Ever since the elevation of Earl Warren, Republican presidents have picked justices who disappoint the Republican faithful: William J. Brennan Jr. (President Dwight D. Eisenhower), Harry A. Blackmun (President Richard M. Nixon), John Paul Stevens (President Gerald R. Ford), Sandra Day O'Connor (President Reagan) and David H. Souter (the first President Bush).
One result is rage at what Mr. Bork sees as subverted democracy. Even though Republicans keep winning elections, he said, the court "can say that the majority may not rule" in areas where permissiveness reigns, including abortion, gay rights and pornography. Calling most justices "judicial oligarchs," Mr. Bork said they reflected "the intelligentsia's attitude, which is to the cultural left of the American people."
Conservatives: You want a small group of very smart, educated people to occupy positions of power so you select the likes of Justices Kennedy, O'Connor and Souter--who turn out not to be reliably conservative after all. You then complain that they lack "moral clarity" and do not represent the views of the masses. What do you expect: they aren't representative of the masses. They're very smart, educated people--that's why you put them on the Supreme Court--so they don't hold the dumb, simple-minded views of the masses. And, they're in for life so, unlike politicians they aren't (thank God) accountable to the masses. You can't win.
Liberals: You love the masses--you want not only to benefit them but to give them "voice." You respect their culture. But the masses detest you and reject all your dearest values--they're simple-minded, short-sighted, conventional, puritanical, sexist and bigoted. If you succeed in establishing an authentic democracy where they run the show--whether in the US or in the Middle East--they will install conservative policies that defeat your purposes. You can't win either.
I may be wrong but at least I'm consistent: the aim is to "kill the Indian to save the man." Make everyone a latte-drinking Liberal: not overwhelmingly difficult if you're prepared to spend the money on providing everyone with the security, standard of living and quality of education the elite now enjoy--and to recognize that you aren't doing disadvantaged people any favors by affirming their cultures or giving them "voice."
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The winner of Iran's presidential election, whose landslide victory dealt a setback to reformers, said Saturday he seeks to make his country a ''modern, advanced, powerful, and Islamic'' model for the world...The victory gives conservatives control of Iran's two highest elected offices -- the presidency and parliament -- enabling the non-elected theocracy to rule with a freer hand...Ahmadinejad, the son of a blacksmith, presented himself as the humble alternative to Rafsanjani, whose family runs a large business empire. He has promised Iran's underclass higher wages, more development funds for rural areas, expanded health insurance and more social benefits for women.
Deja vu...again. Thomas Frank imagined that working class Americans' support for a conservative religious candidate who banged the drum of patriotism and promised get-tough policies, as anomalous--something that required explanation. Hardly. The proles and peasants almost always support alpha-males (or facsimiles) who promise protection and patronage. Whether in the US or in Iran, in Zimbabwe or Afghanistan, or in medieval Europe, they back tribal war lords and charismatic cult figures--because they're ignorant, cynical, fatalistic and desperate.
The amazing thing is that for a fairly brief period of time in human history, following the Enlightenment in Europe and America , at least some of the peasants actually supported humane, egalitarian political and social policies. That's what cries out for explanation and if Democrats can figure that one out there may be hope.
Founded by Jacksonville, Florida, businessman Patrick Mrotek, the Christian Alliance for Progress (CAP) says its purpose is the “reclaim” the Christian faith from the extreme religious right...CAP’s core principles include commitments to economic justice, environmental stewardship, equality for homosexuals, effective prevention -- but not criminalization -- of abortion, peaceful solutions to international disputes, and universal health care for all Americans...
“One of the great problems of the Democratic Party,” [CAP Director of Religious Affairs Timothy Simpson] said, “is that the 5 percent or so [of its members] who don’t want any religious rhetoric at all, and who do not represent the mainstream of American political or religious life, have been allowed to call the cadence in the [party]. And when that happens, Democrats get their butts kicked. Because people in this country are believers.”
I hit the link and joined. I am, after all, a Christian and one who supports their "core principles."
I'm not terribly optimistic. I've been involved in a number of these liberal religious groups that do minor good works on the political front at the margins. Even during the heyday of liberal Christian activism they weren't a major force and nowadays, with liberal/mainline churches on the way out, these well-meaning liberal Christian operations are even less likely to succeed.
What bothers me about a lot of liberal Christianity is not that it is inimical to "traditional values"--with which I have no sympathy--but that it's often associated with metaphysical reductionism and dismissive of religious devotion. I believe what's in the Creed--nothing in there about abortion, homosexuality or sex roles much less the "ownership society" or the war in Iraq. I am a religious person: I believe that the most important things the Church can do are having daily services and keeping church buildings open so that people can visit. And, I'm a member of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament--please hit this site, contact the Secretary General for info and if you are so moved join!
That seems to be a problem with the Religious Right as well as the Religious Left: the whole debate has become one about "values"--and religion has dropped out of the picture. The "Religious" Right supported Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood celebrity with no religious affiliation, over Jimmy Carter, a devout Baptist Sunday School teacher who made "born again" respectable. Nobody, least of all conservatives, seems to take religion seriously. They "church shop" for churches that support their "values," or have convenient parking lots, or active youth groups, and do not give a damn about theology, liturgy or religious devotion. Conservative evangelical Protestants make common cause with conservative Catholics and conservative Orthodox Jews who agree with their notions of how society should be organized and have formed an unholy alliance with secular Libertarians. They've bought into the idea that religion cashes out as a code of conduct--they simply disagree with liberals about what the correct code of conduct is.
So I'm pessimistic on two counts. First, I don't believe that any liberal Christian movement will succeed in influencing politics: even if, per impossible, conservative Christians could be convinced that Jesus (who enjoyed his followers to leave their families and follow him) didn't support "family values" or that "Christianity is the religion of which socialism is the practice" it would make no difference. They would give up Christianity. Secondly, for all the brouhaha about religion and politics, debates about teaching evolution in the public schools (which should be about as controversial as teaching the quadratic formula) and the supposed rise of the "Religious" Right, Christianity as such is close to dead. Right or left, the majority of people who, according to the polls, say that religion is "important or very important in their lives" are interested in supporting "family values" or promoting social justice, acquiring skills for "successful living" or exploring "spirituality." And very few people are interested in the doctrine of the Trinity, or care about the Church's tradition of liturgy and devotion, or believe that God is present in holy things and holy places, or love the Church.
I'm trying to (re-)learn French because when we go to England in August to visit family for once I intend to cut out and go somewhere foreign. And France is the closest truly foreign place.
So for $30 I got this language learning software, essentially flash cards that talk--and have you talk back. There are charts showing waves, fricatives, vowels and other things so that you can compare yourself to the native speaker and a gage that shows how close you get. I try to pronounce the words and phrases and can't come close--the harder I try the worse it gets.
I have lots of French-learning equipment--review books and all the books I inherited from my mother who minored in French. I can read French if it's fairly simple, and can dope out the rest with patience and a dictionary. Amazingly, I remember all the "little words" and can catch onto the idioms. But the phonemic component defeats me. How did English get transfused with a completely new vocabulary and still end up sounding Germanic--at least low Germanic?
I just cannot produce these fricatives, whatever they are--while the Native Speaker's chart has bumps and spikes in vivid color, mine is a flatliner.
When we were first married we took a cheapo charter flight that went through Brussels and ended up stuck there for a day, jet-lagged and lost, trying to get back to the Central Railway Station. When Roger asked a cop for directions in English he shrugged, sneered and turned his back on us. We wandered through this nightmare place, expensive shops and arcades, very foreign. I spotted a black couple and felt a little better thinking they must be American. But they gave us the same French look that the cop gave us and turned their backs on us too. Eventually we put our heads together came up with, "Ou est le guerre central?" We tried this out on someone: after a few seconds of alarm, then puzzlement, he laughed at us and started giving directions--which we couldn't follow. I hope this time is better...
Most Americans...believe that embryonic stem cell research may provide cures. They will demand that Congress act to realize that potential. If the president vetoes a bill that advances that potential, he will have to provide more than sincere religiosity to prove that human life exists as early as fertilization...The best way to test that proposition would be to employ a panel of respected scientists, humanists and religious leaders to consider testimony from bioscience experts describing when consciousness first appears, when viability outside the womb usually occurs, and how other religions treat the subject.
Does Bush seriously believe that personhood begins at conception or that stem cells have a serious right to life? I doubt it. The idea that it does is wrapped up with esoteric Aristotelian notions of "potentiality" that aren't on his radar.
The commonsense view is probably that personhood insofar as it entails a serious right to life is a matter of degree, and depends on characteristics like sentience and consciousness. There is my lab lying on the rug, wimpering and twitching as he dreams about retrieving ducks: he clearly has a serious right to life and so does any animal whose mental life is at least comparable.
Given our intuitive sliding scale I think all mammals and at least some birds, infants and late term fetuses have a serious right to life. By that intuitive criterion stem cells are out of the ballpark. Human/non-human is not the relevant cut: the intuitive distinction, and it's a fuzzy one, is between beings that are conscious and those that aren't, whatever consciousness comes to--and it is a matter of degree. That's why most Americans don't go along with the administration's line on either stem cell research or the Terri Schiavo case
Once again, the dogmatists on both sides are shooting themselves in their respective feet. No one, after watching pop-science documentaries about fetal development, seriously believes that birth is a morally significant threshhold: by digging in their heals on that pro-choice activists alienate potential supporters. No one seriously believes that stem cells have a serious right to life either and conservatives are now alienating potential supporters by insisting that they do.
So let's call in the philosophers to get clear about this. There's no philosophical consensus about personhood--least of all about this intuitive mini-theory I sketched. But on one thing we do agree, viz. that the less you claim the more plausible your position is. If you are seriously interested in supporting the interests of late-term fetuses you don't attach amendments about the rights of stem-cells and if you are seriously interested in protecting women's right to choose you don't make partial-birth abortion part of the package.
''Lifestyle'' is a buzzword in conservative Christian circles. It's a signal of the belief, and the policy position, that homosexuality is not an innate condition but a hedonistic way of living, one devoted to partying, drugs and wanton sex that ends, often, in illness and early death...As the landscape of fear fills in, the picture comes into view. It is Hieronymus Bosch's ''Garden of Earthly Delights,'' a phantasmagoria of sin and a complete breakdown of the social order.
Remarkably, after producing a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggesting that religion per se isn't the source of anti-gay sentiment the author piously concludes that it is the source of anti-gay sentiment.
Anti-gay activists want exactly the same thing that gay activists want--basic respect and support for the life they choose to live. For the past 30 years they haven't been getting it and this NYTimes article is more of the same. The cues are hard to miss--from the description of the Family Research Council's headquarters in a "small but grandiose building" that looks as if it might have been the "onetime home of Rutherford B. Hayes or some other historical personage heavy with Victorian-era dignity" but turns out to have been built in 1996, to the rendition of anti-gay activist Laura Clark's tacky tract house in Catonsville replete with "wall-to-wall carpeting and hand-me-down furnishings." (Locals will appreciate the reference to Catonsville and Towson State, from which Laura dropped out).
The Clark's counterparts, lesbian couple Lisa Polyak and Bita Deane have hardwood floors covered with Oriental rugs and we know that if they were entertaining they wouldn't set out a buffet like the one Laura arranged for the author--"sliced lunch meats, hamburger buns, tomato and onion slices, bowls of pretzels and chips, cookies and several two-quart plastic bottles of soda"--reminiscent of a picture of Judy Agnew the Times ran long ago that showed her standing in front of an open refrigerator door holding a bowl of jello. I wonder if Laura, who has certainly read the article, gets it. I strongly suspect she does, even if she wouldn't admit it.
I'm ambivalent and, as they say, conflicted about all this. On the one hand I wonder why, even if Laura has to live in Catonsville, she can't at least strip off the wall-to-wall carpeting and get some Oriental rugs. They aren't that expensive at IKEA (and even in Baltimore there is an IKEA). And if she's doing a spread for a NYTimes reporter, why can't she hit the gourmet section at Giant and get something a little more tasty than hamburger buns and potato chips.
On the other hand. Laura likes her wall-to-wall carpeting--makes a good play area for the kids and resists stains--and pretzels, chips and cookies are what her family and friends like to eat. She likes being a housewife and homeschooling her kids. Her traditional suburban family likes being a traditional suburban family--she and her husband glory in their four kids on the porch "riding tricycles and training-wheeled bicycles in a tight circle around the adults, bashing into one another, performing for their parents and the visitor."
I've always been ambivalent: I wanted that kind of life, what I thought of as a "real Dick and Jane family" and I got it--with modifications. It seemed like an impossible dream. No one I knew in my 20s seriously considered the possibility of getting married much less having children--and most never did. No one wanted to live in the burbs--it was something they dreaded, something they were afraid they would envelop them against their will--and any sort of religious involvement was simply off the map.
I can empathize with the Clarks' worries. They sense, with good reason, that people with prestige and power are contemptuous of them or at the very least regard them as anthropological specimens--when, after reporting on the Clarks, Shorto visits the Polyak-Deane menage we get the sense that he's come back from an expedition to another country, where he's extended himself to take the local culture on its own terms, and can now relax. They also worry, with less reason, that the "lifestyle" they like and believe to be good will disappear--they imagine a chaotic, competitive, sexual free-for-all, all the world turned into the beach on Spring Break, the Garden of Earthly Delights. I can understand that too: I'm all for earthly delights but in large doses they're stressful and boring. No one wants to trade in that sexual meat market indefinitely. It's like the bazaars I've been to in Kenya and China--interesting to try out but I wouldn't want to spend my time fighting off sales people and haggling on a regular basis.
I suppose I'm intrigued by the Cultural Divide because I recognize it in my own soul. I'm every bit as awful as that NYTimes reporter--I see the Clarks and their friends as anthropological specimens and I see their culture as exotic. In fact I'm worse because I've tried to go native, or at least to fake it. And I couldn't cut it, maybe because at bottom I don't like it. I'm intrigued by the aesthetic surface--the happy families in the park, the church ice cream social, driving the kids around in a van and seeing myself as a soccer mom, the world of sunshine, the sitcom world. But I don't like real guts of the culture: the boring conversation, conventions, restrictions, boring busy work, sex roles, and pure tedium.
I don't see any resolution in the offing. This culture, like all "traditional societies" is crumby, but it isn't without value and if it disappears something will be lost, just as something will be lost if tribal warrior societies in the Muslim world disintegrate--as we can only hope they do. Of course the alternative isn't the Garden of Earthly Delights though you won't be able to convince conservatives in Catonsville or Kabul of that. But it will still be a world that's more homogeneous, colder and duller.
But there is no free ride. You can't have individualism, opportunity, freedom and equity in a traditional society; you can't have self-critical reflection or serious education. Maybe in the end to come to terms with it is just to recognize there there is something of value there while at the same time facing the fact that the costs greatly outweigh the benefits.
Happy day! Our daughter, Elizabeth graduated from high school today and is now, God help us, an undergraduate! She has a wonderful life ahead of her--majoring in biology.
The ceremony, in the Hilltop High School football field, was an American classic--a grand civic ritual with local politicians, speechifying, awards, brass band playing the Star Spangled Banner, and bleachers full of relatives with cameras, flowers and helium balloons. It was glorious!
After the graduation we went to the Tango Grill, Elizabeth's choice and the best restaurant in town. I don't want to eat for at least 3 days. And when we got back the house was in order--the dog hadn't eaten any books. Good.
Back in the late 1950's and early 1960's, middlebrow culture, which is really high-toned popular culture, was thriving in America. There was still a sense that culture is good for your character, and that a respectable person should spend time absorbing the best that has been thought and said... Today more people go to college. They may be assigned Rimbaud or Faulkner or even Hemingway. But somehow in adulthood, they tend to have less interest in that stuff than readers 40 years ago.
The trouble with social conservatives like Brooks is they look back decades rather than centuries.
Brooks imagines that middle-brow culture was killed by snarky, supercillious intellectuals with the collaboration of a self-indulgent, self-absorbed middle-class public who resisted Victorian moralizing about the edifying character of Great Art. Intellectuals despised the bourgeois and the bourgeois for their part were no longer willing to take their medicine.
Au contraire. It was the Victorian moralists and their successors who made "appreciation" a moral duty who killed middle-brow.
When it came to music at least there was no cultural divide in the 18th century. Parishioners at Thomaskirche wet their pants weekly listening to Old Bach's productions. Vivaldi is so accessible that even now everyone just plain likes it--until they learn that it's "classical music." Anyone who hears Mozart or Hayden without prejudice just likes it--that's that: if you get chocolate, you like the taste. It produces pleasure because we're wired up to like it.
It was the moralizers who trained the public not to like it by drawing a line between high art, a bitter pill that had to be swallowed, and popular culture. If you tell a kid he can't have his broccoli until he finishes his dessert, every last bit of it, it's obvious what's going to happen.
"Good taste" not only in art but in food, wine and manners has always had snob appeal and arivistes have always cultivated it. There was no moralism in that--the aim was prestige and ultimately pleasure. Snobbery doesn't kill pleasure, but moralism does. Wine-snobbery was never worked over by moralists so it remains accessible; music-snobbery was thoroughly moralized, closing off an avenue to supreme pleasure for the bulk of the population. Maybe this is what the moralizers were after in the end: eliminating all near occasions of pleasure.
Now things have turned around in an interesting way and old snobberies have become new moralisms. Food-snobbery in particular has been moralized. More generally the focus of the new moralism is the package of goods that are supposed to contribute to a "healthy lifestyle": exercise, "healthy" food and various forms of abstinence. The process is the same: the preoccupations of the elite are interpreted as exercises of virtue and snobbery morphs into moralism. Maybe it's a consequence of self-deception: no one wants to admit that they eat miserable food and recycle because it's fashionable or that they exercise and diet because they want to look good.
However we may be coming full cycle. Liking "classical music" is now neither fashionable nor virtuous. In fact it's distinctly unfashionable: admitting that you listen to it marks you as a naive striver because the assumption is that you must be motivated by unfashionable moralistic concerns. A taste for the Canon, in music or any of the arts is now popularly perceived as gauche. The snob appeal is gone and the moral appeal has all but disappeared.
So I can confess that I sit on my butt listening to the local classical music station XLNC out of Tijuana all day. They play all and only safe middle-brow canonical works--musical chocolate and McDonalds. They just finished the Polevetsian Dances--who can resist "Stranger in Paradise"? They play snippets of Carmina Burana every 45 minutes. I could use a little more Haydn, and more string quartets, but on the whole the selection suits me. By the way, they're running a pledge drive--please contribute so that they reach their goal, shut up with these disruptive solicitations and get back to the music.
So ironically nostalgic moralizers like Brooks who look back to the glory days of the 1950s, may be doing us a service. The Canon will become fashionably retro. People will consume Haydn string quartets as a guilty pleasure, like fast food, and take perverse pride in supporting XLNC and PBS. And as lit-crit departments push Theory and post-colonialist literature undergraduates will sneak off to read Jane Austin for fun. As moralism about the good things in life burns itself out people we could be looking at a new era of self-indulgence and aesthetic pleasure: hedonists gorging on the Canon while the moralizers spend their spare time sorting their trash for recycling.
What's so bad about this chastity? They say that a conservative is a liberal with a daughter in high school--and that's me.
Personally, I have never known anyone who felt guilty about having too much sex with too many people or enjoying it too much. From the age of 16 I've lived in a world where sex was de rigeur and your value as a human being depended on having as much as possible with the greatest possible number of partners and enjoying it. For me, marriage at 22 was a relief: I could stop gun-notching, get out of the rat race and get fat.
Yesterday was my wedding anniversary and I'm very happy being married. Here I am married so I don't have to keep working to get a date every Saturday night and I have three children to prove that I wasn't too ugly to get sex.
And what's wrong with this program? No one is being indoctrinated other than the converted: kids from fundamentalist homes get the Jesus talk; others absent themselves. And even if they got the Jesus talk, would they pay attention? Why should we think--as the fundamentalists apparently do--that these fundamentalist noises are so potent that anyone tuning in will be converted?
BS falls from the air: TV commercials, political propaganda, ads in mags and ads online, spam, spam, spam and spam. We swim in it, breathe it, imbibe it and are largely immune to it. Why worry if Jesus stuff is in the mix? It's all more of the same and no one takes any of it seriously.
According to a poll, most Americans believe that the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends...just 0.16 percent of its national income to help poor countries, despite signing a United Nations declaration three years ago in which rich countries agreed to increase their aid to 0.7 percent by 2015. Since then, Britain, France and Germany have all announced plans for how to get to 0.7 percent; America has not. The piddling amount Mr. Bush announced yesterday is not even 0.007 percent.
Since November all the liberal rags I regularly read have been agonizing to figure out what spin "progressives" should adopt to get a crack at an election victory the next time around. Get religion or don't get religion? Reclaim the Center or play to the base? How to appeal to Joe Sixpack and the Soccer Moms, who to run and how to groom him or her, how to promote the Nurturing Parent over the Strict Father, how to play it.
I have a novel idea--cheaper than focus groups and effective. Get out the facts. Most Americans believe that we are spending almost a quarter of GDP on foreign aid; we aren't. Over a third of Americans believe that they are either amongst the richest 1% of Americans or will be within their lifetimes. Most believe that the rate of violent crime is rising; in fact, it's fallen steadily over the past 15 years. Most believe, falsely, that the "death tax" prevents owners of family farms and small businesses from passing down their farms and business to their children.
A picture of the Great American Illusion emerges. We believe that we are among the richest people in by far the richest and most generous nation on earth. We believe that in spite of our generosity, bad guys here and abroad are out to get us because they envy our wealth and freedom, and are viciously ungrateful for our largesse. We believe that we are a nation of shopkeepers and family farmers who, by dint of honesty and hard work, have achieved fabulous wealth and have nothing to fear but big government looking to take it away and give it to welfare mothers and terrorists.
What to do. Here's a thought: let progressives sponsor "citizenship" contests for elementary school students on the model of spelling bees at which questions about the household income of the richest 1% of Americans, the crime rate and the percentage of GDP going to foreign aid would figure. Nothing partisan about that: just the facts.
When our kid John was in elementary school he won a contest sponsored by a local veteran's group for writing an essay in response to the question, "Where would we be without the Declaration of Independence?" John argued that we'd be much better off without it because we'd be a Commonwealth Country like Canada, would have a socialist welfare state including the National Health, and more efficient toilets like the ones in his grandparents home in Swindon with the tank 8 feet off the floor and a chain to pull.
When I was an undergraduate, most of my friends were convinced that lower class people were in every respect better and more interesting than their families and friends: they were, in the adolescent parlance of the day, "real."
I knew that reality very well and my aim was to get as far away from it as possible. My childhood friends' mothers drudged in housedresses all day and at dinnertime leaned out of the door and yelled for them at the top of their lungs--"An-thon-EEEEEEEEE"!!! Their fathers beat them. The adults in their lives were were ignorant, brutal, crude, dull, bigoted, cynical and fatalistic. They took it for granted that everything was corrupt--and regarded that as normal, immutable and ok. In their world, the only sin was stepping out of bounds and there were 1000 unwritten rules setting those bounds, all of them arbitrary and strictly enforced.
My college friends however wanted to be working class and lead the Revolution of the Proletariat: they read Marcuse, joined the IWW, and pretended to be poor. Most played at it for a year or two; some dropped out of school and achieved authentic downward mobility; none did anything that actually benefitted the working class. Playing at poverty doesn't benefit the poor; joining the working class doesn't make working class people, who want nothing more than to get out or at least to get their children out, better off. Professing admiration for their culture, emulating them and attempting to enter their world does nothing for them.
I think I get George W. Bush's redneck fantasy. Like my college friends, Dubya was a patrician who wanted to be a regular guy: he was simply more astute. There were no working class intellectuals in the US reading Marx or Marcuse and planning class warfare, singing old union songs or affirming solidarity with the International Workers of the World. American working stiffs believed that God, guns and guts made America great, promoted militarism and domestic get-tough policies, despised intellectuals and their subtleties, drove SUVs, hated big government, were proudly inarticulate and, when they spoke, had bad accents.
Dubya got it right and the masses loved him for it. But he didn't do any better for them than we did. The trade-off was the same: trade real benefits for psychological goods--material improvement, economic security and exit opportunities, for cultural affirmation. It was the same old multicultural story: you beat us--don't try to join us; we love your culture--don't ask to belong to ours.