Dear Conservative Family and Friends

We, as citizens, contribute to our democratic republic more effectively when we try to understand each other more sincerely.


Dear Conservative Family and Friends,

I love you. Your influence has made me who I am, and I’m grateful. Although I no longer share all the same beliefs as you – and I admit there was a time when I was rather condescending about that, and for that I apologize – I still respect you, and I have even come around to respecting many of the conservative positions you hold. However, some of you, through your Facebook activity, disrespect me and the positions I hold, and, frankly, you’re diminishing civil discourse and productive dialogue in the process.

The way you disrespect me and my positions is by sharing sensational or reductionist political memes that misrepresent those positions. You think such memes are clever, and sharing them gives you a sense of satisfaction, even of superiority, but they do more harm than good. In fact, I believe they do serious harm.

(Yes, liberals also share sensational and reductionist political memes that misrepresent conservative positions, but I see far more such memes from the right.)

What we need, I suspect you’d agree, is better understanding of each other. We all learned from our high school English teachers to consider multiple perspectives, and a precept I try to live by is that I will only advocate for a position if I can effectively advocate for the opposing position first. I believe that we, as citizens, contribute to our democratic republic more effectively when we try to understand each other more sincerely.

When you share political memes that misrepresent liberal positions, you obstruct mutual understanding, and you spread ignorance and misunderstanding. You’re hurting us all.

Anti-Gun Control MemeFor example, one of you recently shared the pictured meme, scoffing at proponents of stricter gun laws: “If we make guns illegal, then nobody will get shot anymore. That’s how we stopped everybody from doing drugs.” In other words, “Stupid liberals think making guns illegal will stop all shootings, but we conservatives are smart enough to know that didn’t work with drugs.” The person who created that meme, and those who share it, do so with smugness, believing themselves to have bested their liberal Facebook friends.

Nobody, however, has been bested.

That meme, like many of the conservative memes against stricter gun laws, is a classic example of what philosophers call a straw man argument. A straw man argument is when you misrepresent your opponent’s position and then rebut that misrepresented position instead of addressing your opponent’s actual position. It’s a cheap tactic, and it’s standard practice for political memes.

The meme above, in one sentence, displays two straw man arguments. First, it suggests that proponents of stricter gun laws want to make all guns illegal. We don’t. Second, the meme suggests that proponents of stricter gun laws believe our proposed gun law reform would eliminate all gun deaths. We don’t believe that, either. What we believe, as President Obama recently explained, is that, by studying gun violence and collecting data on it (similar to the way we’ve studied traffic accidents), we could develop smarter gun laws – without banning guns altogether – that would reduce the number of gun deaths over time.

If you disagree with that, I would love to hear why, and I will engage you respectfully and with an open mind. What I don’t want to hear or see is another ill-conceived political meme that purports to rebut my position but instead misrepresents it and does nothing but spread ignorance and misunderstanding.

So I have a proposal. The next time you see a political meme that you want to share, ask yourself this: “Does this meme accurately represent what my liberal friend/brother/cousin/nephew Bradley believes?” If the answer to that question is no, don’t share the meme. Recognize it as another example of misrepresenting liberal positions and thereby spreading ignorance and misunderstanding.

(Fellow liberals, I implore you to exercise similar caution before sharing anti-conservative political memes.)

There are reasonable arguments against the liberal positions I hold, and there are reasonable arguments for the conservative positions you hold. But reason is rarely found in political memes.

If we can commit to trying to understand each other more sincerely, rather than just dismissing and scoffing at each other’s positions, I believe we can work together – conservative, liberal, everyone in between and beyond – to make this country we all love a better place.

So let’s stop shouting through political memes and instead start trying to understand each other better. We may find that we agree on more than we assume.

Your Liberal Friend/Brother/Cousin/Nephew Who Loves and Respects You,

A Philosophical Wedding Toast

A few months ago, my friend Diana married her British companion Sean, whom I had not met before then. They had a private ceremony at the courthouse and then celebrated with a few of us at my friend Nancy’s house. Both of them have degrees in philosophy and dig Marx. Below is the toast I gave.


First, I want to say I am very pleased to meet Sean and thereby finally have confirmation of his existence. Some of us were beginning to wonder whether he was a hallucination elaborately sustained. However, he is here now: we can see him, hear him, touch him—I suppose we could also smell him and taste him, but I don’t think we’re having that kind of party.

Of course, some philosophers would suggest our sense perceptions of Sean are not actually enough to confirm his reality,  After all, can we really trust our senses? That question has been debated for centuries. However, I’ve never been particularly intrigued by that question.

As a pragmatist, I’m inclined to assert that the usefulness of my belief in Sean’s reality is far more important than his ontological status otherwise established by some metaphysical argument. In other words, believing Sean is real will make this party a lot more fun than pondering the alternatives.

Before I offer a Marxist analysis of Diana and Sean’s marriage, I want to quote the late social scientist and phenomenoligist Alfred Schutz. He said, “It is the meaning of our experiences and not the ontological structure of the objects which constitutes reality.” That is, our realities are determined by the meanings we attach to them. I find this comforting because it means, I think, that reality is malleable because meaning is malleable. The meanings we attach to our realities evolve, and, thus, our realities evolve, too.

Such is the case with marriage. What your marriage means to you a year, five years, twenty years, and fifty years from now will be different than what it means to you today.That does not mean you lack a conceptual framework delimiting the principles or values guiding the evolution of your marriage. On the contrary, if I know Diana—and I think I do—the grounding principles of your marriage are obviously Marxist-feminist, which leads to my conclusion.

First, I have no doubt your marriage does not consist of one party representing the bourgeoisie and the other representing the proletariat, as too many other marriages do. Rather, as outlined by the Communist Manifesto, power and resources will be equitably distributed and work equitably shared. By maintaining a distributive, rather than a centralized, system of power and resources in your marriage, you will avoid the feeling of alienation so many other married persons feel in regard to the work of married life. From Diana’s comments about your relationship the past few months, I know neither of you enter this marriage with a false consciousness about what your marriage means and will mean. Your relationship is transparent and your support for each other is mutual and unshakable. The meanings of your lives, as individuals and as a couple will evolve, no doubt, but you have a relationship in which growth is not impeded by the superstructure of a dominating ideology.

Although as a society, we may never achieve Marx’s utopian vision, I believe your marriage will provide us a glimpse of what that utopia could look like. Therefore, here’s to Diana and Sean and their ever-evolving, but always-happy marriage. Cheers!

Marital Linguistics

For Tracy.

Today Tracy and I celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary. On August 8th, 2009 we publicly declared our lifelong commitment to each other, before a relatively small group of family and friends, at an art gallery in downtown Toledo.

We are married, yet Tracy is not my wife, nor am I her husband. We are each other’s spouses, or life partners.  Continue reading “Marital Linguistics”

Yin and Yang at the World Cup

As I was driving to the theater where I would watch the Women’s World Cup championship match, a terrible thought augured in my mind. We were set to play Japan, a country that had been devastated by an earthquake and tsunami just a few months prior. Their team wasn’t expected to advance past the quarterfinals, yet they had made it all the way to the championship match. The universe was behind them, and we were in trouble.  Continue reading “Yin and Yang at the World Cup”

My First Wedding Message

Recently, I had the honor of officiating my friends Jessica and Alex’s wedding. They had already been married by the court, but they wanted a celebration with a small group of family members and friends. Needing someone always eager to speak in front of a crowd, they immediately thought of me. Below is the message I gave (minus the opening, the readings, and the vows). If you like the message and need a secular, egalitarian wedding officiant, I could be your man. Thank you, Jessica and Alex, for including me in this celebration.  Continue reading “My First Wedding Message”