Lukewarm Takes

When people post lists of “unpopular opinions,” sometimes we see interesting and thoughtful ideas. Sometimes we see an excuse for people to show off their dumbest and/or most toxic thoughts. Sometimes its a mix.

I’ve thought about doing something like this for a while now, but I haven’t been quite sure how. Most of the following thoughts are things that I probably can (and eventually might) flesh out in further detail. Stating a provocative opinion, then quickly moving on to the next can easily come across as an excuse for contrarian assholery. It’s important to be willing and able to defend one’s thesis, and not hide behind the shield of “it’s just my opinion, man.”

All those caveats aside, I find pieces like this fun, especially if it’s from someone willing to defend their hottest and coldest takes. In my case, some of these probably aren’t all that controversial, but this being the internet, there will likely be some readers who would consider me to be a great (or at least mediocre) Satan. And that’s cool, too.

Also, I have an unfortunate tendency to be excessively long-winded, so each of these thoughts are probably expounded upon at unnecessary length. I don’t do blurbs very well. But for me, the following opinions are as brief as I get.

I’ll probably regret this, but since I feel just strong enough about these takes right now, I’ll go ahead and throw them out here, and see if anyone cares, or wants to fight me over them. There is little order or reason to these, and they cover an array of unrelated topics. Prepare for jarring tone changes.

Ahem. Here goes.

Environmentalists need to learn to embrace nuclear power. Until we have some sort of fusion breakthrough, nuclear fission is going to have to be a huge component of our energy production, particularly if we’re serious about combating climate change. The good news is that modern nuclear technology is far safer, and has fewer drawbacks than the plants of yesteryear. Nuclear power can augment renewable technologies while they continue to develop and grow. It’s carbon neutral, provides enormous amounts of energy, and as I mentioned, the new plant designs have significantly lower risks of toxic waste or meltdowns.

If humans want to keep eating meat, we’re going to have to be willing to convert entirely to the lab-grown kind, and probably fairly soon. As much as it pains the barbecue-lover in me to say this, within a surprisingly short amount of time, humanity is very likely to look back on the consumption of animals as a relic of a more barbarous time. It may end up being less about “eating animals is wrong” and more about what the animals go through to become food, as well as the damage the process does to the world. I would guess that sometime between two and six decades from now, most humans won’t be consuming animal flesh. But meatless alternatives are getting much better, and cultured meat is eventually going to be a big deal.

Jeffrey Epstein probably did kill himself. Something about his death has turned people who aren’t usually prone to conspiracy belief into tin foil hatters. Yes, he was a terrible person, and yes, he was disgustingly well connected with the rich and powerful. And yes, there were a lot of problems with the facility he was imprisoned in at the time of his death. But the problem with the “Epstein was murdered” theories is that believing them still requires a series of far more implausible events than simply understanding that a man who had already attempted suicide succeeded a second time in a facility that was ill-equipped (and likely uninterested) to prevent it. There are certainly huge problems with our political and criminal justice systems that don’t require a grand conspiracy of evil political figures to allow someone like Epstein to get away with his crimes for so long, and then die before trial. I’m not dismissing the possibility of his murder, but actual evidence would be needed to compel me to believe it likely.

The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie. The fact that it subverts so many tropes of the series is a good thing. It pushes back on the idea that boy hero daredevil stunts will always save the day, and it rejects the toxic concept of inherited greatness that permeates just about every movie in the series. It also has the best writing and character development of the entire series. But with that said, they’re all kid’s movies and people get too worked up over them. Just like I will arguing about comic book movies later on in this piece.

Defund policeis a (mostly) bad idea that would most likely make policing worse. Policing in America is enormously flawed. This is inarguable. Racial bias at every level of policing permeates the institution. Rules of engagement often prioritize force, while failing to emphasize de-escalation. It’s often true that police are frequently asked to perform tasks that more robust social services would be better equipped to handle. Finally, its also true that the rates of successful case resolution are quite inconsistent, with case closure numbers varying wildly from crime to crime and city to city.

But most of these problems are not related to overfunding.

As Matthew Yglesias pointed out, two of the biggest problems with policing are a lack of accountability for wrongdoing, and inconsistent crime solving. He correctly notes these issues wouldn’t be fixed by cutting budgets.

Maybe the most significant reform that we should focus on would be to make it easier to investigate and fire bad police. This could be combined with putting more effort into hiring better police that actually represent their communities, while training them with less of a warrior mindset. Some of these have actually been tried in some areas. There are examples of successful police reform out there, and they haven’t generally involved defunding.

We have serious problems with policing in America, and I would like to work on a more in-depth piece to discuss them soon. At this point, though, funding is largely irrelevant to the situation, and acts as a distraction from those problems. There are also those who use “defunding” as less a method of reform, and more of a stepping-stone to abolition, but that’s a whole different debate that isn’t likely to become mainstream anytime soon. The existence of police forces in America isn’t going away, and I would prefer to focus on what we can do to make them better.

Actually, one of the biggest impediments to police reform has to do with the nature of gun culture in the US. Police tend to default to the use of force, in part because they often expect everyone they encounter to be armed. This leads into my next take. Speaking of guns…

The Second Amendment didn’t originally guarantee an individual right to own firearms, and has only been interpreted that way since 2008. And the original interpretation will have to be reasserted by the Supreme Court before we can have any hope of severely curtailing the American gun violence problem. Of course, this is unlikely to happen with the current makeup of the Court. I’ve seen calls by liberals and leftists to learn to embrace gun ownership. I can’t get behind that. The problems caused by gun ownership will persist, regardless of who has them. More guns equal more gun deaths, the evidence is clear on this. And as long as we treat gun ownership as an unassailable right, we’re essentially acknowledging that we’re willing to make the tradeoff of enormous gun deaths for that “freedom.”

Bernie probably wouldn’t have beaten Trump in 2016, and I would guess he would have been 50/50 at best in 2020. In retrospect, my favorite candidate would probably have performed even worse in both elections. And Biden was probably always the best choice to defeat Trump in the general election. I think Biden likely would also have won in 2016, had he decided to go for it then.

Also, Bernie dead-enders who insist on blaming “the establishment,” or the DNC, or “neoliberals” for his losses are displaying the same lack of introspection and mindless conspiracism as Trump supporters who screech about nonexistent voter fraud. Bernie lost because more people voted for someone else. Twice. It happens. The same grifters and dirtbags who demanded that the majority of Democratic voters “bend the knee” after defeating the Bernie contingent in 2016 were somehow shocked that more people didn’t support them four years later. Bernie’s loudest fans seemed to struggle to understand that coalitions usually beat brute force, and just assumed that a mere 25-30% support during the 2020 primaries would be enough to come out on a top of a rapidly-winnowing field. These people were mad at Warren for not dropping out sooner, but also mad at Buttigieg and Klobuchar for dropping out too soon. Oh no, my opponents aren’t rolling over and making it easy for me! I have to work to get what I want! Life is so unfair! It’s all the DNC and the corporations and Jeff Bezos’ doing! I better quit my job and start a lucrative podcast! That’ll show the establishment!

Bernie lost for a variety of reasons, some of them more reasonable than others, but in the end it boiled down to Democratic voters trusting Biden to perform better against Trump. It’s not crazy to disagree with that trust, but it behooves one to actually make the case to voters, rather than tweet snake emojis at Bernie’s best progressive ally, or throw homophobic slurs at the winner of the Iowa caucus. The online component of modern campaigns is important, but there are some who seem to think it’s the only component. I actually like Bernie (and campaigned for him in 2016), but those who deify him are part of why he lost.

Chiropractic work may have made some people feel better on an anecdotal basis, but it’s still quackery. Massage is vastly superior. Interestingly enough, this opinion has probably gotten more angry pushback than any other I’ve espoused, including my thoughts on policing, guns, and abortion. I don’t doubt that there are those who have received chiropractic treatment and are satisfied with it, but that doesn’t mean its based on sound science.

Pluto is not a planet, and that’s okay. Its new-ish classification is a sign that we are continuing to refine our understanding of the universe. In twenty years we may classify it as something else entirely, and that will be okay, too. The terms we use to describe celestial bodies shouldn’t be sacrosanct. Established knowledge changes constantly, and if one is interested in continuing to learn and grow, then it’s important to be willing to try to keep up.

Comic book movies annoy a lot of people, but the thing is, some of them are actually pretty good. Maybe it’s not high art (whatever that means), but the best comic book movies involve unappreciated amounts of world-building and attention to detail, and are generally at least solid middlebrow fare, if not sometimes better than that. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Batman Begins, Logan, and Black Panther (plus several more) are at least a couple tiers above most summer blockbusters. Yeah, they’re part of big franchises, but non-franchise movies also exist, and can be found by most people in this world of streaming without much effort. People complain about big budget crowd-pleasers pushing out smaller films, but meanwhile, those smaller films continue to be made, and are all available with just a couple clicks of the remote.

Strong opinions about entertainment isn’t a bad thing, but strong opinions about the people who consume said entertainment is often bad. Yeah, I think there are plenty of movies that are multiple levels above, say… the Taken franchise, or Transformers, or whatever Gerard Butler is doing lately… but it’s pretty gross to trash people who enjoy that stuff. Some people just want to be entertained by a movie, and that’s okay. Besides, it’s not like my favorite MCU flicks are *that* deep, either. But that’s fine, too. “Let people enjoy things” elicits some rolled eyes now and then, but I think it’s still a good phrase.

Strong opinions about people’s political differences makes more sense, though. Supporting the guy who put children in cages and enlisted the help of foreign governments to hurt his political opponents is worthy of shame and derision, because it actually does harm people. This isn’t the same as debating the capital gains tax. I see people complain that politics get between family and friends, but they aren’t complaining about “agree to disagree” issues. They’re talking about discussions about the very humanity of marginalized groups, or whether or not people should choose between financial insolvency or their health. I don’t think its particularly petty to cut off people who believe that black people shouldn’t be mad about excessive force from police.

I feel a deep sense of disappointment and even anger when I see friends post photos of themselves dining in restaurants during this pandemic. Yeah, I’m sure the server is wearing a mask, and I would imagine they’ve moved the tables a bit farther apart, but that really doesn’t mitigate the risks. Multiple strangers spending upwards of an hour or more unmasked in a single space almost certainly has exacerbated the spread of COVID-19. It just astounds me to see the level of selfishness required to willingly dine indoors in restaurants before, I dunno, maybe 80% of the public is vaccinated.

I mean, I get it. It sucks not being able to safely go out. I miss bars and restaurants, too. I moved to a new neighborhood last March, chosen in part because of the sheer number of my favorite bars and restaurants that are within walking distance. Perfect timing. And I haven’t dined in anywhere since the beginning of last March. I wish I could. But the risks to myself and others simply aren’t worth it. I’ve heard people argue that they don’t want to stop “living their lives.” That argument reeks of solipsism, but is especially awful when one remembers that a half a million Americans no longer have lives because of COVID. That’s basically the population of my hometown! And several million more are suffering permanent, often debilitating aftereffects. Your life won’t be any less rich because you ordered your burger to go, and avoided exposing a dozen people to a life-threatening illness.

On a much lighter note, the eighth season of Game of Thrones… wasn’t that bad. To be certain, there were some serious structural issues with the season. There probably should have been at least two, and maybe up to four additional episodes to better wrap up the dozens of plot and character threads, and to allow for more realistic travel times (my biggest complaint with the plots in the season). But most of the various character endpoints and plot decisions all made sense to me. I’ve seen lots of angry internet commentary related to the lack of satisfying development and resolution for specific characters – but I can’t think of any that didn’t make sense for that character. Dany had been showing signs of festering megalomania since as early as season two, Jaime had always made it clear he would end up with his sister, no matter the cost, and Jon had consistently pushed away opportunities to lead.

I think a lot of people had developed a certain headcanon for some of their favorite characters, and ended up disappointed when they didn’t get the conclusion they wanted. But that’s what the show (and novels) had always done. Triumphs turn to tragedy, and the tragic sometimes triumph. Yeah, a lot of people scratched their heads at Bran as king, but it’s good to remember that the show spent eight seasons demonstrating the failures of hereditary leadership and jabbing at the concept of “chosen ones.” Sometimes the ideal leader is the one who’s survived and learned from the mistakes of others. And sometimes we don’t get what we feel is a satisfying end. Because that’s how it often goes. And to me, some of the best endings are “unsatisfying” and open-ended. It shows that things never completely end. People keep living their lives after the story concludes, and it doesn’t always make sense to wrap things in a neat bow.

Bothsideism is a serious problem in our discourse, ironically perpetrated by… both sides. Admittedly, this is a bit flippant. More accurately, media and voter alike are guilty of assuming a general level of incompetence and corruption within the US government, without understanding which side deserves 95% of the blame for that. Sometimes we hear about asymmetric polarization, but the real asymmetry between the major political parties is less about left-right, and more about an interest in the job of governing. Yeah, Democrats make mistakes, some individuals within the party are corrupt, and there’s a lot of obnoxious infighting under that big tent.

But since 1976, the Republican Party has been the party of intentional incompetence, and they’ve been the party of almost constant bad faith since 1994. Every single time the modern GOP gets ahold of more than one rein of government, they steer it into a ditch and leave it worse off than it was before. And they’ve cowed the media into treating them as though they deserve equal treatment, which just reinforces public opinion that “both sides are the problem.” By all means, we should criticize those that deserve it, Democrats included.

But the current dysfunction in our government is caused by the second largest political party being philosophically dedicated to the notion that the other side is always illegitimate, regardless of how much support they get, or how many elections they win. The Republican Party as it stands is the impediment to progress in America, and will continue to be that way for some time to come. It will require voters to recognize this fact for multiple elections cycles in a row for things to truly start changing. The flaws and compromises of the Democrats are relatively meaningless in the face of this.

Sometimes it’s good to not have a strong opinion on a topic. Yeah, funny that I end with this one. It often seems that some people feel a need to be able to expound on just about any topic in the public discourse, despite not having a strong grasp of the subject. “I don’t know” can be a greater display of wisdom than a half-baked hot take. I think a lot of people are afraid to acknowledge they lack information about a subject, and seek out just enough information to know how their particular team appears to feel, and then argue accordingly. I’ve found that taking the time to learn about an issue before expressing an opinion not only helps to provide a better opinion, but even more importantly, helps to challenge one’s worldview. Sometimes we find out that our particular team doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom after all, and we should approach every issue with a degree of caution and pragmatism. Or maybe I’m just wrong and have bad takes. I dunno. Could go either way.

About hbreck

Writer, debater, contrarian, storyteller, occasional troublemaker. I'm mostly just making things up as I go.
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