Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Debate #1: No Contest (at Least in a Rational World)

So, along with 84 million other Americans, I watched Monday’s presidential debate. It turned out about how we should have expected it to turn out. Clinton was well prepared, perhaps a bit overscripted, but it was obvious she did her homework. She is, after all, a policy wonk. You can’t accuse her of not knowing the issues or putting in the time or listening to her advisors. And they had a simple game plan: give lots of specifics and then offer Donald Trump the chance to hang himself with his tongue. It worked masterfully, but then again, it wouldn’t take a genius to get Trump to paint himself into several corners at once.
As for Trump, of course he took the bait. Since he was being held to a much lower standard (being a nonpolitician and all), the only hurdle he had to clear was to act semi-presidential and not make any stupid, self-incriminating statements. And he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even come close. Since he has made so many absolutely crazy, ignorant, offensive, and untruthful statements during this seemingly eternal campaign season, it proved to be quite easy for Clinton to stoke his insatiable ego and get him off script. Except that there was no script. The strategy for Trump was just to be Trump (as always), and that has rarely turned out well. In this case, all Trump did was confirm that the accusations are true. He really is a racist, a misogynist (a word that many people now know only because Trump so effectively embodies it), a pathological egotist, a cheat (in several ways), a delusional dystopian, and a liar.
Of course, afterward, Trump insisted that he had won the debate. Maybe he actually believes this, but I doubt it. He probably doesn’t care, though. The sort of people who support Trump—and I’ve seen enough of them interviewed to understand a bit about them—well, they don’t really care either. They don’t want a president who is actually qualified to be president, or one who acts presidential, or who understands the myriad issues a president must deal with on a daily basis. They just want someone who is different. Many of them want an authoritarian figure who can “fix things” in America. For one reason or another, they want someone who can “shake up” Washington. The system isn’t exactly working for them, so they want someone who can reform the system so that it does work for them. Unfortunately, most of these folks are not educated enough to understand that the incoherent policy positions Trump is selling are not policies that will help them. If anything, Trump’s plans for America will make almost everyone worse off, even eventually his own billionaire class. But irrational anger is what these disillusioned people have been fed for so long that that is pretty much all they understand. And so Trump rises in the polls even as he proves time and again that he is the biggest joke to ever run for president. The big question is, how do we educate these people, these people who have no comprehension of what lies behind the empty political platitudes or what actually needs to happen in America in order for us to really solve the problems we face? Or to understand that things aren’t really as bad as Trump would have us believe, certainly not as bad as they will be if he is elected. Maybe it’s a case of “the burned hand teaches best,” but when the stakes are presidential politics, that could be a very expensive lesson

After watching Monday’s debacle unfold, many sensible Americans are probably shaking their heads and asking themselves, how, exactly, did a major political party allow itself to be hijacked by a blustery buffoon with absolutely no substance? He proved Monday that he is utterly incapable of elucidating a coherent or consistent explanation of his policy ideas on any issue. My own theory is that the Republicans simply found themselves facing a candidate who represents the end of the path they have been traveling for some time now.
1. The GOP has been preaching anger against and hatred of government, in one form or another, since Reagan. Trump is the ultimate antigovernment candidate, a know-nothing outsider whose ignorance has actually become his most endearing quality to propagandized voters who have been taught to not trust career politicians (who actually understand something about government), even when those politicians are in their own party. So they are attracted to Trump like moths to a candle. The results of such an attraction are never pretty.
2. Republicans have spent thirty-five years worshipping at the idol of supply-side economics, a crank economic theory that never did work and never can, for rather obvious reasons. But they keep serving up the same menu of tax cuts on the wealthy and lax regulation on corporations, especially those in the financial sector, and then promise unprecedented economic growth that their program can never produce. Well, Donald Trump is the ultimate supply-sider. He offered an economic proposal that nonpartisan experts calculated would cost us $10 trillion over the next decade. He makes George W. Bush look like a flaming liberal.
The problem with supply-side economics is that further enriching the already wealthy doesn’t produce jobs. They don’t invest in new supply (plant and employment) when there is no demand to justify it. We saw this during the Great Recession. Corporations were slashing jobs and yet raking in record profits. They did not invest any of this excess money, though, because demand was tanking. In order for companies to justify new investment, the consumer classes have to be doing well enough to increase demand for products. It doesn’t make any sense to add production capacity if there is no one to buy the new production. So on this, as on almost every other issue, Clinton is right, and Trump is dead wrong. Reconfiguring the economy to benefit the middle (and lower) class is the best path to increased economic health. Lining the pockets of the wealthy will do nothing to accelerate economic or employment growth. It will, however, continue to expand the largest divide between the rich and the rest that we have ever seen in America. It will lead to the Third-Worldization of the United States.
3. A corollary to supply-side economics, of course, is the notion that taxes are evil, an idea Republicans have pushed for thirty-five years. They claim America is overtaxed, when statistics show just the opposite. Here again, Donald is the destination Republicans have been traveling toward all these years. He is actually proud of the fact that he does not pay any taxes. In the debate, he did not even contest Clinton’s assertion that he pays no taxes. He embraced it with the smug claim that this proves he is smart. Contrast this with Warren Buffett, a much wealthier and wiser businessman, who claims that he does not pay enough in taxes and encourages Congress to fix this flaw in the tax code.
4. The GOP has been antiscience on several fronts, but none more conspicuous than their denial of human-caused global warming. Trump is, of course, at the head of this lemming parade, making silly statements that global warming is a Chinese plot to undermine American manufacturing.
5. The Republican Party has promoted a brand of nationalism that goes by the euphemism American exceptionalism. This notion goes well beyond patriotism. Donald Trump certainly represents the destination this sort of nationalism has been heading toward. If you look carefully at his statements and attitudes, Trump fits the textbook definition of fascist, which is a person who favors a radical authoritarian nationalism. Trump’s solutions to many problems are authoritarian solutions. His admiration of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is telling. We may think our democratic institutions and traditions are immune to a fascist takeover, but consider what a U.S. commander-in-chief could do after replacing military leaders with admirals and generals who think the way he does. And there are apparently plenty of them. Trump has threatened to restrict freedom of the press, toyed with the notion of using nuclear weapons, promised to bring back certain forms of torture, and in this week’s debate claimed that stop-and-frisk is a viable solution to our inner-city woes. Do you really think he is just joking? Do you want to take the chance that these attitudes would not blossom into something much more perverse?
6. The Republican Party has benignly encouraged a strain of conservatism that I call redneck racism. This strain is prevalent primarily among the undereducated, white, male working class, although, surprisingly, it includes many females. By laying blame for our economic woes on illegal immigrants and painting a frighteningly one-sided picture of our black communities, Trump feeds this racial prejudice. It has been shown through polling that a large percentage of Trump supporters harbor racist sentiments. The fact that Trump has not discouraged the hard-core racists (the KKK and their ilk) is another indication of the sort of America he favors.
I could go on, but I’ll spare you. While some Republicans are appalled that their party has nominated for president a man like Donald Trump, they really have no one to blame but themselves. With their policies and rhetoric, they opened the door for a man like Trump to step in and take over. They not only catered to a certain kind of voter, but they also carefully groomed these individuals to vote for a know-nothing autocrat who came along and called their bluff. These are the voters who are so thoroughly indoctrinated that they actually thought Trump won this week’s debate. Shocking, but not surprising.

Monday, September 12, 2016

What the Numbers Suggest about Premortal Spirit Birth and Postmortal Polygamy

I have an article coming out in the next issue of Dialogue based on three installments of the series I posted last fall on authority (look in September 2015 for the beginning of it). For those who remember that series, this article will include the two segments on the doctrine of premortality and the one on the source of God’s authority. Something I only briefly referred to in those posts, but which I will provide in the appendixes to the Dialogue article, is a rather detailed estimate I have made of just how many of God’s children will have been born on this earth by the end of the Millennium. There are a lot of unknowns, of course, (like when the Millennium might actually begin) so I have had to make quite a few assumptions. It’s a rather involved process, but in the end it produced, I believe, a rather conservative estimate.
The assumptions I used include a combination of orthodox Mormon beliefs (Adam and Eve start it all at about 4000 BC, a thousand-year Millennium where no one dies until age 100, etc.) and some population statistics from the Population Reference Bureau, Pew Research, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division). I used the PRB’s birthrate figures over the past 6,000 years, which seemed reasonable. But when I got to the Millennium, I had to adjust. Our current birthrate is about 23 births per 1,000 population. If you assume that terrestrial bodies might be more fertile than our current telestial models, things get way out of control. For instance, a birthrate of just 25 per 1,000 yields a total population by the end of the Millennium of 15 quadrillion. This is infeasible, of course, since it leaves every earth resident with a whopping 1/3 square foot of space (and that’s with no oceans). You see the problem. At 20 births per 1,000, you still end up with 138 trillion people. With everyone living to 100 years, population grows exponentially at any rate higher than 10, which turns out to be the Goldilocks rate. At 10 births per 1,000, you have as many births as deaths. So I just built in a population cap of 10 billion, about half again as many as we have now, assuming that a terrestrialized earth could easily support that many people. This is one of the reasons why I say my estimate is probably very conservative.
Anyway, after lots of math, I arrived at a figure just north of 211 billion earth births. So, what does this suggest about spirit birth, a doctrine that evolved after Joseph Smith died and is now firmly entrenched in Mormon dogma? Well, first, this figure is only two-thirds of the story. If we believe that Lucifer coopted a full third of the heavenly host, then we have to add another 106 billion spirits to the total, which gives us a premortal population, just for this earth, of over 317 billion. In case you’re not a math person, that’s a lot of kids.
So, what are the implications? On its face, at least in my mind, the sheer size of this number pretty well rules out the possibility of a single Heavenly Mother who gave birth to all of us. Even polygyny on a galactic scale would struggle to produce this many offspring from one father. So maybe we need to rethink the parallel we assume between mortal conception, gestation, and birth and the creation of spirit bodies.
The other question I’ve always had about this whole notion is just how two celestial bodies could combine cells to produce spirit bodies. One of the most logical facts of creation is that all forms of life tend to reproduce after their kind. Wouldn’t it make more sense for two celestial parents to produce celestial, physical offspring rather than spirit bodies?
All of this convinces me that Joseph Smith was onto something later in his career when he taught repeatedly that spirits cannot be created, that they are as eternal as God. For these reasons, I am convinced that our spirits were not “born” of heavenly parents in any manner similar to mortal birth. The idea that we already existed and that God “adopted” us as his children makes a lot more sense to me.
Yes, I realize that I don’t know diddly-squat about the actual logistics of the hereafter. I’ve even written a bit about the idea of three-dimensional time, which might make a lot of things possible that don’t add up right now. But even with that, 317 billion spirit pregnancies is a staggering thought. And that’s just for our earth.
Of course the other idea hidden in these numbers is that they sort of poke a hole in our quaint little Mormon cultural assumption that we “lived with God” in the premortal existence. The way we talk about it, you get the idea that we all grew up in the heavenly mansion, ate dinner together, and probably had Family Home Evening every Monday. Yup, all 300 billion of us. Obviously, we didn’t have much face time with Heavenly Father. And, again, these numbers are for just one world, of the “numberless” worlds he has created. I’ve written an essay that will appear in the next issue of Sunstone that tackles some of the implications of these numbers and what they suggest about our probable relationship with Heavenly Father, so I won’t spill those particular beans here.
But what about polygamy in the hereafter? I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard (and read a review) about Carol Lynn Pearson’s new book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men. Apparently the idea that we’ll be practicing polygamy in the hereafter is creating a terrible mental and spiritual burden for some of us, especially Mormon women. Personally, I just don’t see it happening. Worldwide, there are about 107 boys born for every 100 girls. So, there are apparently slightly more males than females. This doesn’t bode well for men having more than one wife in the hereafter. Sure, some might argue that women are innately more spiritual than men (and I wouldn’t argue this), so more women will make it to the celestial kingdom. But that theory neglects another numerical fact. Boys are more likely to die before age one than girls. Research has shown that boys were 10 percent more likely to die in 1750, but that gap widened to over 30 percent in 1970. Since then the gap has closed to 20 percent. But if we believe that children who die before the age of accountability go straight to the celestial kingdom, then there are apparently going to be a lot more males than females in the celestial world. If anything, this suggests polyandry in the hereafter, not polygyny. But I’m not betting on either. Which also shoots the notion of the aforementioned “polygamy on a galactic scale” out of the water.
Won’t it be fun to have the veil removed and finally get to remember all the details we puzzle over now?