Monday, May 30, 2005

Class, Political Orientation, and France's Rejection of the EU Constitution

The most relevant paragraph from Peter Schwarz's report on the French referendum:

According to one poll, three quarters of all wage workers, two thirds of all employees, and the majority of farmers voted “no,” while executives and academics generally voted “yes.” More than 80 percent of the supporters of the government parties (Chirac’s UMP and the “free market” liberal Union for the French Democracy—UDF) voted for the constitution, while a majority of Socialist Party and Green supporters voted “no,” in defiance of the recommendations of their respective party leaders.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

cleaning out the memory hole

IN FACT, in 2002, an FBI agent did write a memo claiming American interrogators flushed a Koran down the toilet during an interrogation in Guantanamo. The Pentagon denies the credibility of the memo. Newsweek retracted its story not because the story had been demonstrated to be false, but because the seriousness of that specific charge warranted greater verification. Neither Newsweek nor any of the "liberal" American media would ever doubt, or refuse to run, allegations of atrocities by nations designated as rivals or enemies of the United States. Such a level of scrutiny and contriteness is afforded only to the Patron.

I PREDICTED THE SPURS AND THE PISTONS in the NBA final. We'll see what happens. It seems safe to assume the Spurs at least. As a lifelong Utah Jazz fan, I know all too well how badly they beat ya.

THERE'S A THREAD going on about religion on a small listserve I'm on, and there's also this thread going on between me, Trond and Scott on a couple of the Underview posts below this one. The listserve conversation, portions of which I hope Russell will post or digest on his blog, was sparked by the death of Paul Ricoeur, but has evolved into a discussion about the validity of religious experience and the reasonableness of faith. The latter subject is what Trond, Scott and I are hashing out on this blog. It occurred to me that it's been a long time since I have really explained my views on religion, even to myself. In a way, it's scary to do so publicly because so many different people "credential" you on your acceptance or rejection of religious faith, the way you represent religion as a whole, the willingness you have to suspend judgment--especially on political matters--and embrace an essentially unverifiable faith. For now, it's easiest for me to say, echoing Unitarian Universalism, that I believe in covenants, not creeds. But I know that's inadequate, and at some point I'll have to be more specific. I'll just add this: No religious institution or community is exempt from the same critique of institutions, and their location in political economy, that I level at every other institution, and if I had my way, those institutions (albeit not necessarily their creeds) would be regulated--Just as we regulate toxic chemical industries, food, drugs and porn.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Progressives and Religion: Response to a Response

My friend Trond Jacobsen has always been more tough-minded than me, and his eloquence makes his forcefulness go down easier. But in this instance, it is my turn to be tough-minded, in insisting that we not set up such rigid dichotomies between science and faith. Neither history or politics compels us to do so, and the false consciousness he attacks is the result of what particular religious institutions do in particular historical circumstances, due to particular social contradictions.

The reason those revolutionary priests in Nicaragua made such decisive contributions to their communities, the reason their contributions outweighed those of orthodox Marxists or other progressives in the United States (by and large, at least) is that what they did had more social weight; to use a rather worrisome term, they were in the thick of history. Circumstances existed where they could rationally, and passionately, choose a practical convergence of faith and method, acknowledging humanity's objective circumstances as well as subjective, problematic yearnings.

Maybe all spirituality is just bunk. Maybe it's all just a bad bit of cheese we ate the night before, as Scrooge said. Maybe it's false consciousness explained away by a radical anthropology. If that's the case, I can only answer:

1-that it will not go away just because a few people are brave enough to declare themselves atheists;
2-that that same irrational faith will and does make its way into the science of atheists, even some self-identified Marxists (it will go underneath their consciousness and take a different, and if history is any guide, possibly nefarious form);
3-that religion, superstition, spiritualism, what have you will possibly, then, go away when we reach a particular state of emancipatory development, but in the meantime, see #1.

Trond argues that humanist religions are weak-willed religions that, while not being oppressive per se, are distractions whose contributions to progressive politics are "exogenous to their more metaphysical assumptions." Of course, in the very rational language of academic debate, his argument is pure defense. These "softline" religions don't make things even remotely worse, and in quite many instances make things better, sometimes in spite of their adherents' faith, and (whether we socialist eggheads want to admit it or not) sometimes because of it.

But beyond that, I'm not sure what type of spiritual community he's attacking. I can only speak for my own experience among them, but Unitarians and Universalists are far from "crystal sniffers." A UU fellowship might not turn a crystal sniffer away, but you can be sure the sniffer would get a good dose of rational criticism, a lot of questions, and along the way, a social conscience and lots of training in social action. It's far more likely that, in the midst of this religious rationality, the sniffer would discover that crystal sniffing isn't all that useful, that it's a rather shallow kind of fetishization, and that there are more constructive (and probably less expensive) ways to access one's subjective yearnings.

I fully agree that humanity, life in general, cannot survive without a huge dose of science. My disagreement comes in my holding that the wholesale abandonment of faith is itself irrational and, I would think, unscientific. This is not only because for the past hundred years, the parameters and rules of science have expanded to include hitherto excluded elements of subjectivity, uncertainty, and (in praise of Douglas Adams) infinite improbability, although these shifts are important. More than this, it is because I am unconvinced that something as intrinsic to human consciousness as mystical, ineffable connectivity is really the cause of the kind of paralysis and oppressive apologia Trond rightly laments.

If Che Guervara, who certainly proved capable of killing when he held it necessary, can say in all earnestness that the revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love, I can reasonably hold that spirituality, far from being the inevitable handmaiden of oppressive religion, can motivate us to do great things, very rational things. You won't find too many people out there with stronger feelings than mine about the separation of church and state or people's responsibility to check their metaphysics at the door before participating in political life. And I would not exempt any religious hierarchy from the materialist criticism I apply to all social hierarchy. But ultimately, religion should belong to the people. That doesn't preclude criticizing it, scrapping it, changing it, making fun of it, forcing it to be accountable to rational human conduct. It just means I'm not going to talk about abolishing it. That's a decision the children of the revolution can make. Maybe they won't need to. As Engels said in the context of whether a socialist society would choose to limit population growth: Leave it up to them. They will presumably be at least as smart as we are.

The truest statement in his reply is that "faith and religious and metaphysics function in the current social order in a net regressive fashion." I can't help but think this betrays an acknowledgment, however grudging, that this question is much more about the social order than "religion." I think we have a better chance of turning people away from brutal and hateful (or socially regressive) enactment of their religious beliefs by acknowledging the sublime than by sneering at it.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

More on Islamo-Fascism

From the English version of Der Spiegel comes this disturbing March 2 article:

"In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been brutally murdered by family members. Their crime? Trying to break free and live Western lifestyles. Within their communities, the killers are revered as heroes for preserving their family dignity. How can such a horrific and shockingly archaic practice be flourishing in the heart of Europe? The deaths have sparked momentary outrage, but will they change the grim reality for Muslim women?"

Read the entire article here.

And here are some some anti-violence groups from a variety of religious perspectives:

Sikh Women

Muslim Peace Fellowship

Christians and Muslims for Peace

Just Peace

Global Peace Works, for peace among differing religions

Council for a Parliament of World Religions

Center for Reduction of Religious-Based Conflict

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Religion out of Control

We've followed the stories of right-wing evangelicals threatening the lives of Supreme Court justices and federal judges...watched last week as Tom DeLay led a meeting at the National Day of Prayer...shook our heads at the attempt by creationists in Kansas (and about a dozen other states) to present religion as science, and make our students even LESS prepared to compete in the global marketplace (wait...are we supposed to win the battle of capitalism, or are we supposed to accept the Bible as infallable? If I were an impressionable young rightie, I'd be really confused right now!).

Here are two other recent stories that aren't likely to garner a great deal of attention:

First, as the New York Times reports, evangelicals are out of control at the Air Force Academy:

One chaplain instructed 600 cadets to warn their comrades who had not been born again that "the fires of hell" were waiting. Pressure to view "The Passion of the Christ" was reported, extending to "official" invitations at every cadet's seat in the dining hall. Nonevangelicals complained of bias in the granting of cadet privileges and of hazing by upper-class superiors, who made those who declined to attend chapel march in "heathen flights."
...General Baldwin had segments cut out [of an instructional video] on such non-Christian religions as Buddhism, Judaism and Native American spirituality.

Second, an important reminder that it's not just the evangelical Christians who pose a threat to rationality, liberty and intelligent debate. I've expressed my opinions about Islamo-Fascism before; here is a recent story about Leicester University in Britain, which cancelled a lecture over fears of retaliation by Islamic fundamentalists (who are kissing cousins of Falwell, et al, even if they occasionally have serious family spats):

Leicester University has cancelled a talk by Muslim lesbian feminist Irshad Manji because of fears of hostile reaction from right-wing local Muslims.
Compare Haifa. Ilan Pappe, a lecturer at Haifa University, is a vehement anti-Zionist, as unpopular with right-wing and conservative opinion in Israel as Irshad Manji is with right-wing and conservative Muslims.
Pappe has had trouble at the university, and some professors there are very hostile to him, but he is still in his job, still lecturing.
The pro-boycotters in the Association of University Teachers persuaded the AUT conference on 22 April to declare an academic boycott of Haifa because of Pappe's hard times.
If so, why not a boycott of Leicester University? The Manji incident shows up the pro-boycotters' double standards.
Irshad Manji spoke in London today, 12 May. She is, as far as I can judge, no sort of socialist or social radical, but she is an advocate of universal human rights, an opponent of cultural relativism, an advocate of what she calls a "reformation" in Islam.
According to Irshad Manji, Leicester University gave two reasons for cancelling.
First, that they feared hostile reactions from some local Muslims so severe that they could not guarantee the security of a lecture by Irshad Manji.
Secondly, the scheduled date of the lecture being soon after the General Election, they feared pressure during the election campaign on local politicians to come out against Manji speaking.

In both my personal and political life I have seen others deploy religion and spirituality in extremely progressive, loving, and humanizing, liberating ways. I have also seen others deploy religion and spirituality in exploitative, ignorant, silencing, marginalizing and destructive ways. The key difference is whether one is willing to submit their religion to pluralistic, rational, deliberative conversation and shared understanding. One can do this without abandoning one's beliefs. One can agree to disagree in the public arena, still motivated by the desire to do good things, a desire motivated by one's religous beliefs. The only question is whether one is willing to temper those beliefs with the humility of public deliberation.

That such a compromise seems alien to so many religious people (and seems impossible from the point of view of the non-religious) only reveals why the entire absolutist paradigm of religious faith ought to be challenged. The idea that one can be deeply religious and simultaneously committed to reaching deliberative consensus on matters of both faith and politics has been the guiding belief of Unitarians, Universalists, anti-trinitarians, and huge sections of the real religious left for centuries. In fact, I would submit that the wacked out evangelical Air Force brats, the Islamo-nazis and the bible-thumping creationists, while possessing boatloads of certainty and pantloads of dogma, actually lack faith.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Love Songs and Politics

Here I go again. While trying to compose an essay on the public sphere, media, and political life, you'd think my playlist would be a little different. But this is what I have spinning on my computerized jukebox this morning:

"Cotton Alley" by 10,000 Maniacs
"Evangeline" by Bad Religion
"Must I Paint You a Picture" by Billy Bragg
"A Home" by the Dixie Chicks
"Sweet Avenue" by Jets to Brazil
"Forget Me" by the Promise Ring
"I am Stretched on Your Grave" by Sinead O'Connor
"Love Serenade" by the Waifs
"Only in Dreams" by Weezer

Except...except...this is so hard to explain sometimes...because it makes me seem so unscientific and undisciplined...but songs about politics and social criticism merely give me intellectual inspiration. Love songs help me remember why I care enough to give a damn in the first place, you know? So a good love song, for me, isn't necessarily "political," but it is what is behind those least some of them.

It's that ineffable, unphrasable longing for another's well-being. It's the feeling I get when I look at my child and the person with whom I co-created him. It's the idea that somewhere, in Iraq or South Dakota or Mexico, someone is languishing and longing, wants a nice place to live with someone he or she loves. That somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, there are people afraid of losing jobs, certainly, but really, when you get underneath it, they are afraid of losing the ability to love, losing the object of their desire, not in some abstract sense, but in the concrete material sensuality of love. Bombs falling from the sky, means I cannot touch you. Union losing its pension fight, means I cannot feed you. Oh God, let me take care of those I love. Let me have dignity and security. Let me stretch myself across this great, beautiful earth and get some of the plenty, some of the promise. Not just for me. Not just for me.

Here's Weezer:

"You can’t resist her.
She’s in your bones.
She is your marrow, and your ride home.
You can’t avoid her.
She’s in the air.
And in between molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Love Militant Nurses!!!



HARRY KELBER, LABOR EDUCATOR - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have made a major political blunder when he called the California Nurses Association a "special interest" and sought to block the independent union's successful sponsorship of legislation to reduce the RN-patient ratio in the state's hospitals.

Schwarzenegger infuriated CNA members when he pointed at a group of protesting nurses in the audience at one of his fund-raisers and told the crowd they were "special interests" and he was always "kicking their butts." His remarks were also meant for the state's teachers, police and firefighters who have good reasons to oppose him. . .

CNA has led the fight against the "Great Arnold" by using guerrilla tactics that caused his public approval rating to plummet from 65% to 43% - and it's still dropping. RNs have dogged each of some forty of the governor's fund raising and media events, evoking his anger and frustration.

For example, at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco on April 5, some 5,000 RNs, teachers, firefighters and police circled the hotel and made it a media circus that dominated the news for three days and left 500 to 600 seats at the fund-raiser empty, while creating beautiful footage of the governor sneaking into the back of his own event. At various fund-raisers, a light plane has been a frequent uninvited guest, towing a banner through the skies that read "California is not for sale."

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Fairness Doctrine Revisited

Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has a wonderful piece on the Fairness Doctrine: what it was, what it wasn't, and why we need it again.