Wedding Cakes & Hyperbolic Nonsense

The shouts of “government tyranny” and “religious persecution” by the religious rightwing regarding the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the Colorado Christian baker’s case are hyperbolic nonsense.  Some right-wingers say, “only a simpleton doesn’t understand the complexity of this issue.”  This is nonsense too.

The Court’s decision is actually not that complex – though it does require  having a basic understanding of constitutional law.  The decision is based on this legal precedent: if you operate a business that serves the public, you cannot discriminate based on race, religion, sex, or national origin.  The legal precedent was hashed out during the long civil rights struggle to overcome the racial discrimination that had plagued this country since its birth.  That we have to keep hashing this out over different kinds of discrimination within the public realm is the very sad part.

The other aspect of this case that creates confusion is the lack of understanding important distinctions.  Today’s discourse, from both the left and right, is often riddled with distinction-less talking points.

Making distinctions is an integral part of speech, and we would relegate ourselves to living in a meaningless and incoherent world without making important distinctions.  Thus, and unfortunately, the distinction-less discourse surrounding the recent Colorado Supreme Court decision is creating confusion and adding fire to the already heated partisan divide in America.

So what are the important distinctions that need to be made?  And how might it help clear up some confusion?

When discussing political issues, like this wedding cake case, it is important that we first understand the distinctions between “the three realms of human life –  the political, the social, and the private.”  The notion of the three realms of life was an issue that political theorist Hannah Arendt raised throughout her work.  She argued that humans throughout the ages have, more or less, lived and interacted between these three realms.

***all remaining quotes below are from Arendt’s writings.

The private realm is our homes, and all of our private relationships with “personal friends and those we love.”  In this realm we have the four protective walls of our homes to shelter us and allow us to be free from the demands of the political and social world.  In the realm of privacy we are “ruled neither by equality nor by discrimination, but by exclusiveness” and usually guided by our familial relationships.

The political (or public) realm is the place where the laws are made and administered. It is also the market place where people go to sell their goods, offer their skills to the public, or buy goods and services.  Now, some might protest that the marketplace is of the private realm.  However, to this assertion I would add (and the Courts have long agreed) that private businesses that offer public services, “though not strictly in the political realm… are clearly in the public domain where [people should be treated] equal.”

As such, discrimination in the public realm should not exist, and equality for all is supposed to be a political right that is guaranteed and protected.

“For equality not only has its origin in the body politic; its validity is clearly retracted to the political realm.  Only there are we all equals”

The social realm is “that curious, somewhat hybrid realm between the political and the private realm in which, since the beginning of the modern age, most [people] have spent the greater part of their lives… For each time we leave the four protective walls of our private homes and cross over the threshold into the public world, we enter first, not the political realm of equality, but the social sphere.”  And now with the advent of the Internet, we can enter into, and engage with, the social realm from the comfort of our homes too.

In the social realm, discrimination is a given and will always exist.  And “once we have entered [the social realm], we become subject to the old adage of ‘like attracts like.'”  In this realm we all “discriminate against each other, along lines of profession, income, ethnic origin,” religion, and so on.  These kinds of discrimination are what free association is all about.

For example: as a golfer I prefer to spend time with other golfer friends because of our common interests.  My love of the game of golf is part of my personal identity, and I enjoy being around others who enjoy it as well.  I would be bored to tears if I had to hang out everyday with people who only wanted to talk about, say, the latest Hollywood gossip, or only watch morning soap operas.  On the flip side, those who love soap operas would be bored to tears if they had to endure watching golf, or endless talk of golf.

In other words, we discriminate when we choose to freely associate with the people we are attracted to through our common interests.  Any attempt to abolish this kind of discrimination would be to live in a tyrannical world.  Thus with this understanding of the distinction between these three realms we can now move into (hopefully) understanding how the distinction-less discourse surrounding the wedding cake issue is causing confusion and fueling the heated partisan divide.

“The question is not how to abolish discrimination, but how to keep it confined within the social sphere, where it is legitimate, and prevent its trespassing on the political and the personal sphere, where it is destructive.”

The private realm: in no way is the Court saying that the Christian baker has to give up his religious beliefs, nor are they tyrannically telling him that he must teach his children beliefs that are contrary to his religious beliefs.

The Court is simply saying that if you operate a business within the public realm you shall not discriminate against your customers based on race, religion, sex, etc.  The Christian baker can still believe as he does within society, and freely associate with others who believe as he does.  He can still teach his religious beliefs to his children within the privacy of his home, and within his place of worship.  He can even still believe as he does within his bakery.  However, he cannot discriminate against the customers that are coming into his business.

The crucial thing to remember here is that the Court is not saying the baker’s social or religious customs are in dispute; rather, the Court is explicitly speaking about keeping discrimination out of businesses that operate in the public realm.  In other words, the Court is not saying that the baker’s religious belief about gay people is wrong, but that discriminatory laws within the public realm are unconstitutional and should not exist.

It certainly would be tyranny, or religious persecution, if the Court, or legislature, tried to enforce laws that stated the baker could no longer believe as he does.  But that does not even come close to what is happening here.

The social realm: the advent of social media has allowed us to participate in the social realm with much greater ease.  The social media world can be a great thing, but it can also be a nasty little world where anonymity gives a person a false sense of courage and righteousness to lash out against others.  To be clear: this problem goes both ways within the heated partisan world.  I have witnessed social rights activists engage in vicious attacks on people who believe differently than they.  And I have also seen supposedly good Christian people engage in nasty homophobic and racist attacks against the LGBT and minority communities.

Arendt wrote that “discrimination is as indispensable a social right as equality is a political right.”  This point may be hard for some people to accept, but the importance of it should really sink in for those who truly want to live in a free pluralistic society.

For example: while I may not like, or agree with, a person’s religious belief on homosexuality, I must, at a minimum, respect their social right to believe as they do.  If I don’t respect this social right to believe as they do then I am obviously not comfortable living in a free pluralistic society.  However, and as Arendt noted, the social right to discriminate must not trespass on the political realm nor the private realm.

Finally, social standards regarding homosexuality have dramatically changed over a relatively short period of time, thus it is important that we try to understand that “social standards are not legal standards,” and worse, if the laws “follow social prejudice [through enforcement of discriminatory laws], society has become tyrannical.”

In other words, the LGBT community did not ask for “special rights,” as some of the religious right would like to suggest.  Rather, the LGBT community simply wanted the same political rights as others: to marry the person they love; to shop freely as others do; and to comfortably work in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.  In reality, the religious heterosexuals were the ones who have had “special rights” all of this time.

Furthermore, the anti-gay social standard of the past, and the laws that once criminalized homosexuality, were a form of social tyranny.  This might seem brazen to say, but I guarantee you that the homosexuals of the 18th or 19th century, who were caught by society and put to death, or thrown in jail, for simply being gay, would agree with this statement.

To conclude, the Christian baker does have options here.  He can abide by the rule of law and find a way to do business within our secular country – many religious people have learned how to do this.  If a gay couple comes into his shop, which I doubt many will after all of this recent national coverage, he will need to find a way to accommodate these gay couples.  Furthermore, if the Christian baker cannot find a way to accommodate these couples, then he could always look into creating a private baker’s club that caters to only Christian customers.

On the other side, the social activists who are attacking the Christian baker’s beliefs via social media, or elsewhere, should also try and remember that, at a minimum, they should respect his social right to believe as he does.  I am inclined to believe that the power of the purse is the best way to deal with this situation.  Because if you believe calling the Christian baker a bigot will change anything… well, in my opinion, you are only enflaming the situation, and might be just as uncomfortable living in a free pluralistic society as the Christian baker.

Finally, to all those screaming “government tyranny” and “religious persecution.”  While I strongly believe in your social right to say such nonsensical things, I’d suggest giving it a rest because it isn’t helping the situation at all.

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Smear Merchants of Twitter

Pointing out the obvious, social media has become a powerful tool for effortlessly spreading information.  Unfortunately, it has also become a powerful tool for spreading disinformation and misinformation.  The comment sections of media websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are filled with what seems like an infinite stream of information – some of it truthful and helpful, some of it contested and heated, and some of it straight dishonest and hurtful.

There are also a wide variety of people spreading the information.  From the average person sharing information with their family and friends, to journalists sharing a news story, to government agencies, to corporations sharing information on their products, etc, etc.  The people I would like to focus on in this article are what I like to call, smear merchants.

There are plenty of investigative journalists who have tried to uncover the web of smear merchants.  For example: George Monibot has written numerous articles that uncovered how Monsanto, and their PR firm, used two fake accounts to falsely discredit findings by a scientist on their GMO corn.  This example of smear mongering shows how powerful interests used anonymity and deceit to protect their interests.

The example of smear merchants I would like to use here is on a more local level, and one that can be witnessed on a daily basis in the Twitter hashtag – #copolitics and #coleg.  These two hashtags are frequently used by Colorado politicians, media, citizens, and interests groups regarding Colorado’s political happenings.

If you spend a few days reading these hashtags you will quickly see the people who are open and transparent (i.e., this is who I am, and this is who I work for).  But you will also see many accounts who use anonymity to spread disinformation.  Who are these people?  Who do they work for?  Or are they just citizens who are afraid to post under their real names?

I can understand the last question.  I used to post under an anonymous name because, well, quite honestly, social media can be a vicious little world, and I felt I was protecting myself by being anonymous.  Whether you agree or disagree with politicians, or activists, or whomever, there is something to say about the courageousness of a person who publicly and transparently says, “This is who I am, this is what I believe, and this is what I am fighting for.”

However, there is no possible way I could concretely answer who the anonymous smear merchants are, or who they might work for.  But what I can do is show you great example of them trying to spread misinformation and disinformation.  The examples are from the Twitter-sphere the day after the tragedy of the Bailey shooting that took the lives of one Bailey police officer, Nate Carrigan, and the occupy activist, Martin Wirth.

I knew right away that I would be seeing the right-wing smear merchants in #copolitics trying to politicize this tragedy as soon as I heard the news.  It started off with this benign, and truthful, tweet.  Wirth was a far-left activist who engaged in extremist tactics.  However, and as you will see below, he does not seem to fit neatly into a binary partisan category.

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The next tweet came from a local rightwing blog called, Colorado Peak Politics.  The article stated something that just is not true, and reveals how little they know of Occupy Denver and its activists – including Martin Wirth.  So I replied with this tweet:

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The first response came from an anonymous Republican smear merchant.  If you read through this guys twitter feed you’ll see that his entire agenda, sun up to sun down, is to smear the Democrats.  Critiquing the other party is all fine and well.  However, the problem arises when the critiques are plain dishonesty.  Thus, the term smear merchant is deserved.

Here is the response I got from the anonymous Republican smear merchant:

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First, his “We are totally clueless” suggests that “Mr. T” is not just an individual  “grassroots activist” who is working alone, as many of the rightwing anonymous trolls in #copolitics like to suggest.  Maybe he’s a contributor of CO Peak Politics, I dunno.

Second, “Mr. T” pulled these two pictures from Wirth’s Facebook account in an attempt to “prove” that Wirth is a supporter of President Obama and the Democrats, and thus the violent act of Wirth was supposedly the result of the rhetoric of Democrats (remember, “Words Matter” as CO Peak Politics stated.)  In other words, he thinks this response to me is game, set, and match.

Well, it’s not.  This false assertion is predicated on him hoping that nobody else bothers to look through Wirth’s Facebook page.  Furthermore, it reveals that he is either being completely dishonest or is incredibly dumb.  Other interactions with him lead me to believe that it is a bit of both.

So, let’s look more closely at the two pictures that “Mr. T” used to try and prove me wrong and continue on with his false claim that Wirth and Occupy Denver “support Democrats.”

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Notice the date on these Facebook posts.  They are both from November of 2012.  So Wirth shows that he supported President Obama and the Democrats in 2012.

However, the interesting thing here is that “Mr. T” had to dig through four years of Wirth’s post to pull these pictures.  This is no small task, as I will show below.  What of Wirth’s political positions for the past four years?  And were there any shifts in his political stance since 2012?  Yes, in fact, there was a massive shift in his stance.

If you go to Wirth’s Facebook page you will notice that he posted stuff on his political views almost daily.  And if you read through these posts you will quickly discover that Wirth no longer supports the Democrats and President Obama.  In fact, you’ll see he vehemently despises them and castigated them on nearly a daily basis.  Ironically, he seems to despise the Democrats just as much as “Mr. T” and his Republican cohorts in #copolitics.

Let me show you some examples:

Here he is calling Democrats as “successful parasites” and that they are “far deadlier” of the two Party “parasites.”

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Here is he explaining why “liberals are worse than conservatives.”

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Here he is calling President Obama a “mass murderer.”

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Here he is stating why he “refuse[s] to vote Democrat.”

 

 

Here he is explaining that he will “vote Republican” and for Trump over a Democrat, specifically Hillary, because of their “murderous immorality”

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Here he is dissing liberal gun grabbers as hypocrites.  (Wirth was a pro-gun advocate)

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There are plenty more Facebook posts like this… but I hope you get the point by now: the Republican smear merchants were 100% wrong to claim that Wirth, Occupy Denver, and the “Democrat Party are in alignment,” as Mr. Viser falsely tried to assert (see below).

 

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Furthermore, Wirth’s posts concretely show that his horrible act of violence was in no way influenced by the rhetoric of Democrats.  Again, what it shows is that CO Peak Politics and the rightwing smear merchants are absolutely clueless about the driving ideologies of Occupy Denver activists and Wirth.

Does this sound like the rhetoric of “gun-grabbing” Democrats?

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Or, does this sound like full on support for the policies and rhetoric of the Democrats?

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What many right-wingers fail to understand (or blind themselves to in an attempt to smear “the other”) in their “critiques” of leftwing activism is that it is not one monolithic bloc of people with a centralized command and control center.

Anybody who has spent any amount of time within the leftwing activists circles, or who has studied leftwing activism, as I have, quickly sees that leftwing activism is composed of loose-knit groups of activists with various different types of leftist ideologies, pursuing various agendas.  If you tried to state that all of these various leftist ideologies lead back to Karl Marx… you would be wrong.

This important reality and understanding of leftwing activism obliterates the simplistic black and white rightwing narrative that “there is no daylight between the Democrat Party and leftwing activism.”  This false narrative, and lack of distinction, makes it much easier for the smear merchants to push the “progressives are all the same and President Obama, the Marxist, is their leader.”

Furthermore, one wonders how “Mr. T” was able to dig through FOUR YEARS of Wirth’s Facebook page and not manage to see the plethora of Wirth’s posts that contradict his attempted smear-mongering.  I mean, partisans have a tendency to dumb themselves down to be “rah rah cheerleaders” for their party.  But is he really that dumb?  Or was he just hoping that nobody else would bother to research Wirth’s Facebook page to see that “Mr. T” was, in fact, spreading disinformation?

Either way, this kind of idiocy, or dishonesty, is why this country is drowning in a sea of misinformation and disinformation.

 

*** UPDATE – 5/16  ***

Just to show that the above example is not one isolated case, I’d like to add one more example of the smear merchants at work.  The past week the GOP smear merchants have been pushing a crazy message written by a gun control supporter who wrote an inflammatory and threatening message to a gun rights advocate.  By all means, the threatening message should be seen as an example of a person who is obviously messed up in the head.  However, the GOP smear merchants want to take it a step further and blame all Democrats and gun control advocates for the acts of one individual (quite similar to what they did above with the Wirth example).

Here is James Viser’s tweet (and this same message in the tweet has been echoing in the halls of Twitter from the cabal of little GOP parrots).

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How are the actions of one individual the responsibility of all?  Did all of the gun control advocates (which to James is basically all of the “statists” Democrats) get together and help this lone individual pen this threatening message?  Are there a plethora of other threatening messages like this from other gun control advocates?  In other words, does this message seem to be a common thing among the messages coming from the gun control advocates?

The irony of the first question is that Mr. Viser is supposed to be a part of the “party of personal responsibility.”  But here he is shifting the personal responsibility of the lone person with a threatening message onto all gun control advocates.

Mr. Viser is essentially trying to falsely state, “They are all like this!”   

Then when a person pushes back against Mr. Viser’s attempt to smear all gun control advocates for the lone actions of one person, he pulls this move.

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The tweeter (Willard M) is pointing out how Mr. Viser (albeit in a snarky way) is wrong to “conflate one unhinged asshole” with an entire group of people.  Instead of seeing how it is wrong to conflate an entire group with the action of one individual, Mr. Viser throws out the “I’m being attacked.”  No, Mr. Viser, you are being called out for falsely trying to conflate the lone actions of one person onto millions of other people.

It is a variation of the same ole schtick as the Wirth example above: Obliterate any important distinctions, which then makes it much easier for smear merchants, like Mr. Viser, to push their false narrative.

And if somebody calls the smear merchants out on their bullshit… play the “Poor me, I’m being attacked by the vicious Left!”

 

UPDATE II – 5/25

 

So these GOP smear merchants are just getting comically sadder by the day.

Here is a tweet from this morning (5/25/16) by Mr. T.

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As stated above regarding Wirth, and can be easily viewed by simply reading through the various Occupy websites, this comment is patently false.  But, here is Mr T., once again, peddling the same disinformation.

But here is where the comical farce goes off the charts.  12 hours later!  Mr T. throws out this tweet about Wirth:

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So……. what is it, Mr. T?  Is Wirth, an Occupy activist, just a “Leftist Democrat” or is he a Bernie toting, Socialist?

Well… again… trying to understand Wirth’s political position only requires reading through his Facebook posts – like the post below — which shows that Wirth wasn’t actually a Bernie Sanders supporter, as Mr T, again!, falsely tries to push above… my god, this guy is just getting so fucking pathetic with his attempted smear mongering.  Perhaps he should just drop this schtick and move along to the numerous other things that Democrats can rightly be accused for.

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