Category Archives: Politics

Discussions don’t have to end in bloodshed

When someone sees all opinions as equal — i.e., any person has a right hold any opinion — all discussion is circular. People who are trapped in that false construction of reality feel personally threatened by conflicting opinions. But they are lucky in one way: they have it pretty easy in the research department.

When a person sees opinions as derived from weighing the facts, the conflicting opinion is not a personal threat, but it does present you with a lot of work. First you have to see what facts the other person uses to justify their opinion, then you have to see how those facts fit into the larger context of your opinion and your known facts, and then you have some fact checking and connecting of the dots to do before you:

  • change your mind and agree with the other person,
  • continue in disagreement with facts to sustain you,
  • or arrive at a third opinion that incorporates all of the facts.

Sometimes the gathering of facts becomes so involved that you can’t remember the original conflicting opinion, but you have the benefit of the study even if you can’t remember what the object was. (Hint: Wikipedia is cool, but set a timer.)

Once you start gathering, verifying, and associating facts, you discover how seldom you have all of them. Some are hidden for later discovery — often in hopes they will never be found — and new ones keep popping up. Example: I might spend money today at Sam’s Club. That will invalidate several facts in Sam’s inventory, in my bank account, and — if I trip over the curb and break my leg — in whether or not I can drive a car. So if someone verified any of those facts yesterday, their facts would be outdated.

Sometimes people pick their fact set to persuade you to believe something contrary to the truth, maybe in order to move money from your bank account to theirs. So you have to see who is using what facts to promote what opinions and what they are leaving out, and there you have another whole set of dots to connect.

Keeping conflicting opinions in the factual universe and connecting the dots is worth the effort. You can learn new things, modify an opinion without bloodshed, and break out of the circular discussion. Frequently you can even keep your friends, since you don’t have to kill them, silence them, or shame them.

Probably the greatest advantage of forming your opinions in the fact-based universe is that the fabric of that universe is not easily ripped by shouting heads. You can study the deficit, tax breaks for big oil, tax breaks for millionaires, or any other issue in the opinion mill, without feeling like it is a deadly tumor in your own personal cranium. Nobody is expected to be rational about a deadly tumor in their own personal cranium, but the number of people who are irrational about public policy issues today is — well, irrational.

The semantic quibble is tiresome

The “marriage” vs “civil union” discussion is semantic. If you favor civil union for same-sex couples, you favor extending the civil codes relating to marriage to gay people. I guess the semantic argument bothers me for two reasons — first that I am an old English teacher and administrator who has had to get around too many arguments like this from people who didn’t do their homework, and second because this one has been used for so long to deny people their civil rights.

Today is the anniversary of the 2004 law that made Massachusetts the first state to sanction same-sex marriage, a right now recognized in five states and in Washington D.C. One of the first arguments put forward was by people who declared support for the rights of same-sex couples but who were unwilling to give them the word. On Facebook today the argument is still out in full force — “I support civil unions, but we should not redefine marriage.”

It is a religious quibble to deny civil and human rights to protect the use of a sacramental word in the civil code. Sacramental words are sacred and deeply appreciated within their respective churches, but in civil records “marriage” and “union” are both words with meaningful legal standing. Marriage in the civil code is the union of two people who express their commitment to each other and promise to live together as a couple. You can get “married” at the courthouse before a judge or magistrate without the intervention or sanction of any church, and under the civil law you will be married. So those who object to the use of the word “marriage” can have civil unions any time just by voting for gay marriage. Marriage is already a civil union in the United States.

With or without the law, each church must decide whether or not to sanctify same-sex unions. Each church can also decide what to call whatever they decide to do. Language is organic and takes time to change, but it follows the culture — so your terminology might catch on. If you wait for the language of the civil laws to change before you are willing to correct a recognized denial of civil rights within the culture, you are putting the cart before the horse.

Comfort for the soul of bin Laden

Wolf Blitzer is reporting today that 61% of his viewers believe that Osama bin Laden is in Hell. I have not heard rejoicing on this count, but I have heard some distress over the fact that his unredeemed soul went to a burning Hell. I offer these options for comfort:

  • Osama bin Laden is Muslim, and there is no reason to assign him a Christian afterlife. Consult instead the afterlife of his faith, and be comforted.
  • Mormons have recently re-branded themselves as Christians in a rapprochement that facilitates movement into the political mainstream in the United States, and comfort is available from them in the practice of baptism for the dead. Referenced in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 15:29 and adopted by Mormons in 1840, post-death baptism would extend salvation to Osama bin Laden and all of his wives. Many souls have been rescued in this way, including the U.S. founding fathers and Adolf Hitler.
  • Catholics, historical guardians of faith who brought Christianity to power in the western world, have Purgatory, an intermediate state from which a soul can be redeemed by the prayers of the faithful and the saints. It is a good idea and most comforting, and we could assume that Osama bin Laden is in Catholic afterlife and pray for his soul.
  • Also firmly in the Christian tradition we could label Osama bin Laden a virtuous pagan — a person who died without being born again, but who was a hero in his own non-Christian culture. Dante assigned these souls to the outer circle of Hell. Saladin, the Muslim who finally defeated the Christian Crusaders, is in this outer circle, along with the Greek and Roman heroes and philosophers and unbaptized infants. This circle is similar to and possibly derived from an older Hebrew tradition. It is not hot or unpleasant, but rather is peaceful, as reported by the prophet Samuel — 1 Samuel 28:15 — to Saul at Endor.

So we can within western Christian scripture-based tradition rest easy about the final disposition of the soul of Osama bin Laden. People concerned about the loss of a soul to the Devil can easily adopt one of these means of consolation. All of the options except the last one wrest that soul right back out of the Devil’s clutches, and in the last one the Devil doesn’t inflict himself on them unduly.

Peace.

Birds sing on in a world without Osama bin Laden, and both Christian and Muslim children who might have followed his instructions into their respective afterlives are entitled to rejoice. Christian and Muslim mothers and grandmothers are looking at the same sky above their children at play, and I imagine that most of them are praying we will choose peace. We can do that.

Health care and freedom of speech

Published today in the Bristol Herald Courier. Words in bold were edited out of the printed edition:

United States citizens are prevented from having good government not so much by our politicians as by the short attention span and short-term memory problems of the electorate. This is demonstrated clearly in the debate over affordable health care. Brian Jenkins. in a letter published Sunday April 24 in the Bristol Herald Courier provides a good example.

First of all, I know Mr. Jenkins is not alone. Many people share his opinion, and some, like Mr. Jenkins, feel free – under freedom of speech, which I defend – to make linguistic obscene gestures [see quote*] in public forums like the Sunday paper, and an editor may choose to print that.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance consumer costs actually have gone down. If your insurance costs more than it did before the ACA, you should shop around. This applies to both individuals and employer or cooperative group insurance. That people are not shopping around is a symptom of a very short attention span. Actual sustained attention to the problem would produce a better result.

As to short-term memory, President Obama proposed a public option similar to Medicare. The only argument against his plan that was actually true was that it would be better and less expensive than private health insurance and would attract people away from private insurers, cutting into their profits. Other ideological arguments were put forward to distract people with short attention spans, but all of these – death panels, funding for abortion, creeping socialism, etc. – would have been dismissed if people had thought about them for a while or sought actual information. In any case, the opposition prevailed, and ACA passed without a public option.

Only a short-term memory problem can account for blaming President Obama, who proposed a low-cost public option, for a nonexistent increase in consumer cost. ACA is far better than what we had before, but not as good as it would have been with the public option. And single payer, where we all pitch in and bear one another’s burdens, would be best and least expensive.

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* Quoted from Brian Jenkins, writing in a letter to the editor published in the Bristol Herald Courier April 24, 2011. “I guess the only thing I can do is give Obama two thumbs down and two fingers up for his screw up as usual.”

John Kerry on gridlock

On issue after issue, enduring consensus has been frayed or shredded by lust for power cloaked in partisan games. Health care’s individual mandate? Guess what — it started as a Republican idea– a pro-business idea– because rising insurance costs leave big holes in profits. Cap and trade? Guess again — another Republican idea based on market principles and, with bipartisanship, successfully implemented by President George Herbert Walker Bush, now denounced as ideological heresy. And energy independence? For forty years, every President since Richard Nixon has recognized that foreign oil imports are America’s Achilles heel. But whenever we’ve had a chance to act, we’ve been blocked by entrenched influence and the siren call of short-term interest instead of achieving long-term success.

Read the whole speech here

Not a clue

It is not often that you get to meet a voter who knows exactly who God is, what God wants, and who God wants them to vote for, but I did meet such a person back in the summer while campaigning for Rick Boucher.

It was particularly disturbing because the person was a Christian. In the authoritative Christian text, Jesus said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” clearly separating the secular from the sacred. In addition, he refused to be king of the world, and he threw the money-changers out of the house of worship. His message to the woman at the well separated worship from geography, tribal origin, and nationality. So to call any nation a Christian nation is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. History books published prior to the Great Revision (BGR) all show that in the United States it is also contrary to the ideas of the Founding Fathers. As to what God wants us to do, the Sermon on the Mount does not go into much legal detail the way Leviticus does, but it says pretty clearly that while God really doesn’t need anything that we can give, our fellow human beings are often hungry and ill and anxious, and if we take care of them, it is the same as if we are caring for God.

Anyway, this voter had come with a group to Acres of Democrats, an annual Democratic party fundraiser. Her group filled a table at the front of the room to the right of the speaker, and when Rick had finished his speech, they were strategically positioned to surround and pursue him, scripted and choreographed. To their dismay, Rick passed right through them, and several of the Democrats who saw the ambush stepped into his wake and stopped them. There were five or six of them, including two women who were apparently spokespersons, a videographer, and an outlier or two who were there to block.

Two Democrats were comforting the crying woman, listening to her repeat tearfully, “I just wanted him to answer me, just wanted him to come to our event that we invited him to.” She was visibly distraught, which is important when when there is a video. As we all began to realize what was going on, people turned away from the scene.

I stood for a minute or two listening to her performance, then I asked her some kind of question, which caused her to turn to me. The two people who had been listening to her seized the opportunity and left, having done their duty.

This voter was in tears, as proponents of the extreme right often are — agonizing about whether to vote for an incumbent with a proven record of service or for a newcomer campaigning on the “I am Christian” platform. The incumbent had supported gay rights and women’s rights, and so was accused of threatening the sanctity of marriage and killing babies. This was old rhetoric that I had already heard. But I was surprised to learn from this voter that Liberation Theology, which originated in the Black church, specifically in Reverend Wright’s church, was the most serious problem facing Americans, that it was the basis for the class warfare being waged by Democrats and Liberals, and that it was going to destroy the United States and Christianity. She knew nothing about Cap and Trade, about climate change, or about any issue. She was concerned about that one great evil, Liberation Theology. I myself had not even recognized this as an issue. She was concerned, even distressed, about Liberation Theology, but she still didn’t know anything about it. She could not name any of the tenets or principles, or name a theologian other than Wright. She did say that she had read all about it in Glenn Beck’s book, and she was an expert because she had been studying history for three years. Somewhere someone has a video. If you see it let me know.

This person’s vote counted as much as mine. She had no clue about the issues, but she was a protector of marriage against the threat of gays, protector of babies against murdering Moms, stalwart of the Christian faith without a clue what that is, advocate for millionaires that she didn’t know against people living in her own trailer park, on a mission from God and Beck, and pretending to be a Democrat in order to ambush a Congressman and pour out her self-righteous tears on camera.

Maybe it really is time to kick out the incumbents

When things don’t go well for some time, it is apparently reasonable to suggest that we need to kick out the incumbents, and I think it might be time to kick out the incumbents in religion. Christianity has been around for a long time and controlled kings and empires, and “peace on earth good will to men” has not happened. Christian Dominionists keep war against unbelievers on the front burner. Islam is a few years younger than Christianity, and they have that whole jihad terrorist fatwa thing going — a state of affairs that is not evidence of progress in meeting expectations for the good life. Judaism is over three thousand years old, and their God promised a lot more than has been delivered. Peace is even farther away from realization because each group has its own supremacists, which means we are all condemned to war until the last sect standing.

I am not suggesting that we kick out the incumbent God. God is either there and impervious to kicking out, or not there to kick out in the first place. But we do not hear directly from God, we hear from God’s managers, translators, handlers, and emissaries who tell us what God wants us to do. They have had thousands of years to get the message right, and somehow the whole group of prelates, bishops, imams, preachers, prophets, gurus, rabbis, evangelists, and even the Pope himself, have been ineffective. If we kicked them all out and replaced them with people who weren’t so much into the ideology, or the organization, or the profitability model, or whatever it is that has them stuck, maybe we would get a better result.