Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 8 Nov 04 09:52
Let me begin with the question about religion and freedom, and start with a quote from the Politics of Deceit. "Prayer, meditation, chants, and rituals of all kinds are intended to open the individual mind and heart to new possibilities for thought and action." For that to make much sense, I have to explain a bit more about my concept of freedom. Stay with me, because this brief dip into neuroscience really will come back to religion. I swear. Cognitive science has identified how various parts of the brain synchronize their activity into a coherent thought, perception, or action. Scans show what they call "phase synchrony," or synchronized electrical activity in the gamma range, accompanying each discrete thought. But they also found an active phase desynchrony between each thought or action. Think of the synchronized signals as lines connecting dots. At the moment of desynchrony, the lines are temporarily relaxed, "allowing for the possibility that new lines will be connected in the next conscious moment." This active phase scattering or desynchrony is not devolution into chaos. Rather, learning and habits play a role. You might say desynchrony constrains but does not determine upcoming conscious moments. I have a paper on this in review at a journal called Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. I worked through the ideas with Shaun Gallagher and George Lakoff (don't consider this their endorsement, though, they simply helped keep me reasonable and focused). This is one possible solution to the free will dilemma. It meets the criteria set by philosopher Rober Kane, who wrote that "some of the mental events or processes involved [in mental acts and perceptions] must be undetermined, so that the causation by mental events may be nondeterministic or probablistic as well as deterministic." We seem to have a natural capacity to expand human choices. Each thought is not fully determined by the previous thought. The possibility of freedom, in other words, is built into human nature. What's this got to do with religion? Well, spiritual practice is a way of expanding our awareness of these possibilities of freedom, of opening to new possibilities for thought and action. I suggest we "are bound together in religious traditions not because we focus upon the same idols or beliefs, but because we collectively share in the possibility of freedom." Spiritual practice is not, or should not be, the contemplation of pretty pictures or easy solutions to the unknowns of the universe. It is, or should be, intended to help us understand our actions are not determined by god, the universe, or yesterday. You can see I've managed to walk out on two limbs at the same time. But I think they meet. I think I'm walking toward that point, which is stronger not weaker than the limbs behind me. It's undeniable that the brief moments of the awareness of freedom make us a bit vulnerable to suggestion, intimidation and fear, as well as to the brightness of an undetermined future. History is, to some degree, the record of the wreckage of this exploitation. Many spiritual leaders, Buddha and Jesus for instance, warned us against this, and urged us to rely upon our own resources. That is exactly what many church bureaucrats don't want us to do. The always lingering possibility of exploitation is why we separate church and state. An authentic spiritual leader would have or should have insisted upon the separation if the Founders hadn't thought of it themselves. One more point You can see one way these ideas dovetail with the earlier discussion of freedom. At the point I carve the habit in my brain of focusing upon how I might limit your freedom, I have denied myself other future possibilities for thought and action. This concept of freedom is intersubject at its root. And it's why spiritual practice is a communal practice.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 8 Nov 04 10:18
I have received a few letters and emails like the Buzz Flash commentary linked by ThatsPaint in #49. I understand her impatience and anger, but she mistakes resolve for capitulation. It's annoying to people this angry to use extreme examples of heroism to counter their impatience, but as I've done elsewhere, I'm going to do it here as well. Would this writer have walked into Nelson Mandela's prison cell with the same message? We should press the issue of the stolen election. We are. But we can also do more than one thing at a time. The odds are against us turning the election over through the revelation of stolen votes and suspect machines. It would be irresponsible to quit planning and working on other fronts. We might have to fight this war again with our minds and hands and not rely upon a single silver bullet. I don't support the Kerry campaign decision not to pursue a challenge. I believe the entire nation takes election results upon faith, a dangerous and destructive tendency in a democracy. If we really cared about the power of the vote we'd have transparent, verifiable ballots, same-day registration, extended early voting and an election-day national holiday. That we don't betrays our reliance upon a "feeling" about who won, not about who has the support of most Americans. Kerry should be making this argument with us. But we can't limit our action to that front. I'm actually proud and a bit surprised at the widespread resiliency of progressives. The other side's power depends upon our demoralization. Don't let our resolve and morale disappear into Diebold boxes with our votes.
Drew Trott (druid) Mon 8 Nov 04 17:15
Somewhere in here it's useful to contemplate the distinction made by Joseph Campbell between "religion" and "spirituality." He was contemptuous of the former, which for him was typified by his own childhood indoctrination at the hands of Jesuits. On the other hand, his entire life's work was devoted to the latter, which he conceived as an individualized quest for deeper meanings the exact essence of which was necessarily unique to every human being. Here as with so much of today's "divided American" I think we see echoes of the conflict between what I call "Enlightenment values" and "medieval values." But I can't presume to say how, or if, these ruminations resonate with your own thinking on these subjects. Your book is really quite rich with food for thought on a number of levels. Forgive me if, in the exigencies of the moment, I keep careening from the philosophical to the practical. On the latter front, let me ask this: What one change to the laws affecting our political process do you think would best advance the interests of democracy in America right now? (You don't really have to stick to one but I have a nominee in mind and I'm wondering if I'm right.)
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 8 Nov 04 17:37
Can it be an omnibous bill? Dealing only with reform of our political campaign practices, I would: Prohibit paid advertising, publicly fund campaigns, limit expenditures, allow same-day registration, expand early voting, make election day a national holiday, mandate transparent, verifiable ballots, and appoint national and local voter "juries" to be drawn from voter rolls to monitor elections at all levels. Something would have to be done to ensure the juries are demographically, geographically, and economically balanced.
Drew Trott (druid) Mon 8 Nov 04 19:42
That's a great list. If folks want to sign on, where can they go?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 8 Nov 04 20:35
Drew, what was your candidate for change?
Drew Trott (druid) Mon 8 Nov 04 22:19
Ban political advertising, preferably entirely, but at least for some period preceding an election (say, at least 30 days). This would encounter some serious constitutional hurdles, and in my earlier days I might have opposed it on that basis. But I'm convinced that advertising in general is corrosive of the culture, and political advertising is pure poison. (Not that it couldn't be detoxified to a considerable extent by putting strict controls on content, e.g., no pictorials, head shots only -- but that would create more constitutional problems than an outright ban, I think.)
from MATT LANGLEY (tnf) Tue 9 Nov 04 01:00
Matt Langley writes: A dialog is all well and good. We democrats are very good at dialog. The fact of the matter is, the people that were motivated by the war machine to vote for their own oppression in this election are beyond dialog. They were manipulated by a sophisticated propaganda machine that fed them what they were supposed to say and how they were supposed to react from November 3rd 2000 on. Free Thought got trumped by Fear and Oppression because Free Thought played by the rules wait for the election and then present the case. By that time there was no hope in defending Free Thought. Free Thoughts defense only confirmed Fear and Oppressions pre-programmed response they say our leader is misrepresenting the truth so he must be telling the truth because He said this is how the attack would come. I think the election was call to action for the free thinkers; those with consciences and the ability to see through the façade of Fear and Oppression. Heres why. We busted our butts getting out the facts about or leaders deceptions because we thought our exposure of the insincerity of the leader would ring true with everyone. The fact of the matter is our attacks and appeals to reason and logic fell on deaf ears because Fear and Oppression had programmed the receivers well in advance. I refer to the receivers as those whose ideas are programmed by the input of Fear and Oppression only they do not respond to reason. They believe and that is good enough for them. I mistakenly thought of these people as stupid leading up to the election but through talking to some of them extensively immediately prior to the election, I found that they are not stupid, they simply identified with Bush and thought he represented their values. A large majority of these believers are victims of extremely calculated manipulation and I now feel no contempt for them or their decisions. Fear and Oppression is snowballing right now. They are scheming and planning to take their mandate to the bank, cashing in on the labors of the oppressed and free thinkers alike. They have successfully silenced critics by making criticism suspect and they have exploited the faith of the oppressed to the extent that We The People are now divided into Believers and Blasphemers. Free Thought is now supposed to be regrouping. Free Thought is now supposed to be thinking about mending our mistaken ways and adopting the ways of the receivers because we lost the election. I SAY FORGET THAT! That is a trap we should NOT fall into. NOW is when the peace marches need to take place. NOW is when our voice needs to rise over Fear and Oppression. NOW is when the inner workings of Fear and Oppression need to be exposed at every level. NOW is when we need to accept the idea that maybe George Bush IS a good person with good intentions who is being manipulated be Fear and Oppression for profit and power because the average guy can identify with him. NOW is when we need the solidarity of our 48% (of those that voted) NOW is when we need to ignore the red and blue map shown on TV and in the papers and kick the ass of the 48% - the Free Thinkers - to get in them motion to defeat Fear and Oppression in any form. NOW is when we need to reiterate that senseless killing in the name of oil and colonization is WRONG. NOW is when we need to stress that acceptance of ALL PEOPLE Heterosexual American, African American, Native American, Scottish American, Latin American, Asian American, American American, Homosexual American, British, French, North Korean is the only way we will ALL BE FREE. NOW is when we need to email each other, have meetings, have canvasses, have concerts, have sit ins, have teas, have round tables, encourage any and all contact between ALL PEOPLE of all colors, all persuasions, all religions, all nationalities and all ideologies. NOW is the time when we cannot allow this nation, or any nation, to be further divided by Fear and Oppression. WE MUST ACT NOW to silence Fear and Oppression for this and future generations. Matt Langley Eliot, Maine
from PATTY HORRIDGE (tnf) Tue 9 Nov 04 01:01
Patty Horridge writes: Having read Smiths Politics of Deceit, I was impressed with his desire to promote civil dialogue and understanding in order to create a viable public sphere, which he believes is being threatened. Therefore, it is very disconcerting to me when I read in the press that we are a very deeply divided nation. I dont agree. We are a great nation because we have the freedom to express our views and to vote our conscience. We will never all be on the same page, thank goodness. Even though our choice was clear in this election, the division pales in comparison to our Civil War era, the Vietnam War, or the fight for civil rights. We are a better nation as a result of coming through difficult times together. Therefore, I take exception to the medias attempt to sensationalize and make it seem that weve never had it so bad. As my mother used to say Thats tommyrot! I realize they must sell news and gain market share. But I dont have to let it effect my basic belief system. I am disappointed that Bush won, so I intend to continue to keep myself better informed (not just during political campaigns), and share my viewpoints with my friends and family (who, by the way, do not all agree with my point of view.) I agree 100% with Smiths ideas for political campaign reform. And, as a former campaign director, he is speaking directly from the horses mouth. If the big money were taken out of politics, and elections were truly publicly run, we would return to the public sphere Smith says we have lost. These seem like insurmountable goals. The very people we elect are products of this crazy process. Why would they have any incentive to change? Whats it going to take?
from JSvj (tnf) Tue 9 Nov 04 01:02
"JSvj" writes: Re No. <52> I completely agree Glenn, there is no reason why multiple angles cannot be pursued. My purpose for bringing up the vote fraud issue is simply that if we accept the election results as confirmed the very parameters of the discus- sion are skewed, likely leading to a great deal of soul searching which at this point can only be framed within the parameters of not why we lost but why we did not get more. And of course, no matter what coalition is built is will come to naught without fair elections. The scope of the evidence is be- coming vast BTW. The resolve your spoke of will move to other quarters if this issue is not spoken of early and often. With that said and acknowledged I'm content to go on to the other issues.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 9 Nov 04 06:06
#57: that's going to make it a lot rougher to unseat incumbents.
from CRAIG BARRINGTON (tnf) Tue 9 Nov 04 10:13
Craig Barrington writes: I'm reading in the Glenn Smith conversation about bumper stickers on cars and trucks and they should be used more by Democrats, Liberals & Progressives in the Bubba states. The first one we need would allow people to recognize the narrow and selectiveness of morality in religion today that focuses on gay and abortion issues and is silent on equally important issues such as war. The question that George Bush should be asked is; would Jesus use war or would he use the opposite approach? I would like to see more of the following kinds of bumper stickers across the Bubba Heartland that drives the message home. "END THE WAR, PRAISE GOD" Craig Barrington
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Tue 9 Nov 04 11:02
Sharon, you say in #61 > "#57: that's going to make it a lot rougher to unseat incumbents." How so? Right now money is incumbents' big advantage. Advertising drives the need for money, at least for a lot of money. Public finance and spending caps, for challengers and incumbents, would level the playing field. Election reforms would make it much easier for people who haven't been participating to go to the polls (joining the voters who elected the incumbents). Citizen "juries" would help prohibit incumbents from rigging the rules or the elections. The only remaining advantages are pork and constituent services, and I don't know of anything short of term limits that can diminish those advantages.
from NANCY MOYNIHAN (tnf) Tue 9 Nov 04 11:43
Nancy Moynihan writes: The exit polls in Ohio & Florida showed Kerry ahead, they don't lie. We will never win an election again till we expose blackbox voting. We were screwed again. <http://www.blackboxvoting.com>www.blackboxvoting.com
David Kline (dkline) Tue 9 Nov 04 12:32
The majority of our fellow citizens believes that this country has been hijacked by an oh-so-cosmopolitan cabal of liberal elitists whose values and goals have nothing to do with theirs. They believe that their real concerns and needs are dismissed, and that they themselves are constantly ridiculed as small-town, redneck, Joe Sixpack, Rotary Club yahoos. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that there is more than a little truth to their discontent -- just look at how non-urban, non-"cool," Church-going people are portrayed on TV -- the question is, What if anything can be done to pry this "silent majority" from the deceptive political embrace of the conservative right? Much has already been said on that subject in this topic. But I'd just like to add two words: "Listening" and "Respect." I go back a ways, and I remember throughout the entire 1970s and 1980s you could not get a single Democrat to address in any way two of the issues of greatest concern to most Americans at the time: crime and welfare. We progressives considered any talk of how crime was negatively affecting our lives as a "cover for racism." Same with welfare. This despite the fact that we ourselves no longer felt safe walking in our neighborhoods at night, and despite the fact that we knew in our bones that generations of dependency were being created by our bureauicratic welfare system. So we ignored these issues, and we became the perennially-losing party. Duh. The first Democratic candidate to even dare to address crime and welfare was Clinton. Not only that, he kept uttering a slogan that, God Forbid, ordinary people in the heartland could actually relate to -- i.e., "I believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, then ... (insert whatever programmatic solution he was calling for here)." And what happened? He won. Duh. People are worried in this country. They're worried about families falling apart, kids on drugs, lack of morality, financial pressures, the loss of community, and now terrorism. Many of them are so desperate they've embraced a literalist interpretation of the Bible in hopes of finding some secure morrings in a topsy-turvy world. (And you'd have to be crazy not to agree that the world is kind of topsy-turvy right now, so have a little sympathy for those folks.) But one thing's for sure -- the only ones they think are really speaking to their concerns are the Republicans. Politics will not change in this country until we start listening to these people with a little bit of respect and start offering progressive, instead of reactionary, solutions to their problems and concerns.
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Tue 9 Nov 04 12:36
Actually, a little more than 30% of eligible voters think that way. 29% or so don't. The 40% that remain are the folks we need to convince.
David Kline (dkline) Tue 9 Nov 04 12:49
Why not reach out to all 70% of eligible voters who think we suck?
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Tue 9 Nov 04 12:54
OK. I just think it's important to kill the 51% meme.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 9 Nov 04 13:44
#63: because without advertising, challengers have few avenues to the media, whereas incumbents can always create 'news.'
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Tue 9 Nov 04 13:50
For those wondering how to communicate to the right, check out my blog "Ritual and Revolution" at Bopnews.com. Read Ian Welsh's as well. And if you're interested in the economic side of this, and want to follow a good bit of technical jargon, read Stirling and Oldman as well. The point is, as in feudalism, authoritarian leaders have captured the rituals of a significant American subculture, the rural right. Their rituals, from church to Friday night football, tend to reinforce all their beliefs. The tough thing is, what holds them together makes them impervious to lies and to efforts to point out lies from outside their in-group. David has a point in #65. But I would suggest an importantly different approach. The right wing subculture has to be challenged from within and without, not catered too. A good example: progressive religious leaders have to speak out, with conviction. Dissonance and disagreement among ritual leaders is a good way to subvert the supports beneath misguided beliefs -- and advance new ideas. We have to speak to some of their concerns, yes. Some of their concerns are, after all, valid. It was good to have Clinton because he kept so many awful things at bay. So I'm taking nothing away from him. But little happened to really challenge a worldview that can be dangerous. Shrugging off the deceptive justifications for war because the lie is irrelevent to in-group concerns presents a danger to the rest of the world.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Tue 9 Nov 04 13:52
Sharon, you have a point. A good one. But wouldn't it be better to take away as many advantages as we can? Incumbents have the "news" advantage today, and so many other advantages as well. But I have to admit this is a significant obstacle.
David Kline (dkline) Tue 9 Nov 04 14:52
Any constituency can be divided into a small hard core and a much broader middle-of-the-road majority. We can and should try to separate the majority of Americans legitimately concerned with declining family stability, for example, from the much smaller hard core who think women shouldn't work outside the home and that the Bible instructs men to take absolute charge of their households. It's not a question of pandering to the right. It's a question of winning over the vast majority of people who are, in the end, quite capable of being separated from reactionary politics given the right conditions. The right is correvt in saying there's a cultural war in this country. We've got to win it the same way we've got to win the war on terror -- by politically separating the "silent majority" (of conservatives in this case, or in the war on terror, of Muslims) from the die-hard extremists.
Drew Trott (druid) Tue 9 Nov 04 15:00
You are making good points, David, especially about respect. But I grew up among people who were already steeped in right-wing myths about welfare, crime, big government, and various foreign menaces. When somebody starts yammering to me about these things, I honestly *don't* know how to talk to them, because my honest opinion is that they're laboring under a set of delusions that are partly attributable to fear-mongers and partly attributable to their own inner demons. I think my neighbors have the same obligation I do not only to listen critically to what they're told, but to examine their own lives and hearts for prejudices, wishful thinking, and other vulnerabilities to deception. I honestly *don't* respect them when they disclaim those obligations. I wish I could get into a place where I did, but I have yet to succeed -- perhaps in part because these divergences are so central to my relationship to my own family. So what is somebody in my situation to do? I'd like to talk persuasively to my Red neighbors, but I don't know how to overcome my impulse to tear them a new orifice (speaking figuratively, of course).
Drew Trott (druid) Tue 9 Nov 04 15:02
Wow, I just took my first look at bopnews.com. I'm at work, but can't wait to examine it more closely from home.
David Kline (dkline) Tue 9 Nov 04 15:49
I don't know the answer to that, Druid. For me, I guess, I've gotten used to talking to people who are very very different than me. I used to be a labor organizer. And I remember being amazed at people who'd say the company would do a better job for them than the unions would. I later learned, of couse, that sometimes they were right -- there are a lot of corrupt unions out there. So that taught me something about listening to people. But mostly, I just tried to show people through everyday experience that we'd be better off organized. And over time, enough people came around that we won a few union votes. Later, I worked for many years as a foreign correspondent in Islamic countries like Afghanistan. And man, you really don't appreciate how lucky we are to grow up in an Enlightenment-based nation until you've spent a good amount of time talking to people who literally have no idea what you're talking about when you tell them that back home people of every religion live in your neighborhood and that, in fact, you don't even know what the religious beliefs are of your closest neighbors on either side. It's not that they disagreed; they simply could not comprehend what the hell I was talking about. Like we lived on different planets. So, for me, talking to people who think Bush respects their values is a helluva lot easier than talking to people whose cultures and religions have never gone through an Enlightment or Reformation process. At least here, though they might not agree with you, they do understand what the hell you're talking about. Mostly.
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