The Alamo, Historical Myths, Right-Wing Outrage (And Phil Collins)

The Alamo

One of the world’s biggest collectors of Alamo memorabilia is Phil Collins. Yes, that Phil Collins. Bet you didn’t know that! And Ozzy Osbourne, away from his hotel on a raging drunken spree, once was caught accidentally peeing on an Alamo statue. (By “accidentally,” I mean the Alamo part, not the peeing part.) Bet you didn’t know that either, although you aren’t, likely, surprised.

These fun factoids appear early on in Forget The Alamo: The Rise And Fall of an American Myth. It is a recent book by Bryan Burroughs, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, three Texas-born authors with backgrounds in history, journalism, war correspondence, and political consulting.

(I’ve read Burrough’s Barbarians At The Gate, about the 1980s hostile takeover of RJR Nabisco; in one memorable line, a top executive complains “is the fucking I’m getting worth the fucking I’m getting?”)

The book has essentially three sections:

  1. What the Alamo was actually about
  2. How the telling of its history changed with time
  3. The debates over that history today.

They’re all fascinating, in different ways. The authors usually refer to themselves as “we,” and have no compunctions expressing their personal opinions about the story they’re telling. These opinions are sometimes very funny.

What’s more, and this was a real joy for me, the footnotes are all worth reading. For example, an American negotiator sent by John Quincy Adams to try and buy Texas from Mexico, a man named Joel Roberts Poinsett, got nothing… except for bringing back “a pretty Mexican flower, which proved so popular it was named for him; the poinsetta.” (In the spirit of these, this article has two short footnotes!)

The Alamo Was About Slavery and the Famous Heroes Were Jerks

After successfully freeing itself from Spanish colonial rule, Mexico set about abolishing slavery. Texas slaveowners didn’t want that. So they rebelled against the Mexican government, lost a battle at the Alamo, used that battle as a rallying cry, won independence, kept slavery, and joined America as a slave state. So much, so familiar.

Since I’m not from Texas, and never will be, I didn’t know much more about the story than that. As is usual with such things, it’s both far more complicated and far more mundane.

To start with, the migration of Americans into Texas. It began with a dispute over the Louisiana Purchase’s boundary and eventually became a matter of interest-vs-disinterest.

Texas, at the time, was something of a worthless hinterland to the Mexican government. About the only thing it was good for, it turned out, was cotton production. Americans looking to strike it rich in the slavery “business” had a whole new area to gobble up and torture people in!

Meanwhile, their presence helped keep down the indigenous population, which Mexico was perfectly happy to have Americans do.

Enter some particularly ambitious Americans who sought to make political names for themselves, several of whom have Texas cities named after them today.

But the fact that slavery was illegal in Mexico complicated this arrangement a bit. It was one thing for smaller-scale slaveowners to quietly go about their savagery. But larger plantations (with their illegal slave trade) were another matter.

Plus, the Americans brought quite a bit of racism with them (Surprise, surprise!) and thus weren’t always the best of neighbors. Additionally (as was the case with a lot of American expansion), some of the newcomers were plain jerks. They were escaping violent criminal charges, abandoned families, financial swindles gone bad, and so on. In other words, they were riff-raff.

Enter some particularly ambitious Americans who sought to make political names for themselves, several of whom have Texas cities named after them today. When Mexico sought to compromise on the slavery thing (a timed phaseout or the freeing of slaves after a certain age), these would-be Presidents and Generals became increasingly unwilling to negotiate.

Once they grew too militant, Mexico sent a small army to deal with the annoyance, led by General Santa Anna, a man with ambitions of his own. (There was also some suspicion on the part of Mexico that America had backed the rebellion, which was untrue. Mostly.)

In an act of supreme arrogance, the rebel Texans decided to make a military stand at a small former Catholic mission in San Antonio. (The authors here describe it as such a terrible military location, there was no chance of defending it from Santa Claus, much less Santa Anna.)

This hubristic folly had drawn several of the famous names who’d slouched to Texas in failure, such as Jim Bowie (drunk) and Davy Crockett (booted out of office). Although the Texans were clearly outnumbered, their incompetent, syphilitic general, William Travis, stubbornly refused to surrender and were quickly wiped out once the battle began.

Those who were captured (some while trying to escape) were shot. Santa Anna was a pissy jerk himself.

The wipeout and rallying cry “Remember the Alamo” helped Texas raise more volunteers. Santa Anna got cocky, the Mexican army was defeated for the time being. (Of course, Mexico didn’t accept this, and later fought a war with the US Army over the matter.) So much for the minor battle of the Alamo.

Constructing A Texas Origin Myth

The story from here becomes familiar to most students of how history gets mangled, and is summed up in a famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” (The movie starring John Wayne, who played a huge role in perpetuating myths about the Alamo.)

The real facts behind the battle, more-or-less known at the time (insomuch as a battle with no survivors on one side can be known), start to be distorted for various reasons. Families of the American dead wanted their loved ones to be regarded as great heroes. Authors wanted to sell more copies of sensationalized war or western writings. Many Texans wanted to use the Alamo as an inspirational “good prevails” story during their involvement in the Civil War and during their ongoing dispossession of indigenous land.

Also, of course, there is the post-Reconstruction era, when the reality of a treasonous war to preserve slavery was redefined all over the South (and not just the South) as an idealistic “lost cause” of freedom from tyranny — while subjugating the constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of former slaves and their descendants.

An organization, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, was formed, and among its other goals, set about sanctifying/preserving/restoring (and “improving”) the Alamo historic site.

What really seems to have made the Alamo into a holy shrine for (Anglo) Texans was a series of comics printed from 1926 to 1928 in a Dallas newspaper, and called “Texas History Movies.” Hugely popular and hugely racist, the series was eventually printed as a book, copies of which were donated (courtesy of an oil company) to every Texas seventh-grader for several decades.

Still, while the story and site (neither of which bore much resemblance to the original) became part of Texas’s origin myth, it wasn’t of much interest beyond the borders of that peculiar state. Until the Cold War happened. And television. And the movies!

The Kiddiefication Of The Alamo

Walt Disney wanted to produce kid-friendly Rah Rah ‘merica programming. His studio’s first mega-success along these lines was a miniseries about Davy Crockett, which spawned a Crockett craze among children and bore absolutely no relation to reality whatsoever. (Disney made a fortune merchandising Crockett tie-in crap, and cheated star Fess Parker out of every penny for it.)

The third episode concluded with Crockett dying heroically at the Alamo, fighting off swarming Mexican monsters with his empty rifle. In fact, he was captured and executed — something used to inspire Texas soldiers in the remainder of the war.

Then in 1960, John Wayne’s ferociously expensive, ferociously fictitious The Alamo was released. (Although historians agree that the Alamo set built for the film was amazingly accurate.)

As the authors here put it, there’s no “sense of the real men; Bowie the con artist, Travis the preening politician, Crockett the washed-up politico … women are baubles, madonnas, or whores”.

Teen idol Frankie Avalon is given a song. No portion of the Texas origin myth is left unused, making the film a staggeringly boring three hours long. It was a hit, although not a hugely profitable one given the cost. No doubt it became a Gone With The Wind for Texas; items from the movie shoot are still displayed at the Alamo site today.

A young Phil Collins was deeply moved by the film. Another young musician, David Jones, was moved by the Crockett TV show. When Jones began to receive some notice in his music career, he changed his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees — he picked a character from the Disney series, and so David Jones became David Bowie. (But at this point his part in the Alamo story ends.)

The (Partial) Deconstruction Of A Myth

“Bowie the con artist, Travis the preening politician, Crockett the washed-up politico…”

In the 1970s and 1980s, American historians began to re-examine some portions of US history which had been overlooked, or so heavily biased to emphasize American exceptionalism that the stories bore little resemblance to reality.

For example, why were the heroes always white males, and why were the true horrors of indigenous genocide, slavery, and Jim Crow ignored?

These historians began publishing books and articles puncturing pieces of the Alamo myth. Few drew much attention until a childhood Disney buff named Jeff Long set about working on an Alamo book which he hoped would be “just the old hoary tale jazzed up for a modern readership.” (Long’s words.)

Simply going through the available archival material blew his mind. The book took six years to finish and involved research in both Texas and Mexico. Long worked odd construction jobs to pay for it.

Long published Duel of Eagles in 1990, which the authors here describe as “so over the top, it was as if he were physically stomping on everything written before.” While attempts at rethinking Alamo history usually caught some regional flack, Long’s book drew the attention of “professors, journalists, and amateur historians” nationwide. (Long, naturally, received death threats.)

Several works along these lines followed, and before long the Alamo’s legacy was another weapon in the culture war — especially in Texas, one of that war’s new epicenters.

One such battleground was the fight over school textbooks. (James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me has described how textbook publishers frequently consider the sensitive feelings of Texas conservatives when composing their books, as one false move can lose sales in that entire state.)

Should textbooks include the names of Tejanos who died defending the Alamo? How should they describe the white “heroes” who did? Everything’s bigger in Texas, and the outraged wailings of “revisionist history” are as well.

Enter Phil Collins

As mentioned, Collins was a longtime Alamo fan, and in the mid-1990s, his then-wife bought him a receipt for items purchased by John W Smith (the last messenger to leave the Alamo with a plea for reinforcements, and later a mayor of San Antonio).

Collins began a collection of Alamo-related documents. He even entertained the notion that he may have been Smith in a past life. Over the following years, his collection grew to include such items as weapons and uniforms from the battle. He also established relations with antiquities dealers who began holding prized finds for this important (and wealthy) client.

Getting along in years, Collins approached the Alamo people, and decided to donate his massive collection — by then one of the world’s largest — to the state of Texas. For free. Alamo fans rejoiced; Collins was given several honorary titles by the city and the state.

Collins’s only request was that somebody build a proper museum to display them in. The Alamo as it was, mismanaged for years by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (long underfunded and a little corrupt), had become a fairly tacky tourist trap in bad need of repair. (It even has a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not wax museum.)

Everyone agreed that the site and the collection deserved a first-rate museum upgrade. The Texas General Land Office (now in charge of the site) set about raising money from state and city governments, nonprofit historical societies, and private donors (1). In 2015, the GLO announced plans for a full $450 million overhaul.

But the GLO’s commissioner made a few people mad about the plans. That commissioner’s name? George P Bush.

George Prescott Bush and Dan Patrick

As you can guess from the name, George P Bush is another in a long line of political halfwits whose career originates from a long-ago family fortune.

The son of inspiring presidential candidate Jeb, he followed family tradition by becoming first a corporate lawyer, then seeking some — any — political office, finally settling on GLO commissioner. (The GLO is primarily responsible for managing mining rights on public land in Texas, about the most Bush-y job a Bush could do.)

With staunch conservative credentials and some Hispanic heritage on his mother’s side, Bush is considered quite the rising star in Texas politics.

What was Bush’s Alamo boo-boo? What got anyone upset about a brand-new Alamo spending plan? Bush proudly boasted that the plan would involve a “reimagining” of the Alamo site.

Now, this is simply the kind of thing any politician will say when announcing a major urban spending project, be it a new convention center or sports stadium or whatever. It means “more money will mean more tourists will mean more money for us all.”

But, with “historical revisionism” a dirty word among Alamo traditionalists, some saw “reimagining” as the reddest of red flags. Bush had said the reimagined Alamo “can be a centerpiece for taking on the controversial issue of the past.” Guess how fast he’d walk even that mild statement back? Hint: he’s got every bit the spine of his political relatives!

Outraged traditionalists claimed that Bush was in the pocket of revisionists (no). That Bush wanted to rename the site Misión San Antonio de Valero (no, although that was its original name). And that, horror of horrors, Bush wanted to move a cheesy sentimental 1940 statue from the site and replace it with one of Santa Ana (no).

(Oh, and that statue, by the way? It’s the statue Ozzy pissed on.)

Jumping into the fray was Dan Patrick. A former far-right talk-show host who currently serves as Texas’s Lieutenant Governor, he has long been a favorite on the goose-loony circuit. Texas Monthly called him a bully and ideologue and the worst state senator back in 2013 when he was just considering a lieutenant governor run. He’s only gotten worse.

In the spirit of such Texas luminaries as Ted Cruz, Patrick’s a total fraud posing as a staunch super-Christian in order to win faithful support from the easily-duped.

Patrick, correctly, sensed that Bush was a fellow empty suit with boundless political ambition, and decided to use the Alamo “reimagining” line to assault him from the right.

Bush responded by immediately swerving to the right himself (becoming, naturally, an outspoken Trump supporter). Bush survived re-election to GLO commissioner. Patrick remains the lieutenant governor. And no doubt the future sparks will fly. Somebody’s got to be the Holy Christian Emperor of a future one-party American theocracy!

And gee, all this because a nice (2) soft-rock English singer tried to donate his beloved Alamo collection to Texas.

Oh, and it turns out there’s just one more problem with that…

Much Of The Collins Collection May Be Fake As Hell

Phil Collins even entertained the notion that he may have been John W Smith in a past life…

The authors of Forget The Alamo are careful to call themselves historiographers, not historians. They’re summarizing the work done by other historians, and adding some bits widely reported in the Texas press and elsewhere (such as the criticism’s of Bush and the GLO). But here they did some original research of their own.

They read Collins’s massive coffee-table book about his prized collection. They talked to the antiquities dealers who sold Collins most of his collection. And the dealers’ description of how they “found” so many Alamo items belonging to legendary figures seemed a bit sketchy. One repeatedly described using a little degreaser on antiques to discover the initials of famed Alamo dead on swords, knives, etc.

When the collection was donated to the GLO, so were some of the “proofs” of their authenticity. Through a lawsuit, the authors were able to get a look at those proofs. Some were incredibly strange, such as a forensic psychic who said of a knife supposedly belonging to James Bowie that “there is an overwhelming sadness associated with the knife.”

Other collectors in the field and Alamo antiquities buffs seemed to agree that many of the most high-profile items (you know, the ones most likely to get a prominent museum display) have dodgy authentication at best. Some could have been at the Alamo — yet likely, weren’t. Others appear improbable to have been even from the same period at all. A few outlier critics claim a majority of the collection is fake.

Not that Collins (who, after all, is donating this stuff for free) is knowingly pawning off bogus goods as real. Nor even, that the dealers who sold them to him were knowingly duping a rich hobbyist. What does seem likely is that at least a few people in that acquisition chain weren’t exactly diligent about establishing authenticity beyond a reasonable doubt. And Collins, who is in poor health, doesn’t want to talk about it. (His polite email to the authors mentions “personal stuff” keeping him busy. You don’t get much more “personal stuff” than aging-related medical maladies).

All of this, as well as the political debates surrounding the Alamo renovation itself, has put the project on hold past the start date Collins requested as a condition for his donation. Not to mention the 2020 police murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, which inspired strong worldwide pushback against monuments to former slaveholders. San Antonio is less than 30% Anglo; and less so every year.

The Whole Story Will Go On

Of course, many of the issues mentioned here are nowhere near resolution. The authors have an update on some of them (and some of the criticism of their work). In the book’s epilogue of sorts, they write:

It’s said that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it, but there are plenty who remember the Heroic Anglo Narrative and want to endlessly repeat this version of history, seeing themselves under siege by tyrannical rule to take away their guns or commit any number of cultural atrocities …

What must change is the story we tell about the Alamo. To learn the real lessons of the Texas Revolt, we need to learn the truth about Bowie, Travis, and Crockett… all three men did believe in liberty and self-determination, and Travis was one hell of a letter writer. They fought for freedom, just not everybody’s freedom … If we shift the frame just a little bit, the whole story of the Alamo is transformed. And, frankly, a lot more interesting.

If this essay seems long to you, go read Twitter! But seriously, it’s only as long as it is because I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve summed up some of the major points, yet there’s so much more. More detail, more horror, more humor. Tales of enough greed, corruption, cruelty, and stupidity to fill a long fiction novel (or the current Texas state legislature).

I can imagine Jim Hightower laughing his ass off at it — and Molly Ivins too, in the Texas afterlife, sipping a Lone Star. Get it from your library — heck, all three copies in the San Antonio library are currently checked in, so you won’t even have to wait if you live there!


(1) One of these, billionaire Red McCombs, is well-remembered by Minnesota sports fans for his tenure as owner of the NFL Vikings team. McCombs repeatedly threatened to move the team, possibly to San Antonio, if he were not given a new stadium. After a preseason game played in San Antonio drew approximately zero ticket-buying interest, McCombs sold the Vikings to a New Jersey real-estate developer who promptly got the new stadium. You can read about that process here!

(2) One time, Aimee Mann joked at a concert that her potential Oscar speech for the Magnolia film score would be “Phil Collins sucks.” Newsweek tried to make it a big deal. In this 2000 interview, Mann says “I sent him a fax that said I was just joking, and that Newsweek is a bunch of morons. So I ran into him backstage, and he was really nice. They had a little meeting — him and his people — and decided I was joking.”

Image cropped from The Alamo by BrendaAly under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Evidence of Exceptional Stuff or “How Many People Saw Elvis Alive After He Died?”

Peter and Paul (Roman School circa 1620)

I’ve been listening to a lot of responses to Christian apologetic arguments. I like the people who create these but there is something that bothers me. They tend to demand the same level of evidence for normal matters as they do exceptional matters.

Peter and Paul

Think about the two (reasonably) well-documented post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. (These are well-documented in the Bible; they aren’t documented anywhere else. So we are starting on very favorable ground for the apologists.) Paulogia, for example, responds that one was clearly a vision (Paul) and the other (Peter) could well have been a post-bereavement hallucination.

Fair enough. But suppose you could find some well-documented source stating that all the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Should we believe this?

I would certainly accept that kind of evidence if the claim were something simple, “Jesus walked 150 miles in 5 days.” Okay. That’s a lot but it is certainly plausible. I know that I could do that and that some people can run 150 miles in a day.

I’d need more than that if the claim were, “Jesus flew 150 miles in 5 days.” And that claim is far more reasonable than that Jesus died and came back to life three days later!

Motivated Reasoning

There’s another issue. Peter had an enormous amount to gain from claiming that Jesus had risen from the grave. So did Paul!

But I understand that there is a social aspect of apologist-skeptic dialog. The skeptics don’t want to be seen as dicks. They don’t want to claim that the founders of the Christian religion were charlatans.

The problem with this is that we have so many examples of modern cults starting in exactly this way. It isn’t as simple as people lying. As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

All I’m saying is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you saw Jesus after he died when saying it is paying the bills and getting you invited to all the best suppers.

Or they could have been lying. They could have simply thought that Jesus’ teachings we so important that it made sense to fabricate the resurrection narrative. (Paulogia has suggested just that.)

Did Paul Really Persecute Christians?

One thing I’ve never seen contested is Paul’s claims that he worked for the Romans persecuting Christians before being converted. It isn’t attested to anywhere else. It’s just his claim.

Should we believe him? I doubt it.

I have seen many Christians tell exaggerated or outright false things about their pre-Christian days. Think about Mike Warnke who made a career claiming that he was a Satan Seller.

But he isn’t the only one. I’ve personally known two people who claimed they worshipped Satan when they were younger. It’s nonsense. If there were as many reformed Satanists as claimed, they’d have to be using my office at least part of the time for their orgies and goat sacrifices.

Paul’s story of his past sounds to me very much like stagecraft — a good tool to use to win converts. (And power. Just saying.)

Cults Then and Now

Everything we know about modern cults tells us that they are driven by the desire for power and grown through lies. I really can’t imagine the earliest days of Christianity being all that different from the early days of Heaven’s Gate. And even with the mass suicide, there are still believers in that cult.

Why would we think things would be more reasonable two thousand years ago?


Image via GaryStockbridge617. It is in the public domain.

How Rich Elites Promote Cryptocurrencies With Facile Talking Points and Strained Apologetics

Kathryn Haun

Kathryn Haun was recently on The Ezra Klein Show. I don’t see much in terms of considered opinion coming out of the pro-crypto camp. It’s much more, “Gimme a B! Gimme an I!” What’s that spell? Propaganda!

So normally, I wouldn’t have even listened to the podcast. But Klein doesn’t bring loons on his show. And the truth is, I continue to look for people who can make a good case for crypto. I really do want there to be something with it. But I have begun to despair. It’s looking more or more like a simple scam. (Not that it started that way.)

Haun did approach the podcast with the seriousness that it deserves. But it was quickly revealed that she was not there for an honest discussion of the issues. It reminded me of a Christian apologist going on an atheist talk show. They know they are in a dangerous place so they don’t come on aggressively. But they are only there to push their canned talking points.

Decentralization

Haun trumpeted the glories of sending money with Bitcoin. You see, you can do it without a centralized authority! This is true. People make millions of dollars every year “mining” Bitcoin to allow just that. But who cares?

What bothers me about credit cards is not that there’s some authority involved in the transaction. I’ve been using Banks since I was about 5 years old. I’m fine with it. What bothers me is that it costs me money (indirectly). I think most people feel the same way.

And guess what? Cryptocurrencies cost money when you transfer them! In fact, they cost a lot more! But you’re not beholden to a centralized bank — oh, no! Instead, you are beholding to a distributed group of crypto miners. Hooray!

Ignorance Is Fueling It

The sad thing is that most people who are into crypto simply don’t understand it. That’s not true of Haun, of course. But the current market capitalization of a trillion dollars is built on ignorance. And people in the middle of a bull market tend not to notice that their brokers are siphoning off huge amounts of money.

But eventually, the bull market ends. Then everyone is left with what? A really expensive method of exchange that adds literally nothing new to the technologies we had before?

I’m really kind of sick of this happy talk especially coming from people who clearly do understand the system. Cryptography is really interesting. But in terms of transferring valuable objects from one person to another, the system just doesn’t seem that useful.

And every time I bring this up, crypto people say, “Look at how much money it is worth!” I do see that. We all see it. We also all saw that Theranos was valued at $9 billion dollars when it was worthless.

Blockchain Will Save Musicians!

Haun mentions that you can use the blockchain to transfer other things like songs. Well okay. An artist could release songs on the blockchain. And maybe that would be more efficient than using rights management software.

I don’t really know but I’m open to it because I hate rights management software. But again that’s a case where crypto is just a different way of doing the same old thing. And that’s great! Finding new and better ways to do things is good.

But this is clearly a post hoc rationalization. Bitcoin started as a currency. As time has gone on and it has failed as a currency, true believers continue to look for ways to justify the technology. Certainly, we are better off looking for a way to replace rights management software rather than trying to shoehorn that solution into a technology that has failed at being a currency. Right?

Of course, we aren’t looking for a way to replace rights management software. And as I will discuss below, there is a reason for that. Hint: it involves the interests of powerful people. You know, people like Kathryn Haun!

Interoperability

She also mentions interoperability. Oh, the irony! Over 6,000 different cryptocurrencies have been created. As I write this, there are over one hundred cryptocurrencies with a market cap above a billion dollars. Doctor, heal thyself!

Why is it that the blockchain is what is going to fix our interoperability problems? Consider this: why did we have cassette and 8-track tapes at the same time? Why did we have Beta and VHS at the same time? What about Sirius and XM? We had them because there was a difference of opinion about which was best. Ultimately, the issue was resolved. But how would this work with all these crypto blockchains that are, you know, not controlled by anyone?

Another thing Haun says is that when you buy digital music you don’t own it. Guess what? When you buy an LP you don’t own it either. The problem is not the technology. The problem is our broken IP system.

As with licensing, she’s desperately looking for ways to make crypto relevant. She doesn’t care about rights management. She doesn’t care about IP law. She just cares about use cases that make crypo seem like it isn’t a waste of everyone’s time.

Concentrated Power

It bothers me how much Spotify and other platforms charge. It bothers me even more that TextBroker takes 35% of what I pay writers. But in both cases, this money goes to connecting one person to another. How exactly is a new freelance writer going to find clients? Hell, how is an established one?

Yes: the amount that TextBroker charges strikes me as exploitative. We ought to do something about that. But the blockchain doesn’t seem a particularly fruitful avenue to pursue.

Think about what she’s suggesting: musicians put their songs on the blockchain and you buy it and then own that particular copy! (Again: IP law makes it so you do not own it.) Is that going to happen? No! Spotify or some other powerful interest will find a way to offer the songs for sale even as they are “sold” on a blockchain. So we’ll have a new technology with the exact same system.

This is where we get to the issue of power. And to his credit, Ezra Klein pushed back. Musicians and listeners are getting ripped off not because of the technology but because of the power. But Haun counters that the technology simply isn’t here yet. That just goes to show she doesn’t understand the issue.

Powerful interests are always able to use technology to their own benefit. Yes, there are minor cases here and there where that doesn’t happen. But those in power learn quickly and errors are not repeated. Technological fixes do not stand in their way.

Vertical Marketing to the Rescue

Many times, Haun brought up some form of the idea that early fans might be able to make an investment in an artist. It’s just multi-level marketing. What’s more, there are much better ways to do this.

Dean Baker’s idea of The Artistic Freedom Voucher is great. But it requires a change in the system that harnesses the fact that people want to help out struggling artists that they admire. They wouldn’t do it because they think they’re going to make money off it later.

Virtual Handbags

Haun also notes that Gucci handbags cost more in the Roblox virtual world than they do in reality. But of course that Gucci handbag can only be used in that game. Imagine what it would be like if you could take that handbag to any virtual world?

She isn’t making a joke. She’s deadly serious. Here you have people paying a lot of money for something useless. And she thinks it’s a game-changer that they might be able to have that useless thing in more areas. This is all so absurd!

Of course, I should be clear that most of this is all about fashion. I don’t care about fashion in the real world and so I don’t care about it in the virtual world. So I’m probably a particularly bad person to discuss this kind of thing.

Bitcoin Energy Consumption

She pushed back on the idea that Bitcoin uses a huge amount of energy. She knows quite rightly that newer cryptocurrencies are using Proof of Stake. But as I’ve been ranting about for well over a year now, Bitcoin is by far the biggest and has no plans to change from Proof of Work.

And her solution for the fact that you can’t just change Bitcoin is that most miners are trying to use more renewable energy. Well, no shit! The cost of energy is the main thing limiting profits.

But imagine that Bitcoin was powered by solar energy. It isn’t causing global warming. Hooray! There’s still a huge opportunity cost here. That energy could be going to do something useful. Bitcoin needs all of this energy just to maintain itself. Meanwhile, I have cash in my wallet that works just as well and doesn’t take any energy!

I’m not saying that energy use by Bitcoin isn’t a huge problem. But the moment the issue came up in the conversation, her first reaction was to come out with two or three talking points to minimize it. She’s nothing but a propagandist.

Horror Film Crowdfunding

She said there was a recent movie that was crowdfunded with crypto — apparently Braid (2018). Despite what people argue, there is nothing new about the way that the film was crowdsourced. You can crowdsource dollars and give people a cut of the profits.

The solution is not technology. The solution is collective action. The solution is changing the system.

The Reveal!

For most of the podcast, I assumed Kathryn Haun was a true believer with utopian dreams like I shared with many on the late 1980s internet. But then I learned she was a general partner at the venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz, which manages almost $20 billion.

She’s also on the board of Open Sea! For those who don’t know, Open Sea is “the world’s first & largest NFT marketplace.” And for those who don’t know, NFTs are a scam.

But what really bugs me about Haun (and others like her) is that she probably got into this because it really appealed to her and she was a true believer. But she saw that there was a huge amount of money to be made.

She’s not putting money into a non-profit. No Aaron Swartz she!

Conclusion

The takeaway here is that Bitcoin was sold to us as this great technological innovation for currency. And it has failed absolutely. It continues to go up in value but it doesn’t work as a currency. So just as this realization finally seems to be seeping through, we get these new justifications for the cryptocurrency industry.

It’s hard to see the whole crypto world as anything but a giant con for a group of elite people. And sadly it is sustained to a large extent by a lot of utopian idealism pushed by rich elites like Kathryn Haun.


Image of Kathryn Haun taken from her Twitter profile under Fair Use.

Heroes Aren’t Saints

Thomas Jefferson

Heroes are a difficult subject for Americans. They aren’t really for me because of years of disappointment. Now I’ve come to terms with the imperfection of all people, which seems like the adult way to think about heroes.

But in politics, we see a lot of people holding on to the perfection of their heroes. People try to gloss over Thomas Jefferson’s many bad beliefs and behaviors. They apparently don’t think it’s okay for a hero to be great in one way and terrible in another.

To be honest I don’t think any of the founding fathers are hero material. They were all just men of a certain social class. There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about them. For one thing, they weren’t the ones getting shot in the field. Just like always, the Revolutionary War was ultimately a poor man’s fight.

Thomas Jefferson

But the bigger issue is that it shouldn’t be a problem to have a hero who is imperfect. Admittedly, Jefferson is a particularly bad case because he was a man who was a slave owner who was very clear in his writings that he understood just how horrible it was. (In fairness to Jefferson, like most of the founding fathers, he was a white supremacist, at least in private.)

Personally, I tend more towards loose cannons when it comes to my heroes. That’s why I like Thomas Paine so much. I don’t have to fret too much about him because the man was not all that interested in holding power. Had he ever had power, well, then he would probably have been a disappointment. But instead, he was a rabble-rouser and he was really good at that!

Interestingly, my favorite thing about Thomas Jefferson is that he was Paine’s friend and he sneaked him back into the country when Paine was widely hated for his book The Age of Reason. Although I suspect that, like today, the vast majority of people hated him because they had been told to; few people would have actually read The Age of Reason.

Low-Budget Filmmaking

But in order to be a lover of low-budget and psychotronic films, you get used to accepting that your heroes will be imperfect. Imperfect?! That’s an understatement!

Getting a film completed is very hard and most of the directors I admire we’re by and large total dicks. It seems to be almost impossible to do it if you aren’t one.

But that doesn’t make their films any less valuable. And the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a racist asshole doesn’t make the founding of America any less valuable.

Heroes and Saints

But I know that Americans by and large want to pretend that their heroes are perfect. It’s because they approach politics in a religious sense. For these people, John Adams or Robert E Lee are not men so much as demigods. Or if you prefer: saints.

But as with most modern problems in America, it’s really all comes down to the fact that we as a people are really stunted emotionally. We act like children.

Exponential Misuse of Pascal’s Wager by Apologetics Squared

Blaise Pascal

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot more use of Pascal’s Wager by Christians. I’m not sure what’s up with that given that I thought that long ago everyone had agreed that it was stupid if not blasphemous. Oh well. It’s not like being let down by religious people is a new thing to me.

For those who don’t know, Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument for believing in God. Basically, it says you get little from not believing in God and infinite happiness if you do believe in God so you should believe in God. Some formulations of the argument are more sophisticated than others but this is what they all come down to.

Criticisms of Pascal’s Wager

There are lots of criticisms of this argument. The most obvious is that it assumes a god that cares that you believe in it and will reward you for this. But personally, I find a religious argument more compelling: Do you seriously think you can con God?! That God won’t notice that you are only “believing” because you ran the odds?!

Imagine if you took this approach in proposing to your significant other: “You aren’t even close to what I most desire but I’ve run the numbers and based on the fact that I’m ugly with few prospects, I’ve determined you are the best I can do. Will you marry me?!” I don’t think that would get a verbal answer — more likely a kick in the teeth.

Apologetics Squared

But then I saw this video by Apologetics Squared. It is by a young guy who, in a spiritual sense, “Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Of course, even with it, he plays fast and loose with the concept of infinity. Remember: Infinity is not a number! You need to be really careful with it.

What strikes me about the use that young Mr Squared makes of Pascal’s Wager is that he does a pretty good job with the formal logic but pays no attention to his premises. Basically, there’s no downside to believing in God and a huge upside.

But wait. For every god you can imagine that will reward you for believing in it, there is at least one god that will damn you to Hell for eternity and who will reward you with Infinity Constant Orgasm Time simply for not believing in that other god.

So if you want to go there, the odds seem to indicate that belief in Christianity is a bad bet. So it really comes down to, again, what you actually believe in. That is to say: Pascal’s Wager is bullshit.

Subgenius

Apologetics Squared is a classic subgenius: smart but not that smart. The truth is, there is a whole field of mathematics that deals with low-probability events. I don’t know much about it. In my years of study, I’ve come upon it a few times. But it’s clear that Mr to the Second Power knows nothing at all about it.

As a result, Christian apologists like him are better off studying their own faith rather than trying to make clever arguments against atheists. And please, can’t we bury Pascal’s Wager once and for all. Non-believers think it is a stupid argument. And believers should find it repellant.

I have a hunch that Christians who use Pascal’s Wager aren’t really that serious about their faith. But given my experience is that few Christians of any stripe are serious about their faith, this is hardly surprising.


Cropped from Blaise Pascal a copy of the painting of François II Quesnel under CC BY 3.0.

Arizona Audit and the Selective Attention of the Press

Doug Logan of Cyber Ninjas

After five months, the Arizona Audit released its final report. And it turned out to be exactly what I predicted. They didn’t find any fraud but they used it to push the same talking points that they were pushing before the audit even started.

The audit was always a partisan exercise. Its purpose was to push the idea that we can’t trust the vote. And in that regard, it was remarkably successful!

Months of Coverage and Then: Poof!

There were months of coverage of the audit. True: it was mostly covered in negative news stories in the mainstream press. But you can’t cover this without a lot of people thinking, “They wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t something nefarious going on!” And, of course, there was: the Republicans are setting the stage to steal the election next time. But that’s not the message that goes out.

After all that, when the report was released, there was relatively little coverage. Part of this could be due to some people in the media saying the report should be given no oxygen. But that strikes me as closing the barn door after the propagandists have gotten all the benefit they can.

And call me cynical, but I feel certain that if Doug Logan and his conspirators had gone all in and announced that Trump actually won the state, the press would have covered it much more. This despite the fact that all of the people involved had been established as untrustworthy.

(Similarly, all the network news shows ignored the John Eastman coup memo. Who did not ignore it at the networks? Jimmy Kimmel (ABC), Stephen Colbert (CBS), and Seth Meyers (NBC). You would think after having been humiliated by The Daily Show in years past, the news industry would do something about this. But no. Just leave it to the late-night comedians. It’s apparently their job to inform the nation.)

Get More Information

If you want to know about what this all came down to, I recommend an excellent article by Jeremy Duda at Arizona Mirror, Arizona “Audit”: A Multitude of Unsubstantiated Claims and No Proof of Fraud. Even better is Maricopa County itself. Their Twitter feed fact-checked the entire audit presentation.

What’s interesting about it is that nothing had to be researched. All the claims are old and have been thoroughly debunked on Just the Facts. What you see again and again is that the people claiming to find problems are really just showing that they don’t know how the system works. And the fact that they continue to make these claims shows that they don’t care about how the system works.

The way the people of Maricopa County have dealt with this shows that contrary to the stereotype, our civil servants really are great.

I’m glad it’s all over. Just the same, I’m sure Cyber Ninjas will get more contracts because they did a smashing job of pushing right-wing propaganda. But I do hope they won’t get the attention they did this time.


Image is detail of Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror under Fair Use.

Correction: an earlier version of this article said that Maricopa Country was liberal. It is not. I should have known. On my only visit there, I was bitten by a vicious dog owned by a bunch of white trash.

For 9/11: Remembering “Liberal” Icon Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn’t analyze at first and didn’t fully grasp … until the day itself was nearly over. I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.

–Christopher Hitchens

It still amazes me how many supposed liberals praise this awful man. Some people never get over crushes. It’s sad. I can watch old C-SPAN segments with Hitchens when he wasn’t a warmonger. But any good he did during that time was swamped by the vile work of the last decade of his life.


Image cropped from Christopher Hitchens by José Ramírez under CC BY 2.0.

Don’t Blame George W Bush for Afghanistan!

George W Bush

So we’ve pulled out of Afghanistan now. And I guess it’s not going well. That’s what people tell me. But it strikes me as going about as well as can be expected. Republicans of course are blaming it all on Biden. And most media elites are largely putting the blame on him without saying what should have been done differently. But that’s all nonsense.

Of course, the Democratic leaders of three committees have already declared that they will be investigating Biden’s actions leading up to this. That’s a joke but also typical. These were people who had to be dragged into impeaching Donald Trump only after it became impossible not to do this.

It’s amazing that these people think this is to their advantage. It is a natural tendency for many professional Democrats to think that the smartest thing is always to abandon the party and attack it. And it never works. It just pisses off democrats. And it doesn’t get Republicans or moderates to vote for them.

Not at all! In fact, it makes a lot of people far less likely to vote for them because it makes them look weak. Makes them look like they’re not willing to stand up for their own side. And it makes them look that way because it’s true.

The “Smart” Take

But it’s become sort of the serious center-left position to claim that this was a mess two decades in the making. And many people want to place particular blame at the feet of George W Bush.

Now that is all true. The current situation in Afghanistan is most definitely the result of two decades of mismanagement. And Bush certainly did take a huge number of resources out of Afghanistan and put them into the absolutely ridiculous Iraq War.

I think the presidential blame should go in this order:

  1. George W Bush
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Joe Biden.

But I think it’s wrong to blame George W Bush for going into Afghanistan in the first place. For one thing, in Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke noted that Bush didn’t even especially want to attack Afghanistan. He only did it because he felt like he had to.

That doesn’t speak well of Bush. It shows that he was disconnected from what was going on. He wanted to use 9/11 for what he already wanted to do. This is why he is very much responsible for the Iraq War. But the Afghanistan War?

Who Wanted This War?

This gets to what I consider the most important thing in all of this: American’s wanted this war!

According to Gallup, when the war started, 89 percent of Americans thought the Afghanistan War was “not a mistake.” It didn’t matter that the country itself didn’t actually attack us. They were associated with the terrorist group that attacked us. And since we couldn’t attack that terrorist group, well, attack what you can! It’s like the war equivalent of the Stephen Still songs.

Many Didn’t Want This War

I was one of many people (in absolute, not relative terms) who were against the war at the time. On 9/11 itself, I predicted that the country would respond inappropriately. And it did not disappoint me! I even had a woman scream at me because I said we should not go to war.

Remember that Barbara Lee was the only person in Congress to vote against going to war with Afghanistan. And her argument was not even that we shouldn’t go to war. It was simply that we needed to slow down. We needed to take a breath.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 was passed by both houses of Congress 3 days after 9/11. Three days! Bush took longer to sign it — a total of four days! Lee noted that we were not making a rational decision. And we weren’t!

Short-Sighted War Support

I was against going to war for slightly different, more pragmatic reasons. At that time I was studying a lot about the early days of the Vietnam War for a play I was writing. And it just seemed so obvious that this was something we were very quickly going to regret.

I thought the same thing in the lead-up to the Iraq War. But smart people like Clinton and Kerry voted to allow Bush to go to war. (So did Bernie Sanders in the House.) I knew they didn’t think it was a good idea. They were doing it because they thought it was politically savvy.

But it was so short-sighted! I knew that within a year or two (at most) the American people would have turned against the war and a “no” vote would be seen as a badge of honor.

Even when wars go reasonably well, Americans get tired of them fast. Americans were tired of World War II by 1943. And that was, you know, the Good War. It may be good politics for the next 6 months to be in favor of a war. But it is not good long-term.

The only time I can think of a war that actually did remain popular long-term was the Persian Gulf War. And that’s because that war was over very quickly. But even still, George HW Bush lost his next election. He had an 89 percent approval rating right after the war but by the time of the election, it was down to less than 40 percent.

The point is that the American public is fickle. They love the idea of a Good War in the short term. But you can depend upon them to hate it in the long term. So it’s basically always a good idea to oppose yet another war.

We Will Do This Again

Of course, in the case of the Afghanistan war, our political elites and the base of the country we’re together. It was not acceptable to stop for even a second. And that kind of sums up America right there.

If there were a marshmallow test for countries we would fail it.

But the thing is, we as a country need to come to terms with the fact that this was our choice. There have been few things during my lifetime that have been so popular amongst Americans as the Afghanistan War. If we can say that America supported anything, it is this war.

So I wish people would stop blaming Bush or Trump or Biden or four presidents or our security services or anything else. Because this is America’s failure. This is something America was almost giddy about going into. And maybe if we can admit to that, the next time we might not make such a bad decision.

Odds and Ends Vol 36

Odds and Ends

I’m so tired. Part of it is being sick. But a bigger part is just mental fatigue. The world really sucks these days. Gone are the days of Trump gaslighting me. But it’s been replaced with most of the right doing something similar. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and they are denying it.

And the only “coming to Jesus” moments are from people like Dick Farrel below. Ron DeSantis will never admit that he was wrong. And I doubt seriously he will ever be punished. More likely, he will be rewarded. It’s just horrible. Speaking of which…

Political Hot Air Can Kill You

Right-wing radio talker Dick Farrel died of COVID-19 Friday. He was until recently very much against the vaccines. He called them “poison” and said, “I know I don’t need it nor ever will.” Well, after he got very sick, he changed his mind. You know: wisdom comes suddenly to some. And then they die.

Much has been made of how he told others to get the vaccine from what turned out to be his death bed. I have a bit of a problem with this. You spend months telling your very large audience not to get the vaccine. And then in your dying days you tell your close friends and family? That’s not really enough.

But I’m sorry for those who were close to him. It sucks to care about loud-mouth idiots.

Paulogia

If you look back at my writing on religion, you will find that in late 2014, I started moving away from the online atheist community. And it wasn’t just people like Sam Harris (or worse: The Amazing Atheist). Even people like Hemant Mehta, who was reasonably respectful of others, showed some pretty sloppy thinking.

But recently, I watched some videos by Genetically Modified Skeptic. I’m not that interested in his videos. But I do like that he is respectful of others and doesn’t seem to be engaged in culture war. And that’s all I really want. I don’t really care if people are Christians as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their lives. Humans are generally irrational and I don’t get upset that people believe foolish things. I’m sure I do too.

Via GMS, I discovered Paulogia, who creates videos I’m more interested in because I find textual analysis interesting even if it sometimes makes my brain hurt. But I couldn’t get into this if the tone of the videos weren’t respectful. Here’s a good example:

Another issue is that I do think that most people would be better off without their religious beliefs — especially considering how devoid most of them are of theology. But the only way to convince theists is to respect them — at least the ones who are honest and sincere.

So I hope that GMS and Paulogia are indications of the direction that the atheist/skeptic community is going.

(There is one thing I’m not too keen about with both these guys: their apparent admiration for Christopher Hitchens. He’s fine. He was a good rhetorician. But he was not a serious thinker and the atheist/skeptic community needs to move past him. He was a big part of what poisoned the community starting a decade ago.)

I also got reintroduced to Bart Ehrman whose book Misquoting Jesus had a huge effect on me. Here’s a lecture about it but the book is really worth reading:

Good Filmmaking vs Bad Filmmaking

Recently, I was watching M Night Shyamalan’s film The Happening and I came upon a featurette that explained how they had accomplished the “amazing” Jeep crash scene. And I thought: what bullshit! They spent a huge amount of time and money to create an absolutely boring scene in one shot that would have been better if they had created it via editing.

And it got me thinking about the amazing meathook scene in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s done with just two camera set-ups and is incredibly effective. I’ve spoken to people who have never gotten over the scene decades after they saw it!

So I wrote an article comparing these two scenes. I’m pretty happy with it, so check it out: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre vs The Happening: Comparison of Two Scenes.

If We Were Treated Like We Treat Cuba

Janine Jackson made an excellent analogy to the way the US continues to treat Cuba and the way many have reacted to the pushback against our horrible international meddling.

Imagine if China used its power to cut off international trade to the US, including for things like medical equipment, because they didn’t like Joe Biden, and hoped that if enough Americans were made miserable, they would rise up against him, and install a leader China thought would better serve their interests. How would you think about Chinese media that said, “Well, we heard a lot of Americans say they were unhappy; they even marched in the street! Obviously, that was a call for foreign intervention from a country that understands democracy better than they do.”

And then what if some Chinese people said, “Wait, you can’t immiserate ordinary Americans to push them to overthrow their government; that’s illegal and immoral,” and other Chinese people explained, “You don’t get it; US politics are very complicated”?

COVID-19 Is Back

I used to check the CDC COVID-19 tracker every day. But a month ago, our 7-day running average of deaths got below 200 and I decided to stop. I shouldn’t have. I should have known that there are vested interests in this country that will keep this pandemic coming.

For almost a week now, our 7-day running average of deaths has been up over 400 with every sign of a continued trip upward. I think we are just going to have to get used to more people dying. And being vaccinated won’t help us. Soon, we will have a variant that isn’t controlled by the current vaccine.

And this is all because our authoritarian neighbors really want to make a statement. It boggles my mind that people are upset about mask mandates. How does this harm anyone? I can see people being upset that others don’t wear masks. But how did this minor inconvenience become a matter of “liberty”? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

For centuries, governments have taken extreme measures to fight pandemics. But suddenly, among the American right, doing anything at all is tyranny. It’s absurd.

Be Nice

I got some good feedback on this tweet over the weekend:

It’s weird to me. For one thing, these insults don’t even make sense. Sure, Apley was overweight but that wasn’t why he died. Ben Shapiro isn’t that short. And I don’t know why anyone claims Melania Trump is a slut.

But that isn’t the point. I don’t believe in shaming anyone for these things, right or wrong. And I don’t think people on the left think we should either. I just think it’s easy. But we should stop.

One person replied, “But Melani Trump is easy, cruel, and off-point.” But she thought better of it and later deleted it. If you are going to be offensive, at least be funny.

How Conservative Media Lie to You: The Tucker Carlson Spy Case

Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson is over in Hungary palling around with Viktor Orbán. So I thought it would be a good time to check in with his claim that the NSA was spying on him in order to get his show canceled. Well, if they were, I can’t say that would be counter to trying to keep the US secure. But, of course, the NSA is doing no such thing.

Martin Matishak at The Record reported, NSA Review Finds That Tucker Carlson’s Communications Were Not Targeted. When Carlson first made the claim, I figured that he had been scooped up because he was talking to someone outside the country who the NSA was spying on. But it’s not even that!

Tucker Carlson’s name was “mentioned in communications between third parties.” That’s it. His name was “unmasked.” But that only means that people in the government wanted to know who was being discussed. There’s no there there. Story closed!

Enter The New York Post

The conservative tabloid The New York Post had a different take on the story, Tucker Carlson’s “unmasking” Claim Confirmed by NSA Investigators: Report. It begins:

The National Security Agency has quietly admitted that the identity of Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson was “unmasked” and leaked as he alleged earlier this month, according to a report.

You can see in the headline and the lede that the author, Mary Kay Linge, is trying to deceive with the term “unmasked,” even though it means only that his name was unhidden in a transcript.

And who leaked this? Well, the Tucker Carlson fan who told him. This is what he said on his show:

Yesterday, we heard from a whistleblower within the US government who reached out to warn us that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air

This couldn’t be a more unethical telling of what Matishak reported.

The Post Knows Better

The second paragraph is just a reprint of a Fox News spokesperson’s “outraged” response. The third paragraph begins to tell what happened. But it isn’t until the fourth paragraph that we get what would be the lede in any normal paper:

But the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight was neither a direct nor an incidental target of the agency, the sources said.

So knowing that most people read only headlines and maybe the first one or two paragraphs, Linge and her editors made sure that their readers would be misinformed.

No Accountability

Since the information in The Record came out, there has been no segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight. And with right-wing sources playing interference for him, he won’t need to ever come to terms with his hyperbolic claims.

And the same is true of his audience. This is doubtless one of the reasons that Carlson and many others on the right are so impressed with the authoritarian government of Viktor Orbán. They can continue to get all the good things that go with their power and never have to deal with the bad things like responsibility and accountability.

Afterword

Let’s take a moment to remember when Rutger Bregman forced Tucker Carlson to see that reasonable people all over the world know just what Carlson is. He will at very least be remembered as the Joseph Goebbels of the USA.


Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Why Evangelical Christians Accept Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories

I know that my atheist readers will probably look at that headline and think, “Because they believe in one irrational thing so why not another?” And okay. But we are all irrational even if many of us hide it better than those who believe in the zombie who made God forgive all our sins. I want to look at something a little different: the uselessness of right-wing Christianity in this country.

The Economist recently published an article, What Drives Belief in Conspiracy Theories, a Lack of Religion or Too Much? It looks that a YouGov poll that asked people about their religious beliefs and their support for different conspiracy theories. Here are the questions and the number of percentage points more likely the evangelicals were to believe them than the rest of us:

  • Millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 general election (34 pp)
  • The government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population (14 pp)
  • Vaccines have been shown to cause autism (15 pp)
  • NASA staged the Moon landing (5 pp).

As we go down the list, fewer people believe so the differences decrease. But 67% of white evangelicals believe that millions of illegal votes were cast last year’s election and 15% believe we didn’t land on the Moon. (They are also much more likely to believe in Qanon.)

Some have argued that religious people would be less inclined to believe this nonsense because they have a fulfilling belief system in their faith. The truth must be closer to the opposite.

What Do People Use Religion For?

Religion was not big in my house but I got to see it in the larger family. My father’s family were Catholics of the “We’ll Donate and Attend Occasionally but It Ain’t Getting in the Way of Our Lives” variety. This is probably why I have a higher opinion of Catholicism.

My mother’s family were White Evangelicals. They all had personal relationships with Jesus and were ostentatious in their belief yet seemed only to care about one issue: abortion. In word, they loved the sinner. In deed, they talked about how much they loved the sinner.

And from them, I got the idea that the purpose of their religion was simply to signal their inclusion in the group of Good People. Now, I understand: everyone does this. But you don’t need religion for that. It seems to me rather a waste of a religion.

What Is Theology Good For?

What continues to frustrate me about almost all religious people is that they aren’t much interested in theology. The closest they get to it is this childish belief in Heaven as if Jesus is The Great Pumpkin — come to give the good boys and girls eternal life if they just believe hard enough!

And this stunted form of religious belief does not provide believers with much in the way of meaning. All they get from their religion is that they’ll be one of the Cool Kids that gets into the Party at the End of Eternity. But you know God: he’ll probably let all those hippy Christians in too and that doesn’t make them feel very special.

So they are easy marks for other pseudo-religious scams like Qanon. God supposedly loves them for believing one ridiculous thing. Wouldn’t he love them more if they believed in a dozen similarly ridiculous things? Regardless, every new belief provides them with a dopamine rush that comes from believing they have found The Truth.

Where Does This Leave Us?

I knew when I was a kid as much as I do now: these were the people who burned “witches.” They are authoritarian by nature. Alone, they are harmless — nice, in fact. But they are easy marks for demagogues.

And that’s the takehome from the YouGov poll.


Conspiracy Theory Wall by Harald Groven under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Why Conservatives Won’t Get Vaccinated

Vaccination

David Pakman was asking why it is the conservatives won’t get the vaccine when they give Trump credit for creating it. I have some thoughts on this.

To start with, that may be an overstatement. Not that much time was spent trying to convince the nation that Trump belched the vaccine out on to a grateful public. So I don’t think that is prominent in the Republican brain.

Regardless, Pakman isn’t taking into account people’s ability to hold two contradictory truths in their minds at the same time. Humans are great at cognitive dissonance but modern conservatives have brought it up to the level of art.

The Anti-Vax Pleasure

But I think the big issue here is that conservatives get a certain amount of pleasure by not getting the vaccine. It makes them feel good that they are depriving liberals of getting something they want.

It’s the same old thing. That’s the basis of modern conservatism. They don’t actually believe in anything except doing things they think will annoy the libtards. In fact, they spend a lot of energy convincing themselves that we liberals are offended even when we really don’t care most of the time.

This is a great example of a self-satisfied conservative thinking he’s offending the liberals and the liberals just not caring.

The idea here is that liberals will be upset because he’s posting an image of a sexualized She-Ra. But it was conservatives who were upset about a non-sexualized She-Ra. Liberals didn’t care either way.

The (Nonexistent) Anti-Vax Pain

Normally there would be a trade-off. They would realize that by getting this small thrill of sticking it to the liberals, they were losing something. They weren’t getting the vaccine. And as a result, their lives are more limited. But that’s not the case!

These are the people who have claimed almost from the start that there should never have been any shutdown of the economy. There should never have been any mask mandates. Because it’s only the old and sickly who died anyway. Blah, blah, blah…

Also: it is widely believed that Covid-19 is just a hoax. It’s just something the liberals made up so that they could turn America into a communist state. Or whatever. Again that is totally contradicted by their belief that Trump is brilliant and he brought us the vaccine out of his gold-plated lab inside Trump Tower. But who cares?

So there you have it: in the minds of the Republican base, there’s an upside to not getting the vaccine. And there’s absolutely no downside to not getting the vaccine.

Useless Evidence

Now I know that some of you will counter that there are all these stories about anti-vaxxers not getting vaccinated and then getting very sick and even dying. But those are stories that only occur on the regular news.

If you’re watching Fox News and Newsmax and OAN News, you’re not seeing those! And if you happen to hear about them? Well: fake news!

It’s a mistake to think of anti-vax people the way you would others. It’s not that they are irrational. They are, in fact, very rational! They simply believe we live in a different world. The logic is the same; the facts are different!

Conservative Belief in Social Cohesion

It’s kind of funny really. Because for decades conservative intellectuals have made the argument that liberals were dividing the country. It was always liberals who didn’t care about social cohesion. We saw this in many books like a couple by Charles Murray.

Just as with conservative fears of relativism, it turns out that the mechanism was backward. A lack of social conservatism wasn’t tearing our society apart; authoritarianism was destroying social cohesion.

That’s because the people who follow conservative ideology are authoritarians. Why else would a poor person vote for a party that mostly just gives tax cuts to the rich? It’s because they believe in the authoritarian underpinnings of conservatism.

And all the rich people who kept the poor and middle classes wedded to this ideology were sowing authoritarianism. Because that is literally the only thing that conservative ideology offers regular people.

The Freedom to Die

And now we have a deeply divided country. We have people who will not get vaccinated because they claim it is about their freedom. Meanwhile, they are putting all the rest of us at risk. And the entire world at risk. It’s very sad.

And there will never be an accounting. The closest that we might get is that millions will die. But it will not be those great Freedom Fighters who wouldn’t get vaccinated. It will be everyone.


Governor Wolf Receives COVID- 19 Vaccination by Governor Tom Wolf under CC BY 2.0.