Tuesday, October 12, 2010

taking it down a notch

So, I'm taking it down a notch. As opposed to John Stewart who I think may actually be taking it up a notch - 'it' being open for interpretation. This isn't a criticism, as I think his brand of activism is more beneficial than not. But really, John Stewart is leavening, not . . . whatever the opposite of leavening is. (baking soda?)

Back to me, though. Recently I unsubscribed from e-mail lists of some political organizations. It's not that I don't support many of the goals of these organizations, it's just that the rhetoric they use occasionally makes me choke on my own bile. I despise arguments that exacerbate the war of words and ideas in order to tap the ever growing wellspring of fear in the populace. Hyperbole is a literary device, not a way of life. And as I begin to despise the people who use hyperbole in their wars, I know it's time to get some perspective. In my experience, it's prudent always, always to mistrust arguments that impugn the motives of opponents and define those opponents as adversaries.

Given the current atmosphere and the perennial impossibility of consensus, it's increasingly important for politicians and voters to remember, despite popular rhetoric, it is possible to reach a compromise without compromising one's values. Bob Bennet was a good example of how to compromise effectively, and he suffered his demise for his efforts. Even though I have an ideological preference concerning most issues, I sincerely hope that no one side or party always gets its way because of what that would mean for the citizens whose party is out of power. Alienation has never been a great policy. But those who won't compromise make alienation an alluring option.

Character attacks and analysis that go no deeper that pointing out hypocrisy contribute to the drunken frenzy of American politics and, more to the point, the breakdown of civil discourse. The proliferation of the idea that the ends justify the rhetorical means - ie. getting My Way justifies repeating half-truths until people believe them or spit venom in every direction in order to foster enough fear to motivate the masses to get off the couch - or rather, stay on the couch at least long enough to listen to an illogical rant with chalkboard as visual aid and watch some money-generating ads. (No, Glen Beck is not the only culprit, just the most schizo and the one I am most ashamed of. He talks big about unity and values, and in the next breath he's "also talking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, or choking to death Michael Moore, or beating to death with a shovel Charlie Rangel." In my America, murder is not a shared value, Mr. Beck. Whatever your opinion of his politics, it's clear that his tactics are devicive and insendiary.) This kind of "entertainment" should never be mistaken for news, nor is it non-partisan or bi-partisan.

I guess what I'm saying is, have an opinion - your own opinion both formulated and expressed without popular partisan talking points. It's important to be informed from several relatively unbiased sources because lack of first-hand knowledge, or second-hand in this case, leaves people vulnerable to outrageous interpretations from all sides. Personalities who want to tell you what the framers meant are often after something else, and anyone who says he belongs to the Party of Lincoln or the Party of Jefferson should accept those parties no longer exist; too much has changed to claim otherwise. (Incidentally, I believe this is also true of the party of Reagan in several ways. Amnesty, anyone? This conservative icon wouldn't be nearly as popular today if he were president and not conveniently among the departed, a symbol left open for selective interpretation.)

Two basic interpretations of the Constitution are represented at either end of the spectrum. One is broad. One is narrow. Both are equally legitimate and important to the kind of plurality that supports a vibrant democracy. People will defend their interpretation of the constitution as gospel with loud voices, so why don't many people defend democracy with equal amounts of spittle? Could it be because many of those who purport to defend the constitution find implementation of their interpretation more important than the kind of democracy enshrined in the document itself? If there are broadly shared American values - and I believe there are - shouldn't commitment to democracy be chief among them? Ideally, this should be paired with an ethic of civility, but in order for that ethic to triumph it has to be practiced at both the lowest and highest levels.

Since kindness begins with me, I'm taking it down a notch myself. If you care about democracy and civility, tune out the extreme rhetoric. Turn off your cable news and talk radio - and consider the issues yourself instead of digesting the commentary of the various pundits. This isn't about beign passive or not participating, but framing your point of view in a thoughtful way. I'm still practicing, and as I do, I find that citizenship becomes more meaningful. Once you consider the problems from various angles, you realize the impossibility of reaching consensus. Contemplating in this way may bring a renewed dedication to practicing small 'd' democracy and breed compassion for the compromisers who generally keep our country from extremism.

Monday, May 10, 2010

a beautiful resume

Today the Obama administration announced its pick to fill Justice Stevens' seat. The pick is relatively non-controversial; Elana Kagan is a legal scholar who has written on only a few conroversial topics. She served as the dean of Harvard Law school, and while she was there she was a consensus builder, bringing faculty from both sides of the political spectrum together. She defended her conservative colleagues. For the past year she has represented the United States as the solicitor general before the Supreme Court. In short, she is an accomplished woman who has had an amazing career. And did I mention she's only 50?

Today when I was on facebook (which was my first mistake), I noticed several comments about Kagan's nomination. They weren't about her support of a compromise on language in an abortion bill or her opinion that the courts should maintain judicial review over Guantanamo. All of the comments were about her looks, the apparent consensus being that she isn't a particularly attractive person. Being a looker, as we all know, is an important qualification for being a judge in the highest judicial body in the country.That being the case, maybe Chief Justice Roberts' aesthetic credentials should be revisited. Or maybe we should evaluate the way we value people, particularly women. I don't recall any other nominee conjuring such ridiculously irrelevant observations. Elena Kagan will most likely be confirmed, and when she is, I will celebrate because an amazingly qualified person just became the fourth woman ever confirmed to the Supreme Court, and, for the first time ever, there will be three women serving at the same time.

You can hear a few interviews with Elena Kagan here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

may day

A happy May Day to you.  I ran across this blog today. Laura (who I don't know, but whose blog I stalk occasionally) wrote a fabulous and insightful entry that I had to share. I found that elements of her story match my experience, and she relates her experiences eloquently; enjoy!

Friday, April 30, 2010

happy earth day (last week)

It's Friday. I'm at home. by myself. working on homework. Pathetic, right? Well, I'm at the end of an enlightening semester, and I needed a brief break from writing my final paper for Public Lands Policy . . . to write about environmentalism.

It's been on my mind every waking moment for the past few weeks as I've been either writing or avoiding my looming research paper. One point my instructor has driven home this semester is the inappropriate way in which many use the term environmentalist. Certain things come to mind, right? You're thinking singer-songwriter, teva-wearing, slightly smelly, somewhat angry hippie type. Well, my friend, that is where you may be wrong. Should someone be considered less of an environmentalist because he enjoys smelling the fresh scent of pine from an ATV or getting salt water splashed in her face by jetskis? Those are not my preferred outdoor activities, but my experience in class has helped me reconsider the way I frame things and people - which I happen to believe is the hallmark of genuine education.

Public lands policy. Interesting, right? I didn't really think it would be; actually, I wasn't at all interested in this topic; I took the class because the instructor is fabulous. Not having had strong opinions about the environment prior to taking this class (outside of my pronounced views on agriculture), the process of developing an opinion and evaluating others' positions was interesting to say the least. In my reading and in class, I noticed several prominent paradigms of human beings' relationship to nature. The following are meant to be vague sketches, though there is a diversity of opinions and motivations behind each of these philosophies.
  • Domination - development ethic. No holds barred. Drill ANWAR for oil. Use it up. Wear it out. Global warming either isn't real, or isn't a real problem. There is a small but growing faction of people who believe they can speed the coming of the rapture by using up the world's resources.
  • Stewardship - conservation ethic. The health of the environment and biodiversity are important. Humans and nature are part of the same system and their fates are inextricably combined. It is important to work to slow global warming. Society and individuals should use what is necessary (subject to interpretation) and leave an amount that is sustainable or renewable for the health of the environment and the benefit of future generations. Resources should be developed in accordance with the best available science.
  • Worship - preservation ethic. Nature is pure and is a world apart from humans. Humans destroy nature and extractive economic activity is bad. 
Most people who are labeled environmentalists get painted in broad strokes most associated with the third category, but in my experience most people who care about the environment fall into the second category. Many people in the first category despise the third, and view the conservationist movement as a threat to their way of life. For example, I have friends who won't let their young children watch Brother Bear because they don't like the depicted relationship between man and nature - kudos to them for paying such close attention to the messages their kids digest, but my point is that they may be overestimating the threat. At work, one student recently brought in an essay that detailed the primary reason that his/her parents chose to home school: the public schools' agenda to brainwash children with environmentalist dribble. I was speechless. (S/he may not have been better off had s/he attended public school, but the writing was a bit atrocious, not to mention the disturbed nature of a conspiracy theory around an institution s/he had never experienced first-hand).

With much news about climate change, some paradigms are shifting. I thought this was very cool and an omen of good things to come in the stewardship category. If you are interested in grasping some of the basics of the environmental movement, I recommend these two books:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

where are my people?

I found this NPR article about a recent PEW study encouraging. I kept thinking, "these are my people." But then I wondered, "Where are they?" Not in southeast Idaho.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

it's black; it's white

Dear Reader,
I live in a relatively small, very religious community. People do lots of peaceful, benign things like garden and bake bread and spend quality time with their families. It's nice here.

In most respects.

Unless you espouse independent political thought . . .

or if you aren't a 'rugged individualist.'

Then you will be burned in effigy . . .

. . . or maybe in reality.

Or, you may be shot, because your ultraconservative neighbors
probably have a gun . . . or five guns (each) and don't take kindly to 'outsiders' of any kind.

I am writing to you, reader, so that I don't insist on being heard at inopportune times or inappropriate places. I am blessed and cursed with social filters and a passion for social justice issues, which basically means I can't talk about my passions most of the time, but that I passionately feel that I should.

Thus the conflict.
Thus the stress.
Thus the blog.

I really want to be an active voice in my community. But pigeon holes are hard to climb out of. Once you're in, no amount of shouting will draw a thoughtful audience.

I firmly believe that fundamental matters of politics and policy can't be discussed thoughtfully in shades black and white (gray?) and such nuanced issues deserve more than soundbites within discussion. I write here in order to sort my thoughts and invite civil conversation on current and perennial topics of interest. I will write on other topics of my choosing, in order to avoid paying a therapist,

You can be part of the adventure.

But if you can't be civil, your comments will be mocked and/or deleted.