Who Matters?

(Disclaimer: The following post has spoilers for the first season of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. You have been warned.)

I recently binge-watched the entirety of the first (and so far only) season of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime (note to Amazon: get on that next season, ya’ll have a bad habit of dragging your feet). I have a complicated relationship with cyberpunk in general and William Gibson in particular. When cyberpunk is done well, I love it, and when it is done less than I despise it. The same can be said for Gibson’s work. His better novels I am a rabid fan of (and that isn’t limited to his cyberpunk work; Pattern Recognition remains one of my favorite novels), but his lesser works leave me completely cold. In both cases I think it is a matter of knowing what heights they are capable of makes me demand nothing less. Fortunately, in this case they delivered, and truth be told The Peripheral goes beyond cyberpunk (although it does incorporate many cyberpunk elements and themes) and covers elements of several sci-fi genres.

One of the key themes that particularly stood out for me in the show was the question of who matters in society. This was brought into stark relief when Flynn Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) states to her “employers” in an alternate future timeline (like I said, it gets into broader sci-fi elements pretty quick), “I’m trying to think of you guys as real.” While this is the most obvious moment, it is far from the starkest divide, as the power differentials between various groups make up much of the drama in the show, and while they are mostly drawn with a broad brush and a heavy hand (yay science fiction), they still serve to illuminate the broader concept.

The most obvious divisions of course are in the future society between the major power players: the Research Institute (the intelligentsia), the Klept (the rich and powerful), and the Metropolitan Police (the government). The rest of the people in this future society are either servants of one of these groups or simply outcasts.

There are other, less obvious (although still not exactly subtle) divisions to be found in the show as well. The specific choice of a small town, rural setting for the 2032 “stub” timeline versus the metropolitan London of the “main” 2100 timeline dovetails nicely with the plot point of choosing groups of rural friends as soldiers for the haptic devices (an obvious allusion to the over-representation of rural Americans in the military), which then lends itself to the obvious division between veterans and civilians. There’s also the divide between disabled veterans and able-bodied civilians to explore.

It’s very easy to tell who the good guys are: just like in real life, pick the people you agree with, and there you go, you know who the good guys are. Because really, there’s no other way to tell. Everyone has an agenda, everyone does morally and ethically questionable things (to say the least), and everyone has a justification for their actions that essentially amounts to “I did what I had to do”. So like I said, just like real life.

It’s become fashionable to loudly proclaim “everyone gets a voice,” while sotto voce saying, “as long as we don’t have to listen to them.” For some groups it has become even more fashionable to simply say, “You are too vulgar, too violent; you shouldn’t be allowed to speak at all.” To those who insist that everyone deserves and must get an equal voice, here’s a short list of groups that I want you to look at and seriously tell me you want all of them to have an equal say:

  • Flat Earthers
  • Jews
  • Incels
  • TERFs
  • Trumpers
  • 9-11 Truthers
  • Muslims
  • Homophobes
  • Feminists
  • Conservatives
  • Disabled people
  • Racists
  • BLM
  • KKK
  • Antifa
  • Liberals
  • Veterans
  • LGTBQ+
  • Nazis
  • Hippies
  • Elderly people
  • Libertarians

Does everyone on the list get an equal say? If not, why not? Was it the same 20 years ago? 50? 100? Why is it different now? (And if the best answer you can give me is “because society is fairer” you get an A for optimism and an F for naivete.) Having a good rationale for not letting part of your population participate when you claim to be a free and just society is putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Understanding the likely outcome when people feel they are not being heard, their needs are not being addressed, and they are being forced to participate in a society that is taking from them without giving in return is the first step to rectifying the situation. Because the hard truth is that, long-term, most groups are not going to just sit back and be grateful for what they are given. So what do you do then?

And that is a problem that can come from any direction. Look again at that list. I’m not asking you to like or agree with anyone on that list. I’m not asking you to condone or tolerate anyone on that list. I’m asking you to acknowledge that every one of those groups exists, that they have a point of view, one might even say an agenda, and every single one of them is capable of morally and ethically questionable things (to say the least). And I guarantee you, when they do them, they will have a justification for their actions that essentially amounts to “I did what I had to do”. Just like on The Peripheral. The question is, how will you know who the good guys are?


What Do I Owe You

There is an idea that has gained a lot of traction in recent years that you do not owe anyone sex, attention, or even your time. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me say I am very much in support of this idea. Philosophically I have long held the notion that you don’t owe anything to anyone, outside of very limited and specific situations (such as contractual obligations*). This might sound pretentious, but I believe your presence is a gift, which you are free to share or withhold from anyone at any time you please. (Bear in mind that, like any gift, anyone is free to decline it, although one hopes they would do so gently). It is actually quite refreshing to me to see the rest of the world finally catching up to me in that regard, at least somewhat (there does still seem to be a bit of gender bias in this regard, although which way that bias goes seems to depend on who you ask, so for now let’s just say we have some more work to do).

I have noticed a peculiar knock-on effect from this generalized freeing from social obligation that is somewhat troubling, if for no other reason than it seems as if society is regressing even as I personally am advancing. At the risk of being indulgent, I’ll admit to some personal flaws; when I was younger, I didn’t see any value in politeness. It seemed a waste of time and energy, and honestly, I didn’t value others enough to indulge in it (and to be fair, I’m still a misanthrope). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that politeness is a social lubricant. Simply put, it makes others more tolerable, and it makes you more tolerable to others.

Kindness and respect are similar in that regard. We don’t give them because they are owed; we give them because they make the world a better place to live in. They make society more functional, easier to manage on a daily basis. And not to put too fine a point on it, but you get what you give. It took me far too long to learn that particular lesson, but I learned it all too well. If you want kindness, respect, or even basic politeness in your life, you need to give it first. There’s no guarantee it will be returned, but this is an investment worth making, because it costs nothing and yields so much. It really is the ultimate low risk, high reward choice.

* One such situation that some might assume would apply would be in the case of the law, such as with Social Contract Theory. Now I’m going to admit upfront that I am at best an armchair philosopher and a schoolyard political scientist, so take my opinion for what it’s worth when I say: poppycock. When it comes to the law, there is no obligation to anyone other than yourself, and the only obligation you have is to know the local laws and customs (as well as how rigorously they are enforced) well enough to make an informed decision about how closely you will follow them.

This should of course always be informed by your own personal sense of morality and ethics. As has often been said, “just because something is legal does not make it moral, and just because something is immoral does not make it illegal”. Also bear in mind that a sense of righteousness is no shield against the long arm of the law. Stand by your convictions if you must but be prepared to pay the price. Note the part about “an informed decision”.

The Perfect Drug

For reasons that would seem silly to some, boring to others, and frankly weird and nonsensical to most, I was recently thinking about what my “drug of choice” might be. I realize for the most pedestrian of people the answer is a simple “caffeine” with a handwave and a shrug, as if to imply that somehow their addiction is thing of no matter or importance. (Fun test: go three days without caffeine. See if you can still handwave it away. See if you can still shrug past the blinding headache. But I digress.)

For myself, the answer is a bit more complex. While I have been trying with some success to stay away from nicotine, I can’t pretend it doesn’t still have a certain allure. As Cole Porter wrote, “Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all,” although I’m not a complete teetotaler. I get a certain thrill out of really good food, although I’ve been accused of being a picky eater, which might be why I so enjoy food that I actually like. I seem to recall enjoying marijuana quite a bit, although it’s been so long, I have to trust my memory on that one until the Federales finally legalize it (and I have no great hopes of that being anytime soon). Speaking of things I vaguely remember having a fondness for, there’s the fairer sex. While they haven’t been made illegal (yet), you couldn’t prove it by my dating life. Still, there’s one thing that I think tops all of these and is rarer still: good conversation.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking: “It’s not that hard to find a conversation.” And you would be right, it’s not. It’s also not that hard to get a meal at McDonald’s, but I wouldn’t call it fine dining. To be my drug of choice, a conversation needs to do what any good drug should do: it needs to be fun, enjoyable, and at its best, mind-expanding. I don’t expect every experience to hit all three points, but at least two out of three on a regular basis. And finding a good conversationalist who can do that, let alone keeping them as a partner, is becoming harder than finding a good chef, a good hook-up, or a good shag.

Part of the problem, I think, is the background radiation of negativity in the world today. People are just tuned to be unpleasant, and they carry it with them into every situation. That makes it much harder to have a good conversation. Add on top of that the inherent tribalism of… well, everything. Politics, gender, sexuality, sports, Alliance vs. Empire… there’s no end to the possible divisions. Rather than see them as jumping off points for deeper discussion and understanding, we see them as ramparts to be defended and immediate points of attack. The quest for ideological purity means that no space is safe, and the desire for ideological warfare makes every conversation a minefield.

Or maybe I’m just asking for too much. Maybe I should just sit back and try another glass of champagne.

As I Slide Ever Leftward…

I made a sarcastic comment the other day (and the world shudders as everyone who knows me tries desperately to hold back their utter disbelief) which I will neglect to repost here, as it is unimportant except in how it relates to the topic at hand. It got me to thinking about the debate around gun rights, gun control, and the Second Amendment. In particular the same tried and true (some might say tired and worn out) arguments that get trotted out every time there is a shooting event. *

*Note that I am using the term “shooting event” to be as neutral as possible and not to offend. Please feel free to substitute in your own mind “mass shooting”, “school shooting”, “gun massacre”, “lone gunman”, or whatever term best suits your personal worldview.

The particular issue that came to mind for me was the particular hobby horse of a lot of pro-gun advocates when discussing gun control: “We don’t need more gun control laws, we need to enforce the laws we already have.” I’ve heard this so many times over the years and I never really took the time to give it a great deal of thought; it just seemed obvious to me. For some reason today it struck me differently, and I finally have some sympathy for those on the other side of the fence when they hear this, and I’ll tell you why:

This isn’t an answer to the problem, it’s restating the problem without offering a solution.

Think about it: what’s the problem? There are people shooting other people with guns they shouldn’t have. Put that a different way: We’re not enforcing our gun laws properly.

Okay, so we know the problem. What’s the solution you’re offering? Um… the solution you’re offering is the problem itself.

Now, let’s look at it from the pro-gun control side:

What’s the problem? There are people shooting other people with guns they shouldn’t have. What’s the solution you’re offering? Enact more laws to prevent people from having guns.

Look, I may not agree with that solution, but I can at least concede it is a solution.

There’s a second issue, concurrent with the first. Let’s be extra generous and re-phrase the suggestion for the pro-Second Amendment side:

“We don’t need more gun control laws, we need to enforce the laws we already have by giving the government more money, power and authority to do so.”

There, now doesn’t that look more like an actual suggestion for a solution? Possibly even workable? And exactly how many people who have uttered the words “we don’t need more gun control laws” would ever say that complete sentence or anything in the same ballpark? I’m guessing the number isn’t zero, but it’s not a significant percentage, either.

And that’s the rub. You can’t demand the government be effectual while also insisting it be ineffective. You want a small government? Okay, sure. You want a government that can enforce laws quickly, accurately, and consistently? Can do. You want both with low taxation on the side? Sorry, genie’s all out of wishes.

H.P. Lovecraft Christmas Gift Guide

R’Lyeh Water Clock

This unique time piece will be the talk of any collection. Tells time in seven dimensions. Water resistant to 11,000 meters.

The King in Yellow (Children’s Edition)

Kids driving you crazy this holiday season? Return the favor with the kid’s edition of this classic tale! For maximum enjoyment, have the kids stage a performance for the whole family. It’ll be a holiday nobody will forget.

The Colour Wheel Out of Space

Know an artist who wants to REALLY express themselves, but just isn’t able to find that unique shade? Tired of hearing about the difference between “French blue” and “sapphire blue”? Wish they’d take up residence on a farm and enjoy the simple life? This out-of-this-world gift will change their life… guaranteed.

Miskatonic University Sweatshirt

Show your Miskatonic U pride with this extra-comfy sweatshirt! Made from 100% cotton, these durable, flame-retardant sweatshirts are cruelty-free, fair-trade, and available with or without extra-long sleeves with buckles. Available in men’s and women’s S, M, L, or XL.

Black Goat

Nothing says lovin’ like flu’gh fla’gh f’naghn! Get the family pet that nobody can resist. Comes in litters of one or a thousand.

Mi-go Chia Pet

Just spread the seeds, water, and watch it grow into something you’ve never seen before. If you nurture this plant carefully, you’re sure to go far. Suggested to keep out of direct sunlight and away from Him Who is not to be Named.

Innsmouth Saltwater Taffy

A special favorite of our staff, this sea-side treat will delight the whole family. With several flavors in every box, including lemon, cherry, grape, and calamari. *

*DISCLAIMER: Innsmouth, Inc. Saltwater Taffy has been known to cause certain adverse reactions in some individuals, including but not limited to:

  • Shrunken/nonexistent ears
  • Glassy, bulging, unblinking eyes
  • Narrow, hairless head
  • Sharpened teeth
  • Rubbery, blue-gray skin
  • Clawed hands and feet
  • Webbing between fingers

Innsmouth, Inc. does not accept any responsibility for any adverse effects from consumption of its Saltwater Taffy, but in the event of these or other odd symptoms, suggests immediately proceding to the nearest ocean.

My Mom Was Right

There are certain words I never thought I would say, let alone put in writing.

The President incited a riot.

Insurrectionists took the Capitol building.

My mother was right.

The last one may seem out of place but bear with me. You see, in the last couple of days I have noticed the continuing of a trend that has been going on for years, if not for decades. A trend that has arguably brought us to this point, and one that needs to stop if we are to ever get to a better place. It can best be summed up in a quote from the movie Batman (1989): “I made you, you made me first.”

Call it “whataboutism”. Call it “finger pointing”. Call it whatever you want. It boils down to the simple childish back and forth of “well X did this, which is just like Y”, or “well they did this, which justifies them doing that.”

As my mother told my sister and I when we were kids, “I don’t care who started it.” And she was right.

This shit has to stop. There can be no excuse for the actions that took place in Washington, DC on Jan. 6, 2021. There can be no justification based on actions taken by others because there is no justification. Full stop.

Likewise, to those who are taking to social media taking the opportunity to say, “I told you so”, again I say this shit has to stop. Like so many others, I am saddened, angry, and not at all surprised by these events. But seizing the moment to drive forward partisan divisions rather than simply condemn the actions of those responsible (and yes, that includes specific political figures up to and including Donald Trump himself) is risible. It does nothing to resolve the tensions that led to this moment, it simply exacerbates them. Many of you spent the entirety of George Bush’s presidency claiming he “stole” the election, and much the same of Trump in his sole term. Does that language sound at all hauntingly familiar?

But hey, as Winston Churchill said, “never let a good crisis go to waste,” amirite?

This shit has to stop. I don’t care who started it.

Let’s get in the wayback machine, shall we? In 1994, Newt Gingrich led a revolt in Congress, the so-called Contract with America. He got the Republicans to start playing hardball in politics. The Democrats were slow to catch up, but they sure were game for it. And hey, they decided to end the filibuster for non-SCOTUS nominees, so all even right? Nope, then the Republicans ended the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees. And Wow, those SCOTUS nominees! I mean, look at the way Garland was treated! No Supreme Court nominee has ever been treated badly by the Senate ever! He totally got Borked! Totally justifies screwing over the next guy if we can!

“I made you, you made me first.”

This shit has to stop. I DON’T CARE WHO STARTED IT.

Now there are people on social media demanding that those who perpetrated this offense against our nation be hunted down and executed summarily. Others see them as some sort of heroes defending the union against tyranny. I would humbly suggest that both sides are extremist assholes who need to put down their cellphones and get a nice cold glass of shut the fuck up.

I don’t care who started it.

I want them, all of them, to have the full benefit of the American justice system. Let them have a real trial with a vigorous defense and a jury of their peers. Let there be no doubt in any reasonable mind (you can’t reason with the unreasonable) that they were given every right under the very laws they so carelessly flouted. And let them enjoy the full penalty of the law as decided by that system they tried to destroy.

What truly makes America great, what always has and will continue to make America great, is this: despite the avaricious desires of some, we always have and always will, even- nay, especially in the face of adversity strived to be a nation of laws, not men. While we have in the past and even to this day sometimes fallen short of that lofty goal, that is not an excuse to lower the bar. It is instead all the more reason to set it higher.

The Great Debt Debate

There’s nothing like a heavily disputed presidential primary season to bring exciting new ideas out into the open, and there’s nothing like new ideas to generate debate (or if you’re on the internet, scorn and abuse). One of the big ideas being tossed around among Democratic presidential hopefuls is the idea of alleviating some or all student loan debt. Whose, how much, and how are all part of the mix, and of course the ever-present “why?” raises its head in the discussion, particularly when the question makes its way outside the narrow corridor of progressive thought.

In a lot of ways I feel like I’ve had this discussion before, on any number of topics, pretty much anytime the subject of government intervention in the economy (or any kind of government spending really) comes up. The simple fact is that government spending exists for a lot of reasons, but it always has one of a few intentions:

  • Providing basic services. This one seems kind of obvious, but it doesn’t cover nearly as much ground as most people think it does. That’s because there’s a significant amount of ground between what you want and what you need. We’ve become accustomed to a government that provides an awful lot of wants in addition to a scant handful of needs. This is not intended to be a polemic against government providing those things, merely pointing out that there is a difference between the two. This also goes hand in hand with…
  • Making a moral statement. You might not think something as dry as taxation and spending would have moral implications, but boy would you be wrong. Consider the phrase “provide for the common weal”. What exactly does that mean? What does it cover? And how do you intend to collect the money to pay for it? Once you figure that out, you’ve taken a moral stance, and your budget and taxation priorities will reflect that stance.
  • Stimulating the economy (whether it’s effective or not). I’m going to be generous and pretend that every time politicians have said that their various taxation and budgetary maneuvers were intended to “stimulate the economy” they were being sincere, regardless of the actual outcome of those efforts.

    Please stop laughing at me.


So where does that leave us when considering the idea of relieving student debt? Well, a lot of that is going to depend on how you feel about it coming in. As Obi-Wan once said, “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Do you consider college to be a basic service? If so, then government should have been providing it all along, and of course people shouldn’t have to pay for it, either in the past or in the future. Pay off ALL the loans and make all public colleges free. Perhaps you believe this is a matter of economic justice, in which case something more akin to Elizabeth Warren’s plan is more to your taste, with only a certain amount of debt being paid off, and an income cut-off being involved to ensure it’s more progressive than regressive. Or maybe you’re interested in stimulating the economy, in which case you want something a bit more modest but even-handed.

Or perhaps your stance leans more the other way. I have heard arguments asking why student loan debt should be privileged over other kinds of consumer debt, such as mortgage debt or credit card debt. These are important questions, and worth addressing by those who would forgive or pay-off student loan debt. I have a few answers of my own, although not sufficient answers I am sure for those who are asking those questions.

Regarding comparisons to mortgage debt, mortgages have been privileged over other kinds of consumer debt for as long as the modern income tax has existed. Last I checked I couldn’t deduct my credit card interest or my rent payments from my income taxes, and while I can deduct the interest from my student loans from my income taxes, there’s one big difference on those that I’ll get to in just a moment. So suggesting that relieving student debt would be an anomaly because we would be “privileging” one particular kind of debt is disingenuous at best. While there’s a fair argument to be made that the price of the mortgage deduction has already been “baked in” to the price of housing, the same can be said for the price of tuition, with the cost of public four-year institutions increasing 213% in 10 years. I’d like to flip that house.

As for credit card debt, that’s a tougher lift. Despite the calls to limit interest rates at 15%, I haven’t heard any suggestion of relieving existing debts, nor do I seriously expect there to be any suggestion for that happening either (nor do I think such a suggestion would get any traction). Going back to needs and wants, there is an understanding in America today that you need a college degree; despite the realities that many Americans face of having to get by week to week using any means at their disposal, including high-interest credit cards, there is still a Puritanical moralism that says credit card debt represents wants. Regardless, though it has been made significantly more difficult in recent decades, there is still an option available to credit card debtors that is not available to student loan debtors: bankruptcy. Yes, it’s an ugly word in America. Yes, it will ruin your credit rating. But it sure does beat insurmountable debts. At least it does if it applies to the insurmountable debts you have.

I am not unsympathetic to any of these positions. I am a renter, and I have been a home owner. I have dug myself out of the bottom of a very deep hole of credit card debt more than once, and I know how awful it can be. Worst of all, I have carried substantial college loan debt for a quarter of a century, and every time I make a payment I am reminded of all the stupid choices I made that got me into that debt. I own those choices, I do not deny it. And I have been paying for them for over twenty years. It is not something I would wish on another human being.

The best answer I can give, ultimately, is the same answer I have always given when it comes to government policy or societal action: someone’s gotta take it in the shorts. It may not be “politic”, but it is absolutely egalitarian. It is the recognition that in a cooperative society, there are only two ways to manage things: everybody goes it alone, in which case the winners and losers make themselves, or we do things cooperatively, in which case we collectively make winners and losers. Either way somebody takes it in the shorts. There is no scenario in which everybody comes out ahead, but there are many scenarios in which everybody is worse off. The question we have to answer is which scenario we choose to pursue, and who ends up taking it in the shorts.

Anybody who says the student loan industry is getting it right is someone who is profiting off college students. And it’s not just teenagers. Veterans, working professionals, career switchers, stay at home parents returning to the workforce; these are all people who are trying to navigate a complex and often predatory environment, and they don’t have decades before retirement to pay back overwhelming loans. I’m not advocating any particular approach, I’m saying a conversation needs to be had now before the bubble bursts and it’s too late for a conversation, and all that’s left is to try to clean up the B.S.

A Monumental Mistake

Far be it from me to sit in judgement on the Supreme Court, but then playing armchair judge is a pastime for most of America. And the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association practically begs for review (pardon the pun), particularly with so many individual opinions being written in spite of the 7-2 ruling (to be honest I wasn’t aware the Court could even issue anything other than a 5-4 ruling anymore). In this case I think the Court got it exactly wrong largely based on those express opinions as reported in the Washington Post, which I will be referencing throughout this piece, so feel free to call me out if there is some nuance of legal thought I am overlooking by not reading the entirety of their opinions. However I do believe the underlying premise is sound.

The initial argument is basically that a cross on public land favors a specific religious point of view, which is unconstitutional. The mental gymnastics that the justices who voted to allow the cross to stay had to go through are particularly astounding, and the fact that so many of them took so many paths to get there shows that there really isn’t any clear logic or reasoning to support it, unlike the opposition argument. Note that this in itself does not indicate they are wrong; there can be several good arguments in favor of something, and reasonable people can disagree about which one is the best. However the fact is that none of the arguments put forward by the justices are good or even sufficient arguments, particularly as a matter of practical law when considering that they will be used as precedent in other cases.

What sort of cases? Consider for a moment the issue of Civil War memorials. While many of these memorials may not have a religious component, some may, and all of them are subject to First Amendment challenges (either by those who want to tear them down or those who want to keep them up). Let’s consider the justices opinions in terms of these memorials:

Justice Alito, from the main opinion (WP):

“For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”

Alito was joined in deciding that the cross may remain by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Take out “the Cross” and replace it with “the monument” and this passage would apply equally well to every Civil War memorial in the country. I know from personal experience it would apply to the entirety of Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA.

Justice Gorsuch, according to the Washington Post, “would have dismissed the case because he believes the “offended observer” has no legal standing to sue.” So if you’re offended by Civil War memorials… tough titty.

“Breyer said he was persuaded by the specifics of the case: that crosses are specifically linked to World War I sacrifice and that the cross had stood for 94 years without controversy.” (WP) Oh, good. Because the Civil War happened before WWI, and many of those monuments stood even longer than that without controversy. Because, y’know, a lack of controversy in the past totally trumps any present controversy. Or future controversy. Just ask Dred Scott.

To be fair, a couple of justices did give me hope of nuance, even if I didn’t love the way they decided. “Kagan praised Alito’s ruling, but said she refused to join it in full “out of perhaps an excess of caution.” “Although I too look to history for guidance, I prefer at least for now to do so case-by-case, rather than to sign on to any broader statements about history’s role in Establishment Clause analysis,” she wrote. Kavanaugh said that the decision allows the cross to remain on public land but does not require it. Maryland officials could make other arrangements, he said, such as transferring the land to a private group.” (WP) From reading these comments, I’m almost persuaded to believe they might be thinking about the same sort of issues I am. Of course I might be flattering myself (wouldn’t be the first time), but it is nice to see a bit of judicial restraint even in the face of a poorly decided issue.

I understand that reasoning by analogy is flawed, but I am only using an analogy to highlight my point, not to establish it. And the point is this: decisions coming out of the Supreme Court, particularly ones that have a sizable majority such as this one, set a strong precedent for the entire country. I am a fan of stare decisis and history as much as the next Court watcher, but even more I am a fan of an awareness of the future and what it might hold. While nobody can predict that with even a reasonable modicum of accuracy, it’s not too hard to draw reasonable conclusions from the present, and a bit of restraint in current decisions could yield significant room to maneuver in future cases.

Not Forced to Buy

For those of you who don’t know, I spent the better part of two decades working in email marketing. I think Scott Adams described marketing best: “we don’t screw the customer; we hold them down while the salespeople screw them.” That being said, I did (mostly) enjoy my time as a marketer, and I became more than a little familiar with a little company named Salesforce. If you’ve never heard of them that’s not surprising; they’re what’s referred to as a B2B company (that’s “business to business”), and their products are used to manage and run e-commerce across the nation.

Why that’s particularly relevant is because of a recent change in their acceptable use policy. Salesforce is now in the business of driving social policy as well as sales. While I might personally disagree with their stance, I want to get out in front and applaud them for making this move. I would love to see more companies, particularly big companies, making moves like this, for a few different reasons.

First it appeals to my libertarian desire for private action over government action. Yes, I have come around to accepting that not all government is bad, but I still believe that government should be the answer of last resort, not the first thing we try and then we turn to private solutions only after every possible governmental approach has been tried and failed. Also, there are a few common misconceptions that need to be addressed regarding private actors versus government action.

The big one that bothers me the most is the idea that somehow private actors can violate your right to free speech. Let’s take a look at the text of the First Amendment, shall we? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Yes, I can see pretty clearly in there were it says that “Facebook shall not delete your posts because reasons.” The government cannot legally censor you (aside from a few exceptions). Private actors are not required to provide you with a platform for your crazy. In fact, that would be a violation of the First Amendment (freedom of association).

How does that apply in the case of Salesforce and their terms of service? By doing business with Salesforce, you are voluntarily associating with them, and vice versa. Their terms of service are, quite literally, the terms under which they are willing to associate with you. Don’t like it? Fine. Don’t do business with them. Nobody is forcing you to. It’s a free market. So long as Salesforce doesn’t use their market dominance in an anti-competitive way there is no issue (and by the way, that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, that’s standard antitrust stuff, which last I checked is justified under the commerce clause; but I could be wrong). And let’s not even try to drag the Second Amendment into it. I don’t care if they prohibit you from selling guns or gardenias using their software, the point is the same: they are not the government, and nobody is forcing you to do business with them.

That’s not to say there aren’t any First Amendment issues to be concerned with here, it’s just that nobody seems to be focusing on the relevant party, by which I mean Salesforce. Anybody remember a little case known as Citizens United? Yes, I know liberals love to hate on that case, but every dark cloud and so on. In this instance, it’s relevant because Salesforce as a legal entity has rights. The right to free speech. The right to free association. The right to not be compelled to provide a service to someone who will use it in a way that they deem inappropriate. Note that this last point is ethically in line with the baker who refused to serve the gay couple in Colorado. Whether liberal or conservative, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets to express their moral beliefs through their business just because you happen to agree with them. The law applies to everyone equally or it is worthless (which says more about the law de facto than de jure).

Fools Rush In

There is a vocal and growing contingent of the liberal left that is demanding that Donald Trump needs to be impeached now. Today. That anything less would be un-American, and perhaps even bordering on High Crimes and Misdemeanors. There are several justifications for this stance, and I felt I should take a brief moment to address them.

  • He’s Guilty.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room (pardon the pun). Regardless of the crime de jure Trump is being accused of, there never seems to be any doubt that he’s guilty as sin and twice as ugly. However, I would like to point out that while impeachment proceedings are not a traditional trial, we do still have a tradition of “innocent until proven guilty” in America, and insisting that someone is guilty of a crime before you have even begun the trial or even gotten an indictment yet (that would be the actual articles of impeachment) looks kind of bad. One might even call it political opportunism or partisanship rather than actually trying to get at the truth. Or hey, we can just skip all that investigation nonsense and impeach the motherfucker.

  • Get Votes On the Record.

It’s pretty well accepted at this point that the Senate won’t convict Trump. Not right now, possibly not ever. For those who say “definitely not ever,” I point you toward Richard Nixon. When Watergate was first coming to light, it didn’t look like there was any way the Senate would convict if impeachment went forward for him either. Things change. But that takes time and effort (I’ll get to that). People who want to move forward now are more interested in getting votes on the record, to show who stands for America and who stands for Trump, because they honestly believe you can’t be for both. Regardless of how you might personally feel about Trump, to assume that nobody can in good faith still support him AND support America is a pretty big leap. It’s the sort of leap that the Republican Party took in 1998 with Bill Clinton, and they paid a price for it in the next election. And there are still quite a few Democrats from moderate districts who will likely end up paying that price.

  • It’s the Right Thing to Do.

Is it? There are plenty of people who say this isn’t a political decision, it’s a moral one. That’s fine. If you have solid, not indisputable but solid, proof of “Bribery, Treason*, or High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” then by all means it’s the right thing to do. But just because you believe Trump did something doesn’t mean you have proof he did it. There are a lot of conservatives out there who believe that life starts at conception that are making all kinds of laws based on that belief; last I checked those laws were getting challenged in court in large part because they can’t prove that assertion. More to the point impeachment is a legal mechanism, and the law doesn’t care about what you know. All it cares about is what you can prove. Yes, I know there is an argument that it is a political mechanism, but I reject that argument. Impeachment calls for an indictment and a trial; it may be outside of the standard court system, but so is the Uniform Military Code of Justice, and you don’t hear a lot of folks suggesting that a court martial is a “political process”. And no, the Mueller Report doesn’t say that Trump obstructed justice. Mueller said as much himself. There might be enough there to support the charge, but you need to connect the dots yourself and you need to do the heavy lifting on your own.

*Despite what Donald Trump seems to believe, treason against the United States is a very specific crime that “shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” So yeah. Good luck proving that one seeing as we haven’t had an active war declared in a long time… although maybe you could get two people to testify that Donald Trump gave aid to Poverty. That War’s been going on for decades.

  • Going Through the Courts Is the Wrong Strategy

This is the one that confuses me the most. It is often tied to an argument about “not being respected as a coequal branch of government,” but such arguments often come across as “you didn’t do what we want and you stole the election and you stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat so we’re gonna get you!” Seriously, there’s supposed to be a balance of powers, and to be honest for the last several decades Congress has given away the farm to the Executive branch. That’s nothing new; Trump just happens to be taking particularly ruthless advantage of it, with the assistance of a particularly obnoxious Mitch McConnell. But the truth is this is not out of character for either Republicans or Democrats; it is a matter of style and degree, not the actual substance. The tit-for-tat historical back and forth justifications have been pointed out multiple times, and they are completely irrelevant. What matters is that Congress does have tools at their disposal to rein in the President if they chose to use them. Both the House and the Senate have such powers, and they can be effective.

What’s more important is that going for impeachment and losing is not going to suddenly make Congress more “respected as a coequal branch of government,” either by Trump or the American public. You know what will? Winning. Which is exactly what is happening in the courts. What’s even better is that this is no longer a partisan fight of Democrats vs. Republicans, or Congress vs. the White House. Now it becomes two branches of the government vs. one. Almost as if two coequal branches, neither of which is more powerful than the other, had to go to a neutral arbitrator to settle a dispute rather than letting things get nasty and out of control.

Look, I get it. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.” And yet Donald Trump keeps getting away with making outrage claims on Twitter and making even more outrageous policy. Surely the old ways are gone, the norms have all been destroyed, working within the system is pointless and we have to act NOW to save our democracy while there is still something to save! Or perhaps given time and the efforts of reasonable and well-intentioned people, our system will prove more resilient than the fools who are trying to upend it.