September 21, 2017

Casus part I: planning the game

Before jumping into writing a program, I like to have at least a general idea of where I’m going. The amount of detail depends on the particulars of a project, but I generally don’t start without at least some sort of goal. For my asteroid game, due to its simplicity, my pre-planning consisted essentially of “a spaceship will navigate around asteroids.” Casus, on the other hand, is intended to be a role-playing game with at least a few hours of playability. It therefore required a little more detail in its planning. The caveat is that these details may undergo significant changes during development, but they at least provide a general road map for development.

“Casus” is Latin for “the fall.” As mentioned, the game is originally going to be written in Latin; an English translation of the game will be provided on the App stores, but at a small price since I’d rather encourage use of the original game. This is an RPG taking place in a Latin-speaking world, and I think Latin is part of the uniqueness and charm of the game. (In any case, if you get through this blog series, you’ll probably be able to figure out what’s going on in the game!) The overall story goes thus:

Carathusiæ rex Matthæus, homo boni cordis non autem paucæ stultitiæ, populo bonam fortunam petens tulit inopiam. Jacobus magus regis debilitatem videns Matthæi fidem obtinuit regeque ignorante populum ad res novas egit. Ut rex exercitús mitteret ad regni finem ad bellum gerendum cum barbaris persuasit. Interea, scelerum grex a Jacobo convocatus est. Jurejurando accepto, gregales in palatium intraverunt regem necatum.

Regis autem uxor magorum erat artis perita, et cantamine maritum servavit. Grex qui non potuit regem necare in carcerem cum uxore ejecerunt. Regis reginæque vero filius a grege non inventus est nam servus regis cum infante egressus ex palatio procul puerum aluit. Die natali XVI pueri servus omnia eum docuit et puer novum facinus cœpit ad patres liberandos…

An English translation might be along these lines:

Matthew, king of Carathusia, was a good-hearted but incompetent man. He sought for the good of his people, but only managed to leave them in poverty. Jacob the sorceror saw the weakness of the king and obtained his trust. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the king, he urged the people to insurrection. Jacob persuaded the king to send off his armies to the borders of the kingdom to fight with foreigners, while the sorcerer gathered a band of rogues and bound them in an oath to kill the king.

The king’s wife was also skilled in sorcery, and protected her husband with a spell. The band realized that the king could not be killed and threw him and his wife into the dungeon instead. The king and queen, however, had a son who was not found by the conspirators. A servant of the king absconded from the palace with the infant and carried him to a faraway place. On the boy’s sixteenth birthday, the servant recounted the events to the boy, who then began a new undertaking to free his parents…

I love JRPGs, and the Dragon Quest series in particular, and I took some inspiration from the original Dragon Quest (“Dragon Warrior” on my NES) game. Nonetheless, I decided to follow more closely RPGs such as Ultima and Wizardry. In particular, the plan is to have some amount of player control over character creation and development.

Upon starting a new game, the player will be able to set up some initial character attributes. At least, the player will enter a name and select a profession. Currently contemplated professions are eques/caballarius (“knight”; probably “eques” will be the term in the game, but the medieval term “caballarius” is being considered); magus (“sorcerer”); fur (“thief”); monachus (“monk”); and scelus (“rogue”). The profession will determine the avatar and initial attributes, but the player will be able to develop the character in different ways during the game.

The planned character attributes are common in the RPG world; they’ll be in English from now since they’re not made up from scratch but a part of the generic makeup of RPGs: hit points; magic points; strength; defense; agility; intelligence; alignment; and experience (which may be connected to a level). The player will also have a quantity of aureum (gold) or pecunia (money) in order to buy and sell with NPCs. Alignment can be good or evil; the eques and monachus start out with “good” alignment, fur and scelus start out as “evil,” and magus can go either way. The alignment is expected to have certain in-game effects. For example, it is planned that an “evil” character will not be permitted to trade with merchants, but fures (thieves), instead of attacking, will offer to trade with the player.

Weapons include the baculum (stick), clava (club), pugio (dagger), gladius (short sword), and spatha (long sword).

Armor includes lorica hamata (chain mail), lorica squamata (scale armor), and lorica squamata (segmented armor). Additionally, there are ocreæ (metal greaves), manicæ (gauntlets), caligæ (boots), and the galea and cassis (leather helmet and metal helmet, respectively). Shield options include the scutum (leather-covered wooden shield) and the clipeus (metal shield).

A number of magic spells are planned to be available to the player, including sanare (heal), nocere (hurt), curare (a stronger heal spell), lædere (a stronger hurt spell), debilitare (weaken), terrere (terrify), firmare (strengthen), and necare (kill; i.e. “Avada Kedavra”).

Enemies include the mus (mouse or rat), vespertilio (bat), vipera (snake), fur (thief), miles (footsoldier), spectrum (ghost), venefica (witch), veneficus (warlock), cyclops (hopefully you know this one), versipellis (werewolf), draco (dragon), and gorgo (gorgon/Medusa). This list is apart from Jacobus and possible other bosses.

There will be a number of kingdoms other than Carathusia (at least three), each with its own castle and two or more towns. Indeed, the player will start outside of Carathusia, away from the notice of the sorceror Jacobus. The player will have the opportunity, if he or she so desires, to visit each of the other kingdoms and seek the support of their kings before going up against Jacobus.

In the game, there will be three general location types: the overworld, in a top-down perspective; the towns, also in a top-down perspective; and dungeons, currently planned to be done in a 3D perspective. The 3D perspective of the dungeons Ultima and Wizardry will be updated somewhat with a nicer appearance, but I’m not an artist and don’t have a large budget, so don’t expect the Legend of Grimrock here. One side of me does want to change the plans somewhat and use 2D procedurally generated dungeons in the spirit of Nethack. These plans are guidelines, not set in stone. We’ll see what happens. In either case, the dungeons will provide ample opportunity for the grind, allowing the player to level up before fighting bosses.

With the above in mind, I began writing some code to try out displaying a map for the character to wander around. This served as sort of a “proof of concept” for the overworld. The next blog post will discuss the initial steps.

September 14, 2017

Asteroid Belt

Recently, instead of paying attention in Constitutional Law class I sloppily slapped together a simple game in order to reacquaint myself with the LibGDX framework. The result is a game of dodging and shooting relatively slow-moving asteroids.

I threw the game up (as a free app) on the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store (the latter is an affiliate link, FYI). One of the draws of LibGDX is that it supports various platforms, one of which is Javascript/HTML5 using Google Web Toolkit. Because of this, you can also play “Asteroid Belt” online (left and right arrows move; spacebar shoots).

The “Asteroid Belt” game was preliminary practice in anticipation of a more ambitious project. This new project is a western-style computer RPG in the tradition of “Ultima” and “Wizardry.” The current plan is for the game itself, called “Casus,” to be available as a free download on Google Play and Amazon, but with the twist that it will be in Latin. An English version (perhaps eventually localized with other languages) will be available for a small price.

I’m a huge fan of free (in the GNU sense) software, so I would like to eventually provide Casus under the GPL. Nonetheless, I would like app store exclusivity for my games for at least a certain amount of time. I’m trying to figure out the best way to work this out. One option is an initial release as a proprietary app, and a later GPL release. Another is releasing the source code under the GPL from the start, but using a restrictive license for the assets (graphics, sound, possibly story line), at least initially.

For now, expect some upcoming blog posts discussing the development of the forthcoming game…

August 16, 2017

Oración por convenio

Aquí se encuentran unas traducciones deprisa y no oficiales de unos documentos del sitio web de Denver Snuffer. Tratan de una nueva versión de las escrituras por un grupo que espera recibir, con otros de creencias similares, un convenio con Dios en una conferencia en Septiembre de este año, 2017. Por lo menos, da una vista a cosas interesantes que están pasando en el mormonismo hoy en día…



Si alguien desea preparar una mejor traducción, puedo proveer versiones editables de los documentos. (Pero no siempre veo todos mis email, pues si no contesto dentro de 48 horas, mándamelo otra vez.)

July 22, 2017

Liber Mormonis pars II

Procedemus de Hierosoymæ statu et Nephi patre legentes:

Nam factum est, primi in pricipio anni regni Sedeciæ, Judææ regis (patre meo per totam ætatem Hierosolymis incolenti), et eodem anno advenerunt vates plurimi vaticantes ad populum se corrigendum esse nisi magna periret civitas Hierosolyma. Pater igitur meus Lehi egrediens Dominum rogavit etiam omne corde pro populo suo.

Vidimus hinc Deum non mittere vates singulos sed pluribus monet populum suum et advocat ad emendatam vitam propter quod dixit Amos: “Non facit enim Dominus Jova quicquam, quin arcanum suum servis suis vatibus patefaciat.” Ne pereat Hierosolyma, tanta humanitate pro populo rogat Lehi, cujus nomen Hebraicum “Maxilla” significat nam sicut maxilla in manu Samsonis erit instrumentum in manu Dei ad salvationem multorum, ut Deus eum convenit, quod mox videbimus.

February 22, 2017

La visión de Lehi

Nefi, en el principio de su relato, cuenta que “llegaron muchos profetas … profetizando al pueblo que se arrepintiera, o la gran ciudad de Jerusalén sería destruida”(1 Nefi 1:4). Dice que “por tanto”, o sea, por haber escuchado los profetas, “mientras iba por su camino, mi padre Lehi oró al Señor, sí, con todo su corazón, a favor de su pueblo” (1 Nefi 1:5). Lehi, entonces, recibió un mensaje y lo creyó al grado que acudió al Señor y ejerció la caridad. Lehi no parece haber sido una persona con autoridad eclesiástica, ni tampoco uno de los profetas que andaban proclamando el arrepentimiento en aquel momento. Era una persona normal, sin posición en la iglesia. No obstante, el resultado de su fe fue impresionante y cambió su vida.

Y occurió que mientras estaba orando al Señor, apareció ante él, sobre una roca, un pilar de fuego; y fue mucho lo que vio y oyó; y se estremeció y tembló extremadamente por las cosas que vio y oyó. Y sucedió que volvió a su casa en Jerusalén, y se echó sobre su lecho, dominado por el Espíritu y por las cosas que había visto. (1 Nefi 1:6-7).

Tuvo una visión “mientras estaba orando.” No había terminado y el Señor ya vino con una respuesta, con “un pilar de fuego”, o, en otras palabras, una columna de luz. Vio cosas que le preocuparon, y llegó a casa y, agotado por la experiencia, pero lleno del Espíritu, se acostó pensando en lo que había visto. Entonces tuvo otra visión — o, lo que es más probable, se le repitió la visión que había visto, como pasó a José Smith con el ángel que le informó sobre el Libro de Mormón. Entonces, debes considerar que en el sexto versículo hay una gran visión que una persona normal y hasta aquel momento sin gran importancia en el mundo recibió. En el octavo versículo, explica que esa persona normal vio a Dios mismo:

Y dominado de esta manera por el Espíritu, fue arrebatado en una visión, en la que vio abrirse los cielos, y creyó ver a Dios sentado en su trono, rodeado de innumerables concursos de ángeles, en actitud de estar cantando y alabando a su Dios. (1 Nefi 1:8).

Si puede pasar a una persona cualquiera, te puede pasar también a ti. Eso es el mensaje grabado en la vida de José Smith. Eso es el mensaje del Libro de Mormón, ahí desde su primer capítulo. Jeremías el profeta vivía en aquellos días, pero Dios no pensó que dar autoridad a otro quitaría la autoridad del primero. No hay indicación que los profetas antigüos eran celosos con sus revelaciones; mas bien, querían que todos fueran profetas y poseyeran la misma autoridad de compartir lo que hayan recibido. Por ejemplo:

Y habían quedado en el campamento dos hombres, uno llamado Eldad y el otro Medad, sobre los cuales también reposó el espíritu; estaban estos entre los inscritos, pero no habían ido al tabernáculo; y profetizaron en el campamento. Y corrió un joven y dio aviso a Moisés, y dijo: Eldad y Medad profetizan en el campamento. Entonces respondió Josué hijo de Nun, ayudante de Moisés desde su juventud, y dijo: Señor mío Moisés, impídeselo. Y Moisés le respondió: ¿Tienes tú celos por mí? ¡Ojalá que todos los del pueblo de Jehová fuesen profetas, que Jehová pusiera su espíritu sobre ellos! (Números 11:26-29).

El Señor no le quitaba nada a Jeremías cuando dio otra dispensación a Lehi. No es una competencia en que uno se arroga para si la autoridad de ejercer dominio sobre los demás en virtud de su posesión del sacerdocio. Él que desea excluir a los demás, ya ha perdido su sacerdocio (véase Doctrina y Convenios 121:34-37). A todos se les concede la oportunidad de recibir directamente del Señor, y el que se interpone como intermediario es anticristo. Jesús dijo de tales: “¡Ay de vosotros, intérpretes de la ley!, porque habéis quitado la llave de la ciencia; vosotros mismos no entrasteis, y a los que entraban se lo impedisteis.” Ten cuidado de los que afirman tener “llaves” que les permite interponerse entre tú y Dios para que no puedas formar una relación con el Señor sin ellos. Tales personas no entran a “la ciencia” — el conocimiento de Dios — y te impedirán, pero solamente si dejas que lo hagan.

Entonces, regresamos con Lehi:

Y sucedió que vio a Uno que descendía del cielo, y vio que su resplandor era mayor que el del sol al mediodía. Y vio también que lo seguían otros doce, cuyo brillo excedía al de las estrellas del firmamento. Y descendieron y avanzaron por la faz de la tierra; y el primero llegó hasta donde estaba mi padre, y le dio un libro y le mandó que lo leyera. (1 Nefi 1:9-11).

Hay muchísimo en estos versículos. Nefi estaba escribiendo sobre planchas de metal, y tenía recursos limitados. Por lo tanto, puso tanta información en la mínima cantidad de palabras posible. Pero Uno, cuyo resplandor era mayor que el sol, descendía con otros doce, y andaban en la tierra. Eso sugiere que Lehi vio en su visión la vida mortal de Jesucristo y sus apóstoles. Por lo tanto, después “dio testimonio de que las cosas que había visto y oído … manifestaban claramente la venida de un Mesías y también la redención del mundo” (1 Nefi 1:19).

Tú también puedes tener estas experiencias. Por eso están escritas en las escrituras. Seguiremos viendo más adelante los detalles de como podemos seguir el mismo camino y obtener las mismas bendiciones, incluyendo una visita con el Señor, como se nos promete en Doctrina y Convenios 93:1. No hagas caso a las personas que te dirán que aquellas bendiciones son reservadas para líderes religiosos. Son para ti. Ten fe, acércate al Señor, y recibe lo que te ofrece.

October 26, 2016

Liber Mormonis pars I

Mormonis Librum in Latinum transfero cum interpretatione quæ interpretatio verbis meis cogitationibus tenetur. Ex editione anno Domini millesimo octingentesimo trigesimo edita legemus:

Ego, Nephi, bonis parentibus natus, doctus ergo aliquantum sum patris mei omne in scientia; et ætate mea multas contristationes passus, Domini tamen dilectus per totam ætatem meam, scientia etiam magna Dei benevolentiæ mysteriorumque possessa, faciam igitur vitæ meæ gestorum historiam. Et historiam patris lingua facio, quæ tenetur Judæorum scientia Ægyptorumque lingua. Et scio historiam quam facio veram esse; eamque facio mea manu eamque secundum scientiam meam facio.

Nephi incipit historiam suam facere scribens se bonorum parentum filium, qui tribulationes vidit, qui Dei delectus est, qui possidet Dei benevolentiam mysteria. Quæro ego: Quæ sunt mysteria? Suntne ritus arcani vel scientia arcana? Et quid est scientia Judæorum? De Pentateucho loquitur, aut de re alia? Sine dubio omnia mox revelabitur in verbís et capitibus proximis.

October 23, 2016

El Segundo Consolador

Existe ya una traducción al español de un libro que ha augurado uno de los movimientos más interesantes en el mormonismo contemporáneo. Una traducción del anuncio (que fue emitido en inglés) sigue:

Una traducción al español de The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil ya está disponible impresa y debe estar disponible en Kindle la semana venidera.

El título en español es El Segundo Consolador: Conversando con El Senor a traves del Velo

Este es el mismo libro deThe Second Comforter, traducido al español por un comité voluntario. La materia en este libro fue doctrina/enseñanza SUD aceptada cuando originalmente escrita. Desde aquel tiempo la enseñanza ha sido denunciada por la Iglesia SUD, y por tanto es importante como punto de contraste entre lo que fue enseñado durante más que un siglo y medio por la Iglesia SUD, y lo que han abandonado rápidamente apenas en la última década.

Si conoces algunos lectores de habla hispana a quienes les interesaría esta enseñanza importante, puede que querrán leer este volumen. Aunque la institución las ha quitado de su cuerpo de enseñanzas, este libro enseña verdades sobre el Evangelio de Cristo.

Si uno lee y cree las enseñanzas en el libro, puede tener consecuencias en cuanto a su membresía en la Iglesia SUD. Otro blog interesante describe una excomulgación resultando en parte por creencia en las enseñanzas que se encuentran en el libro.

A la hora de recibir la noticia de mi excomunion, despues de haber estado el consejo deliberando la decision, mi presidente me dijo lo siguiente (despues de haber dicho yo, que estaba dispuesto a reconsiderar cualquiera de mis ideas que pudieran ser rebatidas por medio de las escrituras, que si alguien me mostraba por medio de las escrituras que estaba en error, reconsideraria esa creencia):

“No queremos que te vayas hoy de aqui pensando que has ganado. Los argumentos que has presentado hoy son muy debiles y cualquiera de los miembros de este consejo podria haberlos rebatido facilmete por medio de las escrituras. Sin embargo, esa no es la cuestion. La cuestion es que que no sostienes a Thomas S. Monson como profeta, vidente, y revelador, y sigues las enseñanzas de Denver Snuffer”.

Cuando yo era joven, todavía se escuchaba en las reuniones de la Iglesia (por lo menos en el mundo de habla inglés) sobre el Segundo Consolador, el hacer firme nuestra vocación y elección, y principios similares que José Smith había enseñado. Hoy se escuchan mayormente fuera de la Iglesia, entre gente que todavía cree en la restauración, pero desea practicar el mormonismo fuera del contexto y control de la institución. Si quieres saber más sobre estas enseñanzas, el libro te puede ofrecer cosas maravillosas. Pero puede que el Señor exija el sacrificio de todas las cosas, incluyendo tu membresía en la Iglesia que amas, si quieres venir a él.

October 12, 2016

A conspiracy to suppress the Lectures on Faith?

Denver Snuffer published an interesting note on his website yesterday. (Those not familiar with Denver Snuffer should read on through the next paragraph before clicking on the link.) In his note, he suggests that the LDS Church Historian’s Office “hopes to undermine confidence in [the] Lectures on Faith and bolster the inappropriate administrative decision to delete them from LDS scripture. . . .” I would like to take a somewhat different perspective on the issue.

Some background information about the note’s author is appropriate here. From whatever perspective you take, Denver Snuffer is one of the most interesting figures in modern Mormonism. He is a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His testimony, speeches, and writings have been the impetus for a movement1 within Mormonism which carries the potential to upset the established understandings of roles of different groups — e.g., member vs. nonmember — within the Mormon community. In particular, Denver Snuffer and those who share his point of view are critical of the LDS Church’s2 narrative of its history, but, unlike the expected “apostate” or “anti-Mormon,” they believe in the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. A lot of Denver Snuffer’s writings and speeches are available on his website, along with links to purchase his books, but all of that is to be avoided if you are uncomfortable with materials that challenge the Church’s narrative about its history.

In his brief article, Denver Snuffer noted that the first lecture from the Lectures on Faith was placed in the appendix of The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4. (The Joseph Smith Papers is a series of publications by the LDS Church Historian’s Office with the goal of publishing complete transcripts of all documents related to Joseph Smith.) He cited the reasons given by the Historian’s Office, namely, that Joseph’s role in the production of the lectures is not certain. Brother Snuffer goes on to mention that this treatment is inconsistent with the treatment of various documents in The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844-January 1846. Specifically, the latter volume places minutes of meetings that took place after Joseph Smith’s death, and therefore are not directly related to Joseph Smith, in chronological order instead of relegating them to the appendix.

Brother Snuffer concludes:

“The disparate treatment forces the conclusion that by relegating Lecture First to an appendix and questioning the authorship, the Historian’s Office hopes to undermine confidence in Lectures on Faith and bolster the inappropriate administrative decision to delete them from LDS scripture in 1921 without approval by the body of the church. Likewise, by putting into the JS Papers project, meetings held after Joseph’s death which were presided over by Brigham Young, the Historian’s Office wishes to convey the impression of continuity and trustworthiness in the LDS institution following Joseph’s death. They want to convey the impression it was “business as usual” and nothing changed.

I don’t believe Denver Snuffer’s conclusion is necessary (that is, I disagree that the inconsistency “forces the conclusion” made by Brother Snuffer). I think that the Church Historian’s Office really suspects that the provenance of the Lectures on Faith is uncertain, and their treatment of it reflects, rather than promotes, their view. This distinction is admittedly subtle, but I consider it important because it avoids attributing a bad motive where such a motive may not exist. I don’t think the different treatment of the Council of Fifty minutes necessarily shows that bad motive; I doubt they were particularly concerned about a potential inconsistency between the two, and thought it more natural that the particular volume dealing with the minutes would go somewhat beyond the scope of the original Joseph Smith Papers project. It’s almost certain that the Church Historian’s Office subscribes to a belief in the “continuity and trustworthiness in the LDS institution following Joseph’s death.” The belief undoubtedly affected the presentation in the volume of Council of Fifty minutes. Nevertheless, to conclude that they “wished to convey the impression” goes a little too far for my comfort.

On the other hand, the Church Historian’s Office is part of the LDS Church, and no rational person would deny that the LDS Church has an agenda. It is, after all, a missionary church. I can see how Brother Snuffer or others could easily come to the conclusion that a motive to favor the Church’s narrative was behind the organization of the books’ presentation. Denver does have greater experience and insight into motives of LDS Church officials than I do, so the reader is welcome to count that against my credibility and in favor of his. On the other hand, the idea that the Church is consciously and purposely arranging the texts in order to convey a specific impression, without further supporting facts, is just too conspiratorial for me.3 If they wanted to preserve the traditional narrative intact and unsullied, it seems like not publishing the Joseph Smith Papers and continuing the branding of less-friendly historians as “anti-Mormon” would have been a more effective strategy.

This doesn’t leave out the possibility that in making the arrangements, the Church Historian’s Office was influenced by beings — false spirits are a thing in Mormon theology, after all — with the aforementioned motives. However, such things are far beyond my expertise to comment on, and I think to assume Brother Snuffer was suggesting such a thing in his comments would be to read more into what he has written than is there.

I appreciate Denver Snuffer’s insights, even when — as in this case — I’m not fully persuaded to adopt his viewpoints. I would encourage those who are comfortable doing so to review for themselves those things that he has written and determine whether or not they should be believed.


1. I use the word “movement” here deliberately. Others might say “schism,” but I see this as more analogous to a new activity springing out from an established religious tradition, which was referred to as a movement in the Book of Mormon in Alma 18:32. Unfortunately, the prevalence of far too delicate souls in the LDS community forces me to state what should be obvious: My use of the reference is not intended to extend the analogy beyond what I wrote. In particular, I’m not comparing the LDS Church to any particular aspect of King Noah beyond the fact that an established religious tradition existed in relation to him!

2. In order to preempt complaints, I note that I freely reject here and elsewhere the guidelines in the LDS Church’s style guide that I think sacrifice correctness or clarity in order to push a certain image onto the public.

3. Creepy actions like the Elder Poelman talk revisions and the formation of the Strengthening the Church Members Committee notwithstanding.

October 3, 2016

Paz y justicia

Al rechazar el acuerdo de paz entre FARC y el gobierno, Colombia tiene algo que enseñarnos. No puedo decir que los que han perdido familiares y han vivido en terror no tienen derecho de exigir una justicia que también puede llamarse “venganza”, pero puede que tal justicia viene a costo de la paz. De lo lejos es fácil ver el asunto en tales terminos; posiblemente si yo estuviera viviendo lo que están viviendo los colombianos, sería más difícil perdonar. Espero que lo podría hacer, pero decir es una cosa y hacer es otra.

Podemos enfrentar situaciones grandes y pequeñas en cuales tenemos la opción entre la paz y la venganza. Espero tener la fuerza para perdonar y así poder proclamar la paz. No quiero exigir la justicia si eso resultará en derramar sangre para pagar sangre derramada. Así se asegura que no habrá fin a la violencia.

¡Qué hermosos son, sobre los montes,
   los pies del que trae buenas nuevas;
del que proclama la paz,
   del que anuncia buenas noticias,
del que proclama la salvación,
   del que dice a Sión: «Tu Dios reina»!

– Isaías 5:27 (NVI)

September 29, 2016

Taking the nation seriously

A few people with whom I’ve spoken have expressed disappointment that, in the recent presidential debate, the candidates spent too much time hurling accusations at each other and too little time expressing substantive positions on the important issues our society faces. (At least one friend, however, expressed disappointment that the candidates didn’t get into an outright brawl; I suppose he was seeking entertainment rather than information.) We may not be able to convince Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump to cease the verbal attacks on each other, but we don’t need to follow in their footsteps.

The United States presently faces significant challenges both at home and abroad. Our foreign policy is openly challenged by Russia on many fronts, and particularly in Syria the opposition to Assad is left wondering if their interests wouldn’t be better served by seeking alliances with the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and others instead of the United States. Even smaller countries more dependent on alliances with the United States, such as the Philippines, are becoming openly antagonistic toward their relationship with the superpower, as well as toward U.S. interests in their region. Credibility abroad is also undermined by domestic unrest at home, most clearly seen in the tense relationship between police officers and their communities as highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, but also in (perhaps less worthy) far-right movements as demonstrated by the standoffs of members and supporters of the Bundy family with the federal government. The protest against the closure of sensitive federal lands to motor vehicles led by San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, which involved defiance of the federal government by riding ATVs through Recapture Canyon, provides another example, albeit a lesser-known and less noteworthy one, of problems at home.

A United States with weakened credibility abroad will be less effective in preventing terrorism or negotiating agreements to improve security or the economy. Domestic disturbance directly impacts security at home and diminishes our freedom to live out our daily lives without fear of harm from either the government or each other.

Our next president, and his or her administration, will be charged with resolving many of the issues that we face as a society. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are capable of substantial success in doing so. At the same time, we can’t expect either to do so when we ourselves don’t demand the professionalism that we ought to be able to expect from them. If we prefer to see verbal attacks of the schoolyard variety, that appears to be what we’ll get. We show that preference by engaging in the same sort of behavior on social media and elsewhere. But we can change. If we start discussing substance rather than hurling insults and accusations, we will demand, through our actions, that our candidates do the same. By taking the issues seriously, we can force the candidates to act seriously.

It’s easier to share a meme suggesting that Hillary supporters are idiots or that Trump supporters are insane racists than it is to take the time to research and think seriously about the issues at stake in the current election. By doing so, we’ve put ourselves in a situation in which we are not only ignorant of the issues our country faces, but also of the candidates’ stances on those issues, if they have any. It’s simple to post a meme suggesting that Trump is insane or that Clinton is corrupt rather than to discuss seriously — without simply dismissing one group’s concerns as irrelevant — how to heal the divide between law enforcement and certain parts of our communities, or whether the United States can and should do something about human rights violations and the continual postponing of elections in Congo. Easy answers haven’t solved the problem so far. Forcing Colin Kaepernick to stand for the national anthem won’t magically create a satisfactory relationship between people and their government. Telling protesters that their grievances are fake won’t make those grievances go away. Pretending that what happens in the Philippines is irrelevant to us will diminish our security in the long run if ISIS really is taking a serious interest in expansion in the region.

For my part, I’m not going to share messages or memes that are based around accusations or even those that rely on the worst possible interpretation of something someone said. I won’t take you seriously as long as you do so, either. I hope you’ll join me and avoid sharing the unproductive rhetoric on social media. Instead, let’s learn about what’s going on in our communities and the world at large, and let’s talk about it like adults. Let’s think seriously about why communities with which we don’t identify are unhappy and what sort of creative solutions we can come up with in hopes of satisfying as many of us as are willing to be satisfied. Let’s show our candidates that we as a nation are united in our desires for real solutions, and that we expect a degree of maturity and seriousness out of them. By not hurling insults and burning bridges, we can retain a chance of influencing whoever wins for the better. Even if we can’t change the candidates in the short term, our informed involvement in civic life can make a good president out of a bad candidate.