"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
I went looking for more of Jared Gold's playing, the organist playing with Dave Stryker's quartet in the pieces posted yesterday and found this trio with the spectacularly good drummer Sylvia Cuenca and the fine guitarist Dan Wilson.
Hot jazz for an unseasonably cold late April here. It's so cold my carrots won't germinate.
Impressions - (Coltrane): Dave Stryker Organ Trio with Bobby Floyd and Jonathan Higgins, and, special guest Bob Mintzer Live at JEN 2012 Louisviille, Kentucky January 7, 2012 For more Dave Stryker:http://www.davestryker.com For more Bobby Floyd: http://www.bobbyfloyd.com
Wish I had saved the blog comment someone made years ago, back when she was pretty much confined to Pandagon, that Amanda Marcotte wrote like an angry 13-year-old. That summed her up for me back then. I think it was before I had my first direct encounter with her, but that's a long story and it's not directly relevant to this post which addresses her somewhat more finished style of today.
The recent piece she typelled (what we pixel stained wretches do these days) for Alternet was dutifully copied at Salon, where I saw it, was on the terrible accusation that atheists have anger issues. I know, shocking, isn't it.
Perhaps someone was making a funny instead of being clueless but the ungrammatical subtitle is:
The Christian right wants to paint nonbelievers as spittle-flecked rage machines. They doth protest too much
AND THE PIECE IS ILLUSTRATED BY THAT FREQUENTLY SPITTLE-FLECKED RAGE MACHINE, CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS LOOKING ENRAGED AND DEMENTED IN THE PERIOD WHEN HE WAS A FULL FLEDGED MEMBER OF THE ATHEIST RIGHT.
It must count as one of the most obviously silly topics for an atheist who has the writing archive of Amanda Marcotte to deny that rage is the major mode of online atheist discourse, matched only by conceited disdain for more than 95% of the human population and dishonesty of discourse of which her piece is a quintessential example. And in it she gives a shout out to her fellow 13-year-old, Greta Christina, whose shtick is pretty much anger. The claim is made that atheists' anger is justified....
“Because anger has driven every major movement for social change in this country, and probably in the world,”
What atheists have to be angry about can mostly be summed up at one go, most people don't think like they do and
That is a line that atheists used to dupe the left into turning the cause for legal equality for atheists, something that was GIVEN TO THEM, half a century ago into some excuse for them to have far more than that. Atheists in the United States and elsewhere have used the fact of their self-generated unpopularity to browbeat most people into silence on the left and an insistence that the entire society be de-religionized because they don't like the way most people think. Well, if they don't like that, it's just too bad. The past forty years have shown that while they can use the wall of separation to ensure the formal government is not in the business of promoting a specific religion, they can't use it to turn atheism into the state religion by default.
There is a level of government which has never, will never and cannot be de-religionized, that is the roots and trunk of democracy, The People and the only source of legitimacy for any government, The Voters.
You can't erect a wall of separation keeping people from consulting their religious beliefs when they vote the way they do, you can't keep that from being a politically effective fact of politics and even one that politicians have to take into account. Republicans, mostly not having bought the stupid atheist analysis of that have benefited from the force of religious belief among conservatives, it is liberals who have been forced to do the tightrope act of trying to please both the anti-religious splinter and, so, not having access to an even greater force of belief for liberalism. Liberals were, in large numbers, suckered into going along with the atheists because of the misuse of the idea of the separation of church and the formal activities of government. Liberals gave up their most potent and effective political weapon when they bought the atheists' line.
The wall of separation wasn't raised against religion by skeptics it is a wall raised BY RELIGIOUS BELIEVERS TO PROTECT THEIR PRIVATE BELIEFS FROM GOVERNMENT INTRUSION AND THE INTRUSION OF A STATE RELIGION, even Madison said that hoping that by there being no one state church that Christianity would benefit and flourish and become generally effective. And his concept of Christianity was a lot closer to that of the religious right than it is modern religious liberals of today who have gone far past where the "founders" generation was willing to go in such matters.
No, anger isn't what has fueled every major social movement for change, the religious belief that people are created equal in both rights and moral obligations has, something which has no materialistic basis. You can have a revolution through anger, it will be a revolution which, as the large majority of those have been, was only a prelude to continuing oppression and violence. The American Revolution is illustrative, it freed rich men from a king and a foreign parliament, it retained most of the oppressive features of what preceded it, slavery, oppression of women, inequality of even free white men, originally even at the ballot box. In every case the major force for changing that was thoroughly informed by the Christian religion of those who fought for change. And anger was never the most effective part of that. The idiocy of various cults of outrage and anger in the later 1960s weakened and derailed the progress that religion and self-discipline had won in the preceding decade, it set up a backlash far more potent for the spectacle of the anger which was an effective tool for the right. They both scared and angered people who were the target of that would-be righteous anger. But you had to grow up to understand that, no matter how good it felt to be angry and act out, it was stupid politics.
I heard Dave Stryker's recording of Wichita Linesman from his CD, 8-Track in which he and a slightly different set of musicians make some great jazz from what might have stayed under explored musical material, pop hits of the 1970s. This performance is pretty great too. Stryker's laconic lines are played exactly as I'd expect the Lineman to have said what was said, though I didn't know that till I heard him play it.
Dave Stryker guitar, Jared Gold organ, Steve Nelson vibes, Steve Johns drums
Reading Fr. Richard McBrien's old columns has turned out to be addictive. He had the kind of writing style and a clarity of thinking that allowed him to put things simply I could only hope to approach. As I recall, the Church World carrying his column usually came in the Friday mail. I usually wouldn't see it until I went to visit my mother on the weekend. I think I'll post his old columns on some Fridays unless I'm requested not to. Here's the last one posted on his website from December 17, 2012.
The Year of the Nuns
A professional relationship already exists, writes Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, congregation justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, between shareholders and corporate executives, but a personal relationship develops and grows between equal parties in a dialogue. According to Sister Oestreich in the liturgical bulletin of the Church of Our Lady of Loretto, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, in 2012 the Congregation of the Holy Cross engaged in four corporate dialogues. Two dialogues were with oil and gas companies, Chevron and Halliburton, on reviewing and implementing human rights policies across their global operations. Both companies are working with religious shareholders to update their human rights policies referring to the statute set forth in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are also adding human rights language to future supplier contracts to ensure negotiations for just wages and a repudiation of labor trafficking practices. Shareholders and corporate representatives have quarterly conference calls to ensure that progress on these issues is being made. As a result of the work against sex trafficking at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, the congregation purchased stock in Choice Hotels International and joined a dialogue with its corporate executives. Shareholders urged Choice to sign the industry’s Code of Conduct to Eliminate Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) and to train its employees to recognize and safely report any suspected incidences of trafficking they observe. Finally, the Congregation of the Holy Cross joined other religious communities in dialogue with the Hershey Corporation regarding child labor trafficking in the cocoa fields of West Africa, especially Ivory Coast and Ghana. Shareholders have been urging Hershey and other chocolatiers to recognize the kidnapping of children and abusive working and health conditions workers endure while harvesting cocoa pods used to produce chocolates sold around the world. Hershey is a United States-based chocolate company that imports 70 percent of its cocoa from West Africa and holds 43 percent of the U.S. chocolate market. In a surprise move on October 3, 2012, Hershey agreed to certify 100 percent of its chocolate by 2020. Shareholders are praising this move by Hershey and will work with the company to determine a consistent certification process over the next five to seven years. The Holy Cross nuns are obviously in good hands with Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, acting as justice coordinator for the congregation. The Church, too, is in good hands with sisters like Ann Oestreich doing this important ministry. If only the Vatican and conservative U.S. bishops, whether working in the Vatican or not, understood what American nuns understand; namely, that abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t the only social justice issues that should concern us. You can see how much good qualified nuns like Ann Oestreich can accomplish by engaging in this difficult ministry. The Vatican and conservative U.S. bishops should simply say “Thank you” and then get out of the way and let the nuns do their work on behalf of the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in recent years. First, there was the “visitation” of religious communities of women, causing many of them to put their ministries aside to prepare the paperwork required by the Vatican. Then there was the harassment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), as if their orthodoxy were in question. The Vatican, responding to complaints from various right-wing voices in the U.S. hierarchy, religious, and laity, was unimpressed with American nuns’ commitment to the poor and to various justice issues, like the concerns described above. The CDF felt that there should be greater emphasis on abortion and same-sex marriage and not a trace of advocacy for the ordination of women. The U.S. bishops lost even more of their own magisterial credibility with the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. After so many of them expressed opposition to Obama’s candidacy, at least half of the Catholics, and probably more, paid no attention to them when they voted. However, in large numbers, Catholics continue to support and appreciate the ministry of the nuns. 2012 was truly the Year of the Nuns.
Postscript: It's too bad that Fr. McBrien didn't live long enough to see the positive resolution of the inquisition brought under Benedict XVI and the right-wing bishops, which I'm certain would have ended very badly if Pope Francis hadn't replaced Benedict.
LCWR issued a statement about the papal meeting, saying the opportunity "allowed us to personally thank Pope Francis for providing leadership and a vision that has captivated our hearts and emboldened us as in our own mission and service to the church." "We were also deeply heartened by Pope Francis' expression of appreciation for the witness given by Catholic sisters through our lives and ministry and will bring that message back to our members," the leaders said. Thursday's news seems to bring to an end what had been an especially contentious period between the women religious and the Vatican.
Unlike most people you hear in the West who purports to explain the roots and motivations of "Islamic" fundamentalist violence, Sarah Chayes lived and worked for a decade in one of those countries where an extreme fundamentalist regime ruled, Afghanistan, after the United States and a coalition of mostly Western governments overthrew the Taliban and has been fighting them off ever since.
You might be familiar with Sarah Chayes from the time she spent as a reporter for National Public Radio, the job she gave up to work on development in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell and the new government under Hamid Karzai was set up, eventually becoming an adviser on the issue of corruption. Earlier this year her book making a relationship between governmental and judicial corruption and disgusted and desperate people turning to violent religious fundamentalism in the face of ubiquitous corruption. The NYRB said about it:
In a limited sense, this is Chayes’s own story too: A former reporter for NPR in Algeria and Afghanistan, she abandoned journalism to work for a nongovernmental organization in Kandahar, then was a social entrepreneur there on her own account, finally becoming an adviser on corruption to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. She is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
And went on:
Her personal narrative is even more complicated than any summary might suggest. In 2001, Chayes helped found a charity “of unclear mission,” run by President Hamid Karzai’s Baltimore-based elder brother, Qayum, about whom she has this to say: “Not for years would I begin systematically comparing his seductively incisive words with his deeds. Welded to his brother’s interests, he behaved in ways that contradicted his language so starkly that for a long time I had difficulty processing the inconsistency.”
Elsewhere “those brothers” (there are six besides Hamid Karzai himself) are characterized as “self-serving,” with the younger half brother Ahmed Wali singled out as someone “who stole land, imprisoned people for ransom, appointed key public officials, ran vast drug trafficking networks and private militias, and wielded ISAF like a weapon against people who stood up to him.” This, mind you, was also someone at whose house Chayes had dinner one night in 2003, in the course of which she watched C.I.A. officers “hand him a tinfoil-wrapped package of bills.” Her experience corroborates an Oct. 27, 2009, report in The New York Times, which stated that Ahmed Wali Karzai was on the C.I.A. payroll. It also prompts one to wonder at Senator John Kerry’s response at the time. “We should not condemn Ahmed Wali Karzai or damage our critical relations with his brother, President Karzai, on the basis of newspaper articles or rumors,” he said. Ahmed Wali Karzai was assassinated by a police official and longtime confidant on July 12, 2011. About six years before that, Chayes severed her own relationship with the Karzais. After leaving for a few months, she returned to Kandahar in May 2005 with a project that, on the surface, could never smell of corruption and intrigue.
The review goes on to talk about how even as she tried to set up her own projects with charitable help from such people as Oprah Winfrey, setting up a cooperative for people who made soap and beauty products, she was faced with massive and endemic corruption, having to pay bribes TO DEPOSIT MONEY IN A BANK. It goes beyond the line from Aunty Mame about the bank so conservative that they didn't let you withdraw your money.
Through the experience with corruption, but also in listening to what Afghans thought about their own experience, she came to realize that it was the corruption of government and other institutions that, as much as anything, led to people turning to the one institution that at least aspired to non-corruption, religion and in a form willing to take extreme measures to overthrow the system of endemic corruption. Unlike so many of our media's favorite "experts" the Afghans were there and experiencing the reasons for why people pushed up against the wall are willing to try even the oppressive alternative of fundamentalism.
I have long had a theory that racism and ignorance among the university educated class that staffs the upper ranks of Western governments and our media has led us into one disaster after another around the world, getting many millions of people killed and leaving the survivors worse off than they were before. That's certainly the case in Iraq where the dismissive disdain for the Iraqi people and the ignorant characterization and self-interested and reductionist stereotyping of them unleashed what is likely the worst policy decision in our history. That racist ignorance is matched by the desire to facilitate the exploitation by corporations and money interests of countries where our governments act. So, our own governments promote a corrupt government which will sell out its own people to the same corporate interests who have corrupted out governments. I will note the role that the perfumed members of high courts, the secular priesthood of alleged democracies, play in setting up the whole stinking thing.
The case that Sarah Chayes lays out that fundamentalism is an understandable response to massive corruption, rule by gangsters and thugs, complete with their own violence, makes more sense to me than the alternative theories I've heard. That any attempt to address it would run straight into the corruption of our own government, in the pockets of billionaires and their corporations doesn't do a thing to make the think she is off the track. Honest, decent government for The People is distinctly less profitable for those people than corrupt government is.
I would be interested to hear any ideas linking the rise of violent non-Islamic fundamentalism in the United States and countries such as Britain to the increasingly corrupt governments in them. Though I think the domestic form of the same phenomenon in such countries is more likely to take the form of gang membership and white-supremacist and other quasi-fascist organizations. Anger in the face of corruption has no place else to go when the media present no real alternative out of fashionable cynicism and anti-democratic disdain for The People and the odd idea that they can govern themselves without the interference of billionaires and corporations.
Here is a podcast of an extremely good interview of Sarah Chayes by Maureen Fiedler, and a short article on that interview by Maureen Fiedler, where I first heard about Chayes' book, yesterday. So much of what Chayes says, relating the phenomenon of "Islamic" fundamentalism to the rise of Protestantism is fascinating and refreshing. Instead of seeing the people living in Islamic societies as some other species, she is able to find common threads of experience and response to it. It is in line with so much of what Marilynne Robinson has pointed out about the Calvinists and Puritans, what is presented as a form of oppressive religiosity in 20th century revision, was actually an aspiration to have governments and societies which where honest and not corrupt. The massive corruption of the Tutors in England are not told in the PBS-BBC costume dramas, what the English Puritains were a reaction to was probably not different from what we are seeing today. Though English Puritainism wasn't funded with billions of petro-dollars with access to the products of western science, modern munitions. And inspired by the writings of the much maligned John Calvin, they wouldn't have come out in exactly the same place. Certainly there are equivalents in the Islamic world to that kind of reform. The choice doesn't have to be between the violent oppression of pseudo-Islam or the secular Western religion of Mammon.
Even when I was at my most estranged from the Catholic Church, I made it a point to read Fr. Richard McBrien's column in my mother's Church World, the now, sadly, defunct Maine Catholic weekly newspaper. I had somehow missed that Richard McBrien died last January. Though I know him mostly from his many columns, he was an important Catholic theologian who also wrote some very good books about Catholic history - . In his Times obituary was this description.
“No Catholic theologian in the United States has made a larger contribution to the reception of Vatican II than Richard McBrien did,” the Rev. Charles E. Curran, a professor of human values at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said in an interview on Tuesday.
For those who aren't familiar with him or vaguely remember him, here's another passage from the obituary.
“At his peak in the 1980s and ’90s,” The National Catholic Reporter said in its obituary, “it is arguable that McBrien had a higher media profile than anyone in the Catholic Church other than Pope John Paul II. He was the ideal interview: knowledgeable, able to express complex ideas in digestible sound bites, and utterly unafraid of controversy.” That fearlessness manifested itself in his outspoken support for the ordination of women as priests, the repeal of obligatory celibacy and the acceptance of birth control; his defiance of the papal doctrine of infallibility; and his willingness to publicly confront the crisis of pedophilia in the priesthood. (He called for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston shortly after it was revealed in 2001 that he had kept abusive priests working in parishes. Cardinal Law stepped down in December 2002.)
That he was able to retain his post at Notre Dame University, outmaneuvering his many critics among wealthy Catholics and the clique of right wing, anti-pastoral Vatican insiders during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI who pushed out and silenced other theologians, such as Charles Curran, is an indication of how smart and politically astute he was.
Father McBrien was never formally rebuked for his forthrightness, but since the 1990s, a number of diocesan newspapers had dropped his column. The Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, reviewing his book “Catholicism” in 1996, complained that it made “inaccurate or at least misleading” statements that allowed or stimulated readers “to make a choice” about the virgin birth of Jesus, homosexuality, women’s ordination and other doctrines. Father McBrien had anticipated that criticism. “There is only one Christian faith,” he wrote, “but there have been literally thousands of beliefs held and transmitted at one time or another” — some of which endured, while others “have receded beyond the range of vision or even of collective memory.”
I think he generally knew more about the Catholic Church and its history than his critics. If their suspicion that he would be able to answer them out of that history and out of tradition protected him would be interesting to know.
He was also very insightful about American culture and its relationship with the Catholic tradition. I don't have many of his columns saved but here is one I saved from the October 13, 1994 Church World, one in which he uses a number of terms, "individualism" "counterculture" in ways that show how the connotation of words can mask their less than honest use.
Individualism In American Culture
One of the regular complaints of Catholic counterculturalists is that American society is permeated with individualism. While the counterculturalists' criticism may be generally sound, their understanding of individualism is not. It's too limited. For Catholic counterculturalists, the Church is commendably countercultural when it opposes the ordination of women, because the culture unduly exalts the rights, dignity, and equality of women. The Church is courageously countercultural when it opposes contraception, because the culture glorifies sexual permissiveness without the responsibility of parenthood. The Church is defiantly countercultural when it opposes optional celibacy for its priests, because the culture favors sensual gratification over sacrifice. The Church is bravely countercultural when it reaffirms its teachings on homosexuality, divorce, and abortion, because the culture separates sexuality from marriage, commitment, and the generation of human life. Catholic counterculturalists tend to place such cultural tendencies under the umbrella of individualism. In their view, our culture is saying to us, "Do your own thing." But the countercultural Church says in sharp retort, "Be faithful to God's commandments, even when it hurts, because there is a higher good than the good of the individual." Let us grant, for the sake of argument only, that each of the preceding examples (women's rights, sexual freedom, diversity of lifestyles, and so forth) is a manifestation of an excessive individualism in American culture, that each is in some way at odds with God's will, and that each, therefore, has to be resisted and opposed by the Church. But at least two questions are begged: Is there no more to individualism than its sexual and reproductive aspects? In taking their stand against individualism, have Catholic counterculturalists missed other socially harmful manifestations of it? A recent survey, conducted by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (The New York Times, September 21, 1994), suggests that the American public has become less compassionate about the problems of the poor and minorities, and more "angry and self-absorbed." The study discloses a remarkable change in the attitudes of Americans on race and social welfare and a growing resentment against immigrants. Indeed, for the first time in the seven years of the Times-Mirror surveys, a majority of whites (51 percent) say now that equal rights have been pushed too far. Just two years ago, only 42 percent expressed that view. In 1992, 54 percent of whites thought that there had not been much real improvement in the situation of African-Americans. Two years later, that number has fallen to 44 percent. A similar decline has occurred in the matter of public support for social welfare. In 1992, 69 percent of those surveyed said it was the responsibility of government to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. That number has also fallen in 1994 to 57 percent. A spirit of individualism moves many Americans to oppose any version of health care reform that involves a raise in their taxes, even if the reform would make it possible for millions of uninsured citizens to have some form of health insurance. A spirit of individualism moves many Americans to oppose any form of gun control, lest it infringe upon their personal right to maintain their own arsenal, even if the absence of gun control will cost thousands of innocent lives. A spirit of individualism moves many Americans to oppose any restrictions whatever on their right to smoke cigarettes in public places, even if smoking raises healthcare costs and the price of products for everyone, and even if smoking is harmful to those who don't smoke, especially young children and those with breathing difficulties. A spirit of individualism moves many Americans to oppose any tax-supported efforts to prevent crime by improving housing, education, and recreational facilities, even if the failure to do so would pose continued danger and harm to those who are economically trapped in high-crime areas. A spirit of individualism moves many well-to-do Americans to oppose any change whatever in the Social Security system, even if they have no need for the income it provides and if millions of others would be left without resources should the system go bankrupt. The examples could be multiplied. One has only to look at the social encyclicals of Pope John Paul II or the 1986 pastoral letter of the U.S. Catholic bishops to find many others. Why is it, then, that Catholic counterculturalists are so limited in their own listing of examples of individualism? Why are their examples almost exclusively drawn from issues related to human sexuality and human reproduction? Counterculturalists tend also to be politically conservative (or neo-conservative). Would that have anything to do with it? If the Catholic Church is to be authentically countercultural, should it not be truly catholic in what it decides to oppose in the culture, regardless of political interests? One would surely think so. Many of Richard McBrien's columns can still be read at his website. This most recent one, Year of the Nuns is a good place to start and work back in time. There is no more genuine part of the Catholic tradition than economic justice and social justice. I'll have more on that in the future.
Update: Thinking about the changes in polling numbers Richard McBrien included in his column, I wonder if the decisive change in those might be due to the rise of 24-hour cabloid news in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, which was CNN's great leap forward. The Cabloids have had a steadily corrosive effect on American politics, promoting primarily the Republican right and libertarian stands in line with, first, Ted Turner's preferences and then the preferences of other rich owners.
This isn't my favorite Peggy Lee but it's amazing to remember back when a TV variety show could put the resources into the production of a number sung by a guest. Though I do think the tinsel tassels are a bit of overkill, it must have seemed in keeping at the time. And if the guy who designed this wasn't gay I'll eat one of those hats.
Here's one I like even better with her then husband, Dave Barbour's Quartet, You Was Right Baby.
I like Dave Barbour, it's too bad he came to the end he did.
I am aching all over this morning and need to get some sleep. I will post something new later. I have to confess that it was fun to turn an atheist's quote, widely quoted by atheists, back onto an atheist who was doing exactly what old Bertrand Russell said stupid men do. I'm not perfect by a long shot. If I have the time I'll plow through the book to try to put it into a wider context.
And if you don't have the time to read every worthwhile sentence of it, with its both remarkably keen criticism of the United States and, at the same time and through her criticism, a refreshingly unaccustomed kind of clear eyed, unromantic generosity about the United States, here is a passage that has been haunting me for the past week.
I have talked about community as being a work of the imagination, and I hope I have made clear my belief that the more generous the scale at which imagination is exerted, the healthier and more humane the community will be. There is a great deal of cynicism at present, among Americans, about the American population. Someone told me recently that a commentator of some sort had said, “The United States is in spiritual free-fall.” When people make such remarks, such appalling judgments, they never include themselves, their friends, those with whom they agree. They have drawn, as they say, a bright line between an “us” and a “them.” Those on the other side of the line are assumed to be unworthy of respect or hearing, and are in fact to be regarded as a huge problem to the “us” who presume to judge “them.” This tedious pattern has repeated itself endlessly through human history and is, as I have said, the end of community and the beginning of tribalism. At this point in my life I have probably had a broader experience of the American population than is usual. I have been to divinity schools, and I have been to prisons. In the First Epistle of Peter we are told to honor everyone, and I have never been in a situation where I felt this instruction was inappropriate. When we accept dismissive judgments of our community we stop having generous hopes for it. We cease to be capable of serving its best interests. The cultural disaster called “dumbing down,” which swept through every significant American institution and grossly impoverished civic and religious life, was and is the result of the obsessive devaluing of the lives that happen to pass on this swath of continent. On average, in the main, we are Christian people, if the polls are to be believed. How is Christianity consistent with this generalized contempt that seems to lie behind so much so-called public discourse? Why the judgmentalism, among people who are supposed to believe we are, and we live among, souls precious to God—300 million of them on this plot of ground, a population large and various enough to hint broadly at the folly of generalization? It is simply not possible to act in good faith toward people one does not respect, or to entertain hopes for them that are appropriate to their gifts. As we withdraw from one another we withdraw from the world, except as we increasingly insist that foreign groups and populations are our irreconcilable enemies. The shrinking of imaginative identification which allows such things as shared humanity to be forgotten always begins at home.
I remember, reading around the blogs on the evening of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado, being shocked at the mean, nasty things being said about people whose lives had been shattered within the hour, many people dying, many people injured, many people losing members of their families, their friends, their homes, their neighborhoods and their communities. The derision, the lack of respect and the judgdementalism on display that night, among alleged liberals, most with a higher education, was a kind of great divide opening up between us before my eyes, the chasm that I noticed for the first time, the exact difference between liberalism and its opposite which was being expressed by alleged liberals.
"It is simply not possible to act in good faith toward people one does not respect, or to entertain hopes for them that are appropriate to their gifts." If there was ever a worth while sentence summing up the absolute prerequisite for any kind of liberalism, for any kind of democracy, that would be it. It is worth everything that I've ever read from the hands of Jefferson or Madison and fully as essential as any of the best that came from Abraham Lincoln. America lost that in the past century and more. It's the reason we have devolved into a corporate oligarchy in which Barack Obama is far more the servant of the oil industry than he is of The People, the reason that The People tolerated having George W. Bush and Dick Cheney imposed on us by a corrupt Supreme Court and an even more corrupt press.
Our country is broken because the The People are broken and discouraged and encouraged to disrespect and be suspicious of each other. It won't be fixed by cynicism, fashion and the pursuit of status at the expense of other people, not in the country, not in international competition. It certainly won't be fixed by becoming more the serfs of the international oligarchs.
I've been especially hard on dear old Bertie Russell on this blog but he did say some things which were spot on, true and a useful explanation of certain phenomena, such as that comment you made: “A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” ― Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy Which explains, quite literally, everything you've ever said about anything, even the things I've said that weren't especially clever but only obvious and rather mundane reasonable conclusions.
The sciency, sociological way of looking at people hasn't, I think, been a decisive plus in modernism. I think it actually is more likely to encourage the very kind of thinking it purports to expose. The fact that the encouragement is allegedly scientific and it produces numbers - the modern, sciency type is itself a throw back to the cult Pythagoras gathered around him in that- makes people blind to the problems that force a conclusion that the results are of unknowable reliability.
I have long been anything from very skeptical to outright hostile to the practice of opinion polling, doubting that the methods can reliably deliver the knowledge of general populations that we have been mis-educated into assuming they do. There are no real requirements of methodological consistency, no real or even, at times, logical consistency of analysis of data and no real testing of validity of the results in the real world populations characterized by surveys. Here are the questions asked in the ADL's Global 100 survey, widely reported as exposing the extent of anti-Semitism in the world. JEWISH STEREOTYPES 1 Jews are more loyal to Israel than to [this country/the countries they live in]* 2 Jews have too much power in international financial markets 3 Jews have too much control over global affairs 4 Jews think they are better than other people 5 Jews have too much control over the global media 6 Jews are responsible for most of the world's wars 7 Jews have too much power in the business world 8 Jews don't care what happens to anyone but their own kind 9 People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave 10 Jews have too much control over the United States government 11 Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust * Respondents living in countries with an estimated Jewish population greater than 10,000, or more than 0.1% of the overall population, or where ADL has surveyed in the past were read the statement "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country." Respondents residing elsewhere were read the statement "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries they live in." I won't go far into the many serious reservations I have about the methodology used in very diverse countries, using different data collection methods for different countries which couldn't possibly result in an even quality of data that could be subjected to one or a number of different analytical methods to achieve a consistent quality of the result. Though those reservations are as important as anything in my conclusion that polling is not science and the results don't have the reliability that science is supposed to guarantee.
The questions, themselves, are inevitably problematic despite whatever the method of collecting responses. To answer any of them is either yes or no, I would argue, is to commit an act of stereotyping and if stereotyping is what is being tested then the totals would have to be about 100% of respondents practicing stereotyping. Stereotyping can be either positive or negative and and the stereotyping of many of the questions wouldn't be all for the same reasons. You might think that Jews have "too much control" over the government of the United States if the question is unconditional support of Israeli military policy* but also regret that Jews, one of the most reliably liberal voting groups in the country, don't have enough "control" to give a margin of success in most elections.
That SOME Jews have too much power, Sheldon Adelson, for example, is not a matter for serious doubt, but that's due to the undue power of that what is probably, historically, the least Jewish of all branches of our government, The Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court which has given the country to billionaires and millionaires. As I recall, it was the Jewish members of the court in recent years who would probably have done the most to sustain the congressional limits on such as Adelson's political influence, enhancing the power of The People as a whole. I would suspect if most of the Jews who have sat in the Senate had more power, they would have blocked the nominations of the corporate Republicans to the court and we would have gotten the government out of the hands of the billionaires. If we had a Judiciary committee staffed by Howard Metzenbaums and Russ Feingolds the country wouldn't be in danger of becoming a fascist oligarchy. I would love it if such Jews had a decisive voice in making the laws of the United States, though we might sometimes part company on support of the Israeli government. That survey question is something I couldn't possibly answer and would never have any inclination to answer for all of those reasons stated above and below. **
I can imagine reasons for giving either a no or a yes answer to any number of the questions on the survey BUT I CAN'T THINK OF ANY WAY TO GIVE A VALID ANSWER TO ANY OF THEM. Even as small a population as those people who are denominated to be "Jews" are too vastly diverse in their thinking, in their character, in their morality and their, well, just plain likability, to honestly answer yes or no to these questions. To answer any of them would be to characterize people about whom your answer would be a lie. The most incidiary of the questions, "11 Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust," doesn't even have a reliably revealing answer because it would depend on what was said and why it was said. Any one word answer to that question would include both the extremely fine and necessary scholarship revealing more about the Holocaust and the cheapest and most dishonest use of it by others for the most ignoble of purposes, stereotyping other people for the crudest of political jockeying and personal score settling. "No, but.... " isn't allowed in any of these surveys when that is the only possible inclusive answer to it.
The ADL's purpose in doing these surveys is, certainly, with a far higher purpose than all of that, though I think they have put their faith in methods that can't produce what they want. An article in Haaretz last year indicates that unreliability. It asks why Greece is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe while noting that that even the ADL has to admit that the actual situation is far more nuanced than the numbers indicate, noting that even with the rise of the neo-Nazi, Golden Dawn party, anti-Jewish violence is far less common than in other countries marked as "less anti-Semitic".
With 69 percent of Greeks espousing anti-Semitic views, according to the survey, Greece was on par with Saudi Arabia, more anti-Semitic than Iran (56 percent) and nearly twice as anti-Semitic as Europe’s second-most anti-Semitic country, France (37 percent). On its surface, the poll suggests that anti-Semitism is running rampant in Greece. Much of the blame goes to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which has found fertile ground for its extreme-right ideology in the ruins of Greece’s economic crisis. In elections held Sunday for Athens mayor, for example, 16 percent of the vote went to Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, a man notorious for beating a female political opponent during a television interview and for the large swastika tattooed on his shoulder. But both the ADL and Greece’s small Jewish community caution that the reality is more nuanced than the poll numbers suggest. “There is a danger of sensationalizing it, a danger of overplaying the psychological impact of the poll,” Michael Salberg, ADL’s director of international affairs, told JTA. “There needs to be real hard internal look at the data and examining what are the forces at play.” For their part, Greek Jewish leaders took pains to point out that despite widespread bigotry, Greece hasn’t seen the sort of anti-Jewish violence that has cropped up in some other European countries, such as France.
And there are similar problems with the numbers assigned to other countries. I would challenge anyone to explain why Sweden polls as 4% anti-Semitic while the other Scandinavian countries are considerably higher, Norway and Finland both at 15% and Denmark at 9%. I also find it odd that the one country other than Israel mentioned in the survey, the United States measures at 9% and Canada, 14%. I certainly don't think that the United States population is more anti-Semitic than that of Britain, 8% and that either are more anti-Semitic than The Netherlands, 5%. I find it rather odd that Israel, itself, isn't included in the results though it certainly is a far better match for the criteria for inclusion in the survey than the West Bank, which, unsurprisingly, polls very high, at 93%.
I strongly suspect that a lot of anti-Semitism measured in some countries is due to the promotion of stereotypes in the media, sometimes because the government encourages or commands it, sometimes due to its commercial promotion sometimes very inconvenient to the governments which allow that level of press freedom. I don't think that the promotion of hate and stereotypes should be protected speech, so I'd get rid of all of that, everywhere, though in the short term I would settle for its elimination in radio, TV and the movies, the most easily imbibed and so most dangerous of that poison. And if you think that couldn't be done because it would be tedious to make the distinctions as to what does and does not constitute hate speech, then you can have no faith that the similar distinctions necessary to come to any kind of conclusion about this kind of polling can be made.
* The issue of United States military support of Israel is, itself, not motivated by any one thing. I think some of the greatest proponents of arming Israel to the teeth comes from insane Millennialist fundamentalists whose fantasies foresee a war in which most of the Jews in Israel will die in a conflagration brought on by hostilities with its neighbors. Though I think they have far less influence on such policy than the arms dealers, most of them quite non-Jewish, who just want to make money and couldn't care less if they sell to Israel or the enemies of Israel. That would get us back to the issue of getting money out of American politics which I discuss, above.
** Among the greatest critics of the influence of Jewish liberals in the Congress - and liberal Jews are the majority of those in Congress - have been conservative Jews, sometimes among those who lodge the accusation of antisemitism against other Jews who disagree with them. The rage of conservatives of all ethnic identity over the liberality of American Jews is a constant refrain in our political journalism, some of the most negative things said about Jews outside of the use of many of the negative stereotypes by the cheapest of stand up comics and TV writers.
My morning e-mail informs me that I've been accused of thinking I'm a philosopher, which is a statement so absurd that I think only someone who has read little to no philosophy could have made the accusation. There's also a very serious accusation made about someone else, that they're me. Which is rather hilariously off the mark but I'm not going into that. It would involve dragging someone else into this who didn't ask to be and who I have little to nothing in common with.
Maybe you have to have read at least some philosophy to understand how silly the accusation is. What I do could only be mistaken for philosophizing by someone who had read no real philosophy. The person who made the accusation is a Brit, probably the result of the dreadful class assignment of the British schools under the influence of Social Darwinism and eugenics, so perhaps that accounts for the lack of philosophy in her education. My methods aren't anything that wasn't taught in American high school in the early 1960s, research your premise to support it, subject it to at least some level of criticism and draw logical conclusions, necessary ones especially, from what you've found out. To mistake that for philosophy in the modern sense of the word is, maybe, a result of that loss of a liberal education I noted among those who go into the sciences. Though I've read enough of the philosophy of science to know that science can't be divorced from those same methods and retain anything like reliability. If you want to see what happens when that is the case, you can look at the social sciences and, especially important to consider, the invasion of the methods and short cuts of the social sciences into evolutionary biology, beginning in the 1860s, what may account for the faulty education of my accuser growing up under the regime influenced by the liar and scientific fraud, Sir Cyril Burt*.
No. What I do isn't philosophy, it's more like writing a high school expository theme with serious intent. Or, at least, what that used to be like in a small town high school in New England a half a century ago, if you were lucky enough to get a couple of good teachers.
The same e-mail notes that a charge of fundamentalism was also included in the accusation, which only reinforces that the accusation is made from someone who is both ignorant and lazy, someone who knows nothing about what fundamentalism is because they don't know anything about religion. For a start, I was not raised a Protestant and have never had the mistaken notion that The Bible is an inerrant text (not even in the imagined uncorrupted 1st edition that fundamentalists propose was inerrant) and I'm not convinced that all of it is equally inspired.
Though, since I have taken on Marilynne Robinson's last book which I hadn't read, When I Was a Child I Read Books, in the past two weeks, I have found out how by those same methods, of careful reading in consultation with history, the study of various texts and translations, what theologians have concluded from their study of those, that even what seemed legalistic and uninspired can reveal a far deeper level of understanding by a far more rigorous and sophisticated application of them. I doubt Marilynne Robinson would consider herself a philosopher and if she doesn't do philosophy, I certainly don't. What she says about The Law, about Moses, noting things you read in the text and don't notice for the sweep of the general narrative reveals an impressively deep reading.
The idea that an Irish Catholic, American style liberal**, a proponent of marriage equality, the wall of separation, etc. can be honestly called a "fundamentalist" could be an expression of ignorance or it could be an expression of not caring enough about accuracy or the truth, though it could be an expression of all three. As I've also come to conclude by looking at the milieu in which those accusations were made, when you don't believe in sin you don't believe it's a sin to lie and bear false witness so you do that when you figure you can get away with it, and I don't see any way for that not to be the rule in a secular society. Even the level of truth telling that science, philosophy, all of intellectual life depends on as much as it depends on words and their accurate denotation, are totally dependent on a sense of moral obligation to tell the truth to the best of your ability. To people who lack that it's not surprising to find that someone who tries to do that looks pretentious. They believe the truth is a matter of pretense, after all. It's no accident that free public education arose in New England as a matter of religious obligation by people who believed the truth would make you free and that moral obligations were as real as the food they raised and the rocks they had to move by the ton to subsist here.
* Burt, after his fraud was exposed, was championed by scientific racists such as Arthur Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton. The propensity for that school of social science to deny equality to things like equal educational opportunities is too consistent to be anything but intrinsic to it.
** I will recommend reading the distinction Robinson notes between the American use of the word "liberal" informed by the Renaissance French definition connected to generosity and liberality of giving aid to the poor while the typical British use of it is informed by the late 18th century use of the word in what was, no doubt, considered a more scientific way of thinking which can lead to the opposite of what American liberalism is and must be for it to be distinguished from neo-liberalism, an attempt by conservatives to follow the British concept of liberalism. I like the American version better. The version that produced free education with the aspiration of providing as much as possible, something we've lost due to such modern, sciency thinking.
Update: I really can't be bothered to address every misrepresentation of what I said but if I figure I can make a point I want to make with it, I will. I certainly don't care what people who don't bother reading what I write choose to believe about it if they can't be bothered to find out. Liars lie. That's why they're liars. People who don't see for themselves are probably not worth the bother to worry about. I write for the people who do bother to read what I said before they make up their mind about it.
1. Whereas the Civil Rights Movement could sustain the Montgomery bus boycott nearly 60 years ago, a boycott that required much sacrifice by poor people for more than a year, the new and sciency "left" can't even sustain a boycott of Amazon.com because it's got Amazon Prime and the deals on shipping are just too good to pass up for the rights of retail sweatshop workers. 2. The new and sciency "left" not only doesn't do fact checking, it doesn't even do reading. 3. The new and sciency "left" doesn't even have the rigor to analyze its own stands. That's because it can't tell the left from its own elbow, both of them actually right ones. 4. The new and sciency "left" can safely be ignored because it will never do anything and it will never amount to a large enough number to be worth the bother. "Rules For Radicals" is more likely to inform the far right these days than the La-Z-Boy "left".