All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Culture (Page 1 of 8)

Well what can we say. I’m a big white guy masquerading as a Puerto Rican. Shh, don’t tell anyone, I’m taking copious notes on my anthropological journey. No one will notice me.

Why Blame TikTok?

I’m reading this horrifying article about this poor kid who had a breakup with his girlfriend, spiraled, acted out, and eventually killed himself. His mom blames TikTok for providing him with provocative suicidal ideation videos, but at the end, the lede, buried as deep in exposition as you can get, revealed this nugget:

When Dave realized that Mason had gone to his room, he ran there and pounded on the door, trying to get him to unlock it.

But Mason was already gone. The 16-year-old died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

This happened in Arkansas, so I wondered how easy it is for a kid to get a gun.

You must be 18 to purchase, but you can possess a shotgun or rifle without restriction at any age. Did mom and dad buy him a shotgun for his sweet 16? If he were 18, he could purchase any weapon with no restrictions. No parental notification. No waiting period. No permit. No mandatory safety course. No registration. Nada.

So parents need to know what books kids are reading, what teachers are saying about sex, whether or not there’s a trans kid in their county, and what their kids are doing on TikTok, but are perfectly ok with that same child possessing a device specifically designed to take a life.

A child, mind you. Can’t vote, can’t drink, and can’t enlist in the military.

It boggles my mind.

So let’s say it was a gun of one of the parents. They are the ones who brought the weapon into the house and failed to secure it. No information can be found on the internet about what kind of gun was used. Was it a rifle or shotgun, that he would be legally allowed to possess, or a handgun he got access to by other means. I think it’s telling what the news article leaves out, while calling for accountability for TikTok. I mean, TikTok is trash, but the elephant in the room is easy access to guns.

You are 5x (3x by suicide, 2x by homicide) as likely to die by gun violence if there is a firearm in your house, either by your own hand or the hand of a family member. The best way to stay safe from gun violence is to not own a gun.

It’s Not Just Virtue Signaling

There is an interesting debate currently going on in the world of information technology. Along with de-gendered pronouns and inclusive language, we too have our own internal debates. Currently on the table are the terms master/slave, used to designate among other things the centralized control of communications, a hub configuration. The master controls who may speak in this arrangement.

Soon, the terms blacklist and whitelist came to the chopping block. Isn’t ban list better? Permit list?

Anyway, it’s a conversation that people are having, and the voices of the status quo promptly accused them of being social justice warriors, virtue signaling, creating controversy where there was none.

They’re just words, you’re ruining our history. It’s always been this way. It’s fine. You’re just a liberal snowflake!

It’s funny how, like a fractal, the larger conversations happening in society repeat themselves in other smaller sub-communities, but maybe that’s a topic for another day.

First, words are important.

The words we use have an impact on the way we think and the way we think has an impact on the words we use. Language is recursive in society. If we make the effort to change it, it will in turn shape how we interact with the world. Remember fireman, policeman, and mailman? We changed those, because we wanted a social construct that didn’t default to “man.” There was no reason to gender type those professions. When we realized how archaic it was, that it didn’t reflect our values, we modified those terms and now they sound weird. Congressperson, congressional representative, not congressman. Chairman… chairperson, or just chair.

The master/slave terminology outside of just the obvious ugliness of the relationship, can have a pervasive effect on how we perceive interaction of things. If one thing is always subservient to another, it shapes us. We expect to see this subservience in all things. Bosses have to be on top. Employees at the bottom. There’s got to be this rigid hierarchy in all things, ’cause that’s just the way things are. We see it, we replicate it, we again say that’s how it should be.

What if bosses were just team members or coordinators? They are resource wranglers, interference runners, rather than mandate bringers. The team structure is flat now, all members have a role, and we start to get away from “I’m more important than you are” because I’m the boss. We now see the “boss” as just another resource in the chain. Maybe their task requires more training and education, so they get paid more, but they are not certainly “above” anyone.

Maybe the master/slave language masks other truths when we consider it as part of a system. If we consider one thing as always subservient to the other, perhaps it causes us to not consider that perhaps their communication can flow in two directions sometimes the “slave” taking control. Master/slave just doesn’t cut it anymore and what’s worse it can obscure real truths.

Anyway, it’s a lot, I know, but this stuff isn’t just “libs” virtue signaling. The words we use can have a dramatic effect on how we interact with the world, what structures “make sense,” and how we can make better systems not hindered by outdated ways of thinking.

Covid-19 in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a poor nation with crumbling infrastructure, high rates of obesity and diabetes, an aging population (20% is 65 or older), a densely packed urban population, and a very social tightly knit culture that values physical gatherings.

What else can I throw in there?

Puerto Rico ticks all the boxes for an uncontrolled rate of corona-virus infection and death.

And yet as of today, the 13th of November our case numbers are half of what they were 14 days ago, our mortality rate is 1.3% nearly half the rate in the U.S. (and has been since the summer). The U.S., is a nation with access to deep resources, higher per capita income, a more individualistic lifestyle, a decidedly younger demographic on average (14% over the age of 65% according to the US Census), and lower rates of diabetes.

What gives?

I went out today to run some errands for the house. I stopped at a small appliance parts store, a tiny little space nestled deep in the heart of working class Carolina on Campo Rico street. Only two customers were allowed in at a time. They had a mask mandate. They took my temperature. They gave me hand sanitizer. They had protective shields.

This is everywhere. I have never seen anybody without a mask. Every store, no matter how large or small has implemented recommended health protocols, social distancing marked with stickers on the floor, masks, hand sanitizer, and infrared thermometers. People have followed and continue to follow these guidelines. Sure we grumble, but we thank our cashiers and service people for the risk they put themselves in to serve their customers, and the last thing we want to do is put them in more danger by invoking some sort of right to not wear a mask.

It’s impressive to watch a nation with so few resources work together, listen to science and public health officials, and not politicize mask wearing.

Accessing Knowledge from Different Language Contexts

This evening, I was helping my daughter with some statistics problems in her college course. I had just taken the basic stats course less than two years ago as part of master’s program in Social Work, so I know this. I got an A, really enjoyed the class, and got to see how we can use stats to make sense of data. Of course, we must provide context to our results, but that’s another post. The short of it is: I know this stuff.

The concept at hand had to do with probabilities, calculating things like: given a test of 5 multiple choice questions with 4 options each one, what is the probability that with random guessing, the student gets a 60% or higher.

Okay, what concept is that, so I start googling around, reading stuff on Wikipedia to lock in what concept we’re going after.

Maybe I don’t know this stuff.

None of it looks familiar. The homework seems simple. The terms aren’t complicated.

Why didn’t I study this in my stats class, I wondered, and I started to feel a little bit of anxiety. Maybe my stats class wasn’t as rigorous as this one. Was I shortchanged, not prepared properly?

As I continued to go down the rabbit hole and converse with my daughter, I asked her how they take the tests. Do they use graphing calculators? Do you know how to access the binomial functions on it?

Yes, she said, and they also have a binomial distribution table. I looked it up, and everything came rushing back.

In my stats course, which I took in Spanish, we didn’t call it that. It was the tabla de distribución binomial. It’s not like the words are completely different. They are almost exactly the same, but for some reason the knowledge was filed someplace else, and my English context brain couldn’t access it. Once I saw the actual table, it unlocked the door, and everything made more sense.

But there was panic for a bit, and I imagine I’m not the only one to experience this anxiety. I wish I could communicate just how disorienting the experience was, to know something, but forget you know it when speaking another language. In English, everything looked to foreign to me.

My daughter laughed and said welcome to her world going to university in English.

Understanding Bias

It is certainly frustrating trying to lift the veil on the root causes of problems that exist in society. First, based on what I see, what is the best way to intervene and help fix the problem or foment conditions whereby the problem may be addressed. Second, is there actually a problem to begin with? Is it all an illusion? Are there forces that work to attempt to profit from fear and uncertainty? All of the above?

I’ll admit, it’s tough to pierce the veil. In my own youth, the root causes of the inequalities in society were masked to me, my understanding thwarted by a system that served me and about which I had no complaints.  Now, in my adulthood, and as a resident of Puerto Rico, I have benefited from having lived outside of my own white American experience. I have learned a foreign language, and suffered over “the right way” of doing things only to find that there is no “right way.” There is only a right way inside of a specific context, and that context is fluid. Sure, there are general principles, like honesty, integrity, fairness, but the forms those things take is fluid and sometimes not familiar outside of a particular context.

Different isn’t wrong, and perhaps it even ends up being the wellspring of innovation.

But our resistance to difference, to trying to “fix” the other, a lack of cultural and societal perspective on things like standardized testing bias, is holding America back. We are still falling into the same traps over and over. Americans say, “we test them, and on average they come out dumber.” Not only that, but Americans have a neat and easy explanation too. There must be a genetic component, as was said by James Watson (discoverer of DNA) recently. I’m probably repeating myself here, but over and over again, I note that we look for innate properties to describe societal outcomes. It’s easy. It’s natural, and it absolves society completely of guilt.

We didn’t make you poor. It’s your choices. It’s your inferior culture and values. Maybe it’s genetic. You’ve had 150 years to get over it. How come Nigerians immigrate here and do better? Here you go, we have a special program for you that will stigmatize and marginalize you, thereby fulfilling the promise that we will get what we expect – more failure. Or maybe, just maybe, there isn’t actually more failure, we just focus on it more, confirming our biases.

This kind of thinking is fomented by a society that does not have the tools to understand its social pressures. Most white Americans do not speak a second language. Most white Americans have not lived in another culture, have not put themselves in a community where they are not the majority. Once African Americans move into an area, white people flee using the racial dog-whistle “better schools” and continue to live in their bubble.

So, what can we do?

Well, one thing we can do is try to ignore our own uniformed “observations.” There are a couple of things working against understanding social pressures, one is confirmation bias. We tend to not conduct impartial investigations in our own living spaces. We tend to not give the benefit of the doubt as we clutch our purses. We tend to make conclusions on very small sample sizes, and we tend to erroneously apply those conclusions as general rules.

This exception-based thinking can be found in individuals who talk about the one guy they know who survived a car crash because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. “If he had been wearing his seatbelt,” they say, “he wouldn’t have been thrown free and would have been crushed. The guy walked away like nothing happened to him.” I shake my head, because they will hang onto that personal exceptional story and resist the countless incidences of those who also walked away because they were wearing a seatbelt. Those cases are unexceptional and therefor not noteworthy.

We have a tendency to cling to these exceptions, leading us to incorrect perceptions about reality.

Another pressure that works against understanding is the news media. It’s related, but I want to focus on two phrases in particular: “Man Bites Dog” and “If it bleeds, it leads.” Each principle is indicative of a reality that exists outside of the normative. It’s reported because it’s rare and horrific. The index of effect is greatly exaggerated by these reports. If the impact is the product of the rareness and the magnitude then it can, in one’s mind, equal the aggregate impact of more common occurrences.

We then make political decisions on these very small sample sizes and we extrapolate them into trends and conclusions that are not supported by the data. Things “seem” a certain way because the news media reported a passenger jet with 250 people aboard crashed into a mountainside. We don’t necessarily hear about each and every one of the 30,000 or so people who are killed in traffic accidents every year. In general air travel is very much safer than car travel, but sometimes it certainly doesn’t feel that way, does it?

I would simply ask that we challenge and humble ourselves in the face of what we regard as the truth about things. What we may believe about the “others” is most probably wrong. Look to bias in the news media. Look to how we confirm our own biases by consuming information that validates our own viewpoints. Accept the conclusions of anthropologists and sociologists when they say that sub-optimal outcomes are social and systemic and not based on inherent defects in the marginalized population. Just as we accept the rocket scientist and his orbital calculations, we should regard social scientists with the same deference. “Hmm, I may not feel acutely imperiled by not wearing my seatbelt in a moving car, but the engineer said I should. Maybe I should listen.”

The Way Things Fail

Back in engineering school, we were taught all sorts of things, materials, statics, dynamics, math, factors of safety, design, even a little bit of public policy. We were taught to look for causes of failure, whether human (design, operation), fatigue, or even an act of nature. We walked through case studies of engineering disasters like detectives.

The takeaway: you can’t engineer away failure, and the cause of failure is rarely one thing.

In these case studies, there were usually small errors compounded by something unforeseen. Perhaps there was a bureaucratic process, a cost cutting measure, an edge case condition, and bam! you have achieved critical failure. How did it happen? Well, the pilot feel asleep. No that’s not it. The pilot fell asleep and there was a freak storm with tropical moisture at high altitude. No that’s not it, try again. The pilot fell asleep, there was a freak storm with high tropical moisture, which caused the air speed sensor to ice over and the junior pilot wasn’t able to deduce the problem with sufficient time to avert the tragedy of Air France Flight 447. We’ve got design flaws. We’ve got training flaws. We’ve got procedure flaws. We’ve got acts of God, all mixed up in a delicious failure soup.

The consistent commonality in these case studies was the fact that things go wrong. They will go wrong, and you should expect them to go wrong. See Murphy’s Law. Armed with this new knowledge, engineers must now ask themselves how they want fail. The engineer of the product or solution, must consider the modes of failure, how a thing may fail. It seems strange to plan for failure, doesn’t it? But you must, because you need to be able to control whether it will it fail gracefully or blow up in your face?

Take the design of cars, for example. In the mid 20th century, cars were built as steel behemoths. No seat belts. Limited crumple zones. No air bags. We built cars, and we expected them to be rigid and sturdy. Engineers, unfortunately, underrepresented the driver and passenger systems, and the systems of other cars and drivers in their designs. What happens to a car when comes into contact with another? Engineers should have taken a holistic approach to the automobile, considering it as part of a complex and unpredictable system. They should have considered that cars were going to crash and crash badly. Just because a car’s intended mode of operation is not impacting other cars, doesn’t mean you don’t design for it.

The result in 1972 was almost 55,000 traffic fatalities; 55,000 people dead because cars were under engineered for failure modes.

Fast forward to mass shootings in these recent years. “It’s mental illness!” “It’s family values!” “It’s right-wing extreme ideologies!” “It’s video games! It’s toxic masculinity!”

Many of the mass shootings touch on these characteristics, and it would be easy to blame one thing. Maybe all of them and things we hadn’t considered are to blame for the desperate and aberrant outcomes we have witnessed recently. You are not wrong, but you’re hand waving. Remember our friend Murphy? “But but, cars aren’t supposed to crash! The driver was drunk. The driver was inattentive, going too fast. The road was poorly designed. The car was unsafe.” All of those things may be true, and yet still you’re addressing the accident as preventable instead of probable. American drivers experience on average one accident per every 165,000 miles driven. It’s probable that a driver will experience one or more accidents in their lifetimes. We can work to mitigate risk factors, but like an ashtray in an airplane lavatory, we have to assume some people are going to do the wrong thing.

But back to mass shooters – Maybe we have areas of sickness in our society. Certain facets of personal liberty and individualism create easy targets of isolated individuals looking to belong to something.

Whatever it is, I ask the following question: If you can’t stop car accidents from happening, shouldn’t you still look to control how they happen?

If mental illness, distressed individuals, violent video games, social isolation, and childhood abuse can lead to desperate acts, don’t you want to control how they happen?

We know weapons are not the cause of these terrible tragedies, but they do increase the severity of the failure. When things go wrong, there are no crumple zones. There is no air bag. There is no seat belt. There is only an AR-15 style weapon with an extended magazine.

Hope in the Face of Inevitable Loss

I tear up when “En Mi Viejo San Juan” is sung or played. I don’t know why. The song is a nostalgic lamentation from the point of view of a Puerto Rican living in the diaspora, far away from their beloved homeland, a reluctant refugee from their true love, their home. They hope one day to return to their beautiful isla, Borinquen.

Pero el tiempo pasó | But time passed by
Y el destino burló | and destiny mocked
Mi terrible nostalgia | my terrible nostalgia,
Y no pude volver | and I couldn’t return
Al San Juan que yo amé | to the San Juan that I loved,
Pedacito de patria | little piece of my land.

Mi cabello blanqueo | My hair whitened
Ya mi vida se va | and my life fades away
Ya la muerte me llame | and death calls for me,
Y no quiero morir | and I don’t want to die
Alejado de tí | away from you
Puerto Rico del alma, adiós | Puerto Rico of the soul.

My son, Jaimito made an observation after he had played it in a small ensemble recently. “Daddy, it’s funny, you’re not even Puerto Rican, and you have not left or plan to leave.”

“I don’t know what it is, Jaimito. You’re right. Why does that song hit me so hard?” I laughed, wiping my tears. “Damn these onions.”

I’ve reflected, and I think I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, I get emotional because everybody else does. This song never fails to impact a group of Puerto Ricans especially older. I cannot, not be impacted by the emotions of others. Like a contagious yawn, I think of all the scattered families, the years and distance between them, the struggles of making it in a new place, the worry of those in the mainland when calamity befalls others on the island. We will return, they say, and they hold out hope that we will be together again on their beautiful island.

And that leads me to the second and perhaps deeper significance in the song. An essentially hopeful and spiritual people, I can’t also help but reflect that the song touchs at what drives us all forward, keeps us going.


Although, we know in our rational mind that the outcome is hopeless, our heart, our spirits will that it be not so.  This song captures it perfectly – hope in the face of inevitable loss.

Technology, Culture, and Knowledge Ownership

I’ve written about this topic before, that owning and using a technology is more than just purchasing it, but I’d like to delve further into this general topic using the Boeing 737 Max as a departure point.

But first, a little bit of backstory.

When Laura and I lived in the Basque Country I learned an interesting concept. An euskaldun is a person who has the Basque language, Euskera. The morpheme -dun connotes ownership, to have and to own, but it goes deeper than that. It’s an intrinsic “have” that is more than simple acquisition. It’s the kind of ownership an inventor has, or someone who was born into something. English speakers might use the word, “native” to communicate a similar sentiment. The Basques have various words for describing those who are new speakers of Euskera, those that are fluent, perhaps even perfect, but were not born to it. The -dun communicates an intrinsic knowledge that cannot be separated from the person. You know it, you own it, it is a part of you.

The term helps us, I think, when we consider how to design technology exported for use outside of whatever culture. It would also be important to consider the hidden biases and assumptions baked into a product whether it be software or a jet aircraft or software on a jet aircraft. No matter how much we try, exported invention and knowledge will always contain unexpected challenges to those that use it outside of its native context.

Let’s put this all in the context of commercial aircraft operation in the US. The US has the largest military air force in the world. The US has the highest quantity of pilots and ex-pilots. The US invented the airplane. There are certain assumptions that go into aircraft operation, like there’s a good chance that the pilot has spent some time in the air force, has flown many types of air craft, is male, is white, and is older and more experienced. But it also goes without saying that the aircraft was probably designed for him by people that look like him. Engineers have long struggled with biased assumptions in design.

I have confronted numerous challenges trying to integrate technology knowledge in Puerto Rico among non-native English speakers. There are cultural and social factors that play a role in how a person sees and uses the object. If it wasn’t birthed from their values, their assumptions, and their social construct, there will always be unexpected gaps. The best they can do is to learn to adapt themselves to its construct and its context. The Puerto Rican people are very adept at context switching between two cultures and languages, but it’s still a band-aid solution.

Back to the Ethiopian Air 737 Max crash. Boeing has said, that “…experienced 737 pilots needed little training for the new Max 8.” What is an experienced pilot? Is Boeing basing this recommendation on what it knows about American pilots, that they are generally more experienced and older?

Boeing engineer says, “Yeah, if it gets dicey, flip the switch and turn off the MCAS system. It’s really not necessary anyway, Bill, it’s mostly to make you feel better about the new handling characteristics of airframe.”

We now know that there were incidents where the MCAS system had responded adversely in US airspace. The pilots turned the system off and filed a complaint. No crashes, but it pissed off a few pilots.

It may also be the case that US manufacturers all ordered the optional second redundant sensor model. Other carriers around the world may have less money or may interpret “optional” in a different way. Optional may mean unnecessary to them. How optional is it? Well, apparently it’s only optional if you don’t care if your plane stays in the air.

So we go down the list, how well written was the training manual? Was it translated properly into Ethiopian? What was that person’s cultural knowledge? Was it not translated at all, relying on the Ethiopian engineers’ knowledge of English? I can tell you first hand, that no matter how well you speak/write in a second language, there will always be gaps. I have done a master’s degree in Spanish, have lived in Puerto Rico for over 20 years, and there are still things I learn every day, things that my kids already know at a high school level. So, in order for our Ethiopian pilots to have the same performance characteristics as our American native pilots, they would have to have complete and total ownership over the culture of flying, American specific cultural nuance, all the tacit and implicit meanings of the terms found in technical manuals, and the assumptions made in order to achieve parity. It’s a tall order, and even if our Ethiopian pilots were twice as talented, twice as smart, and bilingual they are still hamstrung by a technology they didn’t invent and they don’t own. Their knowledge no matter how spectacular will be degraded by a context and assumptions that are not their own.

Los Sabores del Amor, The Flavors of Love

I had been wanting to share this for a while. It’s what I’ve been listening to for the past year, and I love every single song. They are songs of love, passionate, yearning, sweet, sentimental, and loss. They can be deep and abiding, carnal, lighthearted, irreverent, and unconditional. It’s all the flavors, all the facets, wrapped into an interesting blend of Caribbean and Latin rhythms.

If you’re not necessarily into Latin music, I hope that these may just pique your interest.

And yes, Despacito is there. How could I do a lista de los grandes éxitos and not put on Despacito. Shutup. Haha.

American Exceptionalism – Wealth as a Signal for Virtue

Recently I’ve been immersing myself in so-called right wing media and thought. It started with watching Fox News, and it’s culminated finally with reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I must say, I have enjoyed the journey of discovery, of shedding pre-conceptions, erring on the side of the defense of conservatism, and seeking the Right’s best and purest argument. Forget the jingoistic, the dog whistle appeals to racism, isolationism, and misogyny. Forget name-calling. Forget caricature.  I sought out what were the noblest of their ideals among people of good faith. These people are not found on Fox News. Fox News is caricature.

What do earnest people on the Right seek for individuals? What do they seek for society? Well the short answer is purpose and productivity – noble aspirations to be sure, but it’s slightly more complex than that and leads us down the path of how American society has been constructed.

I bought the book, Atlas Shrugged, nearly twenty years ago on a whim. I had been hungry to go through the classic science fiction giants. I stocked up on Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, among others. I chose Atlas Shrugged because I had heard of it. I can’t recall exactly, but it and Fountainhead called my attention. I had no idea of its political or philosophical tone in its promotion of Rand’s Objectivism. In fact, I knew nothing about her or her philosophy.  The book was a multiple reprinted classic, featured prominently among others in the Science Fiction section. Atlas was also the thickest, so I intended to read it last.

By the time I got to Atlas, I probably had run out of steam, but I couldn’t get into it. Barely 25 pages into the novel, I put it down and didn’t touch it for twenty years.

Bringing us forward into the present, I have chosen to revisit Atlas Shrugged in part because I wanted to understand what all the hulabaloo was about and because Ayn Rand’s Wikipedia page seems unnecessarily personal and hateful, that is, the attacks against the book and against her personally seemed illogical. Here was a woman who published two acclaimed novels, with Atlas Shrugged featuring a woman as a classical heroic character in a time when women’s roles were on the sidelines. I’ve got to give this another chance, I thought. And look at how I’m equivocating about my choices. It’s embarrassing that I feel the need to explain why I read it. Don’t be afraid to read Atlas Shrugged. It’s a good book. You’ll enjoy it. Just don’t treat it like a guide for your life choices, okay?

And I am glad I did. I enjoyed the book. I don’t agree with objectivism, but I think I understand where it is coming from, and I now see why it makes so much sense in American culture.

That an individual’s highest aim in life is purpose, is to work, is to create, and to do so without malice, greed, or malfeasance, embodies the American Protestant ethos, the molecules of social DNA sown on the shores with the discarded Puritan refuse of foreign lands. Max Weber defined the confluence of the virtues of noble work in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, a series of essays latter bundled together, expressing economic output within a Protestant religious framework.

Ayn Rand, seems to draw unwittingly from Max Weber, but perhaps more deliberately from Benjamin Franklin who wrote of the virtues of industry and frugality, based upon his Puritan upbringing. Wealth is a byproduct of a moral life dedicated to purpose and productivity. Take your five shillings, he said in letter from An Old Trademan, and multiply it by working it. In short, wealth is never the point, but rather a measure of God’s favor upon you.

Wealth is a signal for virtue.

America was founded on these principles, and they are deeply embedded in the social construct, for Left and Right alike, and this framework defines public policy as implemented in social programs, economic management, personal and corporate taxes, and in a myriad of ways that just “make sense” to Americans. That there are makers and takers, those with virtue and those without is unquestioned, and informs all expressions of socialist programs through stigmatizing those collecting disability, food, unemployment, etc.  At the same time, corporations are now people. I probably could just stop here. Just cut out the middleman, and wash away the individual failings, and put all our virtue signaling in the aggregate of corporate entities. People are generally good, right? So a corporation must be generally good and virtuous. We know it is so, because – look at the stock price. Forget the fact that malfeasance is still individual and now hides behind the cover of the Inc.

We fall victim to this virtue signaling by falsely identifying it when there is none but wealth, when virtue is bankrupt but dollars still flow. To have been in God’s grace, your path to wealth must have been virtuous, but it is so difficult to see it when some people won’t release their tax returns. So those of low virtue hide among the faithful, wolves in sheep’s clothing distorting, gaming, and manipulating for their own glorification and not the glorification of God.

But I get it, it’s tough to call them out, so entrenched is the signal of the almighty dollar. I also understand how decent Americans can vote Republican. It’s that hard to admit the brokenness of the signal.

America’s Protestant virtue social construct, I believe, creates resistance to recontextualizing achievements in the face of new information. Global Warming – How could our industrial development and progress have doomed us all? Those who achieved, the greats throughout American history, the railroad barons, the steel magnates, the developers – all of them were unquestionably virtuous because of their wealth. They were rewarded, and how could they have been rewarded if they weren’t virtuous. God bestows his blessings upon the just and the just are the makers not the looters and the moochers. What if those that extracted from the ground, mined wealth, laid track, build sky scrapers instead of the virtue they professed, were actually marching humanity toward an unmarked mass grave? Can you wonder why there might be resistance to such a concept?

Recontextualizing the achievers of a past age runs the risk of nullifying an American core value, perhaps THE core value, that wealth and production signal God’s grace. Manifest destiny’s final outcome signaled grace upon the nation – no matter how we got there, and if there be messiness, it would come to matter less and less as the generations passed, as textbooks excluded diverse viewpoints and left the dirtiness buried in a mass grave with wealth as the only artifact.

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