My Journey to Zion

”. . . as for the truth, it seems like we just pick a theory it's the one that justifies our daily lives. . .” —“Deconstruction” -Emily Saliers, Indigo Girls

Business is good

Business brings jobs. Jobs get people homes and food and all the others things we need. Jobs keep the economy alive and the economy keeps everybody alive. I may be doing things that are bad for working people, but compared to how it would be if they didn't have jobs, whatever they have now is better.


I always intended my blog to include things I make. Here's a first submission.

I arranged a medley of Lift Every Voice and Sing (James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson) and Come, Come Ye Saints (William Clayton). The performance is all me. I'm happy to share the sheet music as a pdf or a MuseScore file on request. Any of my parts of the creation can be used under CC-BY-NC, or contact me for other uses.

The embroidery and carved frame are something I did for my wife. Mostly DMC floss on repurposed linen. The dancers are based on pictures from The Art of Movement by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory. The wood is from a local oak that fell in a tornado, coated in epoxy.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing, 'Til earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the listening skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on 'til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place For which our fathers died. We have come, over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, 'Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet, stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.

Come, Come Ye Saints

William Clayton 3rd and 4th verses combined

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear; But with joy wend your way. Though hard to you this journey may appear, Grace shall be as your day. Tis better far for us to strive Our useless cares from us to drive; Do this, and joy your hearts will swell - All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? 'Tis not so; all is right. Why should we think to earn a great reward If we now shun the fight? Gird up your loins; fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake; And soon we'll have this tale to tell- All is well! All is well!

We'll find the place which God for us prepared, Happy day! All is well! Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid; With the just we shall dwell! We'll make the air, with music ring, Shout praises to our God and King; Oh, how we'll make this chorus swell- All is well! All is well!


Since I first discovered Transhumanism around 2010, I been drawn to the big philosophical thinking and ideals of thetranshumanist declaration and the Mormon transhumanist affirmation. I still see a lot of careful, generous, and aspirational thought behind them, but I have come to the conclusion that the most effective transhumanist organizations are not any with the name “transhumanist,” but instead those working toward equality and sustainability, now.

Technological Research

There are scientists the world over working on projects with the potential to help billions of people or to unlock yet unrealized human abilities. Almost all of this research has the potential to contribute, at least in part, to ethical transhumanism. But within the current economic structures of our world, most of it is directed toward ultimately consumptive—and consequently destructive—ends.

Gut microbiome-brain connection

As an example, we have relatively recently learned about strong connections between the bacteria and fungi in our intestines (the gut microbiome) and our mental and physical well-being. In the last 20 years the number of publications in this area have exploded. Here are the basics:

  • Probiotics are bacteria and fungi in our gut that produce chemicals that make us healthier or make us feel better.
  • Prebiotics are foods that help probiotics thrive. As a first approximation, this means a high fiber diet.
  • Postbiotics are the chemicals made by the probiotics.

I listened to an American Chemical Society webinar on this topic, and a few things stood out to me. Someone with more time could pretty easily double check all of this (and maybe should), but since the patterns match what is seen in other areas, I'm confident in sharing my imprecise memories.

  • The broadest societal benefits from probiotics would come from understanding prebiotics and natural foods containing probiotics, and fostering healthy diets throughout society.
  • This would likely require our entire food system and culture to shift from being built around meat and simple carbohydrates to being vegetable centered.
  • It would require major changes in how farming is done, how we distribute our food, and how we eat.

As individuals we can work towards these ends (e.g. supporting local agriculture, changing to a mostly vegetarian diet, slowing our lives down so we have time to prepare fresh food, etc.), but all of these things fight against how our society is arranged, and they are hard and often expensive. In contrast, here is how it is, now:

  • Most research funding into pre-, pro-, and post-biotics comes from big corporations (pharmaceuticals, primarily).
  • Of the relatively smaller funding from public sources, a significant portion will be targeted at projects that can be transitioned to support commercial application and our current healthcare system.
  • Our current economic system is built around what can be patented and sold, and our healthcare system (in the US) is built around fixing problems after they happen.
  • Current health supplement laws in the US make it bad for food companies to research the effects of pre- and pro-biotics. As long as they make general wellness claims, they can sell pretty much whatever they want. As soon as they make a specific, tested claim, then the underfunded Food and Drug Administration can regulate them.

So what is most of the research being done?

  • Relatively low impact, infrequent, incomplete, ambiguous, small sample size or small effect research into the effects of diet. I know this statement oversimplifies and downplays the work of dedicated scientists doing important work that I find really impressive, but I'm painting with broad strokes.
  • Well funded research into postbiotics that could be commercially produced by pharmaceutical companies and sold at a large profit to Americans with expensive health insurance.
  • Well funded research into genetically modified probiotics that can be patented and sold to consumers for a large profit.

It's not to say that these latter two paths of research do not benefit society. They are simply designed to benefit shareholders first and whoever can afford the product second.

I chose this example of what could be considered a transhumanist technology because I'm more familiar with it than many others. Hopefully this example illustrates how development of transhumanist technologies within selfish, capitalist systems creates selfish, capitalist technology. It has almost nothing to do with the intent of the scientists involved. Perhaps all of them want to do work that is interesting and beneficial to humanity (I haven't met any who don't have these desires, and I've met and listened to more than a few), but they also want jobs that let them take care of themselves and their families now. How we've organized our economy means that those jobs are working for corporations whose only responsibility (for the last 30-40 years) is to make money for shareholders. If their research isn't leading toward corporate profits, it gets stopped. So of all the hundreds of millions (probably billions) of dollars poured into gut-microbiome research, only a tiny percentage is specifically directed toward understanding how to help people eat better in order to improve our health.

Transhumanist Associations

I'll start by admitting limited involvement with transhumanist organizations. I spent a lot of time with the Mormon Transhumanist Association several years ago. I interacted with people trying to start a Transhumanist political party in the US. I've tangentially observed what prominent transhumanists write about, what other transhumanist organizations write about and publish on their social media feeds, and I've observed the demographics of these organizations. Here are the things that seem most prominent in these circles:

  • Philosophical discussions defending the aspiration to become transhuman in different ways (physically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, technologically, etc.).
  • Excitement over technologies that push boundaries.
  • Excitement over researchers and business people that push technological boundaries.
  • Speculative discussions about possibilities of living forever, becoming super smart, etc.
  • Links to information about products that can help us be a little more transhuman, now.
  • Among religious transhumanists, discussions of how religion and transhumanism can be integrated.

Of course there are small amounts of all sorts of other things, and it can be a lot of fun, if you like this kind of stuff. These groups tend to be fairly optimistic, thinking we humans have a pretty good chance of solving our biggest problems, even while recognizing that some things threaten the very existence of humanity. But some parts of the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation get more attention than others.

Transhumanists mostly aren't focused on changing the social order so that it's possible for responsible decisions to be made. They are more often focused on new tech to extend lives like their own than on policies spreading wealth to relieve and empower the billions of poor in the world. They are more often focused on the possibilities of technological advances than on the costs of the advances that can be externalized to other people and places in the world. The artificial health regimens of rich tech leaders trying to live forever get more attention than reducing our resource footprint so that miners and communities in China, Argentina, and the Congo don't have to suffer the effects of rare metal mining. Solar power advances get more attention than ways we could use less energy as a society. There is a lot of talk about changing the world with technology, and not a lot of is talk about changing the fundamental systems within which the technologies are made.

Changing the Systems

Many transhumanists know we have to change the systems. To some of us it is obvious that a fundamentally greedy, consumerist, capitalist system will produce selfish, wasteful, ultimately destructive technology. Just look at Elon Musk and other private companies cluttering space, for the purpose of making money on Earth, to the point that we are beginning to impede space science and could eventually prevent humanity from traveling to the stars. Without a focus on changing our current social and economics systems in some fundamental ways, we will fail in realizing the Transhumanist Declaration. Without a focus on new systems that undo the greed of capitalism and consumerism, transhumanist activism and activities will inevitably fail in realizing their hopes of an ethical, thriving future.

So for me, after a few years of reflecting on my transhumanist involvement, I've decided the most effective transhumanist groups don't even think about transhumanism. They are the groups working for equality and dignity for all humans. They are the groups resisting authoritarianism and fascism. They are the groups working to preserve our environment. They are the groups resisting capitalist greed. They are the groups recognizing all that we share and working to use it responsibly. They are the groups fostering greater democracy in our nations and in our businesses. They are the groups undoing discriminatory laws.

It's not the so called tech visionaries that are going to save humanity. Maybe they can save themselves, if they are selfish and lucky enough. It's the revolutionaries working for peace and justice that will save humanity. They will make the systems that work for all of us—not just for the rich and powerful. And within those new systems we will have a hope of developing ethical new technologies that can lift up all of humanity.


I arranged this medley of Lift Every Voice and Sing, by James Welden Johnson and Come, Come Ye Saints, by William Clayton. Everything about it is amateur, but the feeling is sincere.

I have been thinking about civil rights and all of my hopes for a happy and thriving world. And as I do, all the stories and ideals that have shaped my life prick at my emotions, leaving me with a very physical feeling of hope and discouragement stretching in my chest. I no longer easily recall chapter and verse, but Mormonism was once led by radical prophets calling us to forsake the systems and power structures of the world and to build Zion. The calls of these prophets, with all their flaws, have led me to seek for the prophets speaking today. I look for the people calling us to repentance—calling us to forsake the evils that will lead to our destruction and to build the land of peace and equality that will save us.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, these are some messages I hope we, as Mormons, as Americans, and as citizens of the world will hear. But I speak most to those like myself—American Mormons who have grown in a world of opportunities shaped by the sacrifices of our ancestors.

Laws Against Being

Only a few generations ago, laws were made specifically so that Mormons could be sent to jail and denied the vote. None of the laws said, “Being Mormon is illegal,” but every Mormon knew that's what the laws were about. Today, we have laws meant to put people of color in jail and keep them from voting. None of the laws say, “It's illegal to be black,” but that's exactly why the war on drugs was shaped the way it was. It's exactly why zoning laws, voter ID laws, and numerous other laws and policies have been made as they are. Laws are being made to protect children and women, or to make sports fair, while every trans-person knows they are really laws making it illegal to be trans.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to change the laws and treat all people justly. Calling us to stop making it illegal to be Black, poor, or foreign and for us to make everyone's vote count. I pray that we will listen.

A Home for Everyone

When Alma the Elder and his people escaped slavery, the Nephites welcomed them in and integrated them into their society. When the Anti-Nephi-Lehies fled genocide, the Nephites made a land for them and protected them from invaders following behind with their military might. We are told Zion will be a refuge for everyone who doesn't want to take up arms against their neighbor. Today, as a result of climate change and wars that we have helped create, there are more displaced people and refugees than ever before in the world. They are suffering, looking for peace and safety.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to welcome the wretched and oppressed, to integrate them into our safe society, to make lands for them, and to protect them from those who would follow behind and hurt them. I pray that we will listen.

Our ancestors left poverty and religious rigidity enforced by state and culture. They built homes in new places. They were driven from those homes repeatedly. Finally they took lands among and from Native Americans who themselves had been killed, driven, and oppressed. They had a right to places to live, to be safe, to work and have food. Today there are many within our own country lacking places to live, to be safe, to work, and to have certain and healthy food.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to stop our greed. To tax the wealthy so that we can house the unhoused, care for those who are young, old, sick, or disabled. Calling us to stop valorizing those who get rich off the labor of others, or by gaming the financial and legal systems, or who pretend that their idea work is thousands of times more valuable than the essential work of the many who realize and support their ideas and lives. Calling us to claim the dignity of human life because it is human life, and not because of what it contributes to the economy. And in respecting this human dignity and the equality of all born to this world, we will create opportunity and freedom for more and more people, instead of freedom for the wealthy, the powerful, and inhuman corporations. I pray that we will listen.

No One Is Above the Law

The Book of Mormon tells of good kings and bad kings. The good kings served their people. The bad kings made their people rich and themselves richer until it all fell apart. The good kings loved the poor. The bad kings surrounded themselves with corrupt advisers, pushed away the poor, and drove out dissidents. Under the judges, good judges were just and protected the poor. Bad judges were bought and protected themselves and the wealthy. Today we live in a country where what the typical American wants has almost no impact on what is made into law. To get anything common sense done we have to fight tooth and nail against the moneyed interests that benefit from rigging the system. We live in a country where the last President pardoned his own advisers who were convicted of crimes benefiting the President. We live in a country where chief judges have taken bribes to change the laws in favor of the wealthy and unscrupulous.

There are prophets calling us to repent. Calling us to hold our Presidents, our Supreme Court Justices, and our CEOs responsible to uphold the same moral standards most of us expect of ourselves and those around us. Calling us to make laws that benefit all, apply to all, and make the world fair and safe for all—a world that shares its plenty and its pain, not a world that hoards its plenty for the few and grows its pain for the rest. I pray that we will listen.

I and Thou

I hope that I see you as a person, and treat you as a person. I originally started a thought piece, telling the Mormon origins of my moral world, but I had to let it go. There is good work to be done. There are obvious changes we can make for a more just, equal, and peaceful world. To change, we have to listen to the prophets showing us the way forward, not those benefiting from the power and wealth they have invested in the laws and institutions that now are. I must hope that we can change the world.


Progressive Mormonism

To learn about how Mormon thought led to my progressive ideals, Hugh Nibley is probably the best source. In essays collected in two books, he uses Mormon scripture and the teachings of Mormon prophets to call us to build Zion. Both are available for 1 hour, repeated check outs on Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. Much of this book is a call to repentance for modern Mormonism based on the words and teachings of Brigham Young. Calls for us to treat the environment well, to participate in politics but not be ruled by party politics, to renounce war, to seek out the best scholarship and to seek excellence in education, and to challenge authoritarian leadership—even if it is in the Mormon church. And this is an abbreviated list.

Approaching Zion. Here Nibley made many pointed critiques of capitalism, grounded in Mormon scripture, history, and words of modern prophets. He decried the concessions we make to accommodate the powerful, capitalist structures of America, and recognized that all that we have is a gift—even if we work hard for it—and we must be willing to share it with everyone if we are to ever have Zion.

Martin Buber

It may be better to read about Martin Buber than to read his original writing, but I've never been sorry I put in the truly hard work to read I and Thou. This philosophy, and that of C. Terry Warner in Bonds That Make Us Free had a great influence on the idealism of my 20s and 30s.


At some point I decided it was worth believing what the world was like for people of color and other oppressed groups. So I started reading their stories, and investigating the sociological evidence carefully collected, analyzed, and presented by scholars and journalists. It often didn't match up with the narratives I was accustomed to and had incorporated into my visions of Zion, but I think it's been worth the journey. If you want a reading suggestion, tell me a topic and I'll tell you if I've read something good about it. I'm no expert, but I might be able to point you toward thoughtful, compassionate, and eloquent people who are.

Updated Forward

I wrote this post almost seven years ago. I'm surprised how little it needs updating. Instead of decrying political correctness, Republicans now rail against woke-ness. Yet every chance they get they put, front and center, every woman or person of color they can find who will be a spokesperson for their agenda. The NRA has a female governor speak to a sea of white men. A Black football hero in Georgia, with no experience and no message, is chosen to run against Raphael Warnock, a Black preacher with a lifetime of social justice activism. Republican women in the Georgia state legislature privately tell a colleague they don't want to vote for the anti-abortion bills, but they have to or else they will lose places on committees and other positions of influence. Republican legislators want the women's votes, but not their opinions.

Let's look at some numbers from the U.S. and my state of Georgia. Data are from the Pew Research Center from 2020 or later, a congressional report for the 117th congress, and by examining photographs of Georgia state legislators at

Approximately 1 in 3 Americans is not white. In the U.S. House and Senate, only 1 in 10 Republican legislators is a person of color, while 4 in 10 Democratic legislators are people of color. 2 out of 5 Georgians are people of color. Out of 133 Republican state legislators, one might be a light skinned person of color. In contrast 82 from 105 Democrats are people of color.

Approximately half of Americans are women. In the House and Senate, 1/6 of Republicans are women, while 2/5 of Democrats are women. In the Georgia State Assembly, 1/7 of Republicans are women while 3/5 of Democrats are women.

It's little wonder to me that people who demographically don't represent Americans, and even less so Georgians, spend so much energy attacking political correctness, woke-ness, and diversity, while at the same time playing up every little bit of diversity they can claim.

Now I'm going to share the thoughts I wrote seven years ago (with minor edits) after the opening night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention:

I want to make a better world

I care about living in a better, safer, kinder, more loving world, and I feel pretty strongly about bringing the good I have to others. That's what drove my missionary zeal for many years. I wanted (and still do) everyone to be welcomed into the joys of Zion, even though I knew we would have to build it together. Sharing good is a big part of why I love teaching undergraduate Chemistry. I feel like strong scientific reasoning is an important tool that can help everyone live a better, fuller life. It's likely that less than 5% of my students will become scientists, and only one every few years will become a chemist, but it still seems worth it to me.

Women's rights and equality of income indicate a better world

I have recently been convinced of two striking correlations relevant to my goal of a better world. There are two metrics that are strong indicators of a world I value. First, countries that treat women better are more peaceful than those who treat women worse. This treatment is measured by a variety of standards falling under three major headers: physical safety, equality in family law, and parity in decision making councils. When women are physically safe in a society from all types of violence, countries are more peaceful. When women have more independent, legal rights, countries are more peaceful. When women are represented equally in decision making councils, countries are more peaceful. You can learn all about this and ways you can help in Sex and World Peace, written in part by a fellow Mormon, former BYU professor (current Texas A&M professor and expert on International Security) Valerie Hudson.

The second metric is that countries are better when there is less income inequality. Better in almost every way measurable. Go check out this TED talk by Richard Wilkinson and maybe follow some of the links to learn more. It is quite striking.

Truth is not all—the teacher matters

For all of my memory I have believed in seeking truth and seeking to be right. The gospel encompasses all truth, so I should seek to have all truth, like God. I think I love truth, but I have come to doubt the possibility of having all of it—even for God. In the process, I have come to value other moral goods more highly. Atonement and love are much higher on my list. I try to remember the two great commandments, and that in Zion they were of one heart and one mind, and there were no poor among them. Unity is essential to Zion, but I discovered that diversity is, too. Without it, Gods will cease to be Gods. So it seems, in the world I dream of, truth is too big to know alone, diversity is essential to godly success, and we can tell we are headed toward that world when women are measurably safe and part of human progress, and there are no rich or poor among us. All this has made me believe that, for all the amazing white men I have learned from and emulated for a lifetime (and I think it's a pretty impressive list), and for however good this white man may be at what I do in life, Zion will never truly be until all are alike unto us, not just unto God.

The Democratic National Convention

I've felt the Bern. I even gave one of those 8 million donations of approximately $27. I was sad to have my revolutionary candidate surpassed by a politician I consider smart, ambitious, strong, level-headed, but too tied in to big money and the inevitable compromises that come over a lifetime of such ties. When I got the email that Bernie would be speaking at the Democratic National Convention, I decided to listen to a DNC talk for the first time in my life. I went to the website and tried to find it, and to my great blessing, I only found a seven hour long feed with no indication of when he spoke. I began clicking through the feed 2-3 minutes at a time to see who was speaking. The words I stopped for were predictable, political babble. I skipped past to see who the next political babbler would be so I could get to Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders. Within a few minutes I started to marvel. Then tears came to my eyes. What I saw was women's faces, black faces, immigrant faces, Latina and Latino faces, faces of the disabled, and gay faces. The Latina congresswoman from California was inspirational. The daughter of immigrants tore at my heart, as I'm sure was intended. White male faces comprised less than 1/3 of the visible representatives of the Democratic Party. I don't imagine white men are voiceless in the Democratic Party, but I know it matters who has a voice. It matters who is represented by our government, AND it matters who FEELS represented by our government. I became an impassioned blogger because I felt how the disaffected from Mormonism had no real voice in Mormonism, and these included people I love. There are good reasons the RNC skewed their speakers to appear more diverse than their delegates, and good reasons LDS media does the same with representing members. Appearance is a kind of voice and a kind of message, and I hope the politically correct public relations efforts of Republicans and Mormons will eventually change the attitudes rejecting the “political correctness” that is really respect for people who are different from you. I didn't listen to most of the words, but I was moved to see so many faces of the vulnerable represented and celebrated on a political stage. I was thrilled to see significant diversity among the delegates as well. I don't know what mostly was said, but these are the faces I want my children learning from. I want them to know the world and know good leaders from many cultures and backgrounds.

Michelle Obama's speech

I'll end with a few more political thoughts inspired by Michelle Obama's speech. I think it matters that a black school child could ask President Obama, “Is your hair the same as mine?” I think it matters that children have chosen to write book reports about the Obamas for their school classes. I think it matters that black children can imagine doing good for the world as President of the United States of America. And I imagine four years from now my elementary school aged children choosing to write a report about the life of a President of the United States. I hope they will be proud to think, I can live a good, courageous life, fighting for women's rights, using my gifts to help the vulnerable, making hard decisions and difficult compromises, treating people with respect, living through family sorrow, making mistakes and even wrong choices, but going forward with hope—just like the 44th President of the United States. I hope that is the message they will see.

Committing to Family

I am the fifth of six children. I always think of myself as the fourth, because I had an older sister I never knew, but she is still part of the family to my parents and older sisters. I have four children of my own. I wanted to be a father for years before I had my first child at 33. I spent thousands of hours babysitting my nieces and nephews. One of my favorite books during graduate school was The Emeperor's Embrace: Reflections on Animal Families and Fatherhood by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. I have his manifesto for fatherhood from the last chapter, inspired by the most loving animal fathers and human evolution, posted outside my office at work. Fathers evolved to play with their children. Fathers evolved to sleep with their children. Fathers evolved to carry their children. Fathers evolved to work with their children nearby. We don't have to be violent or neglectful fathers, like chimpanzees and lions. We can be nurturing fathers, like wolves and emperor penguins.

But I left the Mormon community that taught me to value family. The community that told me every week that family is important. That we need to protect the family. Six years distant from these constant messages, I read a devotional talk by a sociologist and historian, published in my Alma Mater's magazine, affirming that the sacred promises we make to live in families are commitments that help us thrive as humans. They are commitments that are essential to flourishing societies. And that sociological evidence supports our religious commitment to the family.

Ideological Signaling, Not a Call to Build Up Families

I read with a kind of sick fascination as I watched how sociological evidence was crafted to send the feel good message that everything you have absorbed from Mormon teachings and culture about the importance of family is not only inspired by God, but also supported by science to make people resilient, happy, and healthy.


The secondary virtue of unity

I really struggle with calls to replace division with compassion and unity. Of course almost everyone wants this. We know it is better for most everyone. Anger and division hurt people. But sometimes division is already there — hidden, ignored, justified, or unvalued. Sometimes calls for unity, generosity, patience, and grace are weaponized by oppressors to silence the other. We have seen it done for decades or centuries by powerful groups—sometimes fairly benevolently, and too often disastrously, for the oppressed. Clearly, fostering division and anger for the sake of destruction or power is wrong. But bringing division and anger into public view, when they have been caused by oppression, is better than keeping them repressed. Oppression and superficial unity are greater ills than disunity or anger.

I have many times in the last year heard calls from politically moderate (and conservative) friends and acquaintances for greater dialogue and understanding. I have seen influential thinkers call for more balance and openness in our academic discourse. I have watched them call out angry people on the left, often correctly, for saying inflammatory things that even hurt allies and potential allies. I have watched many call out cancel culture on the left. I have shared some of their distress, and chosen not to participate in cancel culture attacks on individuals. Too often such attacks are the bullying critics say they are. I have seen call out culture do personal harm, and I think it's clear that calling out is the opposite of a good way to help people change. Shame does not foster reconciliation or compromise.

I can understand how people are offended, rightly. I can understand how people see self-seeking in leaders who are using the anger of the oppressed for their own gain. I also see how people are offended because they want their selfish actions to be righteous, or because they want their flawed ideology to be the way of truth. I see how so many of us call repentance from the rooftops, but condemn anyone calling us to repentance as false prophets. I realize the danger that I am making exactly that error, yet I persist.

Dangers of Intolerance

I find convincing Karl Popper's argument that the one thing a liberal democracy cannot tolerate is intolerance. As should be a surprise to almost no one, people of different political perspectives are about equally prejudiced toward those they perceive as having opposing moral values. There is really interesting research into this, and a well constructed article about the findings:

I definitely fall into the camp of believing that the intolerance of liberals is less damaging than the intolerance of conservatives. In fact, I think the liberal intolerance is essential to removing institutionalized intolerance and oppression from our society. But I recognize the value of conservatives putting the brakes on changes that could simply result in different kinds of oppression. I fortunately have friends willing to instruct me in things I overlook in my zeal for change—whether we ultimately agree or not.

Circumstance, Consequence, and Intent

That said, at this moment in time, American conservatives have elected politicians who have systematically refused to cooperate and seek common ground with the American left for 25 years. The refusal to compromise reached an extreme intensity after the election of President Obama. Republicans haven't even been subtle about it since Mitch McConnell became head of the Republican party in the Senate. Whatever I may think about individual Republican voters or others with more conservative ideologies than my own, at this moment in history they have tied themselves to Trump, McConnell, and the racism of the Southern Strategy. They have elected representatives who have nearly universally supported—with their votes if not with their hearts—every racist, anti-science, and anti-truth act that Trump's Republican administration has worked for. These elected officials have downplayed the seriousness of Russian interference in our elections through efforts to sew greater division among us. And they have blamed liberals for divisions that Republicans have actively and intentionally fostered for two decades.

At this level, it is simple truth to say that large numbers of White, feminist women were influential in electing our current, Republican administration, to the detriment of most people of color, and leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths from COVID. It's simply true that the majority of Latter-day Saints have given their support to these lies, divisions, oppressions, and deaths. It is simply true that most of my Georgian neighbors have done the same. It's even more true to say that White men, certainly including many of us who believe we support equality and justice for all, elected the current administration. I am aware that many in these groups did not vote for the Republicans currently in power. I am aware that many White women and Latter-day Saints plan to change their votes in the 2020 election, although I don't know predicted percentages. I am aware that even most White men under about age 50 did not vote for the current President or his enablers, and even many White men over 50 did not vote for these people. But I see how large groups of good people have effectively lent their support to maintaining divisions, and a lopsidedly divisive Republican strategy.

I think I really value peace. So is it best for me to spend my energy calling for grace and an end to division? We need that, in the long run, if we hope to ever make eternal peace.

Or is it better for me to call attention to the wrongs with more grace and less anger than the other, angry, ungenerous people?

I have chosen to do the latter, as best I can. I am of the opinion that the former is a form of political correctness that supports the repressive Republican regime currently in power, however much the people calling for more grace intend otherwise. I actually think calls for grace and understanding are good. We should all make them, at times, and we should all seek to be gracious and generous. But this kind of generosity does practical harm when it is not accompanied by louder calls and actions to end the causes of the division and oppression.

I also think my perspectives are influenced by my geography and culture. My older sister tells me of the excuses for violence that agitated people in her liberal city make. I hope if I lived there that I would stand up to my people and not join in their violence, or their acceptance of violence from others. I hear my niece has done just that. But I live in rural Georgia, and in Mormon culture, and liberals are not in power here. They are not violent. They are more often silent. I only hear of the tensions from my few Black friends who sometimes talk politics with me. I never see them talk politics on social media. For me the world seems like business as usual, with very little crime and almost no violent crime. For some of my friends it is tense. Where I exist, the liberal violence is miles away, but the fear that causes silence about racism continues to be the dominant position of our community.

I am certain my circumstances shape my experience of right and left wing violence and vilification, and my judgment of violence against people and property elsewhere in the nation. Taking the side of disunity is a troubling decision for me, but I think those of us who live amongst right wing power benefit from the messy work of activism in liberal communities and need to weigh carefully the consequences in our own community of how we judge the actions—even violent ones—of people in distant communities. Condemnation of the relatively small acts of violence by agitators for greater justice is too often heard as justification for continued support of large, institutional violence. Both must come to and end, but perhaps the volume of our calls to repentance should be proportioned to the degree of the violence being done. Perhaps the calls should do more to recognize that not all vilification is spoken aloud, and not all violence happens at riots. The most effective vilification is that internalized by individuals and unspoken to themselves and their neighbors. The most effective vilification is fed to the oppressed and the oppressor in the water we drink and the food we eat. The most extensive violence is that lived continually by oppressed people.

The Hard Problem of Peace and Judgment

I have a very difficult problem. I have intimately been part of and relied on the LDS Church for a lifetime. I feel that the LDS Church's decisions to not take unambiguous stands on current political issues—issues that have surfaced in the US, but also in most of Europe, in Brazil, and in many other countries around the world—effectively sustain authoritarian politics. I judge the messages as ambiguous because of their effects. I see votes little changed by messages in support of refugees or against racism, and I find rhetoric among my acquaintance little changed in justifying support for anti-immigrant and other racist policies. Instead of experiencing chastisement with these messages, I see people unmoved, or even vindicated by the messages. They are able to interpret them in their own ways, and have consciences unpricked on these subjects by the messages they hear in church each week and each year. I hear messages of unity and peace for the majority at the continued expense of the minority. I see work so institutionally focused on the small, and so ruled by the ideal of unity, that my priorities have taken a different path than the church's. I ask myself, why is there not more agitation over the calls to repentance, and why do the calls not lead to clearer cultural change? Why instead do I hear more from the moderates I encounter about unity, and more about how agitators for change are doing it wrong, than I hear about recognizing and changing broken structures in our communities? I hear more about how individuals need to change than acknowledgement of the ills of our institutions. I hear too little about how we can change our institutions—including ideological ones—to foster good over ill in individuals.

I do not blame voters for the actions of their elected officials. I do not blame those who send ambiguous messages for the direct violence committed in the names of their ideologies. Each person bears responsibility for their own actions, as far as their own choices lead to those actions. I do hold myself responsible for giving continued support to people doing harm, and I expect others to do the same. It is difficult, because we all do harm, and all institutions do harm (or they don't do anything worth mentioning). But each of us, and every institution I've ever been part of, also does good, and I hold myself and others responsible for doing and supporting good, as well. Each decision carries weight we can't fully comprehend, so it is an ongoing moral task to judge what our actions should be and where our support should be given.

I find the trajectory of politics in this moment to be authoritarian. I find right wing actions and policies to be much more authoritarian and exclusive than left wing actions and policies. I have found groups on the left—mostly labeled as far left, although I deem them otherwise—making inroads toward more inclusive, fair, and democratic government and economic systems. I don't see these groups on the right. I don't see groups making progress in changing the Republican party towards these ends. I don't see my church or community setting clear, public priorities for the reforms I value most. So the fact that many of my priorities are making the news—even in condemnation—gives me hope and courage, after years of discouragement. I experience messages that there are places where many others share my priorities. But I don't live in one of those places. I don't attend one of those churches. I live in spaces that sustain with their votes an increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regime.

It's difficult, because the LDS Church and my friends and acquaintances each condemn authoritarian politics in other ways. They unequivocally condemn corruption, in principle, but judge its extent and seriousness differently than I do. For me, these commonalities aren't enough. They are outweighed by the commitment to repressive systems, which they show by their majority support of unreformed Republicanism, and by rhetoric and structure that will not condemn authoritarian rule within the church and community. So I am left searching for groups of people I can make common cause with on issues I consider most pressing. And I find myself distanced from community that I have intensely relied on.

These are not simple matters. Our choices label people with whom we share much in common as doing wrong. I label my friends as misguided, uninformed, unnuanced in their thought, racist and sexist in their actions (although not their hearts). I label them anti-science. I label them enablers of corruption. I label them not smart. I label them fanatical about single issues. I think no friend gets all of these labels, but they are all labels I place. I haven't figured out a way to be ok with the lopsided political divisiveness of the last 25 years. I haven't figured out a way to be ok with acceptance (and too often justification) of the blatant, publicly documented corruption of the Trump administration and Mitch McConnell. I haven't figured out a way to be ok with the both-sides-ism that, while I acknowledge truth to it, is decidedly lopsided on political measures of corruption and willingness to work with the other side. I haven't found a way to be ok with supporting the President's selfish response to COVID that has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths in our country, millions of unnecessary illnesses, and unknown numbers of lasting injuries. So I label even my friends as good or bad in this divisive time. These labels cannot continue if we are to have peace. I can't hang onto these labels and make peace.

The Cost of Seeking Peace

Almost everyone must seek peace if we are going to have it, but at what cost do I condemn division in the name of peace? At what cost do I amplify division?

I am willing to let that cost be in lost community and friendships, for me, if it must be. My Mormon ancestors paid that price to find a community that better matched their search for truth and goodness, and their hopes for the future. I hope I'm not making huge mistakes, and I hope that I won't lose too much. I hope I will see the promised land, but there are no guarantees. There is no home in the Rocky Mountains for me to arrive at. And more than one of my ancestors died on the journey.

I am willing to let the cost be offending friends and family, although I hope we will do the work to find reconciliation in important relationships.

I am not willing to let that cost be letting my friends think I am ok with the consequences, or the justifications, when they decide to support the current Republican administration or the Republican Senators who are enabling the President. Votes for any of these people are, in effect if not intent, votes to continue great harms to people of color, women, working families, people susceptible to COVID, people with preexisting conditions, and many others. They are effectively votes to sustain a man willing to call on White supremacist militias to stand by, and to give them what they perceive as license to prepare for violence, and justification for their overtly racist, fanatical, and anti-democratic desires.

I would love to feel peace, safety, and support around the communities and people that fostered me throughout my life. I am fortunate that I do have that with my family and with many of my friends—even ones who disagree with me politically. I have also lost much that was precious to me. But I can't go back, seeking what for me would be a false peace and unity. I feel the pull of the Indigo Girls' lyric, “I won't stop short at common ground that vilifies the trodden down.”

#tolerance #unity #anger #LDS #politics #prejudice #personaljourney #Mormons #politicalcorrectness #tonepolicing #gatekeeping #judgment #vilification #politicalviolence #peace #seekingpeace #friendship #leftvright

I turned into our small town Walmart parking lot around 7 on an 85 degree, gnat plagued, Middle Georgia evening in June. A middle aged man in a light colored shirt stood outside a white minivan. The windows were rolled down and the side door open. A woman in a white dress holding a small baby stood nearby. The man held a sign that read, “Out of work. 4 children. Please help. Thank you.” I was headed inside for my once a week quarantine shopping trip—all our groceries and everything else that we think we might need and that Walmart supplies—and I decided I would be back to give them some money. I had picked up some cash in case we needed to pay someone for help with some unforeseen, quarantine related problem. We were still employed. We could help.

As I went through the store, overloading my cart—five gallons of milk, four dozen eggs, five loaves of bread, fruit and vegetables for a week, a package of toilet paper after a few weeks of empty shelves, and everything else. I worried, sporadically, as I tried to track down my shopping list.

Maybe they would be gone before I finished.

How much can we give them?

We can give $80, right?

We just spent more than that on our ready-to-cook meals for the week from Hello Fresh.

Should I give more?

My kids want popsicles. I can offer their kids a box of popsicles.

It's hot out. Maybe I should just offer them a choice of popsicles to eat right away. That's what I'll do.

I hope they are still there.

Hurry up and finish!

They are still there. Hurry and unload.

I jogged my cart across the parking lot to our minivan, like I do when I'm feeling anxious or happy—so two trips in three. I propped up the hatchback with a broom to keep the worn out piston supports from dropping it on my head while I jumbled our hodge-podge of reusable shopping bags and insulated coolers into the back of the van, trying to remember which bags had the bananas and peaches. I shoved the cooler with the popsicles in the side door so I could get it out quickly. I drove two parking rows back toward the entrance and quickly put the van it park. I took the money out of my pocket—folded up in my hand so it wasn't obvious how much. Giving the right amount was impossible, so I was embarrassed whether it was too little or too much. I grabbed the popsicle cooler, tore open the box tops, and stepped the 15 feet over to the family. I handed the mom the money—she was closest—and asked, through the beautiful, purple and green mask my mom sewed me, if anyone wanted popsicles.

The mother took the money in her free hand—the baby was that small—and offered sincere, submissive thanks. I was surprised by the Middle Eastern accent—I had expected a Latin accent. The father encouraged the oldest girl and boy, probably 10 and 7 years old, to pick a kind of popsicle. The 4 year old brother was asleep in his car seat. I understood, at 7:30 on a hot summer evening. I would have loved to leave a box for when he woke, but I didn't think to leave a cooler to keep it in. My brain began to register that this was my family, one year back. Both parents with some added weight from age and kids. Probably married in their late 20s. Four kids at approximately three year intervals.

The parents said thank you, profusely. The father touched his hand over his heart and inclined his head a little as he repeated his thanks. I said something inane about being fortunate to still have a job, and climbed back in my car and started driving away. As I turned across the town's main road toward home, I thought, maybe I should go back and see if we can help more. Do they need a place to stay?

I kept driving and started cursing out this world we have created. The unthinking selfishness of all the people who built our comfort by excluding and exploiting immigrants and other minorities. All the people who, with selfish uncaring, exploited our fears and hopes to keep the rich rich, the White White, the Christian Christian, and the poor and foreign poor and foreign. Cursing the choices of previous generations that had let our country sell out its government to rich corporations buying legislation through corrupt, or well-intentioned but compromised, politicians. Cursing the individualist ethos that enshrined unfettered, authoritarian, “free-market” Capitalism as God's government, and labeled good government, meant to work for everyone, as “Socialism!”

My whole, philosophical condemnation of my country, friends, neighbors, relatives, and elders, built up over three idealistic decades of wishing for a better world, bounced around my head as I took deep breaths to keep my eyes clear, and slammed my hands on the steering wheel. Two minutes later I got out of the car, grabbed the coolers of frozen food, and headed in the door, sobbing.

I couldn't stop. I couldn't talk. Somehow I communicated to my wife that I wasn't hurt. No one was hurt. I shoved the frozen food in the freezer and continued to ball. I was hunched over, leaning on the kitchen counter as my kids watched. I scrubbed my hands and face and washed my mask, still crying.

Back in the dining room, I sat on the floor in a ball, still unable to talk, with tears running down my face, my stomach and throat getting tired from clenching uncontrollably.

Several minutes later, I could finally tell my wife and kids what I saw and what I'd done. I could try to explain to my 11 and 8 year olds why I was so sad and angry. I tried.

#immigrants #ruralgeorgia #pandemic #family #youngchildren #crying

What I see when my friends tell me Trump has done good things for our country

I have friends who won't praise Trump as a person, but say he has done good things for our country, and that he—and the Republican legislators who support and enable him—is better for our country than the alternative (read Democratic candidates and legislators). I honestly wonder what they see? This is what I see:


Mapping Corruption Here are 1 sentence summaries of long, detailed lists:

  • Self-serving, self-dealing agribusiness insiders head Agriculture department. Man who has stolen $120 million during his career appointed to head Commerce Department, and that was just the background.
  • Man opposed to protecting consumers, and who protects predatory loan practices, appointed to head CFPB.
  • Rich donor opposed to public education appointed to head Education Department. She then appointed donors and executives from deceptive, for-profit colleges to other powerful positions.
  • Fossil fuel industry beneficiaries and insiders appointed to run Energy Department.
  • Republican donor and coal industry lobbyist appointed to head Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Predatory pricing head of big pharma appointed as head of Health and Human Services.
  • Department of Homeland Security used to funnel money to private prisons, which are and were huge election campaign donors.
  • Man with no experience, and ties to real estate industry, appointed to head Housing and Unban Development. Then gave numerous gifts and benefits to friends, Trump supporters, and billionaires.
  • Interior department headed by mining interest representative. Handouts to mining interests and curtailing of environmental rules and research spending followed.
  • Appointed highly partisan loyalist to Justice Department who has ignored ethical norms of the office in support of Trump.
  • Removed fiduciary rule and undermined overtime pay requirements from the Labor Department, making it easier for financial advisers and big employers to abuse small investors and workers. Appointed an anti-worker rights lawyer to head department.
  • 18 very big money donors appointed as ambassadors, regardless of qualifications, and gutting of career civil service around the world.
  • Transportation Department head has made decisions that have directly enriched her family business or increased her husband's political power.
  • Wall Street profiteer appointed to head Treasury Department.

5,500 Child separations and counting:


Nearly weekly summaries of anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ+ actions by the Republican administration. I won't go into it because there is too much, and those who don't believe it's happening aren't going to admit many of these things are even problems.

Failed Pandemic Response:

Summary of Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak, and how he not only ignored warnings and expertise, but actively dismantled safety efforts and worked against the best advice available to him. Much of the world has done better. Trump has made a poor response evidence of political loyalty. Now millions are suffering and tens of thousands are dead—avoidably.


Trump and Racism: What do the data say Racist acts, bullying, and hate crimes all spiked and remained anomalously high from late 2016 through 2017. I don't have data for the last two years ready to hand, but do I need them? Are there data to the contrary? I can look.


Forbes economic scorecard Not exactly a liberal source, and they give far from a glowing review:

  • Budget deficit ballooned before pandemic.
  • Trade war made trade deficit worse.
  • Goods exported to China dropped.
  • Tax cuts haven't payed for themselves.
  • Stock market increases mostly from Federal Reserve Bank policy, at expense of government deficit.

Religious Freedom:

Religious privilege, not freedom Defense of Christianity is not defense of religious freedom.

Voting Rights:

An explanation of the partisan divide in voting rights


Appointed Conservative Judges.

What am I missing? Once again:

  • Extensive corruption.
  • Separation of young children from their parents (torture).
  • Increased sexism.
  • Tens of thousands of avoidable deaths from COVID-19.
  • Increased racism.
  • Questionable benefits to the economy.
  • Questionable defense of religious freedom.
  • Lies to support partisan views of voting rights.
  • Appointed conservative judges.
  • Trump is simply an immoral, self-serving person.

I can only see how one of those is an unqualified good for my Republican friends—conservative judges. I can only see how four others might be argued as good by those same friends, with caveats that some parts aren't ideal. That still leaves one as largely irresolvable and four—Trump's personal character, torture of children, tens of thousands of avoidable COVID deaths, and extensive corruption and abuse of power by Trump appointees—as major wrongs.

I would honestly like to see, in one place, from someone willing to take the evidence I see seriously, an explanation of the good they see and how it is really greater than the evils summarized in my list and the evils they claim Democrats and (God forbid) Progressives will enact on our country.

But that's probably me lying to myself. What I really want is for them to see the evil, cry with me, and then work to fix things. I want them to fix what I see as real, present, systemic evil and stop worrying about what I see as feared evil, or focusing on individual level solutions to system level problems. I find reasons to believe I really am pretty good at compromise with people working sincerely toward the same ends as me—things like peace, justice, proportionality, freedom to, good education, sound science, and many other good things. I tell myself I'm willing to compromise when we are working toward the same goal.

Or maybe what I really feel is that supporting Trump, McConnell, and the other Republicans (and Democrats) who enable the Trump administration's many evils, means we aren't even working toward the same virtues. I won't compromise with them, or trust them to do their best. What I really feel is that what they think is their best, right now, is an existential threat to humanity. To quote the Indigo Girls, “I won't stop short at common ground that vilifies the trodden down.” They can't be trusted. They have to be fixed.

I say they are afraid of the wrong things: feminists, experts, BIPOC, environmentalists, fringe socialists, and more. But I'm afraid, too. I'm just afraid of the right things. Ha.

Maybe I have some unresolved issues.

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