“The Defense Department has begun repositioning Navy warships to support possible action against Libya, as it accelerates planning on a range of options if asked by President Obama to intervene in the conflict there, officials said.”—U.S. Readies Military Options on Libya - NYTimes.com
Um … Politico? Those aren’t actual issues. There aren’t real arguments against healthy eating being a generally good thing. And the President’s citizenship is only an “issue” in the way that a CIA plot to hide the truth about extraterrestrial life is an issue.
Qaddafi's government is being systematically dismantled from the outside
The U.S. Treasury has just frozen $30 billion in Libyan assets. That’s nearly a third of Libya’s GDP. And that’s money in the U.S. alone. This is money that will not be used by Qaddafi to fund a civil war.
To put that in perspective, a similar portion of the U.S. economy would be about $4.5 trillion dollars. That’s the equivalent of our entire bloated defense budget for the better part of a decade. When you add this to efforts by other countries, a probable freeze in payments for oil, arms embargoes, travel restrictions, and the threat of war crimes prosecution for anybody who collaborates with Qaddafi, the stilts propping up Libya’s government are quickly falling away. If Qaddafi wants to stay in power, he’ll need to do it with support from within Libya … and he has precious little of that.
“I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care by giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right.”—
Barack Obama, sinking the political equivalent of a half-court shot.
Whether or not you like Obama personally or politically, you should be able to admire this manuever. Romney would likely be the most electable of the Republican hopefuls in 2012 … if he makes it through the primaries. With a single statement, Obama has at once demonstrated his willingness to adopt good ideas from political opponents and severely damaged Romney’s chances of surviving the primary.
“You don’t have to work here. You can work anywhere you want.”—
Mike Hudack, arguing that employers should not be required to negotiate with unions.
The firefighter can quit and put in an an application at McDonalds. I’m sure they’ve got openings for firefighters. The unionized grad student paid poverty wages can quit mid-dissertation. I’m sure they’ll be able to pick up where they left off at a different institution. The public school teacher can quit and take a job at a competing public school. I’m sure there’s always a competing public school nearby, right? Switching jobs is not like switching toothpaste brands. This is particularly true in the current economy.
But why don’t we do things the other way? Why not have management switch businesses. They don’t have to manufacture automobiles. They can produce anything they want. They can start a house cleaning service!
There is nothing wrong with management trying to wring concessions from unions during tough economic times. That’s how things work. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with unions trying to ask more from management when things are better. And there’s nothing wrong with unions expecting management to live up to its own end of the bargain.
In a private industry, unions are able to suggest that management could cut costs elsewhere or take other steps to increase profit. Sell more hamburgers. Negotiate with suppliers. Cut dividends to shareholders. Management doesn’t need to agree—but it’s on the table. If management says, “We need to cut your wages so we can give a massive dividend to our investors,” unions have a right to be upset.
Is it so different in the public sector? Shouldn’t unions be able to ask that management consider all options to solve the revenue gap? If Walker wants to cut union rights to find his tax cut, shouldn’t teh unions be irate?
“No one is against employees holding out for more money, but employers shouldn’t be forced by law to negotiate with employees as a group.”—
Jeff Miller, who brings a libertarian’s perspective to the Wisconsin’s budget negotiations.
Why not? The employees are forced to negotiate with the shareholders as a group represented by the unified voice of management. Public-sector workers are forced (by law) to negotiate with tax-payers collectively. Capitalism doesn’t work if you don’t have reasonable parity in bargaining power.
Public sector unions are simply another check on the abuse of government power.
I heard that the Wisconsin unions are greedy. I also heard that the greed of the rich is what makes capitalism function. Could somebody remind me how much you need to make a year before self-interest becomes a virtue instead of a vice?
Anonymous funding of attack ads by veiled corporate interests ...
… is (apparently) free speech and should not be restricted. Corporations are people too—and they can petition their government. But when public employees show up at the statehouse to petition their government in person, it’s “manufactured and uncivil unrest" or an attempt to subvert democracy.
I’m having trouble understanding the conservatives today.
Could somebody help me straighten out my talking points?
Taking additional money out of our paychecks in order to finance a struggling government is a tax raise, which is tantamount to theft. But taking money that is earned and negotiated out of teachers’ paychecks is nothing at all like a tax increase because …
One of my favorite quotes comes from Arthur Koestler: "You can't help people being right for the wrong reasons...This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence."
I don't think you lack self-confidence in your views about the moral quandaries surrounding any military action and I agree activists should be careful what they wish for when it comes to US intervention. But the mere presence of "bad company" like John McCain and Joe Lieberman in the ranks of those calling for humanitarian intervention shouldn't be enough to dissuade interventionists from their point of view. It may well be that enforcing a no-fly zone is a bad idea or it may be a good one, but the matter should rise and fall on the quality of the argument and not the presence or absence of political opponents.
I don’t disagree.
If McCain and Lieberman think something is a good idea—it’s not inherently a bad idea. A stopped clock is right twice a day. But … when we find ourselves in such company, we should reflect on where we’re going and how we plan to get there.
The Iraq War was an awfully popular war … at first. A lot of progressives joined the cheerleading for that war. We were not greeted as liberators.
Yesterday, I listened to a friend so progressive she makes me look conservative argue that we should provide weapons to the Libyan rebels. I reminded her that we’d armed resistance groups in the past—like the Taliban—and it generally hadn’t ended well.
I won’t say that intervention in Libya is categorically a bad idea. I won’t even say that military intervention such as enforcing a no-fly zone is a bad idea. I don’t have the facts (or experience) I need to make that call. But … I’m thankful that people who actually command our military are more cautious than those demanding what amounts to a rush to war on humanitarian grounds.
When you see McCain and Lieberman together, you should ask which war they want to start, join, or escalate. I pull their quote out to make sure those on the left pushing for U.S. action in Libya realize who else is playing on the bandwagon.
The situation in Libya is bad. We have the power through careful, coordinated, and deliberative actions to prevent things from getting worse. We can restrict arms shipments to the regime. We can cut of access to funds that will be used to pay mercenaries. We can provide humanitarian assistance to refugees—or to those in stable parts of the country who are cut off.
But we also have the power to make things much, much worse. McCain and Lieberman are hawks—not humanitarians. Be careful before following their lead.
I’m pretty confident that he’ll come in a distant third in the Republican primary, be kicked around as a possible running mate, be rejected, and then watch his political career evaporate in a sex scandal.
Somehow the Robinson quotation you posted feels true. It makes intuitive sense. As someone who has thought a great deal about the nature of religion, could you explain why religion, as opposed to spirituality, needs to be difficult and demanding?
"Spirituality" and "religion" are both hazily defined. Rather than spending thousands of words sorting out distinctions and definitions, I’ll simply observe that we use the word "spiritual" to refer to a sort of personal quality or inward focus and use the word "religious" to refer to something that is interpersonal. Spiritual experiences are more likely to be individual. Religious experiences are more likely to be communal.
Religion does not claim to be comfortable. It claims to transform us. It thrusts us into the furnace with the promise that we will emerge more perfect—but not with the promise that we will emerge alive. It promises not that we can better know ourselves but that we can be part of something so much more significant than ourselves that it is worth more than everything we think we want in life.
Or, to use less graphic imagery, religion confronts us with something outside of ourselves. It makes us uncomfortable. It forces us to decide whether that discomfort comes from flaws in centuries of religious thought—or from something inside us. It forces us to question, to consider, and to revise.
To step down one more level of intensity to the positively banal, religion is like a good editor. We can look at our writing all day—and congratulate ourselves for being the most awesome writer ever. Our editor’s comments might be difficult for us to accept. They might be demanding. (In some cases, they might even be wrong.) By engaging them and working through them, we end up with a better manuscript.
Religion promises a better life—but not a life that is easy, comfortable, or long.
“Spirituality sometimes becomes the invention of a life that makes us emotionally comfortable, and thus doesn’t address the very real demands of a religion. Serious engagement with any religion requires the adherent to acknowledge its demands and difficulty.”—Marilynne Robinson (via azspot)
Well … sort of. Perhaps in the same way that individuals are bile, hatred, infection, rot, and despair masked by a constructed myth of beauty and the illusion of purpose. But that overlooks some pretty important things.
Hyper-focus on the negatives of government is a form of willful ignorance. If you see somebody’s life saved through CPR and complain, “It looks like it caused some serious bruising—that’s assault!” you don’t have a good sense of what just happened.
Our government has started wars. It has stopped wars. It has terrorized and prevented terror. It has fed the hungry and turned a blind eye toward the hunger of others. It has coerced some and terrorized others. It has brutalized many—but curbed the brutality of many more. Our government has promoted equality in some cases and institutionalized inequality in others.
It is within our power to make our government better or worse. There isn’t some karmic balance saying that the government must be equal parts good and bad. In fact, I think our government, overall, does a pretty good job. The elderly don’t starve anymore. We have a solid rule of law. We’ve got an immensely wealthy country and a currency so stable the rest of the world has flocked to it. Citizens have a reasonable—though not perfect—say in the actions of the government. And we have a voice in the areas where our government has seriously screwed things up. Nothing is perfect—but it’s pretty good considering.
We certainly shouldn’t sit back and accept that this is enough. We want the best government we can manage. But the idea that government is somehow optional is infantile. Since God invented dogs1, one dog has lorded over another. We could have a radically different form of government—but we can’t get rid of government completely. Even if we could, we wouldn’t like the result.
I’ve been informed that an evolutionary biologist or anthropologist might be better able to illucidate the history of power and force. Until one steps forward, I’m going to stick with “God invented dogs.” ↩
Implementing a No-Fly Zone in Libya is not something that should be done hastily or with less than extreme caution. Military aircraft cannot be grounded with words alone. A No-Fly Zone would need to be enforced. This means shooting down planes. It means intervening militarily in a brewing civil war.
A No-Fly Zone could save the lives of some of those opposing Gaddafi. But there are serious consequences to enterring foreign wars. As pacifists go, I’m pretty pragmatic. Some might reasonably claim that this makes me not-a-real-pacifist. (They might be right.) I’m not categorically against action in Libya—but I do think it’s important that people realize what they’re calling for.
If the Republicans were serious about replacing the Affordable Care Act with something else, there would be no need to first repeal the bill, then start thinking about what to replace it with. They could simply pass a replacement that repeals whatever they wanted to repeal and immediately puts something else in place. Claiming the need to first repeal the bill is simply a way to say, “Sure, the bill is better than no reform. But wouldn’t you rather have the illusion of a secret awesome bill? It will be like imaginary healthcare.”
Great scoop by my ex-True/Slant coworker Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone. Pullquote:
The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.
There’s a bit of good, if somewhat expected news. I know a lot of you support Assange’s work—but there are some very serious charges against him. Extradition and likely prosecution will allow the charges and the evidence to be brought publicly. Assange may be convicted—or he may be exonerated. Either way, there is a rigorous and reliable process through which to determine the truth.
Round One of the 2012 Election: Madison, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is like the mediocre general who led his entire army straight into an ambush. He probably doesn’t realize how it’s going to end. Yet.
Four things have helped the Republicans lately. First, they have raised legitimate concerns about the deficit—though the specifics of actual plans for reducing the deficit won’t be popular. Second, they have capitalized on understandable frustration over the lethargic recovery—though they’re going to have trouble explaining what plans they have for recovery, without invoking the zombie economics of the Bush administration. Third, they’ve had a huge amount of energy from far right Tea Party groups—though the actual demands of the far right will turn off the center. Fourth, the Democrats have suffered from serious political fatigue after the 2008 election—although they’ve lain low long enough that some of that might wear off if the right issue arises. It is a lot easier and more satisfying to tear down an identifiable villian in George W. Bush than to pull a broad coalition together and govern.
So Scott Walker wants to collective bargaining rights to finance his business tax cut. He’s not asking for concessions—he’s demanding an effective end to collective bargaining. He’s going to do this by villianizing teachers. And he’s earned the collective rage of the relatively centrist unions.
Then Ohio’s governor tries to pull the same sort of stunt. In Ohio. The swingiest of swing states, where nothing political will happen quietly. Oops.
The protests in Madison aren’t fabricated controversies. The rage is local and real. But when the Democrats see that kind of genuine energy on a fairly popular issue from the center-left in a swing state, they’d be foolish to ignore it.
“Giving teachers basic benefits that the private sector has pissed away for no recompense is not a crime. Ask yourself: why am I not a better negotiator? Do not ask yourself: why do they get health benefits when I do not?”—Making nothing out of something: Ticks and Leeches
DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even when couples are legally married in the relevant states. Practically speaking, this means that married, same-sex couples cannot claim some federal tax, social security, immigration, or employment benefits that others can have. While these harms are significant, the bigger issue is the symbolic harm of recognizing some marriages as superior to others.
The ACLU and GLAD sued, asking the court to declare the relevant section of DOMA unconstitutional. The suits are in various stages.
Defending the laws of the United States is the Justice Department’s job. This means that, generally, the Attorney General gets the task of defending laws—even those he or she doesn’t like. This means United States Attorneys go and make the best arguments they can, provided that those arguments aren’t so sucky that they’re a waste of everybody’s time. (Legalese: “Meritorious”). In the past, the laws were challenged in places where the Justice Department lawyers could just point to what other courts had done. Thus, they’d say, “Your honor, the law on this one has already been decided by this other court. You have to just do what he does.” Now there was a case somewhere the law wasn’t already decided. This meant the lawyers needed to come up with their own arguments for why DOMA wasn’t unconstitutionally discriminatory. They thought about a while and determined that there weren’t any non-sucky arguments.
So … maybe we shouldn’t get overly excited about the Obama administration’s decision not to defend DOMA. Because Eric Holder’s letter also includes the following:
Notwithstanding this determination, the President has informed me that Section 3 will continue to be enforced by the Executive Branch. To that end, the President has instructed Executive agencies to continue to comply with Section 3 of DOMA, consistent with the Executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality. This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.
As Joel Mathis notes in his post about this part of the letter, “I’m … not so impressed by this. ‘It’s unconstitutional, but we’ll enforce it’ is … lousy. Possibly even indefensible. I’m not certain what the federal government actually does to enforce the law, so it might be a moot point, but it’s possible the president is making a very loud noise over very little substance here.”
I’m not convinced it’s as lousy or that the noise Obama is making is without substance. I think the idea is that the administration can’t pick and choose which statutes it will enforce … but it can signal that a statute ought to be reconsidered by the appropriate branch of government so that, in future, the executive won’t be put in the position of having to enforce statute that’s likely unconstitutional.
I agree with Ari. The Obama administration has put a gigantic “challenge me” sticker on Section 3. Somebody can sue. If somebody else wants to defend it, they may get a chance. If they lose, there will be binding precedent to prevent the next administration from enforcing it. Obama is over half-way through a first term. I think he’ll get a second term—but that’s not guaranteed. It’s much better to have a permanent result than to leave this sort of issue to the caprice of the next administration.
No. As the avatar clearly reveals, I am a collective of sentient vegetables.
This is probably a good opportunity to address an issue with anonymous questions. I get a few of them—and by and large they’re less constructive than the ones somebody is willing to put a name to. Sometimes they look like a spambot misfired.
I don’t mind anonymous questions. But I also rarely feel compelled to respond to them. Afterall, I don’t know if they come from a regular reader or from somebody who tripped over my site after a Google search and will never be back.
If you have the sort of question that you want answered, I’d be happy to answer it. Ask it. Email me.[^1] Or, better yet, submit it as a post—which will allow reformatting.
(On a side note, if you leave a question in reply to another post, there’s really no convenient way to respond to that. I have to assume it was meant to be a rhetorical question.)
“The Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense. At the same time, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because – as here – the Department does not consider every such argument to be a “reasonable” one. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute in cases, like this one, where the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional.”—From the U.S. Attorney General
This is a serious step. If the President doesn’t like a law, the Justice Department is supposed to enforce it as written. However, the President is bound to uphold the constitution—which means that if the President doesn’t like a law and independently decides that it’s not constitutional, this sort of thing happens.
But the standard for a President deciding a law is unconstitutional is pretty high. It’s not the sort of thing he does casually.
Except it rewards them in the opposite order. It think most of us are okay with an economic system that rewards hard work. Most of us would prefer a system where success was not largely contingent who your parents were. We don’t need this sort of neo-feudalism. I think we would also like to minimize the amount that dumb luck plays in wealth distribution.
Merit is the tough one. The labor of the brilliant, beautiful, creative, and healthy is more valuable than the labor of others. Surely I deserve a higher paying job, right? Except … merit is simply a sub-species of luck. We didn’t earn our intelligence.
We wouldn’t stand for a teacher who routinely and unapologetically gives bigger slices of cake to the prettiest children. Why do we tolerate an economic system that does the same thing?1
(I mean, aside from bare self-interest?)
If I don’t put a footnote here, I’m going to get four or five people accusing me of advocating a Harrison Bergeron style “equality of result”—although I have never written anything remotely like that. By putting this footnote here, I’ll only get two or three such responses. Equality of opportunity is a wholly different value—and if we can’t ensure that the less privileged have a reasonable shot of success, we’re not bringing that to fruition. I don’t think that unequal is inherently unjust. But if we’re going to tolerate rampant and pervasive inequality of opportunity, we’d better have a spectacularly good reason for doing so. ↩
Rush Limbaugh has Made a Career of Wearing His Ass as a Gigantic Hat
As such, it’s fitting that he take General Pickett’s place in the charge against Michelle Obama’s effort to promote nutritional sanity. Mrs. Obama’s campaign should be about as uncontroversial as possible. Eat more vegetables. Healthy kids are good. Learning about nutrition is good for everybody. Eat things that are good for you instead of things that are bad for you.
But Mr. Limbaugh never let a reasonable stance stand in the way of his criticism. If one of the Obamas told kids to stay off drugs, he’d accuse them of taking candy from babies. The healthy eating initiative is, in Mr. Limbaugh’s view, the first step down a very, very long path toward fascism. And now Mr. Limbaugh is spouting off things like:
I’m trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you.
I’m pretty sure Michelle Obama is going for the First Lady look, not the swimsuit model look. And if Mr. Limbaugh were to extract his head far enough from his colon to look in the mirror … there’s no need to join Mr. Limbaugh’s body-policing game, no matter how bad at it he is.
But let’s have some real talk about diet and health consequences. Relatively small dietary changes can have profound health impacts later in life. Something as simple as reconsidering how school lunches are prepared or moving the salad to fifth-grade eye-level instead of the dessert can huge health benefits later on in life without coercing anybody to do anything.
The budget isn’t broken because we pay workers too much—it’s broken because healthcare costs are spiralling out of control. And it’s not malpractice insurance that’s driving the increase. Some of the most costly healthcare conditions are coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and diabetes. In 2007 alone, diagnosed cases of diabetes cost a total of $116 billion dollars in direct medical expenditures. And death from diabetes—particularly in populations without regular or reliable access to healthcare is … horrific. Infections connected to diabetes are the most common cause of non-traumatic adult amputation in the developed world. I’ll leave it at that.
Obviously, diet isn’t going to solve the entire problem. But it can get us a lot closer. If the first lady can save tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives by giving people the resources they need to improve their diets, why would you possibly be against it?
… but the overwhelming majority of stuff on the Tumblr Explore is utter drivel and so I, and probably anyone I would hope to find/reach, will probably not end up appearing in/checking it very frequently.
Idea I am pitching: Tumblr Explore: No Kidz Zone Edition. Only text posts over 500 words in length appear.
I second this proposal—except I’m going to call it Tumblr Explore: A Thousand Words are Worth As Much A Picture
A widely read New York Timesstory last week connected the nonviolent resistance in Egypt with the academic work of an American scholar, Gene Sharp. He is the author of the seminal 1973 three-volumestudy, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, as well as decades of further publications translated into thirty languages.
What are Sharp’s ideas, and how do they help us understand events in Egypt and elsewhere?
Professor Stephen Zunes, a political scientist and another leading figure in the field, noted in the New YorkTimes piece, “[Sharp] is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of strategic nonviolent action.” Zunes is not exaggerating. Besides Gandhi, no one in the last century has more systematically laid out the theory of nonviolent power than Sharp.
You owe money “in arrears” if you have missed payments on an account and are trying to catch up. The correct term is “arrearage” or “in arrears.” Please do not refer to owing money “in the rear.” That means something else.
In response to the assertion that Taxation isn’t theft, Miss Daisy Vo writes:
Wow. I can’t imagine what we should call the act of taking money against one person’s will and giving it to someone else. Is it good will? Nope, because “good will” implies that you had the freedom to give your property away on your own terms. Then, what is it? Oh, it’s legal so it’s okay? Right, because something being legal automatically means it is right. The Patriot Act is good. The “War on Terror” serves us well. The “War on Drugs” is right. Everything the government does is right because they aren’t flawed people.
Seriously, some of the arguments people give me are just so incredibly silly.
This might be a good opportunity to talk about words and their meanings. Theft is “an unauthorized taking, keeping or using of another’s property dishonestly and with the intent to permenantly deprive the owner or the person with rightful possession of that property or its use.” Taxation is not theft primarily because it is authorized.
But Miss Daisy Vo’s point isn’t that taxation is literally theft. Her claim is that the only thing separating taxation from theft, morally speaking, is that taxation is legal. The government has no right to take it away our money.
Except … our money is fake. Or, rather, our money has no intrinsic value—except that the government says it has value. We believe the government—and it all works pretty well. But claiming that the government cannot morally take away something that only has value because the government says it has value is an awfully awkward argument. But for the government fiat—and the consent of the governed to that fiat, your money has no value. Your money is a social construction—and if society needs to use some of the money it constructed to sustain itself or its more vulnerable citizens, should anybody take us seriously when we complain? Currency is impossible without collective action.
Of course, we could still have taxes even if we didn’t have currency. If I’m a yeoman farmer and the government comes and takes a few of my cows every year, I’m still being taxed. I might claim that this is the moral equivalent of theft. Those were my cows!
Or were they? What property of the cows made them mine? Couldn’t somebody else have simply wandered off with my cow, claiming it was their cow? A cow is a cow—and if they take possession of the cow, how can I still claim that it’s mine?
Because society says that it’s your cow. Once again, without social action, you have only as many cows as you can carry. Property is also a social construction. Society says that you can have your cows—and that they remain your cows even if your neighbor doesn’t have any cows and really wants to eat a cow for dinner. But it’s not a grant of unconditional rights. You get your cows. You can do what you want with your cows. Except you have to give up a certain number of cows every year in order to ensure that society functions the way we want society to function.
You cannot have money or property without society’s blessing. When society declares that those are your cows, that that is your money, and that this is your property, certain resources are taken out of a common pool of resources and given to your exclusive use. In our world of limited resources, there are serious consequences to this decision. If you expect society to consider your property sacrosanct without expecting anything in return, you haven’t really thought through the bargain.
Mills, noting the frequent use of language that assumes religion is an artifact or historical curiosity that will eventually be replaced or supplanted by human progress, has asked what religion might be replaced by..1 Mills, who is not religious, is remarkably kind to those of us who are.2 I think, however, he’s inadvertently mischaracterized (or perhaps miscontextualized) religion.
Let’s step back and investigate my last sentence—because there’s something wrong with it. I keep using that word, “Religion.” Unfortunately, I don’t really know what it means. And the more we study religions generally, the harder it becomes to define. Mills cites a remarkably broad Wikipedia definition, which begins:
Religion is a cultural system that creates (1) powerful and (2) long-lasting meaning, by (3)establishing symbols that relate humanity to truths and values.
This definition appears to encompass most of literature, topographical maps, algebra, and possibly stock tickers. In short, it’s no good. We don’t have a unified, agreed-upon definition of religion—which makes my claim that Mills has mischaracterized of this amorphous concept, religion, a bit absurd. Let’s persevere without a good definition for now. If you’re up for it, I’m sufficiently postmodern to handle this uncertainty.
My concern with the way Mills frames his questions is that it assumes that the question, “What can we replace religion with?” makes sense. It treats religion as if it is a pill that has served us for a few millenia—but could conceivably be replaced by a better, more progressive, pill. Religion is, in this view, a sociological phenomenon. To put it more harshly than Mills would ever phrase it it, religion is the sort of thing clung to by backwards, under-educated, vulnerable, or eccentric people. Whether the religious are viewed with overt contempt, patronizing sympathy, or willfully ignored, there’s a common assumption that religion can be relegated to smallish pockets where it’s either useful or unavoidable. Religion is, in a word, supplantable.
I would characterize religion differently. I see religion as our reaction to something a step more real than we are. We are bundles of firing neurons caged in a distressingly fragile skull. We are mutable and temporary. We try to make sense of our impressions before we forget about them. Religious expression is our attempt to connect with something more solid. The credo may very well precede the cognito. We can no more supplant religion than we could supplant light. We could, perhaps, ignore it—but it isn’t something that can simply go away. We can refine our beliefs to fit better with what we’ve learned about the world—but ultimately we’re inherently religious creatures.
Mills concludes his post with four questions. I can envision a future devoid of religious institutions or communal religious practice. I can even envision a future where religious inquiry is frowned upon. But I can’t imagine a world with humans but without religion anymore than I can imagine a world with humans but without curiosity. (Would they still be humans?) In light of that, I don’t think the first three questions make sense. But the fourth question is an interesting one. “Is it the case that the effort to construct a moral society without religion is the modern instantiation of the Tower of Babel?”
It’s not immediately clear from reading the Tower of Babel story why God decided to thwart the tower-builders. Was it to prevent the tower from being built? Was it to encourage migration rather than urbanization? Was it a prank? Traditionally, we consider it a story about human pride. They thought, perhaps, that building a big-ass tower could take the place of God. But it’s still not clear to me why anybody would think that. (If the Jehovah’s witnesses come to your door, tell them you don’t need God, you already have an iPhone. Let them try to make sense of that.) Constructing a moral society without religion reminds me of building the Tower of Babel to replace God. It’s a project that doesn’t seem to make sense.
I’ll close with one of my favorite jokes.3 It involves a man who had long conversations with God while he walked.
"You know," the man said to God, "You’re not special anymore. Anything you can do, humans have figured out how to do as well."
"Oh really," said God. "Can you turn water into wine?"
The man poured out a bit of water, did a bit of chemistry, and turned it into wine.
Then God asked, “Can you walk on water?”
The man walks across a pond. Then, to prove he could do it, he divides the pond in half and walks back across a dry pond bottom.
"Impressive," God says. Then, "Can you create a man out of dust?"
The man scoops up some dust, pinches it together, blows on it, and creates a small man.
"You cheated," said God. "Use your own dust."
Mills is careful to avoid taking a stance on whether or not religion will or should be replaced. He simply notes that religion plays an important role in society and asks what, if anything, might be able to replace it. ↩
When I say Mills is “kind” I don’t mean he’s kind in the way that we’re dismissively kind to the neighbor who maybe collects cats more than she should. Mills writes about religion and religious belief with a deep respect. ↩
I’ve never been able to tell this joke and get anybody to actually laugh. I’ll try to tweak it a bit in hopes that it works this time. ↩
Abandonment of one’s job (by teachers or legislators) isn’t information-sharing; it’s breach of contract.
Those two aren’t remotely mutually-exclusive categories. Breaching a non-disclosure agreement is, most obviously, both a breach of contract and sharing of information.
The teachers, for the most part, are taking negotiated time off of work for the protest. Some of it may be taking a sick day when they aren’t technically sick—but if that’s what we’re getting hung up on, that’s not the real issue.
And the absentee legislators, by taking steps to ensure that Wisconsin’s laws are as strong as possible, are doing the job they were elected to do. They are certainly using unconventional methods.
Would you say the same thing about the Republican’s use of the filibuster during the 111th Congress?
Yes and no. Had the Republicans chosen an issue or two, then I would say the same thing. If it had only been healthcare—then I could see a credible argument that the Republicans identified something they considered particularly concerning and broke out unconventional methods to highlight it—or stop it.
But the Republians filibustered everything. That’s the crucial difference in my view. The secret holds on nominations or other issues where things have been obstructed in order to gain leverage on other issues is distinguishable. The Wisconsin Democrats disapeared in response to one issue. There’s no question in anybody’s mind what that issue is.
Short answer? I think the Republican’s use of the filibuster can certainly be discussed in the same manner. However, if the Wisconsin Democrats broke quorum on a routine basis to stall any effort to do anything, I would be much more inclined to call that an abuse of process.
Although how great would it be if all the protesters followed Robert’s to the letter. “I’m sorry, you cannot wave that sign about until it has been approved by the subcommittee!”
"The assembly is reminded and encouraged avoid addressing the gentleman governor by his given name on those signs. The parlementarian has suggested that language of the proposed sign be amended by striking the proper name "Walker" and replacing it with "the gentleman from Wisconsin."
The Wisconsin protests—and the Democrats’ decision to prevent an undesired vote by breaking quorum raises some interesting issues about the role of protest in response to (or in anticipation of) the actions of a Democratically elected government. Wisconson is not an autocracy. Wisconsin elected a Republican legislature. The Republican legislature wants to do away with public sector collective bargaining. Are those protesting in Madison simply trying to thwart the will of the people?
I don’t think so. Two things are happening that appear wholly consistent with the exercise of democratic process. First, information is being shared. The protesters are letting the legislature—and the rest of the public—know how much they value collective bargaining rights. This may change some minds. Legislators who were in favor of the bill might reconsider—either because they value the input of the protestors or because they’re worried about the political consequences of proceeding despite the protests.
The other thing that is happening is delay. We might as well call it debate, negotiation, or consideration. It amounts to the same thing. The Democrats in the legislature are forcing a more thorough consideration of the bill, in light of public input. Alternatives are being explored and negotiated in light of the new publicized information. It’s not a particularly civil debate—but it is a debate.
This is not politics according to Robert’s Rules of Order. But … it amounts to roughly the same thing.
Responding to my prediction that the Democrats in the Senate lacked the political power and political will to reverse the cut to funding for Planned Parenthood, Marco wrote:
What *do* the Democrats have the political will to fight for? I’m coming up short on answers to that.
I suppose “political will” might have been a somewhat misleading term. It’s not really a matter of wanting to do something—it’s a matter of being willing to sacrifice other things to make that happen. I think the Democrats’ primary goal will be to consolidate the 2008 to 2010 gains. They’ll fight to ensure that the healthcare reform bill and financial reform bill get implemented in a reasonable manner. Beyond that, they’ll probably try to win as many of the smaller fights as they lose.
Both of those are very significant things—and I suspect both will have some compromises in them.
This is an important observation. The budget crunch is caused by the recession. The recession was not caused by *too much* regulation or by public sector benefits. If I steal your wallet and then suggest that you get your money back by stiffing the waiter on the tip, you’d be crazy to listen to me.
You can mostly ignore the House of Representatives
They can make $60 billion dollars of politically motivated cuts. That doesn’t actually become law anymore than the pilic option or cap and trade became law when the Democrats controlled the House. The question becomes what will happen next. We’ll get a compromise nobody is thrilled with.
Some cuts will stay. Others won’t. I would guess the cuts to funding for healthcare implementation will go—but the cuts to funding for Planned Parenthood will stay. (I know—those cuts will hurt a lot of people and anger a lot more—but it’s impossible to overstate how much the right hates Planned Parenthood. I don’t think the Senate has the political will to fight that one.)
The talk on the apocalypse was long on imagery but short on specifics...
It turns out a friend had gotten the same mailing and was already planning to go. He took lots of notes. He was stoned.
I wanted the speaker to name the anti-Christ—but the speaker was all coy about it, intimating that it was quite clear who or what the anti-Christ was but not dropping any names. Perhaps we’d need to go to one of the other sessions. He also made it very clear that the apocalypse is totally happening any day now according to the very clear signs in the Book of Revelations … but he declined to go into exactly what those signs were.
There was also a guy who looked a lot like a heavy-set Justice Scalia who sang. And there were a lot of pictures of beatific people from the late ’80s or early 90s—which appears to have simultaneously been the zenith and the nadir of eschatological art.
But when you see what Unions have done to America…it’s hard to feel for the folks in Wisconsin. Have you been to Detroit? Have you really dug into the US Public School system? Utter disasters.
Detroit will come back. The school will be saved. But unions need to go in order for this to happen.
Yes, Evan, I have been to Detroit. I have also dug into the public school system. Blaming “unions” for the struggles of Detroit of the public schools is a lot like blaming the budget deficit on food stamps. It’s commonly done—but it misses the actual causes.
(Edit: Evan informs me that he too has been to Detroit on a fairly regular basis over the past twelve months, has hired locally, and supports the city financially. I stand by my point—though my implicit assumption that Evan was criticizing Detroit without ever being there was clearly incorrect.)
First, the schools. When’s the last time you heard somebody say, “If you want to make a lot of money, be a teacher”? Teachers generally teach because their heart is in it. They believe in what they’re doing. And this makes them awfully easy to exploit. “Want to teach another class? It’s for the children.” “Surely you wouldn’t mind staying a few extra hours. It’s for the children.” Union representation allows negotiation to ensure reasonable compensation and a sustainable workload. Additionally, union representation makes it more difficult to sack a teacher for convenience sake. When little Jimmy fails the test and Jimmy’s parents threaten to sue the school, it’s a lot cheaper and easier for the administration to sack a teacher than to defend the law suit. The unions protect the teachers in these situations by ensuring that terminations aren’t arbitrary.
Second, Detroit. Lay off Detroit. Yes, the city has problems. I know you’ve all seen the pictures Detroit’s once-glorious train station. It’s a poetic symbol of crumbled glory. Etc..But let’s not reduce a major American city to a stereotype. Detroit’s struggling. Let me offer four reasons:
There were too many eggs in the auto-industry basket. The American car manufacturers made some awfully dumb decisions spurred by some perverse incentives. They’re rebounding rapidly—but it’s going to take time. Contrary to popular myth, this wasn’t caused by the UAW. It was caused by the decision to spike a government plan for public pensions followed by a decisions to make fewer, higher-profit cars while having massive pension obligations. Oops.
Kleptocracy. Yeah, I said it. There was an awful lot of corruption in Detroit. Kwame is gone. The schools are being reformed. But the corruption was generally at the managerial level (read: not unions).
Racism. White flight to the suburbs was particularly devastating in Detroit. If you just cross a city line, you see some shockingly oppulent neighborhoods. Detroit did not invent racism. Neither did the unions.
You. No, not you personally. At least, not just you. But the continued willingness lift Detroit up as an example of human misery isn’t helping the city. Detroit has poverty. So does your city.
It’s true that things are a lot less flexible when you have unions. Being married is a lot like that. You’re forced to take somebody else’s views into account. You can’t go about radically changing things without consulting or negotiating the process. Sometimes its difficult. Sometimes you’re right and your spouse is wrong. Sometimes it’s the other way. The unions aren’t what’s holding anybody back.