Dear Obama: Listen!

Please listen to Jamelle!  (US of Jamerica):

Obama’s little riff here basically sums up his foreign policy approach.  I actually wish he would use this language to challenge John McCain’s national security “credentials,” since it’s a pretty effective characterization.

Barack’s language is right on, and applies neatly to foreign policy.  From the difference between talking tough and needing to act out, to the wisdom of walking away and “saving it for when you need it”.  These points, especially given the state of our military and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran(Pending Cheney pressing a big red button while Congress just watches), hit home in an easily understandable way.

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Clintons Behind Wright’s Speech?

Oh, this is shitty. White Noise Insanity:

Uh oh. There appears to be a connection to Rev. Wright’s speech to the National Press Corps. recently and the Hillary camp. The person who coordinated the speech is also a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton.

From the LA Times:

It was the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, a former editorial board member of USA Today who teaches at the Howard University School of Divinity. An ordained minister, as New York DailThe Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the head table of the National Press Club event Monday which Reynolds helped arrangey News writer Errol Louis points out in today’s column, she was introduced at the press club event as the person “who organized” it.

But guess what? She’s also an ardent longtime booster of Obama’s sole remaining competitor for the Democratic nomination, none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. It won’t take very much at all for Obama supporters to see in Wright’s carefully arranged Washington event that was so damaging to Obama the strategic, nefarious manipulation of the Clintons.

Crap.

Privilege: Seeing the Invisible

A comment by PortlyDyke responding to the Marcotte Book Imagery issue got me thinking (emphasis mine):

I honestly cannot believe the number of people here who have claimed that the use of racist imagery was some form of intentional irony, and who have chided others for not getting “the joke”, or to “lighten up”.

In order for something to be intentionally ironic/satirical, you have to consciously use a hyperbolic image or concept to point out an absurdity. That is not the case here. Seal Press has already said that they missed the racism — that they “were not thinking”. Amanda has said that she didn’t “catch it”.

That’s not ironic/satiric use of racist imagery.

It is blindness to racist imagery, which is based in white privilege — and blindness to white privilege has been precisely at the heart of all the issues about the cover, appropriation, and now, the artwork.

As I’ve watched this thread evolve over the past few days, the demonstrations of white defensiveness in the face of confrontation have actually surprised me (although I suppose they should not have) — it is simply astounding to me that progressives or feminists would defend these images in any way, much less in the ways that they have.

(Note: I myself defended Amanda specifically, not the images).  What’s interesting is the practical problem faced when discussing any sort of privilege.  Take male privilege.  A fairly blatant example comes mind.  In college there was a pathway through the woods between two dorms.  The path was narrow, poorly lighted, and filled with bushes and trees.  It was known colloquially as “The Rape Trail”.  While people generally walked across it in groups, I’d traverse it at night, by myself.  While at times I do confess to getting a sudden start from a quick movement in my periphery, by and large I did so with confidence.  Contrast that to worrying about walking home alone across a well-lit campus.  That stark difference in perception is one many men are not aware of.  Further, the socialization that produces that fear is one that is outside the realm of experience for most males.  Hence we might say their privilege blinds them.

On the flip side, its something I’ve experienced as a non-Christian.  I was raised as a conservative Jew (note: conservative Judaism is, intensity wise, in between reform and orthodox, and has nothing to do with politics).  So singing songs about Jesus in elementary school might seem normal to most other kids, while to me I was worrying about whether I could fake singing, or if I needed to abstain entirely.  A music teacher insisting I sing along did so blind to the idea that forcing someone to sing Christmas songs might slightly problematic.  The same might be said for the district in New Hampshire that scheduled school picture day on Yom Kippur (I like to think that was blindness).

In any case, if the problem of privilege is blindness, the natural question becomes, how do we find sight?  Generally there are a number of barriers to overcome to even get anyone with privilege to accept the concept, let alone that it applies to them and they need to make an effort to begin to see how it does.  The thing is, privilege is simply the natural mask of perception mixed with societal norms.  We live in a society that elevates rich, white, christian males.  Thus there is a corresponding privilege for each group, a sense in which their perceptual blind spot is supported by society.  Some of the outrage at the racist imagery in Amanda’s book came from the response.  The publication of the images was one thing, but the automatic defense of the images themselves was a textbook outbreak of privilege.

So if privilege consists of the uniqueness of individual perception combined with the support of society for the resulting blind spots, then both provide potential break points in the chain.

We are ultimately lucky to find privilege at work in a community that is, essentially, a community of allies.  Lucky because we have the most receptive audience possible outside of people who already understand and agree.  Therefore we ought to take care in bridging the gap within the feminist community.  Not only to engage in a rhetorical style that invites and empowers (and learning about privilege, especially your own biases and blindness, is an empowering experience), but to take notes.  Because the larger task facing us all is to address the societal support for privilege, and that means we’ll have to find a way to make the same case to people who are openly hostile to everything we stand for.

Let’s start with our friends.

The Psychological Victims of Fundamentalist Christianity

This is incredibly fucked, but it is a topic of some interest for me, and one I plan on revisiting.  As Amanda notes, this stuff is “fucking frightening”.  Matt Taibi writes in Rolling Stone about his experiences at a three day intensive convert-a-thon.  He starts things off by discussing the contrast between the soon-to-be-converted and the Pastor.  This kind of Predator Christianity singles out the weak and exploits their insecurities to rope them into the flock.  This isn’t St. Augustine struggling with his sense of morality or identity and choosing his faith consciously.  This is psychological assault:

There were almost no breaks or interruptions; it was a physically exhausting schedule of confession, catharsis, bad music and relentless, muscular instruction. The Saturday program began at 7:45 a.m. and did not end until ten at night; we went around the confess-sing-learn cycle five full times in one day.

The organizers got an in by going straight to their victim’s soft spots:

True, I could see some other angles to what was going on as well. Virtually all of the participants of the Encounter identified either one or both of their parents as their “offender,” and much of what Fortenberry was talking about in his instructional sessions was how to replace the godless atmosphere of abuse or neglect that the offenders had provided us with God and the church. He was taking broken people and giving them a road map to a new set of parents, a new family — your basic cultist bait-and-switch formula for cutting old emotional ties and redirecting that psychic energy toward the desired new destination. That connection would become more overt later in the weekend, but early on, this ur-father propaganda was the only thing I could see that separated Encounter Weekend from the typical self-help dreck of the secular world.

From there it swiftly descends into language thick with religion and guilt (emphasis mine):

We were unhappy because of earthly troubles from our childhoods, but those troubles were the work of a generational curse, inflicted upon us by devils and demons — probably for unbelief, bad behavior, disobedience, worship of the wrong gods and so on.

This little bit of semantic gymnastics helped transform all of us at the retreat from being merely fucked up to being accursed carriers of demons. Having ridden an almost entirely secular program to get our biographies out in the open in a group setting, Fortenberry could now switch his focus to the real meat and potatoes of the weekend: Satan and the devils inside us.

Thats the substance, but Pastor Philip drops his cards and lets slip the goals of the unfolding manipulation:

Fortenberry then started in on a rant against science and against scientific explanations for cycles of sin. “Take homosexuals,” he said. “Every single homosexual is a sexual-abuse victim. They are not born. They are created — by pedophiles.”

Here is where things get fucking scary (emphasis mine):

The crowd swallowed that one whole. One thing about this world: Once a preacher says it, it’s true. No one is going to look up anything the preacher says, cross-check his facts, raise an eyebrow at something that might sound a little off. Some weeks later, I would be at a Sunday service in which Pastor John Hagee himself would assert that the Bible predicts that Jesus Christ is going to return to Earth bearing a “rod of iron” to discipline the ACLU. It goes without saying that the ACLU was not mentioned in the passage in Ezekiel he was citing — but the audience ate it up anyway. When they’re away from the cameras, the preachers feel even less obligated to shackle themselves to facts of any kind. That’s because they know that their audience doesn’t give a shit. So long as you’re telling them what they want to hear, there’s no danger; your crowd will angrily dismiss any alternative explanations anyway as demonic subversion.

And there we have our problem.  A sizable proportion of Americans being brainwashed to the point that discussion with them is impossible.

“In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, I cast out the demon of the intellect!” Fortenberry continued. “In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of anal fissures!”

Cough, cough!

The minutes raced by. Wayne Williams was now fully prostrate, held up only by a trio of coaches, each of whom took part of his writhing body and propped it up. Another bald man in the front of the chapel was now freaking out in Linda Blair fashion, roaring and making horrific demon noises.

Rum-balakasha-oom!” shouted Fortenberry in tongues, waving a hand in front of Linda Blair Man. “Cooom-balakasha-froom! In the name of Jesus Christ, I cast out the demon of philosophy!”

Philosophy?

This kind of movement is more than simply anti-science.  It is anti-intelligence, anti-self-determination.  Can you really own your own choices when the very idea of making a decision without “consulting Jesus” is thrown out?  When intellect and philosophy are seen as evils?

Forget that philosophy has played a central role in every major religious tradition in the world, and Christianity is well represented with a host of excellent philosophers and theologians.  Aside from offering a misrepresentation of the religion it claims to espouse, fundamentalist Christianity gums up the gears of free will, outsourcing intellectual judgment to Christ.  (No wonder some Christians believe morality disappears without God.)

These effects are dangerous and lasting (emphasis mine):

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to “be rational” or “set aside your religion” about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you’ve made a journey like this — once you’ve gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It’s not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that’s the issue. It’s that once you’ve gotten to this place, you’ve left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you’re thinking with muscles, not neurons.

By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you’ve gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no “anything else.” All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this “our thing,” a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that’s all.

This is a major problem.  These people vote.  They run for office.  They win office.  They set policy and write laws while fondly recalling the social sophistication of the dark ages.  And they cannot be argued with.

I highly recommend Cracks in the Wall over at Orcinus (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3), about efforts to break through and help the people trapped behind the wall of Predatory Christianity.  That’s a start.

McCain: Women 77% as Intelligent as Men

In a move sure to endear himself to voters, John McCain has spoken up in opposition to equal pay, saying simply “women don’t have enough experience”. DNC’s Karen Finney just about sums it up:

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney said: “At a time when American families are struggling to keep their homes and jobs while paying more for everything from gasoline to groceries, how on Earth would anyone who thinks they can lead our country also think it’s acceptable to oppose equal pay for America‘s mothers, wives and daughters?”

Don’t forget sisters. Opposing equal pay is a remarkably stupid move. Oh that ironic ne’er-do-well!

Female Readers!  Send McCain your Resume! (via Moms Rising)

Atheism and Violence

LeftBack92 links approvingly to a faulty video attacking atheists for violence:

Transcribed from the video:

Quick Note:

Not all atheists are like this; just as not all self proclaimed “Christians” are evil or bad as others may want you to think.

It is the godless structures of man that are dangerous.

One might, easily, make the same claim. That religious power structures are dangerous, and often used to insight people to violence. Actually any power structure can be so abused, whether explicitly religious or not religious. Tyrants are tyrants whether they wave the Cross or a Red Flag.

The saddest thing about this video isn’t that the creators clearly do not understand atheism is simply a lack of belief in God, nor is it that they seem to be saying atheists ought to be ignored and “dropped” by religious people. The saddest thing is that they think one must believe in God or else. And as someone who believes firmly in God, this strikes me as quite tragic.

Although it certainly is ironic to see implied justification for violence against atheists in a video supposedly decrying violence.

Keep it Complex

cabalamat makes some excellent points:

Any dogma that gets any followers is likely to be (a) simple and (b) emotionality satisfying, at least to some people. In fact any belief system must be simpler than reality, since reality is vast and probably not fully comprehensible to the human mind anyway.

Of course, that statement doesn’t apply universally (paradox?).  But he does give some good examples:

What’s the cure for this? Simply to realise that any simple, pat, belief system isn’t going to be the whole truth, even if it does have good points. Put simply, no belief system about how the human world works is entirely correct, or is any widely-held belief system likely to be entirely nonsense. For example:

Religion: God may not exist, but nevertheless it is still bad for people to murder or steal from each other.

Free markets: are an efficient way of allocating scarce resources, under many circumstances, but they are not the solution to all human-organisation problems.

Medicine: some medicines have genuinely harmed patients, but most do good, and by spreading panic about vaccines etc one is almost certainly doing more harm than good.

Technology: most technology leads to humans living longer, more fulfilled lives; but some technologies have lead to a diminution of human happiness (e.g. telemarketers and spammers)

From which we can extrapolate the general idea that its often better to look at the reality represented by a simplified abstraction, and address the complexities that result.  Good food for thought.