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One year later, late-night phone call and suicide threat still echo in me

by David McElroy

Hiding Behind a Mask

She went to the bridge that night to kill herself. That’s what she said, anyway. All I know is that I believed her.

It was a year ago tonight when I got a text message. She told me that she was on a bridge and was ready to die. She had threatened repeatedly to kill herself during the two years prior to this, and there had been several times when I’d been truly afraid. There were times I talked with her most of the way through the night — on the phone from almost a thousand miles away — just trying to keep her alive until morning would arrive and the suicidal demons of depression would slip away from her. At least until it was dark again.

I loved her. We had a long and complicated history. That part doesn’t matter anymore. But I loved her more than life itself — and I do love my life very dearly. I loved her even more.

She told me in her text message that as she stood there thinking about what she was about to do, I was the only one she wondered about. She was worried about how I would take it. She worried about whether it would affect a film I was working on at the time. She said it surprised her that I was the only one she thought about. She had no reason to lie, so I believed her.

After texting for a few minutes, I asked her if she would talk on the phone. She didn’t reply for a minute, but then my phone rang.

There had been nights when she had been hysterical with emotional pain. Tonight, she was numb and calm. She just wanted to die. She hated life and the pain that came with it.

We hadn’t talked in months. Despite the odd and painful circumstances, I was happy to hear her voice. It made me feel as though I could almost touch her. I wanted to hold her hand. I wanted to tell her that everything would be all right if she would just believe me and let me help her.

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After previous ObamaCare decision, Hobby Lobby case just a sideshow

by David McElroy

Great American Sideshow

After a divided Supreme Court ruled today that Hobby Lobby can’t be forced to buy birth control for its employees, the reactions have been predictable.

Social conservatives are hailing it as a great blow for freedom. Progressive leftists are screaming that this is about bosses controlling access to birth control for their employees. At any moment, I expect to see the chant start somewhere that the five justices on the winning side hate women.

I have trouble working up any enthusiasm about this case. Yes, it’s a good decision in a narrow way for religious freedom, but it’s pretty hollow when seen in context of everything else.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that Americans can be forced to buy things they don’t want to buy for themselves. Think about that. If the government believes you should buy hamburgers from McDonald’s or a subscription to National Geographic or a specified array of sex toys, the court has said it’s fine for government to require that of you and punish you if you don’t comply.

The court has already said that it’s perfectly fine to force employers to buy health care for their employees — plans that the government must approve. Whatever government deems to be necessary, companies can be forced to buy for you, whether you want it or not.

The Hobby Lobby decision only says that if a company’s owners object to birth control on moral grounds, they can’t be forced to purchase that particular coverage.

That’s all this decision does. While it’s right in the very narrow sense, it’s so utterly inconsequential compared to everything else that’s already been mandated that it’s hard to believe it matters.

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Slow culture changes might mean skin color matters less in future

by David McElroy

Diverse kids

When I stepped outside my front door Sunday afternoon, I saw four young children running around playing together. On the porch next door, there was a father keeping an eye on the kids. He smiled and waved as he said he hoped they weren’t being too loud.

There was absolutely nothing unusual about this scene, but it wouldn’t have taken place this way even 20 years ago. And it would have been illegal and maybe caused riots 50 years ago.

Why?

One of the children was a little blonde girl. One was a black boy. Another girl was a black/white mix. The fourth was an Asian boy. The father was Asian, too.

The nice thing is that it was perfectly normal in a middle class southern suburb today. The tragedy is that it would have ever been a big deal and that it remains a big deal to some people even now.

When I moved to Trussville 20 years ago, it was still a sleepy little town that hadn’t quite come to grips with being a bedroom suburb of Birmingham. Not too many years before that, it had been a tiny Mayberry out in the country. And some of the thinking of some of the people still reflected a dying past.

I remember a young guy who had grown up in the town talking to me about racial changes in the area. He lived on my street and I was speculating about when we would see black neighbors there.

“Oh, they’ll never let that happen,” he said confidently, without specifying who “they” might be. “All the niggers live up on ‘Nigger Hill.’ They won’t ever let ’em move down here.”

This was around 1992, so I was shocked to hear someone still hold those sorts of views, much less openly stating them. I didn’t try to argue with him or explain the offensiveness of what he was saying. I just marked him in my mind as an ignorant redneck.

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This burning question divides us: Why can’t you people be like me?

by David McElroy

Be just like me

I’m right about everything — at least in my own mind.

If you agree with me about certain things, I’ll give you credit for intelligence, good judgment and more. If you disagree with me about other things, I’ll silently judge you and maybe even feel disdain for your lack of taste and manners. But about a whole range of other things, I’ve magnanimously decided that I won’t judge you whatever you believe. I’ve either decided it’s of no consequence if we disagree or maybe I just don’t care enough about the subject to praise you or judge you about it.

You’re doing the same thing to me, whether you’re conscious of it or not. We’re all doing it to each other. We just have different things we care about and different things we judge each other about.

We do it about big things and we do it about little things.

In politics and philosophy, we can’t believe that an intelligent, honest and decent person could see things so differently than we do, so it becomes clear to us that other people are either stupid or lying. Maybe they even have bad intentions. Maybe they’re evil, because a good person couldn’t come to their conclusions.

Listen to the way people talk to each other. They get frustrated when people want things they don’t think are worth having. If a person says he wants to live in the Pacific Northwest, someone who hates rain and prefers sun will pipe up to say, “You’ll hate it there. It rains all the time,” with no apparent understanding that some people prefer rain to sunshine.

People recommend things by saying, “You’ll like this movie.” (Or it could be a book or a play or a restaurant.) Why would someone say that? Because he likes it, of course. On some level, most of us have an instinct to feel some version of this idea: “If I didn’t like it, don’t even try it. Your taste couldn’t possible be different and I couldn’t possibly be wrong.” (And, yes, some of us work hard to overcome that instinct because we’ve learned how different others are, but we’re in the minority and it’s still hard for us — in ways that we often overlook.)

Although we might understand in theory that products are a result of a thousand tradeoffs, we think products that don’t make the same choices we prefer are terrible products. The product I prefer is obviously superior. The product you prefer “sucks” — even if it meets your needs better than my choice would.

We don’t consciously believe that everyone should be like us, but when we’re in that moment, we believe on some gut level that our subjective experience must be everyone’s objective experience — and that our subjective preference should be everyone’s objective preference.

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Sane people change systems with ideas, not by murdering people

by David McElroy

Jerad-and-Amanda-Miller

Every fringe movement attracts crazy people. Libertarians are no exception. The married couple who murdered two police officers and another person in Las Vegas over the weekend are a perfect example. They’re not people to embrace or defend. They’re nuts whose actions damage the cause of individual freedom.

I’ve written a couple of times before about people I don’t want to be associated with, such as conspiracy cranks with no interest in facts and those who are just plain bigots. There are a lot of very intelligent, sane, interesting and responsible people who have come to libertarian or anarchist positions for moral reasons, but there are also people such as Jerad Miller and Amanda Miller who are mentally unstable people who are looking for an outlet for their anger at the world.

Many of us want to change the world. Many of us see a coercive system of government as immoral and standing in the way of individuals being free to live under the rules they might voluntarily choose. But changing the world in a positive way is about influencing hearts and minds through art, ideas and culture, not about killing people and tearing down institutions. You don’t change the world by adopting the tactics of an oppressor.

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen some libertarians and anarchists defending the Millers’ actions. I’ve seen others who won’t quite defend their murders, but they say the killings weren’t murder and that killing police is justified simply because they are the people who enforce the immoral rules of the state. And I’ve seen a new tack on Tuesday in which some people are trying really hard to say the Millers were government plants or maybe they didn’t really exist. I’ve been really surprised at some of the denial I’ve seen.

Many people are willing to consider what you have to say as long as you’re discussing ideas and making a moral and pragmatic case for freedom. But killing people who aren’t threatening you at the moment is a dividing line between discussion and thuggery. Nobody takes you seriously once you cross this line. Once you cross that line, you also make it very difficult for others to hear anyone with a vaguely similar message. And you no longer have any moral authority once you’ve passed that line.

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Romantic attraction is a trickster, appearing when we least expect it

by David McElroy

Looking for connection

Remember when you were a teen-ager and you felt attracted to someone you barely knew and you were constantly on the lookout for sightings of that person — and seeing the person made you feel nervous and you were afraid you might say something really stupid? Of course, that fear didn’t stop you from inventing ridiculous excuses to talk to the person, leaving you feeling even more ridiculous and nervous afterward. Remember?

I haven’t experienced that in a very, very long time, but someone has been making me feel that way again lately. It’s halfway great and halfway exasperating. It’s the terrible, horrible feeling that comes with having an attraction to a person that you just can’t explain.

I met her about a month ago when she had a reason to drop by my office. Since then, she’s dropped by to chat four or five times. She just left again and I feel happy — giddy, actually — to have had five minutes with her. I barely even know the woman, but she affects me like a drug that I crave. Why?

She’s beautiful. She’s very smart. She’s fascinating. She has interesting things to say and she also actually listens. (I mentioned a book that I think is important, and she expressed an interest in reading it. That rarely happens.) I can list objective things that I find attractive about her — but the truth is that it’s something very different.

There’s something magnetic about her. There’s an air of electricity about her presence. There’s something about her that transcends her looks or personality or anything else that I can put my finger on. There’s something about me that feels oddly connected to her. I’m constantly around beautiful, intelligent and interesting women, but she’s different in a way that I can’t explain.

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Not voting makes strong statement: ‘You don’t have my moral consent’

by David McElroy

Suggestion boxIt’s election day in Alabama, but I won’t be voting. Most people have been brainwashed to think that a “good citizen” must vote. They believe it’s a moral issue. They’re right that it’s a moral issue, but they’re on the wrong side of the question.

Those who have been brainwashed into believing they must vote are fond of saying, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,” but that’s illogical. A truthful way to phrase it would be, “If you consent to the legitimacy of the system by participating, you have no right to complain when someone else gets his way — and you’re agreeing to obey.”

If you vote and participate, you are agreeing to the legitimacy of the system. You are agreeing to be bound by the results. You’re agreeing that it’s morally legitimate for some group of voters to select people to give you whatever orders they please. You are agreeing to be their slave.

But most people are so locked into the battle between the two sides of the political mainstream that they can’t even consider this point of view. It’s pretty much impossible to explain the philosophical reasons for not voting to people who are only interested in winning elections.

A friend of mine posted an interesting thought experiment today. Steve Smith asked, “Would you rather have the Crips or the Bloods running your neighborhood? Two rules: 1. Not having one gang or the other run things is not a choice. 2. If you decline to state a preference, you can’t complain about anything that either gang does to you, ever.”

This is what voting is. You’re not allowed to question whether you want to be ruled. You’re only allowed to choose which of the two (very similar) groups you want to control you.

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What did he have to lose? Man’s crazy tactic leads to romance

by David McElroy

TicketThere are times when there’s no time like the present to follow your instinct and take a crazy chance. This is the story of one of those times.

On the online networking site, Reddit, someone asked an interesting question today: “Ladies of Reddit, what’s the best way a guy has asked you out?”

Here’s a story one woman told:

“I was driving around town after work, windows down — it was a gorgeous October day. I noticed two guys in a car next to me, one in civilian clothes, the other in his ABUs (Air Force uniform). I thought it was adorable that they were together because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had just been repealed. I kept driving.

“A friend prank-called me and asked if I had any condoms, so I was laughing. We hung up and I was singing along to a Christina Aguilera song (‘I Hate Boys’). I stopped at an intersection and glanced in my rear-view mirror and saw a man running, full tilt, toward my car. I was so shocked that I didn’t think to lock my doors or anything. He got to my car, threw a slip of paper in, and ran off. It happened so fast I didn’t even really see him.

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Does your life feel wasted so far? Maybe your best is yet to come

by David McElroy

Harry Bernstein at typewriter

Harry Bernstein’s first book was published when he was 96 years old. After a life in which he supported himself as an MGM script reader and as editor of a construction magazine, it wasn’t until five years before his death that anyone would take his books seriously.

Over the years, he had written 40 other books, but they had all been rejected by publishers. He ended up destroying those manuscripts. But after he finally had a first book accepted — a memoir of the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child in England — he wrote and published three more books in his late 90s.

Bernstein said his 90s “have been the most productive years of my life.”

I’d never heard of Bernstein until I came across this quote a few days ago. I’ve still never read any of his work, so I have no opinion about it and I have no idea whether any of those 40 destroyed manuscripts were lost masterpieces. But as someone whose life hasn’t turned out — so far — the way he planned, I was struck by the lesson of his life. Maybe it’s never too late to become what you always knew you were intended to be.

I’ve written before about my frustration with losing touch with the person I had once been — with somehow losing the confidence and drive to achieve that I had felt in my youth. I’ve been thinking about variations on this theme for the last few years, but it’s really accelerated in the last six or eight months. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about my fears of never doing anything meaningful with my life.

I always assumed that people who achieve something meaningful have a linear and obvious path to their success, but what I’m learning is that success looks much more obvious and predictable when you’re looking back at someone’s life, not speculating about what it might be in the future. And I’m also finally accepting that the path to something meaningful is rarely straight and obvious.

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If you ask wrong questions about politics, you’ll get wrong answers

by David McElroy

Alabama House floor

Every time an election rolls around, some newspaper writer will publish some sanctimonious piece about how more people should vote and what sorts of people should be elected. These well-meaning people want change, and they prod people to “do something” to make things better.

The mainstream parties hold their primaries here in Alabama next Tuesday, and the expected article about electing better people showed up in the state’s largest newspaper today. It’s called, “We bellyache about the Legislature yet 59 percent of lawmakers have been practically re-elected and nobody’s even voted.” These articles are great for newspaper writers, because they practically write themselves and they get people riled up enough to leave comments. (There are 71 comments on this article so far.)

The writer seems to be asking why voters keep electing the incumbents and why more people don’t “do something” if they’re not happy with the Legislature. But what if he’s asking the wrong questions?

The only political questions we’re really allowed to ask in this country are which people we want to fill certain positions in governments. We get to elect “our representatives” to go to the State House and State Senate. We get to elect a governor and an attorney general and state auditor and members of a Public Service Commission. And on and on. As other people see it, we have plenty of choices, because there are many different positions and almost anybody can run for the offices. He or she just has to convince enough people to vote for him and he can hold power.

But we don’t get to ask the right questions, do we? The key question we don’t get to ask is, “Do I want other people making decisions about my life?”

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