Monday, December 17, 2007
I agree. Like Krugman, who almost always gets it right, I support Edwards and for the same reasons.
What I wonder is why anyone would prefer a vacuous pretty-boy, sponsored by Oprah, to someone who promises to bring about real material improvement. But apparently Oprah has rallied the troops who like Obama for much the same reason that they like Oprah.
I suspect that the reason is that after 30 years of eating shit they don't believe that the conditions of their lives can be improved. Oprah's constituency is almost exclusively female and largely working class. Over half of them have family incomes under $40,000 a year. They spend their days doing dead-end, boring, drudge work without either security or any real chance of advancement. They're uninsured or underinsured and know that one major illness could wipe them out. They're in debt, juggling to make mortgage payments and pay back Pay Day Loans. But they're so used to it, so imbued with peasant-fatalism, that they don't seriously believe that things can be any better. They think that the best they can hope for is niceness and hand-patting.
Oprah is the Opium of the People. When material improvement is impossible, people read self-help books and work on their souls. When they can't get the real goods they revel in smarm, obsess about "relationships," aspire to a "purpose-driven life" and delude themselves into imagining that these cheap intangibles are what make life worthwhile.
Marx was right, though he got the details wrong. He couldn't have anticipated the new secular religion of Oprah, self-help and generic "spirituality"--religion minus the cult, art and metaphysics. It isn't the pie-in-the-sky doctrine or religion in the narrow sense, liturgy and theology, that lulls people into a stupor and induces them to collaborate with their oppressors. It's the religious attitude, the idea that what matter are these intangibles, the search for "meaning," the taste for niceness, the obsession with "relationships" and psychological matters, the drippy sentimentality and self-deception, that block us from achieving the Good Life.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed :: Academic Freedom and Evolution
I think I've discovered a new informal fallacy. It should have a Latin tag like the rest of them but since my Latin is limited to singing-Latin I'll tentatively tag it the "Means-Ends Flip-Flop Fallacy." It is the fallacy of opposing some practice because it has bad consequences and then opposing the elimination of the bad consequences in order to discourage people from engaging in the practice.
So, Fundamentalists oppose the teaching of evolution because, they believe, it will undermine religious belief. Along comes a biologist--and not the only biologist--who argues that Christianity and the theory of evolution are compatible. Now the Fundamentalists trash him because, presumably, if loss of faith isn't a threat more people will believe in evolution.
A pattern emerges. In the old days, adults tried mightily to dissuade teenage girls from having sex because it could lead to pregnancy, which would seriously mess up their lives. Fair, I suppose. Subsequently things got fixed so that sex wouldn't have those dire consequences. The Pill and other effective birth control methods became available; abortion was legalized; and girls who had babies were no longer automatically expelled from school or stigmatized. Now the puritans are trying mightily to see to it that girls don't have access to effective contraception or abortion and that pregnancy is punished in order to dissuade girls from having sex.
Then there are recreational drugs. We're waging an unwinnable War Against Drugs because we don't want to support the criminal subculture that surrounds their sale and use. If we legalized them, the criminal subculture would evaporate--or, more likely, get into some other line of illegal business. But we won't legalize them because that would remove the penalties for the use of recreational drugs.
Then there are illegal aliens. We don't like them because, we believe, they're dirty, dangerous and live in ditches and because, since they have no legal rights, can't unionize, and so can be exploited by employers, they drive down wages for working class Americans. If we legalized them, provided them with a path to citizenship and enforced anti-discrimination regulations they wouldn't live in ditches or work in the informal sector for sub-minimum wages under the table and so wouldn't drive down wages for working class Americans. But if we legalized them we might end up with more immigrants.
So here is the fallacy. We don't like x because it has y consequences. We become so accustomed to associating x with these bad y consequences that we come to believe that x is bad per se. Then, we oppose disassociating x with its bad consequences because we recognize that if x didn't cause y more people would do x.
I wonder: suppose there were a pill that provided all the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet. I would bet that the puritans would oppose making it available to the public on the grounds that if people could get it they wouldn't bother with exercise or healthy food.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Ayaan Hirsi Ali suggests that the problem is Islam. But here, I believe, she is dead wrong. The problem is the "Solidarity of the Oppressed" and the valorization of lower class males, the peasants and proles. This is an old story in the West and, in particular, amongst elite leftists.
During the Vietnam Era, we counterculture chickies were supposed to support our men by waitressing so that they could do the important theoretical work of the Revolution--reading Marcuse, drinking beer and singing old union songs. We did our part for the cause by doing the secretarial work while they organized, speechified, and played political games: the position of women in the movement was, as Bobby Seele put it, "prone." Black women were even worse off. There was a remarkable comedy sketch on "In Living Color" years ago, in the form of a monologue by a black woman: "I'm a proud Black woman. I support the Cause. And when my man come home, he beat the crap out of me." This was the Freudian Moynihan Doctrine: to promote the interests of blacks, it was vital to boost the self-esteem of young underclass males by providing them with education, training, jobs and promoting female subordination. The problem, as Moynahan and his successors saw it, was "black matriarchy": women could support themselves--by welfare or menial work--and so undermined fragile male egos. The fix was to see to it that men got education, training, jobs and opportunities and that women didn't get those opportunities or welfare "as we knew it" so that they would be forced to depend on men for financial support.
The progressive/liberal view was that women could wait. And, of course, the conservative view was that they could, and probably should wait, forever. Progressives in any case held that women's concerns weren't a priority. First we needed to combat the oppression of minority males and when that was taken care of there would be time for luxuries like feminism. In the meantime women were supposed to sacrifice their interests to support the cause of minority empowerment, which meant the empowerment of lower class minority males, sacrificing to support the Solidarity of the Oppressed. In the developing world, women's rights could wait. First we had to take down imperialism and neo-colonialism. The priority was the fight against Western hegemony which included Western feminism. Once that was fixed there would be time to attend to women's interests. Women, in any case, could wait: feminism was a luxury, a frill. First fix it for the men and then maybe we could afford the luxury of women's rights.
Hirsi Ali is wrong: Islam is not the problem. The Old Testament is bloody awful: there are plenty of texts that are comparable to the one from the Koran that she cites. But contemporary Jews don't behave like their ancestors did 3 milennia ago. Christians destroyed pagan shrines, killed heretics and unbelievers, conducted crusades and ran inquisitions. Bu they don't do that anymore. The texts are there, and there's ample historical precedent for behaving badly, but no one pays any attention. Religion isn't the issue.
So why don't "moderate Muslims" denounce the brutality of their co-religionists? Because Muslims have been defined as a victim group and the Solidarity of the Oppressed Doctrine dictates that even if privileged members of victim groups find the behavior of their fellow victims stupid, brutal or even just plain silly they mustn't let one and, most particularly, mustn't go public since that would be aiding and supporting the Oppressor. That would be Uncle Tomism of the worst sort. So black women were supposed to stand by their men. And feminists like me are supposed to support other feminists however stupid or pointless their projects. And "moderate Muslims" are not supposed to criticize their fellow Muslims: to do so would be to sell out, to provide aid and comfort to the Oppressor.
It isn't religion. Christians feel free to criticize fellow Christians and to repudiate their views because we aren't defined as a victim group. Mainline Christians, including me, publicly repudiate the doctrines and practices of Fundamentalists, and Fundamentalists publicly denounce us. We squabble in the public square about evolution, sexual ethics, and everything else because as members of a privileged group we don't have any obligation to show solidarity. Muslims, defined as a victim group, don't have that luxury. They're obliged to circle the wagons.
The question is whether this is a good strategy and experience suggests that it is not.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
It will be a huge, huge legal battle,” said the Rev. Ephraim Radner, a leading Episcopal conservative and professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto. “The costs involved will bleed the Diocese of San Joaquin and the Episcopal Church, and it will lead only to bad press. You have to wonder why people are wasting money doing this and yet claiming to be Christians.”
You do have to wonder. But I'd say that the national Church and its various local subsidiaries are pouring out this dough because they can. EUCSA is stinking rich and can't even begin to use up those bucks paying denominational bureaucrats, of whom there are many, lavish salaries or maintaining a high-rise on prime Manhattan real estate. "815" (Second Avenue, NY) sucks up money that goes from individuals to parishes, parishes to dioceses, and thence to HQ. Moreover, some dioceses and parishes are flush with endowment and sitting on very expensive real estate themselves.
But the money they spend going at one another full throttle will be chickenfeed compared to the costs of a US presidential campaign. The cost for the 2004 race was 4 billion and the current campaign is expected to be significantly more expensive. So this is how the Market works. Consider the transaction costs in legal fees and advertising: doing business as such costs money. And the cost of doing business seems to be greater than the intrinsic value of the product. It's like they're selling pet rocks, where the only value of the product comes from it's being packaged and marketed. Moreover, when firms that sell pet rocks compete, the only way they can add more value to their products is through better packaging and more extensive advertising. So to compete, since their products are inherently worthless, firms compete by spending more and more on the inherently worthless business of doing business.
This isn't a flaw that comes from the lack of fit between the market model and the real world: it isn't a consequence of irrationality. It's inherent in the very nature of competition. People have a taste for products that are effectively packaged and advertised. That's de gustibus so we can't call them irrational for acting on it. Nevertheless, at least intuitively, advertising and packaging are a waste just as war is a waste. Yet in both cases the costs get cranked up higher and higher just because there is a competition, just because the market is, after a fashion, working.
So here is the Episcopal Church fighting this war which is a war of pure waste. No one dies but nothing material is accomplished. It's simply a matter of pouring out money in legal fees so that lawyers can draw up documents and argue with one another until one side runs out of money and has to say uncle.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
"the United States is the world’s leading prison nation,” said David Fathi, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “Americans should ask why the US locks up so many more of its citizens than do Canada, Britain, and other democratic countries. The US is even ahead of governments like China that use prisons as a political tool.”"
Easy question. This is the new Jim Crow. A significant number of Americans assume that there's an unsalvageable underclass that can't be educated, made productive or civilized but can only be contained. In the past, in northern cities as well as the South, they were warehoused in no-go areas where they couldn't do damage to the rest of us.
According to the narrative, the end of segregation opened the Gates of Hell: the damned poured out to rape and pillage, and the cities burned. Those were the Long Hot Summers yesteryear. Since then, in place of urban ghettos we've created a mass incarceration system to warehouse them and keep them from doing damage to the rest of us.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Feminist Pitch by a Democrat Named Obama - New York Times
The Obama campaign is, in some ways, subtly marketing its candidate as a postfeminist man, a generation beyond the gender conflicts of the boomers. In the video released this week, Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, says that Mr. Obama understands issues of concern to women “in his gut,” not as “a kind of pandering.” The writer Alice Walker describes Mr. Obama as “someone who honors the feminine values of caring for all.” Obama strategists also highlight his leadership style — his promise of consensus-building and moving beyond the politics of polarization and fear — as especially appealing to women. “His message is about listening, bringing people together, the skills women appreciate,” said Betsy Myers, the campaign’s chief operating officer.
There was not a damn thing in this article on Obama's "feminist pitch" about what Obama proposes to do for women, or for anyone else. Is he going to promote equal pay for equal work--or even better, equal work for women? Is he planning to establish universal pre-school? Does he have any views about family leave? Does he have any ideas about training programs for low-income women? Not that I could see.
This man is vacuous. But much, much worse he, or at least his groomers and trainers, are sexists of the worst sort, imagining that even though he isn't offering women anything, women will vote for him because he's a caring Sensitive New Age Guy. And women will of course prefer to have a man in authority, providing that he's sensitive, protective and "caring," than a fellow-women.
Sorry. Women, particularly working class women, are still enthusiastic about Hillary. And Hillary also gets a bigger share of the black vote than Obama. Working class women and minorities, who have serious practical concerns, don't care about Obama's "caring."
I'm still for Edwards. He's more focused on bread-and-butter issues than any of the other candidates and further to the left. That's all that matters to me. But I warm to Hillary and will be delighted to vote for her if she's nominated. My second-favorite president, after Teddy Roosevelt, was Lyndon Johnson--that ugly cuss of a professional politician, consumate wheeler-dealer, tough guy and master of the Senate, who established the Great Society and took down Jim Crow. Kennedy, beatified as a martyr, really wasn't much of anything: he botched things with Cuba and almost got us into a nuclear holocaust; he did little or nothing for civil rights or for the alleviation of poverty. We don't need another JFK or, even worse, another Clean Gene McCarthy leading a Children's Crusade. We need a tough, pragmatic--even corrupt--politician who can get results.
Monday, November 26, 2007
You go, girl!
BBC NEWS | South Asia | India's 'pink' vigilante women: "They wear pink saris, the traditional Indian dress for women, go after corrupt officials and boorish men, and brandish sticks and axes when the push comes to shove."
This is what women should be doing--not hugging trees.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Advocates on both sides of the Anglican battle over homosexuality registered their unhappiness Wednesday with the attempt by U.S. bishops to keep their place in the global communion. Supporters of gay clergy accused American Episcopal bishops of caving in to pressure from conservatives, while traditionalists criticized what they said was a cleverly worded declaration of defiance...Bishop David Beetge, vicar general of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said he welcomed the decision "for the simple reason it gives us more space and time to talk to each other"...Giles Goddard, who chairs Inclusive Church in Britain, said attempts to reconcile the split were now effectively dead.
If "orthodox" Anglicans accept this they're fools. It's the same old thing: fudge and stall, put on a show of making accommodations which in fact change nothing to buy time so that the warlords can politick, twist arms and pick off dissenters behind the scenes until, they assume, the opposition opposition is shrunk to the point where they can drown it in a bathtub. And of course they're certain that if they stall long enough they can win because they have compete confidence in their ability to play politics and "use psychology" to get whatever they want.
That was exactly how they drove through the new Prayer Book--which ultimately drove me away from the Church. We were told it we could still have whatever we wanted--the new Prayer Book just provided more options. And certainly we could have Elizabethan English and a service that was virtually indistinguishable from the old one in Rite I, which just tidied things up. And then there was the main selling point: the Eucharist would be the main Sunday Service in all churches--the church would be "more Catholic."
Then I started reading the literature and going to conferences. Rite I was a temporary accommodation for "the old people" who, it was hoped, would soon die off and a device for "weaning" us away from liturgy as we knew it. In any case, the claim that there would be "more options" was boloney because even if there were more options for priests we laypeople had to day whatever they dished out. And, naturally, their program was weaning us away from the old liturgy. They forced this garbage on us until the opposition dropped off out of sheer exhaustion and most people simply forgot how good church used to be. By the end of the century, when I left, it was even safe occasionally to show what it was like--in special events at some places where they did historic liturgies of the Anglican Church, from 1549, 1662 and 1929, as quaint period pieces with the message that they were terribly interesting but see you wouldn't want to do it like this any more.
How would I bet on the current affair? I think most conservatives will take the bait. A few will bail, but the majority will be mollified, imagining that these political operators are in good faith--just as I did when they said that Rite I and Rite II would be on equal footing, that it was just a matter of providing more options. And when they swallow this poop in order to keep the Anglican Communion together the whole thing will drag on while nothing of any substance changes. There will, of course, be no more high profile ordinations of gay bishops as such though bishops who are gay will still be ordained as they always have been. Parishes that cater for a gay clientele will bless same-sex unions. The litigation will go on and on and on as conservative churches make plays for their property and the Episcopal Church will keep bleeding members.
That's my bet about how the Anglican Communion ends--not in my lifetime, and not with a bang but with a whimper.
Monday, September 24, 2007
News | Africa - Reuters.com
Episcopal Church bishops are expected to wrap up six days of meetings and ministry in New Orleans on Tuesday with an answer to a request by senior Anglican bishops who met in Tanzania earlier this year...The stakes are high not least because the Episcopal Church, with 2.4 million members, provides 40 percent of the budget for the operating costs of the 77-million-member Worldwide Anglican Communion, as the global church is known, and a substantial amount of the funds for overseas mission and relief work. "If the Episcopal Church is isolated from the broader community or chooses to isolate itself, the work of the global communion will suffer greatly," said Jim Rosenthal, communications director for the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
Was that a threat? What is the "work of the global communion" that requires this funding anyway? Flying bishops around to conferences and employing communications directors to cover the proceedings? Generating more paperwork? Paying denominational bureaucrats "professional level" salaries to push the paper? And what about this "overseas mission and relief work"? Flourishing African churches certainly don't need missionaries from the US and as for relief work, Oxfam does just fine.
What are these operating expenses for anyway? If the Anglican Communion's operations are anything like the activities of our local diocese when I was "involved in the church" I can imagine. The whole operation was a cargo cult--a bunch of overpaid priests pretending to be Fortune 500 company executives: pushing paper, writing unintelligible reports on insignificant matters, hiring consultants and motivational speakers, holding innumerable meetings, flying around to conferences, extracting money from parishes and interfering with their affairs, publishing feel-good publicity materials in hard copy and at their website--but producing nothing.
This is a bubble, like the housing and hedge fund bubbles in the US pumped up by financial middlemen unproductively extracting wealth from the real economy. These bureaucrats got money to finance and expand their unproductive operation until consumers started wondering what exactly they were paying for. For priests to conduct remedial sex education courses? For some diocesan functionary to poke her nose in when parishes were hiring a rector to conduct focus groups, contrive surveys, and manipulate us into accepting the diocesan candidate? For crappy little diocesan educational and youth programs in which few people had any real interest, and which could easily have been done at the parish level if anyone really wanted them? For a 6-figure salaried bishop to come once a year in his fancy clothes to confirm kids? Was this, by any stretch, worth paying for? What bad things would happen if the diocese evaporated? I can't think of anything. And I can't think of anything bad that would happen if the Anglican Communion collapsed either--except of course to the to the bishops, bureaucrats and communications directors.
It reminds me of a history I was reading about a period when the Pope, trying to pressure bad King John excommunicated him and put England under interdict. Business went on as usual: as the writer put it, "not a mouse squeaked." And King John made inquiries about the possibility of converting to Islam.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Anglican Leader Urges Church To Find Accord Amid Turmoil - washingtonpost.com
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Communion, made a rare visit yesterday to a meeting of Episcopal bishops to urge them to compromise in the face of international pressure over their approval of same-sex unions and gay clergy...more is at stake than the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, or even Anglicanism, experts say. Other faith groups, including Presbyterians, Muslims and Jews, are struggling with similar debates about issues such as whether Scripture should be taken in historical context and how much weight should be given to centuries-old interpretations. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, wrote this week in the National Catholic Reporter: "The struggle going on inside the Anglican Communion . . . is not peculiar to Anglicanism. The issue is in the air we breathe. The Anglicans simply got there earlier than most. And so they may well become a model to the rest of us how to handle such questions."
The issue is even bigger than they imagine. It's a question of whether churches have any business formulating and promulgating moral doctrine. Ironically, the Episcopal Church attempted to lay down the law to establish liberal dogma. It was the same old thing though--priests who imagined that they had the expertise to enlighten us and the credibility to promote their views to the world. Who the hell are these twerps to think that they have anything to teach me, or any other literate, educated member of the Church, about sexual ethics or anything else?
The only proper business of the Church is running the cult and maintaining the buildings--supplying the props for religious experience. But as their credibility, prestige and power waned, these presumptuous priests' self-importance inflated--reminiscent of the pope who declared himself infallible after losing all temporal power. They crapped up the liturgy. They gave less and less and demanded more and more. Now it's biting them in the butt--and they deserve it.
As I write, they're in New Orleans at yet another confab, piling Anglican fudge higher and deeper as the Sept 30 drop-dead date looms. There are meetings and negotiations, "international pressure," elaborate diplomacy, mounting tension--as if they were dealing with high stakes issues like nuclear proliferation, economic meltdown or the crisis in healthcare, when the whole thing is transparently nothing more than office politics and a squabble over property in an institution which, for all its wealth and size, is of no more significance to the world than the Chula Vista Historical Homeowners Association. It produces nothing. It is a little alternative universe in which bitchy castrati hold meetings to make themselves feel important and provide one another with busywork--St. Martha's Guild writ large.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Pastoral Letter: August 2007, The Transfiguration of Jesus
As we are all aware, there have been some congregations that have split away from their diocese and the Episcopal Church because of real disagreements over theology and questions of sexuality….They have also suggested that property in the Episcopal Church is parish owned, “we paid for it, it is ours, and we can do with it whatever we want.” In our own Diocese, we have had nine congregations that had departures of various numbers of people. The leadership of three departing groups has made a claim of right to possess the parish property. This has necessitated our Diocese initiating legal action to recover that property so we can begin the process of rebuilding those congregations.
A few days ago I got this pastoral letter hardcopy, folded into our diocesan newspaper, The Church Times—not to be confused with The Church Times (UK), an excellent publication for which I write. As the diocesan financial and legal difficulties deepen, The Church Times (San Diego) has evolved from a pedestrian newsprint item into a professional production on heavy, glossy paper filled with full-color pictures of smiling Episcopalians.
I have considerable sympathy with the views on sexual ethics of liberals in the Episcopal Church, including presumably, the Bishop of San Diego: I agree with them that there is nothing morally wrong with homosexual activity. But before you assume that I “don’t have any morals” I should note that I regard the arrogance and hypocrisy of liberal clergy, and their strong-arm tactics as shockingly immoral. They put on the armor of righteousness convinced that they were divinely commissioned not only to enlighten members of the Episcopal Church but to exert prophetic moral leadership in the World, and were cock-sure that they would get their way by “using psychology”—by manipulating laypeople—and by bullying conservative clergy.
Even now as the Church is undergoing meltdown, the Princes of the Church and their courtiers, like their counterparts in the secular regime, are determined to stay the course. The bishop seems convinced that with enough legal firepower he will be able to capture territory from dissident congregations and achieve “mission accomplished” within a year. He also claims to believe that once dissident clergy and laypeople have been forced out of their churches, rebuilding will be relatively unproblematic—or at least feasible:
In each and every case, it is my intention to rebuild vibrant, Christ-centered ministries in congregations that have been seriously affected…
Following current events in the secular world, I’m not so sure about that. Mission accomplished is quick and easy—you can beat up bad guys and level an entire country in three weeks of shock and awe. Rebuilding is quite another thing and I’m not sure how the bishop plans to accomplish this task in those seriously affected congregations.
This bishop’s letter is very light on specifics and on figures. Once conservative dissidents have been forced out of their churches, how big will the righteous remnant in each church be? 100? 50? 10? I rather doubt that there will be a sufficient number to maintain the property. The bishop however seems to believe that once ethnic cleansing is complete local residents who, presumably, had been scared off by the bigots and homophobes occupying the facility would flood into the church to establish vibrant, Christ-centered ministries.
This also seems highly unlikely and I doubt that the bishop or anyone else really believes it. We can make an educated guess about what will happen. The diocese will install part-time, retired or non-stipendiary clergy in these parishes and operate them as missions for a few years, making a show of working to establish vibrant, Christ-centered ministries and then, when they’re sure no one is looking, sell them off. San Diego county real estate still fetches a good price and the Diocese should be able to extract a pretty penny from creative entrepreneurs looking to turn the buildings into church-themed restaurants or nightclubs or to developers who will tear them down to build condos.
I do not know whether the bishop agrees with my predictions or not, that is, whether he is a hypocrite or a self-deceiver, however he clearly disagrees with my description of the proceedings. He is under the impression that, leaving aside issues of civil and canon law, even from the moral point of view the church buildings and property these congregations financed and maintained never really belonged to them in the first place.
While clearly we hope every parish will be financially self-sustaining through the stewardship of parishioners, it is far from precise to assume that all assets of a parish are the result of parishioner giving. In many cases, the Diocese invested significantly at the front end when the parishes were missions.
Again, the figures are missing. How much did the diocese kick in upfront when these churches were fledgling missions? And how much did they return to the diocese in the mission share they kicked back over the years or decades when they were self-supporting parishes? Of course, money isn’t everything. They also paid the diocese in kind, feeding the sheep and providing services that would otherwise have to be financed from the diocesan coffers. Whatever the law says, this is a moral issue—and ethics trumps civil and even canon law.
The bishop however believes that he has an independent moral argument. It’s a matter of honoring the donors’ intentions:
More importantly, these congregations were begun as Episcopal communities. Every gift given would rightly be assumed to have been given to an Episcopal congregation. As far as our canons are concerned, they do indeed assume a trust relationship—that is, that the property is held in trust for the ministry of the Episcopal Church. That is why the diocese deeds the property to a newly established parish, because it can rightly assume a perpetual relationship of trust…
But what did donors intend? Did they intend to provide support to a congregation that was Episcopal regardless of what remarkable theological novelties the Episcopal Church would, in the future, adopt? One suspects that they intended to buy a coach—not a coach that would turn into a pumpkin.
Most importantly, these disputes over property are the presenting issue where we defend our ordered church with Episcopal authority, preventing an unintended slide towards congregationalism…
Well, that sent chills up my spine. I certainly wouldn’t want to belong to the Congregationalist Church—a non-liturgical church with dull talky services and communion is shot glasses, at the theologically dilute end of Calvinism. But what I don’t like in Congregationalism is the non-liturgical, non-sacramental character of the worship and the theology, not the polity—not congregationalism as such. A little more lower-case congregationalism might be a good thing in the Episcopal Church so that money doesn’t keep getting sucked up the food chain.
And, speaking of money and the food chain, it seems the bishop has a substantial war chest.
I have been raising funds to rebuild congregations hard hit by departures. To date we have raised $500,000 from generous donors. While a recent Court of Appeals decision gives some reason for us to be optimistic that our litigation will end favorably within a year, some of these funds will regrettably have to be used to pay our legal fees. As I imagine us in five years, I see all our congregations stronger—including those we are rebuilding.
Some of these funds? Of course from the logical point of view that’s consistent with “all of these funds.” It’s also consistent with “all of these funds and then some.” But don’t worry: if the legal fees go over the top, the profit from sales of the buildings down the road will make up the shortfall—and much, much more besides.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED HERE ARE MY OWN AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN TO REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF MY EMPLOYER. IF YOU LINK, QUOTE OR CITE PLEASE INCLUDE THIS DISCLAIMER AND DO NOT INCLUDE MY ACADEMIC AFFILIATION.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Hoover Institution - Policy Review - How the West Really Lost God:
[I]t is not only possible but highly plausible that many Western European Christians did not just stop having children and families because they became secular. At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families. If this way of augmenting the conventional explanation for the collapse of faith in Europe is correct, then certain things, including some radical things, follow from it.it is not only possible but highly plausible that many Western European Christians did not just stop having children and families because they became secular. At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families. If this way of augmenting the conventional explanation for the collapse of faith in Europe is correct, then certain things, including some radical things, follow from it.
There is clearly a causal connection between fewer "natural families" and smaller family size and the decline in religious observance, and there is also reason to believe that the causal flow goes in both directions. However, Eberstadt's explanation of the mechanics is vague and fishy:
[T]here is the phenomenological fact of what birth itself does to many fathers and just about every mother. That moment — for some now, even that first glimpse on a sonogram — is routinely experienced by a great many people as an event transcendental as no other. This hardly means that pregnancy and birth ipso facto convert participants into zealots. But the sequence of events culminating in birth is nearly universally interpreted as a moment of communion with something larger than oneself, larger even than oneself and the infant. It is an elemental bond that is cross-cultural as perhaps no other — a formulation to which most parents on the planet would quickly agree... Thus does a complementary religious anthropology begin to emerge, grounded on the primal fact that the mother-child and father-child bond, as no other, appears to push at least some people toward an intensity of purpose they might never otherwise have experienced.
There is a more straightforward, less metaphysically loaded explanation that is consistent with the data and has wider scope: religion is good for "traditional" women--women who either do not work outside the home or who have jobs-not-careers and play traditional sex-roles. It's consistent with the data because traditional women are more likely to marry than non-traditional women and far more likely to have large families. Eberhardt hasn't considered this hypothesis (which would be something of an embarrassment) or provided any data that would make the cut between high marriage and fertility rates and high percentage of traditional women in the population. In the data she cites for the US during the 1950s, where the baby boom correlated with a boom in religious observance, she doesn't note that it also correlated with the feminine mystique, suburbanization and the mass exodus of women from the labor force. To test which it is she would have to look at a "natural" families with, say, more than two kids and see whether there was any difference in religious observance between those whose female head was "traditional" and those whose female head was "non-traditional." I'd bet heavily that there would be a statistically significant difference. But I'd also bet that there are too few families of this sort whose female heads are "non-traditional" to provide a decently large sample.
The piece of data significantly missing from Eberhardt's discussion, and most other discussions of church growth and decline, concerns differences in religious observance among women. Everyone knows that women in the aggregate are more religiously observant than men. Eberhardt, who doesn't produce statistics, just suggests going to any church on a Sunday and looking at the composition of the congregation--and that's fair. However this kind of informal survey doesn't capture the demographic characteristics of the women one is looking at, in particular, how many are employed full-time and how many are in non-female-identified occupations. It is a safe guess that whereas there are more religiously observant women than men in the aggregate, there are proportionately far fewer non-traditional women who are religiously observant. That is, take any group of full-time workers in a non-female-identified occupation (don't even worry about intangibles like attitudes or sex-role conformity--hard data will do): I would bet that you will find that there are proportionately fewer religiously observant women than men.
I have fairly good data for one occupation--my own. While women in the philosophy are about 20 percent, they are seriously underrepresented in philosophy of religion, a specialty that attracts primarily religious believers, and in the Society of Christian Philosophers. There, the figures are closer to 5 percent. The differences are so significant that you only have to look. I would bet (but would love to see data on this) that you would get similar results for doctors, lawyers, engineers or any non-female-identified profession other than clergy.
It doesn't take speculative theses about the transcendental event of birth or primal facts of parent-child bonding to explain why. First, and most obviously, churches provide the benefits of employment to individuals who do not do paid work, including not only traditional women but retirees. The Episcopal Church, for example, not only provides opportunities for altar guild, flower-arranging and the like but traditionally provided affluent, educated women with volunteer jobs that were the female-identified equivalent to the upper management and CEO positions their male counterparts held--jobs in which women controlled large sums of money and exercised significant power. This is not a novelty. In the late Roman Empire, when the patronage system was institutionalized, male Notables held court for their clients and pulled strings to get them political preferment while wealthy matrons ran the Church's charity business and provided comparable benefits for their clients--widows, orphans and the generic Poor.
Secondly, Christianity in particular, valorized what were popularly regarded as "feminine virtues"--humility, submission and trust--and offered protection in exchange for subordination. Christianity is, as Nietzsche correctly noted "a religion for slaves." For women, slaves, members of the underclass and the disposessed, who were required to be humble and subordinate, who had no power and little control over their lives, and who of necessity had to trust masters and patrons, Christianity made a virtue out of a necessity.
In both of these ways, the Church provided for individuals who were disadvantaged in secular society. For the talented tenth it provided an alternative career path: ambitions, capable women could be patronesses of the poor or ECW executives; clever peasant lads and boys from immigrant families could be priests, get a free education and, if they were clever and ambitious enough, rise in the Church hierarchy. Women who played traditional, subordinate roles "doing for" people, caring for children and the elderly, and providing menial support services, were told that the roles they played of necessity were virtuous: the first would be last and the last first; Dives would go to Hades while Lazarus went to Abraham's Bosom. The Church was a relatively humane, decent alternative to an inhumane, stratified secular society where only a few privileged males enjoyed what we should regard as the good life, where few men and no women enjoyed opportunities for advancement, and where the great bulk of the population was poor and powerless. The Church provided relatively desirable options for men from disadvantaged groups and for all women that were not readily available in secular society.
A century ago all Irish families, and quite a few Italian families, wanted one son to be a priest. Nowadays they don't because there are better paid, more desirable secular options available, and so the RC Church has a shortage of priests. There is no dearth of aspirants to the ministry of Protestant denominations, but in the Episcopal Church at least most are middle-aged individuals looking for second careers. Where secular options are available, most talented, ambitious individuals do not look for work in the Church. Even more significantly when it comes to sheer numbers, since career prospects in the secular world have opened for women, far fewer able women have the interest or time to work on a voluntary basis for the Church. Powerful women's organizations which traditionally provided a venue in which able, educated women could make alternative careers for themselves are collapsing because capable, ambitious women who would in the past have provided leadership for these organizations can make their way in the secular world, in business and the professions.
Since religious participation is now de facto as well as de jure optional, churches increasingly play to their base--in particular, to women who are comfortable with traditional sex-roles. These traditional women do the work they do at home and in pink-collar occupations in a church setting--caring for children and the elderly, catering, cleaning, entertaining, decorating and drudge work. The shrinking population of traditional women are pleased to have the opportunity to contribute their talents to the Church and to have their work honored but the growing number of women who, in their secular lives, play different roles and have different expectations, find most churches inhospitable. Imagine that you are a woman who is an investment banker, a lawyer or an academic and decide to become "involved" in your local church. Coming from a world where men and women do the same jobs and mingle freely you find yourself in a social setting where most activities are sex segregated and where there are different expectations for men and women. You are asked to volunteer for childcare during the service and hustled into women's organizations that run bake sales. You have a nanny that does childcare; you don't bake cookies, don't have the time or energy to participate in the church activities that are expected of women and aren't interested in "doing for" people; you have little in common with the traditional women with whom you are expected to socialize and find the church "community" alien.
The Church is a better deal for traditional women than it is for men, but a very bad deal for non-traditional women who, predictably, are disinclined to participate. This is very bad news for the Church where, traditionally, women have made the church-going decisions for their households. When St. Paul converted Lydia she brought all her family, including slaves, into the Church. Clarence Day, Sr. depended on Vinnie to get him into heaven and expected her to do the religion job for the entire family. If women don't do this job the Church suffers--and currently, fewer women are willing to do this job. Churches don't notice because there is still a preponderance of women in the Church--primarily elderly ladies and "traditional" women. But, since there are fewer traditional women in the population, there are fewer women in the Church and so fewer men and children.
If the Church is interested in growth without changing its fundamental structure or commitments there is an option though not one that is either desirable or feasible: see to it that secular society is lousy--see to it that women don't have any viable career paths in the secular world, maintain traditional sex roles in the home, and make sure that the bulk of the population is poor, insecure and oppressed. In third world countries that maintain these conditions, signaled by high marriage and fertility rates, religion is booming. If however the Church wants to survive in modern, affluent societies where low marriage and fertility rates signal the economic emergence of women, it needs to reconsider and revise its program and policies.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
The Argument - Matt Bai - Books - Review - New York Times
With the possible exception of the Republicans, is there a major political party more stupefyingly brain-dead than the Democrats?...Seventy years ago ... visionary Democrats had distinguished their party with the force of their intellect. Now the inheritors of that party stood on the threshold of a new economic moment, when the nation seemed likely to rise or fall on the strength of its intellectual capital, and the only thing that seemed to interest them was the machinery of politics.” The argument at the heart of “The Argument” is less about vision and more about strategy.
Why are these people so stupid? Because somewhere along the line we got it into our heads that stupidity was normal and inevitable, and that it was clever to accommodate and pander to stupidity: psychology, not economics, provided the most sophisticated explanation for human behavior and rhetoric, not logic, set the norms for discourse.
There are innumerable variations on the theme, from the Left, Right and Center. In the beginning there was Psychology, anointed Queen of the Sciences during the 1950s. At the popular level, the fundamental doctrine of Psychology was that the representation of people as rational choosers calculating costs, benefits and risks was utterly and tragically false--even as a idealization. We were complicated, convoluted and fundamentally irrational. There was no point in trying to be rational or attempting to explain the behavior of others as rational--rather we should study the elaborate (and ever-changing) roadmap Psychology provided to understand ourselves and "use psychology" to manipulate others.
Then there was the pop Marxism of the Vietnam era Counterculture, in which I was nurtured. Its fundamental doctrine was that rational argument was just a smokescreen thrown up by the Enemy to obscure the exercise of material power. As activists we were cautioned never to allow ourselves to be drawn into arguments--to argue was to lose: we couldn't take down the masters house with the master's tools. Our business was strategizing, politicking and the exercise of power; ideas were epiphenomenal--at best a distraction.
And then there was Training. Training was based on the assumption that all intellectual activity could, and should, be mechanized, processed, canned and organized into a structure of bite-sized pieces. Instruction would be made cheap, efficient and accessible to all through pedagogical technology--from low tech "materials" in three-ring binders, stuffed with sheets of various colors and fill-in-the-blanks exercises, to elaborate computer-based systems. Strategies, mechanics and packaging were the whole show. The assumption was that with enough pedagogical technology neither trainers nor trainees needed any degree of intelligence. Trainers, equipped with canned curricula, would do PowerPoint performances (no more than 5 bullets per slide) and put trainees through their paces, flipping through materials and filling in the blanks like pop stars lip-synching. Anyone could do it: you just needed someone who looked good, could feign enthusiasm and put on a slick performance.
And in politics there are focus groups. And advertising campaigns, strategies, consumer research, endless politicking, and always, always striving to second-guess the Market. No wonder most Americans distrust politicians. Everyone knows it's a fake, like the training sessions and pep rallies at work geared to ginger up employees and instill "corporate culture." Politicians know that voters know it's a fake but assume that if they can only refine the technology further, get better data from the focus groups, be more careful, put on a slicker performance, find the buzz words to which the public will respond, use the right rhetoric, exploit the "metaphors we live by" they could succeed. So, when Lakoff came up with his drivel about the Strict Father and Nurturing Parent metaphors driving political behavior, Democrats jumped at it: another new piece of psychological technology--maybe this bag of tricks would work. The assumption was that voters would not respond to rational argument. Advertising, consumer research, packaging, strategizing, training, and manipulation were sophisticated; reasoning with people was too, too naive.
This was the new paradigm which rested on the assumption that people were irremediably stupid and invincibly ignorant replacing the old paradigm which assumed that people were were fundamentally rational and educable. In the Meno, Our Founder showed that a slave boy "really" knew geometry. With a little effort, a teacher could draw out that knowledge because all humans, even illiterate children, were rational and responded to argument if given the opportunity. Now politicians assume that all humans, including literate adults, are irrational and will not respond to argument. They're impressed by the results advertisers, trainers, and the like get using manipulative techniques.
I suspect though that these techniques are getting diminishing returns because they're become so familiar that people know what's going on, know they're being manipulated, and resent the manipulators for being patronizing and dishonest. "Using psychology" has its limits: when the public recognizes a technique as such it doesn't work any more so manipulators have to develop another trick, and then another, until the public becomes so jaded and cynical that they assume everything is a trick, and nothing works. I suspect that most voters have gotten to that point and squeezing out the last bit of juice to appeal to the few who haven't isn't good enough. No one was impressed by Kerry's goose-hunting and Bush's cowboy act has worn thin.
Rationality never wears thin. If Democrats have any sense they'll try it and maybe even better, if they have the guts, expose the manipulative, patronizing program of Republican politicians.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Have Gun Will TravelRudy Giuliani - Presidential Election of 2008 - Republicans - Elections - Politics - New York Times
I used to watch cowboy programs a lot as a kid. My favorite was "Have Gun Will Travel"--which was a little non-standard. Paladin, the hero, was a professional gunslinger based in San Francisco, where he spent his downtime at fancy bars wearing a brocade smoking jacket and gambling for high stakes. He had business cards with a chess knight as his logo and I think he employed a Chinese factotum named Hop Sing who would report when offers of gun-slinging jobs came in. Paladin, I seem to remember, was selective about which assignments he took. When he went on a job he dressed in a black cowboy outfit, meant business and always got his man--but then went back to San Francisco, got back into his brocade smoking jacket and took up his life again.
This highlights, perhaps, the most relevant flaw in Giuliani’s mostly impressive record in public life if we are going to try to imagine him as a leader in world affairs, standing on that wall. He has never really known when to stop. This was his downfall in New York, before the attacks of Sept. 11 reminded New Yorkers of why they had put their faith in him in the first place. Having ruthlessly driven out the windshield-wiping “squeegee men” and the triple-X theaters and the corner dealers and the pickpockets, having cleaned up the sidewalks and restored the parks, Giuliani just kept going. By the second term, he was after the jaywalkers in Midtown and the cabbies who broke the speed limit. Having brought an admirable measure of control to the ungovernable metropolis, Giuliani seemed to want to control everything. His followers called him inspiring, but “my way or the highway” are the most common words you hear about Rudy from those who worked with him and didn’t love the experience. He was brilliant, they say, intellectually agile, but utterly unyielding.
Giuliani doesn’t exactly run from this image; it is, at bottom, part of the notion he is selling of a leader who won’t back down or settle for mediocrity, who has the sheer force of will to “do the impossible.” After all, Churchill and Reagan were both accused of harboring a dangerous kind of single-mindedness, and history now records their intransigence as visionary. If Giuliani has a problem, though, it might not be that he can tolerate abortion but that he has not been given the historical luxury of campaigning to succeed a Neville Chamberlain or a Jimmy Carter. Instead, his nomination would follow eight years of a president who has already been, if anything, too steadfast and too self-certain. The country has endured a venomous period of unrelenting partisanship and inflexible agendas, and there’s not much in Giuliani’s history or in his own campaign pitch that would suggest he’d be all that different. It’s possible that even weary Republicans are ready to try a new approach.
At the beginning of the show, as the theme song was playing, Paladin appeared in profile in his tight, black working clothes--a fine figure of a man, which I appreciated even in deep prepubescence.
Have gun will travel reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land
His fast gun for hire he's a calling [something]
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.
Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, far, far from home.
In retrospect, "Have Gun Will Travel" was different from standard westerns. First, the assumption was that those cowboy towns where gunslingers and their antagonists had gunfights were anomalous--strange hinterlands. The real world that framed each episode, beginning and end, was San Francisco. Paladin's real life was there. He went to the outback, frontier towns with dirt streets and board sidewalks, to do his job in the way that consultants go to obscure places in the Third World to do a quick fix and then fly home. Secondly, Paladin's job was the surgical strike: he was hired to get one particular Bad Guy, not to clean up Dodge City like Matt Dillon, whose show followed immediately at 10 o'clock. Have Gun Will Travel was not about a Clash of Civilizations or about the winning of the West: it was about a lone knight taking out a lone villein so that decent people could get on with their lives.
Finally, and most importantly, if I remember correctly Paladin was a cultured, intelligent, sophisticated man who was brave and tough, and could out-gun everyone. In this respect, he was like Zorro, another favorite of mine who was, in private life, Don Diego, a consumate sissy or like Superman who, disguised as Clark Kent, was a mild-mannered reporter for a large metropolitan newspaper. The difference was that "Don Diego" and "Clark Kent" were personae and, in an important sense, fakes: Zorro and Superman were the real characters. The real character on Have Gun Will Travel was the San Francisco Paladin: it was the cowboy outfit that was the disguise--just working clothes when he went out to do a job. Paladin was in the tradition of Robin Hood, who was really Robin of Locksley. (Robin Hood came on at 7:30, had lovely, curly hair, dimples, an English accent and looked wonderful in tights. I've liked men since I was 2.)
And then there is Rudy Guliani, attempting to do cowboy in the dominant tradition, who "darts from small town to smaller town in Iowa, offering himself up as a true urban cowboy. He studies his Nascar. He eats turkey legs at the state fair. He bounds onstage to the twangy rhythm of Brooks and Dunn’s 'Only in America.'" The assumption, which he, his groomers and trainers, imagined the American public shared, was that even if a few academic, journalists and urban professionals remained out of touch in their ivory towers and glitzy high-rises, the real world was Dodge City where a Clash of Civilizations was likely to continue for decades--or centuries. And in this long war intelligence, education and sophistication were ipso facto disqualifications. Poppy Bush, a fighter pilot shot down in combat, ran afoul of the "wimp factor" because of his "patrician" image; Little Bush, a National Guard deserter, was elected, and re-elected as a War President because he had a bad accent and pretended to cut brush on his "ranch."
I don't think the American public is buying this anymore: there's too much empirical disconfirmation. Or at least so I hope.
Friday, August 31, 2007
The Perfect StormConsecration in Kenya widens a religious rift - The Boston Globe: "NAIROBI - Delivering a blistering rebuke to the Episcopal Church for its support of gay and lesbian rights, spiritual leaders representing tens of millions of Anglican Christians from around the world gathered here yesterday to consecrate two conservative American priests as bishops despite the opposition of the US church."
Why did this happen?
(1) The decline in religious belief and participation amongst affluent, educated individuals is global and was inevitable--not because religious belief is intellectually untenable but because the bulk of religious believers were never religious in the first place. They looked to religion to satisfy fundamentally secular needs, for pseudo-science, pseudo-technology and self-help programs and to the Church as an all-purpose community center, a charitable institution providing social services and opportunities for volunteer work and, in some cases, as a base for political empowerment. Specialized secular institutions meet these needs more effectively for affluent, educated individuals.
(2) Theologians lost their nerve and gutted theology. Unduly impressed by their worst enemies, Freud, Marx, Feuerbach and other Continental literati, they attempted to reconstruct Christianity as psychology, cultural critique and politics. They would retain the symbols and the groundlings would of course keep talking about "God" but they knew that God-talk was really about something quite different, metaphysics having been thoroughly discredited.
(3) Clergy, worried about the declining prestige of religion (and their profession) and about declining religious participation (see (1)), secularized the Church. Second-guessing the market they tried to promote the Church as a purveyor of secular goods, represented themselves as political activists or members of the "helping professions," and adopted ChurchSpeak, an idiom compounded of psychobabble, pop Marxism and 1960s youth culture rhetoric that quickly became dated.
(4) In the Episcopal Church in particular, a hierarchal scheme inherited from a time when the clergy were the educated gentlemen of their parishes, leading and enlightening a semi-literate peasantry, remained intact. Clergy regarded themselves as enlightened liberal intellectuals in an especially favorable position to work for moral improvement, social change and political progress by inculcating the correct views on the role of women, care of the environment, sexual ethics and such which an increasingly self-selected conservative clientele found distasteful.
(5) Ambitious clerics in the Global South got in a position to exert political power within the Anglican Communion. They were sick of colonialism, sick of being a mission field, and only too happy to operate missions in the US.
Here was the Perfect Storm. By the early 21st century after 30 years of changes pushed by clergy on laypeople, who were either indifferent or positively hostile, there was something in the Episcopal Church for almost everyone not to like. The theologically orthodox deplored the Church's theological minimalism (see (2)); social conservatives hated its "political correctness" (see (4)); out-of-favor conservative clergy were angry about being professionally marginalized; silly asses like me couldn't stand the new Prayer Book and the liturgical style that went along with it; no one liked ChurchSpeak and everyone was irritated by the arrogance of liberal clergy promoting their agendas, absolutely convinced that they could get whatever they wanted by manipulating and "using psychology" on us ignorant, manipulatable laypeople and beating up clergy who wouldn't get on board.
Then there was the Wedge Issue: the ordination of openly-gay Bishop Robinson. This was supposed to be the grand, revolutionary gesture that would push the agenda through. Arrogance and stupidity: the rest is history.
But what would I have done if I could have run the Episcopal Church for the past 30 years, given that secularization is unstoppable and that a BIG decline in membership was inevitable for any denomination that catered for a disproportionately affluent, educated clientele? Mainly, I'd have done nothing--just stuck to my guns, maintained phoney-Gothic churches filled with dim religious light and Elizabethan liturgy. "We cater for a particular clientele and a particular taste--for Anglophiles and snobs, aesthetes, gay guys who like to dress up, agnostic mystics, wannabe Catholics who can't buy the dogmatism or authority, wannabe Orthodox who don't have the ethnic credentials, and English majors who like the Metaphysical Poets and T. S. Eliot. If you don't like it go somewhere else. There's nothing wrong with somewhere else or, for that matter, no where else. This is just what we do." Anglophiles, snobs, aesthetes, agnostic mystics and pretentious jackasses need love too.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Vons: Just BitchinI went to the supermarket with my daughter who, in spite of the fact that the fridge and cupboards were stocked to overflowing insisted that there was "no food in the house." Ok, I'll take a break from the paper I'm writing and do some more shopping. Being in a bad mood however, I was outraged by my shopping experience.
Our down-market branch of Vons is decent. Others maintain a source of hand-wipes outside so that we can disinfect the handles of shopping carts before using them. This is sickening and I can't imagine why supermarkets do it. What is in their heads? What is in shoppers' heads if this is what they want? We spend our lives opening and closing doors that other people have, god forbid, touched, using public pens and pencils, grasping public handrails--people aren't poison. What on earth can be in people's heads to make them finicky about holding onto the handles of shopping carts that haven't been disinfected?
Once in the store we're confronted by air conditioning cranked down to 55 degrees. Why do they do that? My son speculates that it gives shoppers the idea that the fruit is fresh. Why on earth? Isn't there some more efficient system for keeping fruit fresh--keeping it behind plastic strips or in refrigerators? Why does the store spend this money, use this energy, to keep the place uncomfortably cold for customers? I don't mind the cold, but the waste infuriates me.
Poking around in the dairy counter, an employee asks me helpfully whether I'm finding everything ok. I am. Please ask if you need anything, he continues. Fine, I say, to get him off my back. This is a supermarket. There are signs up. I can find what I want and if I can't I'll ask. Why do these people pester me? I like my privacy in public and do not want any interaction. Why do they do this? I just want to get my stuff and get out--I don't want these people hassling me.
At the check-out, unless I'm pro-active and quick off the mark, the bagger will double-bag everything and pack no more than 2 or 3 items in each double-bag. This drives me up the wall! I say, "Pack it tight, and don't double-bag." This usually involves a fairly lengthy negotiation, and baggers look at me like I'm some kind of a nut. I usually have to explain: "Please don't double-bag and stuff as much as you can into each bag." Even then then don't take me seriously. They pack 4 items instead of 3 into each bag and then ask whether I'd like help to my car. What kind of help are they thinking of and why on earth would I want it? The stuff is in a shopping cart that I wheel out; I dump it in my trunk. What on earth can they do for me? If I were too old or feeble to wheel out the cart and dump the stuff in my trunk I'd be too feeble to get to the supermarket in the first place. What are they playing at?
I asked a friend about this over lunch yesterday. He claimed that people like this treatment because it "makes them feel rich and pampered." Can this possibly be true? This is Vons, Chula Vista--this is grocery shopping not some weird luxury spa but part of the business of life we have to deal with. My aim is to get through with the cheapest possible stuff, in the least possible time, without a hassle. I seriously doubt that people want this treatment--it smacks of an a priori program contrived in corporate HQ. In any case, if they have to interact, why don't they make stuffing single-bags tight the default and then ask shoppers if they'd like double-bags or like their stuff packed light?
Why do they do this--adding that little extra bit of hassle and misery to my day and doing their part to degrade the environment? I did my little bit this time, bought organic eggs which guaranteed that the chickens were "free-roaming" rather than merely "cage-free" for three times the price. I couldn't care less about what I eat but I care about chickens. I'm not a saint of ecology and don't aspire to being one. I'm not going to buy burlap sacks to pack my groceries because my priories are convenience and economy. But I do not see why supermarkets have to engage in all these wasteful practices that don't make shopping faster, more efficient or cheaper and just impose unnecessary interaction and hassles on shoppers.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Pecca FortitirBlogtalk: Bush, Iraq and Vietnam - The Caucus - Politics - New York Times Blog
Today President Bush used an appearance in front of a group of veterans to argue against the early removal of American forces from Iraq, drawing historical parallels to the end of the Vietnam war.
It was inevitable: unable to avoid comparisons with Vietnam, Bush is forced to embrace them. This is desperation: can he conjure up enough support from Americans who don't remember Vietnam or who believe that we would have done better to keep on fighting? Not.
I remember when I first heard about Vietnam. I was 14, at Beaverbrook Music Camp. Without TV or newspapers, preoccupied with 8 hours of orchestra, string ensemble or band, and chorus rehearsals a day we didn't know what the heck was going on. One day we heard that a war had started and, having grown up during the Cold War, when local post offices stocked brochures with instructions for building fallout shelters and schools ran regular air raid drills, we were convinced that we'd all die. The Russians would nuke us, we'd nuke the Russians and that would be it.
By the time I got home, I realized that we wouldn't die right away. Then there was 10 years of misery, following the body count on the evening news every day, watching the country come apart, marching in the streets, being trashed as traitors until eventually everyone came around and the war effort collapsed. There was the child burnt with napalm running naked and the helicopters grabbing people off the rooftop--it was over. Very few people who remember Vietnam believe that we should have stayed--and there are lots of us who remember.
We should certainly remember the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam as it was 40 years ago, and the differences. The Vietnamese as I remember were interested in national liberation, throwing off the yoke of a colonial regime and its neo-colonial successors. I seem to remember this area being called "French Indo-China." Iraq, I recall, was an independent country for decades, under the thumb of a tin-pot dictator who kept a lid on waring tribes and clans and, as warlord-in-chief, promoted the interests of his own clan and more broadly the Sunni minority, at the expense of other tribes while keeping a lid on tribal conflict.
It shouldn't have been that hard to predict what would happen once the lid was off. Of course these primitive tribal people would form militias under local warlords and gang leaders in rural areas and urban slums, engage in ethnic cleansing, turn the country (if it was ever a country) into a Hobbesian free-for-all, and make life intolerable for educated professionals, the cosmopolitan middle-class, and anyone who didn't fit neatly into the tribal system. We bombed this country into the stone age so that it's now inhospitable for any but stone age people--the peasantry and urban underclass who are happy with sharia, with warlords and tribal leaders, and with a world where women breed and men fight.
We should certainly learn from Vietnam and start getting out people who will be vulnerable--the American collaborators especially, but also all the educated professionals, all the middle class and all who don't fit into the tribal system, and airlift them to the US. We've got plenty of space, and could in any case use more doctors, nurses and engineers and can probably absorb more educated people even if they don't have valuable skills. Let the peasants and proletarians, the warlords, gang leaders and their militias, duke it out until they achieve an arrangement that suits them--and manage to kill off a sufficient number of young lower-class males to make the country decent and safe. Maybe a decade or three after that citizens of this tribal society decide they want to re-join the civilized world. Maybe a few of the exiles or their children will decide to go back--though I doubt it: why should they?
We broke it--we should fix it. But what a fix! This is the oldest civilization in the West, and possibly in the world: the Fertile Crescent, the Tigris and Euphrates. This is our ur-history--before Greece, and even before Egypt: Mesopotemia, the land in the land between the rivers. This is our root--the root beyond the root, which is Greece, and the most ancient civilization to which we can trace our history. Following the news after the invasion--the museums looted, the most ancient artifacts lost--who wasn't moved? How could we do such a thing?
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Full disclosure: I spent 7 years trying, with all my heart and soul and strength, to get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church before our local bishop had the decency to tell me that it wouldn't be worth my while to keep trying--and that I would simply be wasting the time of the Commission on Ministry if I tried again. They were right to turn me down, given what I discovered they were looking for in clergy, but I do wish they'd played it straight and given me a better idea how things worked before I compromised my career and neglected my family to become "involved in the church" in order to build my ordination vita.
When I first inquired about ordination I was told that they key was to be "involved" so I diligently participated in activities, joined organizations and got on committees. I liked choir, but detested everything else. The worst was the Daughters of the King. Once a month we met to tweek the Daughter's Prayer List, adding members of the parish who were sick or had other "needs" and striking those whose problems had been solved, or whom the Daughters concluded had been prayed for enough. In addition to these meetings the Daughters maintained a Prayer Chain so that when a Daughter got word of a Need she could pass it to other members of the local chapter for immediate attention. I had the Prayer Chain structure posted over my desk so that when the Daughter before me on the chain called to tell me of a new prayer request I could call the next Daughter to pass it on. It was I who usually broke the chain--shilly-shallying and praying that the next Daughter would have her answering machine on until, by an alternative route, the prayer request passed through the chain and came back to me again.
I thought these women were sickening. They had the best of intentions and, from the moral point of view were better people than me, but I found their interest in the minutia of other peoples lives, particularly their interest in other people's various miseries, incomprehensible and their compassion and smarm disgusting. They weren't merely gossips and they certainly weren't malicious--they were really interested in people's affairs, really cared and really wanted to help which is surely good from the moral point of view--but from the aesthetic point of view, in my very gut, I was nauseated. And that is what, rightly, disqualified me from ordination. The diocese had other reasons for not wanting me, illegitimate ones, but this was the correct reason for zapping me.
From the aesthetic point of view I like hard, cold, tough, aggressive, intense and angular. I've always wanted to live in a Mondrian world. That's why I got into Ayn Rand in my teens. Always operating according to Kant's maxim, "The Spirit of Thoroughness is not yet dead in Germany," I diligently read everything she wrote--from her essays in The Virtue of Selfishness and For the New Intellectual to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I liked the idea of striving and fighting, exerting energy and achieving. Most of all, I liked the idea of hard, cold rationality--and Rand represented herself as the Knight of Reason in a world populated by Atillas and Witch Doctors, dumb thugs and smarmy-wimpy Daughters of the King.
By the time I was 16, as a high school senior writing my term paper on her opus, I was skeptical but it was only after spending 5 months as a clerk-typist at Intercity Trans. Co., Inc. that I repudiated the whole program. I saw that in the adult world of work most people just didn't have the opportunity to strive, fight, exert energy and achieve. Work I discovered was simply drudgery--filling time and coping with boredom. Striving and exerting energy didn't pay off and there was no way to excel. So I was converted--and have kept the Faith. Lots of people get into Ayn Rand at the time of their lives that I did and get out when I did.
But it still seems to me that lots of liberals just don't understand that aesthetic preference for hard, tough, aggressive and angular or the gut level disgust most of us feel for the Daughters of the King program. They don't understand the appeal of get-toughism, or why Americans like the idea of capital punishment, three-strikes laws or programs that purport to "get tough on crime." They don't understand why street gangs are appealing to ghetto youths. They don't understand why we like guns. They don't understand why people, particularly those who aren't engaged in combat, like the idea of war. When I was a kid I regularly watched a TV series called "Combat." I was never clear what the combat was about: was it WWII, Korea, Vietnam or something else? I don't think there was an answer: the program showed soldiers with greenery stuck in the net on their helmets, crawling through swamps with their weapons, intent on capturing territory. That was good enough for me: I liked it.
Lots of my fellow liberals don't seem to get it so they ask the wrong questions. Why do ghetto youths join street gangs? What's the matter with Kansas?: why do working class Americans vote against their economic interests? Why do Muslim youths support al-Qaida? They assume we're all, by nature, Daughters of the King. The answer is that violence, rage and the taste for toughness are the default: we are, after all, carnivores and our nature as a species is to like toughness, beat people up if we can, and to kill. War and violence are natural. What takes explanation is why, in civilized societies, there is a large population of people who could, if they chose, join street gangs, do violence, beat people up and engage in warfare--but don't. The answer is opportunity costs. If you believe, with good reason, that you'll do better by suppressing the natural tendency to do violence you won' t do it.
Readling lots of liberal stuff, I'm amazed at how denatured many liberals are--how they fail to understand the natural tendency for violence and the aesthetic appeal of toughness, how they just don't get the fact that we're carnivorous, that rage is our natural condition, and how they utterly fail to understand the contempt and disgust most us feel for the Daughters of the King, for smarm, whining, softness, weakness, and what passes as "compassion." Because of this "tough-minded liberal" strikes most Americans as an oxymoron. Until liberals--or "progressives" as we now style ourselves--can break that link between liberalism and this sickening smarm sensibility we will lose. Until we can re-brand liberalism as macho we haven't got a chance. There's nothing virtuous about machismo: it's simply what most people, male and female, like. Until we accept what we are as human beings, until we accept that anger, hatred and violence are at the core of the human condition, albeit something we need to overcome, and that for all our self-deceptive and hypocritical maneuvers we're in our guts disgusted by old-lady smarm and "compassion" we will never win hearts and minds.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.
What does this mean? How is diversity measured for this study? I've read earlier discussions of the results and as far as I can gather the idea is that the larger populations of "diverse" individuals--black, Hispanic or Asian--the higher the level of "diversity." So Fresno, where there are just two significant ethnic groups--white and Hispanic--get would get a higher diversity rating than Springfield, with the pork-faced Irish cop and irritatingly avuncular black doctor, Apu at the Qwiky-Mart and Krusty the Jewish Clown, because there are lots of Hispanics in Fresno but only one Apu in Springfield. Diversity by this criterion measures the number of blacks, Hispanic or Asians in a place--not the number of different groups represented.
If so that's important because the serious question is one of what people are responding to when they "hunker down." Is it a consequence of some deep, biologically based aversion to people who look different, who are visibly not biological kin, or does it come from some more generic tendency to classify people as our people and Others where racial characteristics just happen to be a marker? Being an optimist, I'd bet on the latter, and that's why the criterion for measuring diversity is crucial. Where there are lots of people identified with an ethnic group, ethnicity is socially salient--people take it as a predictor of beliefs, preferences and behavior, as a marker of "culture"--and of class. Where there's just Apu, ethnicity isn't a big deal--more on the lines of personal eccentricity. When I was growing up being "Italian"--even unto the third and fourth generation--was a big deal in New Jersey (where everyone was very hunkered down!). Being Italian means nothing in San Diego--at most something along the lines of: "gee-whiz, ends in a vowel but not Spanish? I think one of my great-grandfathers was Hungarian--how interesting."
I suppose it's different for "visible minorities" but I still think it's "culture," and partly but not entirely class, that people pick up on. We're prejudiced and need to be honest about why in order to make some headway in fixing it. Why am I prejudiced? Partly because I take ethnicity as a class marker. I don't like lower class people and I am afraid in particular of young lower class males because they're statistically more likely to do violence than members of other demographic groups. If significantly more members of one identifiable group are lower class than members of another ethnic group we proceed accordingly. That's why, for all the anti-Muslim backlash in the US, Americans do not harbor any deep prejudice against Arabs or South Asians in the way that Europeans do: Europeans see an underclass--we see engineers. But that's not the whole of it. I think the real source of our discomfort is that we see lower-class "ethnics" living publicly in a way that we don't--not only guys hanging out on street corners harassing women but whole families sitting outside on beach chairs, socializing and transacting business in public, and little shops where people hang around and talk--in foreign languages we don't understand. There's nothing inherently wrong with this. The Greeks lived this way--built public stoa where people could stand around socializing and doing business. But it isn't our way, and makes us uncomfortable. We like to be private in public and don't want to live in this kind of neighborhood.
We also don't want dirty, messy little stores in our neighborhoods. That's also a matter of taste. Here is a remarkable story about how one grocery chain boosted sales by accommodating local tastes:
Kishore Biyani, a self-made businessman whose company, Pantaloon Retail Ltd., is India's largest retailer, recently spent $50,000 to improve his Mumbai store. The wide aisles and neatly-stocked shelves modeled after Western supermarkets just weren't doing the trick. Now thanks to Biyani's remodeling, the store is messier, noisier and cramped—a more familiar environment for customers accustomed to fighting their way through chaotic street markets. Narrow, winding aisles were added to create traffic jams and force people to stop and look at the products. Wheat, rice, and lentils are sold in large buckets so that consumers can feel and smell them to ensure their quality. Biyani even discourages his staff from straightening up after shoppers, believing that his customers are less likely to check out a product if it is in neat stacks. He even throws imperfect produce into the mix.
This is exactly what most Americans are afraid of. We don't want stores like this and we don't want this kind of arrangement spilling out onto our streets and into our neighborhoods.
I suspect that most people feel this way, but are embarrassed to admit it (I know I am). It's embarrassing to be shy, and there's a strong cultural imperative to like diversity: we're supposed to enjoy contact with people different from ourselves in the way that we're supposed to be curious and interested in a wide range of facts and factoids. If we're not, that's taken to show that we're dull of soul. What? You're not interested in the history of the Byzantine Empire, Goedel's Proof or the 10 most emailed articles from today's NYTimes? What a bore you are! Not interested in kidding with waitresses, striking up conversations with other shoppers at the supermarket or visiting exotic foreign places and getting acquainted with the locals? You're a bore, a snob and a bigot. Most of us though don't like dealing with people very different from ourselves and I don't see why we should. We like parties because, if the host/ess is doing their job, there's a tacit guarantee that the guests are people we'll find comfortable and interesting--people like us.
What I wonder though is whether the hunkering down reflex is a response to the perception or prediction of cultural/class difference or some hard-wired response to people who simply look different, whose appearance signals that they aren't close blood relatives. I'm optimistic that it's culture, group affiliation and ideology, not race. For one thing, lots of the major "ethnic" conflicts in times have been fratricidal: Sunnis and Shi'ites, Indians and Pakistanis, Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Lebanese Muslims and Lebanese Christians. That doesn't prove the point: it shows at most that genetic kinship is not sufficient for peaceful co-existence--not that it isn't necessary. I just hope it isn't necessary. And given that hope, the thesis of my book stands: we should do every damn thing we can to promote assimilation. The truth is that immigration does not benefit us: it's the immigrants that benefit. But I still believe we should open the borders, or something close to that, and let in as many people as possible in--not for our sake, but for theirs. We're sitting on vast wealth, have lots of space, and hogging all this good stuff stinks. And I still believe that, ceteris paribus, most immigrants would prefer to assimilate--the problem is that it's difficult and the natives aren't welcoming.
If we're seriously interested in assimilating immigrants and counteracting prejudice though it's important to explain to people how they need to behave. It isn't primarily a matter of learning civics lessons or history, commitment to fundamental "values," or flag-waving. No one cares that much about "values." It's simply a matter of trivial, superficial behavior. We're ashamed that we care about these trivialities and, if we're politically correct, we pretend to regard neighborhoods where people hang out, do business and socialize in the streets, as "vibrant." But we really don't like it. We know there's nothing wrong with it so we feel bad about telling people they shouldn't do it--but if they do it we penalize them. But we want things clean, cold and tidy. Why can't we be honest about the whole thing and say, "Nothing wrong with this but it isn't our way--if you want to fit in and make it in the US don't crowd people, don't live publicly or interfere with people in public and don't make a lot of noise; don't run these dirty little stores in our neighborhoods or turn our streets into a casbah. Of course you have a right to behave this way--it's a free country: we just don't like it." However we have to keep our side of the bargain: we provide English language and citizenship classes; we enforce anti-discrimination regulations and support affirmative action programs; we do what we can to incorporate them into social and professional networks.