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“He will take … He will take … He will take … He will take … He will take … and you shall be his slaves.” — Samuel
The world is not right.
But the world is consistent; it has never been right, so when it is wrong, at least it is consistent. A few days ago, I went to Ace Hardware to pick up a couple of bolts for a cardboard mast. That mast represented something that is right in the world, or at least a group of parents and children who are seeking after something that is right, something that is also consistent, truth alongside all that is wrong in the world. I set the bolts down on the counter and reflexively leaned around a very silly piece of quarter-inch plastic that hung in front of the register to speak with a woman who reflexively pulled a very silly piece of cloth down from her face to ask me what was not a very silly question. Yes, of course, I have a reward number, and yes, of course, my son would love to pick a Dum Dum from the basket (“And may I have two, for my brother?” yes, of course!). It was a beautiful day, which we observed, and apart from the silly piece of cloth and the crick in her neck from leaning around the silly piece of plastic, which I almost swatted at the way a person would swat a fruit fly, why is this stupid thing even? Oh, yes … of course. I told her, as she pulled the silly piece of cloth back over her nose, “Please don’t do that on my account; I’d much rather see your face.” She smiled and commented that last night she was shopping at Fred Meyer and saw a great many faces, that it felt nice, and that maybe this was almost over. No, I said. “They,” and I swatted again at the silly plastic gnat, “will never let it be over. It will end when enough people decide that they are going to show their faces, regardless of what anyone else says. This has been illegal from day one, but rights are meaningless if people don’t assert them.” She smiled again and said, “I sure hope so.”
My 10-year-old unwrapped one of the suckers. I wish Jay Inslee would take a long walk off a short pier.
Well, that’s what Mom and Dad think. Remember, you’re not allowed to have opinions —
— until I’m 21.
Until you’re 30. It doesn’t help you any to repeat what Dad says if you don’t understand why I said it. Until then, you have a lot of learning to do. That’s why math is so important.
Math is boring.
Math is important because it is true and because it is unchanging; it remains true no matter what people call it, no matter what people say about it, and regardless of whether people accept that it is true. Math is also important because it trains your intelligence. How does it train your intelligence?
… getting good at math?
Understanding how to be good at math. Anyone can memorize the solution to a particular problem, especially if you’re given the answer, but it takes intelligence to understand the process. If all you do is memorize the solution — assuming the solution is correct — you will only ever be able to solve that same exact problem. But what happens if the question changes slightly? What happens when you encounter a new problem, and you don’t have an example in front of you? That’s why I’m always telling you don’t just repeat what someone else did; understand why it was done, not just so that you can solve problems that you’ve never seen before, but also so you can identify when things have been done incorrectly. It’s the same with everything else in the world. You always need to ask why … not to contradict … but you ask why because if you don’t know why something is done, you’ll never be able to do it yourself. Are you listening to me?
Yeah … there’s a Mini Cooper!
The world is not right. And there are, perhaps, not enough people asking why. Or — maybe — not enough people correctly identifying why. We came home and bolted together the great big cardboard mast. It attached to a great big cardboard boat — the Mayflower — down at the school, for a play about Thanksgiving.
I recently read about an article — I did not read the article itself — that is another one of those little gnats that you swat at almost habitually, wondering where on Earth? But they’re incessant, they seem to be breeding like … feeding on some rotten something, somewhere, and where on Earth did they come from? It was about Thanksgiving, and it was about the first Indian tribe that helped the pilgrims and still regrets it 200 years later! Or, at least, some distant relative was cherry-picked to express 200 years’ worth of supposed regret on behalf of his ancestors; maybe the same one they found to be outraged about the Washington Football Team and that awfully insensitive chop down in Atlanta. Never mind the fact that this little team — not just the Indian, but the author — sits comfortably, in good health, using technology never dreamed of 200 years ago to freely express thoughts that very well might offend some on behalf of some other offended. Irony is lost on the comfortable.
Seems a lesson in how to learn all the wrong lessons. If it was politically salient, I might expect the same author to write about how the most important aspect regarding the discovery of penicillin was the shocking and frankly disturbing fact that Alexander Fleming was a slob! Did he have children (inquiring minds want to know) who were likely exposed to the growth of harmful mold inside a damp home? Leaving aside the very real possibility (these inquiring minds will get to the bottom of it) that the man was a smoker, it remains a very real possibility that he might likely have crossed to the other side of the street on a dark night if he happened upon … well … and we celebrate this man? Disgusting.
If the only thing we learn from Thanksgiving is that nomadic and somewhat primitive societies (which were sometimes quite savage and sometimes quite civil) cannot survive unchanged the rise of technology, mobility, and the ability to sustainably maintain property, and that even technologically advanced societies are sometimes quite savage and sometimes quite civil, then all we have done is discovered again that the world is not right, which is a constant we already knew, and we’ve learned nothing. That is, if we’ve learned anything. But if we believe that the nomadic and somewhat primitive society was always civil, and that the technologically advanced society was always savage, then we have done much worse than simply having learned nothing; we’ve denied the constant that should have been our starting point. It takes a whole lot of arrogant ignorance to believe in the noble savage; it takes an extraordinary effort in being wrong to draw from history the only lesson that doesn’t require any history to learn and to misapply it in so fantastic a manner to reach the conclusion (or to come around full circle to one’s presumption) that while perhaps the world is not right, and perhaps the world was not right back then, it is only wrong because it fails to understand the height of enlightenment that I have attained. What can I learn from pilgrims who barely survived the winter, and what do I gain from Fleming when I don’t need a moldy sandwich?
So what does this mast have to say about Jay Inslee?
That we should throw him out of the boat?
Why? The mast says the same thing that Dad was saying to the checker … that rights are not worth the paper they’re written on if we fail to assert them. It also says that facts do not exist simply because some government body declares them to be so, and that they do not disappear simply because some government body denies them. It says that, at some point, people need to declare that enough is enough — and ignore the tyrants.
The world will never be right, but in this moment, it feels particularly unwell. I am amazed and discouraged by the willingness of such a large number of the U.S. population to give up its own critical thinking, to blindly accept propaganda, to adapt so quickly to a change from a free population to one whose various governments barely even pay lip service to the feeble justifications for their massive power grabs, and to willingly linger there, asking no questions.
At a kid’s basketball game this weekend, I found a water fountain that had not been covered by plastic wrap (the drinking portion was indeed covered, but not the bottle fill station), and as I filled a bottle of water for my 7-year-old, a masked teenager expressed his surprise that the fountain was operational. I asked the teenager why the fountain had been shut down. He said, “Because of COVID.” I asked why? He didn’t know. I asked if COVID spreads through water fountains, and of course he didn’t know, but it did not seem to him that such a thing was likely. I asked if there is no rational explanation for how shutting down all of our water fountains is going to stop the spread of COVID (if such a thing is even possible or desirable), why are we shutting down all of our water fountains? He said it seemed like nonsense. And, if asked the same questions, surely the hundred other people in the gymnasium would agree that it seems like nonsense. But every one of those people walks by a fountain that is covered by plastic wrap in order to buy a disposable bottle of water from a teenager behind a table. The same teenager who has touched every other bottle of water, countless ones and fives and twenties, bags of chips, candy bars, the damp mask that he has dutifully breathed into for the past several hours. We adapt not because we honestly believe that this is somehow better, somehow safer, than drinking from a fountain. We adapt because we do not know how to do math, and we only ever learned how to copy the example.
This morning, I participated in a meeting, online, via Zoom, regarding important issues that could best be resolved in person, face-to-face. Each week, I spend hours in a virtual courtroom, which possesses all the convenience of multitasking and savings on dry cleaning and a whole slew of problems with what used to be universally accepted as constitutionally protected and vitally important rights with respect to the meaningful disposition of justice … Unless you’re scared, I guess. Then … unless you’re used to it. And now, well, why even question it? This has been going on for 20 months and is now the status quo. It is harmful, and it is as useless as all of the masks, the plexiglass, the floor markings, the signs on every door, and the plastic over drinking fountains … and it persists. But all of that is habitual. It is bad math. It is false. And though it persists, it cannot last.
* * * * *
The most important lesson from that cardboard Mayflower mast is, quite simply, that it exists. It is the second lesson from the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The less interesting first lesson involves the corruption and arrogance of government officials; the idea that each, including the king, secretly knows of his own ignorance and stupidity. But the second lesson comes from the people. For whatever reason, whether insecurity or fear of punishment, the people very quickly adapted so that the lie became universally accepted and might have gone on forever — but truth exists independent of its recognition, and once the truth was spoken, it spread like a wildfire that could not be contained.
Last year, in response to the senseless and hysterical actions of our state government, my wife and I homeschooled our children. They have never worn face masks, and what is now being accepted (though slowly and increasingly ignored) as “the new normal” has always been something of an oddity to our kids. When confronted with a teammate wearing a mask during baseball, my 10-year-old didn’t tell him it was stupid or pointless; he asked “Why?” and was met with a blank expression. The private school where they attended in the past proved to be spineless, and we have not looked back. This year, the kids attend a new school — a classical school — that is affiliated with our church and therefore subject to no state regulation. Last week, the kids did a play about Thanksgiving, which featured a giant cardboard Mayflower, a great many facts about the pilgrims and their settlements, a turkey chase scene, and positive messages about maintaining your faith and helping those in need. When they are older, they will surely learn even more about the brokenness of our world and of humanity, and it would be foolish to suggest that they are somehow immune from that reality if not explicitly taught to dwell on the negative.
There are 48 students at the school. On Friday, my wife had drinks with a friend whose son was a classmate of our oldest son at the previous school. She works in the medical profession and is someone with whom I have “argued” over COVID for the past nearly two years. She has very slowly come around to my side, and the straw that has broken the camel’s back is the push to require wholly unnecessary vaccination for children. There is now a lengthy waiting list for our school, and it is likely to double in size next year and still have a waiting list. The school is not just growing, it is blowing up.
Yesterday afternoon, the pastor and I spent some time talking and walking around the church/school building discussing various areas to target for improvement. We discussed the fact that there were two families out last week with COVID, and what struck me most about this conversation was the fact that it felt very nearly the same as one we might have had in years past about families being out with the flu. No announcements, no closures — nothing to hide, and certainly nothing hidden, but the reality is that while obviously the families were courteous in staying home, there was no irrational response (just as there hasn’t been with this group of people for the entire year). Awhile back, the pastor said something to me that I thought was very interesting. He said that he felt almost bad when visiting with friends from over in Seattle and Bellingham. They had related their ongoing struggles with the pandemic and had attempted to empathize with what they imagined to be his plight, asking “What must it be like to attempt a church plant during a pandemic?” His somewhat guilty-feeling response was that it was actually quite easy. He just ignored the pandemic. The church is thriving. There are no sermons about wearing masks to protect your neighbors, there are virtually no masks (we see one or two some weeks, generally from newcomers), there is no discussion about COVID, no prayers about COVID, no worry, and certainly no panic. There have been families that have gotten COVID, and they simply stay home while sick. In this little community, COVID is indistinguishable from the flu, both in the actual impact that it has on individuals and in the response that it elicits.
But it is a community that essentially began in September of last year.
It is correct to observe that the world is not right, just as it is foolish to take that observation as anything more than recognition of an eternal truth. Recent emergence of groups like the Brownstone Institute and the chorus of intelligent scholars and doctors who have dared to contradict the official government narrative is proof, though, that there is still right in the world, as is the resistance of governors like Ron DeSantis and countries like Sweden, which stand in so stark a juxtaposition to tyrants in places like Australia, California, Oregon, and Washington state that history will be unable to avoid notice.
Several months ago, my wife was feeling very discouraged, especially because of the way that our lives have been impacted by mandates and government coercion but also because of what she has been reading, from the socially imposed tyranny of cancel culture to the government mandates, changes in education, growth of government intrusion, and the seemingly unstoppable leviathan that feels like it is crashing through our lives. I put it to her thusly: “Remember the Roaring ’20s? The Depression ’30s? The war-time ’40s and the post-war ’50s, the hippie ’60s, the inflationary ’70s, recovery ’80s, tech-boom ’90s? We are going through something right now that will be just as easily identifiable for its craziness, its reactionary tendencies, its unique manifestation of group think and human stupidity … and just like everything else, it will pass.” I pointed out that our kids will remember this as a strange time but one that they mostly experienced from the outside; that, apart from our jobs, we have been able to structure our lives in such a way that those naked emperors have very little to say about what we do, where we do it, and with whom. And I pointed out that there is a growing number of people who see the way we’re living and are drawn to it. The reality is that truth, no matter how much we pretend that it doesn’t exist, is very real and very present, and it will always emerge. We can declare that math is racist or that the observation of any fact that contradicts the “official truth” is misinformation subject to censorship, but two plus two will always equal four. People will always be able to discover this truth, and those who know it, those who teach it, will be at an advantage. The world is not right, but the world has never been right. Its people reject truth out of insecurity or fear, in need of comfort and control, and they quickly adapt to a new nonsensical status quo, comfortable for a time.
The world is not right, but there is right in the world. The nonsense is still nonsense, and the truth is still truth, and there will always be those seek it, and those who speak out.Published in