American Politics, old and new.


Here is a quote from John Ferling’s Adams vs. Jefferson, page 153-154:

The Federalists also fixated on Jefferson’s religious beliefs, maligning him as an atheist.  This was grounded on what Jefferson had written in Notes on the State of Virginia, drafted in 1782 and first published in the United States in 1788.  Jefferson had lauded the Virginia Declaration of rights of 1776, which provided for religious toleration, but, wishing to go further—he hoped for a law that would separate church and state—Jefferson had dilated on the “rights of conscience,” about which individuals were “answerable [only] to…our God” and never to the state. He then added  that “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg.” These two sentences were reprinted endlessly in Federalist newspapers as proof of Jefferson’s impiety.  In addition, Federalist scribes cautioned that Jefferson viewed the clergy as “curses in a country.” Primarily, however, they depicted him as a “howling atheist” and “infidel.”  Filled with contempt for Christ, Jefferson supposedly embodied iniquities that would bring on the moral decline of the United States.  In New England people were told to hide their Bibles should Jefferson be elected, and the warning went out that his election would call down God’s vengeance on the United States.Though more from the pulpit than the press, lurid tales were told of bizarre worship services at Monticello at which Jefferson supposedly prayed to the Goddess of Reason and offered up dogs on a sacrificial altar.  One Federalist newspaper advised its readers to vote for “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT or impiously declare for JEFFERSON–AND NO GOD.”

How many current cultural tropes did you notice there?

Thomas Jefferson, never self-identified as an atheist, as far as I know.  The conflation of religious tolerance and freedom with repression felt by the dominant religion was as real then as it is now.  We are not dealing with anything new, in talking about this religious privilege and the association with separation of church and state with impiety and even lack of patriotism.

There are simply some people, whether in 1800 or 2013, who simply cannot see that asking for religious neutrality from our government is a good idea.  Those that declare the United States to be a Christian nation have the precedence of idiots from the 18th century who did not grasp the importance of said separation then, and who wanted a Christian president rather than a supposedly godless president.  And those who see the legal foundations of the United States as secular, as its founding documents state, have the precedence of people like Jefferson and Madison on their side.  It’s not simply that we were a secular nation and people forgot, it’s that some people simply could not grasp it at the time, and that tradition seems to have run parallel to the actual law and history.

In short, there are always idiots in society, and it may be the case that they will never go away.  One of the weaknesses of democracy is that those idiots also get to vote, and thus we have Michel Bachmann and Rick Perry.

The Culture Wars will continue


So, Obama won pretty big the other day, and overall the Democrats had their day of victory.  Now, in my opinion the Democratic party is not very liberal, but they are certainly the better option of the two major parties.  I like Obama, think he has been a fairly good president, and realize that having a truly progressive president is not a reality in today’s cultural climate.

Is Florida really still counting?

We live in a culture which is largely conservative and pragmatic.  Even many of the liberal friends and acquaintances I have are pretty moderate, much like Obama is.  And of course there are some radically-minded people I know, who argue for socialism, communism, etc, but I only sometimes agree with them.  I think our culture needs some radical change, but that change does not have to be political in nature.  That is, we don’t have to become a socialist nation, but we need to be more aware aspects of history, philosophy, and psychology which most people are almost completely ignorant of.

What do we need? Well, to name a few things I think are important, I’ll list skepticism first.  Skepticism is the methodology which we should be using to determine the truth of some claim.  We need science, critical thinking, and a willingness to listen to perspectives from outside your own to grow beyond our narrow views.  That is, we need to be aware of things like privilege, biases (whether cognitive or ideological), and tribalism.  We need to educate ourselves in pragmatic ways as well as in academic or philosophical ways.  Mere pragmatism is not sufficient to offer us a means towards improving our culture, as it takes the most efficient and traditional routes, rather than the best routes.  We need our pragmatism tempered by skeptical inquiry into the harms and benefits of that pragmatism.

But how can we do this in the context of such comments as this, from a comment from someone named ‘Doc’ over at a post called “Dresden in DC“:

Being the opportunist that I am, I started the night at a Romney party – because I hoped he would win. But when it became apparent he wouldn’t, I headed over to an Obama party that I knew of, met a sweet young thing who was happy to have turned 18 early enough to vote in this election. I took her home so that I could add to her night of firsts…

I learned long ago – hope for the best, but always take advantage of the situation. So I’ll continue to take advantage of the situation which is this train-wreck.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve moved more and more of my assets overseas – taking advantage of every tax loop-hole this administration created to be sure I paid zero in the US due to “losses” and “expenses” – of course all of my real profits were “elsewhere”… I’ve done quite well, although in the US I’ve been losing money left and right… I will continue this, but now I think I’ll leave the US at some point for good.

It is no longer “my country” since I believe in hard-work, opportunity, and succeeding by your own effort – rather than looting others. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take advantage of the stupidity of this administration (Government) – so if I can get guarantees that I can go bank-rupt on to hurry the inevitable destruction along, I will – especially if it is beneficial to me. :) Just like the young lady last night, whom I’ll be seeing this coming weekend to continue enjoying what she can “give me”…

Ugh, that poor woman….

This guy is my enemy? This is going to be easy….

Granted, this is just one comment from a conservative blog, and it is certainly non-representative of conservative ideas, but it’s also a fairly common worldview which stands in the way of progress.  And it’s not going anywhere soon, so the culture wars will continue.

The post itself, from which that comment was quoted, was not much better:

The Obama economy, poised to hit the young in urban population centers very hard, might be their Dresden. Make it rain. . .fire.

How lovely.  There is a real cultural war out there in American culture (also elsewhere, I know), and those who side with this guy are my enemies.

But there is reason to believe that the future will be an improvement.  Younger people lean towards the liberal as well as non-religious end of things, the last election brought in gay marriage, legalization of marijuana (not my thing, really, but it really should be legal), and Arizona has a bisexual atheist representative!  (Too bad about Pete Stark though…).

So, yes, we have a lot of work to do yet.  But in the free marketplace of ideas, skepticism reigns and progressive social policy wins.  I am not afraid of going toe-to-toe with such people as hiddenleaves, pictured above, or his misogynistic cronies.

The Tea Party does not want America to change: I do


Today I am going to do something which I rarely do, especially here.  I am going to talk about politics.

More specifically, I want to address an idea that has taken root in the Tea Party.  It is probably not universal among them, nor do I expect it to be the most important aspect of the Tea Party movement.  However, when I ran into a rally at Independence Mall, near Independence Hall, on Independence Day, it was a theme that was mentioned more than a few times, especially by Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who spoke among others.  The key note speaker was John Bolton, who has no chance as a candidate, and whose speech I found silly and uninspiring.

It seems as if one of the problems that the Tea Party is trying to combat is the ‘liberal’ desire to change America.  This was said in context of the “ripping up of the Constitution” (supposedly by people like me).  Herman Cain said several times that there are people who want to change America, and many said that this is the greatest country in the world.  Perhaps.

So, what is wrong with changing America? And why is ripping up the Constitution associated with this, as if one could not change America and follow the Constritution?  Best nation? In what way; culturally, economically, politically, or some other way?

And yes, I do want America to change.  I would like to be part of what changes it, as well.  But I do not want to rip up, either literally or metaphorically, the US Constitution.  I have read the Constitution and  appreciate my rights as well as defend the rights of others even if I disagree with them. Further, my understanding of the process by which we create Constitutional amendments implies that change is an inherent part of our Constitution and therefore our country.  It just seems that this idea is empty rhetoric without real substance.

Despite the empty rhetoric of many of the speakers and apologists I heard from there yesterday, I (as a liberal, at least in most political senses), am not trying to destroy our Constitution.  I am trying to use my constitutional rights to influence the public towards a better America, by use of speech, protest, and litigation in some cases.  Our nation is ripe with cultural problems from sex negativity, poor education, and political naivete which helps cripple our growth to a better nation and a better world.

Me talking with one Ron Paul supporter

I want citizens who are more educated, mature, and willing to challenge their own worldviews.  I want the legality of gay marriage and polyamorous marriage.  I want better healthcare, whether through a single-payer system or some other option.  I want the divide between the rich and the poor to be addressed in a meaningful way.  I want discrimination, breaches in the wall between government and religion, and other effects of poor education and indoctrination to disappear.  All of these goals, and many others, can only be reached by changing America.

The idea that we should not change America is conservative by definition.  And as one conservative-minded person I know told me, there is a difference between wanting to retain traditional ideas per se and simply opposing progressive ideals.  Granted.   However, whether you want to conserve traditional ideas per se or not is not the point.  The point is that our culture, and therefore many governmental policies, need to change if we are going to improve.  Arguing that America should not change sounds a lot like a person telling there therapist that they don’t need help.

In other words, this ideal within at least some Tea Partiers that we should not change, and we should fight change, is a sign of denial of real problems within.  We, as a culture and as a nation, are sick in many ways.   We need to change, if we want to survive and thrive.  Right now, we are not thriving, and more of the same will not help.

So, in 4 years will "2016" be over the "2012"?

Finally, concerning what one Ron Paul supporter told me, which was that the Tea Party movement was started in 2007 to protest the corporate ownership of the two major parties, and that it is trying to remain independent from such influences.  But the recent motions of people associating with the Tea Party, such as Sarah Palin, have taken the name brand and changed it.  My prediction is that what remnants of the Ron Paul revolution that want to stray from corporate interests will die out completely, having been over-taken by the interests of those who have the money to make more noise.  And while I don’t support Ron Paul, I appreciate the attempt by some of his supporters  to remain unaffected by corporate interests.

I just don’t believe that changing (or restoring, as they call it) our government will make the corruption disappear.  I’m too much of a cynic, I suppose.

So, yes, Tea Party leaders, some of us do want to change America.  The fact that you don’t see anything worth changing is one of the many reasons I cannot get behind your cause.