Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Whose Story Is It?

“You’ll never, ever, get the Republican TV show. The Writers Guild of America, my union, is at a minimum 99 percent leftist liberal and, like me, socialist. And we don’t know how to write it. We don’t.” ~ Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC host and television show writer*
There's a lot to be said for the special relationship between progressivism-collectivism and youth.  But one of the most important ones is the susceptibility of youth to oversimplified "truisms" that makes them feel like they are empowering the authorities to establish a more utopian existence while feeling that they are somehow simultaneously rebelling against The Establishment.  They are fed a self-gratifying view in which they are heroically championing change by bravely voting for centralized power and indenturing their posterity in the hopes for a less difficult life.

I tried to convey very recently that it is not primarily a matter of arguments and facts but the particular narrative in terms of which one sees the world.  Today Lee Habeeb and Mark Leven have published an editorial that highlights the problem of today's culture. [alternate link]  People in general, but youth especially, are susceptible to thinking they are informed when they have instead been entertained.  They are being entertained into a vision of the way things are, and they think, or feel rather, that art is merely reflecting the world.  The propaganda is never so much propaganda as when it is permeating the environment so that you can't even taste it.  But we don't live in a culture in which entertainment represents the various opinions of the audience. The audience is instead being brought around to the opinions of the artists and producers.

And there's a story that's been told for a while now.  It's a story of liberation and freedom.  It's a story of salvation and redemption.  It's a story of the triumph of Good in the End Times.  But it's not a story from any religious book, so to speak.  Ask Jamie Foxx.  He's found religion.  He's found salvation.  All you have to do for salvation is give powerful men a master key to everyone's cabinets and pantries in order to protect us all from the selfishness of The Few.  All you have to do is entrust elite jurists with the meaning of our rights.  All you have to do is engorge an army of administrators with funds in order to be taken care of forever.  All you have to do is repent of your political sins.

This country desperately needs a new set of storytellers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Positive Christianity: The Gospel of Socialism

The National Academy of Sciences has a plan to end the conflict over the teaching of evolution. Taking a page from Daniel Dennett's book, they want to put religions in cages. Not abolish them, you understand, just make them safe, and stop them from misinforming children about the natural world. The idea is to get anyone who still wants to believe in something to subscribe to " theistic evolution" which to the academy means that whatever some god may or may not have done, it had to have happened before the Big Bang, left no physical traces, and be indistinguishable from the random working of natural law. As the academy encouragingly points out in Science and Creationism, " Many religious persons, including many scientists, hold that God created the universe and the various processes driving physical and biological evolution."  ~ Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box 
In addition to the curious redefinition of national socialism (i.e. fascism) as a right-wing mode of thought, there is linked to that the bizarre notion of the pagan Hitler being a dedicated Christian.  Hitler promoted a new brand of Christianity called "Positive Christianity." Based on the materialism of Higher Criticism, he divorced the person of Jesus from the moral and revelatory claims of the Torah and from the miraculous and divine, and reduced him to a social reformer, a social activist challenging the restrictions of society-- much like the trends in liberal Christianity and liberation theology.
"You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?" ~ attributed to Hitler by Albert Speer
Positive Christianity wasn't simply a fusion between liberal Christianity and Hitler's particular social ideology. It was a neutering of religion so that the sole moral agenda is set by the Experts, by a political priesthood.  It was religion made safe by being reduced to platitudes compatible with a state agenda.   Positive Christianity is Christianity freed of negativity, and negativity is what gets in the way of the moral order of the Enlightened, a moral order that might come into conflict with the cultural objections of the people, if the people are beholden to a different moral compass.

It is well established that the political religions of Maoism and Marxism and Nazism couldn't abide the competition with the people's religions.  Is it any surprise that most of the people that are willing to reject arguments from authority and bandwagon arguments on social/moral issues are those that have their moral compass rooted in something they don't consider man-made?  Social conservatism tends to transcend religious boundaries and find adherents even in less religious people, and yet it is more often than not religious people that are willing to put up with the ridicule and shame for standing up for their "outmoded" beliefs.  They believe that the stakes are high and that they are beholden to a higher authority than the State.

So why is it that whenever traditional mores and values are asserted or traditional religious practices are followed that the progressives whoop up the crowd about the approaching Theocracy and yet Elizabeth Warren invokes the name of Jesus freely at the Democrats' secular Abortion-palooza rally which booed down their Judaeo-Christian ties?  Ironically, it is Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren's conception of Christianity that will be nationalized and imposed on all America.  It is an drive-thru abortion-based culture that will be imposed on Catholics. Free (and private--mom and dad don't need to know) condoms and abortions for schoolchildren.  Only Positive Christianity need be affirmed in public places, thank you very much.  You can talk about Jesus as social reformer but don't invoke him for any social conservative point of view. That's hate speech.  As Dan Savage says, we can "learn to ignore the bull***t in the Bible" and only pay attention to the good stuff.  The safe stuff.  The state-approved stuff.  The stuff that is in accord with the current interpretation of the Bill of Rights.

The various problems with the progressive/collectivist interpretation of "Jesus as social reformer" deserves its own entry (or three), but much of it can be summarized by the statement: "My kingdom is not of this world."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Science, Religion, and Politics

You ever have more things to say or share or think about than one persona can manage?

Anyway, that is neither here nor there...

What is the difference between religion, science, and politics?  The difference, as I see it, is that politics gets down to the nitty-gritty of policy.

Is this reflective of reality, or of just Sagan's little
corner of it?  It's not reflective of my corner.
Everything is political in the general sense that life is about negotiation--if you are not a hermit and other people are involved in your life at all.  Your obligations will be negotiated with others' obligations to you.  So relationships are political in a certain sense because there is an interplay of power.  A conscious or unconscious choice to be withdrawn, to burst into tears, to be sullen or snarky, or to be conciliatory, all involve how it negotiates your place in the relationship.  Maybe it places you ahead, maybe it attempts to share power, maybe it means to put yourself down (because you feel that's what you deserve).

People don't like this because it sounds like everything is a Macchiavellian pursuit of power--those that think this are likely to think that everything that occurs in the expressly political field of Public Policy and Government Policy are merely power plays.  Which is sad.  Because people like this don't realize the genius behind the founding documents of America and have a cynical view of these documents, while likely thinking themselves to be very sunny and optimistic (and maybe apolitical people).  I think the more reasoned view is realizing that every act involving other human beings potentially affects your relationship with them, changes the nature of how you interrelate.  This is realism.

Science and religion:  These are two kinds of endeavors that both purport to convey truth.  In some ways, in America, science is more thickly intertwined with public policy (what we think of as "politics") because it is often directly supported with public funds.  Religion is intertwined with politics more in the sense of people's private sense of morality directing them to choose policies that they feel best mold/preserve society, and by private sense of morality, I don't just mean those moralities directed by a traditional, deity-centered religion.  And the more government is involved in people's lives, and the more centralized that government involvement is, the more you will find people treating their views on politics (and science) with a kind of religious intensity, because views on these matters directly affect their way of life, their culture, the cultural atmosphere their children are raised in.

On a less grand level, I think in any human institution, whether religion or science, humans play their little political games to define the agenda, how the institution's resources (financial or human) are used, etc.  There are always competing visions.  People are more willing to give on minor issues (and therefore see the other person's point of view); less so on more fundamental matters.  If you've spent decades on an avenue of research or built your work on some theory (or research program, as one philosopher put it), chances are you are not going to abandon it just because someone provides a "knockdown argument."  If you are invested even a little in anything (and being human, you probably are), you will be a little dubious about someone else's "facts" (even if published), inferences, or methodology.  Your intuition will be that the knockdown argument isn't really knockdown.  If "facts" or tenets are established authoritatively, the authority that establishes it is itself a power structure, whether or not it is recognized as such.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Groucho Marxism

Grouch Marx:
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
No, Groucho. Politics is more like the art of making your agenda look less objectionable than the competition's.

What you've just described is liberalism.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Secession: What Ken Blackwell Gets Wrong

In the wake of a simple majority(?) being demagogued into accepting prolonged fiscal irresponsibility, several people in several states have added enough signatures to their secession petitions (via Obama's petition site, from what I heard) to require a response (the 25,000 signature mark if I remember).  Signatures from all the states combined have surpassed one million.

Many Republicans and conservatives are denouncing secession as a tin-foil hat response.  Ken Blackwell in particular has criticized Ron Paul's opinion on the matter in a piece that argues that revolution and secession are two different things, and cites both Jackson's and Lincoln's violent suppression (threatened suppression in Jackson's case) of secession as rebellion.

First of all, the Declaration of Independence claims the right of a people to "dissolve the political bonds" which connect them to a government that is destructive of the "ends" (the goal) of securing inalienable rights, a government that forgets that it derives its power from the consent of the governed.   If a people have this right (whether the government agrees or not) to alter or abolish or replace its government with one it feels is more likely to secure its freedoms, why does seceding not fall into the spectrum of altering or abolishing a potentially despotic government?  

The Constitution received the consent of the governed in the form of the ratification by the elected representatives of the respective peoples of the sovereign States.  So what about the Constitution rules out the possibility of voluntarily leaving the protection of the Union they voluntarily accepted?  What specifically makes ratification as irreversible as entering a roach motel?  The arguments of the Federalist Papers seem to be that the only thing that could prevent a state from asserting its sovereignty by opting out was a standing army, and the arguments went that there would be no permanent standing army.

So it seems strange to me that the argument against secession is that secession was always stopped with the (real or threatened) violence of federal troops, the very thing the Federalist Papers said the states' militias would be able to resist.  It was well understood at the time, that the 2nd Amendment guaranteed the people's ability to resist coerced participation in the Union.

So, what Ken Blackwell seems to be suggesting is that one may not "alter" government before it gets so despotic that it much be "abolish[ed]" altogether.  Secession seems to be a downright more civil alternative to an all-out revolution.

Of course, he also seems to be warning us that the federal government will not let a state choose independence from the United States government.  And that is certainly a real threat.  But if enough states were to secede, would American troops actually fire upon fellow American civilians just to ensure their continued status as federal taxpayers?  Is it really impossible for a state's citizens to declare in good faith that they will go their separate way without being hung for treason?  To me, there is something about this dogmatic Unionism-at-all-costs that is scarier than losing the unity of the states.

The other thing that I think that Ken Blackwell gets wrong: With what the government has become, the powers that it has usurped, its convenient distortions of the Bill of Rights, its suppression of religious freedom and morality, its intrusion into private affairs and property rights, its judicial overreach, the withering of the 10th and 2nd Amendments-- Jefferson and the moderate Adams both, and Madison, would have argued for secession or even worse long before we got to this point.  They would have considered the GOP, to say nothing of the Democratic Party, more "Tory" and more Big Government than those they laughingly called the "hyperfederalists."  They are both much more statist than Alexander Hamilton's Federalist party, not to mention Jefferson's Republican party, which was practically libertarian.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Competing Narratives

"Fellows, you can't have it both ways. [I] can't be a wild-eyed kook and a square."                 --- Reagan to liberal critics, c. 1980

Some here in California can remember being radicals in the '60s and collecting signatures to recall (then) Governor Reagan.  I wonder if these are the same people that claim now that Reagan was a liberal.  Four years before then, his national address in defense of Barry Goldwater was quite a speech--something that would largely resonate, I think, with modern conservatives.  12 years after then, the rhetoric would sound rather like (eerily like, if you were a 70s progressive) the 60s Reagan they despised.

But you'd think now that he had endeared himself to them all along with his moderate ways and it is today's conservatives that would be too extreme for Reagan.  Meanwhile, conservatives think that if Reagan hadn't been successful with the problems he inherited, this reinvention of Reagan would never have occurred. (He'd instead have been held up as proof positive that conservative ideas do not work, as they now do with George W. Bush.)  To conservatives, it seems like an Orwellian alteration of history.

Listening to people talk about the days in which they rebelled via 60s political activism, I wonder about the social dynamics that people were swept up in.  The anti-McCarthyist reaction in Hollywood, the Beatnik sneering at traditional values, the people that got used to the quasi-fascist government-directed economy of WWII already desensitized by FDR's valiant and prolonged efforts to stagnate the economy into recovery, etc.  (Would  it be irony that Europe's decimation might have given America the leg up it needed to last up until JFK's more significant tax cuts?)  It all converged in the 60s into the quasi-libertarian statism that now marches Forward.

Even as I draw connections between the various (seemingly unrelated) causes that modern liberalism dutifully embraces, I ponder that most people caught up in such a movement are not necessarily captivated by a clear outlined vision (as some of their ringleaders may well be) let alone aware of any sort of connections between them.  They might be perceived as common-sense positions on largely unrelated matters.  (For example, why would certain environmental attitudes correlate with kneejerk indignation against Israelis?)  I speculate that what makes positions on these matters correlate for liberals and conservatives (though admittedly there are always people that deviate from these correlations) is that it comes down to competing narratives.  Each narrative is informed by a vision, but generally, I think most home in on the Vision from the Narrative.

The younger one is, the more likely that his narrative is informed by pop culture and various second- and third-hand impressions of history.  These may be bolstered or challenged by more intellectual(-sounding) presentations of these narratives.  Young people often feel themselves to be above narratives--when they are the most vulnerable to soaking them up, thinking they are "discovering" the truth they are being fed.  Youth are typically hungry for particular kinds of truth.  The narrative that they are more enlightened than all past ages and are on the verge of creating a utopian society merely by voting (without requiring any courage or principled stand) for a big establishment that rejects traditional notions of social responsibility and that promises to care for them all their lives -- this is a particularly appealing narrative to modern youth.  They really dig rebelling in this way.  How many of these young "activists" could even understand how and why Reagan's 1964 speech was so meaningful to people then and now?  There's no way for a conservative to answer that question without feeling some feeling of depression.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Such A Narrow Defeat In So Many States

More than the vast swath of voter fraud involving illegal immigrants and dead voters, more than the fickle people who let a picture of Obama stamping around a hurricane aftermath in the photo-op of the century trump his actual record, more than Obama's cynical departure from his obviously insincere rhetoric of a post-partisan unifying of America, another factor explains the victory of the now out-of-the-closet ultra-progressive Obama: the horrible truth that even with a majority of Americans believing that Romney was better able to deal with the economy, too many of them thought Obama would be of more immediate benefit to them.

Ultimately, what won the day was "Screw the country; I - Will - Do - For - Me."

While it is being widely marketed by a certain crowd that evil corporations are taking advantage of the public's self-interest, this administration has set itself up as the ultimate Sugar Daddy of the country.  All you have to do is forget what the Constitution was based on, forget what it means for parents to determine the values of their children, forget what it means for a community to make laws that support the preservation of its values.  Just inhale the carbon monoxide and go gently to sleep.  Don't struggle.  It's so much easier if you don't struggle.

I'm reminded of a now little-known story of a superficial man who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.

He was famished, you see.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Are the Ultimate Concerns of the Progressive Religion?

If we think of a religion as a worldview that holds up an Ultimate Concern (as Paul Tillich called it, if I recall), I believe Progressivism or Liberalism or Leftism, as a huge number of liberals espouse it, is very religious in nature.  Dennis Prager, a religious Jew who is politically conservative, thinks that Leftism is the most dynamic religion of the 20th Century.  He and other conservative commentators have claimed that the "Trinity" of Leftism is Gender, Race, and Class.  I think the politics of victimization is but one important aspect of liberalism as embraced quasi-religiously.

Tentatively, I would say that if there is a sacred "Trinity" of Progressivism/Liberalism it is something more like this:  (1) subordinating liberty to security, (2) subordinating liberty to fairness/equality, and (3) subordinating community determination to centralized power.   If it does one of these three things, generally progressives will be for it.  Downplaying the uniqueness of the U.S. Constitution and associated American exceptionalism to exalt international interests?  (What does China think? What does France think?  What does Pakistan think?)  Think of Obama's involvement in Libya, not with the approval of our elected representatives (which is what our Constitution calls for), but with the approval of the nations (well, the nations with power, anyway.)  State decisions over community control ; federal decisions over state control; national interests subjected to international interests.  The most sensitive decisions in the U.S. in the hands of nine unelected scholars, many of whom take a very broad view of the scope of their powers.

Centralizing, concentrating ultimate authority into the hands of the remote and few is the key to fairness and security; perhaps for some, security and fairness are mere cynical rationales for centralizing ultimate authority.  Oligarchy. 

The politics of victimization has, since the Republican party made Civil Rights win the day, become (a la LBJ) the Democratic Party's lever for increased national control.  Increased powers for redistribution and a justifiable cause for federal troops appearing in the streets of a state without any national emergency.  A fascist's, er... central planner's dream!  LBJ also channeled FDR (and his Second Bill of Rights) into his Great Society, which allowed the federal government to use the contributions to your Social Security "fund" as a discretionary piggy bank for today's recipients (ah, the power to buy votes!).

The reason that global climate change (the scientific doomsday prediction formerly known as global warming) is of such great interest to progressives is that the more dire the predictions, the more leverage for subordinating smaller authorities to larger, national interests to alleged international interests.  Population control (abortion and eugenics are historically both progressive darlings), environmental resources, food genetics, nuclear dangers (both missiles and reactors), etc.  All things related to interests that will be neatly "solved" by having a world authority regulating our affairs. (This is enlightened; just watch Star Trek, or listen to John Lenin.. er, Lennon's "Imagine.")

Making our awesome space program (a symbol of American exceptionalism) into a program for Muslims to feel proud of their contributions to science is an example of deflating national importance to spread the "wealth" of accomplishment around.  Fairness.  What makes you so special, Britain, that we should talk to your ambassadors?  You're just one of 200 nations. What makes you so special, Israel, that we stop what we're doing to talk to you?  You're just one of our important allies in your region of the world.  What makes you so special, successful entrepreneur? Your success is the result of either accident or cheating; you sure didn't get there by being especially smart or hardworking.

Progressivism is primarily interested in issues that can be used to centralize power.  Bullying has been going on in schools for years and has afflicted all kinds of kids. You stick out in any way, and some kid might want to destroy your sense of self-worth.  But liberals are very interested in those kids in particular that are picked on specifically because they are homosexuals (or perceived to be), the picked on kids that commit suicide specifically for a certain reason, because that emboldens the government to intervene in local affairs and provides liberals the comfort of using centralized government power to change society for the better, regardless of the consent of the governed.

Rather than campaign at a strictly municipal or state level, liberals opt for a nationalized program that can take a national economy hostage and dip into a bottomless debt reservoir if it proves financially unsound.  If Romneycare is essentially the same as Obamacare, then why not encourage the states to implement something similar, if the popular support is there?  Because that entrusts something to the People that is much too precious; it must be rather be put in the hands of the Central Planners.

One of the early causes of Progressivism was eugenics.  Genetic health (as understood in the Darwinistic framework that influenced the academic generation of Woodrow Wilson) was a problem requiring governmental intervention.  Government decides who is fit to breed.  The roots of Planned Parenthood were in a movement to keep black people and other "inferior" minorities from outbreeding white people (and MLK's niece Alveda King considers abortion to still have racist implications).

John Dewey, the "father" of modern education ("free" government-run education?), promoted the idea of children being trained to be global citizens.  He said, "You can't make socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society, which is coming, where everyone is interdependent."  A global, fair society is too precious a thing to leave in the hands of parents.  The Central Planners will decide what point of view children should have, thank you very much.

Emancipation and protecting children from their parents  are also up-and-coming problems:  Getting girls the right to have abortions without their parents knowing.  Allowing new adults to choose educations (with their subjects of study) without being tied to their parents' purse strings (it's all "free"!).  Protecting children from the narrowness of their parents' religious beliefs, their heterosexism, their irrational bias against transgenderism, their misplaced priority on abstinence, their primitive skepticism of the grand metaphysical claims of biologists, their Taliban-like policies on whether their underage daughters get abortions, etc.-- these are things that requires the intervention of liberally educated policy-makers.

Because of the specious claim of the Democratic Party on Civil Rights, Republicans are loathe to challenge the nationalizing, intrusive roots of their own party, a party whose two major planks at Lincoln's inauguration were imposing a federal anti-slavery agenda on the states (challenging the 10th article of the Bill of Rights) and imposing a federal marriage agenda on the states (mostly with economic and political sanctions on the LDS church for control of the Utah Territory).  Their national railroad ambition also reflect the nationalizing aspect of the National Republican party (as opposed to the Democratic-Republican party that was committed to Jefferson's Anti-Federalism).  Around the social tumult of the 1960s, the Democrat party realigned itself fully away from the 10th Amendment and channeled the old paternal racism of the Progressive movement into victimization politics.  (Remember: The Tenth Amendment is Republican code for slavery -- "He's gonna put y'all back in chains!!!")

"Those rights are too precious and too fragile to be left up to the whim of states and the tearing winds of modern partisan politics." -- NY Times Op Ed

Why climate change?  (Or global warming, as it was called before the weather got so unpredictable that they couldn't tell it was cooling, warming, or causing extreme weather the likes of which we've seen this century.)  I've heard it argued that it doesn't matter whether there is sufficient proof (or how often the predictions have been wrong)--we are hurting the environment and that is bad.  Honestly, I think conservatives would respond better to the "fouling the nest" argument.  However, that argument gets you to state solutions only.  A planetary crisis... well, that gets you nationalization, centralization, and world-wide regulation by a world-wide authority.  It's a Progressive's dream.  The danger of it, from a conservative point of view, is in the enormous power that impending doom offers to people who love and worship power, and the enormous prestige that scientists take on by being involve in something so momentous. You know that politics is especially attractive to people who love power, and that it tends to bring out the worst in people that take positions of power with good intentions.  But saving the planet sounds and feels so wonderful... and as with most Progressive preoccupations, it evokes a sense of superiority over the terrible do-nothings that want to destroy the planet.

Environmentalism sounds almost... conservative.  Conservation.  I think most people, even most right-leaning citizens, are open to conservation of resources and believe in "not fouling the nest" so to speak.  Many, including left-leaning citizens, haven't thought of the importance of biodiversity.  (It's unclear that biodiversity is much more than a shibboleth for environmentalists, since an understanding of its importance, I would think, make for a much more nuanced understanding of the role of corporations and venture capitalists in a flexible economy.)  But I believe much of the less rational reactions to environmentalism are due to the uncritical acceptance of its claims and the complete lack of real dialogue on the matter.  Don't question whether the experts have a stake in upholding grand claims; just drink the Kool-Aid and shut up.  Every instance of extreme weather is now being blamed on global warming/cooling/climate change, without an expert coming on the air and putting it into perspective.

On the other hand, we have much more reason to think that biomes can adapt to changing environmental conditions than we have reason to think that one can radically change age-old human cultural adaptations and not have a situation that spins out of control.  The massive rise in unwed pregnancies, rapes, serial killings, crazed killing sprees, rampages in schools, suicides, etc. since the mid-20th century should tell us (and many take it to heart) that progressive "enhancements" of our culture have destabilized our society in a fundamental way.  We've been fundamentally transformed.

However, conserving nature at any cost to human economy and transforming human society at any cost to social stability both involve ... intrusion and imposition of centralized government into local affairs.  And as the Waco incident demonstrated, the government is all for putting any infidels in their place (this was for gun control reasons, another Progressive favorite) even if it means incinerating a bunch of children. No one, absolutely no one,  tells the federal government it's none of their business.  Everything is their business, since this government is "the one thing we all belong to," and if you believe the rhetoric, is responsible for creating all our jobs.

(In progress...Updated 11/16/2012)