The Nation, 17 May 2010

A phrase I like to use is “moral reasoning.”  What I mean by this is that there should be ways of thinking about moral questions that make it possible for people who disagree with each other to come together in conversation.  In a society where people often find themselves poles apart about pressing issues of the day, merely agreeing to disagree is not always an option.  And in a pluralistic society, approaches to morality that leave people with nothing to do but issue commands or strike poses won’t get us very far.  Real conversation might.  In some cases conversation makes it possible to find agreement, and in others it makes it possible to find peace amid disagreement.  Of course, it’s far from certain that moral reasoning of the sort I would like to see become a universal habit is even possible, but I don’t think it’s been shown to be impossible.  In fact, I suspect that I have engaged in it myself from time to time. 

Historian Tony Judt doesn’t use the phrase “moral reasoning,” but he’s been thinking about the question.  Here’s something he says in an interview from this issue of The Nation:

In my second marriage I was married to someone who was a very active American feminist and very anti the antiabortionists. I would find myself listening to her angrily say that abortion is a good thing and these people are crazed fascists and so on, and I’d think, This conversation is taking the wrong turn. What you have here are two powerfully held moral positions, incompatible socially, backed by different perspectives. But it’s not a question of one of them being immoral and the other being moral. What we need to learn to do is conduct substantive moral conversations as though they were part of public policy… Then you could learn to think of difficult moral issues as part of social policy rather than just screaming at each other from either side of a moral barrier. Then we could reintroduce what look like religious kinds of conversations into national social policy debates.

From Katha Pollitt’s column: “In the topsy-turvy world of the Christian right, any restrictions on their collective sectarian power [are] a denial of individual rights.”  Pollitt frames her argument in legal terms, but one might say that she has identified a breakdown in moral reasoning.  Americans who want to see a separation of church and state and those who want the state to subsidize some forms of religious expression can’t really talk about what they most care about when they talk with each other.   

Stuart Klawans went to the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s festival of Lebanese movies about the Civil War.  I’ll list a few of these I want to remember for potential future viewing: Our Imprudent Wars (documentary, 1995); A Perfect Day (2005); Falafel (2006); and My Heart Beats Only for Her (2008.)  He also mentions a couple of non-Lebanese movies, notably Bahman Ghobadi’s portrait of Tehran’s underground music scene, No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009.)

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World Values Survey, II

In response to the Believer’s post below, I’ve added the World Values Survey to our page of “Reference” links.

World Values Survey

I learned some wonderful news the other day.  One does not have to be a graduate sudent to have access to World Values Survey data.  It’s online!!  This is a lot of rich information concerning about 99 countries.  It is a sociologist’s dream.  Check it out.  I just did a research project using this as my data source. 

Religion and Politics: will you be Filing Jointly or Separately?

By Believer 1

Abstract

This study looks at how people respond to four key statements that explore the relationship between religion and politics.  I use the 2005 World Values Survey to try to answer the questions: What types of people support a link between politics and religion, and what types of people support a separation of politics and religion?  Although there are differences in how people responded to each statement, there are also some similarities. The variables for religious person, and highest educational attainment play an important role in explaining people’s responses to all four statements.  The variable for voted in the most recent elections does not explain people’s responses to any of the statements.     

Introduction and Literature Review

            This study tries to answer the questions: What types of people support a link between politics and religion, and what types of people support a separation of politics and religion? American scalars rarely talk about the relationship between politics and religion without mentioning the first amendment of the United States constitution (Van Alstyne, 1963; Tamney, 1974;  Esbeck, 1985; Rohrer, 1987; Stephen, 2002).   Van Alstyne starts his article by saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” (Van Alstyne , 1963, P. 863).

For the United States in particular, the debate about the proper relationship between religion and politics really heats up with the start of the conflict over Sunday mail in 1810.  Prior to this, there is a connection between the government, especially state government, and religion that goes relatively unchallenged.  At this time, many states have what they call “moral laws” which among others include not working on Sunday (Rohrer, 1987).

            The Sunday mail debate consists of two opposing camps of people the Sabbatarians and the Anti-Sabbatarians.  The Sabbatarians believe in a covenant theology.  Put simply, this means the United States has a covenant with God that says that if Americans obey God, the country will be blessed by God.  However, the Sabbatarians do not use their covenant theology to argue against Sunday mail.  They use the constitution instead.  They argue that the first amendment prohibits the government from keeping people from practicing their religion, and that since it is against many people’s religion to work on Sunday, Sunday mail is unconstitutional.  They also argue that Sunday mail violates the moral laws of several states, and that the federal government should not go against state government (Rohrer, 1987). 

At first, the Anti-Sabbatarians, consisting of less dominate religious groups such as Unitarians, Universalists, and Baptists, simply argue that not having Sunday mail hurts businesses.  Later, they express a fear of one government endorsed religion.  This fear is brought a head,

“when, in 1827, Presbyterian minister Ezra Stiles Ely issued an influential call for the creation of a ‘Christian party in politics’.  Ely proclaimed that a moral reformation of America could be accomplished only if Christians selected leaders ‘orthodox in their faith’.  The Presbyterians alone, he argued, ‘could bring half a million electors into the field,’ while the five largest protestant denominations ‘could govern every public election in our country’” (Rohrer, 1987, P. 64-65).       

Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale, says this about the separation of church and state argument in America’s early days, “It is vital that we in our legalist ahistoricism not forget that the Protestant separatists believed in dividing church from state, not God from state. The purpose of the separation was not to protect the state from religious believers but to protect the church…” (Stephen, 2002).  The Sabbatarians try to distance themselves from Ely claiming that he acted alone, but their efforts are in vain.  By 1830, the Sabbatarians loose the Sunday mail debate paving the way for a pro-separation of church and state viewpoint to prevail (Rohrer, 1987).  

            Carl Esbeck writes about five viewpoints concerning the relationship between politics and religion.  The first two are the strict separatists, and the pluralistic separatists viewpoints.  Like the Anti-Sabbatarians in Rohrer’s article about Sunday mail, people who subscribe to these viewpoints fear that a close link between religion and politics results in a loss of freedom, especially religious freedom, for those in less dominate groups (Esbeck, 1985; Rohrer, 1987). 

            As one might imagine, based on the title strict separatists, people with this viewpoint want a strict and complete separation of politics and religion.  Pluralistic separatists want a separation between politics and religion, but when moral issues such as those involving social welfare and peace are involved, these people have no trouble inserting their religious views into their political participation.          It is important to note that both of these groups may contain religious, as well as, nonreligious people.  The third point of view concerning religion and politics is referred to as the institutional separationists viewpoint.  People in this group want a stronger connection between politics and religion, but are not in favor of a theocracy.  They believe that both the religious realm, and the political ream are ordained by God.  As a result, there should, and will be some interplay between the realms.  At the same time however, each real has its own purpose and destiny (Esbeck, 1985).

            People who subscribe to the forth viewpoint are referred to as nonpreferentialists.  Like institutional separationists and other separatists, these people are against the government supporting a particular religion.  Nonpreferentialists attack this issue from a different angle than the separatists.  They argue the government should support all religious organizations, as opposed to not supporting any religious organizations.  American nonpreferentialists may not be alone in their approach.  Joseph Tamney argues that people in Indonesia believe that their government should support every religion.  Nonpreferentialists argue that supporting religious organizations reduces government costs, because these organizations provide services to communities at a lower cost, and in a more personal manner than the government.  As one might accept, political conservatives are often nonpreferentialists (Tamney, 1974;  Esbeck, 1985).

            Lastly, “restorationists believe that the United States is a Christian nation or was originally intended as one, and they often argue for the restoration of the nation’s high view of Christianity as it existed in the founding period.  Not only is the public theology explicitly Christian in its creed, but much of restorationism has a decidedly Puritan or at least a ‘chosen people’ cast to it” (Esbeck, 1985, P. 371).  For these people, religion and politics cannot be separated.  The government must protect the church; while at the same time avoid interfering with the church (Esbeck, 1985). 

            Based on the literature, I hypothesis that the variable for religious person will explain more of the variance in the dependent variables, than will the variable for religious denomination.  I argue that the dominance of particular religions are different depending on the society considered.  Put another way, one country’s dominate religion, may be another country’s least dominate religion, and vice versa.   Therefore, I argue that for a world sample, such as the sample for this study, religiosity is more important that religious denomination.  I hypotheses that the variable for voted in most recent elections will play an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variables.  It makes sense that people who participate politically have probably thought about how government interacts with other social institutions, such as religion.  Lastly, I hypothesis that several demographic variables will play an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variables.     

Methodology

            I use the 2005 World Values Survey for my study.   The World Values Survey consists of face-to-face interviews of a randomly selected, representative sample of people living in 99 countries.  There are 67,268 respondents.  The sample is made up of individuals with very low income all the way up to individuals with very high income, with each income level fairly represented.  Highest educational level attained includes people with no formal education all the way up to people with college degrees.  Age is presented as an open-ended question.  There are more than thirty categories for religious denomination, and the sample is 48% male and 52% female.  Nearly three quarters of respondents said they voted in recent parliament elections, and a majority of the respondents said they are religious. 

My dependent variables are four key statements that explore the relationship between religion and politics.  Statement number one is: Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for public office.  People who agree with this statement support a link between religion and politics, and people who disagree with this statement favor a separation between religion and politics.  Statement number two is: Religious leaders should not influence how people vote in elections.  People who disagree with this statement support a link between religion and politics, and people who agree with this statement favor a separation between religion and politics.  Statement number three is: It would be better for (insert Country) if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office.  People who agree with this statement support a link between religion and politics, and people who disagree with this statement favor a separation between religion and politics.  Statement number four is: Religious leaders should not influence government decisions.  People who disagree with this statement support a link between religion and politics, and people who agree with this statement favor a separation between religion and politics.

My independent variables are country/region, religious denominations, religious person, voted in most resent parliament elections, sex, age, highest educational attainment, and income.  The answer options for religious person are religious, nonreligious, and committed atheist.  Voted in most resent parliament elections is a yes or no question.  The answer options for sex are male and female.  Income data is coded in a scale of income.  I used linear regression to analysis the data for my study.        

Results

            Table 1 explains some of the variance in the dependent variable: Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for public office.  The variable for religious person, which explains the most, explains 9.5% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 1 shows religious people are significantly more likely, than nonreligious people or atheists to agree with the statement.  The variable for religious denomination explains .5% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  When explaining this dependent variable, Hypothesis 1 is correct.  The variable for voted dose not explain any of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Therefore, hypothesis 2 is incorrect. 

            The variable for highest educational attainment, which explains the second largest amount, explains 1.9% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 1 shows that those with less education are significantly more likely, than those with more education to agree with the statement.  Because only one demographic variable plays an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variable, hypothesis 3 is incorrect.  Model 9 shows that considering all of the independent variables explains 7.5% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.          

 

 

 

Table 1

Regression Results for Dependent Variable:Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for public office.
Model 1 ConstantCoefficient CountryCoefficient RSquared

as %

  2.893*** .002 .5%
Model 2 ConstantCoefficient Religious DenominationCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.447*** -.006*** .5%
Model 3 ConstantCoefficient Religious PersonCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.980*** -.734*** 9.5%
Model 4 ConstantCoefficient VotedCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.055*** -.050*** 0%
Model 5 ConstantCoefficient SexCoefficient RSquared

as %

  2.880*** .080*** .1%
Model 6 ConstantCoefficient AgeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.139*** -.003*** .2%
Model 7 ConstantCoefficient Highest EdCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.402*** -.076*** 1.9%
Model 8 ConstantCoefficient IncomeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.229*** -.050*** .8%
Model 9 ConstantCoefficient All inCoefficients RSquared

as %

CountryReligious Denomination

Religious Person

Voted

Sex

Age

Highest Ed

Income

 4.936*** .002***-.007***

-.640***

-.095***

-.009

-.005***

-.046***

-.027***

 7.5%
P Value = * < .05, ** < .01, *** < .001

            Table 2 explains very little of the variance in the dependent variable: Religious leaders should not influence how people vote in elections.  The variable for religious person, which explains the most, explains 1.1% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 2 shows religious people are significantly less likely, than nonreligious people or atheists to agree with the statement.  The variable for religious denomination explains does not explain any of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  When explaining this dependent variable, Hypothesis 1 is correct.  The variable for voted only explains .1% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  This demonstrates further that hypothesis 2 is incorrect.  Nevertheless, table 2 shows that those who voted are significantly more likely, than those who did not to agree with the statement. 

            The variable for highest educational attainment, which explains the second largest amount, explains 1% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 2 shows that those with more education are significantly more likely, than those with less education to agree with the statement.  Because no demographic variables play an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variable, there is still no support for hypothesis 3.  Model 18 shows that considering all of the independent variables only explains 1.2% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.

Table 3 explains some of the variance in the dependent variable: It would be better for (insert Country) if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office.  The variable for religious person, which when considered by itself, explains 13% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 1 shows religious people are significantly more likely, than nonreligious people or atheists to agree with the statement.  The variable for religious denomination explains .1% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  When explaining this dependent variable, Hypothesis 1 is correct.  The variable for voted dose not explain any of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  This demonstrates further that hypothesis 2 is incorrect.

 

 

Table 2

Regression Results for Dependent Variable: Religious leaders should notInfluence how people vote in elections.
Model 10 ConstantCoefficient CountryCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.810*** .000* 0%
Model 11 ConstantCoefficient Religious DenominationCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.722*** .001* 0%
Model 12 ConstantCoefficient Religious PersonCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.527*** .204*** 1.1%
Model 13 ConstantCoefficient VotedCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.886*** -.062*** .1%
Model 14 ConstantCoefficient SexCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.843*** -.029** 0%
Model 15 ConstantCoefficient AgeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.727*** .002*** .1%
Model 16 ConstantCoefficient Highest EdCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.559*** .045*** 1%
Model 17 ConstantConfident IncomeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.718*** .017*** .1%
Model 18 ConstantCoefficient All inCoefficients RSquared

as %

CountryReligious Denomination

Religious Person

Voted

Sex

Age

Highest Ed

Income

 3.264*** .000.002***

.120***

-.042**

-.002

.002***

.039***

.002

 1.2%
P Value = * < .05, ** < .01, *** < .001

Table 3

Regression Results for Dependent Variable: It would be better for (insert Country)If more people with strong religious beliefs held public office.
Model 19 ConstantCoefficient CountryCoefficient RSquared

as %

  2.973*** .002*** 1.1%
Model 20 ConstantCoefficient Religious DenominationCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.388*** -.002*** .1%
Model 21 ConstantCoefficient Religious PersonCoefficient RSquared

as %

  4.198*** -.802*** 13%
Model 22 ConstantCoefficient VotedCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.142*** -.028* 0%
Model 23 ConstantCoefficient SexCoefficient RSquared

as %

  2.951*** .115*** .2%
Model 24 ConstantCoefficient AgeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.283*** -.004*** .3%
Model 25 ConstantCoefficient Highest EdCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.616*** -.093*** 3.3%
Model 26 ConstantCoefficient IncomeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.373*** -.054 1%
Model 27 ConstantCoefficient All inCoefficients RSquared

as %

CountryReligious Denomination

Religious Person

Voted

Sex

Age

Highest Ed

Income

 4.960*** .002***-.004***

-.704***

-.091***

.015

-.006***

-.059***

-.021***

 10.7%
P Value = * < .05, ** < .01, *** < .001

The variable for highest educational attainment, which explains the second largest amount, explains 3.3% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 3 shows that those with less education are significantly more likely, than those with more education to agree with the statement.  The fact that only one demographic variable plays an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variable, further shows that hypothesis3 is incorrect.  Model 27 shows that considering all of the independent variables explains 10.7% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.

            Table 4 explains very little of the variance in the dependent variable: Religious leaders should not influence government decisions.  The variable for religious person, which explains the most, explains 1.6% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 4 shows that religious people are significantly less likely, than nonreligious people, or atheists to agree with the statement.  The variable for religious denomination explains none of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  When explaining this dependent variable, Hypothesis 1 is correct.  The variable for voted dose not explain any of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  This demonstrates further that hypothesis 2 is incorrect.     

            The variable for highest educational attainment, which explains the second largest amount, explains .2% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.  Table 4 shows that those with more education are significantly more likely, than those with less education to agree with the statement.  The fact that no demographic variables play an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variable, further shows that hypothesis 3 is incorrect.  Model 36 shows that considering all of the independent variables explains only 1% of the variance in the way people respond to the statement.

Table 4

Regression Results for Dependent Variable: Religious leaders should notInfluence government decisions.
Model 28 ConstantCoefficient CountryCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.665*** .000*** 0%
Model 29 ConstantCoefficient Religious DenominationCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.658*** .000 0%
Model 30 ConstantCoefficient Religious PersonCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.350*** .256*** 1.6%
Model 31 ConstantCoefficient VotedCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.736*** -.039** 0%
Model 32 ConstantCoefficient SexCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.788*** -.064 .1%
Model 33 ConstantCoefficient AgeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.628*** .002*** 0%
Model 34 ConstantCoefficient Highest EdCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.574*** .022*** .2%
Model 35 ConstantConfident IncomeCoefficient RSquared

as %

  3.604*** .018*** .1%
Model 36 ConstantCoefficient All inCoefficients RSquared

as %

CountryReligious Denomination

Religious Person

Voted

Sex

Age

Highest Ed

Income

 3.197*** .001***.001*

.199***

-.029*

-.030*

.002***

.011***

.013***

 1%
  P Value = * < .05, ** < .01, *** < .001
         

Dissection

This study tries to answer the questions: What types of people support a link between politics and religion, and what types of people support a separation of politics and religion?  The first hypothesis is that the variable for religious person will explain more of the variance in the dependent variables, than will the variable for religious denomination.  This hypothesis is supported by several scalars mentioned previously (Tamney , 1974; Esbeck, 1985; Rohrer, 1987).  First Rohrer states that at first, the Anti-Sabbatarians, consisting of less dominate religious groups such as Unitarians, Universalists, and Baptists, simply argue that not having Sunday mail hurts businesses.  Later, they express a fear of one government endorsed religion.  He says that both groups in the Sunday mail controversy are made up religious people.   The Anti-Sabbatarians do not fear religion: The fear dominance (Rohrer, 1987).

In his article discussing different viewpoint of the relationship between religion and politics, Esbeck says that nonpreferentialists argue the government should support all religious organizations, as opposed to not supporting any religious organizations.  American nonpreferentialists may not be alone in their approach.  Joseph Tamney argues that people in Indonesia believe that their government should support every religion (Tamney , 1974; Esbck, 1985).  Given all of this information, one might wonder how my first hypothesis is supported.  I argue that the dominance of particular religions are different depending on the society considered.  Put another way, one country’s dominate religion, may be another country’s least dominate religion, and vice versa.   Therefore, I argue that for a world sample, such as the sample for this study, religiosity is more important that religious denomination.  The first hypothesis is correct.  When determining what kind of relationship people support beteen religion and politics, it is more important to know whether a person is religious or not, than it is to know their religious denomination.  This importance of this finding stretches beyond the church-state issue.  The finding shows commonality between religions. 

My second hypothesis is that the variable for voted in most recent elections will play an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variables.  When starting my study, It made sense that people who participate politically have probably thought about how government interacts with other social institutions, such as religion.  My second hypothesis is incorrect.  My error in thinking may have been the result of my extensive training as a sociologist.  Maybe political participation dose not result in thinking about how government interacts with other social institutions, such as religion for the average person.  Future studies could explore this in more depth by looking at other forms of political participation. 

My third hypothesis is that several demographic variables will play an important role in explaining the variance in the dependent variables.  This hypothesis is incorrect.  Highest educational attainment is the only demographic variable that plays an important role in explaining differences in the way people respond to the statements. 

In conclusion, this study makes a modest yet important contribution to answering the questions: What types of people support a link between politics and religion, and what types of people support a separation of politics and religion?  It is more important to know whether a person is religious or not, than it is to know their religious denomination.  Religious people tend to support a link between politics and religion. Nonreligious people and atheists tend to support a separation of politics and religion.  People with higher levels of education tend to support a separation of politics and religion.  People with lower levels of education tend to support a separation of politics and religion. 

Bibliography

Carter, S. L. . (2002). The J. Byron Mccormick Lecture: Reflections on the Separation of Church and State. Arizona Law Review, 44(293), Retrieved from http://sb6nw2tx4e.scholar.serialssolutions.com/?sid=google&auinit=SL&aulast=Carter&atitle=Reflections+on+the+Separation+of+Church+and+State&title=Arizona+law+review&volume=44&date=2002&spage=293&issn=0004-153X

 Esbeck, C. H. (1985). Five Views of Church-State Relations in Contemporary American Thought. Brigham Young University Law Review, Retrieved from http://lawreview.byu.edu/archives/1986/2/esb.pdf

Rohrer, J. R. (1987). Sunday Mails and the Church-State Theme in Jacksonian America . Journal of the Early Republic, 7(1), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3123428?seq=1

 Tamney , J. B. (1974). Church-State Relations in Christianity and Islam. Review of Religious Research, 16(1), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3510193?cookieSet=1

Van Alstyne, W. W. (1963). Constitutional Separation of Church and State: The Quest for a Coherent Position. The American Political Science Review, 57(4), Retrieved from http://library.csus.edu/guides/amatab/History/jstorex.pdf

The American Conservative, June 2010

I’m a strange sort of American, one of a handful who has reached middle age without ever having read To Kill a Mockingbird or seen the movie based on it.  Evidently Bill Kauffman also avoided the novel in high school, but has since read it repeatedly and “seen the movie 20 times.”  He makes a fine case for both.   Apostle of “placefulness” that he is, Kauffman defends the book against the charge that it is  “the Southern novel for people who hate the South” by saying that Alabaman Harper Lee is one of a long line of American writers who have shown that “the harshest criticisms of any place come from those who truly love and belong to it.”  Kauffman puts her in the company of “Gore Vidal, Edmund Wilson, William Appleman Williams, Sinclair Lewis, and Edward Abbey.”  He quotes his favorite line from the novel, noble defense attorney Atticus Finch’s injunction to his daughter to “remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.” 

Lest we forget that the magazine is a populist right-wing journal called The American Conservative, Kauffman uses the word “liberal” to mean “self-important hypocritical scold,” as when he writes of that the movie’s “occasional cringe-inducing moments of liberal fantasy- as when the black citizenry, packing the segregated courtroom balcony, stands as one when Atticus passes by- I chalk up, perhaps unfairly, to the vanity of Gregory Peck… Peck’s sanctimony works very well in the film, however; it infuses, rather than embalms, Atticus Finch.” 

My own favorite specimen of the fantasy life of 1960s US liberalism is Star Trek, and Kauffman works a mention of that series into his column.  Praising child actor John Megna, he tells us that Megna would later “chant ‘bonk bonk on the head’ in a famous Star Trek episode.”  I would only point out that the episode in question, “Miri,” is really much better than the line “bonk bonk on the head!” might suggest.   Kauffman’s devotion to the importance of place may inhibit his appreciation of a TV show about people wandering around the galaxy in a spaceship, and his aversion to self-important hypocritical scolds may also get in the way of his enjoyment of Star Trek

Attorney Chase Madar scrutinizes the legal thought of Harold H. Koh, former dean of the Yale Law School, chief legal advisor to the US Department of State, and very likely to be an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court before many more years have passed.  Mr Koh is a renowned expert on international law, which in Madar’s words is supposed to be “much more civilized than mere national law.”  In a recent address to the American Society for International Law, Mr Koh defended the USA’s use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or “drones,” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries where people might be found whom the Obama administration would like to kill.  The same speech praises in glowing terms the administration’s policy of detaining suspected terrorists without trial at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Force Base, and other locations around the world.  In Madar’s words, “Koh’s lecture- warmly applauded by the conventioneers- demonstrates once again the amazing elasticity of international law when it comes to the prerogatives of great powers.”  Madar’s article is titled “How Liberals Kill”; again, the sense of “liberal” here seems to be self-important hypocritical scold. 

A review of Garry Wills’ new book about official secrecy and the US national security state includes a line that reminds me of one of my favorite phrases, C. Wright Mills’ “crackpot realism.”  “Insiders to the world of secrecy loved the idea that they had access to special high-quality knowledge, but as often as not they were victims of wishful thinking, gulled by confidence tricksters  and fake experts.”  Ushered into an exclusive world of secrets and power, people often do become intoxicated by their situation and overly impressed by each other.  As a result of this intoxication, people who might under other circumstances be relied on to show excellent judgment may very well make unbelievably foolish decisions.  Mills developed the concept of crackpot realism in a book called The Causes of World War Three; that title shows just how far he thought the foolishness of such groups could take us.

Interesting things on political blogs

The other day, I looked through the sites we link on our “General Interest and Miscellaneous” page, and recommended a few things from them.  Now I do the same with our “Political Blogs” page. 

Something I missed when it went up in February, an interview about feminism and disability with artist Sunuara Taylor.  (Feministing)

An Afghan politician whom the New York Times identifies as a “reformer” says that “We need U.S. support. If they don’t support us for one day, we cannot survive to the next day.” (The Angry Arab)

Elite groups in the USA have made a habit of explaining high levels of immigration by claiming that there are some dirty, dangerous jobs Americans just won’t do.   (The Anti-Gnostic)

Via Bitch PhD, “People of color are not a story of suffering… or resistance.”  (Restructure!)

Via Digby’s Hullaballoo, an account of Arizonans who support legislation giving more power to the police because they are afraid the police will come after them if they don’t. 

Why the Taliban is likely to win the war in Afghanistan. (Juan Cole)

How big are the biggest American banks, really?  (Matthew Yglesias)

Via Secular Right, a review by British philosopher John Gray of a book by British philosopher A. C. Grayling.  Secularist Grayling sets out to argue against religion, equally secularist Gray points out that what Grayling is in fact arguing against is religion conceived of as simply a belief system, a view that has now been obsolete for centuries.

Liza Cowan remembers Dorothy Height

In two posts this week on her outstanding arts blog See Saw (here and here), fotb Liza Cowan remembers Dorothy Height,  who was both a national treasure and a friend of Liza’s mother.

The Nation, 10 May 2010

Jerry Coyne asks why so many Americans who are capable of accepting the germ theory of disease in a perfectly calm state of mind become so agitated by the theory of evolution by natural selection that they would rather seek refuge in the most far-fetched mythological tales than accept it.  Coyne remarks on two possible explanations for this continent-wide panic attack:

One answer is religion. Unlike germ theory, the idea of evolution strikes at the heart of human ego, suggesting that we were not the special object of God’s attention but were made by the same blind and mindless process of natural selection that also built ferns, fish and rabbits. Another answer is ignorance: most Americans are simply unaware of the multifarious evidence that makes evolution more than “just a theory,” and don’t even realize that a scientific theory is far more than idle speculation.

I don’t  know if either of these explanations really gets us very far.  After all, before Hippocrates it was widely assumed that health or illness was chiefly a sign of a person’s relationship to the gods and other supernatural forces.  So a healthy person enjoyed the favor of the gods, and one who fell ill had incurred the displeasure of one of them.  Recovery from illness was a sign that the sufferer had made up with the supernatural powers lurking inside the world.  The intimate, ongoing relationship between human bodies and supernatural powers that an idea like that implies would strike me as suggestive of a far more elevated view of humanity’s role in the cosmos than would tales of a single incident long ago in which the gods or a god created or earliest ancestor.  If the Greeks didn’t collapse in anxiety at the advent of Hippocrates and the idea that health might have more to with the body’s chemical makeup and physical structure than with the attentions of the gods, I don’t see why modern biology should have triggered such strange reactions from contemporary Americans. 

As for the notion that “most Americans… don’t even realize that a scientific theory is far more than idle speculation,” that’s easy to believe if you listen to the way the word “theory” figures in the rhetoric of Creationists and their enablers.  However, once the topic turns from evolution to a topic which does not excite their anxiety, those same people behave quite differently.  Hearing about the “theory of gravity,” they do not draw the conclusion that they can jump from the top of a skyscraper and float away.  

Elsewhere in the issue, Kai Bird describes the polarization of society in Israel/ Palestine.  He predicts that “a hundred years from now, people will look back to the early twenty-first century and wonder at the fools who delayed peace with their messianic notions.”  Bird’s description of the loop in which unrealistic ideas feed lawless behavior, which in turn reinforces those unrealistic ideas, might help explain the puzzle Coyne mentions.  Fundamentalists stake the whole truth of their religion on one interpretation of one passage of scripture.  Scientific evidence emerges that makes it difficult to believe that this interpretation could be an accurate description of history.  Rather than adapt their ideas, the fundamentalists try to shout their opponents down.  The more they shout, the less conceivable it becomes to them that they might be wrong.  So perhaps the anxiety with which Creationists greet evolutionary theory is a self-perpetuating loop.  Maybe the Greeks would have fallen into a similar loop in the time of Hippocrates had any group decided they would lose something vital unless they started shouting against him.      

The issue also includes a couple of pieces about US policy in Central Asia, an investigation revealing that a significant percentage of the US defense budget is being funneled directly to prominent families in Kyrgyzstan, and a report on some not-very-attractive characters who are likely to gain influence in that country as a result of the popular backlash there against the enrichment of these families.  As with Israel/ Palestine, so too in the USA militarism feeds on itself.  The more involved Americans become in the occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries, the less conceivable it becomes to them that these occupations might be wrong.  So they greet proposals for withdrawal with reactions that show little sign of a thought-through conception of national interest, and everything to do with the fear of losing face.

Four links

While checking the links on our page of “General Interest Blogs and Miscellaneous” to make sure they were all still live, I noticed a few things I wanted to mention.

Via the Ancient World Bloggers Group, an article in MacLean‘s asks whether religious universities serve the public good. 

Chris Clarke explains why “Desert Solar is Not Renewable Energy

Duncan Mitchel claims that “The scale of the crimes involved in the case of US Presidents is far greater than even Popes.” 

Ross Cowan has posted a couple of things (here and here) about the phalanx in ancient Rome

How people found us yesterday

WordPress bloggers often obsess over one particular feature the service offers, which is a list of the search terms that brought views to the site on each day.  Since Los Thunderlads is a general interest blog, our list of search terms sometimes resembles a cross-section of what people are looking for when they search the web.  Here are the search engine terms that brought people here yesterday:

burqa  
periodic table  
nostalgia  
banana  
snake  
georgia o’keeffe paintings  
andy warhol banana  
bacteriophage model  
stanley fish habermas  
burqas  
sulla  
yinka shonibare  
barney fife photos  
barney fife  
ugly hijabi  
gordon lightfoot  
andy warhol banane  
female sex comics guns  
lionel trilling  
bioethics  
zippers in art  
gay periodic table  
shonibare  
naughty muslim women  
google books frontispiece  
burqa pictures  
chadri naked  
bacteriophages  
white tie  
kids playing  
vietnam sheaf  
women who like rape  
rape of the sabine  
veiled face  
“barney fife”  
horse embryo  
hijab fashion  
royal albert hall  
period table  
logicomix  
muslim women street  
patricia piccinini  
banana andy warhol  
roman military soldier equipment  
giuseppe arcimboldo  
muslimcouple  
red transparent umbrella  
chemistry textbook periodic table  
robot thinking  
aden yemen map  

As was the case in my previous post along these lines, I can explain some of these, but not all.  Moreover, there are some which,  while I can explain how they led people here, I cannot explain how anyone came to search for them.  For example, “gay periodic table” seems to have led here; but why anyone searched for that particular phrase leaves me at a loss.  That two people came here yesterday as the result of searching for it seems really strange.  And why this site should rank third in a Google Images search for “horse embryo”, I have no idea.

Barack Obama, Secret Agent Man

Yesterday, beloved public figure Steve Sailer posted some circumstantial evidence suggesting that Barack Obama’s parents might have been connected to the Central Intelligence Agency, and that their connections might have been of value to Mr O himself at various points in his career.  The evidence is scattered over three continents and several decades, and as such can hardly be called conclusive.  Sailer mentions that Stanley Ann Dunham’s employment at the US embassy in Jakarta in the late 1960s, when that embassy was regarded throughout the region as the hub for the agency’s activities in Southeast Asia; and that Barack Obama, Senior was a close associate of Tom Mboya, a strongly pro-American political leader in Kenya in the same period.  As for Mr O, after graduating from Columbia in the 80s he took a job at a company called Business International, a newsletter firm which the New York Times in 1977 identified as a CIA front organization.  None of this information is new; Sailer himself has been publicizing it for years.  But it is handy to have it in one place.    

Sailer’s post opens with these sentences:

The more I think about it, the more likely it seems to me that Barack Obama had a little bit of help along the way from the CIA. Yet, the more I think about it, the less important that seems.
If you conceive of the CIA not as an omnipotent puppet-master, but as a player in an international version of the municipal Favor Bank familiar from The Wire and The Bonfire of the Vanities in which various players scratch each others’ backs, then the idea that Obama might have had a little help along the way (e.g., perhaps a recommendation that helped him transfer from Occidental to Columbia’s International Relations program despite spending most of his time at Oxy getting high), the more likely and less significant it seems. 

The concept of the “Favor Bank” is one Sailer has developed at some length.  Among his interests are the traditional strategies various non-Muslim minority communities in Southwest Asia have used to get by in the centuries since the rise of Islam, and the ways offshoots of these communities in the Americas have adapted those traditional strategies to their new social environments.  So he’s always writing about Armenians, Jews, and others.  Sailer’s citations of a TV show and an 80s airport novel show that he isn’t particularly concerned with the scholarly literature on this subject.  He doesn’t have to give citations; he’s a blogger, not an academic.  Still, it would be nice if he occasionally pointed his readers toward some of already-published anthropological and sociological research.  

I want to make two points.  First, rather than the “Favor Bank,” I would invoke C. Wright Mills’ concept of the “Power Elite.”  In his 1956 book of that title, Mills argued that national policy in the USA is formulated by a “Power Elite” consisting of senior figures in business, the military, and politics.  This elite did not spring into existence overnight, but grew up gradually as American capitalism and military power grew.  Thinking of this elite, I would agree with Sailer that the CIA is not an “omnipotent puppet-master,” and not an alien mechanism foisted on the old Republic, but that it is of a piece with the rest of the American establishment. 

I should think it would be rather interesting if Mr O in fact owed part of his rise to cozy relations with an institution so close to the heart of the Power Elite.  That would show that his left-of-center admirers and his right-of-center detractors are equally foolish in their shared belief that he might bring radical change to the USA.  That Sailer does not see this story as interesting tells us, I think, something about his view of the president.  Sailer wrote a book-length analysis of Mr O’s memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  The subtitle “A Story of Race and Inheritance” is clearly music to Sailer’s ears; he occasionally ridicules authors whom he believes to be understating the importance of race in the president’s life story, and race and inheritance are the two lodestars of Sailer’s own writing.  If the idea of Mr O’s CIA connections is getting steadily less interesting to Sailer, therefore, perhaps the reason might be that he wants to reduce the president’s biography to a “Story of Race and Inheritance,” and as Sailer learns more about those connections he finds it ever harder to do that. 

Sailer calls himself a “race realist,” arguing that race, which he defines as “a partly inbred extended biological family,” is by itself capable of explaining many social phenomena, including mean IQ scores among various population groups, crime rates, etc.  If Sailer is right and Mr O did inherit connections to the CIA, then his “Story of Race and Inheritance” suddenly drifts outside the scope of that sort of thinking.  He would have inherited those ties through a bureaucratic organization, not through a network of kinsmen.  While the fact that most of the people he has met would classify the president as African American might have given a particular shape to those connections, we cannot know what that shape might be unless we know a great deal about the institutional culture of the CIA in the later decades of the Cold War and something about the personal interactions among the young Mr O and the CIA men concerned with him. 

So, Sailer, despite his eagerness to identify circumstances in which race stands alone as an explanation of social phenomena, seems to have come upon a story which could serve as a perfect illustration of what social scientists mean when they argue that race and inheritance are not things that stand on their own, but that they exist only as features characterizing particular social encounters.  Ideas about race and customs relating to inheritance may shape a social encounter.  What is real, though, are particular social encounters and people who share them, not the ideas and customs that shape those encounters.