Searching America’s Soul

Progressive Values e-letter October 25, 2013
Ideas we need to talk about        HTML version

Searching America's Soul

All of the various fields of human inquiry -- theology and philosophy and morality and psychology  - meet rather
beautifully in politics. And sometimes I wonder if politics isn't exactly that,it's the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical
moment on earth in which we live.
Tony Kushner - writer of the movie "Lincoln" - interview with Bill Moyers

To all Americans -
The shutdown debacle pulled back the curtain and revealed some deep
dark issues at the core of our crisis in American democracy. There
has been an outpouring of commentary from diverse voices on a broad
range of topics within this complex scenario raising issues that have
been under the radar until now. It's now indisputable that our
American democracy is in the greatest peril since the Civil War and
change must come effectively and rapidly from the grassroots up.

Especially revealing was coverage, particularly via social media, of
the values and ideas driving the political posturing and maneuvering.
The shutdown had little to do with the actual debt or deficit and
everything to do with a narrow ideology, toxic certitude, delusions
of superiority and lust for power . Widespread consensus that this
conservative extremist worldview is dangerous gives me the moral
energy needed to continue seeking dialogue and understanding among
the citizenry.

It has been common knowledge for some time that the Republican Party
is controlled by its Tea Party faction. An entrenched hatred for
secular government and liberals is a major force in the Tea Party
ideology.

Ever-present racism and the threat of violence have grown
exponentially since the election of Barack Obama as President. The
passion of some in that fringe element is rooted in the conviction
that America is a "Christian nation" and should be ruled by Biblical
principles. This movement is called Dominionism or Reconstructionism
and has been part of the culture for many years. "End times" theology
is often a part of this mindset and came to the public's attention
during the candidacies of Gov. Sarah Palin and Gov. Rick Perry.

The fact that this faction calls themselves "Values Voters" while
they help the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, is
infuriating. Their false labeling of progressives as being "morally
deficient" and "depraved" makes me furious.

Close observers of the moral dimensions of politics have been
concerned about this right wing movement since its emergence in the
early 1980s. General awareness and alarm have been fairly low until
recently. There are many individuals and organizations within the
progressive movement and mainline Christians that are deeply involved
in confronting the hypocrisy and cruelty of this extremist ideology
but a cohesive strategy has not yet emerged. Liberals, Democrats and
Progressives have long been inept at articulating the moral values
grounding their political philosophy.

Americans treasure their democracy (even when complaining about the
government) and the principles upon which it founded. Freedom of, and
freedom from, religion along with free speech are precious to us.
Tolerance for a wide range of opinions and cultural diversity is an
American characteristic.

However, when a small faction - made up of big money, skilled
operatives, "grassroots" organizing and Members of Congress who are
motivated by this extremist right wing ideology - amasses enough
power to shut down the government, a line has been crossed.  (see
Robert Reich's comments at left).

It's critically important that citizens learn about this insurgency
and organize to fight back so that American democracy stays firmly
rooted in its inherently progressive values. There are many
components of this crisis with faith and values playing a major role.

The study of moral politics has been my priority for the past eight
years. I've collected more information than I ever thought possible
when this project began and have posted selected articles on the
internet for citizen education. All are welcome to use this body of
knowledge and those progressives with a bent for political philosophy
are strongly urged to dig in.
With audacious faith, Phyllis Stenerson

We must move ahead with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   * * *

There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A
person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that
diminish the strength, the integrity, and the overall well-being of a
nation's inner core. America's soul is in a fragile state...We see
that in the near hatred between the Republicans and Democrats,
between liberals and conservatives, between free-thinkers and
evangelicals that continues to fester...we now have a public that
cannot discern lies from truth... Crimes Against the Soul of America
by Carolyn Myss, published on Huffington Post,September 5, 2009 

Despite such terminology as "fiscal cliff" and "debt ceiling," the
great debate taking place in Washington now has relatively little to
do with financial issues. It is all about ideology. It is all about
economic winners and losers in American society. It is all about the
power of Big Money. It is all about the soul of America...We are
entering a pivotal moment in the modern history of our country. Do
the elected officials in Washington stand with ordinary Americans --
working families, children, the elderly, the poor -- or will the
extraordinary power of billionaire campaign contributors and Big
Money prevail? The American people, by the millions, must send
Congress the answer to that question. The Soul of America by Senator Bernie Sanders,
published by Common Dreams, January 9, 2013

* * *

We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness,
our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of
attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.
Chaplain Barry C. Black in one of his daily opening prayers in United States Senate,
New York Times,October 7, 2013

Go to www.ProgressiveValues.org for articles,
excerpts, quotations and more. To receive this e-letter directly, go
to bottom left of home page and sign up.

We are, or at least we used to be,a nation of moral ideals.
Reclaiming America's Soul by Paul Krugman,New York Times, April 24, 2009

Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the
public good.
Why We Love Politics by David Brooks,New York Times, November 22, 2012

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world
revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of
values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society
to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit
motives and property rights, are considered more important than
people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and
militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do not retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed.
Ruth W. Messinger

We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better
and more just world for our children.
CÉsar ChÁvez

Politics is what we create out of what we do, what we hope for,
what we dare to imagine.
Paul Wellstone

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.
Sojourner Truth

From Robert Reich, posted on Facebook:
Suppose a relatively small group financed by a handful of
billionaires (1) takes over state governments in order to redistrict,
gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise
suppress the votes of the majority; (2) secretly bankrolls candidates
for these safe seats who pledge to shrink and dismember the
government; (3) then, once these candidates are elected, has them
shut down the government in order to repeal or amend laws the
plotters dislike; (4) then forces the nation to default on its debts
and thereby throws the economy into a tailspin in order to get their
way; and (5) runs a vast PR campaign to convince the American public
of big lies about laws the plotters dislike or policies they seek.
Would you call this an attempted coup d'etat? If not, what would you
call it? And what would you do about it?  Robert Reich, Facebook, October 7, 2013

Articles posted by topic include
- Seditious conspiracy
- Shutdown crisis
- Right wing religious extremism
- America's Soul
- Government's moral authority

The Spiritual Crisis Underlying American Politics By John Amodeo, PsychCentral.com, October 14, 2013    -
The shutdown of good governance by Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, October 6 , 2013
A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning by Sheryl Gay Solberg and - Mike McIntire, New York Times, October 5, 2013
Meet the Evangelical Cabal Orchestrating the Shutdown, BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013   -
Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual by John Light, BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013   The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today by Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers.com, October 10, 2013
Many in G.O.P. Offer Theory: Default Wouldn't Be That Bad by Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, October 8, 2013
The American Public's Shocking Lack of Policy Knowledge is a Threat to Progress and Democracy By Justin Doolittle,Truthout, October 12, 2013 
Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda By Robert Scheer, Truthdig, October 13, 2013
The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government by Chris Hedges, TruthDig.com, posted on CommonDreams.org, October 7, 2013
How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane by Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 9, 2013

Recent e-letters

-  Status quo or change? 9/19/13
-  The battle for America's soul 10/4/13 

Phyllis Stenerson, Paideia LLC
612.331.1929
- phyllis@progressivevalues.org phyllis@progressivevalues.org - ProgressiveValues.org
Paideia (pu-di'uh) is an ancient Greek philosophy of educating for
citizenship to create an ideal society

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Tom Foley’s passing recalls the bipartisan spirit of a bygone era

By Robert H. Michel, Washington Post, October 20, 2013

(Robert H. Michel, a Republican, represented Illinois in the U.S. House from 1957 to 1995. He was Republican leader from 1981 to 1995. Thomas Foley represented Washington in the U. S. House as a Democrats from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995 when he was defeated for reelection during the Gingrich Revolution. Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, succeeded him as Speaker.)

Excerpt  

Speaker Tom Foleysaid it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week [October 18, 2013) that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust…The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency…This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power…

Full text

Try as he might, Speaker Tom Foley could not gavel the House to order. It was Nov. 29, 1994, the last day of the 103rd Congress. I had just offered a resolution honoring him, and the speaker was being given a standing ovation for his 30 years of service. Our fellow members would not sit or quiet down.

It was a fitting tribute to a great public servant who assumed the mantle of leadership in the House at a difficult time.

Tom had just been defeated for reelection, and I was retiring. In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and comity, Tom invited me to assume the chair on the speaker’s podium while he gave his farewell address. For the first time in 40 years, a Republican presided over the House, if only for a few minutes.

Tom’s remarks were eloquent. But one comment struck me then and came to mind again recently amid all the rancor and partisan brinkmanship our country can ill afford.

Tom said it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust.

When Tom became speaker, he suggested that we get together once a week to discuss matters before the House. One week, he said, I will come to your office, and the next you can come to mine. We did that regularly. We had disagreements over policy and we pushed and pulled politically, but the hallmark of our conversations was the trust underlying them. We could talk about anything, knowing that our discussions would remain private unless we decided otherwise. We had some very personal and delicate exchanges and never compromised their confidentiality.

The meetings themselves were a rarity in Washington. House Speaker Carl Albert and Minority Leader Gerry Ford used to park themselves on a bench just off the House floor and talk, but so far as I know the regular meetings Tom and I had in our offices have not been repeated since.

Tom and I last spoke four days before he died. We recalled one of the toughest tests of our relationship. It occurred in 1991 over Operation Desert Storm. It was important to President George H.W. Bush that Congress authorize military action over Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. Rep. Steve Solarz (D-N.Y.) and I introduced a resolution authorizing military action. This was an agonizing decision for me, having served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II. Sending Americans into combat is always tough. Tom harbored personal reservations about military intervention, and a substantial number in his caucus strongly opposed an invasion. Allowing the resolution to go to the floor for open debate and a recorded vote took political courage and personal decency. The debate that ensued did the country proud. The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency. As speaker, he had replaced Jim Wright (D-Tex.), himself a tough partisan who had been forced from office. This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power.

Tom and I conversed many times publicly and privately after leaving Congress. In all of those exchanges, we agreed on how to govern, how to get decisions made and how to find reasonable solutions to difficult problems.

We were too conditioned by our personal and political upbringing to assume that we had the market cornered on political principle or partisan superiority. We knew, too, that there should always be a distinction, and separation, between campaigning for office and serving in office. We were pupils of the old school.

When we stood side by side at the speaker’s podium on the last day of the 103rd Congress, political adversaries but personal friends, we knew that we were icons of a bygone era. As we visited last week, almost 20 years later, I think we both felt good about that. We both took great pride in knowing we had made things happen. I hope the past turns out to be prologue, and I think Tom would have agreed.

Read more on this topic: Chris Matthews: Breaking the deadlock on Pennsylvania Avenue Eric Cantor: Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation Joseph A. Morris: Shutdowns have been frequent tools of policy. Just ask Reagan. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Our fantasy is a Congress that gets stuff done

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-foleys-passing-recalls-the-bipartisan-spirit-of-a-bygone-era/2013/10/20/897201ca-39ab-11e3-b6a9-da62c264f40e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

The shutdown of good governance

By Fred Hiatt, Washington Post,  October , 2013

Excerpt

…the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck

another… leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality

The great fracturing – we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

Immigration and the end of a white majority – By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority.

Inadequate political institutions…In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Full text

If a country proves unable to govern itself, you expect to find a historical explanation. A plague, maybe, or chronic drought, or the rise of a hostile power on its borders.

None of those applies in the present case. To the contrary, by many measures the United States, long blessed, should be entering a new golden age. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that the United States would become, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the world’s No. 1 energy power — producing more oil and gas combined than Russia or Saudi Arabia? While most developed nations, from Japan to Italy to Russia, don’t have enough young people, U.S. population trends are relatively benign thanks to immigration and a stable birth rate.

Yet the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck: Some analysts suggest that John Boehner, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are a collection of unusually weak leaders, or leaders especially ill-matched in temperament.

A variation on that theme holds that leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality. As my colleague Robert Samuelson recently wrote, after World War II Americans became accustomed to 3 percent annual growth, which allowed for a cheerful spreading of the wealth. Now 2 percent may be the new normal, in part because the United States, though its population is younger than that of many countries, still will have more retirees per active worker than in the past.

The growth we do manage is being shared less equally, thanks largely to technology and globalization. The possible result: nastier politics as classes and generations fight over a slower-growing pie.

The great fracturing. Then-Sen. Barack Obama electrified the nation in 2004 with his Democratic convention speech insisting there was no Red America or Blue America. Since then, the divisions have only become more marked. From guns to gay marriage to Obamacare, we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

As Americans increasingly choose to live among those with whom they agree politically, in what author Bill Bishop called “the big sort,” technology and other factors loosen the ties that bound us into one nation. Other than the occasional, and fleeting, YouTube video, there is no cable television channel or Internet site that we experience in common. Political parties that transcended region have been purged of dissenters and overshadowed by single-focus interest groups.

Immigration and the end of a white majority. “The Mexican migration, and the similarly large migration of others from the rest of Latin America, has in just one generation reshaped the nation,” Michael Barone recently wrote. In 1970 there were fewer than 1 million Mexican-born people in the country; today they number more than 12 million, and with their children comprise about 10 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities — if that’s still the right word — make up about half of the under-5 population. By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority. The country seems to have handled the surge in immigration more peaceably than it greeted past waves of newcomers. But the shifts may be causing political shockwaves whose connections to the demographic changes aren’t immediately obvious.

Inadequate political institutions. There’s the affront posed to the principle of one man, one vote by the U.S. Senate, where 600,000 Wyoming residents have as much say as 38 million Californians. In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Read more from Fred Hiatt’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-the-shutdown-of-good-governance/2013/10/06/329f9c1a-2d0b-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Conspiracy Theories Explain the Right

By Arthur Goldwag, Salon.com, posted on Alternet.org, October 20, 2013 

Excerpt

What just happened in Washington?…I would say that we witnessed a recrudescence of a nihilistic tendency that has never been far from the surface in American politics—a conservatism that is as far from the dictionary definition of conservatism as Obama is from being a socialist. Last fall, on the eve of the election, I wrote [3] in Salon that “America is becoming more multicultural, more gay-friendly and more feminist every day. But as every hunter knows, a wounded or cornered quarry is the most dangerous. Even as the white, patriarchal, Christian hegemony declines, its backlash politics become more vicious.” Was it vicious enough to strap a figurative suicide vest to its chest and threaten the U.S. with default? If you had asked me at the time, I would have said no. Little did I know.

Some of the Republican jihadists who pressed for default feel so personally violated by the presence of a black family in the White House that they would just as soon burn it down as reclaim it. And some live in such a bubble of denial—an alternate cognitive universe in which the poor lord it over the rich and white Christians are a persecuted minority…that they have convinced themselves that a default would have actually been a good thing, that it would have restored the U.S. economy to a sound foundation.

It is a triumph not so much of a conspiracy as of conspiracist thinking….Lest I be accused of falling for a left wing conspiracy theory myself, I want to say a few words about “conspiracy theory” before I continue. “Conspiracy theory” is a loaded and frankly a bad term, one that unfairly besmirches any and all theorizing about conspiracies

Still, there are theories and then there are theories. Scientists know the difference between unfalsifiable ones like intelligent design and genuinely scientific ones like evolution. Theories about political conspiracies are harder to put to the test…

Still, truth can be stranger than fiction and we need to respect that. If I were to tell you that a cabal of Congressional Republicans had been quietly working with a roster of little-known political organizations since the last election, many of them funded by a pair of shadowy billionaire brothers, to bring the country to the brink of financial ruin, I’d understand it if you thought I was talking about a conspiracy theory. But really I’d be describing the sausage making that goes on in politics today and the blurry lines between lobbying and influence peddling—and even more than that, about the behavior of people who are so blinded by rage, so driven by their own fever dreams about Obama’s plot to turn the U.S. into a Third-World, multi-racial, socialist, Muslim, atheist paradise, that they would pay any cost to ruin his presidency…

Part of what makes it a classically “bad” conspiracy theory, besides its tendentiousness, is its meanness. It’s like a push poll; its sole purpose is to propagate a meme that demonizes and delegitimizes the president. I think it also provides insight into the mindset that characterizes far-right thinking these days…

One way to judge a theory is to look at its source. Is it a generally respected news gatherer or a propaganda mill?The theories that we file under the unfortunate rubric of conspiracy theories are theories of everything. They have a kind of metaphysical authority, and, in their confidence that everything is ultimately connected, a scope and a moral framework that is almost theological.

Most of all, they are reactive. Conspiracists are people who feel threatened

Conspiracism turns chaotic events into coherent narratives

The Left, I freely admit, is not immune to conspiracy theories… Communist dialectics and the theory of history that undergirds Premillennial Dispensationalism share some attributes…But I do tend to think that the very reactiveness of reactionary thinking predisposes it to conspiracism a bit more. This is why as many extreme ideas resonate within the Republican mainstream as they do.

Conservatives, especially conservative white men of a certain age, many of them living in the states of the Old Dominion and the mountainous West, are feeling beleaguered…the election of an African American president has tended to exacerbate their feelings of victimization...

Most elected officials who traffic in conspiracy theories are too rich and successful themselves to believe in them; they deploy them opportunistically, to push voters’ emotional buttons…the casual racism, the hatred of gay people, and the rest….

Full text

What just happened in Washington?

Ask a true conservative believer, and they’ll tell you that it was the birth of a terrible beauty. They’ll say the GOP’s true leaders, our nation’s future leadership, revealed itself in all its splendid, futile glory—only to be stabbed in the back by a “thundering herd of chicken-hearted Republicans in Name Only (RINOs)  galloping to the Left [2].”

If you asked me, I would say that we witnessed a recrudescence of a nihilistic tendency that has never been far from the surface in American politics—a conservatism that is as far from the dictionary definition of conservatism as Obama is from being a socialist. Last fall, on the eve of the election, I wrote [3] in Salon that “America is becoming more multicultural, more gay-friendly and more feminist every day. But as every hunter knows, a wounded or cornered quarry is the most dangerous. Even as the white, patriarchal, Christian hegemony declines, its backlash politics become more vicious.” Was it vicious enough to strap a figurative suicide vest to its chest and threaten the U.S. with default? If you had asked me at the time, I would have said no. Little did I know.

Some of the Republican jihadists who pressed for default feel so personally violated by the presence of a black family in the White House that they would just as soon burn it down as reclaim it. And some live in such a bubble of denial—an alternate cognitive universe in which the poor lord it over the rich and white Christians are a persecuted minority, in which a president who was twice elected by an overwhelming popular majority is a pretender, and a law that Congress attempted to overturn more than 40 times was “never debated”—that they have convinced themselves that a default would have actually been a good thing, that it would have restored the U.S. economy to a sound foundation.

It is a triumph not so much of a conspiracy as of conspiracist thinking. As John Judis wrote [4] in The New Republic last week, even “lobbyists I talked to cited….Richard Hofstadter’s essay on ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ to explain the rise of the populist right. It’s the kind of reference you’d expect to read in a New Republic article, but not necessarily in a conversation with a business lobbyist.”

Lest I be accused of falling for a left wing conspiracy theory myself, I want to say a few words about “conspiracy theory” before I continue. “Conspiracy theory” is a loaded and frankly a bad term, one that unfairly besmirches any and all theorizing about conspiracies.

Bracketing all thinking about conspiracies with tall tales and outright delusions about secret societies whose leaders toast each other with blood drunk out of human skulls is unfair and misleading. Some anti-government conspiracy theories—that the Tonkin Gulf Incident didn’t happen as reported, for example, or that the CIA was involved with international dope dealers, are so far from being ridiculous that they turn out to be true. The NSA does have access to your emails. For that matter, a certain amount of toasting with skulls (if not actual blood) has been reliably reported to go on in some quarters.

Still, there are theories and then there are theories. Scientists know the difference between unfalsifiable ones like intelligent design and genuinely scientific ones like evolution. Theories about political conspiracies are harder to put to the test; absence of evidence, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, is not evidence of absence. In fact it’s the whole point.

I do think most people know the difference between a “conspiracy theory” in its pejorative sense—say, that the Fed takes its orders from a secret society of Jewish elders, who cause depressions and wars to further their plan of ruling the world—and its literal sense, such as a serious inquiry into Oswald’s relationship to the CIA.

Still, truth can be stranger than fiction and we need to respect that.

If I were to tell you that a cabal of Congressional Republicans had been quietly working with a roster of little-known political organizations since the last election, many of them funded by a pair of shadowy billionaire brothers, to bring the country to the brink of financial ruin, I’d understand it if you thought I was talking about a conspiracy theory. But really I’d be describing the sausage making that goes on in politics today and the blurry lines between lobbying and influence peddling—and even more than that, about the behavior of people who are so blinded by rage, so driven by their own fever dreams about Obama’s plot to turn the U.S. into a Third-World, multi-racial, socialist, Muslim, atheist paradise, that they would pay any cost to ruin his presidency.

But if there is still any question about what a bad conspiracy theory is, I’d like to submit as Exhibit A one proposed by an anonymous author at the Canadian website Press Core, which was promoted [5] a couple of weeks ago by World Net Daily columnist and Fox News contributor Erik Rush (sometimes known as “the other Rush”) on his radio show. Part of what makes it a classically “bad” conspiracy theory, besides its tendentiousness, is its meanness. It’s like a push poll; its sole purpose is to propagate a meme that demonizes and delegitimizes the president. I think it also provides insight into the mindset that characterizes far-right thinking these days.

The Navy Yard shootings in D.C., this theory goes, was a false flag incident perpetrated by the Obama administration to stop the Navy from arresting the president for treason. The victims of the shooting, who were all NCIS commanders, the story continues, had discovered that Obama was planning an even more horrific false flag—he was going to explode a nuclear device in Washington, D.C., to justify going to war with Syria. Some of this “sounds like a conspiracy theory,” the other Rush admitted, but “a lot of stuff that seemed to some of us like conspiracy theories years ago turned out to be true over the last few months.”

One way to judge a theory is to look at its source. Is it a generally respected news gatherer or a propaganda mill?  Scanning the headlines at Press Core, I couldn’t help noticing another article [6], this one with the byline Paul W. Kincaid, the site’s editor. The piece reveals that the Vatican, the U.N., and the Third Reich have been working together on a covert and sinister plan to exterminate, and I am quoting now, “as many as 3 billion people through Vatican unholy wars of terror against Muslim and Jewish states, designer diseases, and famine.”

This story really astounded me, because it sees both Jews and Muslims as victims rather than perpetrators. That’s not what you usually read on websites of this kind, trust me. Some of the most virulently anti-Islamic websites today, many of them run by Jews, feature stories that could have been written by 1930s anti-Semites like Elizabeth Dilling or Gerald Burton Winrod, except the word Shariah replaces the word Kehilla, and instead of out-of-context quotes from the Talmud about the necessity of lying to the gentiles they are pulled from the Koran and refer to the supposed doctrine of Tawriya. Of course a major theme at those sites is Obama’s suspicious sympathies toward the Muslim world.

The theories that we file under the unfortunate rubric of conspiracy theories are theories of everything. They have a kind of metaphysical authority, and, in their confidence that everything is ultimately connected, a scope and a moral framework that is almost theological.

Most of all, they are reactive. Conspiracists are people who feel threatened—in their pocketbooks, their status, or both. Conspiracy theories explain what is happening to them and why, assigning blame to an adversary who is consciously and deliberately carrying out an evil intention.

Conspiracists use the word “evil” as a noun as well as an adjective; they believe that their adversaries are literally demonic. Much as a Kabbalist believes that God fashioned the world out of Hebrew letters, many conspiracists believe that their enemies sign the catastrophes that they cause in visual, numeric or symbolic codes.

They look backward nostalgically to what they’ve lost, they look forward with anxious expectation to a bloody reckoning. As a political candidate once said in an unguarded moment, they cling to their guns and their religion.

Conspiracism turns chaotic events into coherent narratives—surprisingly often, one that hews to the storyline of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an early 20th-century anti-Semitic pastiche that was cut and pasted together by Eastern Orthodox defenders of the absolute monarchy of the Tsar.

Conspiracy theories’ narratives unfold much as the storylines of massive multi-player online games do. They take place in a universe that’s bounded by hard-and-fast rules and peopled by broadly drawn, cartoon-like characters. Whatever happens is either part of the algorithm or something that one of the player gods has intentionally caused to happen.

You see this kind of thinking when you read claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was staged by “actors,” or that purport to identify the fake blood and prosthetic limbs in the carnage after the Boston Marathon “false flag” bombing. Like the ancient Gnostics, or the characters in “The Matrix” or “The Truman Show,” they believe that God is a Satanic impostor—that the world is a deliberately constructed illusion, the opposite of the place that its designated authority figures purport it to be.

The Left, I freely admit, is not immune to conspiracy theories. If many of the “false flag” claims originate with quasi-Bircher populists like Alex Jones, they resonate in some leftist quarters as well. Communist dialectics and the theory of history that undergirds Premillennial Dispensationalism share some attributes; party propaganda was as filled with paranoid conspiracy theories (some of them true) as anything that the organized right has ever produced. But I do tend to think that the very reactiveness of reactionary thinking predisposes it to conspiracism a bit more. This is why as many extreme ideas resonate within the Republican mainstream as they do.

Conservatives, especially conservative white men of a certain age, many of them living in the states of the Old Dominion and the mountainous West, are feeling beleaguered in this fifth year of the Great Recession. As conservative as his governance has turned out to be in practice, the election of an African American president has tended to exacerbate their feelings of victimization.

Public Policy Polling has issued a couple of surveys [7] on conspiracy theories this year. And belief pretty clearly breaks down along partisan lines:

  • 34 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Independents believe a global power elite is conspiring to create a New World Order—compared to just 15 percent of Democrats.
  • Fifty-eight percent of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax; 77 percent of Democrats do not.
  • Sixty-two percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Independents believe the Obama administration is “secretly trying to take everyone’s guns away.” Only 14 percent of Democrats agree.
  • Forty-two percent of Republicans believe Shariah law is making its way into U.S. courts, compared to just 12 percent of Democrats.
  • More than twice as many Republican voters (21 percent) as Democrats (9 percent) believe the government is using “false flag incidents” to consolidate its power.
  • Forty-four percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Independents believe that Obama is making plans to stay in office after his second term expires. Only 11 percent of Democrats agree.

Most elected officials who traffic in conspiracy theories are too rich and successful themselves to believe in them; they deploy them opportunistically, to push voters’ emotional buttons. As Michael Tomasky wrote [8] in The Daily Beast last week, “The rage kept the base galvanized….The rich didn’t really share the rage, or most of them. Even the Koch Brothers probably don’t….But all of them have used it. And they have tolerated it, the casual racism, the hatred of gay people, and the rest….because they, the elites, remained in charge. Well, they’re not in charge now. The snarling dog they kept in a pen for decades has just escaped and bitten their hand off.”

Back in the winter of 2012, a couple of weeks before my book “The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right [9]” was published, I was at a party at my sister’s house, and she introduced me to the husband of a friend of hers, a lawyer active in the Democratic party. I told him how conspiratorial memes about the Illuminati have echoed down to us from the 1790s, and how the influence of fringe groups like the John Birch Society extends beyond marginal figures like Alex Jones and Ron Paul and can even be discerned in the GOP’s campaign rhetoric.

He just laughed derisively. “What possible relevance do those nuts have today?” he said. “Nobody cares about them.” Judging from the recent events in Washington, I think it’s safe to say that his complacency was a bit premature.

 

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/conspiracy-theories-explain-right

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/arthur-goldwag
[2] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/10/16/todd-starnes-american-taxpayers-betrayed-by-chicken-hearted-rinos/
[3] http://www.salon.com/2012/10/28/fear_and_loathing_in_campaign_2012/
[4] http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115134/gop-death-watch-final-days-republican-party
[5] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/erik-rush-navy-yard-shooting-carried-out-prevent-obama-being-arrested
[6] http://presscore.ca/2012/nssm-200-vatican-fourth-reich-genocide-of-3-billion-people.html
[7] http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2013/10/conspiracy-theories-round-two-republicans-more-likely-to-subscribe-to-government-conspiracy-theories.html
[8] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/10/11/the-day-the-mad-dogs-took-over-the-republican-party.html
[9] http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Hate-Loathing-Populist/dp/0307742512/saloncom08-20
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conspiracy
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/alex-jones
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/shutdown-0
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservatism
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/president-obama-0
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/muslim
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jewish
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/religion-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/illuminati
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/john-birch
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/john-birch-society-0
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/media-news-0
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/entertainment-news
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[26] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Persons, People, and Public Policy

Ron Cebik, Psychotherapist and Teacher, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/20/2013

Excerpt

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking…What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community…The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have…Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

Full text

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking.

Statements by politicians and pundits about the president during the recent series of events involving the use of poison gas in the Syrian conflict point to an overlooked factor in the shaping of opinions and conflicting attitudes. When the president stated there was a line which if crossed there would be military action, the Syrians crossed the line. The decision about military action was handed off to Congress. Then through some diplomatic maneuvering, the situation was resolved without military intervention. The result was a spate of accusations calling the president weak and that he had damaged the reputation of the United States before the world. Others applauded the president’s diplomatic prowess at averting military involvement in a complex war. “Who was right?” is a misleading question in determining the dynamics of the current political climate.

What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community.

Anxiety below consciousness is the emotion that is transmitted through human systems to alert the system to a common danger. It is infectious. Alcoholism is often symptomatic of family dysfunction due to anxiety in the system. The alcohol becomes the objectified focus for this underlying incapacity to deal with the boundaries affecting growth and the ensuing risks that transcending boundaries engenders. The same is true for differing cultures within our nation. The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have.

In family therapy as in other system approaches to increasing the functioning of human organizations, the object is to increase a non-anxious presence in the system. This is done by identifying persons capable of dealing with their own anxiety and who show a capacity to grow beyond the restrictive rules governing relationships in the group. This suggests the importance of putting the focus on the development of leadership based on the ability to transcend norms and boundaries that preserve the safety of sameness and venture into the space that encompasses the richness of diversity. This may mean making a place for education for personal development amidst an academia more attuned to skill training as an economic tool.

Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-cebik/persons-people-and-public_b_4133393.html

The Bible Paradox

by Big Think Editors, October 20, 2013

Excerpt

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible…so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School…“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.” And this is a power that can be abused, and often is…Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers…if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs…This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

Full text

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible, as Stephen Prothero notably demonstrated in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t.

(To test your religious literacy, take Prothero’s quiz here.)

And so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. Baden gave a recent talk called “What Use is the Bible?” (see video below) at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA.

“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.”

And this is a power that can be abused, and often is. When people invoke the Bible, they are often seeking to invoke a deeper Biblical truth, one that represents a singularity of message and meaning. In other words, in order for the Bible to work as a prop, it needs to function like a sledgehammer. ”Nobody wants a wishy-washy authority,” Baden says.

Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers.

In the video below, Baden does something radically different. He walks us through the two contradictory creation accounts in Genesis. On what day did God create the plants and the birds and land and sea and Adam and Eve? If you read Genesis I and II back-to-back you are bound to be thoroughly confused. So why couldn’t the authors of the Bible get their stories straight?

“Whoever put these stories together effectively privileged form over content,” Baden says. The Bible’s author “was willing to sacrifice easy meaning and singularity of perspective for the presence in scripture of multiple perspectives.” The author was “happier with an incomprehensible plot – an impossible story – than to have to give up one of these two viewpoints.”

And so if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs,” Baden says, “a combination of voices…embedded in the text right from the word ‘Go.’”

So of what use is the Bible? This book is both the ultimate source of authority and completely indecisive. But that does not mean we should throw it away, Baden says. “This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

http://bigthink.com/big-think-tv/the-bible-paradox

Science and the Search for Meaning by Rev. Peter Morales

By Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Assn, www.theNewAtlantis.com, Summer 2013

Excerpt

We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This simple proposition, which could serve as the motto of any scientific society, secular organization, or humanist group, is in fact one of the seven principles that guide the Unitarian Universalist religion…for many religions, truth, or at least what is true about the most important matters, is given by a set of sacred texts or traditions that members accept as a matter of faith. At least in this somewhat stereotypical view of religious thought, the truth about the highest or most important things cannot be sought — it is only given by authority. Scientific truth, on the other hand, is constantly changing. That is to say, what people know to be true changes as new information comes to light and ideas are challenged by new findings.

It is understandable, then, that religion and science have had a conflict or two over the years…many people believe they have to make a choice between a religious and a scientific worldview…for faith to be whole, for it to encompass the whole of our lived experience with the world, we must come to terms with science and what science teaches us. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that science and religion share a common wellspring. They both arise from the human need to cope with life, to make life comprehensible, controllable, and meaningful…

Science is based on a radically democratic way of knowing, in the sense that scientific truth is comprised of the things we can all experience — not on private experiences, accessible only to putatively gifted individualsscientific truth needs to be equally true for everyone everywhere… ultimately, science is an attempt to understand those parts of human experience that are unarguably true for all of us…While science and religion both arise from our need to cope with experience, science and religion are responses to fundamentally different questions. Science can help us discover the truth about our world, but religion can help us give that truth meaning…There is a human hunger for meaning that science does not address….Meaning in life does not exist unless we create it; it is our individual and collective response to what we have learned about the world…

I believe that hunger for meaning is the source for the renewed interest we have witnessed in recent decades in ritual, in spiritual practices such as meditation, and in traditional religious imagery. This coincides with recent findings that the number of people in the United States who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated is growing, while a majority of them still “describe themselves either as a religious person (18 percent) or as spiritual but not religious (37 percent).” People are seeking something that science does not give them. This is not a criticism of science. To criticize science for not satisfying our emotional and spiritual need for meaning is like criticizing a circle for not having corners.

Religion, at its best and most profound and most enduring, has been humanity’s way of collecting and transmitting wisdom about the meaning of life from one generation to the next.….Before science, religion filled the vacuum created by ignorance and created stories to explain the truth about the world — myths about creation and humanity’s origin…only we can decide how to react to them, how to apply those wondrous insights to our own lives…That is our religious task — individually and communally to create lives filled with meaning and lives consistent with what we love most deeply…

Full text

We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This simple proposition, which could serve as the motto of any scientific society, secular organization, or humanist group, is in fact one of the seven principles that guide the Unitarian Universalist religion.

Unitarian Universalism was formed in 1961 through the merger of two different religions, Unitarianism and Universalism — the first a Christian heresy, the second at least unorthodox, if not also heretical. Unitarianism rejects Trinitarian theology, and Universalism asserts the salvation of all. Historically, Unitarians and Universalists stood up for what they believed, even at the expense of their personal safety. Likewise, Unitarian Universalists are committed to truth and meaning to this day.

It is perhaps surprising that a religious organization would hold as one of its deepest convictions the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” After all, for many religions, truth, or at least what is true about the most important matters, is given by a set of sacred texts or traditions that members accept as a matter of faith. At least in this somewhat stereotypical view of religious thought, the truth about the highest or most important things cannot be sought — it is only given by authority. Scientific truth, on the other hand, is constantly changing. That is to say, what people know to be true changes as new information comes to light and ideas are challenged by new findings.

It is understandable, then, that religion and science have had a conflict or two over the years. Many religious traditions have taught us that we human beings are God’s most glorious creation in the physical universe and that Earth is therefore properly at its center. Science suggests instead that we are the accidental outcome of a process of evolution that had neither us nor anything else in mind and that our geocentric perspective is an illusion. We have here two radically different conceptions of the human condition and of humanity’s place in the cosmos. And therefore it should come as no surprise that many people believe they have to make a choice between a religious and a scientific worldview.

What to make of science is a fundamental issue facing religious traditions in our time. Science has become an overwhelming challenge to traditional ways of viewing the world and our place in it. But for faith to be whole, for it to encompass the whole of our lived experience with the world, we must come to terms with science and what science teaches us.

As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that science and religion share a common wellspring. They both arise from the human need to cope with life, to make life comprehensible, controllable, and meaningful. Indeed, we are all scientists. We all search for knowledge about the world, a way to make sense of our experiences and to give our lives meaning. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we learn that we were wrong. But our knowledge is never disinterested, as it always grows from our personal urge to make meaning of experience. We are scientists because we search for truth about our world.

Science is the discipline that can give us answers to the search for facts about the world around us. These questions can run the gamut of the myriad everyday questions that are relatively easy to answer — How much does this rock weigh? What kinds of things will a magnet pick up? But it also includes questions that are enormously complex and difficult — How old is the universe? How did human beings get here? What is the mass of the Higgs Boson? But all of these questions have something in common: we can answer them. We can gather evidence, study it, compare answers, and choose the answer that best fits our experience.

Science is based on a radically democratic way of knowing, in the sense that scientific truth is comprised of the things we can all experience — not on private experiences, accessible only to putatively gifted individuals. Another way of saying the same thing is that, at least in principle, science does not ask us to take its conclusions on faith or on authority. Science is about what is objective and repeatable; scientific truth needs to be equally true for everyone everywhere. A pound is a pound the world around. The charge of an electron and the mass of the top quark are the same everywhere. When we look through a backyard telescope, Jupiter has four visible moons when you look at it and when I look at it, just as it did when Galileo looked at it through his primitive telescope. The latest data suggest that the universe is 13.82 billion years old. This is the case whether we like it or not. The speed of light appears to be the universal speed limit even for those who would like to zip along at warp nine. The mass of the top quark according to the most recent measurements is 173.09 billion electron volts whether your theory predicted it or not. We are the products of the same biological evolution that produced monkeys, manatees, and mangoes. That’s just the way it is, and ultimately, science is an attempt to understand those parts of human experience that are unarguably true for all of us.

Meaning Beyond Science

But Unitarian Universalists affirm the search for both truth and meaning. If we are scientists in search of truth, we are also theologians in search of meaning. While science and religion both arise from our need to cope with experience, science and religion are responses to fundamentally different questions. Science can help us discover the truth about our world, but religion can help us give that truth meaning.

Even as science continues to teach us more and more about what is, to penetrate many of the fundamental questions about the universe, people are still searching for a way to apply those truths to their lives in a way that is emotionally or spiritually fulfilling. Part of the reason for the gap between scientific knowledge and meaningful experience of it is that the passion and wonder and awe that science ought to inspire is too often suppressed or ignored in the way we teach and talk about science. But the problem goes beyond that. There is a human hunger for meaning that science does not address. After we know all there is to know about the world, we still must answer the question: “so what?”

Questions about meaning are not scientific questions. The issue of what will make your life or mine meaningful is not a question that lends itself to controlled measurement. In this case, there are no correct and incorrect answers, no objective propositional statements.

Indeed, the answer we seek is not “out there,” but rather in our hearts and in our families and in our communities. Meaning in life does not exist unless we create it; it is our individual and collective response to what we have learned about the world. We develop rituals and religions, form families and communities, join together and drift apart in order to find purpose and meaning for our lives.

I believe that hunger for meaning is the source for the renewed interest we have witnessed in recent decades in ritual, in spiritual practices such as meditation, and in traditional religious imagery. This coincides with recent findings that the number of people in the United States who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated is growing, while a majority of them still “describe themselves either as a religious person (18 percent) or as spiritual but not religious (37 percent).” People are seeking something that science does not give them. This is not a criticism of science. To criticize science for not satisfying our emotional and spiritual need for meaning is like criticizing a circle for not having corners.

Religion, at its best and most profound and most enduring, has been humanity’s way of collecting and transmitting wisdom about the meaning of life from one generation to the next. Religious rituals, rites of passage, moral teachings, images, and stories — especially stories — are ways of creating meaning together and sharing it. Religion can teach us about the kinds of things worth committing ourselves to: community, family, compassion, justice, the natural world, beauty.

Before science, religion filled the vacuum created by ignorance and created stories to explain the truth about the world — myths about creation and humanity’s origin. But over the long march of the history of science, humanity has sought to fill that vacuum, to learn more about the world and to discover how it works. Science is indeed a spectacular achievement. The scientific truths of life are amazing, beautiful, and awesome. But only we can decide how to react to them, how to apply those wondrous insights to our own lives.

We are all intensely aware of the potential for conflict between science and religion. But that potential conflict does not define us or our journeys. We can know and face the truth — what scientific endeavors try to prove — and then move on to define our own meaning. We have choices to make. We still have to fashion lives that can channel our passion and our compassion. That is our religious task — individually and communally to create lives filled with meaning and lives consistent with what we love most deeply.

Search Together

Finally, I want to draw attention to one more aspect of that deceptively simple principle: “we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” As Unitarian Universalists, we do not merely accept truth and provide the space for people to create meaning. We actively search for truth and meaning, holding to a principle demanding action and not simply providing a concept available for passive assent. Our view of truth may change, the meaning of our lives may be different, but as long as we are actively, responsibly seeking both truth and meaning — and allowing others to freely do so as well — we are living into our best selves. We are all scientists. We are all theologians. We are all in this together.

What is the meaning of your life? Our religious traditions suggest some answers. We will all answer differently based on our differing experiences, but we can all agree on some common themes. Our collective wisdom proposes that a meaningful life is a committed life — committed to mutual compassion and respect, openness, humility, and stewardship. This is what it is to live religiously. This is why we covenant together to be a religious community. We are here to help each other live with purpose. We learn, accept, and marvel at the wonders science has opened for us, and then create our lives by giving that knowledge meaning.

Rev. Peter Morales is president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in North America.

Peter Morales, “Science and the Search for Meaning,” The New Atlantis, Number 39, Summer 2013, pp. 119-123.

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/science-and-the-search-for-meaning

Shutdown crisis exposes conservative worldview

“We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.” Chaplain Barry C. Black in one of his daily opening prayers in United States Senate, New York Times

Religion Trends

Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian? 

Worldview — Conservative

Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda

Class wars

Are We Being Ruled by Self-Centered Jerks?

Economic Justice — Race

Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie 

Media

Failure of the main stream media

The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today

Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead 

History

The Short American Century 

Democracy

Before You Give up on Democracy, Read This!

Philosophy of democracy

Democracy After the Shutdown By MICHAEL P. LYNCH, New York Times, October 15, 2013

Threats to democracy

House Republicans Changed The Rules So A Majority Vote Couldn’t Stop The Government Shutdown 

It Can’t Happen Here? 

On the Sabotage of Democracy by Bill Moyers 

Our Democracy Is at Stake  

The End Game for Democracy

The March to Anarchy

Citizenship

The American Public’s Shocking Lack of Policy Knowledge is a Threat to Progress and Democracy  

Government — economic policy

A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning

Many in G.O.P. Offer Theory: Default Wouldn’t Be That Bad

Who is government for?

Marlin Stutzman and post-policy nihilism 

Politics

Democrats up the ante on GOP’s poor hand  

Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual 

Permanent Republican minority  

The Moderates Who Lighted the Fuse 

Money in politics

The Koch Brothers’ “Samson Option” 

Kentucky Wins Sweet Deal In $2.9 Billion Budget Bill Earmark By Ashley Alman, The Huffington Post, 10/16/2013

Republican extremism

Here Are The 144 Republicans Who Voted To Send The U.S. Into Default by Henry Blodget, Australia Business Insider, October 17, 2013

G.O.P. Extremists Defy Description  

Grayson blames shutdown on GOP literally drinking on the job  

Republicans Facing a Test of Unity  

The Conservative Crackup: How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind 

Where the G.O.P.’s Suicide Caucus Lives

Republicans are “not fit to govern”

Staunch Group of Republicans Outflanks House Leaders 

Right wing message machine

The Right’s Obamacare Rhetoric Is Completely Detached from Reality

Suffocating Echo Chamber 

Right wing operatives

The Ten Hardline Conservatives Pulling the Strings of the GOP Shutdown 

Michael Needham: The Strategist Behind the Shutdown

Right wing religious extremism

How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane

Of Course Michele Bachmann Believes the End Times Are Here

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government 

Tea Party

Tea Party Radicalism Is Misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”  

The tea party’s revolt against reality  

America’s Story

Situational analysis — commonly misnamed conspiracy theory  

Progressive movement

Anger Can Be Power 

The Rise of the New New Left

Moral politics

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical  

Religion wars

Are There Still Enough Value Voters to Turn American Red?

Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists

Seditious conspiracy

democraticunderground.com, Sep 29, 2013,

Seditious conspiracy (18 U.S.C. § 2384) is a crime under United States law. It is stated as follows:

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. ”

For a seditious conspiracy charge to be effected, a crime need only be planned, it need not be actually attempted. According to Andres Torres and Jose E. Velazquez, the accussation of seditious conspiracy is of political nature and was used almost exclusively against Puerto Rican independentistas in the twentieth century.

In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition.

Typically, sedition is considered a subversive act, and the overt acts that may be prosecutable under sedition laws vary from one legal code to another. Where the history of these legal codes has been traced, there is also a record of the change in the definition of the elements constituting sedition at certain points in history. This overview has served to develop a sociological definition of sedition as well, within the study of state persecution.

The difference between sedition and treason consists primarily in the subjective ultimate object of the violation to the public peace. Sedition does not consist of levying war against a government nor of adhering to its enemies, giving enemies aid, and giving enemies comfort. Nor does it consist, in most representative democracies, of peaceful protest against a government, nor of attempting to change the government by democratic means (such as direct democracy or constitutional convention).

Sedition is the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power. Treason is the violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or state, giving aid to enemies, or levying war against one’s state. Sedition is encouraging one’s fellow citizens to rebel against their state, whereas treason is actually betraying one’s country by aiding and abetting another state. Sedition laws somewhat equate to terrorism and public order laws.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023746119

Shutdown crisis – articles and excerpts

Situational analysis of the government shutdown crisis

It Can’t Happen Here?

The American Public’s Shocking Lack of Policy Knowledge is a Threat to Progress and Democracy

Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual

The Ten Hardline Conservatives Pulling the Strings of the GOP Shutdown by BillMoyers.com Staff, October 11, 2013 – Much of the coverage of the government showdown has focused on a relatively small group of hardline conservatives within the Republican caucus who have backed their party’s leaders into a fight they didn’t want. As Ryan Lizza noted in The New Yorker, these lawmakers mostly represent very safe, heavily Republican and disproportionately white districts that don’t look much like the rest of the country. Many of those on the front lines are recent arrivals to Capitol Hill, and they’re pushing a leadership they see as having been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past. It’s an important angle… If there’s only a relatively small group of lawmakers who think defunding the law is a dandy idea… Why is this supposedly silent majority of Republicans so docile? Why don’t they push back? The answer lies in the clout wielded by an extensive web of non-governmental conservative groups supported by mountains of dark money. Those groups see the Affordable Care Act as an existential threat to their worldview and their party and have waged a multipronged campaign to kill it in its cradle…Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy… “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups. It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government. With a broad, well-funded campaign, these groups have effectively shifted the balance of power in conservative Washington away from Republican leaders on the Hill and onto a cadre of true believers who will go to any length to destroy a modest set of health care reforms that, just 20 years ago, the very same conservative movement was itself advancing. So just looking at the rank-and-file members of the “suicide caucus” isn’t enough – it’s like focusing on the marionette rather than the puppet-master. View Interactive: Who’s pulling the strings?

Michael Needham: The Strategist Behind the Shutdown By STEPHEN MOORE, Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2013 – The 31-year-old Stanford business grad [president of Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the nation's largest conservative think tank] explains how he outmaneuvered GOP leaders and why he thinks House Republicans can defund ObamaCare…Though Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the public face of the high-risk strategy to “defund” ObamaCare, the masterminds behind it are a new generation of young conservatives, chief among them Mr. Needham. From a tactical view, the strategy has been deployed with precision…Needham is not apologetic at all for the shutdown that he sees as regrettable but necessary collateral damage if it focuses the public on the horrors of the health-care law…Mr. Needham and another young activist, Tim Chapman, wrote the business plan for Heritage Action four years ago. The idea was to tap Heritage’s network of conservative donors across the country and create a political lobbying machine to carry conservative ideas across the goal line. “The strategy from day one once it [ACA] passed was repeal, repeal, repeal,” Mr. Needham says… Mr. Needham’s new boss at Heritage is Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator whose former aides populate the staff of Sen. Cruz and other conservative groups and work closely with Mr. Needham. Mr. Needham is…conservative to the core, uncompromising and skilled in the smash-mouth politics now played in Washington. His first job was as research assistant…for Heritage founder Ed Feulner…Needham’s new boss at Heritage is Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator whose former aides populate the staff of Sen. Cruz and other conservative groups and work closely with Mr. Needham. Mr. Feulner was famous for preaching that “in the war of ideas there is no room for pacifists,” and Mr. Needham has taken those words to heart. To his admirers, he has pushed the Republicans to show backbone and stand up for principle. His detractors, many of them inside the party, denounce him as everything from cocky to a GOP wrecking ball…The concern of many Republicans, including strategist Karl Rove, is that Heritage Action’s take-no-prisoners approach is hurting the party. The latest Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by only 28% of Americans, down 10 points since September…

House Republicans Changed The Rules So A Majority Vote Couldn’t Stop The Government Shutdown by Ashley Alman, Huffington Post, October 13, 2013   – In its effort to extract concessions from Democrats in exchange for opening the government, the GOP has faced a fundamental strategic obstacle: They don’t have the votes. A majority of the members of the House have gone on record saying that if they were given the opportunity to vote, they would support what’s known as a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government. So House Republican leaders made sure no such vote could happen…Republican members of the House Rules Committee were developing a strategy to keep a clean CR off the floor, guaranteeing the government would remain shut down. Though at least 28 House Republicans have publicly said they would support a clean CR if it were brought to the floor — enough votes for the government to reopen when combined with Democratic support — a House rule passed just before the shutdown essentially prevents that vote from taking place. During a floor speech on Saturday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) drew attention to the quietly passed rule when he attempted to present a motion to accept the Senate’s clean continuing resolution and reopen the government. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), presiding over the chamber, told Van Hollen that the rule he was asking to use had been “altered” and he did not have the privilege of bringing that vote to the floor…the recently passed House Resolution 368 trumped the standing rules…“Mr. Speaker, why were the rules rigged to keep the government shut down?” Van Hollen asked. “The gentleman will suspend,” Chaffetz interjected. “Democracy has been suspended, Mr. Speaker.” (Van Hollen)

The Right’s Obamacare Rhetoric Is Completely Detached from Reality by Joshua Holland, Moyers and Company, October 13, 2013 – …We’re a nation divided not only by partisanship and ideology, but also by wildly divergent realities…Some of the claims ostensibly respectable figures on the right make about the law are simply mind boggling. This week, Ben Carson, a conservative surgeon and activist — and the flavor-of-the-day at Fox News – told a crowd at this year’s “Values Voters Summit” that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” Forget two world wars, the Great Depression or coming within an inch of annihilation during the Cold War….Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)…was more subtle, concluding merely that the ACA would eventually turn the US into a “police state” and “will ultimately be known as DeathCare.” …This stuff is nothing short of comical when you recall that Obamacare was a conservative answer to the doomed “Hillarycare” [Mitt Romney]called the very similar scheme he’d enacted as governor of Massachusetts, “the ultimate conservatism,” …When you get into the details, the health care law is complex… But the broad strokes are relatively simple: there are a number of (highly popular) new regulations on insurers; there are exchanges where private companies offer a variety of insurance plans; it’s got subsidies that make those plans more affordable for the middle class; there’s an expansion of Medicaid for the poor, and a mandate While people who don’t consume an enormous amount of Fox News can easily laugh off the Hitler comparisons, another line of argument made by virtually every conservative in America is just as unmoored from reality…Nothing [Senator Ted] Cruz said is reflected in any objective reality

Republican members of the House of Representatives leading the right wing extremist movement include Mark Meadows – North Carolina; Steve King – Iowa; Raúl R. Labrador – Idaho; Jeff Duncan – South Carolina; Justin Amash –Michigan; Paul Broun – Georgia; Thomas Massie – Kentucky; Matt Salmon and David Schweikert – Arizona; Phil Gingrey – Georgia; Louie Gohmert – Texas; Michele Bachman – Minnesota; Steve Pearce – New Mexico

The tea party’s revolt against reality By Michael Gerson, Washington Post, September 30, 2013 – …this revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality…composing less than 20 percent of the House Republican caucus…The tea-party faction holds the margin of victory in a slim Republican House majority…Conservatives now face the ideological temptation: inviting an unpleasant political reality by refusing to inhabit political reality.

Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead James Fallows Sep 27 2013  -A kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years…As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism and an inability to see or describe what is going on…This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

Suffocating Echo Chamber By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, New York Times, September 25, 2013 …as conservative talk radio spread across America…talk radio, Fox News Channel and right-wing Web sites may have done greatest harm to conservatives themselves. The right-wing echo chamber breeds extremism, intimidates Republican moderates and misleads people into thinking that their worldview is broadly shared…Research suggests that the echo chamber effect is disproportionately a problem on the right, leading inhabitants to perceive a warped reality.

G.O.P. Extremists Defy Description by John Cassidy, TheNew Yorker.com, September 30, 2013…there is a significant minority within the Republican Party, both on Capitol Hill and at its grass roots, that would have preferred to stick with the suicide option to the bitter end…this faction, which is, by far, the most energetic group in the G.O.P…shares something with earlier right-wing movements, such as the John Birch Society…the religious fundamentalism that motivates many American right-wingers…instinctive white-on-black racism that has long tinged American conservatism…History suggests this is a dangerous road to go down. Once an elected government is deemed illegitimate, in whatever sense, normal democratic politics, with its give and take, is difficult to sustain. And that, of course, is what we are now witnessing

Republicans Facing a Test of Unity By ASHLEY PARKER, New York Times,  September 26, 2013 – conservative advocacy groups have emerged as central players — exerting outsize influence, investing tremendous time and resources.… number of key conservative organizations…ForAmerica, a Tea Party group…Heritage Action — the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization… Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers… The Club for Growth…Senate Conservatives Fund…

Marlin Stutzman and post-policy nihilism  By Steve Benen, maddowblog.msnbc.com, October 3, 2013 – …the last time Republicans shut down the federal government [1994]…then-Speaker Newt Gingrich…admitted in November 1995 that he closed the government in part because President Clinton hurt his feelings on Air Force One…We don’t yet know if a similar moment will come to define this Republican shutdown, but I’d like to nominate this gem as an early contender. “We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”…congressional Republicans are now defined by a post-policy nihilism…Republicans are being driven by a mindless radicalism. There’s no meaningful policy goal in mind; there’s no substantive motivation; there isn’t even a strategic end goal. There’s just a primal instinct and a right-wing id causing a national crisis.

Grayson blames shutdown on GOP literally drinking on the job By Josh Eidelson, Salon.Com, October 1. 2013   … Rep. Alan Grayson charged that Republican House members have been literally intoxicated while casting votes on the continuing resolutions that set the stage for today’s government shutdown…Grayson also blamed today’s shutdown on Republicans’ “anarchist ideology” and “blind hatred of government,” …“They are literally offended by the idea that people would get the care they need to stay healthy or alive even though they can’t afford it,” charged Grayson. “They regard it as some kind of crime against nature.”

Permanent Republican minority By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, October 1, 2013  ……What’s behind this two-decade drive to employ the obstructive power of a governmental minority to undo the policies that a majority enacted or to unseat an elected president? Plainly, the gap between the Republican Party and the rest of the nation has widened. And as that gap has grown, Republicans have become more insular and more desperate — a toxic combination for a functioning democracy…The current Republican hold on the House is the product of the lily-white, gerrymandered districts that GOP legislators crafted after the 2010 Census..All this leaves only two ways that Republicans can affect public policy at the national level: They can embrace minority rightsthat is, they can move to the center… Or they can try to maximize the power of their minority status by trying to disrupt the nation to the point that the majority will be compelled to support Republican positions. Rationality dictates the first choice, but rationality doesn’t hold much sway in today’s GOP…Is this course sustainable? Ultimately, no. Eventually, the number of millennials, voters of color and fed-up moderates will rise to the point that 218 sufficiently white and conservative House districts can no longer be crafted. How much havoc Republicans can wreak until then, however, is anybody’s guess..

Where the G.O.P.’s Suicide Caucus Lives Posted by Ryan Lizza, NewYorker.com, September 26, 2013 – Excerpt – On August 21st, Congressman Mark Meadows sent a letter to John Boehner. Meadows is a former restaurant owner and Sunday-school Bible teacher from North Carolina. He’s been in Congress for eight months. Boehner, who has served in Congress for twenty-two years, is the Speaker of the House and second in the line of succession if anything happened to the President…Meadows wanted Boehner to use the threat of a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, a course Boehner had publicly ruled out…Meadows won his election last November by fifteen points…His district is eighty-seven per cent white, five per cent Latino, and three per cent black. Before Meadows sent off his letter to Boehner, he circulated it among his colleagues, and with the help of the conservative group FreedomWorks, as well as some heavy campaigning by Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee, seventy-nine like-minded House Republicans from districts very similar to Meadows’s added their signatures…Not everyone thought it was a terrific … Karl Rove railed against the idea in the Wall Street Journal. The conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer dubbed the eighty Republicans the “suicide caucus.” And yet, a few weeks later, Boehner adopted the course demanded by Meadows and his colleagues. The ability of eighty members of the House of Representatives to push the Republican Party into a strategic course that is condemned by the party’s top strategists is a historical oddity…These eighty members represent just eighteen per cent of the House and just a third of the two hundred and thirty-three House Republicans… just eighteen per cent of the population. Most of the members of the suicide caucus have districts very similar to Meadows’s…The average suicide-caucus district is seventy-five per cent white, while the average House district is sixty-three per cent white… even within the broader Republican Party, they represent a minority view…In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leadership. What’s new about the current House of Representatives is that…Boehner has lost his ability to control his caucus, and an ideological faction, aided by outside interest groups, can now set the national agenda…Through redistricting, Republicans have built themselves a perhaps unbreakable majority in the House. But it has come at a cost of both party discipline and national popularity. Nowadays, a Sunday-school teacher can defeat the will of the Speaker of the House.

Staunch Group of Republicans Outflanks House Leaders By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ASHLEY PARKER, New York Times, October 1, 2013…outside their districts, and sometimes even within them, few have heard of the conservative cadre of House Republicans who have led the charge to shut down the government… a hard-core group of about two dozen or so of the most conservative House members who stand in the way of a middle path… For nearly three years, Mr. Boehner has been vexed by an ungovernable conservative group made of up ideologically committed conservatives from safe House seats… the influence of the group is sparking an internal backlash, as a growing band of moderate and institutional Republicans are demanding that Mr. Boehner stand up to the conservatives to reopen the government and reach bipartisan accommodations in the future….