Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Clear Choice?

I've been reading the flurry of postings on social media following Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate and as always I have questions.  First, I'll list some observations that amuse or interest me.  The GOP in the past several decades has benefitted from the support of the so called "Christian Right" or the "Evangelical Vote".  Leaving aside the fact that labels like that are often faulty because the group they purport to describe is often more complex and less monolithic than the names imply, it's fair to say that those who consider themselves "Fundamentalist Christians" have overwhelmingly supported the GOP.  It's also fair to say that this group has had the opinion that any candidate they support must also share their religious belief, ie: also be a Christian that fits their fundamentalist definition, born again.  This year the GOP appears set to field two candidates, neither of whom could fit that definition of Christian.  In fact, presumptive VP Paul Ryan has professed his debt to writer/philosopher Ayn Rand time and time again.  In case anyone has forgotten this is the same writer who considered selfishness a virtue and said "Faith is the worst curse of mankind" The same person who railed against religion in general and Christianity in particular for her whole life.  I actually find it rather refreshing that those on the far right wing of religious thought are not being so dogmatic in their position that every candidate must believe exactly as they do.  Another observation is a purely technical one, the GOP convention hasn't happened yet has it? The Romney/Ryan ticket is not the really real official ticket yet, right? I just wanted to check to make sure I haven't missed anything.  Just in case it really is the really real official ticket for the party, would it be rude to ask why they'll be having the convention?
What really interests me more are the questions that come up when I read posts like this one from a friend "the race comes down to government's role in our lives: Should we be more dependent on government, its diktats and its endless "interventions" or less dependent on government and free to choose how we live, what we give and -- increasingly of late -- what we BELIEVE."
In what ways are we dependent on government?  In what ways would you like to not be dependent on government?  What sort of "interventions" are you experiencing right now? In what ways are you not free to choose how to live?  In what ways are you not able to believe what you want to believe?
I haven't yet spoken to this person yet so I can't say exactly what's behind the somewhat vague statements but I can still think of some more questions.  Let's look at how we are dependent on government, I can think of a few ways off the top of my head - clean air and water, roads that we can drive on, police to help keep those roads safe as well providing for general safety in our towns and cities, schools, parks, postal service,  and so forth.  My first question would be "Are any of these dependencies a problem?" If so, why?  As far as "Interventions" I admit to not really having an idea of what those might be, other than the government's interventions when people are breaking the law.  For the record I completely support the police pulling people over when they're cruising down the street I live on at twenty miles over the speed limit.  Looking at the idea of freedom in terms of how we choose to live, again, it's hard to say what the writer had in mind so I'll have to ask, "What would you like to do now that you're not allowed to do?"  If the point refers to equal rights for all, especially in terms of the right to marry, I'm right there, yes, equal rights are only equal when everyone has them.  But then, that's not really a choice, as in "How we choose to live", LGBT people are who they are, it's not a choice that issue falls under civil rights, so perhaps I don't understand the original complaint.  What sorts of choices are we denied, assuming it's not something that adversely effects the environment or public safety? It's the same with "increasingly of late-- what we BELIEVE" I don't get it, how are your beliefs being thwarted?  Now, if we're talking about equal marriage rights as has been the hot topic (at least in terms of where to eat lunch) recently I might have some ideas.  What I see happening in that realm is something that is probably very uncomfortable for many people.  By all accounts, the public opinion tide is turning and the belief that LGBT people deserve fewer rights by virtue of who they are, is falling out of favor.  I would imagine that in the 1950s and 60s there were a lot of people living in the south who felt themselves under attack because pubic opinion was shifting and the idea that black people deserved fewer rights because of who they are was falling out of favor.  If you've been taught something your whole life by people you love and admire and it's been engrained into your world view, feeling like that belief was being challenged could be scary.  It is, however, what happens anytime you learn something new.  Your mind has to process new information, sometimes it adds to prior knowledge, sometimes it replaces what you knew or believed before.  You can call it an attack on what you believe or you can call it learning.  Words are important, words are powerful.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What are we afraid of?

As yet another story of gun violence plays out in the news the questions, as if on cue fall out of talking heads and roll down the streets.  "Why?" and "How?" are two of the most asked questions and two of the hardest to answer.  In a tweet last week I suggested that the "bigger the questions, the less useful the answers that the questioning and the questing were perhaps more important."  It's an incomplete theory at best, but perhaps as suggested, pursuing the questions may be useful. I will expand this idea in another essay, but for now I'll just suggest that pushing questions further and following all the divergent paths of thought may reveal more than just answering one initial question. And so I will try to push this idea a little further.  In the two recent headline stories of mass killings the "how?" question has some information that can be easily applied.  People obtained guns and ammunition, often these weapons were designed or modified to shoot many rounds quickly, and they used the guns to kill people.  The statistical part is often pretty well documented, but a question like "how?" can be pushed much further. How does one person kill so many other people?  How does their mind work to accomplish this?  At this point, "How? may well blend into "Why?" It's my observation that at this point the questions tend to end, at least in the public discussion and I think it's a missed opportunity.  Why not push the questions further?
I have head several pundits and politicians  in this past week saying "Now is not the time for a discussion on gun control"  They sight people's emotions, those of the victims and families first saying the experience is too fresh and painful.  Another common refrain is that people need to "cool down" first.  I would admit that in some instances hasty decisions can cause regret, although when you see a truck that has veered into your lane of traffic heading straight towards you the hasty decision to swerve to miss it is usually not regretted in fact people usually congratulate you on your swift response.  My own opinion on guns has been well documented and it's not really the point here, I'm really more interested in the discussion.
One question that comes to mind is "If not now, when?"  There are plenty of examples in history of tragedies that caused swift action in debates, hearings, discussions and sometimes laws.  I wonder if in April 1912 there was a chorus of people saying "Now is not the time to discuss better safety standards for ocean liners such as having enough lifeboats for everyone" Perhaps we could think of this question; If we were to rush to judgement, make hasty decisions on controlling assault weapons or magazines that allow the gun to fire a hundred rounds quickly, if we were to "go overboard" in trying to protect the public, what would be the ramifications?  What would be the downside to making rash decisions around safety?  Would we end up being "too safe?"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Playing Chicken

Who would have thought that we'd be lining up to either buy a chicken sandwich at Chick-Fil-A or swearing that we'll never give them another nickel?  Perhaps we owe this current perfect storm of political discourse to the social network age we live in.  When everyone's thoughts and opinions are traveling at the "speed of twitter" is there much time for reflection and consideration?  My own Facebook page has been host to several heated discussions on this topic and as always I'm looking to, if not make sense of the situation, at least make note of the good questions to be asking.  Answers tend to be stated and then written in stone, questions live longer and perhaps offer more possibilities.  Here's my current thoughts (under construction, in progress, not written in stone, etc.) Trying to explain dispensational theology, to show why Biblical quotes about marriage in the Old Testament are not applicable for us today, is probably not really useful because it assumes one particular idea about the Bible as an inerrant reference is accurate and all others are not.  I mention this because I just read several posts on FB where one friend tried to explain to another how they chose which verses would be considered valid.  Trying to debate who is really a "bigot", the one who opposes equal rights or the one who opposes opposing equal rights, probably won't get us too far either.  So I notice that words like "bigot" have a definition in the dictionary but they also carry huge amounts of baggage and when you employ them you probably should pay attention to the baggage that's being dragged around like a moldy old suitcase behind the words.  I also think that while we all have freedom of speech, it's very naive to believe that you have a freedom from any reaction to your speech.  If there is something that can be written in stone I'd say it's that when you speak people will have an opinion, people will react.  After all, why speak your mind if you don't expect people to react?  Words are powerful, words are dangerous, words should be treated with respect.  Since I just suggested that questions are often better than answers I'll pose a few; Can a news story like this be a reference point for talking with students about the power of words? Can a story like this offer a chance to look at how people debate ideas in the public sphere? Is it possible to step back and look at a situation from outside of your own opinions?