Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thanks to Padre Mickey and the Immoral Minority.

Sometimes both passion and reason prevail.

Action over deliberation

"Action over deliberation, decision over debate" -- Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

This is one of the election promises that was made at the Republican Convention tonight. Makes sense for those who eschew thought, study, reflection, and discussion, who would frankly rather fight than carefully consider the consequences of throwing a punch or pulling a trigger. But is this any way to govern or lead a nation?

A more complex view of the role of reason and passion in civic life is presented in a new book Civil Passions: Moral Sentiment and Democratic Deliberation by Sharon Krause. I have not had the opportunity to read it yet, but I am intrigued by the Introduction. It's a bit heavy with academic prose, but it does speak to some of what strikes me as wrong with the current political climate. Consider the following excerpt:
Deliberation is demanding, and for many people this fact may recommend against it. The truth is that citizenship imposes certain burdens on us. Liberal democracy makes these burdens light when compared with some other forms of government but it cannot do away with them entirely. The notion that liberty and equality—the great promises of liberal-democratic government—could be had for free is a dream. The realization of liberty and equality demands many things of us as citizens, but one of them surely is impartial deliberation. Unless public deliberation achieves impartiality, our decision making will be hostage to prejudice and the vagaries of power, with the result that those who have less (less status, less power, fewer resources) will get less (less freedom, less equality). Impartial deliberation is a key to making the promises of liberal democracy real for all of us. Yet liberal democracy also is necessary to the development of impartiality, or so I shall argue in the chapters to come.

There is a circle here, or at least a relationship of mutual dependence. If human beings were not fallible by nature, if we were not naturally limited in the extent of our sympathies and concerns, we would not need liberal-democratic institutions and practices to foster the extensive moral sentiment that impartial judgment requires. If the liberal-democratic principles of liberty and equality were self-justifying and self-actuating, and if the institutions of liberal democracy were self-guiding, we would not need impartial deliberation. As it is, we need both and they depend on each other.

While the demands of impartial deliberation are high, they are demands that we can satisfy, at least so long as we acknowledge the affective dimensions of deliberation. Again, to acknowledge these dimensions is not to bring more passions into politics. There are plenty of passions in politics already. Moral sentiment does involve the public communication of sentiments and a refined faculty of sympathy, and justice will require that some previously silenced sentiments find a new voice on the public stage. But the communication of sentiments is already happening all around us; deliberation is steeped in passions as it is. The challenge is to civilize the passions that we cannot avoid and that practical reason cannot fully transcend....
Read the rest at Introduction.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Politics of Hate

There is a great deal to read and digest over at Father Terry's new place. One is a link to an article fs apparently has cited before, "The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism" by Walter A. Davis. There is much that crosses the boundaries of both religion and politics. Here is one passage.
... the emotion in which the literalist passion is grounded. Hatred--of all complexities; of anything that can't be reduced to the simplicity of absolute dogmas and the need to impose that hatred upon the world in a totalizing way. It is sometimes alleged that fundamentalists are just like the rest of us, confused by the world and seeking something to hang onto as a portal in the storm. This view is invalidated by the nature of the answers that the fundamentalist finds: answers that annihilate the problem, turn the desire for knowledge into a farce, and make of confusion the motive for self-infantalization.
[reprinted at Counterpunch].

What seems so bizarre about the political news of the last several days is how swiftly and deftly the Republican spinmasters and their allies have twisted and turned just about everything upside down. O'Reilly, among others, has gone after all those mean and nasty Librul folks on the internet who "shock" and amaze him with the depth of their "hatred" for all things good and great and wonderful. Meanwhile, the anti-war protestors trying to be heard outside the Republican Convention are branded as "anarchists" and tossed into jail. And finally, she-who-will-not-be-named, who is being painted as the teenage victim of, not the political campaign strategists and the right wing religionists, but of those who would dare find fault with not her, but her mother.

This is not new, this Rovian world of doublespeak. But when oh when will people ever be able to talk about issues, disagree, without the incessant need of some to paint their opponents as evil, hate-filled, enemies to be vanquished at all costs?

The desire for knowledge and reason is being twisted into farce, day by day. How many people are watching as many speeches as possible at the conventions, reading, and thinking about the complex issues of war, the economy, the environment, and our relations with people throughout the world? Where is the give-and-take? Why is to disagree or even question forged into an accusation of hate or grounds for seething resentment?

Meanwhile, what about the hurricanes, Dolly and Gustav already, the others possibly yet to come? We did not get the uncut movie version of disaster that we saw during in the early days after Katrina. But the potential for an even greater disaster was there before our eyes and ears if we paid close attention to the complex engineering and weather information that trickled through the media.

The problem is not simply how to survive these disasters but how to deal with the damage they bring. Three years after Katrina and the court decisions are still grinding out at a slow pace, for the most part, the courts just doing their part to make sense of a nonsensical system in which flood damage is insured (generally underinsured) by the government and wind is covered by private insurance -- if and only if one can find the insurance and pay the premiums for both flood and private property insurance -- and no one yet quite knows who pays for what, if anything, if a combination of wind and water cause damage. There are sound underwriting reasons for this, but the government and the businessworld have had several years now to consider a more rational system of insurance or other kind of economic support for repairs and rebuilding, with little to show for it in terms of actual plans or programs. Add to the insurance question the complex ones about where and how to rebuild, even if money is available to to do so. How and when should government assist in building, require more expensive but stronger construction, rebuild infrastructure, and provide assistance and emergency services when disasters do occur?

These are just a few of the many, many issues our politicians should be talking about, among themselves, with experts, and, most of all, to and with us. But these are considered too dull, too complex, and not good for sound bites and media manipulation. The politics of hate and fear sell much more easily. So, instead of breathing a sigh of relief and giving prayers of thanks that the New Orleans levees held fast this time -- and working harder to rebuild and strengthen those that need work and barely made it -- instead of sober and hard talk, sharp disagreements and rethinking of where we go next, the circus goes on and on.

I don't know about you, but I am so, so tired of this. Chicago, 1968. I thought we'd do better by now. It just never ends. I am very weary of it all.