Tag Archives: politics

Plumbing not posting


Mostly, I’m grading, traveling with my family to and from conferences, and overseeing the re-plumbing of my entire house—which necessitated the destruction of pretty much all of my driveway—and the much needed remodeling of our bathrooms. Now we’ve got new water and sewer lines out to the street. Soon the entire house will have new pipes, replacing a true hodge podge of cast iron, copper, steel, and PVC lines.

I shouldn’t say I’m overseeing all that.

My wife, having grown up around construction, really has been overseeing everything. She talks to the plumbers, the carpenter, the architect, the guys who were supposed to remove all the chunks of concrete driveway by now. Meanwhile I stand, at six feet and four inches tall, scowling and nodding to give such occasions gravitas. I never understand what they’re talking about.

I’ve still been writing here, just not posting any of it yet.

For about two weeks now, I’ve been working on a post tentatively entitled “A Challenge for Christian Apologists: Brain Scans and Bible Reading,” in which I wrestle with two research studies on how our brains respond when we are listening to someone with a declared point of view. It turns out what we know or believe about a speaker influences activation or deactivation in parts of our brains—and it seems to me this has broader implications within the context of my personal experiences and observations in evangelical and fundamentalist corners of America.

Considering the recent change in my tagline for this blog, I also want to write a post entitled “What is ex-evangelical?” I imagine a few folks, in some local church drama, might want to make that tag into something other than it is. (They’re the ones teased in that old joke: be quiet when you pass through their part of Heaven—they think they’re the only ones there.)

After I had changed the tag, I came across “The Last Temptation” by Michael Gerson in The Atlantic, which if you haven’t seen it already, is well worth your time. The article’s subtitle, at least on the webpage, is, “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”

Meanwhile, among the previous posts that lately keep popping up in my blog stats are two you might like if you haven’t already seen them:

Cornell West as jazz man, blues man, as ‘a Christian but not a Puritan’

C.S. Lewis Drank Three Pints of Beer in the Morning—A Letter from Tolkien

I hope to see you again here soon.

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‘Marx in Soho’ and the current political climate


Howard Zinn, in his 1999 play Marx in Soho, has Karl Marx say something like, “Why is it that every movement of six people is trying to expel someone?” In Zinn’s imagination, even Marx is exasperated at the ideological zealotry that can lead a group as small as six people (with essentially the same goals and values) to wage an intense purity campaign within its own ranks. It’s food for thought in these times, when someone who agrees with you 75% of the time can be 100% your enemy. There is no room for compromise, is there? Better a scorched Earth than a shared Earth, right? Just to be sure, you have to keep everyone within your ranks pure enough. Be vigilant.

During my visit to the Museum of Communism in Prague this past summer, I saw a display that revealed Party officials would sometimes torture and execute Party loyalists just to keep everyone in line through fear. The display showed mugshots of innocent people who were cherry-picked for torture and execution—even when the Party officials knew they had done nothing wrong. Purity through terror.

Update, Jan. 14: 

While social media hissing is not quite like torture and execution, the condemnation of Margaret Atwood by the self-appointed, self-anointed “Good Feminists” is an example of a vicious purity campaign. Read Atwood’s account in The Globe and Mail.

If the name of Margaret Atwood rings a bell, it’s because she is the author of the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which recently became an acclaimed Hulu series. I teach her essay, “The Female Body,” in one of my writing courses each semester. Atwood strikes me as a feminist icon, but lately she has fallen out of favor with some purists.

The purists’ response to her civil-rights stance underscores my original point in this post. In a world with Donald Trump as president, left-leaning people actually want to target Margaret Atwood? But if you agree with her only 75% of the time, she must be 100% your enemy. That kind of thinking earns you Donald Trump.

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression


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Words against reality


Here’s a gift of insight for all things personal and political:

“The power of words over reality cannot be unlimited since, fortunately, reality imposes its own unalterable conditions. The rulers of totalitarian countries wish, of course, to be truthfully informed, but time and again they fall prey, inevitably, to their own lies and suffer unexpected defeats. Entangled in a trap of their own making, they attempt awkward compromises between their own need for truthful information and the quasiautomatic operations of a system that produces lies for everyone, including the producers.”

— Leszek Kolakowski, “Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie” (1983)

Also see: “Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, and Reporting” and “Christianity as propaganda; Christianity versus propaganda

 

An Important Reason Why Podcasts Are More Popular Than The News Media


The News Media say:

There’s a problem and no institution or government is doing anything to fix it.

The Podcasts say:

There’s a problem and you can fix it—here’s how.

Wait, That’s Generalizing!

Yes, but I recently heard a segment on NPR in which the reporter moved seamlessly from describing a problem through interviews to identifying the fact that no government program exists to address the problem.

And I remember thinking the problem didn’t seem like the kind of thing we Americans usually take before City Council or Congress.

Then it dawned on me that most of the podcasts I’ve been listening to over the last year—like The Tim Ferriss Show, The Art of Charm, The Art of Manliness—had a strikingly different angle.

The podcasts often focus on things I can do to overcome my problems, and the hosts interview people who discovered new resources of resilience, innovation, and ingenuity in the face of difficulties.

Of course not all problems can be solved by an individual on his/her own. Sometimes you, I, need real help from others. Good government can play a healthy role in a civil society.

But consider the general inclinations and the basic outlooks in old media and new.

The old news media assumes, more often than not, that elected officials and governmental bodies are the first sources of solutions.

The newer realm of podcasts, more often than not, tells you how you can be the first source of your solutions.

What a significant difference in attitude.

And the latter is so much more appealing.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska Explains Why The News Media is Not The Enemy


I thought this was worth the tedious process of transcribing from a DVR.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper today, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska countered President Trump’s abuse of the news media.

I thought some of Sasse’s points are worth recording.

Sasse: “There’s an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and [versus] trying to weaponize distrust.”

Shortly thereafter:

“The reality is journalism is really going to change a lot more in the digital era and we have a risk of getting to a place where we don’t have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don’t have shared facts. I’m the third most conservative guy in the senate by voting record, but I sit in Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate on purpose because he’s the author of that famous quote, that you’re entitled to your own opinions but you’re not entitled to your own facts. The only way the republic can work is if we come together and we defend each other’s rights to say things that we differ about, we defend each other’s rights to publish journalism and pieces and things that we then want to argue about. I agree with the president that there is a lot of crappy journalism out there. Jake, I think you would agree, that there’s a whole bunch of clickbait  out there in the world right now.

Tapper: “Sure, of course.”

Sasse: “Barriers to entry to new journalism are going to go down, down, down, [Tapper grimaces] and so it is going to be possible, in the next 3 and 5 and 10 years, for people to surround themselves only with echo chambers and silos of people that already believe only what they believe. That’s a recipe for a new kind of tribalism, and America won’t work if we do that. So we need to come together, as a people, and reteach our kids what the First Amendment is about, and it’s not helpful to call the press the enemy of the American people….”

I think we already have “echo chambers and silos of people” and “a new kind of tribalism.”

A bit later, Sasse said:

“The problem we have right now—and I’ll pull up here, but—we’re hollowing out local community and neighborhoods. Some of that’s massive economic change. But at the same time we’re politicizing our national conversations so that the only community a lot of people have is what they project onto Republican and Democratic parties. These parties are pretty bankrupt intellectually. They’re not interesting enough to put your grand hopes and dreams on. We need a recovery of the local and the neighborly.”

You can watch a video of the entire interview here.

Political Heroes


Written in 1992, resonant today:

“[B]y the end of the eighteenth century a whole new type of public figure had to be invented: individuals who could—as Mussolini would have it—make the trains run on time. Napoleon was the first and is still the definitive model. These Heroes promised to deliver the rational state, but to do so in a populist manner. The road from Napoleon to Hitler is direct. Indeed, most contemporary politicians still base their personas on this Heroic model.”

— John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, in a chapter entitled “The Theology of Power”