Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Associated Press: Few Satisfied in Church Gay Debate

The Associated Press: Few Satisfied in Church Gay Debate

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

Sex and Money

News | Africa -

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 Fudge: Just Dessert

Anglican Leader Urges Church To Find Accord Amid Turmoil -

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

San Diego Bishop Sues Three Parishes!

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.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Women, Families and Religion

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 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

Politics and Rationality

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 Travel

Rudy Giuliani - Presidential Election of 2008 - Republicans - Elections - Politics - New York Times

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.

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.

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.