Surfeit of Ego

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In a world with finite resources, many commodities are in short supply. One clear overabundance is that of ego. We’ve seen that clearly in the long, long months of this year’s political campaign and the single month since then. Running a nation is no longer to be a servant to the people but to the self. So it was while out on an errand I noticed a tract stuck in my car door handle. I’ve mentioned Tony Alamo before. This incarcerated evangelist has a disturbing number of supporters in New York City, at least to go by how prevalent his flyers are in Midtown. I’d never, in my suburban Jersey neighborhood, had my car violated by one before, so this was something new. What caught my eye was the grammatically inept headline: “Bill Clinton, The Pope, and I.” As a title it should have said “and Me.” Letting that foible pass, we’re still left with a religious zealot classifying himself with duly elected world leaders.

I know that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, by the way. Popes, however, are elected from among their peers, and so it’s not purely a matter of one man putting himself forward as the people’s choice. Alamo’s headline screams of a wounded ego. Donald Trump’s famously thin skin does the same. Not that that makes me for one second sympathetic. I grew up with a religion that taught self-denial, self-abnegation, and putting others before oneself. Self, self, self. Selfishness used to be a sign of poor manners or bad breeding. Now it’s the way to the highest political office in the land. We clearly have a surfeit of ego. The same is true for the terrible plague of racism and sexism that have become the flavor of the day. Too much concern with self.

Not only is this a political aberration, it also goes against human nature. In the literal sense. Our species has thrived because of its sympathy for others. We see this is primate societies. When one individual, even—or especially—an alpha male, asserts himself beyond the good of the group, he is taken down. In addition to our opposable thumbs, we’re also endowed with a sense of fairness, of sharing. Call it the ethics of nature. Not only that, but most religions agree—the sign of a just society is one where everyone is cared for. So it may be that we don’t have enough coltan to make all the smart phones we need but we do have enough ego at the top to go around, and then some. Might I suggest it might be time for a fire sale?

Forgive Us Our Tabs

Forgiveness is somewhat of a specialization among the crowd courted by the new GOP. Although it is forgiveness that goes only one way, at least it’s a start. Think back to Bill Clinton making his non-inhalation declaration followed by W who could not hide from his drug-fueled Yale days. Televangelists who admit, in tears, that they had an affair stand a fair prognosis for at least a limited recovery. The religious right loves a repentant sinner. I suspect it will be the trump card in the deck, come this fall. A host of sins can be banished under this incredibly effective rubric. This past week Mike Webb, Republican hopeful for Virginia’s Congress, having lost his party’s bid decided to run as an independent. No forgiveness required. What’s right is right. During his announcement of his decision, however, he posted a screenshot on Facebook without checking his tabs. As the Washington Post article by Justin Wm. Moyer reveals, some of those tabs included porn sites. In a move no Democrat could’ve made, the conservative candidate thanked God for his mistake and his likes increased by 25 percent.

Technology is a kind of big brother. By their tabs you will know them. Our browser histories reveal who we really are. Browser histories, however, may be cleared. And those who know how to manipulate the forgiveness card can make no mistakes. After all the Gospels declare that you must forgive the repentant 490 times (taken literally), which leaves a comfortable margin to get elected. A little bit of time with the Good Book can do wonders for your campaign. The problem is, it only works with the GOP. If he admitted to inhaling, you can be sure that the War on Drugs would’ve crashed down on the White House. Dems have to keep squeaky-clean records because forgiveness doesn’t apply to that crowd.

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One of the ironies, apart from the Viagra ad on the page telling this story, is that such incidents reveal a basic misunderstanding on the part of the electorate. No tenet is more easily finessed than forgiveness. Who’d hit a dog who’s rolled over on his back, exposing his vulnerability, admitting that he’s just eaten what you left on the counter for your dinner? Apologies can be accepted for some of the most outlandish sins. They’re cheap to make but reap rich rewards. As a former evangelical I know this may sound terribly cynical. All I can say is I’m sorry, please forgive me. And don’t look too closely at my tabs.

Send in the Robots

The FIRST Robotics kickoff is an event that is difficult to describe for those who’ve never attended. First, it must be noted that FIRST Robotics is sometimes described as “the varsity sport for the brain.” While engineering students with a penchant for athletics are not unheard of, the majority of robotics team students are not cut from the same cloth as the athlete. The FIRST kickoff, the first Saturday in January, is the opportunity for these kids to be told it is cool to be smart and that application of brain power is not the liability that many of the electorate seem to think it is. At this event the competition for the year is unveiled, and the kids (with some adult help) have six weeks to design and build and program a robot to do some very complex tasks. It is a season of sleep deprivation, programmed Saturdays, and the celebration of learning. Before NASA shows the game animation—the competition for the year—celebrities and other people in the public eye endorse the program. It is a time for praising the benefits of science.

Yesterday’s kickoff, however, was marred by the appearance of one of the guest celebrities. When George W. Bush was announced as a supporter of the program, a sense of disbelief fell over the room. This man who advocated for creationism in the classroom, who fought to stop research in cutting edge disease control, who began a war as a personal vendetta, was showing his dully beneficent face on the big screen telling the kids what a great program it was. A chance, as he said, to use your “God-given talents.” He ended his brief—and obviously scripted—sound-byte with his characteristic “God bless you.” I could not stomach the hypocrisy. I’ve blogged about religion and the science of robotics before, but to have a president who did nothing to strengthen the cause of higher education and fought science with eight years at his idle hands was just too much. If I was Dean Kamen, I would have insisted that that clip be left on the cutting room floor.

The former W represented religion in its guise as the enemy of science. It should be clear to my readers that I do not believe science has all the answers, but I also believe it is wrong for religion to stand in the way of knowledge. Science is something that we shouldn’t give lip-service without backing it up with programs and funding. That one minute of disingenuous, religion-riddled speech trumped all the other endorsements, including the sensible one by Bill Clinton who emphasized the need to work together even with those who are your opponents. This was a point W obviously missed. There comes a time when some public figures, like overused cattle, should be put out to pasture. There are some cowboys that should just stay on the ranch. I understand that presidential endorsements are important to FIRST, but in this case integrity should not be compromised. Especially when most of the teenagers watching the kickoff possess far greater potential than a mere politician elected on religious sentiment and dubious counting.

Does this face inspire science?