“Slightly soiled, but but very much alive.”

I was reading along happily in the science section of the New York Times when I came across this paragraph (below) and especially the clause, “slightly soiled, but very much alive.”

Seems harmless, doesn’t it? Except that I had just been reading Ross Douthat’s columns about the beginnings of real Republican resistance to the Trump presidency. These Republicans apparently want the Republican party to survive the experience of having been swallowed and return to being a voice for the conservative notion of sanity and prudence.

And I’ve also been reading about a number of Jesus’ parables, some of which appear toBug 1 have been allegorized on the spot, especially by Mark and Matthew. You hear a suggestive phrase and it blossoms almost immediately into an allegory where each part of the story represents some identifiable part of the real world.

So put those three backgrounds together and if you think about it for a very short time, you might guess what is about to happen. Here is the whole paragraph by Times Science writer Katherine J. Wu.

…Usually, that’s it.“Not today.” After getting swallowed by a frog, this plucky little insect can scuttle down the amphibian’s gut and force it to poop — emerging slightly soiled, but very much alive.

So in this little allegory, which assembled itself without any intention on my part, the frog is Donald Trump. Trump has swallowed the Republican party and usually, “that’s it.” The “plucky little insect,” (the Republican party) however, has found a way to make it quickly to the launch pad and force the frog—the scientist studying this speculates that the insect tickles the sphincter—to poop him out safe and sound. “Slightly soiled,” as Ms. Wu says, but “very much alive.”

A much more useful allegory would suggest just what the bug does to achieve this effect. The gastric juices of the frog are potent and whatever the bug does needs to be done quickly. There are two things that needs to be done. The first is to navigate to the other end of the frog. This requires some use of the bug’s legs, so it is apparently something like “swimming.” The other is to irritate—you only call it “tickling” if you are in the mood for it—the sphincter so it loosens up and allows…um…egress.

Lining this crude little allegory up with the present world, we can see problems right away. First of all, the bug (the party) needs to want to swim and needs to know where to swim. It seems unlikely to me that there is a visible exit sign to help them. And “swimming” is not just a flailing about of the legs. It is the purposeful coordination of the legs so as to cause propulsion.

Nothing I have heard from the Republicans for awhile suggests that kind of coordination.

The second trick is to irritate (tickle) the sphincter. This isn’t like jumping out the end of a sewer pipe. There is an active closure mechanism—something like a locked door—that needs to be solved. I hope it doesn’t require tickling. The Trump administration hasn’t been tickled by much since the inauguration. My hope is that the scientists will eventually broaden “tickle” to “irritate,” which is a great deal easier if Donald Trump is the frog.

That really concludes the allegory, but parties are in this respect unlike these marvelous bugs. When they “emerge soiled” they really need to do something about it before the next election. I have heard people say they will hold their noses and vote Republican, but this is an extreme provocation and one wonders just how long these noses can be held.

No, I think the party needs to come to some understanding of just how it got that soiled; how to prevent it in the future; and how to get cleaned up right now.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Retreat, Hell…

In 1952, a movie about the Korean War was released with the riveting name, Retreat, Virus vicious 1Hell! Or, more properly, “Retreat? Hell…” The rest of the line in “We’re just attacking in another direction.”

For a military force that is entirely surrounded, the distinction between “attacking” and “defending” is largely a matter of attitude, but in war, it is probably a very useful attitude.  It seems that President Trump feels that he is at war.

Here is a paragraph from Heather Cox Richardson’s blog, “Letters from an American” on August 3.

Yesterday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the advisor to the White House on the coronavirus pandemic, warned we are entering a “new phase” of the disease as it is “extraordinarily widespread.” Today, Trump accused Birx of crumbling under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s criticism of her usually upbeat presentations about the crisis. “So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”

Dr. Birx begins by noting what everyone who has been paying attention already knows. In the U. S., the pandemic is bad and getting worse. Her boss, unfortunately, does not fall into the category of those who are paying attention.

I have just one small point to make today and then I think I will feel better. The point is that Dr. Birx is talking about an event in the world that causes her concern. President Trump is talking, with a single exception, about only conflict and enemies and his weapon is only disparagement.

And the stable genius of the President’s tactic is that his allegations are so offensive and so mistaken that it is very tempting to turn our attention to them. Saying that he is right about, say, Nancy Pelosi, and saying that he is wrong about her or even that he shouldn’t be using language like that about the Speaker of the House, all play the game the President has offered. None of them are about the virus.

Here is what the President said.

Dr. Birx is “crumbling under criticism.” It is hard to say anything good about “crumbling under criticism.” Dr. Birx should have stayed strong under criticism, I guess, by refusing to acknowledge what the rest of the world knows to be true.

virus vicious 2Dr. Birx was criticized by Crazy Nancy Pelosi.” Speaker Pelosi is one of the least crazy people on the American political scene. She is inconvenient at times and she is quite forceful. She would be crazy not to be.

The basis of Speaker Pelosi’s criticism is, according to the President, that Dr.Birx “was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics.”

The China Virus? Really? “Very good job?” Really?

And Dr. Birx’ final collapse: “In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”

“Taking the bait” here must refer to Dr. Birx’ acknowledgement of the mortality numbers of the virus in the U. S. It must mean that she did not refute them. But the President’s criticism has nothing to do with the virus or the deaths. It has to do with whether “Deborah” fell for the trick “Nancy” was playing on her.

All this works with some people, I guess. Imagine how angry and alienated you would have to be to read a paragraph like that and feel that something true and important had been said.

Posted in Political Psychology, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Parables: The Power of What Is Not There

If the irony weren’t too heavy, I would  say that I love reading the work of scholars because it gives me a chance to ask really simpleminded questions. I think of “scholarship” as digging ever more deeply into the technical infrastructure.

I can do a little of that when the occasion demands, but for me, the payoff comes when a whole new view of the world appears once you have worked through the scholarship.

For instance, what parables did Jesus hear as he was growing up?

Think about it. My study of parables has always begun with the parables Jesus told. So far as my experience is concerned—and experience is all I have to go on because I had never thought about it—the first parable the world has ever heard is recorded in Mark, Chapter 4.[1]

Now you do a bunch of study, some of which has to do with the use of parables in the Second Temple Period, and you realize all of a sudden that Jesus grew up hearing parables. And then, right after you get over that embarrassment, the fun starts. All these things that you had presupposed without any real thought, come tumbling down like as papier mâché fort under siege.

Parables take the existing culture for granted. That is what enables them to meet all the cultural expectations…until the final moment when those expectations are discarded or defied. We look, as we should, at the unexpected changes, but let’s take just a moment to look at an example of what is expected.

This is Jimmy Smits playing the part of Matt Santos on The West Wing. Rep. Santos is addressing the Democratic National Convention. He has been told to withdraw from the race for the good of the party. A speech has been written for him doing exactly that.

If you know what you are looking at—my apologies for the poor quality of the.Teleprompter.jpegpicture—you know he is not going to do what he was asked to do. How do you know that? Because there is nothing on the teleprompter. What’s a teleprompter? Well…do you see how Santos’ face is (nearly) framed by a window. It is extremely significant that there is nothing on the window. To understand how important that is, you need to know what is supposed to be on the window. Santos’ speech withdrawing from the race is supposed to be there.

But if you don’t know that, how will you know that it is important that he is shown through a window with no writing on it?

That’s what parables are like. If you don’t know what was supposed to be there, you don’t understand how significant it is that nothing was there at all. Any modern person who had become accustomed to teleprompters will see right away what is not there. That’s true about biblical parables, too. Only you have to know what was supposed to be there.

The key to Ken Bailey’s analysis of the story that is ordinarily called “the prodigal son,” requires a missing line. [3] Bailey shows that the second half of the story is organized in what Bailey calls “inverted parallelism.” That means that the major elements of the story proceed in a very orderly way (A, B, C, D) and then recede in an inverted order (D’, C’, B’ A’). This is as clear to a teller of parables as the glass on Matt Santos’ teleprompter is to a Santos supporter who knows there is supposed to be a speech on it.

The powerful part of the Santos picture is that what everyone knows should be on the teleprompter is not there. The powerful thing about the inverted order of the parable is that A’ is not there. Everyone knows it ought to be there. Everyone expects it. And it is not there. And as with Santos, the meaning of the parable is that A’ is not there. It is not included in any document of Luke ever found and Bailey argues that it is not supposed to be there. The meaning of the parable is that it is not there.

parable 1You see, Jesus adapted the parables he told based on the conventions of parable-telling. He devised these conventions by listening to parables his whole childhood and early adulthood. He liked some and didn’t like others. He saw possibilities in some that others had not seen or had not used. He didn’t start off in Mark 4 by explaining what a parable was; he began by using an established form—a popular, rather than a scholarly form—to preach to the crowds.[3]

I have not emerged yet from this second round of complexity and perhaps I never will. I’m not really worried about it. I like the complexity. But always, as I work on complicated questions, I remember the possibility that I might emerge suddenly with a new and blindingly simple perspective. After all, I tell myself, it has happened before.

[1] Or Mark 2 if you think the analogy of the wine and the wineskins is a “parable.”
[2] This reflects the commonly held notion of the “three stages” of gospel development. The first is the actions and words of Jesus as witnessed by by-standers; the second is the development of those experiences and their adaptation to the various settings where the preachers offered them; the third is the stage of the written gospels. They are what we have to work with directly.
[3] Kenneth D. Bailey, Poet and Peasant

Posted in Biblical Studies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Virtue Signaling

I am sorry to be coming so late to the party. “Virtue signaling” is a term I heard for the first time today. I know. I ought to get out more.

It seems to me that “virtue signaling” is an accusation one person might make against another. The accusation is that you are signaling that you possess some virtue; you are signaling it, but not doing it. Or, more seductively, you are signaling it rather than doing it.

“Seductive,” (above) which I treat as a genuinely heavyweight word, introduces the idea that its use leads you astray [1] and as a result of this change, you begin to attend to the motives of the person rather than to the effect of the action.  Here is an example.

So A hammers a “Black Lives Matter” sign into the front yard. B stops by and says, “Oh, I see that you are claiming to have the virtue of anti-racism.” virtue 1A says, in other words, “We need to do something about the callous treatment of black protesters.” B says, “Let’s talk about why you want place before the neighborhood the claim that you are a virtuous person.” A says, “Let’s talk about a public crisis.” B says, “No, let’s talk about a private motive.”

And there goes the statement A was hoping to make and all the actions that might have followed the statement. So we might consider what B gets out of the exchange. If B is a racist—or if he is just sick of race being considered as the only relevant political category—B gets the satisfaction of blunting the effect of the sign. Having successfully changed the subject from whether black lives actually matter to whether A is spuriously claiming a virtue he has no right to claim, he can conclude the exchange with satisfaction.

If B is sick and tired of A’s posturing, the satisfaction he takes might be even more direct. A is making yet another claim to virtue! Does he really never get tired of pretending that he is more virtuous than the rest of us? But this time, in using a public claim as his virtue, he had opened himself up for rebuke and that’s why I am here.

Those are not merely two examples of B’s retaliation, they are two categories of B’s retaliation. This may be an interpersonal squabble that has nothing to do with the public issue or it may be principally a public issue and changing it into a personal claim reduces the effect it might have had on the issue itself.

Actually, when the question of drawing attention to your own virtues came to my attention, the language that emerged first was from the Sermon on the Mount. It was, “When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites [play actors] do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know they are fasting.” They are virtue signaling, in short. [2]

Jesus offered an oddly configured alternative. He said that if you were in the market for moral credit, you could look for it from your peers or from God. It is, however, one or the other. If you are fasting—this is a religious duty, not weight control—for the purpose of getting everyone to notice how holy you are, then that is the reward you will get. If you are fasting as a way of coming close to God and if you take measures to conceal from your peers that you are doing that, then God will reward you. But it’s one or the other.

That seems clear to me, probably because I have never lived in a society where fasting as a religious duty was practiced. I find more practical examples more confusing.  Who would have thought it?

virtue 3I have lived in a society where other things were prized, however. Take purity in purchasing foods, for instance. You could be “righteous” for purchasing only virtuous goods. [3] You could be righteous by purchasing virtuous goods from virtuous stores. You could be righteous by investigating the conditions under which the food was produced and by buying only foods produced without the exploitation of workers. You could be righteous by buying food only from companies who use their profits in ways you approve.

Have you begun to roll your eyes yet? I have heard every one of these defended as what you should do if you really care about how you get your food. I have heard every one defended on the grounds that not doing that particular one amounted to being complicit in whatever evil was being contemplated.

In other words, virtue signaling doesn’t have to be about race. It can be about religious practices, as the example of fasting makes clear, or about food consumption, as the example of consumer politics makes clear.

The hard thing about virtue signaling is that it is a part of human communications. That means that “virtue” can be proclaimed by A or can be attributed by B. A may have an intention or an intention may be attributed to A by B. That’s how human communication works.

Take John Hancock for instance. In the movie, 1776, Hancock as the presiding officer of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. Further conversation ensues and Hancock is forced to remind the other delegates that if they were discovered right then by the British solders, Hancock’s name was the only one on the document. This was received in the movie with widespread laughter.

In Stan Freberg’s treatment, on the other hand, the Declaration of Independence is a “petition” that Jefferson is “circulating around the neighborhood” and he is asking a very snarky Ben Franklin if he would like to sign it. Franklin says he would like to read it first, and when he unrolls it, he sees Hancock’s signature. “Look at that show-off Hancock” he explodes. And then, more reflectively, “Pretty flamboyant signature for an insurance man.” [4]

These two instances illustrate what this aspect of human communication is like and why “virtue signaling” will always be an issue. Hancock is putting “his life, his property, and his sacred honor” at risk, as are all the signatories. It is an act of daring and, from the American perspective several centuries later, of virtue. Franklin’s complaint—based in the culture of the 1950s—is that Hancock is showing off. Hancock is virtue signaling. That is the motive attributed to him by Freberg’s Franklin. Moral oneupsmanship is being attributed to Hancock by Franklin.

Hancock intends; Franklin attributes. It’s human communication. And, as Lord Alexander Chung-sik Finkle-McGraw says, “People are naturally censorious.” [5]
So there us nothing you can do to absolutely prevent someone from attributing “virtue signaling” as your real private motive..You can make it less likely, of course, by a) not having any enemies, b) not being generally known as someone who dearly loves his virtues, or c) making it a practice to pursue your goals in the company of like-minded others.

Or maybe just not caring.

[1] The root is ducere, to lead. It has nothing at all to do with sexuality, the common usage notwithstanding. You can be drawn away (se-) from any path you ought to be traveling.
[2] In more academic settings there is the question of what is a signal and what is a sign. I would love to get into that another time and if I do, I will cite Jesus’ admonition that his disciples should “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” I felt the need here to resort to the King James Version
[3] You get to choose the virtue: low sugar, low salt, low carbs, organically grown, eggs from free range hens, etc.
[4] One of the many Freberg jokes that mixes together the 1950s and the 1770s. Freberg is playing on the idea that more people will know John Hancock Insurance than John Hancock.
[5] One of my favorite comments from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. I have cited this so often that I can put this character’s name in confidently without looking it up.

Posted in Communication, Living My Life, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

That government is best…

It’s always the dots that get you, isn’t it? What was there, you wonder? That’s where we are going. Please be patient.

You have often heard the half-maxim [1] “That government is best that governs least.” I have seen it attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Thoreau. Apart from considerations of what you might want the government to do, of course, it is ridiculous to say how much of it you want. In the contemporary ideological wars, it is usually enough to say “Less.” That’s how much government I want, one says: I want less.

I would like to consider this half-maxim from several beginning points today. Some are political, but most are not. I want to start our consideration of the best ways to use this word by considering the word itself and possibly a little bit about what it means to say that a word can be used in these ways but not those ways.

Let’s start off with the politics. Sometime during the time I was teaching politics ofleast 5 various kinds at Portland State University, there arose an interest in putting a limit on the number of terms a legislator could serve. [2] “Why do you want to do that?” I would ask the students who were advocating it. Well, they said, we want to reduce the power they wield in the legislature. Really, I said, and who do you want to have that power instead of them? Ordinarily, that caused a brief pause in the conversation.

Here’s what I had in mind. 100% of the available power in a legislative setting will be exercised. You don’t put it in the bank for the next session. That raises the question, who will get more power as the representatives get less? The caucus leaders, certainly. The best-funded lobbyists. The legislative staff, e.g. the Legislative Counsel’s Office. Statewide elected officials, like the Attorney General and the Secretary of State will exercise more power. Usually, it was the prospect that legislative aides and lobbyists would be empowered that caused my students’ early enthusiasm to begin to wane.

But the real issue is the confusion of governance with government. Every system is governed. Governance is a function; “government” is better thought of as a means. It would better be thought of as a synonym. “The governance (government) of the system is decentralized” for instance.

It is easy to see that “government” can be treated as a name for all the guidance functions a system uses. That fits very well with the etymology, especially when we stop to consider that government and cybernetics derive from the same root. It is the Greek (later Latin) kybernatos, meaning “pilot” in the nautical sense. The pilot (governance function) steers the ship (social unit) where it ought to go requiring no more resources than are available. What cybernetics has in common with government (considered as a function) is the feedback loop [3]This is the problem my students stumbled on. There is always going to be “government” in the legislative setting. It will always add to 100%. You can divide the sources of government so that these have more influence and those less, but you cannot simply reduce the power of one group. It’s like taking a handful of water out of a lake.

This is not to say that every kind of governance is as good or bad as every other kind. We may well have preferences for one kind. Imagine, starting at the individual units, a person who is self-governed and requires no social guidance at all. Now imagine that she has flaws in her governance system and the social system needs to step in from time to time to “guide” her actions. So far so good. But imagine now that the society has inadequate resources to deal with her behavioral aberrations, and the formal structural power—often called “government” where that word is thought of as a means of governance, not as synonymous with it—is called in to add resources.

least 3People who think of “government” as office holders and regulations and votes will say that there was no government in the first two settings and that it was introduced in the third. But if you think of government as a function, there is as much government in the first two scenarios as there is in the third. All the government is self-government in the first. All the government is self-government and where that fails, social government, in the second. All the government is self-government in the third, except where that fails and social government is brought in, and also except for where social government also fails and structures wielding formal coercive power are brought in.

Think of it this way. If self-government is represented by A, then in the first scenario A = 100%. If societal government is represented by B, then in the second scenario A + B = 100%. If political government is represented by C, then in the third scenario, then A + B + C = 100%. If we understand it this way, then asking for “less government” (governance) is just silly.

Let me illustrate with a scene from George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides. Nearly everyone in the world dies in the first few pages. “Ordinary society” doesn’t outlive the first generation in the small societies that remain. Government is by consensus. But then into one of these societies, a bad person comes. He chooses a mentally deficient girl as his prey and proposes to marry and have mentally deficient children by her. The elders come by and explain how bad that would be and forbid him to do it.

This bad person has broken the contract of self government. A is gone. The visit of the elders, explaining to him that he ought not to do what he is planning also fails. A and B are now both gone. So the village elders constitute themselves as a government. They agree—I think there might even be a vote—that they are the legitimate government of this little group. They formally accuse the bad person, they try him and find him guilty, and they pronounce his sentence and hang him. A + B + C. This is not murder. They consider murdering him, but they don’t want to introduce lawlessness, so they make laws and, according to those laws, “execute” him.

If you consider “government as a function,” the amount of governing being done or being expected is 100% at each round. It’s all self government, then it adds social government and finally adds political government.

Let’s go back now to the quotation with which we began and fill in the ellipsis. “That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves.” If we can refer back to the A + B + C model, we can see this sentiment an advocacy of individual self-management and the “least government” is the kind called in least often to deal with disagreements. This raises some obvious questions. Here are two.

  • What would an advocate of this “least government” say about what to do when people do not, in fact, discipline themselves?
  • What would an advocate of this “least government” say about functions of government other than maintaining order, say, the funding of internal economic improvements, such as railroads and canal systems?

I myself would prefer a great deal of government in some ways. It will be required, certainly, if any headway is to be made in reducing global warming. Social sentiments against the activities that promote global warming have been very slow to develop and have very little effect against the corporations that produce those effects. If A + B + C is the model, this crucial achievement is going to be all C.

In the U. S., the national government commonly funds projects so long as they cost more to develop and operate than they make. When they have a hope of profit, the government turns them over to private companies. Transportation to and from the International Space Station is an example. The development and distribution of solar power is just about to become an example. In the performance of crucial tasks that only governments can do, I would prefer to have “a lot of government,” i,.e. enough to do the jobs I want to see done. It is easier, from this perspective to see why I took the trouble to point out that it was ridiculous to say the we have too much or not enough without bothering to say what we want to use it for.

So far as the use of government to settle disputes, I feel more the way Thoreau (or Lincoln, or Jefferson) did. I feel the same way about the officiating of NFL games. I want the refs to be competent and well-paid, but a game in which only a few plays were stopped by penalties would be a better game. In society, the more self-discipline each person has, the less often social and political muscle is going to have to be brought in.

least 4In societies that emphasize the power of social institutions, the power of social norms to clarify conflicts and in many cases, to resolve them, is much prized. In the U.S., we have allowed such institutions to wither. [4] In the symbolic representation I used earlier, that removes B from the A + B + C palette, so conflicts in A move rapidly to C. Individual disputes, are more and more mediated by political agencies, in other words, which are often not well-equipped to deal with them. If I saw a lot of that, I might very well argue that “that government is best that governs least,” meaning that I want less regulation of interpersonal behavior. But if I were to say that very often, it would bring me to lamenting, instead, the lack of self discipline or the atrophy of mediating institutions that requires that much government. Arguing against the constraints of government in this situation is like arguing against the constraints of a tourniquet. It brings you to wondering what the tourniquet if for.

That tourniquet is best that constrains least? No, that just doesn’t have what I was looking for.

1] Would that make it a “minim?”
[2] Peter Courtney, who was a young member of the House of Representatives in Salem when I sat on the House floor as a Legislative Assistant in 1983 is still there; as President, now, of the Oregon Senate.
[3] Wikipedia: “Cybernetics is applicable when a system being analyzed incorporates a closed signaling loop—originally referred to as a “circular causal” relationship—that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in the system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change”
[4] In his Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam lamented the demise of those informal institutions that produced what he called “social capital” and on which we all drew.

 

Posted in Political Psychology, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Turn the Other Cheek

The controversies over this text abound, very likely because following out the literal meaning is quite often inconvenient.  But there are worse things than inconvenience to say about the literal compliance with such a text.  We might say, for instance, that under some circumstances, turning the other cheek might elicit violence where otherwise none might have occurred at all. 

I too would like to say something bad about turning the other cheek [1] but I would like to say a bad thing I have not heard anyone say before.  Turning the other cheek might be a valuable opportunity lost.  This is why.

All of the cited examples continue to be defined by the same dimension as the offense.  Example 1 has to do with cheek-slapping; [2] example 2 with a successful suit at law;  example 3 with military levies of labor; example 4 with with ownership and the control that goes with what is owned.  These all have to do with more or less of the offensive behavior—slapping, suing, conscripting, borrowing.

But what is there were an opportunity to change the whole exchange into a different category?  Could that be considered “turning the other cheek” or possibly as better than turning the other cheek?  I have, as Tom Lehrer says in introducing a march he wrote called “Smut,” “a modest example here.”  

Remember the Titans

I’m thinking of a transaction in the movie Remember the Titans.  This is a subtle and powerful exchange between Julius (Wood Harris), the best black player on a recently integrated football team, and Gerry (Ryan Hurst), the captain of the team and arguably the best white player.

Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) has required the black and white members of the team to get to know each other and he is holding three a day practices until they do.  In Pennsylvania.  In the summer.

The argument between Julius and Gerry goes back and forth in racial terms.  If, at that point, the norm of turning the other cheek had been introduced, no progress would have been made at all.  But Julius turns the question so that it raises to Gerry’s official role as team leader.  If he is really the team leader, why doesn’t he do something about a major flaw in the team’s performance; why doesn’t he require the white linesmen to block for the black ballcarrier?

The effect Julius gets might have been demanded as a matter of racial justice.  That case would go that people like you (white players) are cheating players like me (black players) because of your racial bigotry and you need to stop.  That wouldn’t have worked at all and that is not, in fact, what Julius did.  Julius took this damnable racist action and put it into another context.  The old context was a zero sum struggle: whatever black players gain, white players lose.  The new context is in a positive sum, a win/win, context.

The new context does not require Julius to give up his grievance.  It is a fact they both Cheek 2recognize that the white linemen are dogging it on the plays where a black man is carrying the ball.  What Julius does is to relocate that grievance so that it is part of the job of his superior, the captain of the team.  And what Gerry does is to accept the challenge not as a white player but as the captain.  As a white player, he had done everything that can be demanded of him, but as captain, he has been complicit in the behavior of his white teammates.  He has not called them for their bad football behavior (not blocking) because calling them out on that would be seen as a racial matter—and when he does it, it is seen that way.  But as captain, he really doesn’t have a choice.

Imagine that Julius hated all white players and also hated losing.  He has to be willing to call one of these white players, “Captain.”  That means he is granting a formal rank higher than his.  What he gets for that sacrifice is that the losing stops.  Julius changed the set of relevant categories from black and white, a zero sum conflict, to leader and follower.  In the new category, the leader is obligated to do something he has not been able to do, and acting as a leader rather than a “white player” opens up a positive sum (win/win) strategy of benefit to both Julius and Gerry. [3]

The options Jesus specifies have in common that the aggrieved person give up his rights.  Julius did, in fact, give up his rights as a black man and asserted, instead, his rights as a follower of the captain.  He demanded that the captain do, because of his superior rank, what he had been unwilling to do before.  Does this require sacrifice and self-discipline?  Of course it does.  But look at what you get for it.

This doesn’t just end tit for tat within the same category of behavior.  This changes the category entirely.  I say that’s a good thing.

Bargain for Frances

The second example comes from a children’s book called A Bargain for Frances.  Frances is a very well-mannered little badger who is being routinely abused by her playmate, Thelma.  No one, looking at this situation, would recommend that she “turn the other cheek.”  That is what she is doing already; it is all she has ever done and the results have been really bad.

In this story, Thelma cheats Frances out of a tea set and Frances finds out about it.  Following the idea that “turn the other cheek” is a mandate that locks you into the same channel that contained the offense, we could say that Frances could go out and buy another tea set and give that one to Thelma as well.  What she could not do, following that mandate, is to deceive Thelma and get her tea set back and that is what she does.

Thelma instantly recognizes that the fundamental relationship she has always enjoyed with Frances has vanished.  The old relationship was the relationship of predator (Thelma) to prey (Frances).  Clearly that was not good for Frances, but I would argue that it wasn’t really good for Thelma either.

cheek 3Perceiving the new relationship—as yet unnamed—Thelma says, “I can see that when I play with you, I will have to be careful.”  Thelma might have meant that now each can harm the other, so at least a grudging respect, is required.  Maybe Thelma meant that now that Frances has claimed the right to personhood on the same grounds as Thelma, they will have to treat each other as competitors, each taking advantage of the other when the occasion arises.  Russell Hoban, the author, doesn’t speculate.  He leaves that to me.

He does give Frances the last word, however, so we know where his heart is.  Frances picks up on the language in Thelma’s remark—“careful,” Thelma said—and says, “Would you rather be careful or would you rather be friends?”  Having earned the status of co-predator, Frances offers something better.  She offers friendship a relationship that was never an option before and one that turning the other cheek would not have generated.

I am making the argument that there is nothing in the stream of evil and nonresistance that opens the chance of a new relationship at all.  This is the end of the zero sum relationship of competitors—what I win, you lose.  This is the offer of a positive sum relationship in which both can win and in which, in fact, neither can win without the other.

Does this count as “turning the other cheek?”  I think if you read it tightly so that the response is the same kind of thing as the provocation, it does not.  Frances does not offer to be cheated again, to buy and give another tea set, to loan her tea set to Thelma and never ask for it again.  Those are all the same kind of action as the provocation.  But what if you can “turn the other cheek” by transforming the action into another kind of action entirely?

I argue that it is a “turning the other cheek,” understood more broadly.  In this way of looking at it, turning the other cheek, as well-motivated as it might be, is transcended by turning the whole relationship on its head.

That seems better to me.

[1]  And the accompanying three: the cloak as well as the tunic, the second mile as well as the first, the obligation to lend.

[2]  I understand this to be an insult rather than a beating.

[3]  They also become lifelong friends, but that is another story entirely.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Racial defensiveness

The topic for today is “racial defensiveness.”  I’m against it. 

The Russian spy (Mark Rylance)  who was captured and tried in the movie “A Bridge ofdefensiveness 3 Spies” had a recurring line that made me like him immediately.  In the first use of this line, his lawyer (Tom Hanks) asked him, as they were about to enter the courtroom, .”Are you nervous?”  The spy said, “Would it help?”

That is the question for today.  I’m going to land a little hard on Peter W. Marty, editor and publisher of The Christian Century, but it isn’t because of any animosity toward him.  He just represents the last straw.

His editorial in the current issue is called “Letting go of white defensiveness.”  He is in favor of letting it go although he doesn’t give any reasons why.    I sense more and more that I am a pragmatic sort of person and I keep looking for some good outcome that will make all this wrestling worth while for us all.  I didn’t find it here.

“I’ve noticed,” he says, four paragraphs into a six paragraph editorial, “that few subjects spark defensive behaviors among white people quite like white privilege.”  “Defensive behaviors” are bad things, apparently.  Marty wishes we would get over them.

Black people have to deal with “weighty psychic burdens” every day.  White people should understand that.  They don’t and they should.  I wonder if it would help.

At the fifth paragraph, Marty turns the corner and begins to consider the effect Christian faith might make in this fraught area.  He has some good news to share with his “defensive-minded friends.”  Here is the good news.  “You have some tools in the toolbox of your faith life that are exciting to put to work in our world of racial inequity.  Start by letting go of defensiveness.”

It could be argued, I suppose, that having constantly to defend yourself is taxing, particularly if it becomes a mind set–a kind of permanent mental crouch.  I can see why anyone would want to be free of that burden.  But as a mental health matter, it seems it would be easier to stay from the people who keep accusing you of being white, but not adequately grateful.  WBNAG?  There are plenty of people available for whom that is not a high priority; there are churches for which it is not a high priority.  Racial sins—such as inadequate gratitude for instance—are no more sinful than economic or political or interpersonal sins, after all.

The question that is not addressed here or anywhere else in the editorial is, “Would it help?”  I have read that the traditional military training favored by the Prussian officers was brutal.  The idea was that soldiers who were trained in a brutal way would learn that they were able to do more than they thought; they bonded with each other under the common brutality.  They became, as a result of that kind of training, better soldiers.

I don’t really know anything about how German soldiers were trained and I have no great love of brutality even in military training, but I do understand this practice because it is aimed at an outcome that the officers value.  They will have better soldiers and will, presumably, win battles that lesser soldiers would have lost.  When I come to them with my question, “Will it help?” they have an answer.

The editorial in The Christian Century does not.

Defensiveness, Marty says, “is a constrictive survival response that only separates you from God.”  Does he think that God cannot forgive defensiveness?

“According to Jesus,” Marty says, “relinquishment is a ticket to abundant life.”  To think that “relinquishment” as such is a virtue is beyond silly.  Marty is counting on the context of racial injustice here, but nothing about tacking that value onto the teaching of Jesus helps the argument.  There are many things we ought never to relinquish, hope being prominent among them.  Setting “relinquishment” up as a virtue and tying that virtue to the teachings of Jesus hurts my ears.

“We no longer have the luxury of living racially unaware lives,” says Marty.  That’s probably true, given the near ubiquity of racist and anti-racist speech, but no one lives a more “racially aware life” than a Klansman in Alabama.  So I wonder “Would it help?”

“Where you feel uncomfortable,” Marty says, “disempower it.”  I understand that advice to be that we ought to make ourselves more comfortable about our discomfort.  That would be easy to practice, if you are interested.  Glue a tennis ball to your pajama top right between your shoulder blades.  And as you lie there, becoming more and more uncomfortable, practice getting comfortable with your discomfort.

You might remark that that is a silly thing to do and you would be right.  You might ask just how it would help anything if you learned to be comfortable with the discomfort that the tennis ball is inflicting.  My question exactly.

There are a few more, but I am ready to let this go now.  It might be true that the racial injustices and inequalities we suffer in this country would be made better in some way if liberals were less defensive; if they reached into “the toolbox of their faith life” and got hold of some tools that would make them more comfortable with their discomfort.  Or it might make everything worse.

I don’t know and Peter Marty doesn’t even wonder.

I make it a practice to ask, about proposals that are said to address the current racial crisis, “Would it help?”  Some of the answers I get provoke discussion and some don’t, but I think it is always better to ask than not.

Posted in Political Psychology, Politics, Sustainability, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

July 4 Virus Thoughts

We are celebrating, today, the independence of the North American colonies of Great Britain from the rest of the British Empire. We had devised, here, the beginnings of a single political system and we proclaimed that it “was, and of right, ought to be, [composed of] free and independent states,” [1] To skip over the separateness of the separate states for just a moment, the Declaration says that our system really ought to be independent of your system.

It is that sense of ourselves as many, yet one, (e pluribus unum, and all that) that required the President of the United States to bring to the Congress “information of the State of the Union.” The State of the Union address was intended to be an answer to the question, “So…this union thing…how’s it going?” [2]

It isn’t going all that well, I’m afraid. Barack Obama has a vision that we were “not red states and blue states but the United States of America.” That’s not what is happening. We are, in fact, declaring independence from each other. Think of it this way: “Who are you to tell me not to….”

Notice that this transition moves away from system requirements—that’s what the Declaration of Independence was about—and  toward the question of whether we are to stop relying on each other. The pandemic puts that question to us directly.

There is the question of freedom for—what is it we demand the freedom to accomplish together—and freedom from external restraint. Those two ways of considering freedom [3] cast a sharp light on where we are today. We have solved the problem of external restraint—which is what Jefferson was concerned about—but we have lost track of what we want to do together.

4 July 1Consider this. Let’s say I want to put my shoulder to the common weal [4] and move us forward as efficiently as possible—but only provided that everyone else is pushing as hard as I think I am pushing. That’s why successful wars are so good for morale. First, the sense of external threat gets people to cooperate, even to sacrifice, more than they normally would. But also, there is a real reduction in monitoring just who is doing just how much. A great deal is excused in “There’s a war on, you know.” The focus on our freedom to accomplish what we intend is still being buffered by our attempt at keeping our independence.

And when the war is over and a nation is struggling to survive, as Germany and Japan were, or simply basking in the prosperity that victory brought, as the U. S. was, there is a time when you are just too busy to spend a lot of effort making sure that no one is getting advantages you are denied. But then the prosperity wains and people find themselves working very hard again, but this time with no external enemy.

The Tea Party voters Arlie Russell Hochschild studied in Strangers in Their Own Land imagined that they were standing in a very long line, waiting to receive the results of their hard work and sacrifice. But the line is not moving forward. This situation is not covered by “There’s a war on, you know.” It is not covered at all.

So what I want now is the best social outcome we can manage for us all, PROVIDED that no one gets more than I do or works less. And if the value of the work no longer serves to fuel my resentment, then how arduous or unpleasant the work is will have to do. If I work three jobs, I don’t want people who work two jobs to have what I have. If I work a dangerous job, I don’t want anyone who works a safe job to have what I have. And I don’t want people with no job at all to have…really…anything.

This independence from each other is what we have sunk to. And, not to give the Russian bots too much credit, it is the effect that they worked so hard to achieve in 2016. This is, in fact, what many of the Russian bots did [5] although, as former President Obama said, we were doing it to ourselves anyway.

There are solutions, of course, and our experience of the COVID-19 virus has made some of them obvious. If we had the trust in government leadership so many other nations have and the sense of ourselves as bearing a common burden and pursuing a common goal that so many other nations have, we would be having the kind of success with the pandemic that they are having and that we can only envy.

There’s no chance, I suppose, that we could begin to celebrate Interdependence Day. The 4 July 4matter of formal separation from Great Britain seems to be pretty well in hand. “Freedom from” has been accomplished. And we are not going to accomplish much more unless we find a way to affirm and value our common citizenship. It is possible that we can come to feel a sense of pride that all Americans are receiving what they need to put together a good life for themselves and a sense of shame that some Americans are sleeping in the streets and rummaging through dumpsters for food.

We could do that.

It would require the sense that we cannot become who we once thought we wanted to become just by demanding our own rights. The ceiling on who we can become together by demanding our own rights is a very low ceiling. A whole-hearted celebration of Interdependence Day would be a step in the right direction.

[1] Here is the text: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” I note, for the first time that of the three verbs, one is a linking verb and the other two are in the passive voice. Not really a trumpet call, is it?
[2] The Constitution also requires that the President “recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” That is the body of the State of the Union address today. The “measures” part; not necessarily the “necessary and expedient” part.
[3] I have in mind Isaiah Berlin’s famous “negative liberty” and “positive liberty” in mind here.
[4] Just that one pun, please. It is independence day, after all.
[5] Which is why they spent freely on fluoridation campaigns and on anti-fluoridation campaigns; on pro-life campaigns and on pro-choice campaigns.

Posted in Politics, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Klan of “Karens”

You may have heard about the fuss kicked up by Amber Lynn Gilles at the Starbucks in San Diego. The short version is that she didn’t wear a mask, as store rules required her to do, and was not served. I don’t think her story is really unusual, but several aspects of the narrative caught my eye. For one thing, someone started a GoFundMe account in the barista’s name. For another, the New York Times wrote about the encounter which is how I heard about the rationale.

That’s the short version. I would not like to perform a brief detour to apologize to anyfriends—not “former friends” I hope—named Karen. [1] On my own behalf, I will say that I have heard “Over hill, Over Dale” all my life and have learned to think they must be referring to someone else. And finally, I allowed myself a little fun in the title “Klan of Karens” on the grounds that the first two K’s in KKK, are a reference to the Greek work kyklos, meaning “circle.” So a circle of “Karens”—emphasizing the current meaning, an emphasis on personal entitlement—would still be a KKK.

Now back to the story for the long version. There is a lot approve of in this story, like Starbucks policy and the behavior of barista Lenin Gutierrez (pictured at the right). Also, of course, a lot to disapprove of. But rather than doing either, I would like to pay attention to the several responses Ms. Gilles unleashed. I am going to take them in the order that they interested me, so don’t try to string them together as a narrative. You can do that with the hyperlink.

Masks are Stupid

Let’s start with masks.

“They are stupid,” said Ms. Gilles, “and so are the people wearing them.”

It is possible, I suppose, that saying “masks are stupid” means that they look stupid, a way of saying they make me look stupid. But more likely is the charge that they are stupid because they don’t work and/or they are unnecessary.

To poke a little at whether they work, we would need to know what they are supposed to do. They are supposed to keep the people around you free from any infection you might otherwise have shared with them. That means that it requires some such methodology as contact tracing to determine whether the people in our wake are being infected and that is not the kind of information Ms. Gilles is at all likely to have.

It is more likely that she intended to say that they were not likely to keep her from getting sick. (Her direct comment was, “I don’t need one.”) But on beyond that, there is the question of whether Starbucks should be permitted to protect their employees from people like her. I don’t think even Ms. Gilles would say that, but given the nature of her charge—they are stupid and so are the people who wear them—she doesn’t have to.

Ms. Gilles said that she was “denied and discriminated against.

This is what Starbucks is charged with. Surely there is no debate about the first part. She demanded to be served even though she was not wearing a mask and Starbucks said no. She was denied. Ordinarily “denied” connotes that one was denied something he or she had a right to. No one says, “They denied me entrance to the theater because I didn’t have a ticket.” The whole charge really ought to have the form: denied X because of Y even though Z specifies that I have the right to X. Following that form would have required Ms. Gilles to say just what she was denied or to say that Starbucks had no right to deny it.

“Discriminated against” is a little more complicated and that complexity is brought to us by the loss of meaning of “discriminated.” “Discrimination” was still mostly a good thing when I became acquainted with the word.

It is a facility that marked off people who could tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. A person was said to have “discriminating tastes.” [2] The resolutely bad meaning of the word comes from the expression “invidious discrimination.” If you are going to use “discrimination” to mean “the ability to tell the good from the bad or from the merely mediocre,” you are going to need an expression to mean “discrimination I disapprove of,” and that was the function of “invidious,” which means “malicious, hostile, or damaging.”

It is the addition of “against” that enables Ms. Gilles to say that something bad had happened. [3] But in the absence of a standard, she can only mean that she didn’t like the decision. To say more, she would have had to say that Starbucks should not have had the standard they do have.

Next comes Ms. Gilles justification of her behavior.

“I didn’t harass anyone,” she said. “I called them out because I’m frustrated.”

There are three points of interest here. The first is what “harass” means and the related question of who gets to say what it means. The second is the substitution of “called them out” for “harassed.” The third is her explanation of why she did it: she was frustrated. [4]

Lenis Gutierrez, the barista, describes it this way.

“…she started “cursing up a storm” and called people “sheep” before walking out. A few minutes later, she came back, he said, and asked for his name, took a photo of him and said she would call the corporate offices.”

My guess is that her feelings of frustration came from the barista’s request that she put on a mask. The sense that she had “called them out” more likely came from her coming back, taking his picture, and threatening to call the corporate offices. That is the part she likely identified as “calling them out” and the part also that required her to specify her motivation.

A reader of the story might wonder why her doing all that did not fall under the label harassment. I wonder that. And how is “calling them out” different?

Ms. Gilles final salvo was more institutional. This is what she posted on her Facebook page:

“Meet lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption.”

I think Ms. Gilles understands that the two actions she threatened are empty. What will the cops do if they come? Will they say that the CDC shouldn’t have recommended masks and that San Diego County should not have required them? It doesn’t seem likely. And what kind of “medical exemption” might she have in mind? “My doctors says I am free to infect as many people as I like?” That doesn’t seem likely either.

If a “Karen,” like Ms. Gilles—Leah Asmelash of CNN says that “a Karen” is “a potent moniker for someone decidedly out of touch”—were just one unusual person using unusual rationales for her demands, I wouldn’t have bothered with this. I do think, though, that her behavior and even the kinds of justifications she provided for it, are increasingly common and I think they are deplorable.

[1] I would like to make an immediate exception on behalf of a dear stepdaughter of mine, whose name is spelled “Karyn” and who is, most emphatically, not a “queen of entitlements.” That is, apparently, the principal meaning of the current phrase, “Such a Karen.”
[2] That use comes from the 1620s. The sense of discrimination “against” and “against” for unfair or malicious reasons comes from the 1860s.
[3] Although, in all fairness, the root of the word is the Latin cernere, which means to separate; dis- only adds “apart” to the root. So separating one kind or quality of things from another. Bette once had a job watching the green beans come down the line and separating the bad ones from the good ones. She did this by being discrimination. There is always, I guess, the question of how the rejected beans felt, being discriminated against like that.
[4] Not to sound any older than I really am, but when I got acquainted with the word, “frustrated” meant the failure or an attempt to do something. It didn’t say anything at all about how you felt about the failure. In its current use, “frustrated” is the name of a feeling. So Ms. Gilles doesn’t even have to say that she was frustrated; all she has to say is that she was “feeling frustrated.”

Posted in Living My Life, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Words | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

And he lies scarcely at all…

Scene 1: Saint Peter and a few angels are performing the daily ritual with some dice and a chart of the cardinal sins. They throw an 11, look at the chart and see what vice is on special today.

Scene 2: George Washington, having recently died, comes before Saint Peter’s professionally stern gaze. Saint Peter checks the chart to see what today’s heinous sin is and breaks out into a lovely beatific smile. “You’re in luck,” he says to President Washington, “Today’s special sin is deceitfulness and it says here that you never told a lie. Go on in.”

There are so many silly things about that little fantasy that it is hard to know where togeorge 2 start, but it came to my mind because one of the routes I frequently ride goes past the intersection of Sandy and 57th, where this statue is normally located. I guess parts of it are still located there.

It was “desecrated” this last week as part of a protest against racism. I’d like to spend a little time on “desecrated”—such an odd word in this context—and then return to my heavenly fantasy and the reason for beginning there.

George Washington is not “sacred” to me, nor should he be. [1] He provided a substantial service to the rebellious colonies and to the fledgling republic and I think he should be honored for that. By being a successful general and a very stabilizing president, he gave us a gift without which we would not be in our present situation. There was no substitute for him.

One of the great uses to which he and his memory have been put is to serve as the exemplar of attitudes and behaviors the society needs. The legendary George Washington, by contrast with the historical George Washington, was dignified, humble, practical, and, above all, truthful. It is his legendary truthiness that I make use of in the heavenly scenario with which I began.

What is “sacred” is the use we agree to make of our great women and our great men. It is our adherence to the virtues we claim they exemplify that enables us to survive as a society. The social norms held at least partially in place by this practice allow us to live together with much less coercion than would otherwise be necessary. They allow us to cooperate more fully than otherwise, to adjust and innovate more fully than otherwise. The “great people” of our past—those who by our consent [2] evoke one or another of the crucial virtues—serve us by helping us define and support the values our society requires. I can come a lot closer to calling that function “sacred” than I can come to calling any person from our past “sacred.”

So to George Washington is attributed a wholly pure and entirely unlikely truthfulness. The well-known legend of the cherry tree can serve as an example. George is also extraordinarily lucky that on the day he came up for judgment, the virtue of the day was “truth-telling.” So he was declared “worthy of entering heaven,” [3]

Had he come on the next day, when the special virtue was “kindness,” George, as a slave-holding Virginia planter, might have had some difficulty. The current round of protests against our best-known leaders is that they were “racist.” Without question, George Washington violated that standards that are today thought to be indicative of racism.

george 1But let’s look at where this leads us. Racism is just today’s fetish. [4] What about tomorrow’s? Let’s say that sexual fidelity is the next virtue. This is sexual fidelity as it was understood in the late 18th Century, of course. Cadres of zealots, now comb through the “great men and women of our past” and locate those who offended sexual fidelity. It is time now for their statues, the erection of such statues serving as the kind of honor we pay them to remind ourselves of how important that particular virtue is, to be torn down. They are no longer worthy to represent us.

Fine.

The next virtue is, let’s say, charity.[5] We require, in this round of our purging of publicly honored persons, that they take special note of the poor among them and that they are noteworthy in caring for them as they should. Not all of our great men and not even all of our great women were unfailingly charitable. So…”off with their heads!” and where possible, their bases as well.

Fine. Next.

You see where this goes. Every round of purging will remove another category of statues until there are no more. You might think, I suppose, that new heroes will be created to mirror the newly ascendant values, but it takes only a moment of thought to understand that their time too will come when our attention as turned to a new virtue.

So the routine desecrating of our public statues, and thereby our common heroes, leads to a common celebration of no one and nothing at all. There is no common celebration. There are, of course, private celebrations. There may well be family celebrations and clan celebrations, but if the population we have in mind gets too large and/or too formal and particularly if public resources go into the construction and maintenance of such statues, we cross the boundary into George Washington territory—the racist planter who never told a lie.

In this scenario, we are without exemplars, except, of course, iconoclasts. We can still celebrate the people who pull down the statues, I guess. But we are without the common, the “public,” way of treasuring the virtues they stood for. Just what virtues they stood for is mostly, you recall, a fabrication of later generations. There are still private virtues, but there are not virtues that help us to shape our common polity, our common culture. [6]

This is a wholly needless problem. The solution is to value our forebears for what they have done, for their contributions to us. There is no need for them to be saints. We will weigh, for them as for everyone else, the good against the bad. We will not throw dice as St. Peter did in the example. We will not judge the paragons of an earlier era as if they should meet the standards of all succeeding eras.

In Portland, there are a lot of high schools named for presidents. A lot of our presidents suffered errors of judgment and flaws of character. They are, in that way, a good representation of the people who tore down their statues.

[1] He is, for one thing, “a graven image” is the most literal sense.
[2] I don’t want to overdo this. There needs to be some social reality that binds the virtue we prize to the life or the writings of the great one. You can’t just hand any virtue on the memory of just any person.
[3] A theological disaster, but the St. Peter metaphor requires it.
[4] I don’t call it a fetish because it is unimportant. I call it a fetish because of all the other virtues is displaces to become the only virtue worthy of our energies.
[5] There is really no need to focus entirely on sins of commission. Many of our leaders, faced with great opportunities, failed to achieve them through lack of imagination or failure of courage. Their statues too should be forfeit.
[6] Under normal circumstances, I would have added “our common economy,” but the common economy is an artifact, we are told, of the confluence of private greeds, so not a common economy in the same sense as the polity and the culture.

Posted in Politics, Society, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment