Category Archives: Ideology

If scientists want to educate the public…but is that the right question to begin with?

Yesterday, Chris Mooney published an article in Washington Post, If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening. It has already received many comments on the site, as well as on Chris’ blog posts here and here and here. It will be followed by a longer paper tomorrow, at which time this link will work and you will be able to read it.
The blogosphere has not remained silent, either, with responses by, among others, Orac, Pal MD, Evil Monkey, Isis and P.Z.Myers. Most of them, as I do, agree with the article about 3/4 through, and are, as I am, disappointed in the ending.
I actually don’t have much to add to this discussion as this one is just another chapter in the discussion of Chris’ book “Unscientific America”. As usual, most commenters focus on one or two aspects of his (and others’, e.g., Randy Olson’s) argument, though the argument has many layers and components.
I don’t have much to add because it is hard to add much to what I have already written at length and in great detail, trying to address and combine all the components in a 30-page (when printed out) post. So, if you are a little confused about what Chris says and about the responses by others to Chris, you may find my old post informative. Here it is: What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?
Update:: More reactions by Chad Orzel, Evil Monkey, Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm and Chris Mooney.

Don’t Be a Sucker (video)

A 1947 movie made by the Department of War – as current today as it was then:

You can download the video or watch it bigger here.

Preaching to the choir

I got this video from Orac’s blog where an interesting comment thread is developing. This also goes against those who lament the “echo chambers” but those tend to be the same people who write HeSaidSheSaid articles every day – they live in a binary world where only “who wins the two-horse horserace” matters and anything more sophisticated than that is ‘elitist’ and to be ignored as ‘outside of mainstream’ which – the mainstream – they, the savvy Villagers with nice hairdos on TV, get to define.

Spring Awakening

On Friday, the Bride of Coturnix, Coturnietta, a friend of hers and I went to DPAC to see ‘Spring Awakening‘. As you may already know, this is a rock adaptation of an old play located in late-19th century Germany, following the growth and maturation of a group of high school students surrounded by a disciplinarian and authoritarian adult world, in which sex is taboo (so they have to learn on their own, feel guilt about it, and suffer consequences) and strict, dogmatic religion trumps every attempt at independent thought or questioning.
I have not seen the play before, though I have heard the soundtrack a million times, but the Bride of Coturnix has seen the original cast on Broadway and says that this rendering was excellent. I agree.
Yes, there is a moment of partial nudity on stage at one point. And a stylized masturbation. And a stylized sexual intercourse. And a kiss between two gay men. And a botched back-alley abortion that kills a girl. And an accurate portrayal of cowardly, insecure adults making up for their own shortcomings by preventing and punishing every youthful act that challenges their power, their standing on the top of the hierarchy, their mad use of religion to enforce that hierarchy, and their own unease with sexuality.
Which is the point of the play.
Which is why it is exactly the young people who are the target audience of the play. The warning on the DPAC website – “Parental Discretion is advised. Mature content, including brief partial nudity, sexual situations, and strong language.” – is there more to satisfy the conservative, authoritarian, cowardly, sexually insecure, adult curmudgeons in our own current society than a statement of fact. Or a real warning to young people to stay away.
The funniest moment for me was when, at the end of Act I, the old man in front of me got up and said how scandalized he was, asking why there was no warning that this was R-rated! Hmmm, I guess a curmudgeon like that does not go online to see the warning either. And he missed the point of the show – that his style of curmudgeonness is exactly what the play is exposing for what it is: hypocritical and dangerous. It is people like him who are NOT the target audience of the play – it is the young people, being warned about folks like him.
There are some good reviews in Durham Herald Sun and Raleigh News and Observer, and even better blog posts by Theatre North Carolina and Ginny Skalski (who wrote it from the perspective of a lucky person who got to sit on the stage).
On the other hand, do not trust Byron Woods of Independent Weekly for your theatrical reviews. It appears he is incapable of arriving on time (compare this to this – half the reviews are about how he was late, and complaining about it as if it’s not his fault), and is more intent on appearing savvy (remember the ‘Church of the Savvy‘ inflicting the media in general?) and slamming a play than telling something informative to the readers – compare his reviews to everyone else’s review of the same play (another example, other than Spring Awakening, is last year’s Fiddler on the roof, compare this to this).
You can find DPAC on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, as well as check out their blog.
The touring ensemble of ‘Spring Awakening’ also has a blog, a website and a Twitter account, a fan forum, as well as MySpace and Facebook pages. That’s the way to promote the show!
DPAC had some variation in quality of shows this year (expected for such a new place), but ‘Spring Awakening’ was right at the top. If it comes to a theater near you, go and see it.

Essentialism beyond just animals

How religion generates social conservatism:

You could make a reasonable case that pencils have a purpose, but pencil shavings just exist. But what about elephants? Religious people and children are, of course, more likely than non-religious adults to say that animals exist for a purpose. But what about men and women? Black people and whites? Rich and poor? Arab and Jew? Do these exist for a purpose? And is it possible for one to become another? Gil Diesdendruck and Lital Haber of Bar-Ilan University in Israel decided to find out what children think.

I thought McCain-Palin rallies looked familiar….

…and now I remember where I saw them before:

How Should We Call Them?

How Should We Call Them?A follow-up on last night’s repost (originally from April 06, 2005)…

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RegressivesAn oldie (March 28, 2005) but goodie, bound to stir up the comment section……….

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The Perils of Ideological Continua and Coordinate Systems

The Perils of Ideological Continua and Coordinate SystemsThis post (from January 14, 2005) is how I see the political/ideological landscape in the USA.

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What ‘Bout Them Libertarians?

What 'Bout Them Libertahrians?This is an old anti-Libertarian screed (from December 2004) that is bound to attract trolls (and traffic)….

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Femiphobia and Race

Femiphobia and RaceThis provocative stream-of-consciousness post was first posted on April 17, 2005.

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Two old posts about Hillary Clinton

Lefty Blogosphere and the Love/Hate of HillaryI wrote this on January 28, 2006. Was I wrong then? Is that wrong now? Have things changed in the meantime?
Lefty Blogosphere and the Love/Hate of Hillary

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Two Americas: Past, Present and Future

Two Americas: Past, Present and FutureThis post from November 26, 2004 was my fourth (out of five), and longest, analysis of the 2004 election. With Balkans and Creationism sprinkled in. How did it stand the test of time over the past 3.5 years?

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Books: “The Good Father: On Men, Masculinity, and Life in the Family” by Mark O’Connel

The Good FatherIt is great when you write a blog post about somebody, then that somebody shows up in the comments and clarifies his position thus starting an interesting conversation (both in the comments and via e-mail), then you realize that his book-signing tour is bringing that somebody to your town, so you go there and meet that somebody in person and have a great conversation, which inspires you to write yet another blog post – the one under the fold….

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Stephanie Coontz On Marriage

Stephanie Coontz On Marriage You probably know that I am quite interested in the history, current state, evolution and future of the institution of marriage, mainly because it is an important indicator of societal attitudes towards sex and towards gender-relations, which is the key to understanding political ideology. Between May 29, 2005 and February 23, 2006 I frequently mentioned Stephanie Coontz and particularly her latest book – Marriage, A History, e.g., in New History Of Marriage, Stephanie Coontz On Marriage, Op-Ed on the ‘End of Marriage’, Don’t Know Much About History…. and What ‘traditional’ marriage?. Amanda of Pandagon also wrote two good posts about it: Nothing to it and How to save your marriage (or at least give it a fighting chance). While I never really reviewed the book, here is a post with some thoughts and several good links to other people’s reviews as well as her own articles:

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Books: “The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity” by Stephen J. Ducat

 FemiphobiaThis is not a real review – I never got to writing it – but it is about a book I mention quite often in my blog posts and think is one of the most insightful about the conservative mindset. Written originally on October 21, 2004:

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Nurturant is not Coddly!

Nurturant is not Coddly!
I wrote this on September 21, 2004, as a reaction to the misunderstanding of Lakoff’s term “Nurturant Parent”. Slightly edited (eliminated bad links and such).

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Nationalism is not Patriotism

Nationalism is not PatriotismHere’s another topic seen through the Lakoffian looking glass (July 23, 2005):

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Nationalism and Patriotism

A repost from July 6, 2006:

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Why Is Academia Liberal?

Why Is Academia Liberal?When I posted this originally (here and here) I quoted a much longer excerpt from the cited Chronicle article than what is deemed appropriate, so this time I urge you to actually go and read it first and then come back to read my response.

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The Political Brain

The Political Brain
This post was initially published on September 16, 2004. It takes a critical look at some UCLA studies on brain responses of partisan voters exposed to images of Bush and Kerry:

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Empire, Empiricism, Empowerment: Contributions to Political Cryptozoology

Empire, Empiricism, Empowerment: Contributions to Political Cryptozoology Before the days of Times Select, David Brooks used to provoke long rants twice a week. This post from October 24, 2004 is one of those.

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Lakoff In Space And Time

 Lakoff In Space And Time This post from October 21, 2004 laments the lack of spatial and temporal context for Lakoff’s theory of political ideology.

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Assault on (Higher) Education – a Lakoffian Perspective

Assault on (Higher) Education - a Lakoffian PerspectiveThis post was first written on October 28, 2004 on Science And Politics, then it was republished on December 05, 2005 on The Magic School Bus. The Village vs. The University – all in your mind.

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This may just be the right time….

…to revisit this discussion. Keep the current election in mind as you read all the posts.

Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology

Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology
This is one a couple of posts about Creationism, written originally on May 1st, 2005.

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Moral Order

ClockWeb%20logo2.JPG This was an early post of mine building upon George Lakoff analysis of the psychology underlying political ideology. It was first published on September 04, 2004 (mildly edited):

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Book Review: George Lakoff “Moral Politics” and E.J.Graff “What Is Marriage For?”

This was first posted on forums on July 10, 2004, then republished on Science And Politics on August 18, 2004. That was to be just the first, and most raw, post on this topic on my blog. It was followed by about a 100 more posts building on this idea, modifying it, and changing my mind in the process. You can see some of the better follow-ups here. Also, I have since then read Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, which is a much better and more scholarly work than E.J.Graff’s book. Below the fold is the article with mild edits (e.g., omitting the pre-election hurrays!):

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Read this.
Then watch this:

How does Palin fit into this?
Like this?
Or this?
Or this?
Or this (check my comments there)?

So, how are evangelicals and fundamentalists responding to Palin?


Stated or not, the extreme right, the real audience intended to be won over by the Palin choice, will be eagerly anticipating her becoming president at the earliest possible date. They will be looking for her to have influence even while McCain is in office. The cynicism of choosing someone at odds with his one-time positions on major issues for the purpose of getting in the Oval Office could be among the most irresponsible actions ever taken by the presidential candidate of a major party.
McCain’s choice was to give a person from the quite far-right the greatest boost someone from that extreme has ever been given.
You can well imagine that if he is elected John McCain will immediately join the less rabidly right wing members of the Supreme Court on the list of those whose deaths are fervently prayed for by the far right. We know the list exists, they’ve openly talked about it on TV.

Hanna Rosin

Conservative women became a powerful tool for the party, and everyone was willing to overlook the cost to their personal lives. If a conservative Christian mother chose to pursue a full-time career in, say, landscape gardening or the law, she was abandoning her family. But if she chose public service, she was furthering the godly cause. No one discussed the sticky domestic details: Did she have a (gasp!) nanny? Did her husband really rule the roost anymore? Who said prayers with the kids every night? As long as she was seen now and again with her children, she could get away with any amount of power.

Not all evangelical conservatives are thrilled with Palin:

I am not arguing that large numbers of conservative Christians will refuse to vote for the Republican ticket because they disapprove of Palin. But we should be aware that this pick was controversial within the evangelical Christian community as well as among other segments of the Republican base.
Even with Palin at his side, I do not think McCain will inspire as large an army of volunteer Christian soldiers as Bush did four years ago.

Praying for McCain’s death:

Based on the little bit that they know about Palin and her religious beliefs, these guys are ready to pray for the death of a president and all the risky disruption that would go with that. Their desire for a theocracy where they can dictate the moral lives of others completely trumps any rational or practical considerations. They live in dream-like bubble entirely defined by their hatred of other Americans.
So far, this is just the isolated rantings of two bloggers who do not officially speak for any major church or group. But how many others out there share their feelings? Last year Rev. Wiley Drake, then Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, called on his followers to pray to God to smite the staff of Americans United for Separation of Church and State because they filed a complaint against him with the IRS for violating his church’s tax exempt status.
The most extreme elements of the religious right are not happy with McCain as their standard bearer. Many were disappointed by Huckabee’s rise and fall. Now they see another chance to put one of their own in office with Palin. We can probably expect to see more of this kind of imprecatory prayer (literally calling on God to damn someone). The Secret Service should keep an eye on this and make sure they limit there actions to prayer. After all, many of these same people come from the wing of the anti-abortion movement that cheers on doctor killers.

The first polls after the announcement showed a small move (around 5%) of Republican women (but not men) from the mildly-support to the strongly-support column. So, some strengthening of support in the base. But the same polls showed a small move away from McCain by the independents and undecideds of both sexes. I did not see any new polls after the Palin speech at the convention.
So, some are excited, some are not, some are a little bit too excited. In any case, these are not good news – for McCain.

‘Community Organizer’ – a dogwhistle for ‘Black rabble-rouser’.

We know they speak in dog-whistles. If you were wondering what Sarah Palin meant by dissing ‘community organizers’, she was not thinking about Jesus, or Martin Luther King Jr, or Mahathma Gandhi….just so you know who their base is….
‘Community Organizers’ Is a Dog Whistle:

Matt is absolutely right on the merits, but, make no mistake about it, “community organizers” is code for ‘uppity black people who are taking your tax dollars.’ One thing that is becoming pretty clear is that the Republicans are making a desperate pitch to the remnants of Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ (which is getting very long in the tooth, and isn’t even close to a majority anymore either).

On Community Organizers:

My heroes are community organizers who impact lives everyday in their neighborhood. I have the utmost admiration for such selfless, often frustrating, and deeply committed work. And I prefer this sentiment:
‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’
– Gandhi

What a Community Organizer Does:

This is what Palin and Giuliani were mocking. They were making fun of a young man’s decision “to serve a cause greater than himself,” in the words of John McCain. They were, therefore, mocking one of their candidate’s favorite messages. Obama served the poor for three years, then went to law school. To describe this service–the first thing he did out of college, the sort of service every college-educated American should perform, in some form or other–as anything other than noble is cheap and tawdry and cynical in the extreme.

McCain calls young people to become community organizers:

So I applaud Senator McCain’s call to young people to become active in their community. His words of inspiration and record of support for community organizers is admirable and I am pleased that he has chosen to emphasize this fact in Teaching Tolerance, a publication directed toward young people.
Who knows? One of these future community organizers might grow up to become President.


But look, let’s call a spade a spade: When Giuliani sneered about community organizers on the “South side” of Chicago, it’s pretty clear what he was saying: Barack Obama spent his time rabble-rousing among black people. It’s no different then when the RNC called him a “street organizer.” A community organizer can be a PTA member or a Christian Coalition lieutenant. Indeed, there’s something deeply conservative about the vocation, which informally organizes citizens to demand better, fairer, and wiser treatment from detached government bureaucrats. But that’s really not what Palin and Giuliani and the RNC are getting at. Community organizer isn’t being used to describe a job but a background. Obama organized poor black people. Helped channel their anger and grievances and anxieties. That’s change you can fear.

Blackazoid: Origins:

Ezra points out that the constant mockery of Obama’s time spent community organizing is a racial dogwhistle, which sounds about right. He spent time digging around in the surefire pool of racial resentment that is any group of black people larger than three that aren’t wearing sports uniforms, meaning, of course, that he was avoiding Real Work and probably smoking his crack rock or working on his recipe for chitlins.
Although I’m not surprised, I am a bit impressed at how easy it is for Republicans to take anything and turn it into a mockable “other”. It’s not that community organizing is an incredibly common act which is so far removed from the act of governing that someone mentioning it gives you a reason to scratch your head and cock your eyebrow (like, say, your membership in the PTA). It’s that it’s an inherently alien and strange act that normal people just don’t do, and is codeword for effete ghetto liberalism – a concept which probably didn’t exist before right now, but seems as good as any to explain the way that Republicans are playing the culture card on Obama. Think Brewster’s Millions, except that halfway through the film Richard Pryor collaborates with a balding ex-terrorist and a puffy-faced pastor who threaten the downfall of America until John Candy drops a bucket of water on their heads, then they sputter off and go slip on a banana peel.

What is a Community Organizer?:


Day 5 of the Republican Convention:

Michelle Malkin, who apparently spent the entirety of her convention-watching experience laughing uncontrollably at the screen, attempts to explain the right’s stand-up festival…explosion…festiplosion of comedy:
Let me clarify something. Nobody is mocking community organizers in church basements and community centers across the country working to improve their neighbors’ lives. What deserves ridicule is the notion that Barack Obama’s brief stint as a South Side rabble-rouser for tax-subsidized, partisan non-profits qualifies as executive experience you can believe in.
Again, what Palin said:
“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer — except that you have actual responsibilities[.]”
I understand that comedy is usually about the audience understanding the unspoken connection between the commentary onstage and their base of knowledge, but to say that Palin’s comment was restricted to a commentary on Obama given what she said is like saying that me walking on stage and saying “sandwich” into the microphone is actually a killer bit on Abu Ghraib, on-the-go yogurt snacks and professional archery.
In case you don’t believe my gloss, let’s look at how Palin’s audience took her not-at-all-general commentary on community organizing as it relates only to Barack Obama. Jim Treacher remarks that Don Corleone was a community organizer and then offers a space for community organizers “to stop the mockery of, um, whatever the hell it is you do”. Bob Owens calls community organizing the vocation of “Bull Conner” (sic) and Charles Manson. White supremacist Steve Sailer uses Tom Wolfe to portray community organizing as a hotbed of anti-white resentment, making me think Bob and Steve should really talk.
So, somehow, everyone from us apostolic Obama liberals to rabid right wingers took Palin’s statement as an indictment of community organizing as a whole, and Palin’s base even took it a step further, broadening the slur to racists, murderers, gangsters and college kids who annoy increasingly shitty authors.
The message that one gets from this is that the greatest service we can perform for our community is to avoid entirely the prospect of getting involved with it unless you can gain some sort of elected role that allows for rapid ascension and ruthless abuse of the details of your biography. And if you’re wondering why that sounds exactly like what Republicans are accusing Obama of, hockey moms pit bulls POW babies! Elitist.

Talk on cognitive and motivational differences between liberals and conservatives

From the Science Communication Consortium:

“Ten Lessons from the Political Psychology”
A talk by John Jost
The Center for Science Writings
Stevens Institute of Technology
October 29, 4:00pm, Babbio Center Room 122
Jost is an authority on the “cognitive and motivational differences between liberals and conservatives,” the “social and psychological consequences of supporting the status quo, especially the members of disadvantaged groups”, and other topics relevant to the upcoming election.

I wish I could go to this….I have previously mentioned one of his interesting papers – The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind (pdf)

Why teaching evolution is dangerous

It is so nice teaching biology to adults when there are no (obvious) Creationists in the classroom. It does not always happen that way – I have had a couple of cases in the past – but this time it was really nice as I could freely cover all topics deeply within an evolutionary framework (not always seen in my public notes, though, as I try to gauge the class first and then decide how overtly to talk ebout everything in evolutionary terms). It is always a conundrum. If there is a potential resentment of my lectures, I have to thread carefully. I have to remember that I am not trying to turn them into biologists, but that I am trying to make them think for themselves and to understand evolution even if they do not want to ‘believe’ it for religious reasons. Thus, I first teach about cell, heredity and development, which gives them (and me) tools for coverage of evolution. Then I explain evolution using insects as an example before ending with a “humans, of course” as well. Then I cover Origin of Life, evolution of diversity and current diversity. But I do not leave evolution behind when I move on to ecology, behavior and physiology either. More easily this time, but sometimes a little more ‘sneakily’ if I know I have Creationists in class.
So, I know exactly how difficult it is to teach even younger students – they are more likely to act rebelliously (adults will go along in order to get the grade and move on) and they are still more under the influence of parents and do not have enough world experiences. I admire high school teachers who teach Biology in areas of the country in which Creationism is rampant and most of the kids are likely to be a priori biased against it.
A week after the nice column by Olivia Judson about the necessity of teaching evolution in school, NYTimes once again visits this question, with a very nice article about Mr.Campbell, a biology teacher in Florida, one of the people who was involved in the latest science curriculum battles in that state this year.
Like a game of whack-a-mole, Creationist get defeated in court in one state, just to resurface in another state and start the process all over again. As they keep losing in courts, they are forced to dilute their message, and adopt the language that may, on the surface, seem OK, unless you know exactly what THEY mean by that language and how that language is supposed to be a wedge that lets religious instruction into public school science classes.
The NYTimes article was brought to my attention by Jonathan Eisen, Tom Levenson, Kent and Mike Dunford and then I saw that many other bloggers have picked up on it since.
Ed Darrell points out the competitive advantage this gives the rest of the world and how local the problem of Creationism is.
David Rea sees that the NCSE responses to Well’s “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution” (also accessible at the NYT site next to the article) are far too nuanced and likely to go over the heads of most Americans, and suggests to use them to teach the meaning of words, and the meaning of evolutionary concepts – they cannot stand for themselves but can be useful as a starting point for a classroom discussion.
Peter Dawson Buckland responds to one of the frequent misrepresentations of evolution that shows up in the article (voiced by a Creationist teacher in the same school as Campbell) and gives a vote to pragmatism over philosophical accuracy. PZ Myers disagrees and insists on absolute accuracy. John Hawks points out that the Mickey Mouse is not an example of evolution – with which I agree: like Pokemon (and perhaps Spore), it is an example of gradual metamorphosis, in this case exacerbated by the fact that change is not induced by the natural environment but by human marketers.
As of this writing, the article has 342 comments on the NYTimes site, mainly by people who liked it and who – some clumsily, others with more expertise – try to explain the difference between scientific and colloquial usages of “theory” and other answers to those age-old questions that Creationists have been asking for a century or more already (and bored everyone to death, including myself, as the answers are readily available online, in books, etc.).
One comment that I particularly liked was this one:

I second comment #3. Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.
— Natalie Wright, Gainesville, FL

But some of the best commentary is right there in the article – words of Campbell himself. See this:

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

Mr. Campbell knows how tricky this process is. You cannot bludgeon kids with truth (or insult their religion, i.e., their parents and friends) and hope they will smile and believe you. Yes, NOMA is wrong, but is a good first tool for gaining trust. You have to bring them over to your side, gain their trust, and then hold their hands and help them step by step. And on that slow journey, which will be painful for many of them, it is OK to use some inaccuracies temporarily if they help you reach the students. If a student, like Natalie Wright who I quoted above, goes on to study biology, then he or she will unlearn the inaccuracies in time. If most of the students do not, but those cutesy examples help them accept evolution, then it is OK if they keep some of those little inaccuracies for the rest of their lives. It is perfectly fine if they keep thinking that Mickey Mouse evolved as long as they think evolution is fine and dandy overall. Without Mickey, they may have become Creationist activists instead. Without belief in NOMA they would have never accepted anything, and well, so be it. Better NOMA-believers than Creationists, don’t you think?
But for me, the key quote of the article is this one:

“If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ ” Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Education is a subversive activity that is implicitly in place in order to counter the prevailing culture. And the prevailing culture in the case of Campbell’s school, and many other schools in the country, is a deeply conservative religious culture.
There are many ideals or “values” that conservatives and liberals share. Freedom, strength, honesty, generosity, courage, responsibility, etc. are equally valued by people of all ideologies. The conservatives and liberals may define or understand them a little differently, they may order them differently according to importance, and they may deduce some very different policy proposals out of them, but in general they all agree that these are good human values.
But there is one human trait where the two ideologies differ. That is Obedience. For conservatives, this is a positive human trait. For liberals, it is viewed quite negatively. Why?
Because the two ideologies view time and history differently.
Conservatives see history as a story of decline from some mythical Golden Age which, depends who you ask, may be the Garden of Eden, or middle ages when Church and State were one and the same, or late 19th century USA with robber barons in charge, or 1930s Italy and Germany when Business and State were one and the same (and kept all the “Others” down), or 1950s when women were sent to the kitchen. They feel like the future is bleak and that their duty is to slow down and stop the decline, or reverse it if they can.
Their belief that world is dangerous is a part of this mindset – they always think that the world is more to be feared now than it was in the mystical past. Corporate media help them in this – switch off the TV and tell me: how many violent crimes, tragic accidents, horrific natural disasters, and war terrors, have you personally witnessed today in real life? Yesterday, the day before, throughout your life? How come you are still alive? Oh, but the media wants to deliver you to the advertising so you will buy whatever will alleviate your fears today and make life worth living yet another day.
For us (liberals), the history is seen as an arrow of progress: every generation has a better life than the previous one, every generation puts some work and effort, and if needed fight, to make the world a better place for the next generation. We want to foster and continue this trend. For this to happen, each generation needs to break with the parents’ worldview to some extent. What is considered “normal” part of life for one’s elders, may not be so for the youngsters who take a serious look at it. Most importantly, each generation brings in another level of equality, bringing up a group that was institutionally pushed down during history, be it women, gays, blacks, etc.
Now, the word “equality” is understood differently by the two ideologies. It does not mean handicapping everyone to have the same no matter what their talents and hard work should earn them. It does not mean preventing people from attaining success. It means allowing people to go to the top regardless of who their parents were. If you made it, your kids should not get a leg-up because of that – they need to start from zero and try to make it as well. Or fail. But more importantly, it does not matter if your parents are rich or poor, white or black, US-born or foreign-born, religious or not, if you are male or female, straight or gay – you should have the exact same social and instititutional support in your strivings toward success.
Also, the measure of success in dollars is a pretty conservative notion – you can be dirt-poor yet be successful, consider yourself successful and be regarded by others as successful along other criteria, e.g., generosity, skill, talent. And the accidents of your birth should not be a factor.
In a worldview which sees everything as a zero-sum game, equality is anathema. If one goes up, this means someone else is going down. If women are gaining, this means men are losing. If Blacks are gaining equality, this means Whites are losing. If you see the world as hierarchical this is the inevitable outcome of your worldview.
Thus, the most essential thing that conservatives want to conserve is the social organization, including all of its power relationships, with the white, American, Christian, (officially) straight, rich, adult, male humans on top of everyone else. If that is your worldview, of course what normal people consider progress will look like doom to you. After all, we measure progress by how big strides we have made in eliminating the old power structures that used to subdue groups of people under others.
Another way to call this is authoritarianism, in which one group asserts authority over others and does whatever it takes to keep it that way.
An important aspect of the conservative hierarchy is the authority of old over the young. The stereotype of an Old Wise Man Who Remembers The Golden Age of Yore. He who can bring that Golden Age back. The top of the hierarchy. Thus, obedience to His authority is essential for preservation of the hierarchical power structure. Thus, conservatives do not like education, they prefer “training”. They start early by training little kids, by methods bordering on abuse, to unquestioningly obey their elders.
The school should be a place to instill obedience (measure of success in rolling back progress) as well as to train for jobs that bring in the money (monetary measure of success). Thus, conservatives tend to fight against the liberal academia and hate to be told that Reality has a Liberal Bias. And most importantly, they fight against science education as it directly undermines the obedience.
See what Mr.Campbell is doing? Kids who were taught obedience know they are supposed to unquestioningly obey their elders, which includes their parents, priests and teachers. But Campbell puts them in a mental bind – they want to obey him but he is telling them things opposite from what their parents and priests are saying. Who to listen to? As a result of this exercise, they unlearn obedience. A red-flag danger for the conservatives. Their kids have been corrupted – they were, gasp, taught to think for themselves. And we all know what independent thinking brings about – progress! We can’t have that, can we?!
This is why Creationism is such an important plank in the conservative political strategy – it undermines the teaching of independent thinking. The asking of How and Why questions. All the stuff that each generation needs in order to analyze and reject their parent’s generation’s regressive worldview. Doom!

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule? By eliminating Free Market, of course

Thomas Frank, the author of the popular book What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, has a new book out – The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule – which sounds even better. He was the guest on NPR’s Fresh Air tonight (listen to the podcast – it’s worth your time) and I have to say I agree with him 100%.
Heck, I wrote about this many times before, and especially focused in this post and this one – conservatism is antithetical to Free Market.
As conservatives tend to do, they say one thing and think the opposite (you know, black is white, up is down, clean is dirty, war is peace, ignorance if power…). They say they are all for Free Market. And many people believe them. And when they get in power and screw up, everyone says they “abandoned their conservative principles”. No, they did not – they did exactly what conservatives do. Free Market is a danger for their ideology. In a free market economy, they feel insecure because it is not a hierarchical system they like. It is a system in which they can potentially lose. It is a system in which they cannot succeed because the only way they know how to get to the top is by ruthlessly stepping on others. What they like is a hierarchy, a state without government in which conservatives rule through their own corporations, a system in which they have monopoly. And that is exactly what they do when they grab the levers of power.
I’ll be buying that book tomorrow…
One thing that irked me in the interview was a moment when the interviewer (whoever was sitting in for Terry Gross) chided Frank for using “bloggers’ language” in his book. As if that is a bad thing. Eh? Using bloggers’ language is a badge of honor – that indicates that your writing is honest.
Frank responded by saying that he is influenced by the language of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. That is – the language of pamphlets. And as there was no Internet at the time, pamphleteers were the bloggers of that age. Or, bloggers are modern pamphleteers, some as good at it and clear-eyed as Thomas Paine was.

Never think that voters think – they “feeeeel”

Obligatory readings of the day:
FNB Politics
Contradictions don’t phase us, as we outgrew thinking long ago

Virginity Pledges Among the Willing, and Defining “Willing”

I briefly noted this study yesterday, but now W. D. Craft analyzes it in great detail:

I am pessimistic that the authors’ more careful conclusions and recommendations will be noticed. Instead I fear we’re in for more naive calls for “abstinence education” and coerced virginity pledges.

Will there be terrorist attacks if Obama is the President?

Obligatory Reading of the Day: The crazies and Obama:

If there is a President Obama come next Jan. 20, normal folks better brace for what the right-wing crazies have in mind. Because it’s becoming clear that they are winding themselves up now for a fresh spate of violence if Obama wins.
You can find the signs in the things they’re saying now, both on Internet forums and in the things they say when they think no one is listening.
In any event, a pattern is already developing, ranging from the Klan fellows who promise that Obama will be shot to the white supremacists who are actually rooting for him to win because they’re certain he will fail. We’re hearing a lot of language from the racist and “Patriot” right indicating that they expect a Democratic president to enact policies (particularly regarding gun control) that will inspire “civil war.” Which means they are looking for excuses to act out.
The extremist right went into remission, largely, with the election of George W. Bush; militias disbanded because their followers believed the threat of an oppressive, gun-grabbing, baby-killing “New World Order” had largely passed. They bided their time by forming Minutemen brigades. Now they can see that their “safe” era is coming to an end.
All this time, there really has been hankering for an excuse to start acting out violently, and they see any Democratic presidency as providing that excuse. But an Obama presidency in particular will do so.

Yup. There will be terrorist attacks if there is a Democratic presidents. But the perpetrators will not have dark skin.

Can’t Blaspheme Any More!

Have you been to Pandagon lately? Have you seen the brand new look, design and layout? Cool!
Which reminds me that I have read Amanda’s book, It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments, on my first 2-3 flights in Europe last month. I left it with my cousin – let’s spread the new, fun kind of feminism to the Balkans!
I have been reading Amanda Marcotte online since before she joined the crew at Pandagon and I have to say that, as a white, middle-aged, middle-class man, I learned from her blogging a lot about things I used to take for granted, things I have which many other people do not have. It is through reading Pandagon (and a couple of other feminist blogs) that I became aware of the implicit sexism of the society and, in some cases, in my own head. I have learned how to notice and recognize subtle sexism which I could not before, and how to combat it and, in the process, become a better person myself.
Amanda’s book is a delight to read. It is funny (I startled some fellow passengers on the plane when I laughed out loud a few times). It is not as “foul-mouthed” as her blog-posts sometimes are (but there are occasions when an F-word is the only appropriate response to someone’s obstinate idiocy). It covers all the bases of the current state of gender (as well as racial, ideological, religious, etc.) relationships in the USA (and it is focused on the USA by design, so no need to complain about the lack of coverage of other societies). I intend to buy several copies and give them out as presents to people I think NEED to read this. I hope it is an eye-opener to them, just as reading Pandagon was an eye-opener for me.
My only problem with the book? No “Blaspheme” button on the bottom of each page that I can click on and post a comment!
And now, with the re-design of Pandagon, oh blasphemy!, there is no “Blaspheme” button any more!
Update: Amanda is fast!!! She saw this and immediately fixed her blog – instead of the “Publish” button, you can, once again, press “Blaspheme” in order to post your comment.

Isaac Newton….

Savior or Satan?

How to talk to rightwing suckers

Some people only know the language of power. They see conciliation and compromise as weakness. Show strength. If they are sissies hiding behind machismo, slam them hard. You have nothing to lose. Some will convert and come to your side. Some will go cower in the corner. None will hang around risking your anger for very long.
Sometimes, profanity is the only appropriate language:

“On a related note, fearing that we face a whole new level of bullshit about which we will, and should, be visibly angry, and preparing myself thusly, comments and emails composed specifically to tell me to stop using bad language or to start being less aggressive, less hostile, less antagonistic, less bitchy, less arrogant, less belligerent, less vitriolic, less nasty, less acerbic, or less of a poopyhead, are as welcome as any other, but I feel obligated to inform all potential authors of such missives that they are, however, a waste of time. If I get my facts wrong, let me know. If you don’t like my tone, tough. At this bus stop in the blogosphere, I’m Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain, and I’m mean for a reason. Once we get our country back on the right track, there will plenty of time for nursery rhymes.”

Having basic courage and decency is not manly enough, eh?

Why are Republicans (and their voters) so insecure about their masculinity? What are they covering up with their aggression and machismo? Why everything they say and do in an election boils down to some mythical and barbaric notion of manliness:
War cheerleaders ask: ‘Is Obama man enough to be president?’
Thus, everyone who opposes them is always tagged as a ‘sissy’, although it is them who are fearful cowards. If you criticize cowards you are shrill and effeminate and hysterical like a woman, is that how it works?
The religion of balance and centrism
How much you want to bet that these people all vote Republican?

The so-called Facebook Scandal

[rant]So, if you organize a study-group online instead of in meat-space, the old fogies who still remember dinosaurs go all berserk. A student is threatened by expulsion for organizing a Facebook group for studying chemistry. Moreover, as each student got different questions, nobody did the work for others, they only exchanged tips and strategies. See the responses:
The Star:

Yet students argue Facebook groups are simply the new study hall for the wired generation.

Yes, they are.

How much of this is a matter of administrative fear of the internet?


Today, that sense of “honor” seems horribly old-fashioned. To most students it will not seem like cheating if they ask their friends for help with the assignments and share information. That’s what happened on the Facebook study group.

Old-fashioned is too nice a term. It is outdated and anachronistic.
Post-Diluvian Diaspora:

Honestly, do you not see the difference between studying together and exchanging answers on a graded assignment?

The problem is in a stupid professor who thinks in terms of “graded assignments” in the 21st century.
This all stems from the old German universities of a couple of centuries ago, where getting a degree was essentially a hazing process. Toughening the individual. For what? For replicating and preserving the hierarchy, both within the academia and in society as a whole. The educational systems around the world, at all levels, are still based on such outrageous ideas.
No individual can know everything needed knowing. No individual can make the necessary societal changes on one’s own. So why teach them as if it is all up to an individual? Both learning and social change are communal processes. What we need to be teaching is how to be a member of a community, how to network, how to contribute, how to share, how to pull together in order to increase the global knowledge and, by using this knowledge, to increase the global welfare.
Science is supposed to be a collaborative activity. Why is it organized (and taught) as if it was a competitive activity? How does that affect science? Negatively, by increasing secretiveness and sometimes outright fraud.
The Web is changing all this. The teenagers already grok that the old selfish notions of intellectual property are going by the way of the dodo. They naturally think in terms of networks, not individuals. And thinking in term of newtorks as opposed to a linear, hierarchical, individualistic focus, is necessary for speeding up the advancement of knowledge and societal good.
In other words, it is not important what each individual knows or does, it is important what the interactions between individuals can do, and how the group or community (or global community) learns and acts upon the knowledge.
Thus, education, especially science education, from Kindergarden through post-doc and beyond, should be organized around collaborations, teaching people and letting them practice the networking skills and collaborative learning and action. Individuals will make mistakes and get punished by the group (sometimes as harshly as excommunication). They will learn from that experience and become more collaborative next time. The biggest sin would be selfish non-sharing of information.
If I could, I would not give individual students grades on their individual performance at all. I would give a common grade for the entire class. Each individual will then get that same grade. If the last semester’s cohort got an A, do you think that this semester’s group would settle for anything less? And how do they get an A? By pooling their resources, sharing all the information, closely collaborating on all assigned projects, and coaxing/teaching/punishing individuals who are not pulling their weight. Neither the reward nor the punishment would be meted out by some outside self-appointed ‘authority’, but by peers – the people who matter the most.
Then, they would take this approach to the Real World, where such things really matter, where sucess is that of a community, not that of any individual.
So, if you do not get this, if you are not mentally ready for the 21st century, if you still harbor the outdated competition-based, individualistic mindset, you should not be in the teaching business. Quit today. Save yourself the embarassment of being laughed at by your students. Save your students from having to deal with an authoritarian. Save the society from promulgating the counter-productive, anti-social methods of knowledge-acquisition and knowledge-use.[/rant]

Obligatory Readings of the Day

A guide to hiring women.
Obsolete technical skills (I have them all except #11!)
The social source of religion.
Charles Barkley for President!

Political Polarization in the US and how to diffuse it

Opposite of what Obama is trying to sell as a recipe, as Paul Rosenberg explains eloquently and logically, with data and graphs.

How conservatives became (publicly) anti-science

Archy explains.

Golden Compass – it’s about sex, really

This weekend, with 70 degrees F in Chapel Hill, it would have bin a sin to remain indoors. So I didn’t. But in the end, at twilight today, my daughter and I went to see Golden Compass, the movie whose first-weekend box-office earnings I wanted to boost.
I made sure not to read any reviews of the movie beforehand. I am, unlike most people who already wrote about it, one of those people who has never read the Pullman books on which the movie is based. Thus, like the majority of the target audience, I was a Pullman “virgin” and I wanted to watch it just like anyone else going out to see a movie on a weekend, with no big expectations.
Of course, there was no escaping knowing at least something about it. Before seeing the movie, I knew that:
– the books are supposed to have a strongly anti-religious sentiment, growing stronger as the story moves to the third book. But, I have no idea if the anti-religious sentiment is against the religion in the sense of belief in the supernatural, or the mythology, or the ceremony, or the community-building aspects (“us versus them”), or the top-down hierarchical structure of the religious organization.
– Pullman is a first-generation (“born-again”) atheist. This gives him a different view of religion than someone like me who was born and raised an atheist, in an atheist family, in an atheist country. His childhood religion colors him as a person, and his adult rebellion against religion also colors him as a person. He knows how it feels to be religious. I don’t. For me, religious people are curiousities, perhaps interesting as potential subjects to study: how is it possible for a human being to believe obvious untruths and how does such belief result in particular anti-social behaviors? It is like starting one’s research career by studying cockroach behavior because you want to eradicate the pest, but after decades of study you realize that you quickly forgot the fact they are pests and got fascinated by their brains, how they work and how they lead to particular cockroach behaviors. Having Gregor Samsa join your research group would be fascinating as he would bring new angles, yet also would bring biases that a merely human researcher cannot have.
– there was a controversy before the movie came out. Atheist groups protested the watering-down of the anti-religious sentiment compared to the books. The most extremely anal political organizations that like to voice their opinions publicly as if they speak for religion, voiced their disapproval of the movie and called for boycotts.
So, that’s all I knew. We got popcorn and sodas and went in.
And then, I loved the movie. It was fast-moving, it was fun, it has great acting, great characters, great scenery, great special effects and a fun story. My daughter loved it as well. We both now want to read the books (we have all three, sitting on the shelf right next to the Harry Potter series, still unread by anyone in the household, but that is soon to change).
Of course, the story is a typical fantasy story – it has all the elements such a story has to have. There is the main protagonist who is an unlikely hero, too young and inexperienced for the job, yet nobody else can do. Events thrust the protagonist into the role of the hero. This involves a journey. An older, wiser character serves as a teacher. There is a funny, yet also wise sidekick. The enemy is a jealous authoritarian (surrounded by a slimy posse of thugs) who wants to rule the world. An object is lost and needs to be retrieved. The hero finds help and shelter from a group at the edge of society that cherishes freedom. The journey is perilous, and each dangerous event on the road teaches the hero something new and adds crust and courage to the character (i.e., the character is built). Unexpected family ties are discovered (“I Am Your Father, Luke!”). The crescendo of events leads to the final battle between Good and Evil in which Good triumphs and the hero, irreversibly changed, rides off into the sunset.
So yes, all the archetypes are in the movie. And so they are in every adventure, fantasy, coming-of-age story in history. From Illiad to Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice in Wonderland to James Bond. From 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 to Brave New World. From Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings to Star Wars and Harry Potter. And so they are in the Golden Compass as well. Does it make the movie bad? Of course not – there is a reason why those elements are always in the story – they work! They appeal to something in all of us, make us identify with the hero and makes the adventure exciting!
So, what is special about Golden Compass? It’s sex. Everything in the movie has an interesting sexual or gender connotation. The hero is a heroine – a smart and brave girl. And, although there are many, many characters in the movie, very few are female. The society is entirely patriarchal. Thus, it is not just the age and the spunk, but also the gender of the heroine that rubs many other characters wrong (on both sides of the Good/Evil divide).
The place-time looks Victorian – I actually recognized the scenes filmed at Queens College and the Radcliffe Square in Oxford. And the society is Victorian as well. The school where Lyra goes to employs only men. The students, apart from her, are all men. White men. The only other female character at the college is the maid.
The Gyptians, while Billie’s mother appears to be a prominent member of the group, are still led by a group of old bearded men – she does not sit at their table when they make decisions.
With the polar bears it is hard to tell who is male or female, but there is no question that the King has to be male.
And of course, the Magisterium is led by a bunch of ugly, old, nasty, white guys who are the prime target audience for the Viagra commercials, if they only had anyone to use the blue pill with. Their sexual frustration, combined with the fear of death, turns them into power-hungry control freaks. If they can’t get it, nobody will! Thus, nobody, especially children, shall even know about sex, …er, Dust. Familiar?
In this world, every person has a daemon. Daemon is an animal and it is the place where the person’s soul resides. It is also a representation of the person’s sexuality. In kids, deamons are innocent and cute and change shape and form (aka species) all the time. At puberty, the species gets fixed. The soldiers have wolves. The farmers’ souls are horses. The servants’ daemons are dogs – higher in hierarchy, bigger the dogs, with the top servants walking around with Great Danes. And what are the daemons of the top leaders of the Magisterium? All are Great Cats. Now, why do you think these middle-aged guys are walking around with black panthers and snow leopards? Of course, for the same reason that their modern counterparts drive Jaguars to the grocery store.
And the very top dog, the leader of the cult? His daemon is a snake. Yes, really – a snake. The guy is constantly holding and playing with his python!
The king of the bears, the guy who likes to play with the dolls, is stupid enough to fall for the trick because the sweet-talking was delivered by a pretty girl who knows how to stroke his masculine insecurity.
The other bear, the good guy, also has some issues – he is a loner, a drunk, and a warrior. And as macho as can be. “Are you sure you want to ride me?” he asks, not being able to believe his good luck!
The other major female character, the ice-cold Mrs. Coulter – the brilliant stroke of lucky coincidence in naming, useful at pointing out to the dense what her role in the society is – is between the rock and a hard place. While the leaders of the Magisterium, all men, can sit around with stern faces, fluffing each others’ self-importance, Mrs. Coulter, being a woman, is supposed to actually do the work. She is doing the cleaning of the house. Being a woman, she is judged by her performance. Being a woman, she is dispensable if she screws up or becomes too uppity for their taste. They lust after her, and they hate her because they cannot have her. So, they own her and play with her destiny. And she, an independent spirit when younger, decided to play within the system, by their rules, choosing to have some power and temporary safety within their hierarchy in return for obedience. And she does it with a vengeance. If they are nasty, she has to be ten times as nasty just to be tolerated in their society.
Her project, an experimental splitting between kids and daemons, is a form of castration. Which she does with gusto. Except in one instance when her own offspring is to be rendered infertile. Her genetic immortality is more important to her than anything else in that moment of weakness.
So, is this movie anti-religious? Yes and no. It is primarily anti-authoritarian, so, as much as all organized religion is authoritarian, it is anti-religion. I do not know how the books are, but the movie does not mention God or even mention even a little bit of their beliefs and theology. We do not see anything from their sacred texts, do not hear the liturgy or see the ceremony. All we see is the social organization of the Magisterium which is decidedly authoritarian and bigoted, and on the other side, the Good side, the people are free-thinking and all-inclusive. The wiches, the bears, the Gyptians (who look like sea-faring Gypsies, the most despised and oppressed and simultaneously most romanticized nation in the world – for their love of freedom), the funny guy with a Texas accent – they never eye each other with suspicion for a split-second. Tolerance is in their blood.
But an authoritarian, hierarchical organization need not be limited to religious organizations. Political organizations, and others, can also be organized in the same way, motivated by greed, fear and sexual repression. Just because the leaders of the Magisterium wear funny robes, does not mean that the movie attacks priesthood in just religious organizations. Other, secular organizations also have their priests and uniforms. And of course the leaders of such organizations will want to headquarter their operations in as big and phallic buildings as possible, thus the cathedrals shapes in the movie. Again, the brilliant coincidence of the name of the second major female character….
And just because the audience is expected to want a “big one” as well, this little questionnaire produces, in about 90% of the trials, a Big Cat:

Pledge of Allegiance

If anyone shows this to my son, he’ll lead a revolution. Like those wonderful, patriotic, thinking students at Boulder High School, who penned their own, most excellent version of the Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag and my constitutional rights with which it comes. And to the diversity, in which our nation stands, one nation, part of one planet, with liberty, freedom, choice and justice for all.

Kudos to them! Watch the movie:

Femiphobia again

Or just cowardly?
Favourite put-down topic: Hair.
Do a search on “femiphobia”….

Conservatives, Animals and Cruelty

What Archy says…

Update on psychology of Creationism

Two ancient posts of mine, Why Creationists Need To Be Creationists and Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology are getting heavy traffic right now from Stumbleupon and Reddit. I posted a comment there trying to get people to come and see the much more recent update: More than just Resistance to Science, from which I’d like to promote a recent comment by Tree:

Thank you for drawing attention to the importance of understanding Phatic Language. While I was raised in a very formal family and as a youngster had an intuitive grasp that the purpose of protocol and etiquette is to establish hierarchy (and safety within that hierarchy), it never occurred to me that transmitting information would be mistaken for attempting to establish hierarchy. This explains to me the rage that some people demonstrate when someone with a perceived lower social rank uses technical language. For example, traditional males seem to Freak Out whenever they hear a female expressing herself in technical language. Well yeah, if they equate technical expertise with social dominance, they’re going to rush to defend their social status, no matter how politely the female expresses herself.
Perhaps the same people who mistake technical language as an expression of social dominance also mistake uncertainty as an expression of social submission. I think we should consider that if our technical expertise makes us threatening, no matter how carefully we state our case, and we’re too careful stating our case, we’ll be considered submissive, that we should take our authority as given, take our dominance as granted and act as the responsible social leaders that the rest of the herd expects. My intuition is that if we act as authorities, we will attain the authority required to formulate reality-based policy.