Sunday, September 27, 2015


One can certainly understand the joy that LGBT Americans and their supporters feel today. But orthodox Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution.
Rod Dreher “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country
Part of me wants to say, “Don’t talk to me about being ‘Exiles in your own country,’ until the Army makes you march from your homes and communities at gunpoint for a few hundred miles.” But given that I wouldn’t wish a repeat of The Trail of Tears on anyone, to give in to such an urge seems manifestly uncharitable. But I do, however, feel comfortable in asking “To what ‘mild form of persecution’ do you refer, exactly?” If that means simply having the Court of Public Opinion consider you assholes from time to time, “Welcome to the United States! When did you get off the boat?” Sure, I understand that being called out as bigots, or running afoul of anti-discrimination laws really sucks. But if you’re going to ask me to put that in the same category as, say, the internment of Japanese-Americans or the treatment of Hispanics in border areas, you’ll excuse me for not taking you at all seriously.

While I concede that we may one day arrive at a place where Christianity has worn out its welcome to such a degree that openly revealing one’s faith may be met with a perception of imminent treason or suspicion of nationwide trespassing in the eyes of both the citizenry and the government, civil suits over wedding cakes do not rise to that level. While I understand the point that Justice Samuel Alito was making when he said that the Obergefell v. Hodges decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” it seems to me that the same could easily be said of Loving v. Virginia; after all, if someone declined to sell flowers for an interracial wedding, it seems unlikely that they would find many allies among the public at large - or in church pews. But as Walter Palmer (and several people unfortunate enough to share that relatively common name) could tell you, the Court of Public Opinion doesn’t require Supreme Court precedent to render its verdicts. But perhaps more importantly, the Court of Public Opinion is not bound by the Constitution at all - as demonstrated over and over again in American history.

Another point demonstrated over and over again in American history is that a Republic (and world history tells us the same is true for an form of representative government) is not necessarily any more enlightened or aligned with a given understanding of right and wrong as any other form of government. The point behind giving the populace at large a hand in their governance is to allow them to advocate effectively for their own interests, not to create a nation governed by angels. Given this, I find it hard to reconcile that an admission that a Supreme Court decision that mirrors “a view shared by a majority of Americans” to the point of “This is the new normal,” can, at the same time be considered “a threat to democracy.” If a referendum with “one man, one vote” would have carried the day, it seems to me that a Supreme court decision to the same effect is perfectly in keeping with democracy. Now, it may not be in keeping with the Constitution, but the last time I read it, there was no provision for religious sentiment, regardless of how sincerely held, to be interpreted as the de facto law of the land.
The individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture is at the core of Obergefell — and at the core of modern American life.
This is profoundly incompatible with orthodox Christianity. But this is the world we live in today.
Welcome to Earth. Millions, if not billions, of people live in places where there is a fundamental incompatibility between some aspect of what they believe in or the faith they hold, and some value that the culture around them holds dear. Just as there are countless people whose beliefs form those values, and thus are in sync with the society around them. Sometimes, you’re the windshield, sometimes, you’re the bug.

Christian mores and social norms have been the baseline for the United States since before there was a United States. Once communities of Europeans and those they brought with them were large and stable enough that they could see the Native Americans as impediments to wealth, rather than as lifelines (and in certain circumstances, even before then), to not be Christian was to be a lesser form of person. The persecutions that Christians visited upon them were not mild. In this, I understand the fear of the shoe being on the other foot, and understanding what makes a retreat into a new monasticism appealing. But there is an irony in it as well, because it presupposes that the non-Evangelical majority will leave them in peace to live as they wish apart from everyone else. Which was not something that the Christian majority of yore was known for - the school where I spent my freshman year of college was once a boarding school for the forced assimilation of Native Americans - a practice that was reaching its height when I was in grade school. To the degree that religious separatism will work, it will be because secularism doesn’t consider child abduction (and then sending them back as cultural saboteurs) a valid means to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

One of the constant concerns that Americans have with Islam is the idea that it’s incompatible with Democracy and the Constitution. But this is true of any faith that both holds that it has a monopoly on righteousness and “good,” and that governments should be in the business of ensuring that people meet their obligations to the divine. Islam is not the only faith that has elements that hold to this. A local pastor here in the Seattle area once noted that: “The Constitution never says there was a separation of church and state. It is the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion. And that’s why we’re fighting so hard.” Were I inclined to unilaterally appoint him to the role of Ambassador from Christianity, I could easily make the point that Christianity is incompatible with the freedoms we expect as Americans.

In the National Review, part of David French’s response to Mr. Dreher is as follows:
Christians, following the examples of the Apostles, should never retreat from the public square. They must leave only when quite literally forced out, after expending every legal bullet, availing themselves of every right of protest, and after exhausting themselves in civil disobedience.
Christians have dominated “the public square” for so long that it appears that even to make room for others to enter it seems like a shameful retreat. And this is the issue with the idea of a single path to justice and salvation - any competing ideas, rather than welcome entrants to the marketplace of ideas, become encroachments of evil and injustice.

A genuinely pluralistic society requires a certain willingness to share and compromise. And people dislike compromise when it concerns issues about which they feel strongly. For example, a quote wrongly attributed to Rachel Maddow claimed that rights were specifically exempt from the vagaries of public voting. To a point, questions about whether or not evangelical Christianity should retreat into a new monasticism or seek to reassert itself more strongly come across a being two sides of the same unwillingness to concede that a truly public dialog means having many different voices in it. The fractured nature of worldwide Christianity left an opening for the idea that Christians were sharing “the public square” in the United States with everyone, rather than mostly different flavors of other Christians. If secular America understands the question that Christians are grappling with to be an all-or-nothing proposition - abandon public engagement altogether or seek to regain their former hegemony, Christianity will continue to be seen as an active threat, and an ideology that seeks to dominate those places where it resides. Which may feed into the idea of being persecuted - but doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wine, Company and Song

Although I have to admit that every time I have a sip of red wine, the first thing that comes to mind is: "Hmmm. Tastes like church..."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I have to admit that as far as breathless headlines goes, "Terrifying new poll: Nearly 1 in 3 Iowa Republicans thinks Islam should be illegal," is a good one. It seems like just the thing for conjuring up fears that, if Republicans take the White House in 2016, they'll lead the charge repeal the First Amendment and replace it with something that allows for mandated Christianity for everyone. After all, it seems unlikely that they'd stop with just Islam, right?

Of course, behind every breathless headline tends to be a somewhat less alarming set of facts, and this time is no exception. Public Policy Polling, who conducted the poll, "surveyed 488 usual [Iowan] Republican primary voters," which isn't a very large sample size, all things considered. Also because the voters questioned usually vote in the primaries, they're likely not exactly representative of the typical Iowa voter - recall that voter turnout tends to be lower for primary elections.

The fact that Donald Trump and Ben Carson are running so well in the polls may have convinced people that there is a dangerously ignorant wing of the Republican party set to take over, but it's just as likely that we're seeing a relatively small group of people answering a silly question in a way that allows them to vent.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Only the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner fostered by the dictates of conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated can help us productively encounter difference.
Simba Runyowa "Microaggressions Matter"
No... not really. What Mr. Runyowa actually said was: "Only the empathy fostered by the dictates of political correctness can help us productively encounter difference." But it struck me as odd to say that political correctness fosters empathy so I wanted to unpack it a bit and replaced the words with their dictionary definitions. As I expected, when unrolled, it still seemed off.

Consider the following - for much of American history, for a Black person to say or do anything that offended the political sensibilities of Whites was punishable, even considered worthy of public torture and execution. It doesn't strike me as too much of a stretch to presume that many Whites were keen to eliminate language and practices that offended their sensibilities. I don't think that this promoted the growth and development Black Americans understanding and vicariously experiencing the feelings thoughts and experiences of White Americans without those things being explicitly communicated. It did, however, foster a profound sensitivity to the way White people thought of Blacks. But not in a way that we consider positive today.

And, as I see it, this is part of the problem with the modern focus on the idea of microaggressions, in that it presumes that things are different enough that something that was a dismal failure in the past will work in the present, simply because the people driving it are of good intent. Now, this isn't to say that nothing has changed. It's entirely possible that we can Newspeak our way into removing the concept that "You're Different, and That's Bad" from public discourse, despite the fates of other attempts to control thought by controlling speech. Just that it takes more than the understanding that this time, it's being done for the right reasons.

When I was growing up, my parents and grandparents generations instilled in me that I needed to be careful in dealing with White people. Not because they were people just like myself who had a right to understand themselves as being just as human as I, but because they could be capricious, arbitrary and, worst of all, brittle, and you couldn't be sure what you might say that would be taken as an insult - with nasty consequences (although nowhere nearly as nasty as they had once been - my father could tell lynching stories that would keep you up at night). Today, the power to enact extrajudicial execution as recompense for a perceived slight is considered a relic of the bad old days. But because a microaggression is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, people who genuinely wish to be inoffensive are in a quandary - and they're coming to see many non-Whites as capricious, arbitrary and, worst of all, brittle, because they couldn't be sure what they might say that would be taken as an insult - and punishable by a public shaming.* And that sensitivity leads them to withdraw from conversations touching on political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) because they can't consistently gauge what the response might be, and they are emphatically told that their own experiences are of no help.

In the end, the current experiment with creating a more equal society by encouraging those who are perceived as "privileged" to be more vigilant about "in interacting with those whose lived experiences are different than [their] own" is likely to fail, if only because the inherently subjective nature of microaggressions makes it difficult to impossible to know what to look out for.

Intent is often difficult to suss out - it's difficult to impossible to understand what other person is thinking or feeling. But defining words and actions as fundamentally inappropriate and offensive due the impact on the audience (and the perception by that audience of the power of the speaker) simply shifts the burden of understanding another person's feelings, thoughts, and experiences from the audience to the speaker. It doesn't help the speaker understand the feelings of alienation, exclusion or unwelcomeness that might be generated. (Especially when the audience categorically maintains that such understanding is simply impossible for the speaker to ever reach.) And so if that's the goal, I suspect that we have yet to find our path there.

* As an aside, I've encountered more often than seems to make any sense, the idea that today's public shamings are the equivalent of yesterday's lynchings. While public shaming can have serious consequences, the human capacity for re-invention offers mitigation, at least some of the time. I have yet to meet anyone who has re-invented themselves back from the dead.

P.S.: There is also a reading of Mr. Runyowa's statement that says that only political correctness produces the particular sort of empathy needed to "productively encounter difference." That seems to be a stretch, so I left it alone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

To Pay Paul

Mass incarceration is not just (or even mainly) a response to crime, but rather a perverse form of social spending that uses state power to address a host of social problems at the back end, from poverty to drug addiction to misbehavior in school. [...] And even as this spending exacts a toll on those it targets, it confers economic benefits on others, creating employment in white rural areas, an enormous government-sponsored market in prison supplies, and cheap labor for businesses. This is what the historian Mike Davis once called “carceral Keynesianism.”
Alex Lichtenstein. “Mass Incarceration Has Become the New Welfare
Whenever we talk about a program that "doesn't work," it's always useful to understand how much money goes into it, and where that money goes once it leaves the program. Because in the end, Bad Ideas and never simply Bad Ideas. They are ideas that are bringing benefits to someone. Those benefits may be short term, with nasty longer-term consequences down the road, or that they may be inordinately expensive for their overall size, but they are benefits nonetheless, and acting as if they aren't doesn't do us any good.

To the degree that prisons are, as The Atlantic's series on mass incarceration notes, often placed in rural white communities, they become economic engines for those communities - and likely the only real source of both "good jobs" and significant tax revenue in the immediate vicinity. And given that most communities aren't exactly keen to give up businesses from their local area, the people in those communities are likely to be upset if moves are made to close down, or even scale back, a prison in the area. And no politician who wants to remain in office can afford to be seen as willing to flush jobs down the toilet - especially when the beneficiaries will be distant "others." And while wealthier communities may marshal the forces of Fear for the Children and simple NIMBYism to keep prisons from setting up shop in their vicinity, but when people are desperate for jobs to halt the slow demise of their towns, affluent communities' lack of commitment to "economic justice" becomes a boon.

Despite the fact that the United States has often seen itself as a prosperous land of endless opportunity, the fact is that, in very real way, there has never been enough to go around, and so for those who have done the best to do as well as they have wanted to, someone else needed to pitch in. The wealth that has been built through most of American history has been taken from someone else - whether it was Native Americans who lost their land to White settlers due to either broken treaties or flat-out theft, Japanese-Americans who had their property stolen while they were forced into internment camps or Black Americans who overpaid for real estate during and after Jim Crow. It's a pattern that repeats itself time and again, aided an abetted by the ease with which we look back on the perpetrators and call them villains. When we call those who benefit at the unfair expense of others out as evil, we become sensitive to the idea that we may be doing the same. Which creates an incentive to see the world as we currently inhabit it as "fair." So we turn a blind eye to the conclusion that: "Mass incarceration actually causes crime." Instead there is a perception that the decision to break the rules of society somehow exists in a vacuum, and that the only factor that has any bearing on it is the "moral character" of the person who chooses whether or not to break the law. And when a D.C. pastor asserts that: "There are pathologies to address, and one word for addressing them is 'respectability'," internet commenters are quick to seize upon that as proof that deep down, Black people know that their calls for reform are cynical and dishonest, and that White society has been blameless.

And so it continues. The concept of loss aversion tells us that people fear losses more than they anticipate an equal gain. And to change our criminal justice system to avoid the damaging effects that it has means certain and immediate losses to people who feel that they cannot afford to lose anything, in exchange for a gain that either will go first to someone else, or may never materialize at all. Somehow, we are going to have to change that, if we are going to bend the long of history more towards justice in the present, rather than in the indefinite future.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Ain't No Party

Yeah, people used to nominate the candidates who had served the party for a long time, you know, the Hubert Humphreys or Bill Clintons or Ronald Reagans, George Bushs. And party service and service to the party was an essential element of getting the parties' votes. But now on the Republican side, half the Republican voters are supporting Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who are either against the party are totally outside the party. And a lot of Democrats are supporting Bernie Sanders, who's a different kind of candidate but who is sort of an independent. And so they're not honoring the party, they're honoring the individual, and that's a bad thing, I think.

Parties are very effective coalitions, sometimes illogical coalitions, but coalitions of people that create majorities. And you need majorities to get things passed. You need governing majorities. And only a party can do that. Individuals can't do that. Individuals can just make statements. And so what's happening in our more individualistic society is we're supporting individuals and not parties, and I think that's going to make the country even more ungovernable.
David Brooks "Week In Politics: Outsider Presidential Candidates, Joe Biden On 'Colbert'" National Public Radio
Normally, I find that David Brooks is the lesser partisan of the two regular guests on NPR Friday "Week In Politics" segments. So I was somewhat surprised to hear him basically say that the voting public should be honoring the political parties, and that party structures were the only way of getting things done. In part because this strikes me as much more in keeping with the European model of parliamentary democracy, but mainly because that's not really the way in which our system was intended to work. The whole point behind the district structure that is used by the House of Representatives is that people in (relatively) close geographical proximity to one another vote for someone whose job it is to take their particular concerns to Washington. And that person is supposed to represent those people and their interests when it comes time to vote. Just because two people happen to both be Democrats or both Republicans doesn't erase the differences that arise when they live in communities far apart from one another. Congressional votes aren't supposed to be strictly partisan affairs - they're intended to allow the desires of the people (albeit second-hand) to direct the governance of the nation. And if that means that Bill 25 passes with a nearly completely set of votes than Bill 24 did, wonderful. That's a republic in action. The coalitions that Mr. Brooks speaks of are made up, in their entirely of individuals, who chose, with every vote, whether or not to go along with one crowd or another. And so if people chose to vote for individuals based on personal fit rather than party affiliation, I don't see at all how this is a bad thing.

I'm not really in the camp of either Trump, Sanders or Carson. But I don't see the people who are enthusiastic about them as violating some sort of partisan responsibility. They're voting for the people who they understand best represent their interests, not yet with their actual votes, but with their support. And that should be a signal to the parties that the people they claim to represent aren't all that thrilled with the job they've been doing. Voting is the way that elected officials are held accountable, and to say that party leaders should effectively dictate who voters may choose to carry out national policy seems to be calculated to strip away that accountability. And in doing to, it plays into the hands of the people who say that voting is worthless because the choices presented are all false ones. This, I do see as a bad thing.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


While part of the definition of bias is: "an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice," you can expand that out to more or less any sort of overall understanding of The Way Things Ought To Be, or in short, an expectation. And there are any number of circumstances in which we are expected to have biases. We are expected to stand with our family against strangers, or to give children the benefit of the doubt. Or we may be expected to view certain people as being worthy of charity. To the degree that we do not always go through an exhaustive process of objectively justifying these sorts of sentiments, they are biases. And we don't see these things as problematic.

For instance, I am a single, childless, Black American, middle-aged, professional male. To the degree that people are likely to view me as a potential criminal, based on the color of my skin, that is considered an unfair bias, and we expect people to examine what in themselves leads them to such a conclusion. But to the degree that people are likely to view me a self-centered and irresponsible, based on the fact that I am neither a husband nor a father, there is much broader social approval, and simply the way things are. It is interesting to me that we seem so unaware of that bias.

Because for the people who hold a given set of biases, they are all "simply the way things are." They are the rules that allow them to make sense of the world around them. And perhaps the path to changing that is an unbiased view of our biases.

Friday, September 11, 2015


If [Spokane NAACP President Rachel] Dolezal obscenely fantasized about becoming black, [Michael Derrick] Hudson at first looks like a clear-eyed calculator.
Ken Chen "Why A White Poet Posed As Asian To Get Published, And What's Wrong With That"
"Obscenely." I stopped reading there, ignoring the rest of the article. Why, I wondered, obscenely?
adjective | ob·scene | \äb-ˈsēn, əb-\
1 :  disgusting to the senses :  repulsive

2 a :  abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically :  designed to incite to lust or depravity
b :  containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage
c :  repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles
d :  so excessive as to be offensive

— ob·scene·ly | adverb
"If [Spokane NAACP President Rachel] Dolezal repulsively, by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles, fantasized about becoming black, [...]." Truly? Is it really so repulsive for someone to want to be like me? Does it really require a crass disregard of moral or ethical principles to see someone like me as worthy of emulation. Why so? And how, really, is that different from when the mainstream once considered a "black" person "passing" as "white" to be an obscenity?

These are rhetorical questions. I have already been bombarded with answers to them, earnest, heartfelt and strident. None of them speak to me. And so I'm okay with her desire to be black. I'm okay with her wanting to be something different from herself, and okay enough with myself that I don't need to guard it against her. I don't need her to be "confused" or "repulsive" or "obscene." If she sees being black to be something to aspire to, I'm okay with her aspiring to that, even if part of me doesn't understand it.

The More Things Change

To the degree that Time is a measure of change, aging means being present for more and more change. And as I have grown older, I have become more and more cognizant of not only the change that has has occurred during my lifetime, but the curious ways in which we not only resist, but deny, change. I am at that point in life where I have a certain amount of clarity into both the tendency of people older than myself to say that certain things are the same as when they remember them and people younger than myself to say that things have always been as they currently experience them. And at a point in my life where the constant pressure of change is shifting from endless possibility to an everpresent burden.

Still I hope to never ossify into a person who opposes change because they have lost the ability to understand the new world that it continuously brings into being.

Monday, September 7, 2015


We understand two things that government and institutions do not always grasp: As people we can act to do the right thing, first. As people we can make a difference because we are no longer alone and isolated.
David Amerland. "Sunday Read: Change"
This statement, uplifting as it may be, makes a supposition - and it leaves that supposition unstated - namely that "the right thing" is indisputable, universal, and/or eternal, and perhaps more importantly, self-evident. It also supposes that the differences we can make are always unambiguously positive ones. But bad ideas do not flourish in the world because there are wicked people who love to spread misery and woe - bad ideas flourish because people's imperfect moral sentiments often lead them to believe that they have found the right thing, when they haven't considered the costs - or who will be tasked with paying them. As the saying goes, there is nothing so expensive that someone else can't pay for it.

Low-hanging fruit like the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe make it easy to be armchair humanitarians because we can look at the photo of a drowned child and denounce the immediate circumstances that lead to the tragedy without fear of being contradicted and we can declare that "Someone needs to do something," without being told: "You're someone - do something." But it's the very fact that we aren't the ones tasked with doing something that allows us to listen to nothing but our own understanding of the situation and demand that someone else do the work of easing our consciences.

Most of us do not differentiate between what is right, and what is right for us - what makes us feel good. This often leads to a myriad of different understanding of just what the right thing is, and this is not due to a lack of sufficient intelligence and sensitivity. It's a simple consequence of tens or hundreds of thousands of people each listening to their own understanding of right. Governments are tasked with working out these differences - often, and unreasonably - such that they gain the enthusiastic agreement of all parties involved. Representative governments must represent ALL of their citizens and their varied interests - not just the ones on a particular side of an issue. So while it's easy to be critical of government bureaucrats who appear to founder, dither and look to opinion polls when in the teeth of a crisis, few people are supportive of a decisive response that either turns out badly or costs them more than they wanted to pay. And in a society that votes for its legislators and executives, those people are accountable - and when we choose to hold them accountable, we do so on our own terms. In politics, there is no such thing as managing expectations - you either meet them or you don't. Whether or not those expectations were realistic is your problem.

It is said that in economics there are no solutions - only trade offs. When it's not our responsibility to make those trade-offs, it's easy to forget that.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Lances Ready

When I was young, gender issues were commonly framed within the not-entirely-serious idea of the Battle of the Sexes, and, as they say, all's fair in love and war. People's understanding of how gender and gender identity influence people and work within the world have changed, but all's fair in love and war has not. And so when I read Noah Berlatsky's New Republic article using reaction to the news that Kermit the Frog has a new girlfriend to address the fact that the public typically only engages with issues of domestic violence when men are the perpetrator, my first reaction was to shrug.

Back in the days of The Muppet Show, Miss Piggy never met a problem that she couldn't "karate chop" a solution to - and that included her disagreements with Kermit. Mr. Berlatsky takes exception to the fact that this was often found to be hilarious, and, in all honesty, rightly so:

When women (or female pigs) hit men, it's funny because it's unexpected—and because it violates our sense of how gender roles should work; when men are beaten, they cease to be men, and become emasculated and feminized. Likewise, Piggy’s karate-chops are funny because women who are powerful and violent cease to be classically female, and become swaggeringly masculine. That turns Piggy into a feminist icon, to some degree—but it's also why she's treated, throughout Muppet shows and movies, as a joke.
However, there is, and, I suspect has always been, some discomfort with Miss Piggy's way of solving problems. A discomfort that perhaps leads Megan Carpentier, writing in The Guardian, question the accuracy of the narrative, and perhaps to indulge in a little of what we would typically label victim-blaming:
It’s now clear that [Kermit] was also always colluding with the producers and directors to make sure that Miss Piggy looked like a violent, egotistical harridan and he was seen as the sensitive, Rainbow-Connection-bleating ex-hippie who gracefully put up with both her personality and living in her shadow.
Kermit the Frog's new girlfriend is younger, thinner – and blander
While one can go a bit overboard with using the "relationship" between a set of puppets as a stand in for serious issues in human relationships, in the end, Berlatsky is on to something. But he's also wasting his time.

Our current understandings of social justice don't tend to be about establishing an equitable society as a good end in and of itself. Rather they tend to be about addressing historical imbalances - attacking the social structures that elevated one group of people at the expense of another. There are different hierarchies that concern different people, but generally "the stereotypical affluent/wealthy, straight, white male" sits atop all of them, in a perceived central location in society, and everyone else radiates out from that point. And, generally speaking, conceptualizations of social justice view injustice as being solely a matter of the center pushing out against those farther out in the circle. While there may be a million personal reasons for this, it also fits neatly into the sort of Good-versus-Evil Manicheaen duality. Wealth, heterosexuals, whites and/or men are bad and poverty, non-heterosexuality, non-whites and women (and/or other people who do not identify as male) are good.

While it has been noted that this rather simple way of looking at the world has its problems, and some fairly serious ones, it's not going anywhere anytime soon, if at all. Whether locking others out of being seen as good is a strategy for maintaining access to scarce resources in what is perceived as a zero-sum game or simply a means of holding on to romantic ideals about the self or others, it's a beneficial adaptive strategy, which is why it has survived for so long.

Like it or not, society only advances through one enlightenment at a time. And a lot of the things that we find ourselves working to change are the result of both biological and social wiring, and thus, deeply ingrained. Thus, for the time being, articles like Mr. Berlatsky's are quixotic, at best. It strikes me as unlikely that Kermit the Frog will be on the receiving end of Miss Piggy's stereotyped karate chops as often as he was back in the day, if at all. Violence in general is more frowned upon in children's programming than it was when I was a child, and Piggy's hauling off and decking someone with a loud "Hiiii-ya!" is much more likely to be seen as a racist mockery of eastern martial arts, and thus Asians and Asian culture, that it was then. And so what we're left with is the online reaction to Kermit's new significant other, and if a columnist calls out Kermit as having faked the thumpings he received in decades past, who cares?

But if someone tilts at the windmills long enough, someone may actually see the giant hiding there. One can make the point that all of the great social justice movements of American, and even world, history started this way. So as much as I don't see the profit in taking up the lance myself, I salute those who do.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

For Thee, Not Me

Kim Davis has drawn quite a bit of attention for her refusal to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky. Part of this is the religious aspect of her refusal - she has claimed that her religious faith effective trumps the secular rules of the jurisdiction in which she works. People who support her have also taken this tack.

“They’re taking rights away from Christians,” Danny Kinder, a 73-year-old retiree from Morehead, said of the courts. “They’ve overstepped their bounds.”
Kim Davis Ordered Jailed in Kentucky Gay Marriage Dispute
But it's worth keeping in mind that the Davis case is simply one part of a larger issue. People simply don't like having to follow rules that they understand place them in hardship, leave them at a disadvantage or simply disagree with. For instance in the European Union, asylum-seekers are required to file their claims in the first EU nation they enter - but few have been doing so, fearing that they won't be allowed to move on to the countries in which they want to settle - so they attempt to make it to those nations, and then file.

Much of this is a matter of people's moral sentiments, and the value that they place on their own ethical judgments. For a Latin American coming into the United States looking for a better life, the rules that require them to apply for an entry visa, and likely be denied, simply aren't fair - and so they are circumvented.

This habit that people have of claiming personal exemptions from rules is likely as old as rules, and it isn't going anywhere. And that leaves the rest of us with the responsibility of understanding what rules we're going to enforce - and which ones we really would be better off ridding ourselves of.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cherry Harvest

Davis testified that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Court records indicate Davis herself married when she was 18 in 1984, filed for divorce 10 years later, and then filed for divorce again, from another husband, in 2006.

Many Christians believe divorce also is a sin, and an attorney for the same-sex couples repeatedly questioned her about this in court. Asked if she would religiously object to issuing a marriage license to someone who has been divorced, she said "That's between them and God."
Clerk Who Opposes Gay Marriage Gets More Time
So... if a heterosexual couple chooses to sinfully marry one another, "That's between them and God," but if a homosexual couple does the same, "it would violate her Christian beliefs to issue a license to a same-sex couple that has her name on it?"

Really? There's a cynical argument than can be made here - perhaps that Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis is taking a stand on this issue because it looks as though it will enhance her prestige in the Christian community, while blocking the remarriage of divorcé(e)s wouldn't have the same effect.

But it's likely that what's really going on here is simpler. My own suspicion is that Davis would argue (to both men and her god) that her ignorance of the sinfulness of heterosexual couples who present themselves for marriage licenses is their own doing - how was she to know that they were still married in the eyes of God, and therefore not eligible to be with one another? After all, is she her brother's (or sister's) keeper?

Situations like this erode the relationship between believers and the secular by catering to the suspicion that "faith" is being used as a convenient fig leaf for what would otherwise be considered blatant bigotry. (After all, desegregation brought many of these same arguments.) And that, in turn, gives the believers a reason to feel that they're being persecuted for following the dictates of their doctrines.