Truth and Lies: The (Dis)Honesty Project

​https://youtu.be/Ql4tRBlQIoU

If you haven’t watched this documentary,  your should.  It’s on Netflix, and it’s a great introduction into the field of behavioral economics, the science of lying,  and the costs associated with lying and cheating. 

It basically alternates between Dr. Dan Ariely and his co-researchers explaining what their experiments have shown,  and people who’ve been caught lying or cheating telling their stories, including what was going through their minds when they were doing it. 

It’s amazing to see how things like transactional distance make people more likely to cheat, but being reminded of an ethics system (even one from a religion you actively don’t believe in)  makes people less likely to cheat.

Give it a watch some time.  

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Black and White

Becoming vegan was surprisingly easy. It was definitely low-risk.
Not like protesting in the streets.
It’s not going to get me fired, arrested, or shot
(Although as a 41 year old white man, that last one is pretty unlikely)

And I don’t know what to do about that.
I’m not willing to get fired, arrested, or shot.
(However unlikely that last one is)
I have a daughter to protect and provide for.
I have a wife I don’t want to leave.
And honestly, I don’t want to suffer.

So what can I do? What will I do?

We don’t live in a just world. Let’s put aside the shades of gray for just a minute and try to see the world in black and white:

Black people are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for selling drugs, even though white people are more likely to actually sell drugs

Black people are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people

Black college students have the same rate of getting jobs as white high-school dropouts.

Black men with no criminal records have the same rate of getting hired as white men fresh out of prison. It seems people expect black men to have criminal backgrounds.

Black people have been killed by police at over twice the rate of white people in 2015 and 2016 so far.
12% of the US Population, but 27% of the dead
306 out of 1146 killed in 2015
136 out of 561 killed in 2016
That’s almost a hundred people of all races, and 25 black people a month.
That’s almost three people a day, with a black person being killed almost every day.

If you’re wondering why your Facebook feed won’t stop blowing up with videos and reports of black men being shot down, it’s because it’s happening almost every day.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were just two more in a long list of black lives cut down violently.

…Now, back to the shades of gray …

I’m still not willing to get fired, arrested, or shot.
But I’m willing to put my voice out there.
I’m willing to keep talking and writing about it
I’m willing to sign petitions
I’m willing to write to my various elected officials
I’m willing to consider this the most pressing issue our country is facing, and vote accordingly (even if I’m voting for someone I otherwise don’t like)

I’m willing to LISTEN to people who have LIVED this experience
I’m willing to admit that I’ll only ever know ABOUT these things, that I won’t ever KNOW them.

I’m willing to admit that I DON’T and CAN’T have the answers to these ongoing atrocities, and to LISTEN to black voices as they speak up:

  • Campaign Zero has outlined extensive, comprehensive solutions that address the problems of police militarization, community distrust, and disproportionate impact on the black community from a number of angles.
  • The black police union in St. Louis have started something powerful. They’ve released a 112 page report of what’s wrong with their department, and they’re calling on their chief to quit. This is a radical and almost unprecedented action, breaking the “blue wall” that shelters violent police officers and penalizes police who speak out. If other police groups join in, this could be the start of real and lasting change.
  • Also, be sure to pray for Officer Nakia Jones, who just called out the police responsible for Alton Sterling’s shooting. Pray that she isn’t harassed, doxxed, fired, assaulted, or worse.

I’m willing to admit how privileged I am to be in a position where I can choose to play it safe, and admit that it’s because I’m white.

I’m willing to say “Black Lives Matter.”

Because black people aren’t safe. And too many people treat them like they don’t matter.

And I’m willing to say their names, or at least a few of their names:
Alton Sterling
Philando Castile
Eric Garner
Sandra Bland
Tamir Rice
John Crawford III
Freddie Gray

And hundreds more.

Nobody Is Pure: Aligning My Actions with My Ethics

How do you live completely harm-free in a world as complex and interconnected as ours?

You don’t.

Even if you focus on present, ongoing harm and ignore past historical harms – a completely arbitrary decision – you still can’t find or fix everything.

We pay taxes to a government that does a host of bad things (anyone reading this, regardless of political leanings, can probably agree to that). Christians have instructions from the Master Himself to do so (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” – Mark 12:17). We all have a gun literally pointed at our heads to make us pay.

We can’t even know the origins of all the things we put on or into our bodies or our vehicles.

What do we do? Well, we can vote, if we can find someone worth voting for. We can sign petitions and write letters to our representatives in state, local, and national government. We can protest and make our voices known.

And we can educate ourselves on the issues.

But is that enough? My taxes are still paying for drone strikes against civilians, and indefinite detention without trial (both happening on the CIA’s word, with nominal executive oversight and no due process), and so are yours, if you live in the U.S.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10 KJV)

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back. It doesn’t mean we can’t find one little corner of our lives and push back against the cruelty, violence, and exploitation that have been baked into our governmental and economic systems, and the deception that hides them.

It just means that nobody, vegan, vegetarian, meat-eater, tax-dodge, pacifist, or soldier, can ever fully claim the moral high ground.

I know I surely can’t.

And I know that when I try to, I can end up hurting people I never intended to.

A wise long-term vegan told me that you can only go where your consciousness leads you. And that we should not be “holier than thou” with people whose consciousness (and consciences) aren’t leading them the same direction ours are.

And experience leads me to understand that nobody can care about everything at once. A single human being just doesn’t have the energy.

So, I’ll say this. Try some vegan dishes – some are very yummy – and see if you’d like to add them to your weekly meal rotation.
But beyond that, whatever your conscience is leading you to care about, care deeply, and act wisely.

And if I ever start acting holier-than-thou, let me know.

The Rusty Nail in the Velvet Glove: Aligning my Actions and Ethics: Part 2

publicstock.net-rusty-spikes 800x530

In my last post, I talked about how our system of production is currently built upon cruelty, suffering, and exploitation, and how that suffering is intentionally hidden from us consumers. I call this the rusty nail in the velvet glove. Or, to borrow a phrase from Rich Mullins, “the mask of life I had placed upon the face of death.”

The Apostle Paul himself probably said it best (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (NRSV)

Things that are otherwise or basically good can become elements of evil if they are corrupted, or if they become ends of themselves … which is what happens when you have massive corporate interests involved. Companies don’t generally make the Fortune 500 by caring about who they hurt on the way up.

Lawyer, theologian, and social activist William Stringfellow wrote an incredible book on this, Imposters of God. (I wrote about it a few years back). Bascially, Stringfellow considered idolatrous and twisted good things (patriotism, careerism, even church-ism) to be the current and active face of evil – of the devil – in the modern world.

I can’t argue against that, but I would add to that list of devils the hidden evils we participate in without really even knowing it.

So let me try in a small way to pull away the mask that has been “placed upon the face of death.” The videos about animal abuse are all pretty hard to watch.

This is the image Hershey’s chocolate likes to show you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAw_BmRLiDY

This is where the cocoa in that chocolate comes from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ns6d6rGnfo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM

This is what the pork industry wants you to see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UDq9tpX0w

This is how those pigs spend their short lives:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T48yOYjz5sk

This is Hormel’s “Spam America,” which attempts to link Spam to artistry and innovation

https://vimeo.com/138027963

This is “The Unauthorized Spam Tour.” Be careful what you eat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AEzOnk3ZBk

The “Bacon Brothers” singing about the “quality protein” of an egg breakfast

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a9Ixfg2q1g

The life cycle of a battery-cage chicken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p83JoTxUZZg

Oh, look. It’s a talking cow. Doesn’t she sound happy about milk?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xdPfnZynEw

Non-CGI dairy cows … not so happy milk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzS8p727gvM

And it doesn’t stop at public relations. Industries have worked hard to influence congress and state legislatures: the livestock industry alone spends millions of dollars each year influencing elections.

That spending paid off, because just last December Congress and the President gave them a brand new, shiny present: relaxed labeling requirements that make it almost impossible for the consumer to know where the meat they buy comes from, how it was slaughtered, and so on.

Livestock industry political action groups have even attempted to pass “ag gag” laws across the US and around the world, which make it illegal to film animal abuses at processing centers.

They’ve succeeded in six states, including Idaho, whose law was inspired by a viral Mercy for Animals investigation of Bettencourt Dairies, which led to the arrests of multiple farm workers. Yup, the abuse was real and illegal, but rather than fix the problems, the response was make a law to hide them.

Rusty nails in a velvet glove. Mask of life over the face of death. Satan masquerading as an angel of light. Throwing the rock and hiding your hand.

A lot of money is riding on this. Real power is working night and day to make sure we don’t understand the damage we do.

The last thing I want to do is to make the average person reading this feel guilty. We’re not the ones perpetrating cruelty and exploitation, and we’re not the ones covering it up. We’re the ones being lied to, being brought into it deceitfully.

If you want to give up all chocolate you can’t be sure wasn’t harvested by slaves, do it. If you want to become a vegetarian, or even a vegan, do it. But in our culture, these are hard things to do. Because powerful people with lots of money have made them difficult.

The main reason I’m writing these posts isn’t to convince you, but to remind me. My biggest weakness is a lack of follow-through. I start things strong, but then fall away in time. But I’m making this public, so I can look back and remind myself why I’m doing all this … and so that y’all can call me out if I backslide.

Nobody should feel like I’m condemning them for what they have for supper. I’m not.

I’m condemning the Cattlemen’s Association, Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle’s, and Mars. I’m condemning lobbyists and the politicians they rent.
Sure, some people genuinely don’t care. But most don’t know. And of the ones who both know and care, some, maybe most, aren’t yet at a point where they’re ready to make major changes. Like I said, powerful people have spent a lot of money making us a part of this, hiding it from us, and making it hard to exit.
But if you’re feeling it, start by pushing back just a little.
Find a few vegan or vegetarian recipes (I’ll post some here, in time) and have one meatless day a week. Or, if you’ve got a family that wouldn’t be on board, give yourself one cruelty-free meal a day, like breakfast.
If you’re not at a point where you can walk away from the major chocolate companies (which all use slave labor), look in the chocolate aisle in your local grocery and or supermarket and see what they have. Maybe you could find something with a Fair Trade label, or a responsible company like Lindt, that would satisfy your sweet tooth.
If nothing else, you can pass the information along. Go to Stop the Traffik and see the little things you can do (email, petitions, etc.) to help end slavery in all industries.
If everybody did one little thing, it could make a big difference.

First, Do No Harm: Aligning My Ethics and My Actions in a Disconnected World

I posted a few Mondays ago that I’d mostly moved on from theological blog posts … well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the questions I was asking back then are things I’ve settled now, but one big one has arisen: How do I be moral and righteous within an economic and industrial system that is heavily built upon cruelty, exploitation, and oppression?

I’m still wrestling, just with slightly different angels.

I’m struggling to figure out how to align my actions with my ethics in modern America. Most of the things we do to survive, or at least live, seem to be built upon the suffering of others. And that suffering is deliberately concealed from those of us on the consuming end of the equation.

I’m not talking about historical injustices or atrocities, but  ongoing suffering and death, here and now. The kind I can either contribute to or help alleviate.

  • The meat, dairy and egg industries are horrific for the animals and (to a lesser extent) the workers.
  • Overfishing has put the health of entire oceans at risk.
  • Global warming is real. The oil companies and their pet politicians and pundits have spent a lot of money convincing people it isn’t, but I trust actual climate scientists more than lobbyists.
  • Hunger is still an issue around the world, and drinking water is an even bigger issue (even here in the U.S.)
  • Worst of all, a large but hard to determine, number of everyday items include components that were made by literal slaves.

The food in my belly, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet … someone suffered for all that. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easier to ignore than it is to learn about, because the men with the money want it that way.

As the old song says, they “you can throw that rock, and hide your hand … but what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

So now that I’ve seen this particular light, what can I do?

I really want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. How can I passively inflict this kind of damage? How can I cynically make this kind of mess for other, poorer people to clean up? Or for my daughter and her future children to clean up?

Out of sight, out of mind.

Jesus always sided with the underdogs, the outsiders in society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”).

When he railed against sin, he was always speaking to the powerful, whose sin was oppressing and exploiting others, usually by making them into outsiders and declaring them unclean.

He never accepted second-hand cruelty. When the system was cruel, he rebuked the system. When the respectable, “moral” people were callous, he called them out.

He called me out.

We’re good at being good, when that just means being nice to the people in front of our faces, paying our taxes, and giving some money to charity from time to time. But I have a hard time believing that that is all that matters.

No matter what you believe religiously, we all stand under judgement. We can’t escape the things we do. Even if there were nothing beyond our mortal material existence, our actions still exist. They are as inescapable as gravity and entropy.

If my lifestyle is having real consequences on other people, don’t I need to change it?

Yes, I do.

Yes, I will.

And I hope that maybe I’ll inspire a few more people to join me. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be following this post up with more detail on the harm that we do, harm that is being hidden from us, and with what I’m personally doing to try to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, this in my life.

I hope you’ll join me.

Theory Thursday: Moral Foundations

I’ve been reading and thinking about moral foundation theory, and it’s really been eye-opening. It helps to explain and understand the reasons people hold different political and social positions and beliefs.

I’ll be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but I thought I’d start with an overview.

The five primary moral foundations are

  1. Care (vs. Harm)
  2. Fairness/Reciprocity
  3. Authority
  4. In-Group Loyalty
  5. Purity

Typically, Liberals and Progressives focus on the first two. Conservatives favor all five, typically putting that last three (Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity) above the first two (Care/Harm and Fairness/Reciprocity).

There’s a sixth one, Liberty, that is gaining traction. Libertarians value that above all others, though everyone values it to some degree.

Caring about Care/Harm and Fairness is obvious – we don’t want people to be hurt. We don’t want people to be cheated. And every side of the political fence cares about these two.

But why care about the other three? Order tends to decay unless effort is put into maintaining it. Just like houses and engines and our bodies. In times of chaos, everybody gets hurt. Thus, it makes sense to put some effort into maintaining order. Thus, Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity.

Why do progressives reject these, then?

Because Authority is power. Not only does it corrupt, but it is sought by the most corrupt. Accepting authority with little or no questioning means signing your name to all its abuses. Voting to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 meant giving your sanction to Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and the Patriot Act. Voting to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 meant giving your tacit approval to his ongoing an unaccountable uses of drone strikes on civilians in countries we weren’t even at war with, like Pakistan.

Because In-Group Loyalty inherently leads to the marginalization (or worse) of those who do not fit into the group, and the destruction of those who threaten the group. I suffered through enough bullying in K12 to never trust a clique, team, or identity fully, and what I went through was nothing compared to what some of my LGBT+ friends experienced. Nothing at all. This sort of mindset leads to people cheering and dancing in the street when a terrorist leader is killed. This sort of mindset leads to people covering for their fellow cops when an unarmed 12 year old is killed. This mindset is at the heart of racism and homophobia.

Because Purity usually means men controlling women’s lives and sexuality, blaming them for our lusts and our bad actions. Jesus said “if your eye offends you, pluck it out,” not “if your eye offends you, tell whoever you’re leering at to wear thicker clothes.” Purity drives male domination of women across the world.

There are benefits to the moral foundations of Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity, but progressives look at the harm that has been done in their name to ethnic minorities, to women, to gender and sexual minorities, and the harm that is still being done, and figure we’d all be better off sticking to Care and Fairness.

But the question comes about: how do we then create a stable society, especially during a crisis?

It’s no wonder that progressive movements tend to have their greatest gains not during times of crisis, but during times of stability. This is especially true during times when the prosperity is not shared anywhere close to equally between groups: the Gilded Age, the Post WW2-Boom, the last thirty years. During times of crisis (WW2, immediately post-9/11/01) people take a more conservative (or even hardline) turn. This ebb and flow may be a natural part of society’s life cycle, but it’s important to keep an eye on it, to prevent it from giving rise to a violent mass movement (like the Nazis, Al Queda, or the Islamic State).

To learn more about Moral Foundation Theory:

Moral Foundations website

Moral Foundations on Wikipedia

Moral Foundations and Political Backgrounds Quizzes

Here is Johnathan Haidt’s TED talk about Moral Foundations in Politics.

 

 

 

Meat-Free Monday: Why Vegan?

Animal_Abuse_Battery_Cage_01 CC Compassion Over Killing

So why vegan and not vegetarian?

Well there’s two answers to this, three actually.

First, I’m supposed to be off the dairy for my health anyway. If I’m eating steak I don’t need butter on it. If I’m eating a burger I don’t need cheese on it. I need to be off dairy. Full stop. And that’s the hardest part of going vegan by a long shot. I can’t tell you how much cheese I used to eat on a daily basis.

Now, on to eggs and meat. Eggs are healthy enough, but factory farming conditions for chickens are heinous. We’ve seen the trucks taking the chickens to the the chicken factory just north of Hattiesburg, Sanderson Farms. It doesn’t look like a farm, it looks like really nasty factory, and it smells like it too.

The chickens in the truck were so cramped and packed together and each one was in a box that would barely hold six bagels. The Huffington Post calls eggs from battery-caged chickens “The Cruelest of all Factory Farm Products.” So, why would I participate in that if I’m giving up dairy? Why would I leave eggs in?

On the same point, the lives of dairy cows are even worse than the lives of beef cows, and once they run out of milk, they’re killed just like beef cows.

So it came down to a matter of health and ethics. And then there’s point number three:

I’m terrible at moderation. For years I’ve tried to “eat less meat and more veggies.” I’ve given up dairy a half-dozen times, only to backslide. I know I couldn’t half-do this. I knew I couldn’t give up some animal products without giving in and eating them all. If I was going to do this at all, I need to go “all in.”

Now, I’m only two weeks “all in,” so I can’t comment on my long-term success. And I’m certainly in no position to criticize (for example) someone who’s been a vegetarian for many years and still eats eggs and dairy. But “all in” is the only route I haven’t tried already and failed. It’s the only chance I have to succeed, realistically. So it’s what I’m going to do.