absolutely understand and acknowledge that I have not known the fear of being raped, nor ever been the victim of any type of sexual assault. So while I absolutely sympathize—in that context—I cannot empathize.

It should be noted that there are many false rape accusations leveled at people for a myriad of reasons from later regret of a consensual tryst, to the aforementioned Munchausen Syndrome where people derive pleasure from playing the victim. But that being said, unless I am the accused and know I’m innocent, or witnessed the event with my own eyes and saw the consent, I will never claim a woman is lying when she says she was raped, and neither should you.

Because if they are telling the truth, how dare you make them feel like the villain in this equation when you have no knowledge of the truth. We have a presumption of innocence in this country. It’s based on the solid scientific principle of falsification, largely attributed to Karl Popper. Because of its greater likelihood of coming to a truth, it’s the moral way to approach such a claim as well.

So what was our mistake in the assumptions we made? There were actually a few.

  1. We both assumed that the text of the meme was what she said verbatim—it wasn’t.
  2. We assumed she was talking about herself—she wasn’t.
  3. We assumed it was about rape—it wasn’t.

My friend and I weren’t even in the same ZIP code.Lena Dunham endorses Hillary Clinton

As it turns out, Lena—being a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton—was supporting her campaign in an interview with Page Six (I could not find a reputable source to confirm what she said or where she said it, so I’m taking this with a grain of salt too). Lena is quoted as saying, “The other candidates are white men and they cannot understand, even if they can understand it intellectually . . . for what it’s like to be under that kind of attack, and I’m so impressed by the way she continues to soldier forth.”

Lesson learned, always be skeptical of memes, even if they’re shared by someone you trust. But nonetheless, there are many great discussions worth having about the assumptions we did make—even if they weren’t true—aside from the lesson we already learned about making assumptions.

So let’s take a couple of them on.


If she had been discussing women living in constant fear of being attacked by man, is that fair?

Well, yes and no.

From a purely literal sense, if you fear someone who is of no threat to you, that is effectively an irrational fear. But as famed psychologist and skeptic Dr. Michael Shermer explains, in man’s evolutionary history, we are prone to a phenomenon he calls patternicity: finding meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

Dr. Michael Shermer

As he goes on to explain (click the link above for a more descriptive example), if you assume something is a threat that isn’t and flee the scene, you’ve endured no harm. But if you assume no threat when there is one, you are likely to be harmed. So it makes sense we’ve evolved to assume things are threats, even when that assumption may be false, as an effective method of self-preservation.

So for women to assume that some men are predators, even if those men are perfectly honorable in their intentions, is not entirely irrational, even though the feared assault is highly improbable (most men do not assault women). They have my sincerest sympathy that a small segment of the male population have implanted this fear in them, even if they have nothing to fear from me personally.

So men, while it’s easy to get mad at women for assuming the worst in us, understand that it’s a simple self-preservation instinct which is entirely natural and beneficial to their safety. Just make a sincere effort to make them feel as safe as possible if you wish to quash that fear and/or get to know them.


If we address my reply to the Tweet, I believe this is also a worthwhile discussion to have—not all problems are equal.

I get depressed about being single, or not reaching the level of success that I feel I should have attained in life. But I do have a job, I’m reasonably healthy, and have a wonderful family and friends. So I rarely openly share my issues, because I feel some level of guilt for complaining about these things when I see a baby with Leukemia, a soldier who lost limbs in battle, or homeless and/or jobless people whose lives are largely without hope.

It is important that we empathize where we can with people, and sympathize with them otherwise, no matter what they’re problems are. It helps to bring our community together, and it’s just the right thing to do in my opinion.

But for the person doing the complaining, it’s also important to keep your own problems in perspective. Problems aren’t that different from a hospital’s triage.

Society’s efforts should be focused on the most dire problems first, and we can address the less dire ones when the emergencies have all been dealt with. For instance, if I encountered both a drowning baby and a guy who’s depressed he broke up with his girlfriend and just wants to talk, I’m probably going to try to save that baby and leave the heartbroken dude to sort out his own problems. If my love-struck compadre were to complain about my choice, I think we all understand he’d be out of line.

My underlying point though, is that almost everyone has problems. We all love to believe we are unique in our pain—and somehow most others have a nearly perfect life.

But is this true?

No one was more loved or respected than Robin Williams, and with his portrayal of a homosexual cowboy, and then Batman’s The Joker, Heath Ledger had just solidified himself as Hollywood’s newest top shelf actor. Both of these men, by all accounts, were on top of the world.

Yet sadly both of these men, with so much love and respect heaped upon them, with none of the financial stresses many of us face either, could bear to live life another day.

And frankly, I defy you to ask anyone about their problems and find someone who responds that they don’t have any.

While someone may not know your specific pain, they almost assuredly have problems you don’t understand either. If you want sympathy and respect, don’t assume you’re the only one hurting. You’re dismissing the pain others around you are enduring—that’s pretty insulting.

I can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is that we be open about our problems, and discuss them with others. Bottling them up often ends in self-harmful or violent acts. So making the effort to not alienate those you’d like to sympathize with is something I think we should all strive for when we do reach out for help. I believe my approach would yield a more positive social interaction.


So now that we’ve covered our false assumptions, let’s address Lena’s actual claim.

A large portion of political arguments these days are hyperbole and hyper-partisanship. All sides of the aisle tend to overstate their strengths, while dishonestly ignoring their weaknesses. I’d be skeptical of anyone making a political argument on the campaign trail. But that being said, does Lena have a point?

On the face of it, no. History is littered with politicians attacking other politicians. Hillary Clinton was by no means the first to be the brunt of hateful political attacks. Some of hers are only unique in that she’s a woman, but most arguments were against her policy or character—not the fact she’s missing equipment down below.

America has never had a woman president, nor even a female vice-president. For a significant portion of American history, they wouldn’t have been allowed to do so. They weren’t even allowed to vote before 1920, with the passage of the 19th amendment.

The heinous acts toward the black community in American history dominate our culture. There are a multitude of movies, documentaries, and other media depicting the slavery era and civil rights movement—far more than there are about the hardships and atrocities women have endured as a group.

Yet I suspect many may be surprised to know that black men had the right to vote after the passage of the 15th amendment in 1869, over 50 years before woman had such rights in America.

So women have gotten pretty poor treatment throughout history (not just America) without nearly as much attention given to that fact, compared to others.

I readily admit it’s plausible that a large majority of men will vote for another man. And, since many women still claim to support the traditional notion of being subservient to their male counterparts, many women may not necessarily vote for a woman either. This makes Lena’s underlying point more than fair.

Much like Obama overcoming the racial barrier on the path to the presidency, our first female president will likely have higher hurdles to jump than her male counterparts do to get there too.

However, if I can pose a hypothetical situation for a minute, I don’t think I could be easily convinced that if Republicans had chosen a well-respected woman like Condoleezza Rice, and Democrats had chosen  someone who’s largely scandal-free like Tim Kaine as their nominees, I’m not convinced Condoleezza wouldn’t have gotten the same votes Trump did, and Kane gotten most of the votes Hillary did—yielding the same result.

I think if we’re honest, it would have been a far better election, with a better outcome, no matter who won, compared to the two highly-hated candidates the big parties actually picked.

Hillary most assuredly lost some votes solely by virtue of her pesky second X chromosome, but I am firmly convinced that she lost far more votes be virtue of being laden with a series of potentially immoral, corrupt, and even potentially criminal acts.

I’m of the opinion she got far more votes by virtue of being a Democrat from people who didn’t like her, than she lost by virtue of being a women from people who would have otherwise voted Democrat. Most heated political arguments are partisan in nature, not sexist.

So is Lena’s argument valid? Somewhat. Do I think it cost Hillary the election? No.

I think Hillary Clinton’s actions and persona cost Hillary Clinton the election. Trump was arguable one of the most beatable Republicans in recent history. Laying that defeat at the feet of her gender seems improbable to me.

But if you disagree, there’s a comment section below…have at it. Debate is good! Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Food For Thought: Facts and Myths About Mankind Being Omnivorous vs Herbivorous

Full disclosure

I’m a meat-eater and have never entertained going vegetarian/vegan. My passion level on the subject is pretty low, it’s just my curiosity that’s high. Unlike me, some are quite fervent on the subject however, so be wary of that if you intend to discuss the subject with those who have chosen to avoid animal byproducts. You may be in for a very heated debate.

While I do have a love for animals, especially my pets, and I understand (and largely agree with) all the arguments against the less-than-ethical treatment of animals, knowing that there are many natural meat-eaters in this world lends me to the conclusion that animals eating others is simply the natural order of things. So those are my biases in advance, and you should be fairly made aware of them.

IMPORTANT!

I would also like to point out that ALL decisions about your health and diet should involve consulting your physician (MD) and/or a registered dietitian (RD). I’m neither of those things. Do NOT consider my advice, or any other internet celebrity who isn’t an authority on the subject (aka The Food Babe, David Wolf, et al.) as a credible source.

I’m merely a skeptic providing food for thought, not giving any dietary advice above consulting your doctor or dietitian.

Unlike the aforementioned celebs, I will at least cite reputable sources where possible. All of them are chocked full of great information. They’re not just there for reference, I encourage you to read them individually. I’ve even reached out to a few registered dietitians as well, to be sure I don’t steer you down the wrong path (as you’ll see later).

On to the show…

To start, let’s break down veganism vs. vegetarianism. The short answer is that vegetarians don’t eat meat. Vegans take that one step further, and don’t consume anything that comes from animals, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and other such animal-derived consumables. For the long answer, click this article from Authority Nutrition.

There are two basic types of reasons for choosing to drop foods from the animal kingdom—opinion-based and factual. Only factual claims could be fairly subjected to criticism.

For instance, if you don’t want to be part of exploiting animals in any way, that’s a matter of opinion. While others can potentially find flaws in your reasoning, the bottom line is that opinions, by definition, are not right or wrong. So if that’s your only motivation, no one should be trying to argue you’re right or wrong, only that they agree or disagree.

The other reason one might do so, is for health reasons. That is a matter of fact, not opinion, and therefore is subject to scrutiny. No one has a right to their own facts, nor do facts care what someone believes. The best way to come  to know them, is via the scientific method. So this is why I stress above that someone trained in evidence-based science like an MD or RD should be consulted. It is your life, after all…so to you, it’s kinda a big deal.

Controlled studies are difficult on the subject, you have to rely on the subjects not only to stick to their respective diets, but if done properly, the study would take decades to test for longevity between the two groups, and other factors like changes in exercise and lifestyle, changes in diet within the framework of omnivorosity and herbovosity can all change the outcome and skew the data in such a study.

That being said, I was able to find this study from Oxford, which studied vegetarians against omnivores. As you can probably imagine, it’s complicated, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. I’ll let you read it and come to your own conclusions, I’m not qualified to do so myself. (I keep pointing this out, not to demean myself, but so you don’t take advice from others who aren’t qualified either.)

So what started me down this path of inquiry? I had an exchange with a friend who is vegan, and she had suggested that dairy was not a natural food source for humans—I’ve heard this multiple times since. Me being the slightly sarcastic skeptic that I am, decided to share the response I gave her recently on Twitter for a laugh or two.

While I was of course being a little cheeky in my response, this brings me to my first point. There are a lot of clearly false claims out there that simple skepticism on your part can debunk—no biology degree required. Question everything, especially when your health is at stake. So let’s get to this claim.

Milk – It Does a Body Good?

All mammals are born eating milk. Mammals have mammary glands which supply…you guessed it…milk! And yes, I said eating—milk is technically a food, as much as it is a drink.

Why do we consume milk? Remember back to the days you were born; in case you don’t recall, you didn’t have any teeth.

Since our prehistoric ancestors didn’t have access to baby food or applesauce, it should make sense that milk was pretty much the only thing a toothless fecal factory can consume and get all the nutrients it needed. So, voila! We are in fact meant to eat dairy; or more to the point, the nutrients contained in dairy.

While it’s important to note that milk does vary slightly from animal to animal based on their needs (cow’s milk isn’t evolved for humans, for instance), there’s certainly no evidence it’s toxic in any scientific definition of the word. Click here for a good breakdown of the nutritional content of many animal milks from the University of Illinois. You’ll notice that it’s largely the same contents, just in varying amounts. This make sense, because we’re all mammals, and on the evolutionary tree, we’re all one big branch stemming from one common base, which means our needs are pretty similar as well.

Wisconsin milk board overstates dairy’s benefits to children, some experts say – Click Image for Article

As we grow older, and our teeth come in, we don’t need milk—we never technically did. We just need nutrients that milk provides, which many other chewable food sources also contain. Your body doesn’t care where protein, glucose (sugar), sodium chloride (salt), calcium, and other essential vitamins and nutrients come from, it just needs them wherever you can get them. So if one is to argue you need milk as you grow older and are able to consume a more normal diet, that’s also pretty false, despite what the National Dairy Council tells you. Milk does however have a good, natural combination of carbs, fat, and protein which is why it’s been deemed a great beverage for post-exercise recovery.​

Harvard has a phenomenal write-up on milk, including it’s effects on osteoporosis, one of many dubious claims about it. As you can probably imagine, as with most things, there are pros and cons—be skeptical of anyone telling you anything is all good or bad.

There’s a saying in biology “everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.” Bear that in mind, because many false arguments come from a zero-tolerance perspective (the idea that consuming any amount is dangerous), which is rarely if ever true. How much of something you consume is almost always equally important to what you actually consume. You can die from drinking too much water, while there is an acceptable amount of substances like mercury you can safely consume without incident. This is important for all those who think glyphosate and other potentially harmful chemicals used in food crops should learn before they assume what they’re eating is dangerous. The levels you get them in with a normal diet, make them almost entirely innocuous.

Since I’m a lover of science, and my interest level was getting high, I tweeted the following to two RDs I know from Twitter. Huge thanks to Amanda Kruse RD, CD (@Amanda_Kruse) for editing this post, and thanks to RD David from Science Based Nutrition (@SciBasedNutr), and Cara Harbstreet RD (@StreetSmartRD) for furthering the discussion on Twitter. I encourage you to follow them and join in the discussion.

Human Evolution

One of the arguments against eschewing meat, is that we evolved to eat it. It’s true humans have been eating meat for the entirety of our 200,000ish years on Earth. To argue we aren’t evolved to eat meat is clearly illogical. Veganism/Vegetarianism are fairly new concepts to our species.

The Cleveland Clinic

A very good short introduction to going meatless from the Cleveland Clinic shows what precautions one should take if going vegan/vegetarian to get nutrients they’ll be missing from a normal diet containing meat. If special caution needs to be taken if you ween yourself off of meat, this itself is a pretty strong argument that we are meant to be omnivorous. But if choosing this route, here’s a separate article from Cleveland Clinic (thanks Twitter RDs) outlining what you should consider—it can be a very good alternative for some if done right.

On the flip side, this article from Harriet Hall from Science Based Medicine is a pretty good account of the many pitfalls one might experience by going vegan. It’s a science-based review of a book from a woman who went vegan, only to realize she was experiencing health issues as a result.

Vegetarian Tostadas

But, as the articles from Cleveland Clinic point out, with some careful planning, you can easily substitute those missing nutrients with plant-based options. In doing so, you can fashion a diet that may in fact be even healthier. So while the evolution argument is compelling on the face of it, the fact remains that you can go meatless and be healthier for it. Take care though; if you think you’re not the type to stick to a carefully planned diet, veganism may not be for you.

So why would we be meat-eaters in the first place?

Evolution is the ability for a species to adapt to its environment. So they will thrive in locations that contain a rich supply of foods and nutrients those species need. If that species can eat just about anything, then that species has a greater chance of living on. So being omnivorous gave mankind the best chance of survival as we migrated all around the globe.

Mankind is also the one species (there may be others, but I’m not aware of them) that took evolution to a whole new level by customizing their environment to suit them. We build fires and air conditioning units. We farm and build shelter, too. All of these things make it possible for us to inhabit every continent on the planet. Take that, other species!

This ability to adapt our environment to suit us, changed the face of evolution in a meaningful way. It also brings us full circle to veganism, because it allowed us to do things like go vegan/vegetarian if we choose to, thanks to the knowledge of how we can modify our diet to supplement what we’ll miss from meat.

Bad Arguments

Because this issue is quite contentious, there are a lot of bad arguments out there from people who simply want you to see their side, and through confirmation bias, have come to their conclusions one way or the other—insisting their way is the only way to be.

Anecdotes – “I went vegan, and I feel great. So will you!”

As the BBC’s Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki often says…

So why should you ignore your vegan friend who swears by their diet? Because they are not a controlled study.

Imagine your friend does go vegan for health reasons. Many meat eaters eat fried meats like deep-fried chicken nuggets, and other friend foods like french fries. Maybe they’re feeling bad, and a doctor tells them to eat healthier and exercise.

So instead of entering into a controlled study, they start exercising, and go vegan, as well as other such “healthy” lifestyle changes.

Six months later, they feel great. But why do they feel great? We know that exercise makes you feel better, as long as you don’t overdo it. So maybe going vegan did nothing, and you’re just feeling better because of the exercise.

Also, maybe while going vegetarian, you also cut out those other fried foods as well, so you’re not only going vegetarian, you’re eating healthier in general. It’s quite possible that had you done all that, but instead switched your meat consumption to fish, chicken, bison, and other healthier low-fat meats, you’d be even better. How would you know? You didn’t control for all those variables. Instead, you went through a life change, and introduced a myriad of variables where you really can’t determine which, if any were effective.

So while your friend might mean well, this is a great example as to why scientists don’t consider anecdotes as evidence.

What is healthiest?

Another concern you should have, is when people claim one diet is healthier than the other.

The word healthy is incredibly ambiguous—how would you define it? It could mean not being obese or malnourished, disease free, heart-healthy, mobile, longevity of life, clear of mind with no dementia…the list is pretty endless as to how you could define it. (I refer you to the Oxford study above now, which broke down the areas that were better and worse). So for someone to claim one is healthier than the other as a blanket statement, is already a walk down the path of hyperbole and flawed logic.

Because of nearly entire lack of fat, if obesity is your concern, a vegan/vegetarian diet is almost certainly the better option than eating high-fat meats. But again, lean meats like chicken, fish, bison, etc., could achieve the same goal.

Why do I point this out? Because again, this is exactly why you should consult your doctor, or a registered dietitian. They will know better than anyone, how to determine your needs, and then guide you down the best path to achieve them.

Conclusion

Whether you choose to go herbivorous or carnivorous, there are healthy and unhealthy paths you can go down with either. Ignore anecdotal evidence, ignore hyperbolic claims that indicate one is clearly “healthier” than the other, ignore your well-intentioned friends who are eminently unqualified, and the myriad of internet celebrities selling you whatever they want to believe, too. With most things in life, there are pros and cons; anyone telling you there isn’t, is someone you probably shouldn’t listen to.

You can go vegan and be healthier. You can remain omnivorous and with small changes, still be healthier. While we did evolve to eat meat, at the end of the day, it doesn’t appear it’s necessary. The short answer seems to be, that the opinion reason is the only one that’s a firm reason to ditch meat. You can achieve most any health goals without going vegan by…say it with me…consulting your doctor or registered dietitian.

 

Is Health Care a Right?

If you’re a limited-government advocate, you’re almost guaranteed to be a detractor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) colloquially known as Obamacare. The AHCA from the GOP designed to replace the ACA, has recently been passed by the House, but is largely believed to not have a chance in the Senate.

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

If you’re old enough to recall the Clinton presidency, you may remember that Hillary Clinton was appointed by her husband Bill to the “Task Force on National Health Care Reform.” Her mission was to improve the state of health care in the United States, and her suggestion was a single-payer system similar to what many nations in Europe and Canada use.

This single-payer system was originally supported by President Obama as well, prior to becoming president. But the political climate in America is still one of limited government more often than not, so the ACA was a compromise Obama was willing to make to achieve his goal of every American having “basic access to health care.”

The bill being one of the larger in American history had a lot to it, and as such, had a lot of things people from many places on the political spectrum took issue with.

The extreme of the left, like self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders argued for a universal plan, not a privatized option like the Affordable Care act. So in their estimation, the plan didn’t nearly go far enough.

Those on the right, felt the mandate requiring people to buy insurance was counter to American values, and challenged that, as well as several other facets, in the Supreme Court, ultimately losing their fight after Chief Justice John Roberts arguably rewrote the law to allow it to survive instead of casting the deciding vote to strike it down.

Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts

Many libertarians like myself, are left wondering why government should be involved in health care in the first place. I think our position is pretty consistent and straight forward, although I always cringe at the idea of speaking for other people. But I will try to state the libertarian position as I’ve consistently observed it.

Health Care is not a Right

The argument from those pushing for government-funded health care is the idea that it’s a right—some going so far as to say it’s an extension of your right to life. But let’s break that down for a second, as it depends on how you define rights in general.

The Constitution doesn’t mention health care, so there’s no honest metric one could use to say it’s a Constitutional right. However, most argue that it’s a basic human right.

The United States Constitution

If we compare health care to other well-understood basic human rights, it becomes fairly easy to understand how healthcare is different. Religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom in general, life, air, etc., these things all have one thing in common. They do not require any action from another person.

Rights by definition, should not involve the action of another person, because otherwise, your right to have their labor or goods trumps their right to keep their labor or goods—therefore one person ends up having more rights than another.

Healthcare requires goods produced by the pharmaceutical industry and medical equipment from manufacturing companies, as well as the efforts of a medical practitioner like a doctor or nurse, it isn’t just something that exists in the ether for all to consume.

If we force those people to do such work through laws like EMTALA, which require emergency rooms to treat people, regardless of their ability to pay, this arguably violates the 13th amendment which states:13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Making a doctor save someone’s life versus giving them the option, even if they get paid to do so, is both immoral and potentially unconstitutional.

A quick internet search yielded no instance where SCOTUS has granted certiorari (agreed to hear) any petition challenging EMTALA, although the 11th Circuit upheld the law in BAKER COUNTY MEDICAL SERVICES INC v. ATTORNEY GENERAL, August 2014, The challenge there was not against the 13th amendment, it was against the 5th, which reads as follows. (The bold portion was what the challenge argued against.)

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The reason the law was upheld, is because the law only applies to hospitals which voluntarily work with Medicare. So the court ruled that their participation was voluntary, while the plaintiffs argued not taking Medicare is an undue financial burden, and therefore not really a choice. (Almost all hospitals accept medicare, because they’d have a hard time making a profit if they rejected all those who are on it). Government often gets so involved, that they create the problem by virtue of their intrusiveness in the marketplace.

The Supreme Court Of The United States

Moving past EMTALA, if we assume that the doctors help someone voluntarily, and expect to get paid by government, then the second issue arises that the taxpayer and/or fellow healthcare consumers, end up footing the bill.

What logical argument can one make to indicate that person A is responsible for person B? While it’s certainly altruistic in its intent, and I understand the idea that if we all band together to help those in need, society is potentially better off because of it; that’s still a moral judgement you’re making that others may not share with you.

There’s also a rather large hypocrisy in play for these beliefs. Speaking to a doctor who promotes a single-payer system, my argument was that at some point, that doctor expects to retire. While my taxes help pay for health care, my dollars don’t cure anyone. My dollars pay a doctor who then cures someone.

So if a doctor chooses to take a day off, or retire, they have opted to not help someone who could have used help. If I were to tell those doctors that now the government gets to dictate how many hours they work, and what time they may take off, they’d be apoplectic. Yet I do not get to choose how much of my paycheck funds the health care of another.

Much like mass and energy are interchangeable because one can be transformed into the other, so are labor and money for the same reason. Forcing someone to give up their money to pay for services they’re not receiving is no more moral than forcing them into servitude for the same purpose.

As much as it may seem heartless not to do it, you cannot divorce that fact from the equation.

This brings me to the “are you just going to let them die” argument, that is often bandied about as justification for forced medical care.

The number of visits to a doctor that are life threatening vs just quality of life issues are very small. Even Emergency Room visits, according to one government study puts the number of visits that could have been treated by a normal doctor or Urgent Care facility vs the emergency room at somewhere between 13.7 and 27.1%. That doesn’t include all the times people just went to their doctor, or an Urgent Care facility. So it is more than fair to assume that less that 10%, maybe even less than 1% of all medical care required is non-life-threatening.

If that’s true, then most of the time care may be refused, it is not about letting someone die at all.

But also, if we go back to labor and money are interchangeable, arguing that myself or anyone else is “just letting someone die” assumes that we owe them their life. Which again means that the government would get to decide when a doctor may retire or otherwise not work.

Waiting in Emergency department

While it’s easy for those of us who aren’t medical doctors to sit at home, and say “someone should help those people” (referring to those who can’t afford to pay for health care), the fact is that any government requirement for them to be helped requires violating the actual enumerated constitutional rights and largely accepted human rights of a number of people, in order to preserve a non-enumerated right of one person.

If you want to help people, you should volunteer to help. Go to school to learn medicine, and do the good deeds you want done. But the moment it becomes compulsory for you or anyone else, it is no longer moral.

With the number of charities that were doing great work to help the less fortunate before laws like this were passed, the idea that such people didn’t get help, is misguided. While there were some people who did not receive care, there were a good number who did. But more importantly to libertarians like me, liberty remained in tact, and not one right was violated.

The Best Intentions Are Not Justification For Intervention

One of the biggest false narratives coming from people on the right, are that those on the left are trying to ruin America. Whether it be political correctness, socialized health care (Single-payer) and/or retirement planning (Social Security), business regulations, social engineering, anti-discrimination laws…the list is a mile long of ways that these folks want to improve America in a very meaningful and altruistic way.

It’s easy to just attack their positions if you look at it from the view of the people they’re trying to change. Political correctness stifles free speech. Socialized health care and retirement planning takes money involuntarily and by force from the earner, and often gives to someone who didn’t earn it. Business regulations cost entrepreneurs money, making it difficult for small businesses to compete when their funds are diverted from inventory, research, and development to compliance attorneys who do absolutely zero, from a return-on-investment scenario.

I’ve always staunchly argued that for something to be fairly deemed moral, one person cannot be remedied by wronging another, especially through force. So while I applaud the left for wanting to help promote compassion, tolerance, and general well-being for all Americans, it is my firm opinion, they’re severely misguided in many of their arguments.

While I could speak about the issues above ad nauseam, I want to discuss the anti-discrimination efforts specifically in this post.

From a scientific perspective, diversity (specifically genetic diversity) is paramount to our ecosystem. Having organisms with different genetic makeup insures that natural selection will continue to evolve past challenges that face all life on Earth. So attacking our differences as if they’re a flaw, is quite the fallacious argument. As such, I would never argue that somehow discrimination is a good or productive thing.

But that being said, there are varying types of discrimination. Instinctive discrimination for instance, is where a person subconsciously puts one person over another without even thinking about it, and with no ill will meant towards the person being discriminated against.

There’s also conscious discrimination, where people purposefully segregate themselves or others, but not through hate, just through a desire to associate with others like themselves. For instance an exercise club that’s only for women, or a golf club that only allows men. While I think there’s no benefit that really comes from that, it’s wrong for someone else to impose upon you that you may not do it.

There’s altruistic discrimination, such as organizations that help a particular race, sex, religion, etc., like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The National Organization for Women (NOW), or a myriad of different religious organizations. Such groups aim to help advance their own cause, while not working to degrade anyone else doing so. Typically, they argue that they’re not given the same opportunities as others, and therefore only want to level the playing field, not put themselves above anyone.

Then of course, there’s the ugly side—hateful discrimination like the KKK, Neo-Nazis, Westboro Baptist Church, and other groups whose intent is to advance their own kind at the expense of another. While all forms of discrimination can have unintended bad consequences, this one is by far the worst. Its negative consequences are precisely intended—being the only one specifically intended to denigrate others.

While there can be no doubt that hateful discrimination should be quashed in all it’s forms to the betterment of society, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

When you try to force someone out of that mindset, you may publicly suppress it, but you’re also quite likely to just make those folks even more hateful deep down inside. Occasionally, such oppression drives those with little self-control into a rage that leads to an act of violence. Such unintended consequences are the worst possible outcome, and the polar opposite of what helps the cause.

The other issue this often brings up, is that if it’s not your cross to bear, maybe those you’re trying to help don’t want your help. You have no right to dictate when someone else should be offended, nor to anoint yourself the arbiter of what is offensive to others.

For instance, several years ago, a movement to get the Washington Redskins NFL football team to change their name started brewing. Many people were altruistically trying to help end an example of what they saw as racism. But as it turned out, as shown in this poll published in the Washington Post, nearly 90% of the people these caring crusaders were fighting for felt it was much ado about nothing. If they aren’t bothered by it, then no one outside their community should be dictating that somehow they should be.

On a side note, I’d also like to argue that something meant as a compliment should not be considered an insult. The Redskins organization has never shown an ounce of ill will towards the Native American community. While those tribes certainly have a right to not like the name, and even speak out if they find it offensive, one should at least draw a distinction between something that might offend someone versus something that was meant to be an insult. It’s like the difference between manslaughter and murder.

While ending discrimination is a lofty goal to pursue, there are a couple of points people should keep in the back of their mind.

First: Are you the one being discriminated against? If not, feel free to support those who are. However, if they don’t ask you to fight alongside them, fighting for them anyway, is disrespectful instead of helpful. It effectively argues, “You don’t know what’s best for you, but I do.”

Most people neither appreciate, nor respect that. So you’re not helping anyone. Although your intentions are good, it’s discriminatory and disrespectful nonetheless to be a busybody fighting someone’s battle for them when they didn’t ask you to, nor want you to.

Second: Was the person doing the discriminating trying to harm someone else at the expense of helping themselves? If not, then it’s not worth starting a fight over. You can certainly engage in a conversation about why you think it might be a bad thing to do, but it’s important to remember that the reason we try to prevent discrimination is to prevent someone being harmed. So if no one is in fact harmed or feels like they were wronged, then there’s no reason to go on the attack.

Jungle Gym

Three: Gauge whether the person that said or did something you might find offensive actually meant offense. If you’re not sure, ask questions instead of assuming the worst. You might find that they just misspoke, meant well, or are just asking questions. Being easily offended isn’t helping anyone.

Decades ago, I remember reading a story about an older teacher in her sixties (light-skinned) who was supervising her elementary school class on recess. The playground had a jungle gym, and the kids were playing on it. The teacher, engaging with one of the kids who was dark-skinned, commented to that child that the child was “swinging on the jungle gym like a little monkey.”

Word of this got to the parent, and offense was taken. It was assumed the teacher was using a racial slur against the child. While we cannot know what was in the teacher’s heart, the fact is, swinging from trees is a pretty common practice for monkeys, and the comparison made by the teacher could have been 100% about what the kid was doing, and 0% about what the kid looked like. She may have said the same thing to a light-skinned child and this would have never been a story. If so, it wasn’t discriminatory in any way, and now the teacher being made to look bad, is the only victim in the above scenario.

Juvenile Borneo Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus swinging from tree branches Tanjung Puting National Park Kalimantan Indonesia

To be fair, it could also be true, the teacher was an incredibly racist person. I’ve met more than one sweet old lady, that felt comfortable saying some awful racist things because we shared a common skin tone. So I’m not arguing it wasn’t possible the teacher didn’t mean anything bad, I’m only arguing she could have meant nothing bad, and maybe asking questions about her intentions were more in order than assuming the worst of her.

(I tried to find a link to the story, but I think it’s too old, and not living on the internet. But as I recall, she was not noted as having any history of bigoted actions.)

We should all want to end discrimination, but it should be done through education, reasonable discussion, and sometimes, maybe even public shaming if combatting intentionally offensive behavior. But always remember that fighting for someone else must be done at the request of, or along side of the person being discriminated against. You may mean well for taking on the cause yourself, but you’re often being bigoted doing so, and don’t even know it.

Exploring the Hyperbole, Myths, and Inaccuracies of Gun Legislation Politics and Discourse

Gun laws are a pretty sensitive subject in America, regardless of which side of the issue you’re on. But it shouldn’t be.

Indeed they are our constitutional right, and I support that right whole-heartedly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be fair, and debate respectfully on the subject with those who may hold a different view. After this last election, I hope we can all agree civility in political discourse has a lot of room for improvement.

People who argue with logic and reason, are far more likely to encourage more to side with them than people who insult, lie, yell, and behave anything but adult-like.

So with that being said, let’s break down a few of the common myths often bandied about regarding guns.

MYTH #1: They’re trying to take our guns

Any time Democrats propose new gun legislation, Republicans immediately go on the defensive and rile up the base by insinuating their opponents are trying to entirely disarm the populace.

Armalite AR-15
Armalite AR-15 Semi-Automatic Rifle

But the base is already on their side, there’s no need to get them riled up. Not to mention, it’s entirely dishonest, and most who do it already know that.

Not a single law was proposed in recent history to remove all guns from private citizens, nor did anyone propose repealing the second amendment. If you feel the need to lie about your opponent’s argument to defeat them, think about what that says about you. It says you’re incapable of winning your argument on its merits. When you do this, you’ve already lost the moral and logical high-ground.

The effort should be focused not on the straw man argument that “they’re trying to take our guns,” but instead on the specific regulation being proposed.

A large majority of Americans have a pretty shallow opinion of Congress. In April 2016, this Gallup poll shows that only 17% thought they were doing a good job, 79% however thought they were doing anything but.

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This less than favorable opinion is often due to the constant infighting between the two parties, that is largely full of myths, hyperbole, misdirection, and occasionally bold-faced lies. Neither come off looking like professionals, or even reasonable people.

So the party that strives to be amenable to finding common ground, and deemed as the most civil and honest will win this fight.

The Republicans owned Congress at the time, so a 17% approval rating should be a clear message they’re missing their mark.

Most Democrat-proposed ideas are around more stringent background checks, or limiting certain types of weapons, the latter of which, I think is misguided, but I’ll save that for another time.

Both parties agree that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of violent felons, or those with a diagnosed mental disorder.Firearm sale

But the problem for Republicans often arrives when Democrats propose what might be reasonable background checks, the bill is only one page of such reasonable checks Republicans might be open to agreeing to, but then a myriad of other pages of pork-like special favors for their district or other provisions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Republicans are just as guilty of doing the same on other issues, so no one party is innocent of this. But if both just stuck to passing simple single-item bills on the issues where they agree, they’d be far more effective and win over the American people.

The best tactic for Republicans would be to first loudly proclaim that they’re willing to look at effective background check legislation and pass the background check attributes both agree on. Propose counter legislation that includes those, and only those, and let the Democrats justify why they won’t vote for it.

Show that you’re willing to find common ground publicly, and emphatically, leaving the Democrats looking like the only ones not willing to work towards progress. If Democrats argue, “these provisions don’t go far enough,” Republicans can simply put it back on them by saying, “This is what we already agree on. So let’s pass this first, and if it doesn’t help, we can discuss further measures later.”

Myth #2: The Gun Show Exemption for Background Checks

Democrats often cite the gun show exemption to background checks as a big problem, and frankly, they’re partly right, even if they’re disingenuous in their presentation of the issue.

The fact is that gun dealers at gun shows do in-fact do background checks. However, if you’re a private person who has a .22 caliber pistol for instance, and you’d like to upgrade to a 9mm pistol, you can take it to the show with you, and if some other private person like you who’s there (not a dealer or vendor) has a 9mm but wants a .22, then you can legally make a private citizen trade. This is just like you would do if your neighbor decided they wanted to sell or trade with you, it just happens on the premises of a gun show.Gun Show

Instead of just shooting down every idea Democrats have, Republicans could admit that maybe there are things that could be done, that aren’t an undue burden on law abiding citizens, to help clean up this “loophole.”

It could be something as simple as having people fill out a background check upon entering the show, if they’re considering buying or trading, and let them shop to their heart’s content from there. If they don’t pass the test, there’s really no reason for them to enter the premises of a gun show in the first place.

While I’m not saying that’s the answer, things like that can certainly be deemed a reasonable measure to prevent guns getting into the wrong hands, and are at least worth discussing in earnest.

Myth #3: Guns are the biggest problem

This well put together bit of data, and rather insightful graphic from the math geniuses at 538 points out that there are approximately 33,000 gun deaths in America each year, and this number is often used to denounce guns in general. But let’s put that in perspective as well as break those numbers down.

As this image from the CDC document found here shows, in 2014, there were 2,626,418 deaths in the United States that year, making 33,000 just above 1.2% of the reasons for death attributable to guns.CDC Cause of Death info from 2014

By comparison, more than double died from diabetes, nearly three times as many from Alzheimer’s (which took my father last month), and nearly twenty times more died from heart disease.

As the 538 article also shows, nearly two-thirds of those gun deaths were suicides, and a small percentage were self defense, or police shootings of criminal suspects.

While I think we all agree suicides are tragic, as a libertarian, I believe that you own your own body, and have the right to end it whenever you like.

My own grandfather was quite ill when he shot himself, and having already lost my grandmother years earlier, he didn’t want to burn through what little he had saved for his kids by chasing a terminal disease. While you may not agree with it, that was his choice and you should respect it.

But no matter what side of suicide you are on, it cannot be fairly called an act of violence, nor the fault of a gun. So those acts should not be considered when discussing gun violence, and I think those with an anti-gun position should be fair when presenting such arguments, no not cite 33,000 number, but instead, the 10,000 or so that were potential murders or manslaughter, versus suicides and justifiable homicides.

All that being said, 10,000 wrongful deaths is still a large number of people, and is incredibly tragic. It is a small percentage, but certainly statistically significant, and Democrats have fair cause to want to do something to lessen that number. Even if we disagree on their proposed methodology, their altruistic intentions should be evident and respected.

Conclusion

These are three of many arguments from both sides that are the first that came to mind to me. But I’m sure you can think of many more.

The bottom line is that Democrats should know most Republicans don’t want to put guns in the hands of bad people. They just don’t want law-abiding citizens to have their rights violated and disagree on how to go about preventing it.

Republicans should know that most Democrats don’t want to disarm America, they want to prevent wrongful deaths, and they think less guns will achieve said goal.

Until both parties in congress, and the party-faithful voters who make their voices heard on social media learn to understand, then be understood, these immature and dishonest tactics will continue to ensure that America doesn’t advance in any meaningful and constructive way.

We’re all smart enough to know better, it’s time we acted like it.

The Abuse and Misuse of Common Words in Politics

Etymology: an explanation of where a word came from : the history of a word

As we all know, words have meanings. Some words are pretty universally understood, but others start as meaning one thing, then become something entirely different in the common vernacular. This is often due to someone who knows the etymology behind the word, sharing it with those who don’t, then those people who don’t sharing it in ways it was not intended for because they didn’t really understand it.17141936-abstract-word-cloud-for-etymology-with-related-tags-and-terms-stock-photo1

So let’s look at a few.

Liberal:  of freedom, pertaining to or befitting a free man

At the root of liberal is liber (also at the root of libertarian, liberty, etc.), a latin word meaning free (man); unimpeded; void of; independent| outspoken/frank; licentious; idle.

These days, this word is often used to be a generic term to describe people who often vote Democrat. Yet Democrat policies often around increased government spending on social programs and wealth redistribution—policies quite contradictory to the “free man” aspect of liberal.

In other countries, “liberal” is often synonymous with libertarian. This is why you hear many liberty-minded people abroad refer to themselves as classic liberals.liberalism-definition-then-and-now1

It is fairly well understood that although Republicans were the party responsible for the civil rights of the black community, both in ending slavery and in the 50s and 60s during the civil rights movement, Republicans have had a shoddy reputation with the gay community, marijuana users, the sex-work industry, and other individuals who seemed to exhibit what Republicans refer to as “deviant” behavior.

Democrats, to their credit, have been quicker to show tolerance towards such people, and in those instances, accurately describe themselves as liberals—or at least more liberal than Republicans. From there, the name just stuck.

America has a pretty anti-socialist history, so when Democrats champion socialistic policies, calling themselves socialists would not typically help their cause, although Bernie Sanders may have disproven that theory. So picking “liberal” over “socialist,” if intentionally used to mislead, would have been pretty smart anyway.

Awareness: having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge

Often when people are championing a cause, they universally just say they want to raise awareness, when they really should be saying money for research or help.bigstock-awareness-level-conceptual-met-518681621

For instance, breast cancer, thanks to efforts by organizations like the Susan B. Komen foundation, is one of the most popular charitable enterprises dedicated to helping millions of women who are, or will be, affected by the disease.

As such, almost everyone is aware of breast cancer—what is needed is money for research.

The term AWAREness started being used correctly as a way to make people more AWARE of causes they may not know about. For instance, the current Zika virus issue, emanating from a foreign country, and just recently migrating to the United States, was largely an unknown in America until the media started raising awareness.

Once people are aware however, you have a better chance of raising money if needed, or if it’s more of a cause to change people’s behavior, such as a new improved health discovery that may be discovered, which is free to do, you just need to make people aware they should do it.

Establishment: a group of social, economic, and political leaders who form a ruling class (as of a nation)

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This word is almost entirely derogatory in nature, even though it shouldn’t be. It’s very rare you have a politician willfully claim to be “The Establishment,” due to the negative perception the term has. I’d argue they should claim it proudly, however.

Be proud that you were elected, and proud of the work you’ve done. Let people know that if they’re displeased with “The Establishment,” that maybe it’s not because of them, but instead, the people who didn’t vote with them.

Politicians who are currently elected and serving are the establishment, whether they like that term or not. Those who are not currently sitting, are not. It’s really that simple.

Theory: a coherent group of propositions formulated to explain a group of factsor phenomena in the natural world and repeatedly confirmed through experiment or observation

There are multiple versions of the word theory, and it’s important to distinguish them, and not intermix them wrongly.
Some equate the word theory to a simple guess—you have a question, conjure up an answer, and BAM!…theory.
However, a theory isn’t a guess. A theory, in science, is something that has been thoroughly tested, and through such testing, consistently confirmed.
Simply put, a theory has scientific work behind it, and has no conflicting evidence. A guess has zero work behind it, and could just as easily be false as it is true.
Mandate:  the power to act that voters give to their elected leaders
Once elected, when political talking heads start discussing the incoming president or congress, they often ask, “Do you think the incoming president has a mandate?
It’s asked as if mandate is clearly defined in some way, when it simply isn’t. If the elected person won, they have a vote (if in congress), or a veto pen if they’re an executive. If they got the most votes, that means the majority chose them to use those powers in a way that’s commensurate with the ideals. they proclaimed during the election.
There’s no situation, by definition, where one elected official has a mandate while another does not—it’s an entirely subjective term. So when asking the question, it shouldn’t be, “Does this elected official have a mandate?” Instead, it should be, “Do you feel the elected official has a mandate?”

Analysis of Race and Perspectives of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

As police shootings of black men under dubious circumstances continue to make headlines, along with peaceful protests among several professional athletes, opinions on racism and the  #BlackLivesMatter movement abound.

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem prior to the 49ers' season opener.(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images)
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem prior to the 49ers’ season opener.(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images)

I do not have any affiliation with the group, and being Caucasian, cannot genuinely identify with their specific plight.

But I can apply some pretty basic critical thinking to understand their message, instead of dismissing it outright as divisive.

But before we get into the opinion portion, let’s take a look at the science and psychology of race and racism in general.

Genetics

First we must understand that there is no black or white gene. I think we all understand we’re not literally black and white. But moving past that, the term “black and white” supposes there is a binary system with only two options. But with the multitude of skin colors around the globe, this clearly isn’t the case.

As the Anthropology Department from the University of Alabama explains here, skin gets its color from three different molecules referred to as pigments.

  • Carotene: which is rather uncommon, and is typically only a factor if people overeat things with carotene in it—like carrots. It causes the skin to take on a yellowish shade.

    Carotene
    Carotene
  • Hemoglobin: This molecule is contained in our blood for facilitation of oxygenation of the blood. It takes on a reddish hue, unless you’re oxygen-deficient, in which case it will be purplish.

    hemoglobin
    Hemoglobin
  • Melanin: The component responsible for the “black” and “white” we refer to, is a severely dark brown color typically. The higher the concentration of this molecule in your skin, the darker your skin tone will be.

    Melanin
    Melanin

These three variables to one’s skin color have a default value they would inherit from their parents. But as you might expect, there are environmental factors that can change them such as the aforementioned carrot eating or tanning which increases melanin production. Since we’re talking about genetics, we’ll ignore the environmental factors for this post.

How the differences came about

As with most genetic traits, nature has selected for different skin tones too. This natural selection is almost entirely based on geographical location of our recent ancestors. And I say recent, because we’re all African in decent if we go back far enough.

Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, seasons are reversed depending on which side of the equator you’re on. For instance, winter in the northern hemisphere coincides with summer in the southern.motionsofsunandmoon2-axistilt1

But also, Earth’s path around the sun is elliptical—not a perfect circle. Therefore, those of us in the northern hemisphere are actually closest to the sun (perihelion) in January, and furthest from the sun (aphelion) in July—the difference being about 3%.

As a result, the Southern hemisphere being tilted towards the sun when they’re closer to it means the southern hemisphere’s summers will receive slightly more solar radiation than their northern counterparts.

In theory, this would mean the climate variation in the northern hemisphere would be less severe than in the southern hemisphere, but the increased water-surface to land-surface ratio of the southern hemisphere mitigates the variance for them, as explained in the video below.

These variances in solar radiation are the reason that skin tones lighten “about 8% per 10° of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, and about 4% per 10° of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere” as you move further from the equator, because until quite recently in the history of mankind, thanks to the invention of boats, cars, and airplanes, traveling from one climate to another was quite the monumental task, and therefore rarely occurred.

Why nature selected for different skin tones

The excess melanin in one’s skin helps absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation, protecting the skin from potential harm such as skin cancer. So people living closer to the equator, being exposed to more solar radiation, have better survived due to the protection melanin provides their skin.

However, solar radiation is the only natural way your body gets the vitamin D it needs, and that UV blocking melanin inhibits vitamin D’s production in the process. So those further from the equator would naturally select for lighter skin to maximize the vitamin D production from the lesser amount of solar radiation they receive.

This is why darker skinned people who live further from the equator can have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, and lighter skinned people located closer to the equator may suffer increased risk of skin cancer.

The reason this is important when discussing race, is to make the simple point that variances in our skin color, through natural selection from our ancestor’s environments, have dictated how dark our skin tone is based on how far our recent ancestors were from the equator. And any other reasoning one might attribute to our different skin tones is largely ignorant and false.

Mislabeling

While race is identified by skin color, it’s typically understood to be more about someone’s ancestry, than the actual color of their skin. But our desire to stick to a binary system of black and white, is entirely unfair to a large group of people who have mixed ancestry.

For instance, someone with a medium skin tone of mixed heritage is often just as closely related to someone referred to as black as they are to someone who is thought of as white, or any other different race. Therefore, referring to them as a light-skinned black person, wrongly puts them in one racial bucket when they really belong to both; or more correctly, a third bucket in between.

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 21: Kultida Woods and Tiger Woods at the dedication of the statue honoring his father Earl Woods at the Tiger Woods Learning Center on January 21, 2008 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
ANAHEIM, CA – JANUARY 21: Kultida Woods and Tiger Woods at the dedication of the statue honoring his father Earl Woods at the Tiger Woods Learning Center on January 21, 2008 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Tiger Woods for instance, is often referred to as being black, when his mother Kutilda Woods is actually Asian.

President Obama, also often referred to as black, has a Caucasian mother, Ann Dunham.

Ann Dunham - Barack Obama's mother
Ann Dunham – Barack Obama’s mother

The whole concept of race in general is simply a man-made construct held over from our ignorant past. We used it to differentiate ourselves from one another, long before we understood genetics or biological species.

As this Nature.com report shows, “approximately 85−90% of genetic variation is found within these continental groups,” referring to Africa, Asia, and Europe, “and only an additional 10−15% of variation is found between them.” This illustrates that our fundamental differences lie in things other than our skin color.

The Psychology

As you hopefully already know, humans are typically social in nature, sociopaths, also known as people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, make up a mere 4% of the population. This means the desire to bond with other people is ingrained in about 96% of us as a result.

One way people bond is by finding commonalities with each other.

Imagine the person next to you, talking to a friend, says they just “pahked the kah.” If you’re a Bostonian in Boston, this won’t even get your attention. But if you were a Bostonian in the UK for instance, you’ll almost assuredly at least say, “Hey, I’m from Boston too.”

This is because the two of you have something unique for the location you’re in, that you share, and therefore can bond over.

In that example, you had to overhear the person say it though. With race, you can plainly see that you share that trait with another from across the room, and therefore immediately make an instinctive connection with that person. This is fairly natural, and not an inherently hateful form of racism.

The Good, the Bad, and the UglyNAACP-Logo[1]

Racism can be good if it’s simply a way to bond with others as illustrated above. But also with cases like the NAACP, where segregating by race is simply a way to focus your efforts on helping those who are discriminated against, such as “colored” people (the C in NAACP) certainly were at the time the NAACP was founded.

But while individuals use racism to create strong bonds, it sadly has a more heinous side that’s often rooted in hate. Because just as we bond over our commonalities, an us-against-them mentality can kick in when two or more people are like each other and another party in the area is not.

The heinousness of hateful racism is so well-known and understood, that I really don’t care to go into that any further here. It’s an unpleasant topic, and there’s probably little I can say that would add anything new to the conversation anyway.

But it’s important to understand that some level of racism is instinctual and what an instinct actually is in the first place.ailmentangermanagement1

Instincts are things we do subconsciously and uncontrollably without thinking about them. For instance, imagine someone were yelling hateful and vile insults at you—you will have no control over your instinct to punch them. But because you’re a responsible adult,  and know violence should be avoided if possible, many of you will suppress that instinct.

Racism is not that different, and can only be suppressed through knowledge and understand of why we do it, and then a genuine desire to avoid acting on it maliciously.

Who’s A Racist?

Now moving on to the op-ed portion of this post. While I explained above why we are not in fact black or white, I will use the terms “black” and “white” going forward since the word black is in #BlackLivesMatter, and the terms are for the most part the social norm. It will help make this next part a little easier to read than using “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned.”

Let’s first state unequivocally, that racism isn’t exclusive to any one race. So while the discussion of people being racist is often assumed to be white-on-black, it can just as easily be black-on-white. It can oddly even be white-on-white (when white people attack others like them for their “white privilege” for instance), or black-on-black (when black people assume the worst from other black people but tend to be more trusting of whites).

I should also point out that it’s not just skin tone. I’ve met Japanese people who don’t like the Chinese, Brits who hate the French, Colombians who don’t like Mexicans…the list of racial animosity goes on endlessly.

So this problem isn’t uniquely black and white, and it certainly isn’t even uniquely American. It existed long before America did and will likely endure for as long as vastly different skin tones exist.

So when I talk about racism, I’m referring to all of it, not just white-on-black.

#BlackLivesMatter

Now  let’s get back to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Once the #BLM movement started, it launched a lot of counter movements like #PoliceLivesMatter or the more generic #AllLivesMatter. At first, you can understand the opposition’s concern that #BlackLivesMatter seems to be segregating in nature, but I believe that entirely overlooks their underlying point.blm

As troubling as it is, when a news story airs about a police shooting of a suspect, there seems to be an improperly common sentiment among the media and the people. That if the victim is a black man, it is more likely to be justifiable homicide by the police than if the person who was shot were white. They are assuming the black man must have been engaged in criminal activity, where a white shooting victim more often gets the benefit of doubt.

While all people officially have equal rights under the law; these days, this perceptive double-standard on the presumed innocent of two people, solely based on the color of their skin, is the darker side of racism that still remains in the hearts and minds of far too many, despite many of them feeling they’re not racist in any way.

(Credit - Blavity.com)
(Credit – Blavity.com)

While I don’t believe most people, black or white, make a conscious effort to be racist, almost everyone will have some instinctual racial bias based on the psychology aspect mentioned above, and their own life experiences with people of a different race. The better those experience were, the less likely they are to be hatefully racist.

Honest Assessment

The next few times you see a police shooting of black and white civilians, see if your initial reactions to those shootings are the same; regardless of skin color.

Also, do the media portray both incidents equally? Do the public seem to have the same concerns or outrage on social media or around the office? Sadly, if I’m truly being honest with myself, I have to say they’re often not.

Where the #BLM Opposition Goes Wrong

So why do I think people are misguided when they think the #BLM movement are arguing other lives don’t matter? Because they didn’t specifically say that. It’s a straw man argument—one of the most common logical fallacies.

The opposition’s argument is that by saying #BlackLivesMatter, the #BLM people are arguing that white lives, police lives, et al., do not. But the #BLM movement is made up of three simple words and a hashtag. It says nothing about anyone else. So if you assume they’re saying non-black lives don’t matter, that’s a assumption you added yourself.

The predominance of people supporting the #BLM movement acknowledge wholeheartedly that all lives matter. Their argument is that the rest of the public don’t seem to value black lives. If the #BLM movement has any fundamental flaw, it’s poor phrasing. The simple addition of the word “Too” at the end of #BlackLivesMatter could have went a long way.

The Protests

While I don’t like the tactic of lashing out at our country, our flag, or our military as some professional athletes have chosen to do (I think community outreach programs, focusing on positive interaction, would better achieve their goal), we should also recognize that a peaceful and non-violent protest is exactly what most of us encouraged people to do when riots, vandalism, and looting by outraged people have broken out, and this is genuinely what those athlete’s are doing.

It’s easy to be mad at each other, but it’s better to be empathetic, and honest with ourselves that their concerns are often legitimate. Instead of getting angry, and pushing back, it’s not too much to ask to be skeptical of police who shoot someone.

Be A Skeptic, Even Of The Police

While the police by and large do a great job, and should always be given the utmost respect, on some occasions they exercise bad judgement, and in incredibly rare incidents, are would-be-felons willingly committing crimes.

If this weren’t true, there would be no Internal Affairs Bureau. So it is important to remember they’re not perfect, and may actually be the person in the wrong when they use their firearm against a civilian.

Pastor Terence Crutcher
Pastor Terence Crutcher

The shooting of pastor Terence Crutcher is one example of several, where many in the media and on social media initially assumed he had potentially done something to cause the officer to shoot him. That officer has since however been charged with first degree manslaughter, and Pastor Crutcher deserved the respect and outrage he sadly didn’t get from far too many people.

At the same time, it’s also important that the #BLM supporters wait for all the facts to come out when a black person is shot by police, because he may have indeed been engaged in a crime and was endangering others.

We should all let the facts come out, let the court system do it’s job, and if we’re not on the jury ourselves, try to accept the idea that the jury was given more evidence that’s credible and scientific, and therefore made a more educated decision than we could have.

Where the media often purposefully distort the facts for ratings, our legal system has safeguards to prevent such unfair biases in a court of law by excluding prejudicial evidence, and ensuring all witnesses can be cross-examined.

Synopsis

While you may not agree with the tactics of the #BLM movement and the peaceful protests of several black athletes, no fair person can argue there isn’t occasionally a double standard in TV and print media, social media, and public opinion as to how tragic the death of a black person is compared to anyone else.

If we want this racial divide to stop, we have to understand it, make an effort to change it, and more important than anything, exercise a little empathy and understanding for those on the other side of the issue.

Embrace that which makes us different—it makes us interesting to one another, it helps provide alternate perspectives, and most importantly from a science perspective, our diversity actually preserves our species (think of purebred animals which have much higher incidents of disease and genetic defect).

But know that the difference between any two of us, is basically the same, no matter what color we are, and therefore we should all have equal rights under the law, and equal rights to the presumption of innocence.